Tag Archives: England

some leaving, some coming home

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You should be warned that as I write this, I am LUIDW. That is, Living Under the Influence of the Developed World.

What exactly, you might ask, does this entail?

It means, most importantly, that I can take a hot bath whenever I want. Bubble bath included. 1, 2, 3 times if I so please. Number two, I can drink clean water from the tap. Unlimited clean water, bring it on. LUIDW has also propelled and compelled me to at times whilst in England drink 5 cups of coffee in one day, not because I need it, but because I want it (and I can!). Cappachinos? Lattes? I’m sorry, you can add flavored syrup? Where have you been all of my life? (and by life, I of course mean the past 20 months or so, I haven’t completely forgotten the magical powers of America in my first 23 years.)

LUIDW can provide great joy. Not because of all the STUFF (this tends to actually make decisions difficult and results in a sort of sensory overload) but because you can be easily impressed. The electricity works! The dishwasher is readily available! The tea cooks in 3 minutes! Wow, this internet is fast! Hey girl, look at all of these kinds of apples!

Getting around is a lot smoother too. Cars, trains, whatever, it comes on time. The roads are for the most part quite nice and maintained.

Oh! And the toliets….don’t even get me started.

LUIDW = a very easily entertained, pleased, happy, and grateful Heather.

Certainly, the added benefits of traveling while a Peace Corps Volunteer has reaped me significant reprieve also because I’m NIR.

(Perhaps Peace Corps is rubbing off on me a bit much with all my acronyms here, as they are notorious for all of their own acronyms; for example, PCMO (that mean Peace Corps Medical Officer, our doctor), MSC (Mid-Service Conference, the conference we do at the mid-point in our service), and CD (Country Director, the leader in charge of all operations in a given country that Peace Corps works in). Believe me, that’s just the beginning of a very long list that acts very much so as its own language and lingo.)

But like I was saying, I am NIR and this refers to Not In Rwanda.

This brings about special breaks and pleasures that are unique to the Rwandan Peace Corps experience.

For all the joys in LUIDW, I have also been able to go walking on the street–any street–and move about completely unnoticed. Nobody cares who I am, nobody cares where I am going.

Maybe best of all, nobody screams out the English translation of “White person! White person! White person!” as if I already didn’t know my skin color.

I don’t have to speak Kinyarwanda 24/7 and I don’t hear people whispering (good or bad) about me when I pass by.

I can eat in public, I don’t have to carry everything in a bag upon purchase and I can wear a dress that reaches above my knees and not feel a single twinge of guilt.

If I got asked for spare change it wasn’t just because I’m a white person, people appeared to make few assumptions about me, and moving around in general was significantly much easier.

The state of NIR is both relieving and weird; unfamiliar and welcome; relaxing and strange. I mentioned the positive sides of NIR above, but of course, after 20 months of constantly trying to integrate into Rwandan culture, it struck me as odd that not every single person says hello to each other, that people don’t care where I pray (because the assumption is that all people do), and of course, why people just move so much quicker than I remember! Just because I’m NIR doesn’t mean I don’t love Rwanda, you know.

The developed world isn’t perfect– I’m not that misguided, y’all–but I sure can appreciate the conveniences a lot more, that’s for sure.

But I’m going to be real here.

The hot baths and tap water withstanding, I don’t credit LUIDW or NIR for providing the kind of peace that I’ve found in my 12 days in England. Absolutley, it’s been amazing, and it’s helped, but “recharging your batteries”, so to speak, isn’t enough to mend a frazzled and frayed spirit.

Moreover, all of the things that I did while visiting–a spur of the moment trip to Paris, walking through parks, having tea parties, ending my pub-virginity, hitting the gym, watching Rob Bell speak live, getting a hair-cut, perusing Oxford, and exploring the historic sites of London, to name a few–are now incredible memories that helped me feel alive, light-hearted, and free. They allowed me to feel, I dont know, normal? If there is such a thing. But, these activities alone wouldn’t have been enough either.

More than anything, it was being able to do all of the things that I listed above with one of the most important people in my life, Michelle.

Michelle and I were fast friends at Hendrix and after graduation with her wedding and move to England and my move to Rwanda for the Peace Corps, our lives, quite literally, went in separate directions.

But, the best thing about friendship, I think, is that no matter time or distance, you are always binded together. At least with the really, really good ones.

So, when I saw Michelle (for the first time in a year and a half) at the waiting area at Heathrow after my flight from Addis Ababa in Ethiopia (Michelle and I say “Addis A-bo0-boo”; classy, I know), I could have been in any country, state, or county in the world and I would have been happy.

Michelle and Jon, her Manchester City-golf-ice pop-lovin’ husband opened their home to me for nearly two weeks. They gave me free reign to “make myself at home” and I usually have no fear in doing so, and with them, it felt completely natural. I was jogging pretty English roads, trying to learn street names, and always trying to learn new English lingo (“chav” and “cheeky” are my most recent acquisitions). Staying at the home of really great people, and in the home of your best friend is definitely the way to travel.

Last night, as we prepared to watch Julie & Julia, I hunkered down on the uber-comfortable red couch with the comforter from the guest bedroom along with a glass of sparkling water and my PJs.

“This is why you are here,” Michelle said with a contented smile.
“Oh you know girl, whatever I can do to provide entertainment,” I laughed back, thinking she meant I was being a goober having removed the comforter completely from the upstairs bed.
She chuckled for a second and then quickly corrected my misinterpretation,
“Um. No. I mean because you live in Rwanda, Heather!”

Oh. Rightttt. I’m here, to chill out and to enjoy the comforts that come with a cozy home.

Michelle was right, that was one of the reasons why I came.

The best moments weren’t necessarily the big sights and beautiful views; it was driving around with Michelle in her car, seeing her life first-hand. It was reminiscing about the past, explaining our present lives, and contemplating the future. It was going on a “picnic” (it was freezing, y’all), sleeping in, sharing breakfast in the morning, skyping our friends, playing Monopoly, drinking wine, and visiting local coffee shops. It often is the simple things you know, and what usually matters most is who you are with.

So many of our conversations were interlaced with our experiences living in an entirely new culture. There were some similarities, some differences, but we certainly both had stories to share about the cultures we had arrived in.

Both of us found solace in what it’s like living in places heavily rooted in tradition. It’s how we have always done things is something we have both had to face head on as newbies.

In England, at a pub, Michelle tells me it is common for one person to buy a round. Then, another person will pitch in, and this continues through the evening. You should also remain quiet on the train station (if you are loud, you could be a dead give away as a potential American). The English value football, tea, and who doesn’t love the Queen?

I told Michelle about the complexity of Rwandan culture; of how getting to know people is a difficult (but entirely rewardable and beautiful) process. I tried giving examples from the families I have become a part of. I noted what it’s like being a celebrity of sorts in my tiny village. And of course had to highlight the importance of church. Praying, it’s just what you do.

It’s time to go, and of course, I’m sad, but there is so much comfort in having a friend who understands what it’s like to try and fit in such a radically different place. What’s better, is that sometimes in these exchanges of cross-culture, you realize that as crazy different as the world is, we’re all humans, right? And so, we’re different, but we’re linked too.

My favorite example is being at the pub with Michelle and two of her girl friends, Venetia, and Becky, both of who are in a study group with Michelle. Best of all, they are reading through “Bad Girls in the Bible” (what’s not to love about this?) and yet when we all met up, the time was spent discussing practical ways to clean the bathroom, what work has been like, and the latest hubby tales.

I sat there in awe. Because y’all, the women in my village meet up for Women’s Council every Monday afternoon for nearly 3 hours and discuss these very things. Of course, it’s not the same, but in a way, it is. And that’s maybe the most enlightening thing to take away from the way our world works. There’s so much we don’t understand, but when you try, you find micro examples of how God has connected us all.

It’s time to go, but there’s a reason to be brave and the reason is that we’re all held together, by some sort of grace, with God. He loves us and He will see us through everything; whether it’s coming or going, leaving or staying.

 

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Nile Adventures: UGANDA

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Sit. Sip. Relax.
Except, not quite yet because I’m thirty minutes early to a local coffee shop (Anna’s Corner) in Entebbe, Uganda–about 40 km outside Kampala, Uganda’s largest city.

Like any young woman traveling alone should do, I went with my insticts.
Today, that was simple:
FIND COFFEE.

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best coffee place in entebbe. so. good.

After all, it’s after 7:00am and my body is waiting for some java. I boarded a small bus this morning (at some ungodly hour; around like 6:00am) from Kampala after all my travel partners and friends exchanged their tickets for a seat on the big red Jaguar bus headed back home to Kigali. They’ll be turning in their Ugandan Shillings and getting back to the good ole Rwandan Franc.

I bid farewell while it was still dark, found a seat of my own, and coasted on into Entebbe. I’m here–not back in Rwanda–because I’m moving my travels up and out of Africa (my first journey outside the continent in say, 19 months) into London. I’m already practicing my accent. And, the roads in Uganda operate in the same confusing way as the UK (driving on the “wrong” side of the road) and so perhaps it will be slightly less trippy to experience after my few days of practice in Uganda.

It’s weird being alone after backpacking for the past week with five other people (Sarah, Ella, Justin, Demetrea, Lyla, and Mike).

Travel partners sure do help. They can give assistance when crossing congested city roads (I never was good at that) or shooing away pushy motorcycle drivers. Luckily, I have my “wolverine scars” (as I’ve been strangely calling them) from my motorcycle accident last week to repel drivers away. I simply lift both arms in unison and voila! Those guys apologetically motor on away to their next unsuspecting customer.

I had really great travel companions this trip and we did so much in such a short amount of time.

This last week, I went from being bruised and banged up, moaning from any movement in my bed in the village, to driving 10 hours to the country to the North, eating Thai, American, Chinese, and Indian food, drinking one too many Nile Specials (the local Ugandan beer), bungee jumping 44 meters, white water rafting the Nile River, perusing the chaotic streets of Kampala at night, and catching up on some much needed sleep. We met some really nice people along the way too. Many Ugandans speak English (and GOOD English to boot), are much more used to seeing foreigners (at least in the cities), and seem to be a bit more open than a lot of Rwandans I know. And no, this doesn’t mean Rwandans aren’t friendly, it’s just that Uganda operates under a very different set of cultural norms and the fact that Kinyarwanda isn’t a barrier for once, well, it does make things easier. As my group of nomads and I walked around, few people stared and really, few people cared. A welcome change, believe me.

I also (still) can’t believe we bungee jumped.

Originally, I was not going to do it. I was going to act simply as a source of moral support and comfort. That’s it, I told myself. However, as I photographed the jumps of my friends and cheered them on as they took the dive, more and more I just knew I had to do it. Sometimes you have to do uncomfortable things to get the most out of an experience, you know? And also, WHY NOT?

And so I did it, though you can imagine that it was quite the dramatic display. While some friends hopped up to the drop off point and went for it following the countdown of the guides (essentially making the entire process appear completely seamless), I stalled a bit more.

You sit in this throne-like chair before you go to jump (it’s here they put on all the safety equipment) and I was thinking I was a big shot.

this is the chair you sit in before you jump. this isn't me; real-time pictures of us to come soon!

this is the chair you sit in before you jump. this isn’t me; real-time pictures of us to come soon!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“It ain’t nothin’ but a thing!”
“Yes I can!”
“Nta kibazo!”

…..

Only then, you have to walk a couple of feet to the edge, just so you can curl your toes over the metal and spread your arms to prepare to take the plunge. It was here I started screaming, feeling tears in my eyes, and shouting, “OH MY GOD!!!”

But I knew I was doing it–and I told the guides so–I just needed to go at my own pace. After around 20 seconds of heavy breathing, looking down, praying, and questioning my sanity, the guides counted down. 5…4…3…2…1………..and I leapt. It felt like nothing and everything at the same time. I was gliding but only for a second as the rope jolted me back up and down again. Physics at its finest. The Nile, trees, and nearby bar all faded into one and when I looked up at the clouds (and the point at which I jumped off) I couldn’t stop smiling. That wasn’t so bad, right?

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see that tower place? we bungee’d from that. yeah.

Though I’ll probably never do it again, I’m glad I did it at least once. And, hey, it was on the Nile so I feel like that’s got to have some pretty cool Cleopatra vibe or something.

Like I said, today (and until tomorrow around 6:30pm) I’m a solo traveler with nothing but time. Once I get my much needed coffee, I’ll hopefully get internet access so I can check my email and get the name of the hotel I booked for myself. I did just get the menu to this coffee house and not only does it provide the legend and story behind ‘qahwah‘ (the Arabic term for coffee) but it also has a seemingly endless array of choices (case and point: iced coffees, regular coffee from all of the surronding coffee-rich countries, different flavors like maple, vanilla, hazelnut, or chocolate, liquor-infused coffees, coffee with ice cream…). I might be here awhile.

I need the hotel name because in classic Heather form I forgot the name after I made the reservation online a couple of days ago. I did book something nicer ($45 y’all, that’s big money in my little Peace Corps world) but I figured this would be best since I’ll be alone during my stay in Entebbe.

during our galvant in uganda, i was in kampala, jinja, and entebbe.

during our galvant in uganda, i was in kampala, jinja, and entebbe.

It seems that there is much coffee to be had and maybe even some scenic walks to take (I can see Lake Victoria!) and a first world journey to prepare for. Last week, when I left Rwanda, I was emotionally fragile, scared after the accident, and operating at pretty high stress levels. Already, I’m feeling better (and maybe even missing Rwanda a bit already? Really?). Maybe, after all, I just needed a break. Knowing I’ll have nearly two weeks in London with Michelle, I can just imagine that the girl descending back upon Rwanda after these adventures will be refreshed, ready, and renewed.

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ready to see this girl again. IN SNOW, perhaps!

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not sure we’ll be having anything to do with the CAMO boots, but I am ready for Michelle-Heather antics to continue after a long hiatus.

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REUNION READY.