Its a Small World Afterall, Its a Small World Afterall. . . . .
This past week or so has been full of visitors and lots of reflection for me. [all names have been changed or excluded to protect the privacy of the innocent and guilty]
Last week, we had two surprise visitors from Peace Corps Zambia. When Carina went to South Africa this past January, we met a guy who was also down there for health reasons with the Peace Corps. We ended up spending 10 days or so with him and hung out quite a bit. When we were parting from South Africa, he said that he would come to visit us sometime. Of course we thought he was full of it, but this guy is one of those guys that lives on a whim. Of course we didn’t think twice about it until I got a message on Facebook saying that he was in Uganda and wanted to take a bus down to Kigali and then come stay with us. That was on a Friday, he was pulling up on a moto by Monday afternoon. He and his girlfriend had travelled by bus from Zambia to Tanzania, up to Kenya, then across to Uganda, then back down through Rwanda. It was a real pleasure to have them with us. We spent a few days drinking some beers and cooking good food. We even took them to some of our clubs at school so our club students could meet them. They absolutely loved our site in the mountains of Rwanda. They wowed us with tales of how much more difficult life is physically in Zambia. We had a lot of good discussions on the successes and failures of international aid and development. WE came to the conclusion that the physical conditions of any place – have it be in the desert or savannas of Africa – are easier to acclimate to than the complexity of society like Rwanda. We spent a lot of time talking about the current issues in Rwanda and how life is indescribable here due to the complexities. Keep this in mind for when we come home and I have a hard time describing life here.
On top of having our PC Zambia visitors, we had our site replacement (who is in training now in week #5) come on her site visit. I don’t know if I have mentioned it, but after much pleading on our part, Peace Corps Rwanda is sending a new volunteer to our village. She is a single girl and she will arrive sometime in December. We couldn’t be more happy to know that our community that we love will have 2 more years of an American here to try and get new ideas and help developing. I must say, having her here made us feel like super-volunteers. We don’t think about how much ‘village’ knowledge we have gained until we are trying to tell someone new to this country all that information. Just simple things that took us the first 3-5 months to figure out she is going to know her first day here. Some examples that took us a surprisingly long time to figure out such as: how to get to Kigali on public transport? Where you can find eggs in the village? How to get food regularly? How to call a moto to your house? How to make it to the Peace Corps office in Kigali? How to organize a club at school?
Our two groups of visitors overlapped by two days, so we had quite a housefull for those two days. Our site replacement volunteer is from Atlanta and the female PCV from Zambia is also from Atlanta. In an strange, amazing twist of fate, they both went to the same small private school in Atlanta and our site replacement studied with the Zambian PCV’s brother. Talk about a small world – to meet a person that went to your same high school and knew your brother 9,000 miles away from Georgia in a small village in northern Rwanda. Sometimes, I just can’t believe the complexity of life while at the same time believing the destiny of 2 people ut of 320,000,000 Americans coming together on a continent far from home. Can you imagine all the pieces of this puzzle that went into this meeting? The two from Zambia were only in Rwanda for 3 days and just happened to be our friends and just happened to come to our village and just happened to come on the same week and just happened to have a connection to this new volunteer. It is mind-boggling sometimes.
With all this information we are giving her, we hope it makes her life just a bit easier and she is able to hit the ground running here. On top of our ‘village know-how’, we tried to explain to her all the complex relationships that we have formed here, the situation at our school, and all the projects and activities that we are doing. I realized when talking to her, that we are teaching club 6 days a week!! Mondays are computer club after school. Tuesdays are English club after school. Wednesdays are GLOW club after school. Thursdays are debate club after school. Fridays are computer club again after school. And Sunday is library day for 3 hours.
I do feel a little pity for her. It is going to be tough for her to step into our shoes. First of all, because she is single, younger, and coming here alone. People are always going to be comparing her to us. I think many of them will forget that all the things we were able to do was partly because there were two of us. Her next challenge will be her age. She is 24 and we are both older than this. At 24 in Rwanda, young men/women are just finishing the equivalent of high school or starting in university. They have a hard time imagining that she has been finished with her 4 year university for 1+ years already. Then, she is single. Apparently in Rwanda it is the most popular to ask about a person’s relationship status. People for 4 days were asking her “Are you single?” even before they asked her name. I had to scold a few male teachers for this as I told them that question can be offensive. Its like they were evaluating her based on her being single or not. Then again, in Rwanda you are an “umukobwa” (or girl) until you get married. Even if you are 30 years old, you are not a woman unless you are married. I thought it was partly the men being sleeze balls, but even the women and girl students asked her this off-the-bat.
Regardless, she is going to have a difficult job trying to fill the shoes of two people. I think overall, she was very happy to have ended up in Kinihira village. After all, how could you not be happy with our mountain vistas, perfect year-round climate, sea of tea fields, tea factory, hospital, and friendly people. I am happy it is her who is replacing us and we wish her the best of luck in the future.
Side bar: I just finished the book Shantaram. It was awesome and I recommend it to anyone (plus I got a bunch of good quotes out of it).
I sometimes think that the size of our happiness is inversely proportional to the size of our house.
-Gregory Roberts (Shantaram)