August 20, 4:00 pm
Mwiriwe. Good evening. There are so many sounds to wake up to in Rwanda. I just woke up from an afternoon nap and I have begun to pay attention to the sounds outside my door. I hear goats, a roaster calling for the last hours of the day, a motorcycle, the constant thrum of traffic down below, children playing, Rwandans laughing, horns honking (a very common thing in Rwanda to say “hey, hello, I am here, I have arrived”), hollars/singing/faint remnants of a song in the distance, feet shuffling, afternoon birds chirping, dogs barking, and some things I can’t even place. One of my favorite things to do when I travel or even if I go to a place I have been many times before is to listen to everything happening around me and to be still myself. I do it at home when I go to the beach, at Sevier park in Nashville, and when I travel to new places, because I know that there will be comforting sounds, interesting sounds, joyful sounds and new sounds.
August 21, 3:00 pm
I write to you exhausted and tired this afternoon. I have been in Rwanda for officially 3 days now, and I have had some wonderful moments but I am just so tired from trying to get used to all these changes. This morning was particularly draining. Robin, my host for the time being, and I went out to go bird watching. The thing is we went to a popular dirt road that passes down a valley connecting two hills in an impoverished part of town. Of course there were people traveling with water, hay on their heads, some hearding cows, children wandering about, and Rwandans just trying to get somewhere. The difficult part was that as we would stand and watch birds, Rwandans would begin to crowd around us. It started with little boys who participated in our bird watching, but then grown men and more children would crowd around to gawk at us looking at birds. It was really hard to stick out like a sore thumb and to have people stop what they were doing in their day to follow us around. It was helpful that Robin is fluent in Kinyarwanda, because she was able to explain what we were doing, and what our funny contraptions (the binoculars) were. At a certain point she pulled out a book of East African Birds and I kid you not, 4 adult men and 5 children crowded around her to look at the pictures. Having people just stand and stare at us as we walked was unsettling. My takeaway from this experience is that as a foreigner I will stick out and people will watch me so much more closely, which will be unsettling and uncomfortable at times but I will learn to take it with grace and humility.
Cultural barriers are definitely ever-prevalent. One of the hardest things is how much thought has to go into every day action. But as the days go by I am beginning to get more familiar with the ways of Rwandans, and used to Rwandan life. As for language and culture, I have learned many different ways to greet someone – be it a child, an elder, a new friend or an old one. I am also learning kinyarwanda, which is an incredibly difficult language, but very rewarding.
The first day Meredyth showed me around Kigali. We walked to the market (Kimirojo Isiko) and took some motos over to a coffee shop called Question Coffee (which supports female Rwandan farmers). We asked the manager for the story behind their entrepreneurship, which was very eye-opening and inspirational because he spoke about the positive impact of this co-op on the women. He said that one of the hardest challenges in the beginning was fighting against husbands wanting to keep their wives home to take care of their children or to maintain the home, and that furthermore these women just didn’t have the desire to enter into a co-op and do a laborious man’s job. But over time these views began to change, and these women have ascertained sovereignty, confidence, dignity and leadership in their communities. Now there are 3,000 female farmers and near 1,500 are in training! Their collaboration and motivation to work together has been a huge step for their communities and most importantly for the families of these women. Q Coffee has a coffee taste testing room where they educate you on local and international coffee. They also do excursions to the farm to see their production methods, learn about their business and meet the women. I hope that I can do both during my time here.
August 23, 9:00 am
Waramutse! Today has been a wonderful morning. I met my host family yesterday and they were so welcoming of me. When Laura first met me she opened her arms wide and hugged me so tight. What’s remarkable about staying with Laura and her family is that Laura is a woman championing change here in Rwanda. She teaches English, French and Swahili at our school, but more than that she mentors girls in schools across this district and is the representative for youth in Rwanda for FAWE, the Federation of African Women Educationalists. She in fact won the Woman of Courage Award from the US embassy this year. Our pairing couldn’t have been more perfect. I will have so much to learn from her!
So, back to this morning. I walked to school for the first time from my host families house and I finally had a moment to start a wonderful habit. In the states I love to walk around (campus, the park, a new city, etc), so getting the chance to walk at my own fast pace with my own thoughts was really helpful. I additionally didn’t realize how much I missed listening to my music. Music has been such an integral part of my life, especially in the past few years. I have always listened to music in mornings to get my day started, be it as I get ready, drive to my internship/work, or walk to class. It’s been my driving force and the pulse that gets me ready for the day. So having the chance to listen to my music and just have time to myself was beautiful. It’s not surprising that what I needed to easy my stress and exhaustion was music.
Yesterday was particularly hard for me. I was having some really bad culture shock and home sickness from the combination of so many things. The hardest thing to get used to has been the attention I get just because of the color of my skin. Every person I pass on the street stares and is just so curious by me, and the kids will yell out “muzungu” which means white person. I try to respond with a smile and an “Amakuru” which means “what’s up” in kinyarwanda. I would say 4 out of 5 people respond when I say that, and 2 out of the 5 give me a smile back. It’s still weird and hard, but I’m learning how best to act in this situation. The next challenge has been the cultural barrier, people are still people who need the same necessities such as love, friendship, food, water, shelter, and family. But when you look past these things there is so much dividing me with a lot of the people I talk with. Often the teachers will talk in kinyarwanda over lunch or when they are together, so since I obviously can’t participate I normally just read a book. Another challenge has been the fact that there are so many different ways to shake someone’s hand or greet someone. I’ve been catching on, but I can also tell I’ve already offended some elders by not doing it the right way.
Another challenge has been the fact that I haven’t had alone time. With Robin I was getting used to everything so I needed a lot of guidance, and then now at my host house there are 3 kids running around. They are wonderful and adorable, but it’s hard having someone tell me when to eat and how much, and never really having quiet. But I will begin to form habits, such as spending time in the word in the morning, walking to and from school, and maybe buying myself a treat from the market, which will help.
Yesterday I got to know the wonderful students and teachers. I sat in on some classes, helped organize their resource closet, got to know some students, and helped with an after-school club for driven and exceptional students to talk about preparing for their future. Today I have a little bit of time in the morning which allows me time to publish this blog, but later today I will begin tutoring which I am definitely excited to start. I think it will give me a little bit of purpose and insight into what I will be doing here. Also, an expat will be coming to talk about starting a musical theater program today, and I honestly can’t wait to meet another American and get to participate in something I know a lot about.
I wanted to give you a flavor of the emotions I am feeling by not just posting a reflection from one day. In this past week, since I arrived on Saturday night, I have been growing, dealing with unforeseen circumstance and culture shock, relying on my incredible friends and family back at home, and just hoping that each next day will be easier.
”The price is high, the reward is good.” -Maya Angelou