Tag Archives: running

dusk run

Standard

*5:00pm
I’ve waited nearly 2 and a half hours for my pasta and veggie stir-fry to settle smoothly in my stomach. Does that sound healthy? I should probably note that an extreme amount of cheese was used in this particular creation. I spent my afternoon looking up proverbs to teach, organizing my lessons, and marking an exercise where my students created their own flags to represent their class. I lie for a few minutes on my mat before a surge of energy finds my muscles and I pop up, ready to find my gear. I tie my frayed and faded laces on my pink Asics. I have a strange love affair with these shoes. They are dirty (an ultimate Rwandan no-no) and worn but we’ve gone lots of places together – all over Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, and England – and so I don’t mind their gravel-infused look. I reach for a black sleeveless shirt (which prompts most of my neighbors to call me umusore – meaning a strong young man – as they seem intrigued by athletic looking arms, yes this is real life) and my Hendrix black pants. Like my shoes, these pants have been worn on at least 90% of my runs in Rwanda. Between the shoes, pants, and headband that I always run with, I realize how much a part of my routine and life this thing is – running, I mean. Yep, it’s time to run.

*5:21pm
I’m on the road, kicking dust right away. 20 minutes before, I wasn’t sure how I was going to force my body to move. But as with anything, once you get going you can find a rhythm and move along beautifully. This red-brown soil attaches to my skin much in the same way that children do here too. Fast and strong. After 5 minutes my ankles are caked with the remnants of the road. Welcome to dry season. I saw rain at my house last week though it was the first time I had seen imvura (rain) in months. I pass an old man tilling some small plots in the front of his mud-bricked house and I greet him with a small but chirpy “mukomere” – translated in English as you all be strong. Even though it’s late afternoon here the sun is still a force to be reckoned with. That, and like I said, dried out soil can be a pain to cultivate. Plus, “mukomere” is a common way to greet people around here (think hey y’all in Arkansas); it’s just what you do.

*5:34pm
Today I decide to forgo one of my planned routes (I have many; all of which I have given a special name so I can record that routes I choose daily) and run a spontaneous track in, out, and through banana fields in the cell next to mine, called Nkamba. Cell is an administrative term referring to a large neighborhood and community; Rwanda is broken down by country-province-district-sector-cell-village (for me, it would be Rwanda-East-Kayonza-Ruramira-Umubuga-Kajembe). First, I pass Nkamba center and wave as people watch me go by. Some are sitting in shade. A group of tailors are working on their old-time sewing machines. Goats are being led home from feeding in the open fields. Today I even see a man carrying materials for a tin roof on his bicycle. These materials had to be at least 12 feet long. It’s not that surprising to see this sort of thing but I am always boggled by the seemingly implausible strength of Rwandans. It appears they can push, carry, or pull anything. There’s a special spot in this road that brings the same children out to greet me every day, without fail. But it’s far more than as short “hello”. It goes like this:

Me: Mwiriwe abana! (Hello children!)
Children: IMPANO! IMPANO! IMPANO! Dore Impano! (Impano is my Kinyarwanda name; Look it’s Impano!
Me: Yambi. (Give me a hug)
Children: *hugs all around* Impano, tunga! (snap our fingers, Impano)
Me: *snapping fingers for all the children*
All of us together: YAYYYYY! (yes, I taught them this gem of an English expression)

It’s not a long interaction but it’s beyond enough to bring a smile to my face and brighten my day. I love those kiddos.

*5:48pm
I come to a clearing away from water fetching foot traffic (with the sun setting soon it’s last call to go and get water – be it from our small lake or a water pump source). On both sides of me all I can see is banana trees. Above, I lose my breathe as I see how the clouds have formed intricately around the sun. It’s perfectly golden at this time and the sky molds into one. Starting with baby blue hues to the East, the colors shift to murky purples and into a burning pink as you look closer to the sun’s domain. I keep running of course, but feel in awe as I absorb the scenery around me. The good. The bad. And many times, the beautiful.

*5:55pm
It’s Rwanda and to no surprise nothing goes as you initially plan. I really reach my stride as I pass the community football field and prepare to run a loop around the mosque. However, right as my legs are kicking into high gear, I run into (quite literally) one of my girls’ mothers. She greets me but is quick to mention the problems their family is having right now. This is not unusual. They are a family that I do genuinely love but struggle to trust. They’ve taken advantage on numerous occasions of the relationships I have built with their girls. And so she’s speaking and I’m praying. I pray I can listen without passing judgment. I pray fervently that I can show the love that I do have for her. We agree on a visit in a couple of days. Night is coming, after all, and I need to get home.

*6:05pm
Because I’m in the general vicinity, I decide to stop and greet Divine at her uncle’s home. I jog intently and call her name as I approach the front of her house and breathe heavily from the uphill incline. I see her smiling face appear in her small window and she delightfully says, “Yezu umukiza” – meaning “Jesus, the incomparable and perfect one.” It’s a Catholic term for excitement. I trek behind her uncle’s banana beer shop that is attached to their home and so inevitably I am welcomed by old men and women who have quite possibly been drinking for hours. They sit on the ubiquitous brown Rwandan benches. They are kind and warm drunks and so it’s not a big deal. Greet. Shake hands. Continue inside. Divine and I have a short conversation (unusual for us) in her 8×8 room. She expects me to prepare a prayer for our prayer group tomorrow (we go every Tuesday) at the Catholic Church. She’ll help me put it in Kinyarwanda after I write my ideas in English and I can share in front of the study group. No pressure. But I love that about her; she pushes me to try and do things for the sake of experience and living life fully. I tell her I will be ready. And I will.

*6:26pm
The rays of the sun have long gone and the sky is turning into a deep dark navy. I’m running among stars. If you look up for just a moment, you can truly become lost in it all. Nothing can beat a dark Rwandan sky. The stars and the moon provide small bits of light (along with the occasional motorcycle passing by or if the power is working, there is a string of streetlights near my house too). I am blaring one of my favorite songs on my IPOD shuffle- “Oceans from Rain” – and I’m trying not to stumble over small pivots and stones in the road. It’s my first time to run in the night. Going on walks, oh, I do that all the time (it’s always when Divine is walking me home). But running? Not until today. And it was calming, freeing, and fun. I was wearing my Lion King sweatshirt over my attire and so I was sweating substantially as I neared my adorable green house. I arrive home to no power but I don’t even mind. I do some exercises with some newly acquired resistance bands and heat the small water I have in my jerry can in order to take a bucket bath. My roommates are cooking, chatting, singing, and just existing. I get cozy in bed once I am clean with my headlamp, music, peppermint tea, and notebook.

I write.
*
I run so I can take it all in.
I write so I don’t forget.
*

Advertisements

superwomen

Standard

Running was easy today.

More than easy, it was as if all of the joy, energy, and enthusiasm that were flowing through my mind, body, and heart were filtering right into my blood, lifting my legs with a strength I hadn’t felt for what seemed like days and weeks prior. I could have run for hours if the sun wasn’t saying goodbye to our little piece of the world. The sun was setting, it was getting close to 6:00, and on my way home I ran into some of my GLOW girls still making their way home from our over 3-hour long celebration for International Women’s Day. We greeted each other in a classic Heather-student sort of way.

Me: “Superwomen!!!!!”

Girls: “Yessssss….superwomen!!!!”

Me: Today I am very happy. The party was wonderful!

Maisara: Today I am so happy!!!

Me: But I am sorry! Be patient. You are very late to go at home. Go home and eat! You are hungry, yes?
Zahara: No!

Me: No? You are not hungry?

Zahara: No! We are satisfied because we eat love.

Maisara: We eat happiness! It is very important in the life!

Me: *rendered speechless from how cute this little interaction was*

Jeannine: Today was the best day. The best day.

Me: Yes! You girls have a nice night. Good journey home! I love you!

Girls: And meeeee! See you tomorrow, Heather!

Like I said, running was easy. How could it not be when I had all of this to process? For the first time in weeks, my run wasn’t heavy, full of questions, frustrations, and sadness. For some reason, well a lot actually, it’s been a more difficult week or two emotionally, and it’s showed in my running. It wasn’t fun anymore. I dreaded it. But I did it because it still managed to relieve my stress, somehow.

Today was my favorite day in a very long time. Today was just one of those days that reminds you why life is beautiful, why God always gives you what you need when you need it most, and what it feels like to see the fruits of your labor.

Today, at GLOW club, we celebrated International Women’s Day. To make this extra special, I received a phone call last week from a fellow 3rd year Peace Corps Volunteer, Sarah, who works with the Nike Foundation/Girl Hub (an initiative to encourage girl empowerment projects and activities throughout Rwanda; specifically there is a publication called Ni Nyampingai that serves as a radio broadcast and magazine to get these kinds of ideas to girls all over rural Rwanda) who wanted to visit our GLOW club. Of course, I jumped at the opportunity, knowing my girls would be overjoyed. And so we spent the week prepping our songs, dance, and poem for the coming guests. We cut pieces of the same igitenge (Rwandan fabric) so that we could be unified and have a common sign for being a part of GLOW club. And, I put together a lesson that I would be giving on the day that the guests came: it was a brief history of Women’s Day, a brainstorm session of what makes women super, and finally, some lyrics to Alicia Keys’ song, Superwoman.

On the day of our celebration, the guests came into our classroom and the girls were beaming. I mean, I was almost knocked off my feet from how beautiful, energized, and happy they looked. And then, they did their traditional dance and sang their song that greets guests (very important in Rwandan Culture) and I could barely contain myself. Yes, I’m kind of an emotional basketcase when it comes to these things, but I’m telling you, it was just SO inspiring to see. They really had no fear. No fear. No fear. We have been repeating this mantra all term and wow, they just completely got it.

Our guests included a representative from Ni Nyampinga magazine (check out their link here: ), Sarah (the third year Peace Corps Volunteer), a professional photographer, two interviewers, and a translator. The girls particularly loved the representative from the magazine as she was a young, beautiful Rwandan woman that talked to them about women’s empowerment and spoke to them extensively about these sorts of things in Kinyarwanda. That was my favorite part of this whole thing; it’s one thing for me to stand up in front of my girls and preach about self-confidence, goals, and fighting fear, but for a strong Rwandan woman to do the same is much more powerful. It brings it home for them, and as she was speaking to them about their dreams for their futures, I watched as their eyes just lit up as they shared their dreams to be teachers, doctors, and presidents.

After welcoming our guests and giving the lesson about Superwomen to the girls, they engaged in conversations, read the magazine, and two of my girls, Divine and Maisara, gave interviews for nearly an hour about the club, what we do, and why it’s a safe place for them. I haven’t read their answers or anything, but the interviewers told me they did great. I’m totally not surprised. Not in the least. We also shared juice, had a dance party, practiced our model walks, and really, just celebrated being young women. What more do you need than that to have a good time?

The girls also did a sketch for the guests (the one we did about fighting fear) and we did the trust circle to demonstrate the importance of the girls trusting one another to help them in all things.

A bagillion MILLION pictures were taken and so I can’t wait to see the finished article (they came specifically to do a piece about the girls) and see how great the pictures and interviews turned out.

I just loved today, mostly because my girls got to feel and BELIEVE that they are, in fact, superwomen. They often tell me how much they love me…and after today, I just want to hold them tight and tell them over and over again, that it’s THEM who are my heroes. It’s THEM that makes me want to show up for work every day, and it really is THEM who makes me believe that the world can be a better place. I know that’s cheesy, fluffy, and all sorts of idealistic, but I promise you, had you been in that room with me today, you would think the very same things. I couldn’t have been a prouder mama, and there’s nothing that could have made celebrating Women’s Day so beautiful. I’m just so proud I get to try and be a superwoman alongside these girls. They are everything to me and are the reason that the string of bad and difficult times can fade into the background. They are the reason I can endure. They are the reason I love being a Peace Corps Volunteer.

10k

Standard

As a recent running convert, I have never actually done any sort of “organized running” you might say. You know, 5K, 10K, and marathon races. However, there certainly is a first time for everything and why not raise the stakes when living in East Africa? Thus, I decided early on in my Peace Corps experience that I wanted to participate in the Kigali Peace Marathon.

The marathon itself draws a decent crowd, I would guess around 300ish runners—maybe even more? This year, 20 countries were represented (and shocking, Kenya dominated in all categories) and in the 8th edition of the race, the Ministry of Sports and Culture dubbed the theme as, “Sports as a tool to fight against youth drug use” (why it couldn’t simply have been “anti-drugs for youth” or something is beyond me). The course began and ended at the bright and bold green and yellow Amahoro (meaning ‘peace’) Stadium where football matches of high regard are often held. I have to say, in entering the stadium to get to the starting line, I let my imagination go a little wild, and felt a sliver of what it might feel like to enter the Olympic opening ceremony (that could also be a severe exaggeration). It was hard to not feel like a rock star, and I certainly wasn’t alone. Among me and my Peace Corps friends, we cheered for ourselves, pumped our fists, and did a little dancing. We’re weird. Nobody around barely turned a head (they were busy with the serious business of warming up) but hey, we were having fun. I really had to use the bathroom beforehand and I had to move quickly; the race was starting only 30 minutes after the scheduled start—that’s like being on time in this part of the world. Of course, toilet paper had yet to be provided in the stalls and well, let’s just say I had to improvise, Drastically. I found my way to the mass of adrenaline-induced runners with my small green IPOD shuffle in hand. It’s what I call a “special” IPOD because the part where I can change the song is broken and so though it still functions, I have to listen to whatever comes on the shuffle, whether it be Lady Gaga, the Dave Matthews Band, or a reggae inspired African jam. I wasn’t deterred; I was simply hopeful that I’d get some dynamite-pump up songs like My Time or Warrior as opposed to my inappropriately extensive Celine Dion collection. Celine is great…but not so much when trying to run miles and miles in the roads of Kigali among East African beast runners.

The muffled sound of the race MC was gargled and hard to understand, but as he counted down to 1, I realized that it was just about time to go! I fist-pumped with Nate, another Peace Corps Volunteer and we were off! My job was simple: I was the first runner of our four-man relay team. Our team consisted of me in the first spot, Jon, Sara, and finally, Meredith. I was hoping to set a good pace and a good time for my team to follow.

I started the race right around 7:23 am and came trotting back into the stadium, sleeves rolled up, banana stains on my hot pink shorts, sweat running down my face after close to an hour out on the trail. That brought my pace to about a 9:00 per mile pace—the best ever recorded? Hardly. But, pretty solid for my first official run.

Here’s what really happened out there:

7:23: depart Amahoro stadium in the first wave of runners. Run past the few camera-men. Smile. Grin. Keep good form—don’t appear too inexperienced. Have a couple second freak out: I am only spotting the numbers and colors coordinated with half and full marathoners. Did I leave with the wrong group? I am running with the relay, and I sure as hell am not running 20, 30, or 40 K!! ….have a sigh of relief when realizing that everybody runs the same course. The relayers run the course once. The half-marathoners run it twice, and the big winners of the day, the full-marathoners, run the same course four times. Phew.

7:24: not sure exactly when the second wave of runners was released but, my oh my, did I ever hear those runners coming. I heard the slap of foot and shoes meeting the cement as I simultaneously turned to see about a group of 30 elite Rwandan and Kenyan runners heading my way. I moved to the right side of the road instantly. I did not need (or want) to be trampled by some of the best runners I have ever seen.

7:25: note the time on my watch. Think for a couple minutes about why I continually wear my nice, turquoise watch that I purchased at the Tokyo airport a few years back, as opposed to a more sensible sports watch. Plan to buy sports watch/ask for one to be sent in the near future. Also realize quite instantly, how alone running is. I’ve loved that about the sport during the past few months, but even though I was running on a TEAM today, the actual sport itself comes down to you, and you alone. It’s you, your legs, and your mind.

7:30: feeling pretty good about form and running on the pavement. Was a bit worried about running on asphalt after training for the past few months on the dirt roads in my village…but so far, so good.

7:40: pass the Peace Corps office. The guards in their recognizable bright blue security outfits, are outside the ominous white gate with the Peace Corps insignia, cheering any PCVs they see. They wave at me, shouting “Komera!” (my most favorite Kinyarwanda phrase—meaning be strong) while smiling fully and warmly. Love them.

7:44: loop back around, passing Bourbon Coffee (really wishing I could have a coffee to go) and the Peace Corps office once again. At this point, tables have been set up full of bananas (and of the crack banana variety—what I call the small, sugary, best bananas in the world that Rwanda has all over the country). A race volunteer scrambles and hands me four bananas. Yummy. I rip each banana open recklessly and without any regard for manners, and chew on these bananas like I am some kind of cave woman. Suddenly, my four bananas are gone and I am empty-handed. Dangit, I think. I might just pay for that later in the race.

7:50: head back in the direction of the stadium along one of the main roads in the city. People are watching as we pass. Some cheer. Some stare. Some laugh. It certainly is Rwanda, isn’t it?

7:53: hit halfway point; 5K finished. Cruising and genuinely enjoying myself.

7:54: run along stations that are in charge of providing squeezy foamy concoctions to each runner so that they stay cool. I would learn this about 2 seconds too late, as I initially tried to squeeze the foam in such a way so that I could actually drink the water. Oops. The men and women at the station gawked and gasped. It was then I realized that this water was for my outer skin to be cool from the raging Rwanda sun…oh well. What can you do?

7:55: continue the run towards the eastern part of the city. This includes passing by the stadium…I suppose I thought I was faster than I really was at this point? Because, I somehow thought the race was ending soon because we had come by the stadium. But no. Oh no. We ran along the stadium gates, continued by UN Kigali offices, and headed toward the part of town known as Remera. I am familiar with this part of town especially, because Remera has the bus station that is my destination anytime I am coming from out East into Kigali.

8:00: consume two more bananas.

8:01: begin to regret all of the banana consumption.

8:02: major stomach cramp takes over. Refuse to stop no matter what. Begin to run at a snail pace. Some European man eggs and cheers me on as he runs with his bright blue camelback; after passing me, he proceeds to do a little crowd pleaser by dancing as he runs on by. I don’t have the kind of energy or strength for that. I can barely breathe with these intense stomach pains!

8:05: begin to wonder when I will see the stadium again and descend upon the end of this rather long run.

8:10: cramps subside; feeling better and stronger. Wanting to finish strong and complete the 10K with a smile on my face.

8:12: arrive on the grounds of the stadium. Miss Independent (my former favorite “African song” from Ghana…until I realized it was a classic hit from the AMERICAN, Ne-Yo…oops) is playing loudly on the speakers. Feeling my own independence and strength, I run faster.

8:15: the trail continues in a complete circle around the stadium. Really, I mean, really?

 8:20: enter the stadium for one final lap to the finish line. My team and other Peace Corps participants are there to cheer me on. “You got it Heather! Yay!” They are awesome.

8:22: cross the finish line. (!!!!!) realize that I must slap Jon’s hand for him to get going. Hastily grab his hand for him to get going.

8:22 (cont.): realize just how much my legs hurt. And my stomach. Damn bananas.

We waited around for the next few hours as our relay teams finished and some of our friends even did the full and half marathons. Our relay team, bless their heart, finished last (or maybe it was second to last) among relay teams. However, to be fair, our last runner, Meredith, had to deal with a torrential downpour during her run. She has the best attitude though, and only worried about finishing and bringing our team home. We rocked it.

As we waited for our teams to finish, World Vision (the main sponsor of the event) workers announced alongside with representatives of the Ministry, the main winners of the day. As already mentioned, the Kenyans dominated. Completely. With the exception of one Rwandan woman who finished in the top 3 for the full-marathon women, all winners were Kenyan.

Two of the best moments after my run were this:

  • We watched as one man, who only has one leg, and thus uses crutches for support, finished the half-marathon before many other people. He got probably one of the loudest cheers of the day.
  • Some of the Peace Corps Volunteers received a grant to take some of their students to the marathon to compete in the relays. One student in particular, was glowing upon reaching the finish line. He’s a short little guy, shorter than me even, but he ran hard and his teammates were so happy for him, and for each other. About 20 PCV Rwandan students ran in the marathon, and for them, was an opportunity to learn about nutrition, about sport, but more than anything, an opportunity to do something pretty awesome. That was a great thing to see, and I’m hoping to get involved with that grant next year so some of my kids can come and run!

After the rain passed and we made it back to the Peace Corps hostel to clean up, a few of us grabbed a heck of a lot of Chinese food. We ate. A lot. I headed back home that evening, exhausted, but also thrilled that I participated in such an event.

Running, as painful, challenging, and difficult as it can be, also opens these doors to clarity, peace, and self-fulfillment. I’m addicted. I want to run another race already (next year, I’m gunning for the half, and have already set my eyes on participating in the Princess Marathon at Disney World upon return from Peace Corps). Running is meditative,..and on top of everything else, great for your health. I’ve lost about 30 pounds—the healthy way—and I think I’ve survived the tougher days when I’ve been out on the trail. I’m not especially good at it, but maybe that’s what makes it so great. You don’t have to be. You do it for your reasons, and support the people around you who are doing the very same thing, even if their reasons are entirely different.

10K? Check. 

happy (spring) holidays

Standard

For the record. I love Michael Jackson. But not for reasons you might think. 

Uber talented? Yes. Revolutionary in the limitations (and stretching those limitations) of music? Of course. Singer of the Free Willy hit “Will You Be There”? YES. That’s when I fell for MJ’s music.

I remember as a young girl–maybe 10, 11, 16–I would dig for this old rickety black tape we had thrown aside in some household dresser. On it contained two landmark films from the 90’s (or was it 80’s?): Homeward Bound  and yes, Free Willy. I often watched these movies on repeat, back to back, totally taken by the animals’ plights in each respective film. Free Willy, especially, was my favorite. That scene where the large whale is doing some neat flip in the air and going back home to the ocean, simultaneously to “Will You Be There” is pretty emotional. Don’t believe me? Watch it again! I tell you, you might surprise yourself. Anyway, it’s the song that makes that scene so utterly fantastic, and since then, have a special place in my heart for that song. 

So, it was fitting that at the start of our school holiday I found myself running the back roads of Nyaraturama in Kigali (by the Peace Corps office and hostel) when three Michael Jackson songs came on in a row (I have an IPOD shuffle so it stands to be a strange occurrence with 400 total songs available to choose from). Michael jams always just makes you feel good, you know? I was in an upbeat, light mood and jammin’ to the beat as my feet hit the pavement through Kigali roads (the songs were “Bad”, “The Way You Make Me Feel”, and the mecca of Jackson, “Will You Be There”). I had finished visiting my headmaster at his Kigali home the day before (he commutes as a headmaster for my school but also as a pastor at a Kigali Christian church) and was about to head out to Western Rwanda—to a lake town called Kibuye—with my friend Sara to visit another friend, Saara (we were all together in our Kinyarwanda language groups back in training). Of course, I wanted to squeeze in a quick run before vacation; no matter where you are in the world, somehow, vacations always bring out unlimited refills of Coke, a gorging in delicious food, and a carefree attitude—which is great!

Strangely enough, these back roads I ran before leaving for the bus station were lined with homes that could have come out of a blended mix of posh San Diego and uppity Aspen. I ran open-mouthed as I saw seemingly Southern inspired columns forming massive archways and perfectly manicured lawns every which direction. These were very wealthy homes (the Real Houswives of Kigali, anyone?) and formed a vision a far cry from my rural village just an hour and a half away. I could not have been more self-aware—of who I was and where—nearby, clustered pockets of poverty sat on the outskirts. Against the backdrop of immense wealth, I saw thatches for homes, compounds squished together, and I was reminded that like many parts of the world, visual reminders of both extreme wealth and poverty sometimes become compounded together and gaining a real picture of what society is like can prove difficult. Immediately, I thought to myself how Rwandans would see me running and associate me with this image of money; they would see me as a person that belonged in this kind of neighborhood. I mean, what else would I be doing there running around? I ran faster, afraid of such an implication. I realized in that moment that my notions of wealth and perception of the role I (and all of us) play in the dynamics of society’s rich and poor has been irrevocably changed (and I’m not really sure how yet). In a year and a half down the road, when I come home as a RPCV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer), well, America certainly will be interesting.

Sara and I guzzled down some liquids on the bus (her a bottle of water, for me, passion fruit juice) along with some chocolate biscuits in preparation for the 3ish hour bus ride to the West. Eating in public is generally taboo in Rwanda, but bus stations and buses seem to get a free pass as I see Rwandans eating in the realm of public transport all the time. The ride was relatively uneventful; however, the views were mesmerizing. I told Rachel over the phone that where I live (also very beautiful—Rwanda doesn’t have a bad spot in the country) would be like living in the Appalachians back home. The West in Rwanda, by comparison, is like seeing the Rocky Mountains thrown in with a little Hawaii for good measure—completely consuming in terrain and full of stunning colors and depth. I was thrilled to be starting the holiday in such a gorgeous place. We spent about three full days exploring the Karongi District. We stayed at Saara’s (we shared a mattress in true Peace Corps-roughin’ it style), and one of the neatest things about being a volunteer here is seeing first hand other Rwandan communities and living situations for other volunteers. Each of us have something different; and each of us is having our very own, unique experience. Place matters that much. Saara has running water and electricity and even has “sitemates” (other PCVs or NGO workers) and yet with all of this comes different sets of challenges. For example, Saara lives near the District center, and while that brings amenities, it certainly can be harder to meet people and find a smaller, close knit community.

On our trip we ate pizza and salads lakeside, drank cold cokes and beers, watched Bridesmaids, made our own macaroni and cheese, and shared some of our experiences at site. After spending a good amount of time in Kigali, I came to realize that this was the epitome of a holiday. Kigali is nice because you can find that American niche relatively easily, but there is something much more special about being with new friends, exploring those friendships, and being in a beautiful place to boot. It always feels nice to be away from the hustle and bustle and focus on reflection, and more than anything, finding good, hard laughter. Don’t get me wrong, I laugh at home plenty. It’s often those moments where nobody is around that are the most hilarious (take for example, once when a mouse peed in my eye. This is, in fact, a true story…for another time of course…) but laughter is just so much better as a shared experience. I even saw Happy Feet for the first time which has to be one of the most adorable movies, and we shared many laughs over that and many other things.

It’s rainy season and so my 6 hour journey home was mostly in just that—lots and lots of rain. But, it felt good to be coming back to site—to home—and I was looking forward to settling in after staying busy the past few weeks with an assortment of obligations. I dumped by stuff at home and raced to market (Thursday is my only market day of the week!) so I could get there and back before dark. I bought cabbage, carrots, bananas, and onions to name a few and when I finally reached my large floor mat to do a short ab workout before bed, I thought the night would end without anything to crazy.

I was wrong.

As I turned my IPOD on, I heard a knock on my metal door gate that sits about 12 feet or so my front porch, with a yard in between. I asked who it was, and with the combination of my bad hearing and Rwandans tendency to speak far too softly, I heard nothing. Turns out, it was a woman from Kigali with her baby in tow. I thought she was here to visit Louise, my roommate, and so I had her come in through my door to take her back to the room that Louise and I share, as Louise was busy cooking her dinner. However, once Louise conversed with her in rapid fire Kinyarwanda and translated it back to me, well, this is what I got:

This woman says that Isamily—a seller at a Kigali market—told her to come here to our sector to get help with her baby. Her baby is poisoned. She says that she was told that you could help her find a place to stay and that you know this “doctor.” She even had your phone number but her phone was stolen on her bus ride here today.

Umm….? I sat there blankly and couldn’t help but gasp in frustration; who would tell her that? I don’t even know this person! What was I supposed to do? How in the world could I help this situation? In my head all I could think was, what.is.going.on.??? Luckily, Louise handled the situation like a rockstar, finding her a room to stay in that normally another teacher occupies, and got her settled with some food. In the midst of all of this, Suzi, one of my best friends here, called to tell me that with all the rain, her room at the convent (where she lives) had flooded and ruined many things. Oh Wanda.

Of course, the woman came back a couple days later after seeing the “poison doctor” (whatever that means) and requested to LIVE with me. Like, as in, stay here. I didn’t really fully understand her request and had called my headmaster for a translation. He gave a resounding ‘no’ which makes sense; I have two rooms only and certainly no space to house a mother and child. I just felt bad though; she said she didn’t want to go back to her “crazy and bad husband” who was apparently responsible for the poisoning of the child? I’m not really sure about the details, but it was obviously a bad home situation for her. But, ultimately, I couldn’t help her in that way, so I gave her a small amount of money for transportation and bid farewell. I don’t know if I’ll really ever know how she got my information, why she came to this small village, or exactly what her story was. Weird.

Anyway, soon after the whole situation with the woman had calmed a bit that night, I was intending to get back to my workout. Yet, just as quickly, there was another knock on my gate. This time, it was my friend Aline (a Kigali-chique 20 something year old) and her crew including her mother and some friends with a big Simba Supermarket bag for me—with a cat inside. Scratch that—not cat—kitten! I couldn’t be older than a week—it’s able to fit in my hand and can barely walk. It was a gift for me, and though I was excited, I was incredibly overwhelmed. I had no time to refuse; they practically ran out my door after delivering the ‘ipusi’ (cat in Kinyarwanda). While the kitten and I had a couple of nice days together, I gave it away to a friend of mine and her two young girls who live in Kigali at an Easter party I went to. They happened to be looking for one, and I could definitely fill the need. Though the cat seemed appealing at first, in terms of company as well as a way to catch mice, I just don’t have the energy to have a pet right now, and the kitten cried so much the first couple of days that I really didn’t sleep. Plus, I’m a bit allergic and Louise was mortified when she saw the kitten. I think it’s in better hands now, but I will miss that little guy (kind of). I also just think I’m more of a dog person, anyway.

With all of this and that of the holiday, it’s good I am here in my village as I’ll be witnessing some extremely important things the next few days and weeks. Genocide Memorial Week is here. Clearly, I’ll be on the outside looking in, but as a PCV in Rwanda, it couldn’t be more important in trying to understand what happened in community during the 1994 Genocide. Already, I’ve lain in the grass under an expansive avocado tree as I listened along with my entire community to President Paul Kagame telling the country that Rwanda will continue to grow and learn from the past. Each day during the memorial week, there is a mandatory conversation that the whole village must attend. My headmaster is speaking one day; and the purpose is for a message to be given, but for people to reflect and remember as well.

So far, it hasn’t been as emotionally charged in an outward way that I was expecting, but I have been able to sense the very real emotion in the air. Even after 18 years of peace in Rwanda, I can’t even begin to imagine the memories that Rwandans harbor and how the terror that erupted in this country has forever changed the paths and direction of people’s lives. Yet, hope is a very real thing. I left one of these dialogues that I described today hand in hand with my good friend Jacqueline, and even though she was suffering from a headache, had just left a discussion on the Genocide, she just smiled as she always does, wished me a Happy Easter, and exuded a true sense of optimism. In many ways, this holiday will be challenging: how do I take part in the remembrance of something I had no part in? How do I even begin to sympathize? And still, how do I show that I care in the most appropriate and culturally sensitive way?

Still, because I have nearly 4 months of living here in my site, I am as prepared as I could be. I have good friends, a good community, and so I’m grateful to just be here. I was reading through the last few chapters of John from the Bible in church today (as it was Easter and I tend to only understand about 10% of the service, I thought it might be good to have some reflection about Jesus’ resurrection) when one of the pastors, Emmanuel, addressed me and wanted to make sure I was understanding the message and provided me with the appropriate scripture that he was discussing. After church, many of the community members wished me a blessed Easter and said Yesu, ashimye (God Bless You) countless times. And at the Easter party I attended at my friend Silas’ house (the same person who also had me come to his family Christmas party), his aunt, who I call Sole (meaning ‘sun’), talked at length about the importance of education and her work as an NGO worker with an Italian organization to help Congolese refugees.

These are just genuinely good people.

Towards the end of John, Jesus addresses his disciples (many times, actually, as He knows full what will soon happen to Him) and reminds them that the grief that they will feel when He returns to the Father (God) will turn to joy. He tells them: ‘You believe at last!’ Jesus answered. ‘But a time is coming, and has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet, I am not alone, for my Father is with me. I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16: 31-33)

Admittedly, I have felt alone here at times. Many times, even. But I’m realizing that its God’s heart in many of the people that I’ve met that has been the comfort, the support, and the answer to this isolation and loneliness that comes every now and then. I am scattered—in ways, all of us are—but Jesus overcame the world and in doing so, overcame all that was bad.

I’m scattered, yes, but I’m not alone. I have a community, I have friends and family (here and all over the place), and I have a sustaining, growing, and reaffirmed faith in God. That’s a really good thing to realize, particularly on a day like Easter. Here’s to the spring holiday: astoundingly beautiful places, good communities, remembrance, reflection, and a reminder of what’s good in—and out—of the world.