(This blog was written while still in Rwanda. Carina and I have since returned back home to Texas)
As you know, we are preparing to leave Rwanda in a few weeks. A fellow PCV’s dad who has travelled and moved quite a few times wrote the following words:
Words of Wisdom:
A quick existential comment about leaving. Sometimes when you leave something that you have been a part of, you forget that you have to say good bye to yourself as well. This is especially true for situations where you have become close and intertwined to your social and physical environment. After you leave your village, and later after you leave the Peace Corp and Rwanda, you will no longer be the same person you were and you will not be able to return to that person. Every time I left a place, I tried to remember and say goodbye to the geography, the house, the animals, the weather, the sounds, the sights, the smells, the sense of place and all the items that defined me to myself as a person in that time. In addition to the people/friends, I learned that I could never expect to see them or my particular self again. To this day, the person that I was at each of those times creates the strongest and most useful memories that I have of those times and my place in them. You never have enough time but even five minutes creates something that will be meaningful to you later on. If you have a moment before you leave, walk around with your senses wide open and try to remember everything at that moment and your place with them. You will find it helpful in the years to come.
I think what he wrote was beautiful and more true than I would have ever known before. I have moved several times but none of them as drastic and dramatic as “leaving” life behind and moving to Rwanda to be in the Peace Corps. That sounds like such a hippie thing to do. But I am not a hippie and after two years in Rwanda, I don’t feel that I ‘left’ anything behind. Of course we miss our friends and family, but we have learned more in two years about ourselves, our marriage, Africa, America, our world, and the people of Rwanda than we could have ever learned had we not had this experience. I am surprised by how much we have learned about America being here. We have been able to take a step back and evaluate our own culture – the good, the bad, and the ugly. One thing that makes me sad is how we take everything for granted back home. Its not only opportunity, money, and a good life – its more broad ideas such as democracy, freedom, and personal rights. I am going to completely fudge this statistic, but it is near truth – half of the world’s population (3,500,000,000 people) live on less than $2 a day. I don’t think that this is something that we, as Americans, are required to feel guilty about. But I do think it is something we need to thank God for that we have the means to provide for our loved ones. I think we should keep this in our mind. I can only hope that I can remember the lives that have touched me here in Rwanda despite any monetary or material assets they may not have.
Another thing I struggle with is this; when you hear awful news about war and all the world’s problems, try to think of all the families, children, old people, and innocent people caught in the middle of these tragedies. When you hear about all the failed government and corruption of Africa, try not to chalk it up to ‘those Africans’. Try to think of the millions and millions who want a better life for their families, who work hard, who struggle to be at peace with God because of their poverty (truthfully, we have seen people are more thankful the poorer that they are), who are unreasonably happy. It is too easy to see the world’s problems in a bubble of how does this affect me personally or my country. That is part of the reason that I love travelling so much, you get a chance to see, for example, that Turkey isn’t some mythical land with mythical people, it is a country with joy and pain just like America. It is a place of failure, success, and love. Turkish people are people all the same. Rwandans are people all the same. Tanzanians are people all the same. We are jaded in the US because of the media system in place. When we hear Iraq, we think of terrorist, road side bombs, and our soldiers who have died. Remembering the soldiers is always important, but also try to remember the majority of the Iraqi people are peaceful and they only want to improve their lives and not live in fear.
I got a little of track, I want to get back to leaving Rwanda. We have seen so much love, respect, and appreciation in the past month. We have students crying to us on an almost daily basis. This is a monumental display of love given that crying is not a part of Rwandan culture. Tears are almost always hidden and even mocked by people’s peers. We had a girl write a beautiful song just for us. We had another girl hyperventilate because she was so worried about never seeing us again. The teachers had a celebration for us to show their appreciation. As I am writing just now, I can see across the valley for miles upon mile. I smell the scent of the tea as I can see women plucking the tea and chatting in front of our fence. Even at 1:15pm, it is almost chilly sitting in the shade with the gentle breeze blowing. I can see many clouds passing closely overhead (the clouds are close when you live at 6,500 feet of elevation). There is rain building to the east preparing to dump its life giving bounty on us most afternoons this time of the year (its rainy season now). We have a yard full of flowers that bloom year-round. I smell like little stinky children after playing with some of the neighborhood children for 2 hours earlier. I am pretty sure one of them had peed themselves and I let them crawl over me anyways. This is what I will miss. Words can’t describe it, pictures can’t show it, and the only consolation comes from knowing that Carina has been here with me to experience this together. Tonight, I will pray that I can remember these sights, sounds, and feelings that make our lives and the Peace Corps such an adventure.
As we say goodbye to our students, colleagues, and friends, I am also saying goodbye to a part of me also. We will never be able to relive our time in the Peace Corps, but I hope that we can find peace as we have here in this small village tucked in the mountains, tea plantations, and croplands of north-central Rwanda.
For those of you who have read our blogs for these two years, I want to thank you. I hope that I have given you a taste of what Rwanda and the Peace Corps is like. I have enjoyed writing probably more than you have enjoyed reading. Many of you have given us so much support through kind words, comments, emails, and care packages. I may or may not add stuff in the future, but the Peace Corps stories are now in the past and we can all lament over this together.
I will leave you with a quote from the man with the vision who started it all (or at least officially signed it into action. God bless and PEACE!
One person can make a difference and everyone should try.
– John F. Kennedy