Deep Thoughts, by Jack Handy
Dear blog followers, I have sort of fallen off the wagon when it comes to blog writing. So much is changing these days as we transition and get ready to depart Rwanda.
Rwanda is the big brother that we love to hate. So many amazing things have happened here while at the same time dealing with frustrations of differing levels DAILY.. We have made a life for ourselves that we absolutely love in our village. We have many friends that we love and will miss dearly in the future. Also, we are dealing with a sense of guilt. There is guilt associated with leaving people and your community. For us, coming to the PEace Corps and living in a Rwandan village was a temporary situation but for our friends here, it is their reality. While it is easy for us to go home and jump back into the ‘Land of Opportunity”, we have to deal with leaving some beautiful, intelligent, capable people here where opportunity can be much more difficult to come by. It is hard seeing the full potential of some people stiffled by society. But based on some of the people we have met and known, we know that Rwanda will be a model for other African countries in the future. We see ambition, the willingness to change, and good business ideas coming from the youth of this country.
And don’t get me started on the students. While it is true that 80% of them aren’t motivated to learn, the 20% that are motivated are wonderful. We love our students more than I could have ever expected. After year 1 here, I thought we were a little slow in building student relationships. But this 2nd year, our relationships have literally exploded. There are so many kids that I wish I could take home with me. I wish I could take them under my wing and teach them my wise ways (I think I can say that, I am almost 32 years old!!) Our students have become awesome English speakers and thinkers despite all outside forces telling them that speaking English goes against your culture and makes you seem as if you are braging to others and creative thinking is not taught.
Rwanda will be just fine and there are so many good things happening here, but there are still many problems mainly associated with a weak economy because at the end of the day, the nearest port is 700 miles away over difficult roads. That is what is hampering growth here. Things cost much more here in Rwanda. Things that are essential for growth like computers, consumer goods, technology, etc. But despite this set back, Rwanda has plans with the EAC (East African Community) to build a railroad from the ports of Dar es Salaam through Kigali and up to the port of Mombasa, Kenya. We have watched Kigali and Rwanda explode in growth. Every time we are in Kigali or a major regional city/town, there are new buildings and development. I have no doubt that in 10 years, the face of Rwanda will be almost unrecognizable to us.
What else?? School is almost finished. This coming week, we are having a talent show composed of various student groups at our school. We are very excited. We have had try-outs two weeks ago and the performances were wonderful. We have quite a few songs sung in English plus a song written for us which almost brought me to tears. I will post videos on youtube in the future with this.
The teachers got together and had a celebration for us. We weren’t sure what to expect, but it turned out great. We gathered in a catina (local bar). Several teachers gave speeches giving thanks for all we have done. Sometimes it feels as though we are overlooked and underappreciated here, but it just isn’t their culture to outwardly show appreciation. But after hearing some of their words, we know that what they feel in their hearts is joy, happiness, and appreciation. The theme of the day was ‘today is a day of happiness and great sadness’ is what they repeated several times. After the speeches, we ate brochettes, ibitoke, na ibirayi wa urusenda (goat meat skewers, plaintains, and fried potato halves with hot sauce). Then I gave a speech. I spoke of my #1 lesson being here in Rwanda and why I came to join the Peace Corps: Many times when a person lives this life in Rwanda, they think money will solve their problems. But I told them that I had a good salary and plenty of money before PC, but something was still missing. I tried to speak around this theme. I also spoke of how important teaching is to the development of Rwanda. It is more important than business, the military, or any foreign aid they might receive. You can’t be a great country if you dont educate your children. Its hard to see this in a place where poverty can force you to only see the immediate present. Teaching is development that affects the future, not the present. This is a surprisingly difficult concept to convey when you are worried about if you will be able to eat your next meal or buy a uniform to attend school this year. I tried to explain that it is okay to love your students and you can respect students as you respect a colleague. I had all these lofty ideas that hopefully were conveyed properly and translated into their minds. After this, they presented us with a gift (well, atleast in theory but it was for Carina only). They gave her the ‘igitenge’ (local fabric used to make womens dresses and clothing. It was beautiful and an expensive gift for them.
Overall, we were touched by their appreciation and it was a nice re-enforcement. This week we are in Kigali doing some medical testing. We have to make sure that we are going back to the US healthy. And becuase our group is ~55 people, they had to start early to get it all done and samples analyzed. We had a traumatizing experience of having to give ‘stool’ samples. This was quite traumatic and foul. But that shows you how easy life in Rwanda can be compared to other Peace Corps countries (although conditions vary immensely in Rwanda). We have water and electricity and a legit toilet at our house while other volunteers drink dirty river water and have pit latrines that they share amonst 4-5 other houses and they lug car batteries from miles away to have any source of electricity.
I just wanted to share some recent events. I hope everyone is getting prepared to vote and choose our next president. I want all of this over with by the time I get home. I count myelf as lucky to have missed this entire presidential election process. From what I have heard, it sounds like the usual bitch fest about everyone and all things with many unreachable promises thrown in for good measure. Can’t say I am sad at all about that.
Umunsi mwiza, akazi keza, amahoro, na turi kumwe. Mukomeye!
“Focusing your life solely on making a buck shows a certain poverty of ambition. It asks too little of yourself. Because it’s only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you realize your true potential.” – Barack Obama