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.