Rwanda pulls me inside out, upside down, sideways (several times) all the while pushing me forward, backward, high, low, never to return to the same starting place.
There are many aspects of my life here that I can’t write about publicly, and these all have to do with my Rwandan family. Some parts of life should and will be private. So if you’re related to me by blood or by choice, your presence here is limited.
This has been my third trip to Rwanda. I’ll always be able to say that I was in Rwanda when men holding hands in public was very common. This beautiful outward expression of friendship is slowly caving into the unfortunate perception that such a gesture is sexualized. I see the culture here inexorably Westernizing, and this is heart-breaking.
The capital has developed so much in the last three years, and my life has changed along with it. My relationship with this country grows more and more complex. I keep reminding myself that knowing a place means knowing all about it, its strengths and weaknesses, the ways it brings me sublime pleasure, and the ways it breaks my heart. And by “a place,” I mean people here. And by “people here,” I mean my loved ones.
This trip has been focused on two of my strengths: planning and communication. (Of course there’s loving, but that is always a focus.) These strengths—all three, really—have gotten quite a workout here. Strategic planning, project planning, stop-gap planning, life planning, research planning—take your pick; I’ve done them all in the last month.
Communicating here is sometimes a challenge with my limited Kinyarwandan. But I love African English. I love the way that here the long a is not as sharp, not as closed in the throat as it is in the US. I love that today, in an ordinary conversation with a Rwandan colleague, he used the verb avail. Making myself understood is sometimes a syntactic challenge; I follow the constructions of Rwandan English most of the time here, and then I forget how to speak my own native English. And weird sayings come to mind: is it lickety split or lickety spit? Who cares? And why does this phrase pop into my mind here in these last few weeks?
One could argue that sometimes, communication is not my strength.
But when it comes to important aspects of communication, especially some of the rhetorical aspects, I’m on top of that.
And in the past ten days or so, Rwanda does not seem exotic. Instead, it just feels like where I am, like home. I forget to notice the differences in the colors of people’s skin; I forget to notice how strange Kinyarwandan sounds to my ears. If I really know the context, I can get most of what is said anyway (surprising some people). And I slip into we and us when I talk about some aspects of Rwandan society. This last part is something I keep an eye on—over-identification is probably just as dangerous as neocolonialism. It’s just that life here sometimes feels ordinary, even while I know this is an extraordinary experience.
Part of me feels so much at home here, as I’ve written about before. This relationship with Rwanda and Rwandans continues to puzzle, challenge, and motivate me.
Is it possible to have one foot in Texas and the other in Rwanda? Watch me.