New site in the south
It was day one at my new site, the Kitabi College of Conservation and Environmental Management. I woke up to silence, light and a feeling of change. Outside my house are rolling hills of forest and tea. Here in Kitabi we are up high where it is cold and the clouds are constantly changing their mind. I spent time with new colleagues then organized my new room and walked the campus but by afternoon, I had a familiar, unpleasant feeling. It was a feeling of disappointment and emptiness, inevitable after any big expectation is checked by reality. What am I doing here? Will it be too much? Too little? How do I take care of myself while helping Rwanda? Is this site too different from my last one? These are common questions I ask myself but today I decided they were intolerable and restrictive.
I was not in the mood to hole up in my house so I ventured outside and off campus for a little walk. To my left was a heavy storm cloud and to my right was forest where just this morning I had seen a baboon. I continued straight and decided to buy some airtime for my phone. This led me from boutique to boutique, with lots of confused-looking Rwandans wondering who this Kinyarwanda-speaking foreigner was. I made it to one house that promised to have airtime when the kids started shouting to get the camera because the white person was there. “Appareil appareil!” they shouted.
As I got to the house and paid, it started pouring. This Rwandan woman, Mama Yvette, ushered me into her house where I sat with eight other children. The children passed around a broken Polaroid and “took” pictures of me all afternoon.
The rain kept me for a while, enough time to make some friends, eat some bananas, see the bath of a two month old and exchange some English-Kinyarwanda lessons. It was chilly and damp and the electricity was intermittent; still, there was a beautiful energy in the room. One girl was knitting a scarf using to sticks as needles. Two of the boys turned out to be some of the most talented dancers I have ever seen… although their song “ipusi ipusi” (cat cat) was not so great. One of the boys, Zidane, was smitten. He had dirty clothes, gap teeth and a shy spirit like mine. He started a chorus of “will she stay the night? Will she stay the night?” that continued until the rain slowed and I left. His pleas, “ararara, ararara?” turned in to a song and I was sorry to disappoint.
I was accompanied home and have carried a smile ever since. For me, this experience exemplifies Peace Corps. Just walking out of your house and using your language and cultural skills to spend the afternoon with a village family is unique to Peace Corps. I couldn’t have done this before Peace Corps and for this skill, I am grateful.
Colleagues from my old school