I feel like I’m living like a king.
I’ve changed my cooking methods, for one. For the past 10 months I’ve relied on the black sooty chunks of charcoal to generate enough heat to power my meals, coffee, and water for bathing my often dusty body. When the charcoal bag reached ends meet, I contemplated purchasing another 10-ish dollar rice sack of amacara (that’s charcoal in Kinyarwanda). Yet, I put that thought on the back burner when I stumbled (quite literally) over this old dinky pea green petrol stove I bought before moving from the Peace Corps training site to my home. Let’s give this petrol stove a trial run, I thought.
BEST. DECISION. EVER.
I can cook water in 10 minutes (not 45) and I can come home and get right into cooking—not prepping my source of heat for an obscene amount of time (though, my charcoal lighting skills have gotten quite advanced, I would say). Oh and speaking of power. I GOT IT! And, I don’t mean the self-encouraging, confident, believe in yourself type. I HAVE ELECTRICITY.
I was gone from site for several days due to taking part in Peace Corps training (teaching new trainees how to teach listening and speaking in the classroom) and visiting Suzi and so I was rather consumed with things outside of my home and outside of my site. However, I got a call one morning from our school accountant and my friend Emi, who told me that they would be breaking into my house to install electricity. Seriously? Did I hear that correctly? And truth be told, I didn’t really believe it—that is until I saw it. Concrete crumbles were scattered in all of the nooks and crannies of my wall corners, workers were meticulously connecting things together in every room, and red and black wires began to intertwine with my beige bamboo ceiling. Oh the sweet wires. When I saw those babies I knew this was the real deal. When it was time to flip the white switch in my front room, I saw the bulb light every where I could see and I gleefully absorbed all of what this meant. I can cook at night enjoyably (without knocking over pots, pans, and spices due to the lack of light); I can actually see my floors (maybe assess whether they are actually clean); I don’t have to have a strategic game plan every single time I want to charge my electronics; I can grade papers (I have 381 students so you do the math) without hurting my eyes more than they will already hurt; and I can watch a tv show. Or two. Or three. My life will change, and hey, I’m cool with that.
I’m proud of myself—I did the no electricity thing for over a year. And you can make it. It’s possible. Most people in my village do it just fine. But, it’s hard. And I don’t think I’m some unsung hero or anything; I just remember thinking how scary/crazy it was when back in the ‘burbs the power would leave for like 23 minutes and Lance and I would grab blankets, security devices, and extra snacks for the duration without electricity. And this would be midday, mind you. I just have some added perspective, that’s all. And so you can bet that with each hour of light and power, I’ll be oh so grateful.
Another great thing about all of this is timing. Suzi had been planning a trip out East to visit me for several weeks and so as I went through all of these positive adjustments, Suzi was right there with me. Our journey to my house was full of rain, leaky bus roofs, and small cramped bus rides, but we made it. Even with added miscommunications with the bus people and the always present beast in the room: KINYARWANDA.
Suzi got to meet some of my students (and see some of them do their choreography to ‘Baby’ by the Biebs), talk with my headmaster, and see the rain damage to our school all within an hour in my village. It was just the beginning: Suzi’s visit was full of wine (thanks to Jon—an Australian merlot straight from England, HOLLER), magazines, macaroni and cheese, salad, coffee, ‘Abana daycare’ (Abana means children)—this involved Suzi and I hanging out with 14ish neighborhood kids playing Frisbee, bubbles, serving porridge, duck-duck-goose (changed to ihene-ihene-inka for cultural purposes—ihene means goat and inka means cow), and lots of photographs—, visiting my dear friend Jacqueline, watching 30 Rock, and lots of laughter, catching up, and relaxing in between.
There are some photos and there are these words but I guess I just forgot how wonderful, reaffirming, and joyous it is to share life with others. I do mean life in the most general sense: whether you’re sharing your family, showing the place you grew up, or cooking a special meal for another person, it’s just a really neat thing to open your life up a bit. I don’t know of a more heartwarming feeling than standing by and watching someone love what you love, to find the same joy in something you really care for, and to understand and have a context for a life you take a lot of pride in. And the best part is, for me, is that Suzi gets it. She exclaimed ‘your site is awesome!’ and how adorable my students are numerous times and I just wanted to jump up and down yelling, ‘YES! I KNOW, RIGHT?!’
The same sort of giddy contentment rushed through me when I visited the family last week while teaching the new group of Peace Corps education trainees. I had spoken with Taylor (the new trainee who lives with my host family, the third volunteer to do so, I was the first one) and I told her I was coming for a visit but I wanted it to be kept a secret as to surprise mama and papa. I was all but skipping down the familiar paths of my training days. I may be glad (beyond glad actually) to be done with training, but I always always enjoy seeing the people who took me in as their own, despite me being American, me being white, and me being just plain weird. When I turned the corner, I gulped down some adrenaline fueled energy, braced myself for the biggest hugs you could ever imagine from the neighborhood kids, and glanced up in time to see mama jumping up and down with her hands to her face in sheer surprise. I have been back three times now, and literally, each time it’s like coming home. It’s the closet thing I will have here; and really, it is actually that very experience, because in so many ways, that will always be a home for me.
It had been a long time—over 6 months—and so a visit was long overdue. As I downed 4 cups of milk tea, ate cassava bread with Taylor, and basked in all of the ruckus and excitement, I learned quickly how Taylor was equally happy with our host family. It’s a tough situation without a doubt, but we wholeheartedly agreed: we got SO blessed with Emmanuel and Bernadette and the kiddos as our host family in Rwanda (and the most beautiful part is that both mama and papa would tell you the same about the Peace Corps trainees that they have hosted, like I said, they are so precious). Taylor told me stories of her teaching ‘Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes’ to some of the girls, we exchanged mama superwoman stories (she’s superwoman if I’ve ever seen one) and how she literally can do anything, and of papa praying in the morning (followed by mama’s beautiful singing), and how they are just about the most welcoming people we have ever encountered. She was glowing and raving and spilling out with all of this positivity and again, I was reminded of how amazing it is to be able to relate to her in such a way and to share these very similar feelings and experiences. We’re sisters of sorts and we have a family with hearts of solid gold.
When you open parts of your life to people and you take a step back, you see things from a new perspective, as if you are seeing with fresh eyes. It’s renewal and the best part is you realize exactly what’s in front of you. These weeks have glided by effortlessly (even with my computer, phone, and French press all breaking in the same day about a week ago) and I’m realizing how much I have here.
When did that happen?
I’m seeing that even if my best village friends consist of a 3 year old, a 19 year old, and a 45 year old, it doesn’t really matter because the love that they have is quite real.
I’m finding that seeds grow.
I’ve spent the better part of the last 10 months in my village greeting, visiting, praying, visiting again, playing football, and going on aimless walks—and for what? To show my community that I’m here. To “integrate” as Peace Corps would say, which to me means sucking it up and putting yourself out there, even if you get laughed at. It means doing things that might make you uncomfortable (like 6 hour church services, a super long visit, or going on long trips) because you love someone and you want to show that to them. It means sharing yourself, hoping they’ll share in return. This process takes time. And Lord knows, it’s Rwanda, so it takes a VERY long time.
But it’s going. As we say here, slow by slow. Buhoro, buhoro.
As I’ve seen my life here with new lenses these last couple of weeks, I’m grateful, humbled, and happy with what I see.
It’s not my horn that I’m tooting—it’s my community’s. I live in a great place with really good people. Sure, it’s the village, with poverty and an entire slew of problems, but I’ve been more than welcomed and taken care of for nearly a year. I’ve been let in homes, in families, and in relationships. When I leave site for whatever reason, I can’t wait to come back. When I first got site, I remember checking frequently how many days remained in my service. Yes. My service. The whole whopping two years. I would check one day and it would read: 615. Soon, it would be under 600. One day it read 559. I can’t believe I did that. I haven’t done that in probably 7 or 8 months. I imagine what it will feel like to leave here and well….I can’t. I’ve planted the seeds, but it’s been my community, my students, my loved ones here that have tilled the soil, cultivating something far more beautiful than I really ever expected.
As I share this with visitors and friends, y’all will see that too and I think be equally moved.
It’s this kind of stuff that makes this world a better place.