Tag Archives: advice

everything divine taught me

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Divine was walking me home last night, giving me advice on how to handle a couple of different problems – one with school and one with a family in our community – when I greeted a drunk woman on the edge of the road with an enthused and far too chirpy “muraho!” (this means hello). Divine immediately slapped my wrist and though it was dark with only the stars in the grey-blue sky giving light, I could feel her disapproving eyes.

Heather. Umva! (listen) Me, everytime I tell you the culture of Rwanda, but sometimes you forget. If it is day to greet is very nice. No problem! But sherie (basically like saying my dear), if it is night, no! You go quickly and keep quiet.

I nodded but also chuckled because indeed, this was not the first time that she had told me this, or watched me as I naively said hello to creepy men, goats, or people on the road in the black of night. It’s not that I often roam the roads after the sun sets, but when I visit Divine I usually am late to get back home because we get to talking and lose track of time. Each and everytime however, she walks me all the way back to my house, a 35 minute walk. This is probably for two reasons: one, she enjoys my company and wants to show good Rwandan culture. But most likely, she’s a bit freaked out by my friendly-to-a-fault tendencies and wants to make sure I get home without any problem.

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Divine always has a lot to tell me and I frequently have a lot of questions. She told me recently that she is well aware of how in Rwanda people “hide their thoughts and ideas” and that it can be “difficult to know a person”. I wanted to give a standing ovation with a rounds of applause; yes! I was overjoyed that she sees this too. Rwandans are great people; but they are considerably closed and don’t always project what they are actually feeling. Why do you think my best friend is a 20-year old student? Relating as strongly to anyone else in my community has proved difficult (most of the men just want to flirt it up, and the other women in my village are typically mamas just trying to get all their stuff done).

So, to combat this, Divine has opened herself up and has promised me that she will not hide anything from me. This was all on her own inititation you know, but Lord knows I appreciate it. Without a doubt in my mind, she’s the one person in Rwanda that I trust completely and will give me a straight answer even if I don’t want to hear it. She firmly believes in the “responsibilites of friendship” as she calls it and this includes sharing all things. In doing so, the girl has taught me a lot. Much more than she probably even realizes.

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First, for a frame of reference, let me give you the basics.

Divine’s full name is MUKAMUGEMA Divine (in Rwanda, you capitalize the first name), but unlike a lot of Rwandans, Divine insists that she is just Divine. In church last week, they were reading a list of people going on a trip to a major Catholic celebration/revival/pentecost in another district and Divine was signed up to go. They called “Mukamugema” and I looked on as she didn’t even realize her name was being called. She prides herself on her various nicknames though, and they certainly are numerous: Mama GLOW, Moon, and Ibishymbo (beans). However, a lot of times we just call each other “sha” which is a term of endearment for close friends.

Divine was born in the Kirehe District in Rwanda, in the far Eastern Province, about 45 minutes from the Tanzania border. Her village is quite close to Nyarabuye, the location of a large Catholic church that had a major massacre during the Genocide. This location now serves as a major Memorial Site that people can visit. Divine was about 9 months old in 1994 when the Genocide occured. She told me that her mother carried her on her back and would hide in the forest every day.

Divine no longer has her father. He died in December 2011, after a battle with a “muscle disease.” Just recently she filled in more of the blanks on her past – about how her father had 4 wives as was the norm in old traditional culture – and how when he was sick, she took a year off from studying to be at home to help him. She told me that they had a good relationship and they shared a similar “culture” of loving to laugh. I didn’t realize fully until she explained all of this how much she misses her dad. But, she also has a deep love for her mother and a whole fun batch of family members – Medi, Joseph, and Donatha. I mentioned how Divine has the nickname of beans, and it was actually her family that started this whole food-name business. Her mom is pineapple, Medi is sweet potato, Joseph is avocado, and Donatha is doughnut. They christened me as plantain because I eat so much of them. And because her mother said my nose looks like one. Yeah, they are kind of a bunch of goof balls and when I first met them, I could instantly see why Divine is the way she is. Certainly, that’s the best part of meeting families of people you love, isn’t it? You better understand where they are coming from.

She loves to eat plantains and beans and has a soft spot for porridge made with corn flour. Divine is 20 years old and studying in Senior 3 (like the equivalent to 9th grade) but it’s not unusual because many Rwandans are late to finish their education. Maybe they stop because of money or a family problem for example, but eventually continue when they can work through things. It’s just what happens. She recently mentioned for the first time- after being friends for 1 and 1/2 years – that she is the first person in her family to study as far as Senior 3. All of her siblings before her dropped out before then. I don’t know why she didn’t tell me this earlier; I think it’s something she is very proud of but doesn’t want to appear boastful or having too much pride.

She is incredibly wise. Her way of thinking is rooted in a lot of traditional cultural values, but she balances these with progressive notions too. But not always. We sometimes have disagreements on situations because of the perspectives we carry. It’s healthy though, because we are both able to see why we think the way we do and it’s in our many conversations about life that I feel most American. Which most of the time, makes me quite proud. In her cultural values, I should note, she isn’t backwards or uncivilized. There are just some things in her life that carry heavy importance – cleanliness, respect for elders, and helping around the home – because that’s just the way it is. It’s very easy to judge the values of others, but if you take a step back and reevaluate your own particular ways of seeing the world, you can then realize how steeped these often are in the culture you originate from.

Her two greatest skills are understanding people and making people smile. She can walk into a room and light it up. It’s not that she is the most loud or obnoxious as I tend to be, rather, she is just absolutely hilarious. And when I say that she can understand people well it’s because she can know instantly how someone is feeling about a situation, can see things from multiple perspectives, and is never hasty when discussing something with someone. If you tell her something, she will think about it, and give you an answer when she has considered the words she wants to use. It’s not just in English that she does that; it’s in Kinyarwanda as well. I asked her about this once.

Divine, you have no fear to speak. But many times, you think before you use the words. You are choosing very carefully.”
Of course! It is very important to think about the ideas in your head before speaking. You want to use the good words.”

The great love in her life is God. She is very proud to be a Catholic and prays at church at least twice per week. I’m not exaggerating when I say that she is the most faithful person I know. She always trusts that things will get better and that God “will give us the answer.” When I was dating somebody who wasn’t a Christian, she was horrified. Not in a judgemental way at all (hello, her best friend is Muslim so she is very open on the religion spectrum), she just struggles to understand a worldview outside of God. God is her bread, her walls, her leader, her friend, her everything. Everything for Divine begins and ends with God.

She’s really weird and like I said, funny. She calls me sometimes at night and simply tells me to go outside and see how strong she is (she is referring to the times that we have a full moon; moon is one of her nicknames and so she gets excited).

I said I would give you the basics and this was as “basic” as I could keep it. I could talk about this girl for days if people would let me. I think I mention Divine on the phone with Suzi every time we talk on the phone. Which is nearly every day.

Now, for the school of Divine. The following are quotes/ideas/advice/nuggets of wisdom/general thoughts on life that Divine has mentioned to me at one time or another. I thought this would shed good light on the kind of character she has and exactly how important she has been to my time in Rwanda, as she has consistenly been my confidante.

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The School of Divine

*”Heather, stop using agatsiko to describe the English word groups. It means very bad things.” (She was right. It’s an almost direct translation for gangs. Please know I was using this word in class, each and every time I wanted to the students to break off into groups. Awesome.)

*On why people change their minds, “if you are sad, you can say the things that aren’t true. But when you are strong again, your ideas change.

*“LIFE CONTINUES” – her answer to each and every life problem. It’s not to say that the problem isn’t worthy or that it doesn’t need to be dealt with, but her philosophy refers to the most basic of all life truths. There will be another day, life does go on.

*Sunflower flour is even better than peanut flour when cooking a delicious Rwandan sauce.

*In Rwanda, the parents’ wishes must be honored.

*”If you say yes, mean yes, and if you say no, mean no.”

*”Heather you have taught me that in the life, if you have compassion you can have a good heart and do good things. To be compassionate is important if you want to make God happy.

*”Laughing is the same as eating, breathing, and washing. You need it in your life.”

*”Heather, me I think, you have water. You have soap. Why don’t you wash very well? It is very nice to have pride in the clothes and the body to show that you have the self-confidence. You are beautiful girl, so remember to wash very nice.” – referring to the fact that sometimes my feet are not super clean.

*”Wow! To cook in America and Rwanda is different. But this food is nice, so congratulations. But for me, I don’t understand very well this food.” -referring to macaroni and cheese.

*BE PATIENT. BE PATIENT. BE PATIENT. (that’s really a Rwandan universal truth in all aspects of life)

*”For me, if I cry, there are tears in my heart. I don’t show them on the face.”

*”Your friend is the most important relationship. To be a good friend, you must share your problems and try to find good solutions.

*”Heather, when someone speaks you think it is true every time. Sometimes it’s not true. You need to remember to ask questions and try to find more information to be sure.”

*Hugging me after the terrifying motorcycle accident, “God will continue to give miracles. He never goes out.”

*”Fetching water is a sport.”

*Me: “How do you do all of these things every day?”
Divine: “I am strong! God gives me the chance to be strong in the mind and the heart and it is possible to do anything I try to do.

*On the heartache of missing another person, “ahhhh, it is very difficult. Even for me, I miss my family every day. But you have to believe! You have to believe you are together in the spirit.”

*”You cannot love someone by the things they give in the life. Yes, the things are nice. But you need the good action and behavior. You need to see the love they have for you in the heart. That is when you know where the love is coming from and that it is real.”

*On confronting people right away with a problem, “Teacher, in Rwanda, we don’t do that.

*
More than just her insights and eternal truths, the way she lives her life is a testament to the heart she has.

Her friendship IS one of the primary reasons I have stayed here in times of doubt. It’s not a relationship about me being a teacher, an American, a rich girl nor her being a student, a Rwandan, or a person coming from a poor family. Those things don’t matter. Finding something like this here (and anywhere, really) is GOLD and nothing BUT the hand of God. I can’t stress it enough.

Some people don’t get it:
why are you such good friends with a STUDENT?
Or on her end, is that white girl your sponsor or something?

People ask these things because they don’t understand. Because they don’t understand how it is possible.

But for every reason that a friendship like this couldn’t or shouldn’t work, well, it just does. I am treated with love, respect, and equality. Again, when in the situation that I’m in, this is a big deal. She knows me very very well.

She tells me about my “easy heart” (her words, not mine) which I have come to understand as being very sensitive. True.
She knows I don’t handle unhappiness well. True.
She calls me out when I try to solve a problem IMMEDIATELY as opposed to trying to feel out all of the alternatives. True again.
She understands that I value quality time above all other things. She laughs at my jokes and strange behavior. She teases me for all the questions I ask. And when I’ve had a crappy day, she knows just what to say and do to cheer me up.

Her ability to understand me to a strong degree blows my mind – I remember thinking when I first moved here, will I ever be able to BE MYSELF? Will I constantly be in the mode of “integration” and never fully open up to show all of who I am? Oh, and there’s the whole language barrier thing, but in the most rare of circumstances, a good friendship can overcome anything. And this one has. As for the language thing, well the girl is quite wonderful at speaking English, and even though my Kinyarwanda skills are quickly sinking like an overturned ship, we make a mixture of the two which we call “Kin-glish.” And you know what? It works.

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I am more convinced than ever that when you need it most, God gives you exactly what you need. I needed a friend here in my little part of the world and I got way more than I could have ever imagined. I got a best friend that I deeply admire, love to be around, and makes this life enjoyable, happy, worth all of the difficulties, and just…exactly what I had hoped it would be. And more.

“I came to Ruramira and I didn’t know what my future was. My father died and I lost the money to go to the school by my home. I was sad. I missed my family. I didn’t have friends in this place. But, I saw you at the school, and thought maybe it would be okay.”

“I remember seeing you in the class and thinking, I want to know more about this girl. This girl, she’s different. She’s always smiling, always wanting to study very high, and has good ideas.”

Divine smiles and says with a great deal of conviction,

I think God brought us together. I think He wanted us to be best friends.”
*

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mama

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I knew I hit the mommy jackpot when once, I had my teeth pulled out (those darn molars) and my mom dealt with me, her vicodin-induced daughter, gabbing and singing our entire trip back home to Aurora from the dentist’s office in Denver. She helped me through our door, tucked me in on the couch with a down comforter, brought me both rasberry and pineapple sherbet (the angel that she is), and as she readjusted the ice pack on my face, snuggled me in with my beloved stuffed elephant, Boo Boo.

(I was at least 16 or 17 years old, mind you.)

A mother’s love, I think is a special brand. She told me this before, too.

“You’ll understand when you have children someday.”

And I’ve witnessed–not just experienced–it as well. With my mother and also with my grandmothers and aunts who would do anything for their kids. Grandma Jenny would often drive Lance and I by my dad’s childhood home and she wistfully show us where he played on the playground and the crazy things he did with my two uncles. She would talk about how crazy her boys were, but she would also be sure to always say how much she loved them. And always, without fail, she would say that my dad and mom felt the same things about Lance and I and so that we should always appreciate our parents and what they do for us.

No, I haven’t birthed a child yet but perhaps at the ripe age of 24 (um. am I really in my mid-20’s?!?) I’m on the cusp of having a good chunk of hindsight and a fair amount of perspective. The teen years are over, that’s for sure. I can see my parents as people (yes, they actually went through most, if not all, of the stuff we go through) and yes, the game or movie nights, the occasional grounding, the checking in on homework completion, the time outs, and the family dinners actually did have a lot of purpose. I am finally able to see my parents, Michelle Cupps and Ted Newell, not only as ‘mom’ and ‘dad’ but as friends, spouses, community members, and people. They’ll always be just mom and dad, but I recognize much more fully everything that is a part of them. And maybe I’m starting to also better understand everything they did for me, and also why they did (and do) all these things for me.

I REPEAT: I am not a mother. I have no children or plans for children on the horizon.

However, in the last few weeks my role as a motherly figure within my job here has felt more pronounced and called upon.

Let me explain.

Last weekend, I brought four of my students to Kigali to meet with other volunteers and students who would run at the National Stadium (Amahoro ‘Peace’ Stadium) for the Kigali Marathon (they would be running in the 5K run, however). It was so fun!

I took my kiddos for ice cream within 20 minutes of reaching the city and though they were skeptical, scared even, at first, they loved it. They are still talking about it, y’all. Teacher, remember how cold the ice cream was!

And hello, what a chance for them! To see the big city (for my kids it was their first time to Kigali. Ever.), to meet other students, and to stay at a church compound with only two people per room. For them, this was pure luxury.

Yes, it was indeed great fun. But logistically, I felt like a mom in JCPenny’s when her rambunctious child decides to play a fun “game” and hide under the women’s clothing racks, waiting for their mother to find them (based on a real story). I had to constantly check and make sure we were together, make sure I had enough travel money for each of us, and keep them hydrated. It was exhausting.

But worth every minute. Because wow, the feeling and emotion I felt when I saw Maisara finish the race (the first girl in all of the 5K race to do so) was really strong. I got a little teary-eyed. So, maybe this is what mom felt like at all of those field hockey matches? At those soccer games? At the summer softball tournaments? At my short-lived attempt at gymnastics when I was 6?

Don’t even get me started on how I’ve evolved from the girls’ football coach into the official team mom. I would put crazy American team moms to shame.

I facilitate shoe check-out at every practice (oh yeah, we have a FULL set of CLEATS these days), provide filtered water post-practice, ocassionally provide crackers from a nearby boutique if I have the funds, lead stretching and conditioning exercises, check practice wounds, store the girls’ sports clothes in my house, give access to my lotion (Rwandan girls are obsessed with moisturizing), host team meetings, and also scrimmage with them and attempting to not get my butt kicked.

It’s not that I’m a god-send to these girls–it’s just doing all of these things makes me happy. It’s completely one of the best parts of my week. It also solidifies all of the work and time that the grant has required of me; this is exactly how we envisioned this. We’re finally a serious team.

And maybe all of this mother tender-heartedness feelings feel more on the table because of my GLOW girls and the kinds of conversations we are having this term. In the club sessions, we have been discussing healthy and unhealthy relationships and women’s health which are driving me to ‘google’ things like,

“how to talk to your child about puberty”
or
“how to help your child understand menstruation.”

Yes, I’m roaming self-help sites for mothers.

The girls ask general questions like what to do when a boy says ‘I love you’ and how to say ‘no’ when a boy ‘wants to kiss’. They’re opening up and so I feel 100% obliged to at least try and respond.

To take it one step further, some of my GLOW girls–my friends–and I discuss more intense life experiences one on one. One girl was recently approached and pressured to have sex. A couple of them frequently ask about changing bodies, emotions, irregularities in their health, what’s appropriate when it comes to physical affection, and who the best person to go to for advice is. It’s all over the place. But, it’s been great both ways, because I’m able to answer from personal experience and so I can open up as well.

I would never EVER fill the place of the girls’ mothers. Nor would I want to.

But, the nurturing, motherly side of me is coming out more these days. Maybe it’s because I know a lot of these girls so well at this point or maybe it’s just the nature of my personality and of theirs. I don’t really know, y’all.

But, it’s got me thinking and more than anything, thanking the good Lord for my lucky stars. The women I grew up around made me feel comfortable and supported. I just hope maybe that is what is happening here in Rwanda. They do call me ‘Grandmother GLOW’, after all.

It was Mother’s Day recently and I told Divine about how this holiday is celebrated in America (Rwanda doesn’t have this day in their calendar). She said she wished Rwanda had this kind of celebration because “mothers are the ones who make their babies strong.” And she wasn’t just talking about breast milk, believe me. I laughed and then spent a large portion of that Sunday remembering and cherishing what my own mom brings to my life.

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She is the kind of mom that organized my bagillion member family to bring signs and decorations to my last high school field hockey game. There’s a photo of them in the stands and it’s one of my favorite photos – ever.

She lets me go on (and on) one of my tangents during car rides to lunch on her days off from work in the summer.

She says “I love you” every day and also, I might add, completely supported me in my beanie baby craze when I was growing up in the 90’s. I had the Princess Diana bear with a tag protector IN a case. That’s legit.

She took me on special trips just because and even toted the best dog ever, Buddy, along with her to a trip to Arkansas to see me at Hendrix one time.

Every week that I have been in Rwanda, she has called me. She’s listened as I’ve gushed over my friends and families here, as I’ve dealt with loneliness, as I’ve had boy problems, and cheered me on in each and every situation. She has never made me feel bad for making the choice to live in Rwanda for two years; in fact, she’s encouraged me, which has pushed me to really put all of myself into living here. Other volunteers have not had this kind of support and I really do think it makes all the difference in the world.

And maybe what I love most is that not only is she the greatest mom around, but like I said, I can see her strengths as a wife, friend, sister, daughter, and woman of God.

And in turn, as I get older, she’s my determined and passionate mother but also a best friend for me. I get it because in some way, it’s how I feel for my girls–Divine, Maisara, Yazina, and Zahara–I’m a teacher for them first, but also a mentor, and a friend. Relationships actually can have overlapping roles and the rewards are beyond amazing despite the difficulties.

If I’m doing a good job with my girls it’s because of my mom. She taught me what it looks like to do anything for the people you love, especially as a mother. That’s the greatest gift I have. I hold it, cherish it, and do my best to use it. I’m far from perfect, as is mom, but when it comes to deeply loving someone, doing whatever you can for them is the root of a strong, abiding love.

Thanks mom, for showing me that.

It’s been nearly 630 days since I last hugged you at the airport, and in 2 short months, I’m finally going to be able to see you again, hug you, laugh with you, and show you a really neat place in the world. You’re going to meet some really special people and I just can’t wait for you and Randy to get here.

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fhmom

gmas

 

 

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girl, grow up

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I was 16. It was 2005.

I was in my sophomore year of high school. With a license to drive I was toting around my grandma’s old car: a ’97 Chevrolet Lumina. It was maroon-a decent color for a car-but that’s where the perks end. That car caused me hell, breaking down at the most inconvenient times, often when I was running late to my first period Spanish class, or following a yearbook meeting after school. But I remember thinking that it didn’t matter: I had a car, I had the keys, and I had freedom. It was my first year on the Varsity field hockey team and I’ll never forget the letter that each player received after tryouts, forecasting your fate on the high school team–be it JV or Varsity. That year, the letter said something like, Congratulations! You have been selected to join the Grandview High School Varsity Field Hockey Team. Meet for bowling tonight and get ready for a great season. I was humbled by the very talented group of seniors (the first group of girls to play hockey at my suburban Colorado school) and so I think it was that year that I really learnt how to play hockey, how to love it, and what it felt like to be a young, new player on a stacked team of experienced girls. At this point, my parents had divorced and remarried and so both sides of my family grew: new step-parents (Randy, my step-dad, met mom at Divorce Recovery class at church; Gretchen, my step-mom, met dad through her mom, who happened to be my Grandma’s best friend) as well as a new step-brother and step-sister. I was all settled living in Aurora, roaming the perfectly trimmed sidewalks on Friday nights with my friends, working at Dairy Queen (I still know how many scoops it takes to make a large Oreo blizzard thankyouverymuch), and attending Fellowship Community Church on a regular basis. 

That was seven years ago and a lot has happened with time. However, I find myself drifting back to those years, and the years since then, as I compare my teenage years to what my very own students are going through themselves.

Yvonne, one of my favorite students, with a sweet sweet smile, a curiosity for knowledge in any form, and a girl with profound swagger on the football field, told me she was 16 as we looked through her small and treasured photo album. 16. 16. She seems so young and mature at the same time. Being 16 is being 16 anywhere, but it’s a lot different than what it looked like for me. Yvonne, a senior 3 student, lives with her mother, Solange, and her younger twin brother and sister. She told me her father died in the Genocide, which despite Yvonne being born in 1996, is possible and probable, because even though the Genocide officially ended in 1994, violence continued for years after. She loves music, clothes, and henna (what Rwandans use as nailpolish) and I’m pretty sure she has several boys chasing her–she’s quite the catch. She loves her girlfriends and visits them on the weekends. She also has a heavy load of responsibility at home; she helps her mother to cook, to fetch water, and to take care of their black pig out back. Yvonne–or Ingaby as I call her, from her family name, Ingabire–carries a larger weight for her family, and those communal needs often come first. We–myself included–like to think that we put our family first in all things. Many times, we do. But, this is a whole different level entirely. She, like many of my students, study at home only if she has the time and can do leisure activities only if her commitments at home are fulfilled. Even at 16, her womanhood is coming fast, and I would even suggest that children grow up faster here: they have to. 

I thought about all of this as I was getting ready this morning. 

Peace Corps, by nature, gives you a lot of time to think. That’s the definite upside of having a lot of alone time–you can let your thoughts wonder like a calm breeze moving through the trees. Even as extroverted as I am, drawing a great deal of energy from other people, I yearn for when I can think on my own and without interruption. Living alone in the dark nights of Africa can do that to you. 

Like I said, I was getting ready this morning, slipping on my white keds, humming terribly to a Billie Holiday tune that I had listened to on my small netbook the night before. I packed my green and red fake Ray Bans in my African fabric themed bag as I made sure that I had all of my school documents in place. I stopped for less than a moment and realized that I, in this season of my life now, am a wonderfully awkward hodgepodge of youth and maturity. 

I’m only 23. I realize, fully, how young I still am, and yet, as I develop strong relationships with my students, who are often around the mere age of 16, it’s so clear what I am not. In the same way, my best friend in the village, Jackie, is in her mid-30’s, the mother of one of my students, and a level-headed woman running an entire household on her own. Obviously, I’m not there either. So, I wonder, when do I stop being a girl and take on all that is woman-hood (whatever, that is)? 

I’m afraid this is approaching too closely an old classic Britney Spears coming-of-age hit (I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman–I remember reflecting on this song for an assignment in 7th grade. That seems silly now, doesn’t it?) and so I’ll try and keep the self-identity crisis to a minimum. 

What I’m getting at, I think, is that as much as this entire experience is not about me–it’s about my community, my students, my school, the process of integration and teaching, embracing a new culture–you get the idea–I happen to be doing the whole Peace Corps thing as I am “growing up”. 

It’s a new kind of growing up though: it’s more than the dethroning of teenage angst when you realize the world is not all about you, and it’s less subtle, I think than the maturity you find and pursue freely amidst a college campus. There you may change political parties, discover a new way of seeing God, and redirect where you see yourself going in life down the road (all of this, of course, in between studying, nights out and girl talk). Yet, here I am, a teacher in East Africa, a post-grad, and a 23-year old woman. Combine these things together and this kind of growing up–specifically, becoming a woman, I might add–is all about flexibility and balance. 

I have a good idea of who I am, what I believe in, and what I desire in life. Still, I think I owe it to this experience to be flexible and open to discoveries about the world and even myself, because it’s happened to me before: Africa changes people. And this time, I’m entrenched in the culture as much as I feasibly could be and really, I have a life here. Two years of this growing up business here–who knows what that will look like?

So far, I’m learning that I take a lot of pride in being a woman, and that maturity has nothing to do with being a dork: they are mutually inclusive. I blaringly see my limitations. I have seen that I do have a breaking point–everyone does. I understand happiness is often relative, and actually, not necessarily what we should be after. Contentment and gratitude–that’s the real good and real sustainable stuff. I welcome my coffee addiction, my new appreciation for chocolate, and that life’s far too short not to express how you are feeling. I know who my friends are, can’t express how grateful I am for my family, and that we all have the capacity to change the world no matter where we are, what we do, or what we believe. In fact, upon reflection, most of what my parents told me growing up in my teen years–around the ripe age of 16 in fact–is of course, true. Parents have a way of doing that, I see. They told me I would understand some day:

  • if you can count your best friends on your hand, you are lucky. 
  • success is having options. 
  • the people that love you will love you for YOU, and YOU alone. 
  • time goes fast. you’ll want those real good moments back. 
  • balance is key: especially in what you are eating. 
  • in everything, do the best you can–you’ll live with fewer regrets. 
  • do what you love. 
  • listen to what your parents say: they have lived longer–“I was your age once, I know what I’m talking about.”
So, as I try to navigate everything that living in Rwanda throws my way (and some days, this does feel endless), I also continue to reassess who I am, what I’m doing, and the purpose of my life. I’m of course doing this as I have a context for a completely different teenage experience and trying to understand what it’s like to be a teenager in Rwanda. The game is a bit different, that’s for sure. 
 
My parents gave me some pretty solid-sound advice when I was younger, and now it’s all making a lot more sense. I’m at a critical juncture, and I genuinely think that the entire two years in Peace Corps Rwanda could profoundly shape the path I take years and years beyond my life in a small, wonderfully rural village. I’m growing up. But no reason to fret; I’m still the girl I have always been just with a bit more life insights. Oprah, watch out, lady.