At the beginning of this week I purposefully reflected that my goal throughout the week was to be generous, empathetic and curious. Generous to the students, the teachers and my host family. Empathetic of those feeling pain and despair in my village, especially Laura who just lost her aunt due to cancer. And curious of the things I may find bizarre and unreasonable. I too sought to be confident in myself, my opinions and what I have to teach my students, as well as focused on the goals I have set for myself. I truly feel that I have accomplished immense growth this week, and that I have stepped more into my role here in Rwanda.
This was the first week I felt like I could breathe. Ever since I arrived in Rwanda, I have been inhaling everything in and holding on so tight to my breath. I’ve been sucking in this new life and there have been times when I have really wanted to spit it right back out. I have questioned why this new air smells, tastes and sounds so different. I couldn’t seem to breathe out my tension, stress, worry, loneliness, confusion and frustrations.
The first moment I truly let myself exhale these emotions is when I talked to Meredith, my American colleague, about how I was struggling with culture shock. I then talked to Robin and received wonderful advice and support from her.
I have learned more about how to get around my village and do normal things like buy water, fruit, and where to get the best pastries in town.
I know how to call the bus and ride it to Kigali, and how to direct a moto despite the fact that there are no addresses in Rwanda.
I am starting to plan adventures and trips with friends.
I am starting to trust in myself.
I am starting to take in new air with ease and certainty. I am breathing in everything I love about Rwanda.
Breathing steady and faithfully.
Finding my place in Rwanda //
This week I formed powerful connections and invested in a wonderful new community. Oh how God’s timing is generous and bountiful. My second day here, Kurtis, an ex-peace corps volunteer invited me and my fellow music teacher, Dan, to a training workshop to learn how to facilitate and incorporate drama into daily teaching curriculum. I really didn’t come into this workshop with any expectations. Honestly I felt a little lost on how to find purpose at my school before this. Yet through the relationships I have formed this week and the leadership I have observed, I feel so much more BOLD and certain that I am competent and ready to create lasting relationships with my students and new friends.
The program I attended this week was called Mobile Arts for Peace and was organized by a non-profit called Mashirka. My first friend at the workshop was Cela, the researcher on the project who lives in Kigali and is actually Kenyan. I was immediately drawn to her, because she spoke wonderful English and was cool, confident, opinionated, courageous, humble and loving. Over the week we had some wonderful conversations, and I am so grateful to have a new friend to visit in Kigali.
I also grew close to Laure who was the mental health therapist there to observe and step in when necessary. She has such a servant’s heart, and a passion to serve the Rwandan community. She was telling me in one of our conversations that Rwandans have been in fight or flight mode for the past 20 years, and when they come down off of this current need to strive, persevere and move forward, there will be some nasty repercussions from bottling up their trauma. In fact there are 12 million Rwandans and about only 4 sites to receive mental health care and treatment in Rwanda. Her social enterprise seeks to reconcile this and create a culture of support, discussion and healing. I am grateful I will get to visit her in Kigali as well, and I am very excited for what will become of our new friendship.
Through this workshop, I have been able to observe Rwandans together, how they lead each other, how they respond to each other, how they translate English to Kinyarwanda and the reverse, how they love each other, and how they do life together. Something that sticks out to me in the Rwandan culture is their use of, the phrase, “You are welcome.” When you meet someone in Rwanda, they will most often say this to literally welcome you and make you feel comfortable, but more so to show respect and honor to you. At times I laugh because 10 people in 5 minutes will tell me at breakfast, “You are welcome,” and then just walk away and leave the conversation at that. It’s a new form of small talk I suppose and a way to make someone feel included. I do find it amusing at times, but I definitely love the thought behind this new phrase.
In fact, I really did feel welcome this week. As a participant, I collaborated, brain-stormed, co-led and co-facilitated with these Rwandan teachers all week. I really learned how to break through language barriers, cultural barriers and gender dynamics. For example, I heard a lot of Kinyarwanda this week and have begun to catch on to key phrases that will be very practical and just fun to use in everyday life. I also observed that Rwandans don’t jump into things like Americans do. Often in America we will jump into something ill-prepared and just wing it, but in Rwanda everything needs to be fully clear and the instructions need to be repeated strenuously before any action can be put into place. Learning as you go is a foreign concept for Rwandans.
For the issue of gender, I saw that they tried to balance the participation of women and men, but I also observed that there were times when men would be more forceful than they needed to be with women. For example when a Rwandan man was instructing a game, he would just move a woman aside and make sure she was standing in the right position for the game. Or when we were discussing in a circle, one guy literally moved a girl’s head because she was in his way. Their physicality and lack of consideration was really frustrating me and I made sure that every guy knew that it was unacceptable to grab my hand/elbow or move my shoulders/head without asking for my permission. There are so many more gender dynamics for me to observe, especially between the teachers and students at my school, and I promise I will be blogging more and more about gender issues as my time here continues.
As this new week begins, I plan to focus on establishing trust between my students and myself, to teach students in my music class new activities I have learned at the program, to study more Kinyarwanda, and to begin to set up some interviews. I hope to fill my lungs with curiosity and strength this week so that I can teach and learn as much as is possible.