An opportunity like this does not come often. Do not be afraid to be bold and to step outside your comfort zone. Because if you do, you might find yourself experiencing something you never could have imagined.
And good luck on your journey to Nyamasheke, I hope ya’ll don’t get car sick!
My advice is to be as intentional as you can (before, during, and after the trip). You’ve thought about this trip some already, keep doing so.
What do you want to get out of this experience, really? The knowledge you help create will live on, but what is most permanent is the impact this time will have on you. Be open to that change, be watching for it in yourself and others, and write it down!
Take lots of pictures and video! (They will help you remember)
These are some of my memories of Rwanda – small children carrying heavy jugs of water and little children carrying others smaller than they are, all with a fierce sense of independence. I remember goats tied up and cattle in peoples’ yards. Drying clothing adorns trees resulting in a colorful display. MTN and other cell phone booths line the main roads with women selling mobile money in bright yellow vests. Motos and cars honk to announce their presence and one has to be mindful to avoid walking into the ditches dug for the rainy season. Seatbelts are scarce, crosswalks are often suggestions with people walking wherever they’d like. Paved main roads lead to dirt roads that then morph into switchbacks cut into the hills. People line up for water, surrounded by long lines of yellow jugs. The school children all wear uniforms and wave excitedly as the bus passes by. This country is known mainly for two things, the 1994 genocide and the amount of women in politics. However, I think it should be known for so much more. I’ve been humbled to witness the incredible work ethic of the people. I have been astounded by the beauty of this country and the kindness of the Rwandans I met. I am grateful to have been welcomed in a way that made the month I spent there feel like home.
Neither words, photos or videos will truly show the reality of what we saw, heard, tasted, and felt. Our experiences were similar, yet different in how we perceived and reacted to them and that is why we decided to make this blog with the intention of capturing our nine different lenses. To say this summer was life changing will be a cliche and an understatement. I stumbled upon this in the most random fashion, however, there is something telling me that this was written for me and I am truly grateful for being given the opportunities I didn’t even know I needed.
I learned so much in the past couple months – how to code in Atlis.ti, how to analyze in STATA, how to sink and how to swim, how to live with four other equally confident HBIC’s. I learned that I love the PNW and that the human body and spirit has a limit and I’m still trying to find it. I learned so much about Rwanda and its resilient history and radiant present. I learned that we cannot rewrite our past, but we can dictate our future. I learned so much about traditional and modern contraceptive methods. I learned a thing or two about the preferred methods in Rwanda. I learned a little kinyarwandan. I learned so much about human relationships and a lot about myself. I learned that country music isn’t all that bad and that I can’t stereotype Texas. I learned how to dance and how to make a bracelet out of banana leaf fibers. I learned the lyrics to foreign songs and learned that no hill is too high to climb. I learned so much and am eternally grateful for that.
Rawness and honesty are traits I admire in others; so I will try my best to reciprocate that in saying that of course there were “dips” – we all experienced them. There were days when I missed my family and friends a lot. There were nights when I was scared a lizard or snake or some other dangerous creature would come crawling out of the shadows. There were times when people thought House Burera was falling apart. There was that one time when I fell ill and the pill popping was my only escape. There were moments when I felt despair – either because I didn’t understand a variable or when all my STATA inputs got deleted one hour before the symposium….but know this: those come with the package. And these perceived problems were so miniscule compared to the joy and elation I felt this summer that I hardly remember them. Rather, looking through my photos, I remember the Doop and how we laughed at the shape of the flowers in Ruhengeri and I remember Lili and our climb up that hill in Seattle and I remember Feist and how he was always willing to lend a helping hand. I remember AK and how he added a few words to all of our vocabularies (flick, flop, etc.) and I remember Dido and our transcription and coding sessions. I remember Hildog, Leah, and Seth who helped me – in and out of the classroom – since day one. I remember the list of quotes my peers and I came up with and the ice breaker games we played. I remember being blown away by how much I learned during my interview and the heavy pain in my chest when visiting the Kigali Memorial Centre.
My time in Bellingham and Kigali was incredible and now that I’m back at college, I’m getting asked “how was Africa” and slight bouts of reverse culture shock are coming in. But this isn’t over. The research continues. The relationships continue. Rwanda 2017. Rwanda for-e-ver.
To the next cohort: we are the originals and all others are imitators. Of course, I’m only kidding. Grab this experience by the horns and jump in with both feet – you won’t regret it. We’re excited to see what you come up with.
Enjoy these photos we’ve snapped along with way