Since we have left Rwanda on November 15th, I have revisited this blog in my thoughts quite a few times. Before going we purposefully named it TTIBF: this train is bound for … key being the …
It was named this so that after our time in the Peace Corps we could continue to use it as a means of mass communication with family and friends, or merely a place to unload into the cosmos. So today I am going to write about my/our current thoughts, not as a finale to the Rwanda blog, but as a transition into the … of our lives.
cha cha cha changes
I have about 4 pieces of clothing that have survived the past 2 years start to finish. There are 2 tank tops, black and olive, a teal cardigan, and a purple blouse that left Kansas City in October 2010 and returned in January 2013. When I see these pieces, I get a stomach turning emotion of what I can only define as admiration. They are warriors. They have survived hand washing, wear and tear, weight-gain and weight-loss, dirt and dust, trades, give aways, being lost or stolen. They survived and then were chosen to enter my suitcase and travel home the other way around the world, surviving 9 more countries on the way.
I can’t help but look at these warriors in awe at all they have been through, all they have seen, and that they still live on. Symbolically, of course, these clothes could represent Aaron and myself. But they don’t. Not yet anyway. We have been to the same places as these clothes, seen the same things, and endured it all together. Yet, when I look in the mirror I don’t see a warrior. I see more freckles, but no other emotions are invoked. That being said, there are some noticeable things that have changed in ourselves, but also in the ol’USA.
changes in the US
-Keurig coffee makers [what?? Since when?? How?? Why?? Oh, I get it now, and I love it.]
-Clouds [icloud, the concept, etc.]
-Pandora has commercials:(
-food photos [thought that was just us!]
-gluten-free [yes, it can be a disease, yes it can be an intolerance, yes, it can be a diet: anyway you look at it, it is still a recent and colossal fad]
- traffic cameras! So many!
-college tuition increase like whoa
-frozen yogurt shops! Never in my wildest dreams did I think something I loved so much would become a nationwide fad. Loveee it!
-greek yogurt! Once a secret of foodies and health nuts, now in my mother’s fridge
-babies: many people are with child.
-angry birds/bejeweled other smartphone/tablet games
-it being socially acceptable to use said smartphone/tablet anywhere at anytime
-cupcakes! So many cupcakes!
-more ethnic food restaurants
changes in the us [get it?]
Self-confidence: as a teacher to a group of 10-40 wide-eyed girls, spouting off lessons on Self-Confidence, Trust, Love, Peer-Pressure, Gender Balance, etc. I was faced with questions of my own self-confidence, where it lacks, where it is non-existent, where it thrives. I was talkin’ the talk and I best start to walk the walk. As I watched these girls transform I, too, transformed into one who is more confident. One who has envisioned a project, dictated these thoughts into proposals, enlisted and received help from peers, led peers, completed projects, assessed projects, and finished happy. I stood in front of a room full of 100 strangers and gave a speech in a difficult second language. I danced in front of 300 girls, to show them it is ok to look goofy. I taught those sweet girls how desperately important it is to be confident in every aspect, I seamlessly became a more thoughtful and confident person myself. And I can say I am proud.
Language: Kinyarwanda was hard, but we learned it. We conversed for hours at a time. We traveled cross-country using it. We laughed with it and cried with it [or because of it]. To know another language creates a new space in your mind, one, which requires constant logic and multi-level thought. “how can I take the words I know, and the words I think they might know, to express my idea and then listen to their words and put them together in a meaningful way to derive an answer.” I had a dream in 90% Kinyarwanda last night, and again felt proud.
Gained ruthless bartering skills: just try to scam Aaron or I, and you will get SCHOOLED. Want $10, make it $2. No? you want $8? I said $2! *walk away* ok fine, $2. That’s what I thought!!!! Proud!
Simplified: that might be a word to summarize a new change in us. It is a little bit annoying for others to watch as we try to make cookies using as few utensils and dishes as possible. But in most ways, we lived a “simpler life” there. It is something we tried to do before we left, and now are doing more naturally. We are very conscious of our trash.
*optional funny sub-story*
In Rwanda there is no trash service. You must dispose of what you consume. We had 1 bag for burnable trash [paper, foil etc.] 1 box for bottles to give to our local banana beer brewer to use. 1 box for reusable plastic jars/bottles that we can use or give to neighbors, we composted all food waste for use on our garden, and then had 1 bag for… all else. Pieces of plastic wrap, weird plastic, shaving cream bottles, razors etc. So the question was: to burn or to bury? You might [not] be surprised that there is not much research on environmental impacts of burning vs. burying plastics. Both are bad. Put them in your trashcan and they will magically disappear every Tuesday. So at the end of our service, that “??” trashcan was growing increasingly as our house emptied. We got in a “fight”/heated discussion about whether to burn or bury, one last time. In the beginning we decided on burial, because impact would take longer [like over a lifetime] to really begin seeping into the earth, and after all landfills are what most of the world has decided on. So we filled the land also. But this last bag was so full, that it would have been a monster hole. As we were “fighting” we stopped, and started laughing, and realized that this fight would be our last over this matter. That some problems we simply will not have again. Ever. Pretty hilarious how quickly a perspective change can occur.
So if you’re on the edge of your seat wondering WHAT HAPPENED TO THE TRASH!!!??? DID THEY BURN OR BURY???
Ultimately with all of the options, what got us was the thought of people finding it later and digging through the “muzungu” trash. For them to see all of our waste [1 white trash bag in 6 months… not so bad looking back] was too much to think of. So we burn, baby burned. From midnight to 6am it burned. And I was not proud this time. [But still kind of proud because I was the one who actually lit the flameJ]
*sub-story over *
In a sense we have simplified and are more conscientious. We use less water, or at least think about it when we do use a lot. We will air dry our clothes, because it feels good, and why not? We pack lighter. We generally have less. And have seen what it looks like to really really have less. And we are proud.
Empathy: My empathy was challenged in Rwanda. I am generally a very empathetic person. I give people the benefit of the doubt, I defend the underdog, and I will like you unless you are mean/arrogant. And even if you are, I will probably still love you and want to fix you. But my empathy was challenged because it felt like [in general!! not always!!] people had less empathy for me. Yes, I was an observer looking upon poverty in a healing country. I should have had immense empathy. And I tried. But it was sympathy at best. Because when you are living as not an observer but participant, and are subject to the adverse affects of poverty and post-conflict, it is impossible to remain objective. So I wish I could say I had a lot of empathy for Rwandans, but I didn’t. The specific cultural things that I should have felt empathy towards ultimately made me angry and cold. I, luckily, am not so cold that I can look upon the experiences with logic and derive an artificial empathy/understanding that makes me feel okay. And I did gain loads of empathy in a new area: towards immigrants, foreigners, tourists, and minorities. I was one or all of these, everyday for 2 years. My heart will forever be soft to those who are far far from home, and to those with a different skin color/lifestyle/who are generally odd. And I am proud of that, at least.
Car-sickness: nearly AVERTED! That’s right folks. I have defeated car-sickness. Now, if only I could get in an ocean without instantly vomiting.
Ok, I think this is enough for right now. I hope this was a light-hearted insight into our current state of mind. We are processing, debriefing, reintegrating, whatever –ing you want to use. It has been hard. Some residual effects from our life abroad, are still making themselves known [ie: social awkwardness, trouble making simple decisions, trouble making big decisions, panic attacks, trouble sleeping, anxiety traveling at night, flashbacks, reverse homesickness, lost conversation skills, unmet expectations of home] We are struggling, but happy as clams to be struggling HERE with our loved ones.
In terms of our current lives… Aaron has been accepted to ALL grad schools he applied to. CONGRATULATIONS! We are waiting to hear about the scholarships/financial aid before making a decision. Currently in Colorado, enjoying time alone for the first time since November, but still with family in heart and mind.
“We are happy we did it, but happy to be back” ß magic 1 sentence summary of the past 2 years.
love & peace to you all,