I realized that I never really explained how water here works. On the walk up from Kicukiro centre, you pass the little place where everyone fills up their yellow plastic state-issued jerry cans with water—10 francs for each. Then they haul the depressingly heavy water back to their homes, though many people pay someone to do this job for them. There are young men all over the neighborhood lugging wheelbarrows full of water to houses throughout Kicukiro—110 francs for each jerry can of water. In my bathroom I have four different water-holding receptacles: one large plastic drum that holds several gallons of water to be used for flushing the toilet and washing up; one yellow jerry can specifically for bathing; one shallow bin to hold the water for showering, flushing the toilet, and washing clothes; and finally one small bucket to transfer water to or from any of the other three, and to pour water over your head while showering. It is remarkable how little water you actually need to go through all the daily rituals, in comparison with how much we use in the US!
So I write now from Ethiopia, but before I update on my travels here, allow me a few minutes of feeling sentimental over leaving Rwanda and to give one last post about what I’ll miss and what I’ve learned (in short..).
Before leaving Kigali, I practiced some new phrases for the occasion: nzagahenda ijo, uminsi mike ntabwo nzaba ndi murwanda, nzagaruka murwanda, imana nibishaka (I’m leaving tomorrow, I’m going to miss Rwanda, I’ll be back here one day, inshallah), and my very slow butchery of their language was heartily appreciated by everyone at FPH. The goodbyes were both happy and sad – it seems that it is only in leaving that you realize the depth of relationships or your attachment to a place.
I am going to miss the endless sunny days of Rwanda, warm and welcoming people, the fruit, the music, the hills, feeling bowled over by such a powerful place, and, surprisingly, all the countless moments of not understanding. I am going to miss walking through the center of Kicukiro, with its five-minute, single paved road stretch of bustle and chaos. There were the men on motos rolling up beside you to see if you need a ride, and the mini-buses crammed to bursting with people everywhere you look. The women wearing pagnes of the most beautiful patterns and colors it seems like a kaleidescope set against the red dirt and the green banana trees. The out-door market full of fruits, vegetables, meats, bags of dried fish, beans of every color, clothing, cloth and the smells of freshness and rotting at the same time. Dust everywhere, honking, laughing, hollering and cars that stop for no pedestrian.
I’ll miss the troupe of little kids I pass on my way to work every day, one of whom always yelled “Comment t’appelles tu?” another who yelled “umuzungu give me money!” a third who would run into me full force and bear hug me around my legs, and a fourth who would promptly burst into tears at the mere sight of me. Although it was hard to enjoy being the center of attention everywhere and anywhere, I think two months of being an umuzungu has made it feel almost normal. Now, when I see other foreigners, my first thought is “umuzungu!” and not something slightly more appropriate…so when I feel even myself gawking at other white people like they just arrived from the moon, I feel a little more understanding.
I knew that I wanted to come to Rwanda so that it would no longer just mean genocide to me, so that the images that came to mind would not be limited to machetes and suffering. Now Rwanda is the place with red earth that has permanently settled in my skin, the place where women smile shyly back at me as I struggle to greet them in their language, and where the pineapple makes your mouth water. Yet it is also the place where a conversation more than 10 minutes long inevitably reveals some traumatic part of someone’s life, and in one breath someone on a bus might tell you that they’re home from school on vacation and their whole family was massacred in the genocide. While for the visitor it is startlingly easy to forget that genocide happened here, it is never far below the surface and lives on vividly in the minds of the majority of the population. I have learned about humility and forgiveness here, just as I have learned about anger and shame.
I have also struggled to learn what peace-building actually means in a place where there is a hunger for peace, for a return to “the way we were,” but an almost paralyzing number of obstacles stand in the way. Standing in the IDP camps, listening to a mother tell me violence was to be expected when they could not feed their children, I felt the weight of how interconnected grassroots work and policy are. Yet I still came away feeling hopeful, and a great deal of my hope has come from witnessing the unbelievable strength, courage, dignity and faith of the Rwandan people I met. I learned more than I know yet from them.
So sadly that’s all from Rwanda, but hopefully some photos to follow, and my next post will be about my few days in this bustling city of Addis Ababa!