Sep 21, 2015

"What do you want with Rwanda?"

When I received the match for the posting in Kibungo there was an ominous paragraph at the bottom of the paperwork. "High risk for malaria," "power and water shortage," "most underserved province in Rwanda," were among the notations. In true Jessica form, my response was, "Whatever," and I agreed to go forward with the match.

Four days later I received the official offer and my first response was, "Oh no." I'm a brutally tough cookie, I've travelled the world, and yet living and working in a place is much different than traveling and I am not getting any younger or more easygoing. 

In training last week in the modern, super nice city of Kigali, the Embassy office kept making references to me being, "sent way out," or "learning to make do." I reacted with my usual, "It's fine, I'm excited." 

And then I was driven 3 hours away and dropped off in my new house. And I cried. 

There are minimum standards for living as described in our contract and my house does not meet those requirements. I am wrestling with my response because I knew I was going to the boonies. But I would like the contract to be fulfilled. 

It seems that everything comes to a halt on the weekend, so I was left alone all weekend to explore, unpack, and practice chatting with the townspeople. My house is in a high-traffic area (comparatively speaking), and people just walk up to my gate and look in my windows and watch me. This has freaked me out a bit, but I am assured by my supervisor that they are just curious. This morning, a team descended on my house and I think *fingers crossed* that things will be better soon. Some of my requests include: a sink, running water, a toilet seat, a fan, curtains that cover the whole windows, an inside door that locks, and the rats in my ceiling to be taken care of. When I asked about the rats, they replied that Mushu could take care of it. I was like, "no," and they laughed at me saying that, "he is a special cat." 

Besides the house, my impression of Kibungo is a great one. My university is organized, clean, small and quaint. Everywhere is a hill in Rwanda and houses dot the hilly landscape around the campus. It's one of the most picturesque places I have ever been. There is only one road approximately four miles long. If I go out my campus and turn right and walk 15 minutes, I reach the "city center." If I turn left and go for about 20 minutes downhill, I reach the junction where the road from Kigali enters. If cars turn left they head to Uganda, right they head to Tanzania. I am about 20 miles from the Tanzania border. There are very few cars, or any forms of transportation for that matter, but every once in a while a truck can be heard traveling by heading for the Tanzania border. 

Saturday one of the university cleaners took my to the market. It was so amazing and intense. I need to learn my numbers quickly. She doesn't speak english so she would type prices into her phone. Someone tried to charge me 10$ for a Chinese made cutting board, so I need to get my negotiating language skills up to par real fast. 

Yesterday I walked both directions outside my house hoping to become more familiar and comfortable with the city. As I walked through town, I noticed little packs of children, mostly girls, following me. I slowed down and spoke to them in my crappy kinyarwanda and soon I had a little posse. A big old redhead marching through town with little friends. haha. I wanted to invite them over to see Mushu but we were walking the opposite direction. One of the little girls in the first posse spoke great English. She was pointing things out in town to me, 'bank,' 'post office,' 'police,' and at one point said, "We are in charge of you." hahaha. I was like, "Ok, someone has to be in charge here." haha. 

While we were walking she also asked me, "What do you want with Rwanda?" It took me back for a second because I found that to be a very existential question and wasn't sure how to answer. What DO I want with Rwanda? "I want to be a teacher in Rwanda," I said to her. That was the simple answer. But since then I have been mulling over the question. What do I want with Rwanda? I guess I want to know Rwanda. I want Rwanda to show itself to me. I want to learn about reconciliation, resilience, and faith from Rwanda. I also want to leave knowing I did my best as a Fellow, whatever that looks like. 

I'm not too sure yet what exactly my time here will look like. I'm trying to piece together the puzzle in front of me. How do I greet people and where do I get things to sustain myself? How do I teach Rwandan students and what are their needs exactly? How can I get involved in other projects and how do I make friends? Time will tell. 

Yesterday as I went through town I tried to get the names of each shop owner (I'm telling you, this place is tiny). Janet owns the shop with milk and Grace owns the shop with cereal and birthday hats (random). Jean De Something has the used goods shop where I bought a mirror and Judithe has the shop with tomatoes and eggs and pineapples. Most people speak some english and I've run into a few people with great english. English seems to be more widespread than in China, especially for a rural area. But to have any depth of conversation, I need to be getting my kinyarwanda up to speed. I bought an avocado and some tomatoes yesterday in kinyarwanda and did a little happy dance. Progress is fun. And being able to talk to people is even more fun. 

I like my little town. My little town in "underserved" East Rwanda, worthy of an entire paragraph of warning, yet a place I can tell I am going to be very glad I chose to come to. 

Have some pics:  

walk slow. xoxo. 


Miss Lynda said...

Oh Jessica.... you are one amazing young woman and I am so proud to know you! What a multitude of ups and downs you have faced in the last two weeks, all with a sense of humor and grace. Your beautiful little city is going to be so very blessed to have you in their midst. I am in total awe of all you have accomplished thus far. I would still be trying to psych myself up just to get out of the car! Yet, here you are, 3 days in, learning the storekeepers names, buying tomatoes, avocados and cutting boards and getting ready to invest in the futures of the students assigned to your classes! As I said before.... you are one amazing young woman! (Please tell me they got you a potty seat?!) Sending love to you and MuShu and keeping you in our thoughts and prayers, all ways and always!

Ke Xiao Mei said...

I love you, Miss Lynda!!! I didn't buy the cutting board, we couldn't settle on a price haha. I'l have to try again on the next market day. I got a toilet!!!! Which was very handy yesterday...haha. xoxoxoxo thanks for the prayers, we covet them! Well, mushu doesn't know he does, but he does.