Monthly Archives: October 2013

kubera imana

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Divine sparked my interest in visiting Kibeho, Rwanda a few weeks back when she translated the church announcement that our congregation would bring a group there for an annual and ridiculously large Catholic gathering.

What’s Kibeho?

Well, it turns out it’s incredibly important, especially in the Catholic world. Not just in Rwanda, I repeat, the world.

Kibeho is in the Southern Province and is located in the Nyaraguru District. From where I live, it takes about 6 or 7 hours to get there one way by car. This small Rwandan town is known primarily from historical incidents that took place in November of 1981. According to everything I could find from a simple “google” search, Mary (as in the Virgin Mary) appeared to a group of students that year. This appearance is accepted as truth and “official” by the Pope and the church and so it’s a major deal. The sighting happened on this large, beautiful, green mountain and not only did Mary allegedly come and appear before this group of young students, but the sighting was accompanied by visions of intense fighting and death. Specifically, these Rwandans saw bloody bodies all over. This was well before the concentrated, high-intensity killings during the 1994 Genocide, and so many interpret these visions of religious relevance as precursors and warnings to Rwanda and its people.

Believe what you will, but no matter what, the importance of a place like this in Rwanda is absolutely undeniable. Consider the history and also consider the fact that an extraordinary amount of Rwandans identify as Catholic. And they sure do love the Virgin Mary.

All that to say, I was happy Divine and I signed on to take part in our church group’s pilgrimage to visit this place.

We left my village on a Saturday afternoon at 2:00 (two hours late and therefore right on time for Rwanda). We crammed into two small white and green “tweges” which are small vans that fit 18 people each and are the most common form of transport around here. We traveled with all older people; Divine and I were the only ones under the age of 50. But no matter, they were all a joy to journey with as they sang old Catholic Kinyarwanda hymns which matched the hum and rhythm of our car as it drove against the force of rocky, dirt roads. Plus, any time I made a small comment in Kinyarwanda they would cackle with delight and when they watched Divine and I speak comfortably in English, they were in awe of her communication ability. They called me “ntwari” for making the journey with them. That means hero, y’all. I love old people.

It was my first time to this particular district and it’s a mountain heavy district. The steep mountains were a far cry from our smaller hills out East. We arrived at 9:00pm. Hungry, sore, and tired. Awaiting us was Kibeho Church property and what I saw as I exited the vehicle caused my eyes to widen. Thousands of men and women covered in their individual African fabrics (igitenge) were loitering in and out of the Cathedral, singing on the vast green lawns, and fighting for a place to settle down for the night. The actual program that all of us were visiting for wouldn’t begin until the next day and so it was mostly a matter of finding a comfortable place to relax. And comfortable isn’t even an apt word. Comfort went completely out the window. For a short time after our arrival, Divine and I managed to get a place to sit in the church sanctuary but it was stuffy and there was no room to lay down – sitting room only, quite literally. After 45 minutes of feeling claustrophobic and needing to pee, we headed outside. We didn’t sleep that night.

What did we do, exactly?

Well. For starters, at around 2:00 in the morning, we fetched holy water. This process is completed by walking 20 minutes down into a valley at a source that is considered “holy” by the church. On a normal day it might take only 5 minutes to take water from the well, but as we were fetching alongside hundreds of others, it took nearly an hour. Divine made her way through the crowds, for-going any sense of a line, and managed to get the holy water in a 1-liter water bottle I had brought along to stay hydrated. This was an important process to do before the Sunday program because it would be officially blessed by the priest. More on that later.

After fetching this water, Divine and I walked around for a bit until our legs were tired. We then found a small slab of cold concrete to sit as we waited for morning. My head rested on her shoulder and we listened to my IPOD and tried to stay warm while outside in the windy wee hours of the morning. People only realized I was a young white girl when night finished. It had been easy to hide in the night because I had wrapped most of my body in any piece of clothing that Divine and I could find. Now it was quite obvious that I was the one umuzungu who had come to this gathering. Lord, help me.

Noooo! My secret is out!” I lamented as I opened my eyes to a group of small children staring at me. She laughed and slapped my arm lightly.

The church has running water so Divine and I took part in one of the most important Rwandan rituals: washing our feet. Before finding a place to eat amandazi (doughnuts) and tea, she bought a few souvenirs from a couple of vendors: rosaries and a large poster of Jesus and Pope Paul Francis. Our early morning was spent visiting the site of Mary’s sighting and a museum of sorts that highlights the Pope’s visit to Rwanda in 1990. Finally, around 11:00am it was time for the church service. It followed the protocol for just about every other Catholic service I have attended in Rwanda (the Catholic church is one of the most organized institutions I have ever witnessed) and despite feeling light-headed (I hadn’t eaten a real meal in over 24 hours) I could follow along relatively well. It was tangibly weird being the only white girl. While my village is used to random white girl walking around, most of these attendants are not. I was gawked at, laughed at, stared at, and consistently heard whispers about theories about why I was there. People always find it impossible to believe that Divine and I could be such good friends; and it’s amusing for us to watch people, especially other students, to see how comfortable we are around each other. Seeing a white and black person interact the way we do just doesn’t happen often. Luckily, when it came to the service I didn’t draw extra attention to myself because I knew when to kneel and when to bow and I was happy that all my time praying in small group every Tuesday prepped me well for this big outing.

It was after the main service that I had just about the weirdest and most interesting Catholic-related experience to date.

We all moved outside and listened patiently as all 10 priests, from all over the country, said a prayer for all of us and officially blessed the water that was fetched by people the night before. Using a soft broom, he dipped the water along the bristles and then flicked the ends into the throngs of people so that drops of the blessed water would touch everybody. People raised their rosaries, hands, and just about anything they had in possession so it could make contact with the water. It was unlike anything I had ever seen. I held Divine’s rosary and her Bible and waited for the holy water to touch my skin and these items. When it finally did I just smiled at Divine and said “warakoze Imana!” (thanks, God!)

On our 7-hour ride home, Divine and I drank our fanta of choice, Coke, as the driver had purchased a crate of 24 bottles for all of our group. The sugar and sweet taste of one of the world’s greatest drinks satisfied my thirst, and I was just so happy to be where I was, in that moment in time, in that place. I love when life feels like that.

Divine told me how grateful she was to have made this journey. It was a beautiful thing to see someone so committed to their beliefs to have such a powerful religious experience. She then tried expressing how important our friendship has been for her. She commented that while the love her family as for her is very real and very strong, I am the first person in her life who has been able to provide for these kinds of opportunities. I’m the first person who has opened the door for some new ideas, ways of thinking, and a broader understanding of her country. I was humbled deeply in that moment. I have helped Divine go on several church trips and the reason is this: if you are able to visit new places, meet new people, and share new things, your ability to process life on a larger level is far easier and much more possible. If I can come to Rwanda and broaden my own perspective, I think it is important that other people have similar chances.

I simply said, “somehow we have had this time together and I do these things because I love you and also because God gives me the ability.

She broke into a smile and asked the rhetorical question she asks at least 10 times a day, “kubera iki?” (why?).

I grin because I know the answer, as I’m the one who answers this at least 10 times a day, “kubera Imana” (because of God).

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7%

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I could delve in and out of the small, gritty details but hashing them out doesn’t really change what has happened. I started writing this by giving a synopsis of the facts (and what I know for sure) but I deleted it because that isn’t what I want to focus on. Playing cop and tracking down the guilty is exhausting. After 5 days of running through a thousand scenarios in my head and leading some kind of “investigation”, I just can’t do it anymore.

I will tell you this:

Money was stolen from me last week. From my bag. From my bag that was sitting on my table in the front room of my house.

I sold my small computer to a colleague after our GLOW party. He purchased my small, used computer for about the US equivalent of 60 bucks. The thief took a third of that, close to 25 US dollars. The thief took the money sometime between the end of the celebration and the next morning. However, I have reason to believe it occurred just before dark as girls headed home post-party. Moreover, I have compelling evidence to believe it was a GLOW girl – yes, one of my own – to do that action. You can imagine how that felt. On one hand, I was so mad at myself. How could I be reckless by leaving my bag vulnerable? And once your start chastising yourself, it can be hard to stop.

Have I been an idiot to be as open as I have?
Are these girls REALLY my friends?
Is my Peace Corps service tarnished by the role of money in some of my projects and relationships?
Have I been getting used this entire time?

And on the other hand, I just felt pure betrayal. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a small amount of money, but it’s hard to ignore the layers rooted in this problem. I can deal with the loss of money (even though I was counting on having all of it for my impending travels around Rwanda) but I am not okay with stealing. Not from my girls.

Fidele, our director of studies, and one of my good friends from the very beginning of my time as a volunteer, has been working with me on how to approach this issue. He’s insightful and often gives good advice when it comes to these sort of things. “We must search and investigate slowly. Slowly by slowly, “ he told me. He called a meeting with all the girls who had entered my house and asked where and what they did in the time the theft happened. While it was a good meeting in terms of getting things on the table, so to speak, it added even more stress because tensions arose quickly. Nothing is ever simple here. Working with young women is amazing 98% of the time. But when drama arises, it is absolutely miserable.

I started to take stock of past behaviors and tendencies in the relationships I have with each girl that could have taken the money. Those continual and consistent home visits really paid off in this situation; I know a lot more than the community might realize. I know where these girls come from, the challenges they face, and their family dynamics. I KNOW THEM and that may be the most powerful tool I have in trying to sort all of this out. I carefully considered the things each girl has told me. I thought about the times each girl has tried to create issues or conflict with other girls. Because believe it or not, this problem became a lot more than just about an incident of theft.

Cries of “jealousy” surfaced and I wanted to know their roots. Basically, one girl was accused early on as being the thief and she completely freaked out and said that it was just another example of a lie in order to “make separation between us.” “Us” refers to myself and her.

She is one of two of my girls that have frequently discussed about having “enemies” and that people in the community have tried to spread “bad ideas” so that my relationship with them would suffer. However, one skill that I have keenly developed over the past 2 years while serving in Rwanda is the ability to understand people and why they do the things they do. And as I contemplated these claims, these stories didn’t make sense in light of the behavior of the other girls involved. The girls that said rumors were being spread about them are actually the ones harboring jealousy. They are creating enemies and conflict in their head and manipulating these kind of events to hide their own insecurities . They regularly see themselves as victims. I was close with these two girls very early in my service, but as my life here has continued, my relationships with other girls have become strong as well. For whatever reason, this does not sit well with them.

And it’s these two girls where money has played a very questionable role in our relationship. There have been far too many incidents where it has been highlighted in a problem between us and slowly it’s chipped away at my level of trust for them.

I of course also considered the feasible probability of each girl involved. What kind of opportunity did they have?

Following the meeting with Fidele, I also tried to see if any of their stories had “holes”. And on an early morning run a couple days following the incident, I was able to find a small gap in one girls’ story. Her story almost made perfect sense. Almost. But I found a small lie in her explanation that could point her out as the one who stole my money from my bag.

Finally, I consulted my headmaster and we discussed the psychology of this whole thing. He studied psychology for a long time in higher education. That, in addition to his extensive experience working with students as an administrator, makes him a pretty qualified person to work with on something like this. After providing more background information, we felt pretty confident in who the thief was. However, we are committed to moving slowly. Without a confession you can never know for sure. We don’t need to come down on this girl right away, we can wait and see what happens.

It was quite painful to think critically about the inter-workings of these relationships formed over the time I lived in my village. After 2 years, it’s not always enjoyable to be honest with yourself about why people “love” you. That being said, it was simultaneously an empowering experience, because it made me more resolute and totally sure about other relationships that I have. While there are people motivated by extrinsic things (namely, money) there are still some people who love me for me. They may not be many here, but they exist. And they are (and will continue to be) some of the most loyal friendships I have had.

Fidele told me without reservation, “don’t trust anybody. Don’t trust me, don’t trust that girl, this girl, or anyone. Don’t trust.”

Though I am certainly far too giving of my trust, I am also human. And I absolutely believe that in order to have full relationships, you must learn to trust people. But he is right in that if you trust everybody you are a fool. I must trust, it’s just about knowing who it goes to.

As I said, despite having a pretty strong idea of who stole from me, there exists a tiny sliver of doubt. That’s enough; and so honestly, I’m ready to just let all of this go.

I escaped this overbearing issue for a couple of days by visiting my friend Sarah at her wonderful site, a couple hours away.

We drank a beer in public at a bar in her village – a sign we are definitely old time 2-year volunteers who are ready to let go of some inhibitions that we’ve maintained during our services – and ate some seriously good food. Perhaps best of all, she has running water AND wonderfully strong water pressure from her shower! Y’all, a shower. I’ve been taking bucket baths every night and so a shower is a beautiful reprieve and is a gem of a find in rural Rwanda. Post-shower I was clean as I have been in months. I relaxed in my blue sarong, clean, listening to “This American Life”, and happy I took a couple of days outside Ruramira and outside the stress this problem has put on my heart.

I reflected delicately over what the last few weeks has brought in my life:

  • I officially closed all paperwork for my sports grant project.
  • Margaux, the new volunteer who will be replacing me in my village for her two year Peace Corps service, visited me for three days to learn the ropes and basics of our village.
  • I finished my last leg of teaching, grading, and obligations surrounding my primary assignment of being an educator.
  • I met with my friends and their respective replacements at one of our favorite regional towns and talked a lot of about the future.
  • The GLOW girls put on an amazing party to honor our accomplishments and achievements from 2012 until now. They did me proud. It was our last time together as a group.
  • And yes, money was stolen from me and a witch-hunt ensued.

In the midst of all these doubts and disappointments considering which one of my girls could have stolen from me, I kept coming back to the most obvious fact of all:

THIS IS THE END.

It’s a matter of fact, and it’s coming. Without any regard to how my days are filled. And when I become engaged with how the days are moving along, it’s very easy to see that the transition period is in full swing. And so, the ever-present (and stressful) issues of trust (really, more about mistrust), deception, and lies will not be removed from this inevitably up and down experience. But, I’ve prayed and asked God to help me forgive and to also be more aware of the way I am trusting people. I want to accept what has happened without it defining the greater part of my service. I don’t want to leave with a sour taste in my mouth.

I recognize fully that I’ve made mistakes in my service. I didn’t do the PEACE CORPS THING perfectly. Other volunteers could perhaps look at some parts of my actions here and say that I had something like a theft coming for me. But, let’s be real, there isn’t a right way to do this.

MOVE AWAY FROM YOUR FAMILY. CRY. LEARN A NEW LANGUAGE. CRY SOME MORE. ADAPT TO A NEW CULTURE. LIVE AMONG SOME OF THE WORLD’S POOREST. MAKE FRIENDS. BUILD RELATIONSHIPS. HELP. LIVE WITHOUT EXCESS. BE SICK. WATCH MOVIES. EAT BANANAS, OR WHATEVER THE LOCAL FAVORITE DISH MIGHT BE. MAKE BEST FRIENDS WITH YOUR HEADLAMP. TRY AND DO SOMETHING GOOD. TEACH. LEARN. CHANGE. SHARE ABOUT AMERICA. AND TELL YOUR AMERICAN FRIENDS ABOUT THE PLACE YOU CALLED HOME FOR A COUPLE YEARS IN YOUR LIFE.

I’m 25 months in. When you break it down mathematically, I have finished 93% of my service. That leaves 7%.

Can I fix and correct my mistakes with 7% left of my Peace Corps life?

No.

But, I can adapt. I will be devoted to what has always been right and good for me during my time in Rwanda. I will learn from all of these experiences. And I will make my last 7% – my last 6 weeks – great. I can do this, because that’s what Peace Corps Volunteers (and really, people in general) do. Sometimes crappy things happen.

So what exactly are you going to do about it?

And now my heart stumbles on things I don’t know…
My weakness, I feel, I must finally show…
The way you invest your love, you invest your life
Awake my soul.
– Mumford & Sons “Awake My Soul”

america on the horizon

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At 5:00am this morning (my usual waking time) I rolled out of bed to a thick coldness, brought on by night rains and dense fog. The moist atmosphere smeared my skin as I entered my backyard. I raced to my latrine, about 20 yards away, and then back into the comforting cement walls of my home. The BBC radio station was buzzing about the latest of the first government shutdown in 17 years. The back and forth finger pointing of our political parties droned on and so I took my steaming tin cup of coffee outside back near the edge of a blistery Rwandan morning. I had been unable to find REAL coffee in my regional town and so I had been drinking the severely subordinate instant Nescafe brand sold in Rwandan towns for nearly 2 weeks. A small miracle had happened the previous day, however, as I found the much desired bag of Rwandan coffee (complete with an amazing aroma) in my package town out East. HALLELUJAH. 4000 RWF (Rwandan Francs). That’s about 6 bucks. Well worth the cost.

I held my coffee as if it was a precious jewel and wrapped my neck and arms with my pink Ugandan scarf. At 5:25am, the sun had barely crested the sky and so I could see the moon, stars, and small glimmers of sunshine mixing together. The bitterness of the cold reminded me of how I will be coming home in December, to a deep Colorado winter. The smell of my coffee integrating with the cool breeze brings a smile to my face; somehow it smells exactly like winter, Christmas, and home. The hum of Taylor Swift’s song, “The Best Day”, drifts from the other room where my radio is playing. I stand there in the doorway and I think about the soon-to-come holidays with my family. I remember the soothing feeling of a wool sweater as you awake Christmas morning, the way Buddy always played vigorously in the snow, and comforting way we all sit together on couches and chairs as we laugh and open presents. I let myself drift for a few minutes in these memories and senses and I have to hold back small tears of anticipation and joy. Two years is a really long time to be away from home.

*

What day will I reunite with the good ole USA?

My flight from Rwanda is on December 10, just before 9:00pm. I have a total travel time of around 24 hours in which I will pass through Nairobi, Kenya, Belgium, New York City, and finally back to Denver, Colorado. It’s nearly the same route I took on the way here. And when my travels finish, it will be the first time I’ll have been back on American soil in 27 months. WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 11. 7:50pm: I’m home, y’all.

What will you eat first?

I love Rwandan food, no doubt about that. Ask any volunteer: I’m the weird one who cooks bananas and cassava bread for FUN. Because I like it! I’m kind of crazy. But that being said, I’m excited to be back in our wonderful country that has a ridiculous variety of food choices. I plan to consume all of the following as soon as possible upon arrival:

burritos, dad’s enchiladas, mom’s enchilada casserole, mom’s tuna noodle casserole, queso, cereal, fresh salad, smoothies, blocks of cheese, cafe lattes, panninis, quiche, lasagna, cheeseburgers, pizza, macaroni and cheese, quesadillas, salmon, huevos rancheros, blue moon complete with a fresh orange, and a big strawberry daiquiri.

What will you do first?

HUG MY FAMILY. SLEEP IN MY BIG BED. PLAY WITH MY DOG. EAT. REPEAT.

Okay but seriously.

This whole coming back to America thing is exciting. Crazy. And BIG! It’s a big life transition that I’m approaching and so my goal is to take it slow. Enjoy the moments of readjustment. Be patient with the more difficult things. Celebrate the joys of being home.

In doing so, the first things I want to do are to focus on spending time with my family and friends while reconnecting with my loved ones. Sure, for the past couple of years I have missed weddings, births, deaths, and graduations. Those things are hard to miss, but it’s also equally hard to miss out on the day-to-day stuff that we often take for granted.

I can’t wait to go out to lunch with my mom, to paint nails with my friends, to drive on the beautiful American highway system, to go on walks, to talk sports with my dad, and to find a good gym to frequent. I am excited to see my brother, to text my friends, and to read the newspaper. Maybe the best part of all of this is that I will have a totally fresh and renewed appreciation for these things.

Logistically, I will have to get a phone, purchase a new computer, and get resettled. That will take time, but like I said, I’m ready to do all of this, but to take my time doing so.

Will you travel upon returning home?

Absolutely! Because of my late decision to not extend another year in Rwanda, I declined to receive my Peace Corps stipend before leaving the country. Because of that, I will initially be coming straight home. But no worries: I want to explore our beautiful homeland anyway! For New Year’s, 5 of my best friends in the world will be visiting Colorado. We will spend the holiday in gorgeous Estes Park and I imagine it will be one of the most epic reunions you could envision! I would also love to visit my grandparents in Oklahoma, see The Lion King on Broadway in New York (a long time dream of mine), and try and catch my cousin playing college basketball (she’s a freshman basketball player in Alaska). I have a lot of ideas and so we’ll see what happens. There’s a lot to see in this world and doing Peace Corps only started the travel bug, I am sure.

That’s so neat. Except, um, what about reality? Don’t you need a job or something?

You bet! It’s a bit stressful to think about in my current state (what can I really do out in the middle of the village boonies?) but I repeatedly tell myself that it will be just fine. Perhaps I’ll find a temporary job for the first 6 or so months of being back in the states. With my committed love for coffee, I’m thinking a barista job or something. In the meantime, I hope to begin graduate school applications. I am planning to try to do a graduate program associated with Peace Corps (there are scholarships for Returned Peace Corps Volunteers available) and that would focus on social work. I would love to integrate my interests in international development, girls’ empowerment, and the general “people” skill that I think I have come to appreciate most in myself. Peace Corps has opened a lot of doors and one of those has been coming to know what I am most passionate about and how I can utilize this for the rest of my life. Working with girls and helping them develop relationship skills, personal growth, and confidence has brought the greatest joy throughout my entire service.

But who knows, right? There are also potential career opportunities in Peace Corps that I could explore. Or even work with another international development agency. Or shoot, I would also love to coach some field hockey! While I know what I care about, it’s still hard to understand how that practically plays out in my life. Long term, I’m open to living anywhere. But, for the meantime, I’ll likely have to find a way to get a car (or a damn good public transport system) while re-establishing myself with my parents for awhile. I have no qualms about this; sure, I’m 24 and will be living with my parents, but I see it as an opportunity to grow and deepen those relationships.

So, is that what’s NEXT?

As mentioned, I want to study as to enhance my qualifications as a social worker. I want to travel more. Someday, I want to get married. I want a family. I want helping others to be the center of my professional and personal life. I want my girls in Rwanda to finish their education in secondary school. These are the ideas and values that I have boiled it all down to; if I’m able to achieve these things, well, I think I can handle the constant (and usually uncertain) question of WHAT’S NEXT?

As of now, the next thing is closing out my time in Rwanda exactly as it fits, coming home, and enjoying what I have waiting. Scratch that, what God has waiting. I don’t really know what is next. But, I think God will help me along the way, and in the end, I’ll end up in the right place.If the past is any kind of indicator, I know this to be true.

It’s hard to imagine my future life without afternoons of dusty football practices, Voice of America radio shows, and GLOW club sessions that last for hours. I am going to miss my girls more than anything. I’ll also miss my other students, the cheap avocados, the pace of life in the village, the old mamas, the dancing, and the goofy girl I have been able to be the last couple of years. I love being Impano, you know, and I think I’m a little scared of having to say goodbye to that part of myself. When you leave a place, you not only say goodbye to the things and the people, but you say goodbye to who you were for that part of time.

But, luckily, you can take the best pieces with you. I try to remember that.

And hey! Besides the familiarity of home, I no longer will have to continually become drained everyday from being different. Lying and secrets won’t always be at the foreground of a lot of relationships, and I’ll live in a country that values time and making lines. Awesome. Maybe my Impano life will be finished, but so will be being the umuzungu (the white girl foreigner). I will be just like anyone else.

BBQ, family dinners, take-out, road trips, American accents, the NFL, mountains, church in English, movie theaters, reunions, and girls’ nights out are on the horizon for my life. America, YOU are on the horizon.

See you soon, red, white, and blue.

 

little wonders

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our lives are made in these small hours
these little wonders
these twists and turns of fate
time falls away
but these small hours
still remain.
– “little wonders” by rob thomas

*

The boys run, skip, and jump as they exit the holey, grassy, and worn field. Many are holding hands and many are fist bumping anything that moves. They’ve just defeated an “Academy team” – a premier regional team that draws from richer, private secondary schools to create an all-star esque sort of combination. Our team – Ruramira Secondary School – beat them 3-2 on a Saturday afternoon of football. Our team. You know, the boys who come from the village. The boys who help their families and cultivate on the weekends. My boys, many who cannot afford the 8 dollar fee for school each term. We won. I’ve always loved a good underdog story. You can imagine the mountains of food they created when we followed the match with a team dinner courtesy of the remaining funds from the sports grant I received earlier this year. It was buffet style, and my, how those boys (and girls) can eat!

victory is sweet.

victory is sweet.

*

My girls are singing as we turn on the right-hand side of the black pavement to enter the dirt road that will take us home. We are 18 strong in a cramped blue bus and they are clapping their hands, slapping the side of the bus like a drum, and singing beautiful Kinyarwanda. Usually they sing all the GLOW songs I have brainwashed them with, but in this moment, it’s all them. It’s all their culture and it’s becoming one of my favorite moments in my 2 year service as the bus jangles further down the road. Divine is leading them in old school Rwandan rhythms which is perfect considering her role in our club. She’s “Mama GLOW” and so I found it fitting that she would be the one singing the more traditional songs, especially with her Catholic-style influence. She sings a verse and the girls repeat, and it changes each time. I try to catch the words, and I understand that she is singing about the good ideas the girls have and the journey we have traveled and that all thanks goes to God. As this is happening, Zahara looks at me wide-eyed and grinning, “Teacher! Look! The girls are so so very happy very high!” I do as told, and I see what she sees. Genuine happiness.

bus time songs.

bus time songs.

We are coming home from a GLOW field trip to visit another club, about an hour and a half away. We met the other club led by a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer to “build friendships and share ideas.” Two members from each club (Divine and Yazina were our representatives) taught lessons and we also played games, made jewelry, and even blew bubbles. I watched as my girls interacted in their perfectly pressed uniforms, as they enthusiastically raised their hands to participate in all of the activities, and how they repeated our school name over and over again in their songs. It was pride, y’all, and how often have these girls been able to truly celebrate where they come from? We were at a much nicer school – a far cry from our crumbling classrooms and neglected toilets. And yet, time and time again, they prove it’s not those things that determine WHO WE ARE. They are just some of the best girls I know.

ruramira girls teaching during our GLOW day with another club.

ruramira girls teaching during our GLOW day with another club.

*

I’m sitting with Eugenie in her small room in her seemingly smaller village called Buhoro, which translates as ‘slowly’. A fitting name for your typical Rwandan village, because that really is the way things work. I’ve come for a visit after praying together for 4 hours at her Pentecost church, about an hours’ walk from where I live. We’ve been revising Geography and she comments on how the big national exam that all Senior 3 students in Rwanda will take is quickly approaching. She sucks in air quickly and gasps just a bit. Yeah girl, time is crazy, I tell her. She looks away for a moment and after a quiet pause she starts tenderly crying, with each tear waiting for the other to finish it’s journey down her petite face. I don’t even have to wait to hear why:

“As you know, my mother has birthed four girls. No boys. My father, he always asks my mother WHY? He thinks having girls is useless. He isn’t happy that my mother didn’t give him a boy. My mother just tells him about the sperm and that it is two people who make that baby, not just my mother. And she does not choose which sex she makes the baby.
I want to succeed in exam.
If I succeed maybe he can see that I have value.”

I rub her upper back and don’t know what to say. Sometimes knowing how to mentor my girls is easy and sometimes it is not. I’ve also become increasingly aware that often less is more. And so, I remind her that so many people believe in her – especially God – and I just sit with her as she finishes her tears. I tell her she is special. I tell her she is different from a lot of students – and this is all true. Eugenie is perfectly quaint, kind, and chirpy. If you need a friend, you will have one in Eugenie. Soon after my well-intentioned encouragement, she’s studying with even more intensity. Eugenie is a classic gentle soul, but she’s also quite determined. She is humbly aware of her intelligence and wants to “make it.” Desperately, I want the same thing too.

So the revision continues.
We are studying the methods of fish preservation.
Obviously, an area of expertise for me.
Not really, but I try to help in whatever way I can.

my sweet Eugenie.

my sweet Eugenie.

*

I had a two hour lesson block with one of my classes today, Senior 1A. It is currently the last week of lessons as quizzes start next week and so I wanted to do something fun, enjoyable, and relaxing for all of us. Enter Center Stage.

In the first hour, I relished in their expressions as they glimpsed at flashing images of frolicking ballerinas, a couple kissing and making out publicly, and images of New York City. When the first hour came to a close, it was time for the daily 10 minute break in which all of the students in the school either lie in the grass, walk around idly, or play football with a ball made from plastic bags. I usually take this opportunity to visit the girls’ toilet area as this is the prime place for socialization during school hours. Catching up and greeting some of the girls, I lose track of time and was late back to class. I’m clearly such a good role model.

When I entered, ALL of the students were sitting quietly and waiting to watch the film. They spit my usual (and I will openly admit, annoying) “time is time” mantra back in my face and I did the punishment I usually divy out to them: jumping jacks. This seemed all the more ironic considering last week I got really upset with them for being late and not taking my lesson seriously. Oops? We laughed and turned the movie back on. They huddled around as a group (same sex PDA is perfectly acceptable and encouraged in Rwanda; I actually love this because friends can very openly show their appreciation for each other) and gazed up at the small screen that I had set up by stacking a chair on two combined desks. For a short while we could journey elsewhere and it was a joy to watch them.

my dear students of senior 1 in their classroom.

my dear students of senior 1 in their classroom.

*

It’s these smaller day-to-day things that I will miss the most.
It’s these micro examples of my life here that ultimately, make it what it is.

Days and weeks pass and sure, I’m teaching, or working with the girls in GLOW, or running, or cooking my latest food preference, but what is my life actually full of? What and where is the substance?

These are the things I have been thinking about lately. Because I know when it’s time to pack up and come home, I will somehow have to explain 2 years of my life in a few sentences. The crux and core of my experience is the little wonders as Rob Thomas sings about; it’s the little things. Sometimes…actually, often, they come and go extraordinarily quickly. Perhaps you don’t know you are even having a “special moment” until you get home that night, put some tea on the kettle, and reflect on what has transpired.

I don’t know how to hold on to all of this.

I finally am admitting this to myself; quite frankly, I have to. Remembering and moving forward beyond my Peace Corps life is a lot more than fitting it in a perfect little box and expecting it will unfold naturally. There has been so much good, weird, bad, horrible, ridiculous, unbelievable, insane, extraordinary, inspiring, awful, amazing, disgusting, and normal things that have happened in the past two years that a wonderfully contained story doesn’t really exist. So, I’ve tried to take stock of all of the little things (yes, even the negative) and write as much as possible about those events and experiences as they have come.

August became September and now October has arrived and I’m not quite sure what to make of that. I made it my goal to live in the moment! and to enjoy each day as it comes!  or to YOLO: YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE for the last chunk of my service, but what happens when you take a step back and one, two, or three months have passed? Sure, it’s great, but it’s also like, um, excuse me, I’d like to figure out exactly what time is doing here…?

But I’m certain this is not a problem just because I’m in Peace Corps. Or because I’m coming up on a major life transition. Or because I’m also almost officially in my mid-20’s. I think that’s just life. I know full well that life has continued back home and so when I step back on American soil for the first time in a very long time, it won’t be just me that has had to wrestle with what time has brought and taken from us. My parents, my brother, my friends, and family at large all have been through things the past couple of years and my experience abroad can certainly fit into that, but it’s not the whole story.

I’ve mastered appreciating the small moments. I think in Peace Corps, you kind of have to. Because absolutely, some days those are all you have. Did you wash your dishes? Yes! Success! Did you make it to market and successfully find all of the vegetables you were hoping for? Congratulations! Did old mamas greet you enthusiastically and wish you to have a wonderful life forever? Excellent!

But the challenge – the next step – is being okay with what time has waiting for you. Appreciating the small moments isn’t enough; you have to appreciate them because you know they are fleeting. It’s not that they are just essentially great – it’s that you don’t have those people or those feelings or those situations forever. This is a big jump, especially for me. I don’t like letting go and though I thrive in change and adapting, I try picturing a life outside this village and that world seems strange now. I’m a little scared. And I’m majorly blown away of how fast time has passed.

But, fear doesn’t do anything for us. And as I’ve been teaching about fighting fear for the last two years with my GLOW girls, it’s time I take my own advice.

Maybe I can’t hold on to every single thing that has composed the past two years of my life, but I will be walking away with memories, life lessons, and professional experience. I have a lot of photographs. I have 7 volumes of my journals (I’m so serious). I have stories. And I know I’ve changed, mostly for the better. How could I not?

But as always, the best thing I will be walking away with are the friendships I have made. A Peace Corps Volunteer and I were recently discussing about friendships in Rwanda and about how it is impossible to build a true, solid, and trusting relationship in this country. I listened and laughed, but I couldn’t agree. I don’t have many, I’ll give you that, but I do have a lot of caring people that I have met. I have a community full of people who have shown kindness just because that’s what you do. And when it does come to friendships, I will manage to walk away with at least one best friend who has totally revolutionized the way I see the world. In the best way possible.

Phew.

That was a lot of tangents, ideas, and thoughts.

But that’s what has been on my mind and I wanted to share it. Because that’s how we are able to understand ourselves and other people better.

Here’s to sharing life.

2 months to go. I’m ready to enjoy all of the little wonders that I still have waiting for me. Time is on my side.

coach heather.

coach heather.

welcome home.

welcome home.

 

making good correction

Standard

Oops I did it again.

I managed to not only attend two wedding ceremonies in one weekend, but for one of them, I didn’t even know it was a wedding until I arrived. Once I realized what was happening, I hurled over in laughter. OF COURSE. This would happen.
Oh! And it gets better.

Divine had outfitted me in a red bandana by tying it around my neck. This is the symbol for our church group and we were all wearing these to the ceremony because we were the choir for the day. Yes, I have participated in weddings as an attendant, a greeter, a brides maid, a maid of honor, and now, as a member of the choir. Just when I thought I had seen it all when it comes to Rwandan weddings.

It wasn’t that Divine had hidden this information, it’s just in the consistent cross-cultural communication I live among, you don’t know what is going on most of the time. This was a classic case.

No matter, we sang (well they did, I just moved my mouth to the rhythmic hymns and danced enthusiastically) and it all went on without a hitch.

*

This weekend was a long one for me; because with my two off days (Friday and Tuesday) and the parliamentary elections on Monday, I had 5 days free from teaching. It went by swiftly as if time was being poured like a fresh cup of steamed milk. I barely even noticed the passage of days.

In these days I have found myself entrenched in the Word of God more than I have been in the last few months. And believe me, that’s a good thing. The danger we risk in life is floating. I actually think it’s in this middle ground of feeling NOTHING, doing NOTHING, and becoming AMBIVALENT where we lose our way. I say this because that is how and where my heart has been for a couple of weeks. ABSENT.

People – my neighbors and friends – call my name and instead of a wide open smile and response, I have been raising my hand as a mere acknowledgement.

When I’m home alone and taking the time to think intentionally, I don’t feel rooted in my joys. I drift off into a world of anxiety, fear, and questions. I become glazed over from too much. My presence in such an opportunity is weakened.

Even with Divine, my best friend, I have been overly sensitive to her attempts to “help me make good correction.” If I am being culturally inappropriate and she says something to me about it, I have been defensive, snappy, and for no good reason.

My patience in the classroom has run dry like an empty well and in moments that would usually warrant laughter on my part, I’ve felt myself skimming it over, ready to move to the next point in the lesson.

WHERE AM I?

In these days, in this long weekend, I’ve tried (and I think succeeded) to get back on track. I’ve allowed myself for a small time to disconnect but this is NOT how I live my life. But, being human, I’m unable to correct this myself. We MUST turn to God.

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. (Isaiah 60: 1-2).

*

On Friday, representatives from Girl Hub (a part of the Nike Foundation) came to my school to film my GLOW girls reading statements and declarations about the future of girls in the world. These snipets will appear in a film for the United Nations on the International Day of the Girl next month.

On Saturday, I was lost in the banana trees on my morning run but I found a small path to guide me home.

In the evening, for the first time in our two-year friendship, Divine told me about her family’s experience during the Rwandan genocide. She told me what happened, as it was retold to her by her mother because Divine was only a small 1-year old child at the time. She spoke slowly and deliberately (as she always does) but took frequent pauses to control the tears trying to escape her eyes.

“Heather, people don’t discuss this topic not because of fear, but because it brings the pain. But, if you have the high friend, you can do it.”

On Sunday, the lesson at church was about the parable of the lost sheep, the parable of the lost coin, and the parable of the lost son (all from Luke 15).

On Monday, election day, my students, old men and women, and everybody who was willing able, traveled to the primary school to vote.

And on Tuesday, my coffee was a perfect temperature after a completely solid night of sleep.

*

God rescues us, little by little, performing small miracles in such a way that we forget and lose sight of how miraculous it all really is. That’s exactly it: we disconnect when we forget. When we’re tired. When we’re lonely. When we fear. But everything beautiful – big or small – comes from Him. And we are able to take heart in the biggest miracle of all; in all of our mistakes, mishaps, and wrong-doings, we’re always loved because God forgives us every single day. He gave us Jesus, and Jesus embodies the sacrifice of humanity. I feel like I am absorbing how grand this is for the first time; I don’t want to sound preachy but I can’t help but want to say, Y’ALL! THIS IS A MIRACLE!

I thought about this as I replayed my weekend through memories, sounds, and experiences. This was the weekend I re-connected; this was the weekend I celebrated ubuntu (God’s grace). And this was the weekend that God helped me make the good correction. I feel alive again. I feel renewed.

Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin. In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. (Luke 15: 8-10)