Tag Archives: holiday

crossroads

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divine and mama

divine and mama

family

host family love

teaching

showin’ ma how teaching is done – rwanda style

twig

giraffe, mom, and randy = a great combination

For probably the third or fourth time in the first 2 hours of Mom and Randy’s visit I was explaining how wonderful their experience in Rwanda would be BECAUSE of the “off the road” approach we were attempting (visiting and sleeping in my village for 3 days, using public transport, and embracing volcano-like mountains of Rwandan food to be offered – along with Fanta, obviously). They weren’t sticking to only the “touristy” attractions – we were doing Rwanda with a lot of Heather swagger. I was anxious, giddy, nervous and happy it would be like this. Ater all, to see the Rwanda I love (and let’s be real, sometimes the Rwanda I loathe), you have to give the village and lie here a real chance to show itself. I knew things would be just fine, however, because Randy looked up for a momemt while packing his small green REI backpack and summed up the nature of his and mom’s can-do-Rwanda attitude in three words,

“We dig culture.”

And did they ever.

We saw Mama and Papa’s new home being built, shared handfuls of real Rwandan meals, tasted banana juice at Divine’s, went on long village walks which had to feel a lot like being the Royal Family with all the hootin’ and hollerin’, crossed overland from the edges of Tanzania to the 4th largest African lake bordering the Congo, and I, to no one’s surprise, cooked macaroni and cheese.

Their two weeks came and went quickly.

No words or photos can describe what it was like to have my mama here. After I creepily banged on the window glass to get their attention in baggage claim at the Kigali airport (yes, this drew countless numbers of stares and aghast looks of what a freak) I absorbed all that I could of her presence. I remembered and relished the way she always calls me “honey”, her enthusiastic, ready for anything smile, and her desire to continually want to make things comfortable for me (this included drawing a bath for me one evening – could life get any better?) And what was even better than just having mom here was having Randy here too. Three was not a crowd  and I was immensely impressed with both Mom and Randy’s kindness, openness, and flexibility to greet and love on my community members. They hugged SO many people. I LOVED THEIR CAPACITY TO LOVE.

Should I have been surprised? No.

If you wonder how I can be crazy enough to WANT to live in a rural Rwandan village for 2 years it is because I was raised by love-centered people. Mom, Dad – everybody – demonstrated through everything (because no, my life has not been perfect) we all have an ability and an obligation to love in the best way we know how.

My favorite moment of our trip was exploring the banana fields that belong to Divine’s mother. They go on for what feels like forever. You walk on a thin dirt path to maneuver your way through the land. Behind me, I watched mom and Divine holding hands. By my side was Suzi. In front, further along in the road, was Randy. He was taking photos with some youth, also emphasizing the importance of staying in school. I was in my favorite place in Rwanda with some of the most important people in my life. Not just mom and Randy, but Suzi and Divine too. For a rare moment, pieces of my life were interlaced and together. For a fleeting time, I didn’t have to describe two different worlds, I could just be. That’s the very best a family visit can bring you. That, and delicious meals with hot bathes. Just kidding.

And so those weeks were intensely whirldwind – especially before and after their travels to visit me. Before, I had finished HOURS and HOURS of marking to prepare for the end of term II. After, I exerted every ounce of energy I had at our region’s week-long 2013 GLOW (girls leading our world) camp.

Needless to say, my life has been crazy.

Somehow, it’s become mid-August and I am most certainly at a crossroad with a large fork in the road.

There are two options, you see.

One is to continue as I had planned all along: return back to beautiful America (Lord, I sure do miss home) having had finished 2 years of good work in Peace Corps Rwanda. I have some wonderful experience to carry with me, stories to share, and family and friends to be with. I can come home, figure out the next direction of my life, and soak all that is of my home, America.

The other option is a lot like Peyton Manning reading a different defense post-huddle and calling an audible based on what he sees: stay in Rwanda another year – “extend” as they call it in Peace Corps world – with a different job and living situation. All of the opportunities to continue in Peace Corps (and there are probably around 10 of them within Rwanda) as a Third Year Volunteer often involve working closely with other NGOs while still making a Peace Corps level salary (about 200 USD per month) and keeping Peace Corps status (able to defer loans, qualify for medical care, abiding by the many rules, and so on).

The details are set to be hankered and hammered out THIS week at what is called our Close of Service (COS) Conference. I’ll be coming back to America later this winter no matter what path I choose to take and so really it’s a question of what the right thing to do is as I consider the next year, 5 years, and 10 years of my life. What exactly do I vision for myself? What do I imagine my life could look like?

Discernment can sometimes feel 100% easy or a lot more murky.

This one, it’s been all over the place.

I am trusting that God will help me choose the next phase of my life that provides safety, purpose, passion, and open doors.

My soul has felt scattered and all over the place and so I’ve put together a pro-con list, raised my hands, and I am submitting my fears, doubts, anxiety, and worries to God. Prayers appreciated.

IF I EXTEND A 3RD YEAR IN RWANDA

PROS

-job security

-I really enjoy living and working in this country despite the challenges

-maintain Rwandan relationships very easily

-opens a lot of development opportunities down the road

-builds on my first 2 years in Peace Corps while also creating a new and challenging job

-more people could have the opportunity to come and visit Rwanda!

-already aware and immersed in the language and culture

-more possibilities of sports development experience

-living in a beautiful country

-maintain Peace Corps contacts and connections

-experience with grant-writing

-can easily visit my old village and community

-a paid (via Peace Corps) holiday home in the winter

-have the suppot of my family

-I can always leave if I decide it’s not the right fit for me

-can continue to defer loans

CONS

-more time away from home

-missing out on family and friend life events

-isolation from American culture in general

-avoiding an inevitable goodbye to this country

-still living on a Peace Corps salary

-continuing to regularly deal with Rwandan frusturations (water issues, electricity issues, lack of internet, being DIFFERENT than everyone else, always having to explain who I am…)

-all of my friends from my group (called ED – 3 – the third education group in Rwanda) will be finished with their jobs in Rwanda

-loneliness

-putting off time I could be using to get a master’s degree

-dealing with skeevy Rwandan men

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enjoy your apple pie

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Does 4 cups of de-caffeinated coffee cancel out the whole won’t-hype-you-up-at-night thing?

It’s 9:30 at night and on any given night at this time I would be at home doing one of four things:

1)      Sleeping.

2)      Watching Gossip Girl (that’s my MO these days, anyway).

3)      Doing some sort of yoga-weights (with condensed milk cans, I should note)-zumba wannabe workout. 

4)      My getting ready for bed routine. This is as follows: turn off Christmas lights, brush teeth, throw trash down latrine, use latrine to go to the bathroom, wash my hands, moisturize my face, pick out clothes for the next day, floss, set alarm, make sure my petrol stove is off and put away, check alarm one more time for good measure, and enter the wonderful world of my mosquito net.)

Instead, I’m at the coffee shop in Kigali (Bourbon Coffee—my home away from home away from home—that’s right, it’s my home outside my Rwandan home which is still further away from good ole America) on a Thursday evening. Soon, I’ll be heading to the hostel that Suzi so kindly made a reservation for me at. I’m eating a beautiful slice of cinnamon flavored apple pie with peanut butter ice cream alongside my coffee. Sometimes, this is really what taking a break is all about. The pie. 

I was supposed to leave my village tomorrow morning in order to attend our Peer Support Network Meeting (we are a group of volunteers that acts a sort of support system for volunteers in Rwanda) but impulsively, I decided to leave earlier this evening. I was tutoring a girl in my village, Solange, who has been nothing but kind to me. Her family is amazing. And yet, somehow, I was still getting worked up, frustrated, and felt suffocated being in her home. I think it was probably in part to the fact it was raining outside and so I had no choice but to be there. And I was force fed approximately seven pieces of meat. Just another instance of having very little control of my life.

Anyway, I finished teaching her about some phrases to use at the market (in English, of course) and after walking home barefoot (in the mud; my shoes broke on the way there) I made a strong stride straight to my backpack and packed recklessly. I threw a few shirts in, some deodorant, and my IPOD. The travel essentials. I called my moto driver, Emile, and he came within the hour. I just wanted out. Something in me ticked and it was like all of the things that have upset me lately came spilling out. I cried half of the moto ride. That must of just been a beautiful, capture-me moment. White girl rides moto with stained mascara and a blotchy red face.

I lost all my photos from a computer virus. My students continually keep getting screwed over by our horribly disorganized administration. My exam got the short end of the stick when most students didn’t have an appropriate amount of time to do it—what am I supposed to do, give them zeroes? I have been extraordinarily short on money.

And yet, those are specific, identifiable things that have been upsetting me and I’m not sure that’s why I was even crying in the first place.

I need a break. That much I was able to see. When I’m with people that usually remind me of why I love this place and I’m still feeling aggressive and upset—that’s a red flag. For me, anyway.

But also, in the back of my mind, I keep asking, what’s going on here? I have enjoyed this experience far more than I could ever describe. And when you peel the layers back, there is the solid base of people that I have relationships with that have unquestionably made my life better. Not this experience—my life. Why isn’t that enough? Why is it harder than just reassuring yourself that everything is going to be okay, and I don’t know, just getting on with it?

Because y’all, this is life.

That’s really the best way to summarize all of this. This stopped being a job for me a long time ago. And when it did, the sensible, structured, and easy-explanation stuff came to a halt. Sometimes, we just feel what we feel, and we have to deal with.

Unfortunately, for you, my loyal blog readers, I feel like a great deal of my blogs deal with this not-so-uncommon phenomenon of how we deal with emotions (you’re probably like–“um. I kind of wanted to read about Rwanda.”) But hey, that’s part of the story, you know? I write about it a lot because it really is a beast out here in between the banana trees and the unrelenting sun (or these days, as it is now rainy season, the unrelenting rain).

I’m taking a break, and I’m really glad I am. And this break is a lot more than just a couple days in Kigali, sipping delicious coffee and having dinner dates with friends.

No, I’m literally leaving in less than a week for a journey to not only Uganda, but to England. Could this have come at a better time? Um. No. I need to completely relax. I need someone who knows me from before. I need to recharge my batteries. I need to share my stories to someone. I just need to take a hot bath, darnit!

I’m reminding myself over (and over) again that just because I need a break and just because I’m tired and just because I’m upset doesn’t take away from what has happened here and what I really do feel for my village and my life as an education volunteer. At the end of the day, I have the ability to take a break. People in my village—well, they don’t, really. And so if I’m really that fed up, I’m doing myself a much better service to leave, catch my breath, and come back fresh. I might not like feeling weak, but being vulnerable actually lets you win in the end. You actually experience truth and that’s much more powerful in the end.

And you really don’t have to worry about me too much.

Before I go on a three-week-Rwanda-hiatus, I’m going to spend the last week finishing up some school reports, having Bobby visit me for several days, visit Kigali with Divine and Yazina, and host a little get-together at my house (beer included, apparently) with Maisara and Zahara’s mom and grandmother.

Plus, things like this happen:

Sunday afternoon: Yazina brings over a rice sack FULL of plantains. A gift from her grandmother.

Later that Sunday: Divine brings over a small yellow jug of banana beer to share. “Heather it’s been many days since you had the banana beer. Me, I think that I want to bring this gift to you.”

Monday: Solange brings me sweet banana (these would be the yellow kinds). Yum!

Tuesday: Solange’s mom gives me money to help buy electricity (an incredibly moving and sweet gesture).

Wednesday: Jean brings me a small bag full of plantains to add to my collection.

Thursday: Yazina, Divine, and I discuss American Culture over some Crystal Light before making bets on the weather. This is quite typical. It’s what we do.

Most of these things have to do with hospitality, friendship, and bananas.

Luckily for me, after a long, 4-month period of LOATHING anything banana related, I’m back in the saddle again. I sipped that beer and have been cooking up those bananas (awesome in a curry like paste) after hours and hours of supervising final exams.

And maybe just like bananas, I’ll eventually get through this difficult period and be back in the saddle again too.

Our former country director warned us. She told us several times actually how our service in the Peace Corps is full of innumerable amounts of ups and downs and that a lot of times you will feel like you are riding a roller coaster.

There’s been a dip. But there’s reason to believe that things will get better, because they always do. They have before, and they will again. With a ridiculous supply of bananas, rest time, and a holiday coming up, I have no doubts about that.

when worlds collide

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Here’s a staggering fact for you.

Take the 5 girls I took to the Eastern Region GLOW Camp last summer in late July and August.

Joyce.

Divine.

Joselyne.

Maisara.

Yvonne.

5 girls.

Out of 5, 0 have a father in their life.

Joyce’s father died a long time ago. I’m not sure why. I was never really provided with the details and it wasn’t something I tried to push. She lives with her extended family and I’m pretty sure she is an orphan.

Divine’s father died in December of 2011. How? Well, again, I’m not really sure. We just talked about this last week, and I could tell it was a very sensitive thing to be talking about. Yet, she’s a brave girl, and she explained in broken English as best as she could.

Joselyne’s father died a few years ago because of food poisoning. Yes, you may have had to read that twice, but indeed, he died of food poisoning. This kind of thing really happens in Rwanda. At first, I chalked all this talk of food poisoning up to a myth that was used when they couldn’t really explain other reasons for death, like old age, undetected diseases, and what have you. But no, Joselyne insists that is how her father died. He visited Gisenyi, up North, and received a special invitation to a party and never made it home. He died immediately after being served beer—evidently, a poison loaded batch. Poison is more common in rural, more isolated parts of Rwanda and is often used as a way to make someone sick because of “jealousy”. I’m told that often, the person trying to harm someone doesn’t want to kill them, but to make them sick so they have some sort of temporary disadvantage. Still, people die.

Maisara’s dad is terrible. Awful. A bad man, as she tells me. Maisara recently (within the last year) relocated with her mother and sister, Zahara, to live with their grandmother in a small, three-room house. They moved because their father’s beatings were getting out of control and the mother made a decision that they had to leave. Getting the safety they needed was obviously of the upmost importance and I cannot even begin to describe the kind of strength their mother has. I don’t think it is necessarily common here for women to make that kind of decision—to defy the man—and so since day one, I’ve respected this woman to an infinite degree. Now, they’re safer (they still have a major problem with him coming by the house and threatening to harm, hurt, or kill people), but without the financial support of their father (he refuses to give any money for school) they struggle to get by. It’s not fair. I hate that the right decision can also lead to so much hardship. I met the father, once, on accident, in the road. Another student of mine explained who he was, and I made no false impression—I shook his hand, barely uttered a greeting, and simply looked at him with a look of disdain. How do you live with yourself?

Yvonne’s dad also died. I saw a picture of him for the first time a couple of weeks ago, and she simply remarked, “that’s my father.” I knew he was not a part of her life (I have probably visited close to 10 times and not once has his presence come up) but after showing me the photo, she finally did reveal that he had passed away. Why? Again, I don’t know. It’s amazing that you can have these close relationships here with people, and yet still, know very little. Like I’ve noted before, if Rwandans want to build emotional walls, they do, and they build them quite nicely. You can get shut out in a matter of seconds, before you even realize that you are distinctly on the outside looking in.

Yeah, it just so happens that these 5 girls don’t have their own father in their lives, but it’s more than just these girls. It’s a lot of Rwandan families I’m seeing; so many are matriarch-dominated.

So, you can also imagine how big of a deal it was for many of my community members to see this 6-foot-tall, dark-haired, Hendrix orange hat-wearing man walking around our village. Moreover, it was my dad. Papa Impano. He had come to Rwanda; but even more moving for them was that he came here, to my little piece of the world, my village. Time and time again, when people would greet us, people would say at least one (if not more) of the following things:

  1. Ehhhhh babe we! Papa yawe! Uri umusore!  (Oh my father! Your father! He is a young, strong man!)
  2. Imana ishimwe! Barasa! (God bless you! You both look the same.)
  3. Amaye inka, papa yawe agukunda cyane pe. (Give me a cow! *an expression of surprise in Kinyarwanda* Your father loves you very much.)

People were very impressed. To travel all of this way, to pay that kind of money; all to see his daughter. It’s been about a month since dad’s visit and still people are talking about how beautiful it was to see him come all the way here because he loves me. It was inspiring, I think, for a lot of people. Even the other day, as I was explaining more intricate details of why and how my parents divorced to Divine, her main comment was that, “well, no matter, because you have good parents. Because your father has come and your mother will come. They love you so much.” It’s like, yeah, how in the world can I argue with that?

Our reunion was pretty epic, I would say. I was jittery from excitement, nerves, and coffee. But all of that dissipated when I saw dad. I was worried that I wouldn’t recognize him right away—maybe he would look a lot older or something—but that wasn’t a problem. Holding his large pea green roller suitcase, he was exiting the baggage area wearing his Hendrix field hockey hat. He looked just like I remembered. I shifted around other people and the gate so I could run right into his arms. It was emotional, and I just couldn’t believe I was hugging him. I couldn’t believe he was here. I couldn’t believe it had been so long. To say the least, it was rather surreal.

Dad’s first impression of Rwanda was that it was, “…really green, with lots of smiling people, and that Kigali was very clean.” Pretty accurate, I would say.

We did a lot in our days together. We traveled to a good portion of Rwanda—and it being the size of Maryland, I suppose it’s not hard to do, but we did so many different things that it was really quite impressive. We ventured around Kigali, eating pizza, playing blackjack, hanging out in the hotel room, dining at the Milles Collines (the hotel that provides the basis for the movie Hotel Rwanda), getting me coffee at Bourbon Coffee, and shopping at several convenience stores (which are always a special treat for me).

Outside of Kigali, we visited my site (ate AND slept here: props to my dad for being an awesome sport), took a pit stop at Lake Muhazi (a large lake out East), ate with my host family in the Southern Province, visited a deeply intense and emotional Genocide Memorial at a church, relaxed beachside in Gisenyi, and saw gorillas in the far North in Musanze.

We alternated between taking a private car and public transportation. Dad’s take on the bus station in three words? Surreal, hectic, and busy.

With all of this moving, visiting, and traveling, we also managed to eat a lot of food. For me, wow! How can I even begin? I was in heaven eating all that I wanted (and for free!) My favorite meal was without question, the meal we shared with my host family and the meal we shared with two of my girls, Maisara and Zahara. These meals contained peas, meat, rice, beans, and vegetables. Of course with Fanta thrown in on the side (it wouldn’t be a Rwandan celebration without it). As for food itself, I loved being able to soak up the pizza and burritos in Kigali. It was amazing at our Kigali hotel (called Top Tower; home of Rwanda’s only casino) that I could wake up in the morning and get FREE breakfast (including cereal). Dad had his own thoughts on food also,

“Even though I ate a lot of good food, the best food was the meat that your host family mom cooked. The worst food I ate was the Bacon Cheeseburger I ate on my second day at the Bourbon restaurant. Now remember, my knee was messed up, and I had some jet lag. However, it still grosses me out when I think of the slab of fat they served me calling it ‘bacon’. I should have complained.”

It’s so comforting to know that on the other side of the ocean I’m going to have someone that in some way, gets it. No, my dad can’t speak Kinyarwanda, or pick up on every single cultural clue (I can’t do that either), but he got a feel for what Rwanda is about, and that’s what matters. It means (and will mean) everything to me that he put himself outside his comfort zone to come here, see what this place is all about, and embrace what Rwanda has to offer. There were difficult times, too. Because at the end of the day, when you are away from someone for a long time you forget about their flaws (this of course goes both ways) but on the flip side, you remember even more strongly about what makes them great. I love that Dad always wants to know as much as he can about something, I love his open attitude (like that he’ll take a video on his IPAD while on a moving moto), and that he is always willing to talk to anybody. I love that he’ll do anything for his family, and maybe more than anything, I love how seriously he takes being a good dad. A lot of dads wouldn’t do what he did. And heck, this isn’t the first time he came to Africa—this is trip number TWO. But like I told him when he was here, if he says something, I believe it. If he says he’ll visit Rwanda, then by jolly, he will visit Rwanda. He told me that the best part of the trip was that, “…I really came to appreciate your home and village. You are a community star and teacher who is making a difference. I also had a great time doing nothing at the beach resort, and being driven around by Claude. The best thing was spending time with you, and seeing you Rwanda style.”

It’s so weird (and awesome) when worlds collide. It can be stressful; you become consumed with stress because you want each part of your life to accept, like, and feel comfortable with each other. But, it can also be incredibly moving; here’s an opportunity to take two experiences, two “yous” and share them. Because ultimately, I am not the same person I was before I left, and to show someone, especially of such importance like my dad, the place where I have put so much of myself, well it’s an honor, really. It’s a meeting, a joining, of someone who has had a profound impact on who I am with a place that’s currently giving some of the greatest joy that I have known. 

There can be confusion—I remember dad asking me in village, upon being visited and greeted seemingly a million times, why do we have to greet every single person?

There can be times of profound amazement—um. Hello. Standing less than a foot from a wild gorilla will do that for you.

There can be times of unrivaled emotion—hearing an old woman explain the history of her family during the Genocide in a small, African home in the middle of a rural village.

And even sometimes, there can be experiences that feel exactly normal, like nothing has changed at all—dad and I spent a good chunk of our dinners and walks discussing politics, the Broncos, and family. We could quite literally, pick up where we left off, even if it has been many days and separation by way of many countries and oceans.

I was just so proud to show my dad this place, and to show this place my dad. When finishing up a long day of home visits on one of the days in my village, my dad remarked about how he had moved from being pretty shocked by my home (he initially thought I was living on “ground zero” in poverty, but by comparison to my neighbors, I actually have a pretty nice home) to starting to really see how a place like this could grow on a person. I just nodded and smile. Good, I thought. He sees it too.

And luckily, overall, dad got to see the best that Rwanda has to offer; in terms of sights, but also in terms of people. Dad was impressed with Rwandans saying that their future is optimistic, with better days ahead, especially with people that are so “genuine and friendly.”

It was hard to see my dad go after 16 days. We arrived at the airport and I could feel the fogginess of my emotion permeating my brain. I just didn’t really want to face the goodbye, and yet, I knew it was inevitable. But something amazing happened right as he put his bag in the security check point; I felt a rush of relief and gratitude. In a matter of seconds, I realized how special our trip was, how important it was for our relationship, and that dad was really right (he had previously repeated better to have love and lost than to have never loved at all—yeah, that’s my dad for you). It was okay. Because he came here (for Christmas, no less), he saw this place, and we shared a lot of new memories. It wasn’t that it was perfect, but that instead, it was a time for family, love, and being together. Ultimately, whether it’s Ghana, Rwanda…or any place in the world, distance doesn’t have to break or degrade a relationship. It gets a chance to grow in a new way, and I walk away from my dad’s trip with the conviction that no matter how many days pass between seeing a person that you love, that love is strong enough to thrive.

Somehow, the world’s lottery (as dad refers to it as) gave me the dad I got, and honest-to-God, I’m so pleased with my winnings. 

after all, we’re only human

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After all, we’re only human.

Is there any other reason why we stay instead of leaving?

-Jon McLaughlin, Human

Dressed in my handy, go-to, red, turquoise, and green Rwandan fabric themed dress, I sat in the audience at the American Ambassador’s House as the newest group of Peace Corps Education Volunteers (called ED-4; my group is called ED-3) took their oaths to serve in Rwanda for the next two years of their lives. I went to support the group—I had spent a couple of weeks teaching about how to use speaking and listening techniques in the classroom and observing the trainees as they went through their first round of teaching in a Rwandan classroom environment—but also to grab a burrito, relish in some margaritas, and enjoy and partake in an epic night on the town. Prior to the holidays, I had spent nearly 4 straight weeks in the village, and I may as well enjoy the festivities, I thought, especially for a special time for a lot of new friends as they enter the Peace Corps world (arguably the best, weirdest, most difficult, and craziest thing to do in life—that’s what I would say, anyway).

It was a strange experience to be on the other side of things—literally and metaphorically. This time, as a guest, I sat on the opposite side of the new-to-be volunteers. I watched their reactions, emotions, and vows throughout the ceremony. I laughed along with the speeches and let myself be moved by the speeches, as well. Their words, especially the English speeches (as I could FULLY grasp everything being said), moved me. Much more than I expected. They spoke with emotional anecdotes, personal insights on why this kind of thing works, and how important it is to follow this dream and commitment. I let the tears rise, and it wasn’t just because of the power of their words, it was also because for the previous week, I had been having an immensely difficult time.

To describe the kind of loneliness you experience here has proved difficult to put in words that actually hit where the heart hurts. I have people here, really amazing people that I love incredibly deeply, and yet, sometimes it just isn’t enough. And what’s weird too, is to realize that maybe the very people that I’m missing wouldn’t even necessarily be the answer to this pang in my mind and thoughts. I think that’s why this brand of loneliness is particularly complicated: the people here in my village don’t really know my life back in America, and my family and friends back home, despite my committed attempts to blog, email, and talk about this experience, and their committed efforts to listen and support me in all things, they still miss the small stuff that I can’t really put into words, pictures, or ideas. There is this gap between my two lives and sometimes it feels wider than usual, making me feel a bit lost in the world, or something like that. Like I said, it’s really hard to describe.

But then there are other things that are much easier to put into words.

  • The week prior to swear-in, I spent hours in my house one rainy day, just crying. And I wasn’t even sure why.
  • I always enjoy my first cup (or three) of coffee in bed, but then I often have the motivation to move about my day—to go outside, walk around, or to even go on a run. During this week, however, I felt no such urgency.
  • A vast majority of my Peace Corps friends went home in the first week or two of break to be with their families for the holiday season. I didn’t realize how hard it would be to see them go—leaving me wondering if I should be going too, and also in the meantime, who I plan to talk and text with while they are out of country?
  • One of my students died. It’s a long winded dramatic story, believe me. I found out just a few days into our vacation, as my senior 3 students were beginning the set of national exams they have to take advance into the advanced levels of secondary school. He, and his young, 10 year old sister, were poisoned by their neighbors. Apparently out of jealousy, another student and his “witch doctor” mother concocted some kind of poison set-up in a batch of sugar cane as to make them sick. Evidently, the intention was not for them to die, but they did. I visited the family a week or so after this all happened, and I felt just so heartsick for them. To lose TWO children? And what does this say about people in my community? This place really is a good place—but why does it always take just one or two people to bring so many others into question? It’s really not fair, for anyone. And so obviously, that has been beyond difficult to deal with. It wasn’t a student I was particularly close with, but he was in fact, my student. And so it’s still pretty uncomfortable and disturbing to talk about.
  • A few times in these more difficult days, I’ve asked myself what if I just left?  Would anyone really care that much? A year of service—that’s still pretty good. And I would walk away with so many good memories and experiences. Maybe I could leave before the start of the first term so I wouldn’t leave in the middle of a school year?
  • Because of the violence and rocky things happening in Eastern DRC, one of our volunteers (and a friend of mine) was removed from her site temporarily and then eventually pushed in a position to return back to America and out of the Peace Corps. This is the 10th volunteer we have lost from our group—most of them from external situations that really can’t be controlled—and it’s so tough every time we lose someone. Yes, I do spend a vast majority of my time at site and not around Peace Corps Volunteers, but the people in our group are like our families, and when they go, it’s really hard. Especially in this particular case; she loved her site, loved Rwanda, and was doing SO many good things in her community.

Yeah, you could say that I haven’t been in a great place. I can tell you this much, remaining optimistic and living a life of positivity is near and dear to my heart, and yet, that’s been challenging lately. So, you can just imagine. It sure hasn’t been easy: and remember, I love this place. I love my job. But like with anything, it ain’t an easy ride. There are moments, phases, and times where things are really good and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else with my life (I probably feel like this about 80% of the time, which I would say is a pretty darn good number for living a life completely different than my first 22 years). There are stages where things are just okay, and of course, there are segments where it just feels like you keep banging your head against a wall and you are quite literally, going nowhere. I recognize this is just how it goes. In Peace Corps, yes, but in life too.

It always gets better.

We’re human, and we find ways to actually feel what we’re feeling, deal with it, and continue with life. Adversity, I think, is one of the most important qualities a person can have. A lot of mentors, family members, and people that I admire have this important characteristic, and I try to bear those very people in mind when I’m going through a rough patch—whether it’s emotionally, spiritually, or whatever it may pertain to. I figured the best thing I could do for myself would be to go to a place that I could enjoy, but more importantly, be with people that would make me laugh, make me feel at home, and relax just a bit. My site is my home (I can say that now without reservation) but to work through these emotions, I realized I needed to get out of my house. I needed a change of scenery, yes, but I needed people that could still lift me up.

I decided to visit my good ole’ student-friend, Divine. She’s the one (and yes, I’ve blogged, talked, and written about her already many times) that lives way out East, near Tanzania when we don’t have school. That’s where most of her family is. However, when school is in session, she lives in my community with her grandmother, helping to take care of her as she lives her last weeks and months. Anyway, I had promised I would come for another visit to see her mother, sisters, and brother. And also, with all of this muck wearing me down, I wanted to be with someone who can lift my spirits without really even trying. And y’all, that’s this girl.

I arrived at her house on a Saturday evening (it was a nearly 4 hour trip from Kigali) and stayed through Tuesday afternoon. 4 days, 3 nights. It was exactly what I needed. I fit quite well in her family, I would say. They totally get my humor, laugh at my Kinyarwanda jokes, and we spend a lot of time just doing more weird stuff that makes us laugh all over again. I would dare say that her family are some of the most jolly (is that the right word? You know, people that love to laugh?) people I’ve met in Rwanda. They are always laughing. It’s so great.

We also ate so much food. SO MUCH. That’s just standard though, when it comes to visiting Rwandans.

We ate, danced, cooked, played sport, visited the Tanzanian border (just me, Divine, and her sister), walked around, fetched water, greeted Divine’s extended family and friends, watched The Lion King, and listened to music. I turned off my phone for most of my visit and not really even because they don’t have electricity and I couldn’t charge. No, I turned it off because I needed a little break from the world so I sure as hell was going to take it. My days out there were a continuum of really feeling at home. Like I said, I just fit in well, and so it’s easy to be there. I think I played hide-and-go-seek with Divine’s little cousin for like an hour. It’s the little things. It really is. 

I arrived back home quite clean (looking and being clean is SUPER important in Rwandan culture), pretty darn tired, but doing a lot better than I was the few days before. Taking a break and visiting Divine didn’t solve all of my doubts, problems, or issues, but wow, as usual, she made me believe in this whole thing all over again, and helped me remember what beautiful seeds I have sown here. Divine is a friend for life, believe it, and being around her encourages me to make the most of my time here. She makes me want to be a better person, and I’m so lucky to have her in my life. In some crazy way, she’s just another sister that I never had.

I came back home with this kind of encouragement ringing throughout my head and heart, loaded with a couple of fresh packages from the post office, and a date to play football with a girls team in my village. I journaled about my trip with Divine, opened my packages (one from Ali, the other from Dad—y’all rock), and I played football, which was like the icing on a cake to a great sequence of days. The best part of the game, without a doubt, was when I shot the ball hard with my right foot, it hit off the right post, and Zahara, one of my friends and students, rebounded it directly back into the goal. YES!!! We jumped up and down and I ran right into her arms. Quite literally. Her hand knocked right into my mouth and teeth, but it didn’t even matter. We were just so excited about this SportsCenter top-10 worthy play. Congratulations! Zahara just said over and over again for like 5 minutes straight. It was a great day for football. And it was a great day, just in general. I walked home after the sun had set, happy for the game, but just happy that I was feeling okay again. Maybe not euphoric like I sometimes and often do, but I’m feeling once again comfortable and able to deal with whatever comes my way.

Lucky for me, the next part of this journey brings me back in the company, presence, and arms of someone I love deeply, fully, and without any reservation.

Dad is coming HERE. To RWANDA.

Could the timing be any better? I really don’t think so.

I’m counting down the days and hours until I get to run and hug him harder than I think I have ever done. Finally. A piece of home is coming here. Finally. 15 months without being face to face with someone from my family or circle of friends is unbelievably hard.

I can’t wait to explore Rwanda with dad, with a new set of eyes, and maybe even more so, I’m so ready for Dad to see where I live. To meet the people in my community, to know this place that I call home, and to get a little taste for what my life is like here.

I’ve cleaned my house. I’ve got our tickets to trek mountain gorillas ready to go. I’ve cleared my camera disc space. He just needs to get here.

I’m okay with how I have been feeling. I really am. It sounds crazy, but after all, we really are only human. We feel things, deal with things, and experience things that hurt, and sometimes we aren’t even sure why. But it’s better to recognize the hurt, I’ve realized, and to do something about it. I know I don’t have to be happy all the time. I know that. But I also understand that it’s important to find ways to deal with your emotions. It doesn’t mean fixing them—it means embracing them, feeling them, and using the gifts God gives us (our family, friends, communities) to help us.

We’re only human, yes. But our powers to love and support each other—and to love and support ourselves—are incredibly powerful.

I’m smart enough to know that life goes by

And it leaves a trail of broken parts behind

If you fear of letting go

Just give me time

I’ll come running to your side

We all need someplace we can hide inside

All these ups and downs

They trip up our good intentions

Nobody said this was an easy ride

-Jon McLaughlin, Human

murakoze (thanks).

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A couple of weeks ago, I was at a Rwandan party (typical) that had to do with some pre-wedding celebration (as to be expected) with Divine (we are basically attached at the hip). I get invited to these sorts of gatherings occasionally with an invitation but most often with a short-notice verbal offer. And usually I say yes. Divine had mentioned the party on a Friday—the final day of school where we passed out reports—and the party was the next day, on Saturday. No problem, I said. And so it was.

I arrived to the wide-open arms of old women draped in traditional Rwandan dress, to a bark brown colored cow, and to a slew of old men on benches already sucking the straws of their shared banana and sorghum beer. Why yes, a Rwandan party indeed. After a few minutes of greeting the family (and let’s be real, working the crowd), Divine whisked me away to a small room on an attached part of the house. The room was quite a bit isolated from everything else, and we sat on an old bed frame with a small blanket, adjacent to a small table holding various household items, like a large spoon to serve and a red jacket to keep warm.

Here, we got to take a break from the stuffy room full of family members discussing wedding formalities, and instead relax, hug, and catch up for a few moments. Abruptly Divine left for a few moments and so I was left alone for a bit (quite common when visiting homes in Rwanda) and wondered what exactly that girl was up to. And y’all, that girl came back holding a 1-liter yellow jug full of banana beer. We kind of have this understanding as I had let her in on my little secret: I like beer. Moreover, I like banana beer (oh yeah, totally have been in the village too long). And so, Divine and I shared this smuggled jug of banana beer in a small, cramped, one-window room in our little village. True friendship.

That party framed the end of not only the school term, but the school year. Before I committed to a long list of holiday obligations and commitments, I spent the last week in my village working on my library project, doing some last minute home visits, and taking some time to just relax. I knew I would need it. My holiday schedule is as follows:

-Model School (helping observe Peace Corps trainees as they practice teaching)

-BE (Boys Excelling) Camp

-Visiting Divine in Eastern Rwanda at her mother’s home

-Visiting another student, Joyce, at her home near the Ugandan border

-Attending and celebrating at the swear-in ceremony for the new group of Education volunteers (called ‘Ed-4’ in Peace Corps lingo)

-DAD’S VISIT TO RWANDA (!!!!!!!)

-New Year’s safari with friends in Eastern Rwanda

-Mid-Service Conference (Peace Corps sponsored conference to discuss ideas, issues, and experiences with my group (‘Ed-3’) as we reach the half-way point of our service)

This particular holiday is approximately 2 months and yet almost every week I have various commitments and events to attend. It’s crazy—even living in rural Rwanda keeps me busy.

In other big news, my sports grant was officially approved by Peace Corps Washington! Which means I can start fundraising. To donate money to help our school acquire materials for our sports program you can follow this link and donate online. Super easy. Everything helps and we would appreciate any contribution you can make!

https://donate.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=donate.contribute.projDetail&projdesc=696-021

I went out for pizza last night with 4 other Peace Corps friends to celebrate Thanksgiving. We went around the table, as per tradition, to share what we are thankful for.

Admittedly (and so not surprisingly), I got a bit emotional and teary-eyed as I explained how much I have treasured and valued the support I’ve received the past year.

From my wonderful network of family and friends back home to the new support systems and families that I have found in Rwanda, not a day has passed that I haven’t been encouraged. Packages, letters, phone calls, hugs, smiles, skype dates, conversations, greetings, and the building of relationships are just the beginning of this kind of support. I can’t really explain it, but I suppose when you move a bagillion miles away to a new place you are able to see your life in a new way, with a fresh lens. I’ve reflected on a lot of things and one things for sure: the people in my love are the driving force for all that I do. I can do this because people believe in me. I can do this because it’s beyond worth it—even in the tough days. I do this because I think God brings us to exactly what we need. I can do this because it’s what is meant to be. My life in Rwanda is no longer just about me, and I think that’s important to note. It’s a strange mixture of the past and present, of the people who shaped the woman I have been, and the people that are influencing the woman I am becoming. It’s a blending of giving and receiving, of believing and trusting. It’s an extraordinarily difficult experience sometimes, but that’s why I love Thanksgiving. This day, in particular, reminds you of what you can offer to the world and what the world gives you. It helps you reflect on what God has put in your life and what exactly you can do with it. Thanksgiving makes you believe in your potential and life again. And so even celebrating a couple days late, I’m just bursting at the seams with gratitude, unsure of exactly how ended up here, but just so glad I have.

 Murakoze (thank you). 

ROAD TRIP: Tanzania

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ZANZIBAR: THE BEACH

The sheets at Baby Blue Lodge are white crisp, thin, and mold perfectly to the grooves and lines of my body. I’m sharing a king sized bed with Catie and Suzi and even with the three of us, I slept between the comfort of our sheets and the blue-lined mosquito net without any problem. I woke to the sounds of the ocean and Africa mixed together—seagulls crying desperately in sync with chickens calling for their loved ones on the ground. My feet touched the sandy colored dirt hollow floor and I smiled. We are here. We made it to Zanzibar.

***

Before we met the Indian Ocean, far before I could relax with a Safari Lager (a Tanzanian brew), and pre-bathing suit, we started our journey from the Peace Corps office in Kigali. I had come in on a Monday afternoon after I was able to submit my final grades for my students in the second term. I came into town dismayed to find that the burrito place is closed for some reason on Mondays, but no matter, we continued to set about for our departure—arriving for our 5:10am bus at 4:00am at the Nybagogo bus park. I decided to forgo sleeping the night before and so I was rather loony (more so than usual) as we boarded our green “pimped out” Taqua bus. We all got assigned seats together and moved slowly as we prepared our home for the next two-ish days. The bus wasn’t all that bad actually. I mean, would I choose it for a dream home? Heck no. But it was a neat experience to drive (especially for only 50 bucks) across the entire country of Tanzania; we cruised by rural villages—desolate, dry, and full of secluded mud huts with small pockets of people. The densely populated greenery of Rwanda felt like another world.

We had one major stop in Dodoma (at an African version of a rest stop) of about 4 hours so the drivers could have an extended rest. Dimly lit shops offered meat, eggs, chips (fried potatoes, French fries if you will), tea, and bread among other things. In the pitch black of darkness, Sara and I shared a delicious ginger infused East African Tea, with some doughnuts. We passed the hours talking to a lovely and kind Tanzanian woman, Hilda, and using whatever light we could find to read our respective books (I was reading Running the Rift, an incredibly written story of fiction based on the history of Rwanda—a young Olympic hopeful runner has to navigate his dreams as the Genocide becomes more of a reality in the mid-90’s in Rwanda). After sunlight broke through in early morning and the sky settled into its morning routine, we arrived in Dar es Salaam—the next point in getting closer to Zanzibar, a large island off the coast.

We found our way to the ferry with bags underneath our eyes and arms, bought our second class tickets (we are PCVs after all) and braved the crowded cluster of people: tourists, Zanzibarians, workers, and everyone in between (crowds were extra high—of course it’s sweet summer time, but also because a lot of Tanzanians like to go to Zanzibar during Ramadan). I didn’t think twice about our safety on our catalina-esque boat. I had expected something of a huge barge—like the one you take to Staten Island in New York, and instead we got the Kilimanjaro III, a big speedboat machine. Classy. Sara and I joked about hitting a ‘sandburg’ as if we were on an African version of the Titanic or something, but this joke was silenced and shamed when people next to us on the top deck began to freak out. Rapid pointing and rushed voices made us suspicious. Dolphins? No. Try a sinking ferry. My glasses were buried beneath an assortment of fruit, books, and notebooks in my bag so I didn’t get a direct look as the ship went under. But, when we docked in Stonetown (the main town of Zanzibar), the staff all but threw us off the boat—our ferry was becoming the rescue boat to try and save what we heard was over 200 people on a ferry that was just 200 feet away from us.

***

Later, when we nuzzled on indescribably comfortable couches and pillows, we processed what happened out there. Peace Corps called checking in. BBC highlighted the news. Wow. What a close call. Life sure is weird.

After the ferry craziness, we met Stonetown, Zanzibar, embracing the old washed over buildings, the fishing boats tumbling over the water, and a hellish amount of money hungry taxi drivers. We spent the first hour or two in what felt like a time portal where we lost time doing nothing. We hired a taxi who drove us in circles to an ATM and then switched us into a mini-van like you would find back in the Burbs. Whatever, I thought. Let’s just get on our way. In efforts to save money (no surprise, our visas were double what they thought they would be and the price of the ferry was a big chunk of change) I had a mixed salad for dinner. It was extraordinarily underwhelming (as a mix of cabbage, peppers, and carrots could be) but our free breakfast every day (mango, passion fruit, chapatti, nutella, egg, and watermelon) redeemed the food question in full. Plus, Baby Bush Lodge left tea and coffee out all day. FOR FREE. Heaven? Yes. We’re barefoot. And I’m a tourist…which is pretty awesome. Never thought I would be so happy about that.

***

It would be only a couple of days later when I received the news about the shooting at the movie theatre in my hometown, Aurora, Colorado. Relieved that my family was unharmed but deeply disturbed by the pain that many community members were dealing with, I felt adrift, sad, and somehow, in world of paradise, homesick.

***

Pure light surrounded me—above, below, between. The white pearlish sand snug tight in the crevices of my sneakers, the sun baiting on my pasty white skin lined with sweat and sunscreen. Low tide. The water—green, blue, navy, and teal—watched us run by waiting for wind to bring it to shore. Catie, a Boulder granola crunching athlete ran yards ahead of me. Seaweed squished beneath me with every other step. For months, I’ve ran on the dusty village roads. Here, it was me, the sand, the water, and light. Tears brimmed my eyes. The weight of worry, anxiety, and looming decisions bounced off my heart like a toddler on a trampoline. Music from Relient K strung along and everything lifted with the light. No matter what happens, I’m okay.

ZANZIBAR: STONETOWN

I’ve slept about 8 hours over the last couple of days. Typically, vacations are for sleep and relaxation. But, we travel a bit differently I suppose. After a few serene days at the beach, we altered out travel plans just a bit (turns out later, this would cause all kinds of disruptions and changes in our trip) so that we could stay a night in Stonetown. We tasted Stonetown one of the nights we were exploring outside of our beach area, and we loved it. Stonetown has this lively, delicious, yummy (did I mention DELCIOUS!) night market. On the menu at a variety of stands to choose from, you can have Zanzibar Pizza (including one with banana and nutella), a sugarcane juice drink, falafel, and meat kabobs. Rwanda doesn’t have street food (its bad culture to eat in public) so this was like the mecca of food for us. We were beyond excited.

Our night peaked well before the night market though, as we walked around exploring, and stumbled upon a place with happy hour. Not only did they have happy hour, but hello, mojitos and daiquiris were on the menu. Moreover, the place that hosted this delightful happy hour was on the rooftop of a hotel/restaurant that made you feel like you could have been in the Caribbean, in Morocco, or in an old European city all at once. We referred to this place as heaven. Believe me, it’s about as close as you could get.

We laughed over drinks about our nights on the beach with the Masai people (a pastoral group of Africans in Northern Tanzania and Kenya—look them up, they are pretty cool), about our ridiculous Peace Corps lives, and just how cool of a place Stonetown was. We also spent a majority of our night looking for a place to stay. Our situation…well it was somehow complicated. We had managed to book lodging, but with our numbers and shortage of money…that option fell through. So, I’ll just say we made it work. We managed to find a hotel room for an affordable price…and well here’s a little akabanga (secret). We had to leave the room at 5am (per the hotel manager; it was a part of our little bargain) and so we stumbled weakily (we were half way asleep) onto the beach right off of Stonetown and slept for 2 hours until daybreak came. That’s right, I can cross that little goal off the bucket list: to sleep on a beach. Done and done.

DAR ES SALAAM

Subway was once a fast food sandwich stop that was frequently the food of choice for our hockey team along the stretch of highways throughout Arkansas, Kentucky, Indiana, and Tennessee to name a few. Ellie, our coach, would reluctantly trudge down the narrow aisle of our coach bus, taking stock of our Disney themed blankets (growing up is so overrated) and would ask, “what about Subway?” Our choices were often limited mind you, and as college hockey players, a Big Mac before an 80 minute match wasn’t a sensible option. So, I don’t blame her. But for the past 5 years, well, I have cringed a little at the sound of a Subway foot long. Trust me, I ate a lot of those. Once, even a foot long and a Big Mac in the same day—but that’s another story, first date material, I’m sure.

***

Yesterday, after a rocky ride into Dar es Salaam on the ferry we found lodging (The Rainbow Hotel—no messing around with lodging this part of the trip!) and perused the vertical and horizontal blocks of the city. Indeed, a city it was! A local said Dar (the capital of the East African Community) is home to 4 million people. There are tall and large buildings everywhere, smog, people moving all over the place, and lots and lots of cars! Kigali too is a city, but this one is on a much larger scale, a little more worn in, and on top of everything else, it sits right on the ocean. We found a shopping center complete with jewelry shops, a supermarket, a pizza place…and a Subway! We opened the door to the extraordinarily small version of America’s popular chain and the fresh bread got me so excited that I jumped up and down. I got as close to a version Ali and I always go back on road trips (chipotle chicken) and my tummy was pretty happy as Southwest ranch dribbled all over my face. I do love Rwandan food and African food at large, but sometimes there’s nothing like eating something familiar to your taste buds—even if it is Subway.

***

It would be fun to say that our stay in Dar was full of intrigue, crazy nights, and spontaneity. But, truth be told, our exhaustion had set in, so following our shopping trip and Subway afternoon delight, we went back to our hotel room with cable and watched TV. And you know what? We had a marvelous time. Though I wanted to keep the channel on the field hockey sports channel (the hotel was Indian owned, and thus a lot of channels about popular Indian sports, like cricket and field hockey) I compromised and we spent a great deal of the night watching the Discovery Channel and Animal Planet. We’re cool, we know. We tried to catch some sleep as well, because our next leg of the journey—on to Moshi (close to Mt. Kilimanjaro—would begin with yet another bus ride (this one would be about 8 hours) at 6:00am sharp. Traveling nomads? You bet.

MOSHI, ARUSHA, & HOME

Sweat, heat, frustration and exhaustion wraps itself around my body. It’s 1:00am. There’s screaming outside from men leaving the bar and their never-ending billiards game. Mosquitos and flies filter in and out of our holey white mosquito net. All five of us are sharing one queen sized bed. The end of our travels has brought us here. Stacked against each other, I have to move. I reposition myself at the end of the bed, curl up, and hope for sleep. We are leaving for Rwanda in the morning (from a place a couple hours from the border, called Kahama)—two days later—and sleeping on a bus with bumpy dirt roads at times proves fruitless.

***

A few days ago—was it three? Two? I’m not really sure anymore—we spent a couple of days in Moshi, Tanzania. Moshi, the greenest town in Tanzania, reminded me of an African version of Boulder, Colorado. It was much cleaner than other parts of Tanzania, the people were incredibly friendly (our customer service at the Twiga Hotel was some of the best I’ve ever received), and as a base to Mt. Kilimanjaro, it’s beautiful! We spent the majority of our time in Moshi (I just also love saying that name—reminds me of Yoshi from Mario Cart) outside exploring (we got to see rice fields, a forest, and a waterfall), at our hotel eating (the grilled cheeses were too good to be true, and they were showing Olympic replays from Beijing before London 2012 began), and at a local coffee shop that was just about the best place you could ever get coffee, smoothies, or delicious food from. The Coffee Shop (that’s what it’s called) is located in the middle of town and has the coolest vibe going for it. You can sit out back, among trees and the patio, and order everything from espresso, to a mango smoothie, to coffee cake, to waffles, to quiche. Inside, it has a huge board full of houses available to rent, yoga groups, cooperatives in Moshi for women, and travel trips to climb, hike, or camp in the mountainous areas. Like I said, it was a cool place. As a group, we loved Moshi, and I am definitely pushing for a reunion there in a few years. Only next time, we can actually climb the mountain (it’s expensive; thus our choice to do activities near the base of the mountain only)!

***

Because we wanted yet another extra day in Moshi (we loved it that much; and hey, why not extend our epic vacation?) and we realized we could not get transport from Moshi to Kigali, we had to wait another day and catch a bus to Arusha (about an hour away) and organize transport there. Arusha was less than impressive, in my opinion. It was somehow a big city, with a lot of things happening (and I noticed a heck of a lot of shoes for sell) but I wasn’t really sure how to navigate myself around there. I suppose I was just disoriented. That can definitely happen in African towns. We managed to buy overpriced tickets to Kigali (we would later find out that direct tickets wasn’t exactly true; the tickets took us to Kahama, about 2 hours from the border, but we would have to wait an extra day to continue the trip), get another shared room at a lovely establishment called 7-11 (I’m not kidding) and find some food for the evening. We went to a hole-in-the-wall place for some traditional dishes (I opted for some doughnuts and tea—actually quite satisfying) and to finish our meal, we bought corn on the cob with lime juice and salt. Quite tasty! After exploring Arusha as much as we really could (and felt up to doing) we finished our night together with a screening of Twilight on Catie’s laptop. Vacation rocks.

***

Like I said, our tickets didn’t take us home in one day like they were arranged on the front part of our vacation. So, we had one more day close to the border before we could finally get moving in the direction of crossing the border back into Rwanda. We had to keep Peace Corps informed on our whereabouts, and because we had no money, and also had no way to buy phone credit (we have a different company than Tanzania offers) our security officer sent us credit to get in touch with people in Rwanda to inform them about arriving late. We crossed into Rwanda about 10 days after we had started, and it sure was nice to speak Kinyarwanda again, to see those good ole banana trees, and just to feel at home.

Traveling is one of the best life experiences, but it’s also great because you always get to go back to where you started. I felt strangely exhausted and refreshed at the same time. I had a bit of everything while in Tanzania—we had beaches, we had the Obama Bar, we hung out with Masai men, we had cities, we had American and Tanzanian food, we had bus rides, boat rides, long walks, laughter, stress, heat, coldness, and we had one hell of a time. I got to do all of this with some great friends and it’s such a great opportunity to get to know Africa just a bit better. Africa has to be one of the coolest continents in the world. What a few weeks it has been: I went from all of this in Tanzania, to GLOW Camp, and now, finally, finally, I get to be home. It’s fun to tell my neighbors, students, and friends, all about my journeys. Sometimes, I can’t really even believe it myself.

***

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I have received 25 packages and a multitude of letters over the last 10 months; yes, I sure am a blessed young woman. These packages have come from back home, all over the great United States of America, and from other corners of the world, like England and Ghana. I get an anxious-tingling feeling every time I make the hour-ish long trip to the post office: what will that blue and red US postal box hold this time? What letters will await me? I usually wait until I get back home–sweaty, dirty, and happy–to open my mail. I’ve gotten some of the best things that have made me feel loved, at home, and downright reassured that I’m not alone in this thing. Some of the highlights have been:

  • a red and black french press (I use this baby every. single. day.)
  • save the date cards for my friends’ weddings
  • MACNCHEESE (you can never have enough. life theory #54)
  • pictures of grandma and I that she had in her own photo collection
  • christmas decorations (even a Christmas tree!)
  • Mickey stuffed animal (I have a soft spot for this Disney icon after our trip to Disney last summer)
  • FRIENDS episodes on a flash drive
  • an external hard drive for my extensive media collection (PCVs have more boot-legged shows and movies than you could even imagine)
  • chopsticks????? (this one always makes me laugh. thanks dad)
  • pancake mix and aunt jemima syrup
  • velveeta (you don’t want to know how fast it took me to consume this block of fake cheese)
  • doritos (I forgot how good cool ranch really is)
  • coffee mug from Starby’s with a Colorado theme
  • highly successful glue mouse traps (the mice have left the building, my friends!)
  • arnold palmer mix
  • cards for all occasions (I love greeting cards. my secret dream is to write for hallmark. seriously.)
  • yoga pants (I’ve added an entirely new dimension to zumba. believe me.)
  • olive oil (if you’re going to cook with oil, you may as well try and be healthy with it!)
  • candles (more than just for romantic evenings….this is how I SEE at night)

Everything that arrives to BP 14 in Kibungo warms my heart. So seriously, thanks. Care packages and letters remind me that I have love, prayers, and support all over the world and in turn, encourages me in difficult moments that I indeed, can do this.

Besides love from back home, there’s other things that help me feel connected to the “outside world”. An outside world, indeed, it can feel as such sometimes. For about two weeks straight recently, I didn’t leave site at all–my computer sat above my desk, hidden under papers, dead, and I didn’t check my email, nor did I leave to go to the bank. I was completely immersed in things happening in my village. If America had succumbed to anarchy I wouldn’t have had a clue, if Lady Gaga birthed a child I would have missed it completely, and if the Mayans decided to move up their date for the end of the world, well, I would have been the last to know. And so, recalling my friend Sara’s advice–get a radio, it’s amazing–I invested about 10 dollars of my monthly stipend to purchase a Sonitec short wave black radio from a nearby boutique. Batteries included. I walked home proudly: my community was so excited for me!

Rwanda has one of the highest rates of radio usage in the world–add it to the list of chai, church, greetings, and dancing as an important cultural element. My village gets quiet around 6:30 or 7:00. Sometimes, when I lie in bed at night, at the late hour of 8:30 or something, I hear nothing but the thickness of silence and Kinyarwanda gospel songs coming from my neighbors’ radio. 10 months in, I’m a little late to the take, but hey, better late than never, right? I got me a trusty ole’ radio–my cultural immersion continues.

And my, I’m OBSESSED. The radio runs on 2 large D batteries, and I have a feeling I will through those babies pretty darn quickly. If I’m home, my radio is probably on. My friend Fidele once said that radio was so great because, “even if you are alone, you don’t feel that way when you can hear songs, broadcasts, and news from around the world.”

Preach it, Fidele, because holy moly, I’m a convert. Voice of America and the BBC station are my favorite channels (go figure–ENGLISH speaking) but I can listen to Kinyarwanda stations and be perfectly happy. Voice of America (104.2 FM) has a lovely blend of news, and get this, new and old songs. So, on a program they have called Border Crossings or Acoustic Cafe (this Sunday’s theme was songs about Route 66–classic America), I can hear old Motown hits and also hear the latest from singers like Demi Lovato or Old Crow Medicine Show. I just heard “I Won’t Give Up” from Jason Mraz this morning over coffee, loved it, and now am listening to it on repeat on youtube (because even the stars, they burn…we got a lot to learn, God knows we’re worth it). It’s so nice to hear new songs (even if they aren’t SUPER new to people back in the States) because I don’t feel so far away. In miles and in culture. More importantly, maybe, is that I am actually up to date on the world. Saudi Arabia is sending two women to the Olympics, the US lifted economic sanctions on Burma, Mitt Romney visited an NAACP conference in Houston, Texas, Syria is a complete mess, South Sudan’s independence hasn’t really solved a lot of problems, there was a suicide bomber in Afghanistan, and Kate Middleton is still lovely as ever.

I never quite realized how important news is to me, but I really think being informed on the latest in the world is important–even if it errs on the depressing side.That’s what music is for!

My music from my radio (I call it ‘Teddy’; I have a terrible habit (or is it sickness?) of naming inanimate objects…) is blaring, my mocha flavored coffee is hot, and I’m packing. Me and the girls (Suzi, Sara, Catie, and Meredith) leave Kigali for Zanzibar on Tuesday. (!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

We’re busing is which will take nearly 30 hours–one way. I’m not packing Teddy the radio, and instead am shoving and throwing my journal, handfuls of books, my camera, and sleep medication (come on. that’s a long time to be on a bus) into my bags. I’ll be back in about a week and a half, and though I’ll be sad to say goodbye to beaches, Kilimanjaro, and an epic road trip upon my return, I can at least turn on Voice of America or a local pop station and relax with some classic music and news. I never imagined a radio of all things could make me so happy. But, hey, life’s funny like that.

Bon voyage.

what I’m busing 30 hours for. totally worth it.