Since our arrival, and especially upon returning home for Christmas we have noticed some personal behavior changes. There are the obvious things like doing laundry by hand or using an outdoor latrine but some other changes have been more subtle yet still surprising.
-Only in Rwanda would I eat a plate of rice, pasta, boiled potatoes, fried potatoes, and plantains and consider it a nice complete meal.
-Only in Rwanda would I find French fries to be a pleasant addition to an omelet. Now when I get an omelet with no potatoes I am a bit disappointed.
-Only in Rwanda would you avoid going outside because there is a cow being slaughtered on the basketball court 20 feet from your house.
-Only in Rwanda could I overcome carsickness. In the states I would be sleeping approximately 30 minutes into a long road trip. Here, by necessity, my body has adapted to the winding roads and bumps.
-”Only in Rwanda would I eat a sausage off your foot” –direct quote from Aaron after a precious piece of sausage fell from his sandwich and was caught by my foot.
-Only in Rwanda will you wait 3.5 hours for a plate of pasta at a restaurant.
-Only in Rwanda have we become so unperturbed talking about bodily functions. When dystenary and bacteria lurk, it becomes an ordinary topic of conversation between friends.
-Only in Rwanda would a woman give birth on a bus, without anyone knowing. This, fortunately or unfortunately, is not our story to tell. A friend was sitting on a bus next to a woman carrying a bag, nothing strange. At one stop the man behind noticed blood dripping under the seat. She lifted up her igitenge [cloth that goes over a skirt] and there was a baby and umbilical cord! They all got off the bus and a woman helped her clean the baby up a little. They all loaded on the bus again and rushed to the nearest health center and the woman just walked off the bus, baby attached! She did not make a sound while giving birth!! In this culture expressing emotion is essentially forbidden, even for women, and so childbirth is usually an inaudible process.
-Only in Rwanda would a man dance fervently with another man, and be straight.
-Only in Rwanda could you get a fine for having dirty clothes. Our neighbor warned us that we needed to “do hygiene” to our yard [machete cut the grass] because the sector was having inspections. You could get a fine for bad grass or dirty clothes. [This is an interesting parallel with America where we demand freedom and scoff at this notion, but have passive aggressive neighborhood committees doing essentially the same thing.]
All in all our time in Rwanda has taught us a lot. Some things more life altering like observing and participating in how another culture lives. Others are to a smaller degree of transformation, such as French fries being the last step to omelet excellence.
One thing that has surprised me is a new found appreciation for my own culture and country. In general I find myself having the same conversation over and over again explaining why America is not perfect and how the grass is always greener on the other side. I try to tell a story about a goat eating grass in iKinyarwanda but the metaphor usually doesn’t shine through. Here I am frustrated by the inferiority complex and by the Westernization of Africa. I want them to see the good I see, the things I love here in Rwanda and be proud! But then I realized it was rather hypocritical because as much as I love my family and friends I have never exactly considered myself proud to be an American. I have always been thankful, but not quite proud. However, being here I have found a few things, beyond my family and friends, to be proud of:
1.Jim Henson. Easy! The muppets are altogether fantastic, wholesome, hilarious, and timeless.
2.The Wisconsin Senate/Supporters + Occupy Wallstreet- My generation has been rather apathetic, for many reasons justifiable and not. Despite the media’s portrayal and the bad eggs, I think their objective is noble and the fact that people are off the couch is a good sign for our country. They are bringing a different conversation to the dinner table, and I am happy about it.
3.The Organic Foods Movement. I think I just assumed this started in Europe because we are generally behind them in progressive areas, but not so! This has been a US specific movement starting long long ago. Granted our mass production of vegetables and animals, additions of preservatives, additives, and corn syrup to everything is what sparked it but I am proud nonetheless.
4.Culture. In the past when I heard American Culture I thought of overconsumption, consumerism, boisterousness, exceptionalism, and arrogance. There is mid-western friendliness, southern hospitality, east coast history, and west coast eclecticism but in general the global stereotype of the US is either negative or overtly romanticized. But now I have found many things to appreciate. Among them, live music, theatre, parks, libraries, appreciation of literature, poetry, and art, barbeques, and a culture of sharing emotions. These are all things I enjoyed regularly during my life, but I have a newfound gratitude for their presence in my life. I am also thankful to my family and education for making them a daily part of my life.
5.Emotions. Also I have noticed that in our culture not only are you free to express emotions, but also are expected to and scorned if you don’t. Here it is the exact opposite. You aren’t fully free to express your emotions, and if you do you are scorned. I understand both cultures, but coming from ours it is uncomfortable to be at a wedding where NO ONE is smiling. Especially not the bride. Our close friend explained that they are very happy inside, but from our stance it is so hard to register it. Neither way is good or bad, but I appreciate the freedom to share my emotions. Or to choose whether or not to share them or not.
6.Appreciation for food. And cooks! In America, we are a melting pot and our food reflects that. I know crab Rangoon and nachos grande were manufactured to meet our tastes, and reflect nothing of the originating country from which the restaurant claims. BUT. Our food culture is to eat DIFFERENT foods! Our palates may be saturated with sugar and salt, but we vary the vessels on which we eat it! I have heard friends who have visited Greece and got tired of olive oil, or India and got tired of curry [gasp!!] This information, in addition to our life here, has led me to appreciate the diversity in flavor we experience daily in the states. Even if everything you eat is Americanized, it still has a different spice, protein, or vegetable every night. And you have the opportunity to eat any cuisine you want. Thanks America. Thanks.