Future Series: Preparing to Leave Rwanda
Dear readers , I want to start a small series on what it is like for us as we prepare to leave Rwanda. Some would say that coming home wouldn’t be so bad and that entering into life here would be the most difficult. But the opposite is true. I say a slogan from the Peace Corps that said “The hardest job you’ll ever have to leave”. I can vouch for that 100%.
One recent event of importance was a final ‘going away’ party that our group held recently. Though we aren’t all leaving yet, we had this party to coincide with Halloween. The location was taken back to where it all began in our training – the thriving metropolis of Nyanza! To some, this may sound crazy.. Nyanza and metropolis shouldn’t be in the same sentence. That is what we thought 2 years ago as we were living there for 10 weeks. But after living in our respective villages for two years, Nyanza has it all!! Add to this, the town has developed so much in 2 years that it is hardly recognizable. There is a new baller hotel (where we had our party, see photos), a new covered market, a new high-rise (well, high rise by Rwandan standards as it has 10 floors or so), street lights, paved roads around the market, a revamped hospital, and many other new stores. Needless to say, it was wonderful strolling those old roads where we walked during training.
Carina and I were joking the other day about how far we have come in our integration into Rwandan culture and society. When we first were in training, maybe 2x we walked home at night in the dark from the training center and were petrified with fear. Now, we enjoy an evening stroll when we walk a guest home at night (as is the cultural standard here to accompany a guest at least part of the way home). Recently, we have had our great friend Jane eating dinner with us most nights. She lives maybe 200 yards away. We end our visits with her by walking her home under the vivid Rwandan stars. It is so beautiful at night you can’t imagine. It’s hard for most of us Americans to know what a natural night sky looks like these days with all the light pollution we have in our cities. It has also been very cold here. At night, you can see your breath as we walk down the small hill to where Jane lives and watch the fog beginning to settle into the valley in front of our mountain. Back to what I was saying, we have learned so much and come so far. We often surprise Rwandans about our knowledge of their culture. Many times they will ask how we have learned their ‘secrets’.
We also used to cringe at the sight of the many workers walking home with the machetes slung over their shoulders. Because of the tragic history here, this was a visual threat to us often. But now, when we talk of Genocide, we have to struggle to imagine that something so horrible happened in this country. There are no visual clues to the total destruction of society that occurred here just 18 short years ago. Now, Rwanda is becoming a beacon of light in Africa. we understand that machetes are a part of life here and a infinite use tool that everyone has.
Another sign of our integration, things that used to be strange or funny are now part of everyday life. Some examples include seeing women breast feed daily. The other day at school, I even saw a woman breastfeeding while walking down the road carrying a bag of food on her head. I didn’t even skip a beat, just kept on with what I was doing. That is another thing, to see people carrying things on their heads is completely normal now. They carry everything from huge things to the smallest of things. People even walk with a bottle of water on their head instead of carrying it their hands. I have a theory that there is a kind of unspoken competition to see who is the most skilled at carrying stuff on their heads. You can find women carrying their hoes on their heads on the way to the fields in the mornings. Or sometimes you can see people carrying trees. . . .yes, whole TREES on their heads!! The tree may be 20 feet long and as wide as a coffee can so you can imagine that weight and skill to balance such a long thing. We are also used to the things people do such as petting my arm hair, telling Carina that they like to watch her eat, or following us as we walk down the road (literally on our heals) to try and overhear our English conversation which they don’t understand but want to try and listen anyways.
At this party in Nyanza, we all got together as a group one last time. It was bittersweet and full of memories. A fellow volunteer put together a slide show that was awesome complete with cheesy ‘Good riddance’ songs. We put back a few beers and chatted the night away. Being villagers ourselves these days, the party fizzled out by 11pm as many people are used to going to bed shortly after dark and rising with the sun. The Halloween costumes were rudimentary but well thought out. When you don’t have resources, you have to overcompensate with creativity. We had a doctor, an old village woman, the Spice Girls, an old man, and a ‘nudist on strike’ just to name a few. Me, being the immature 31 year old who is overly ambitious about Halloween, came up with a costume at the last hour. I went off to the market and bought a very large ‘market’ bag. For those not in Rwanda, the market bags are plastic bags with out-of-place pictures on the side of them. It could be a picture of London, Paris, Obama, some random Japanese cartoons, or a football team. Regardless, I bought the biggest one that I could find and cut holes for arms and legs and wore this. It was slightly inappropriate, but it got unofficially voted as the best costume partly because I wasn’t wearing any pants. [Don’t worry, I didn’t go out in public like this and the hotel was privately reserved for us]
So, I will be writing about issues that face us as we begin to pack our bags and leave Rwanda. Look for more to come in the following weeks!!.
A politician is someone who promises you a bridge, even when there’s no river.
-Gregory Roberts (Shantaram)