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