This week I hit a milestone – one month in Rwanda :) If you have been following my blog, you know that the past 4 weeks have been filled with adventures and many opportunities for learning and growth. I don’t want to paint an unbalanced picture however, because there have been challenges, which is to be expected no matter where you live in the world. I did not come on this journey to escape trials and tribulations or to avoid the world, but rather to be inspired by, and learn from the challenges that will be presented to me while in Rwanda.
Challenge 1: Most of you won’t be surprised to hear that I was sick this past week. The truth is that I tend to catch colds and much more serious infections/diseases rather quickly. Quite honestly, that was the one fear that almost kept me from coming on this journey, but luckily I took the leap despite my fear of not having a CVS down at the corner, or Western Medicine within the boundaries of my living enviornment . This week was nothing serious – I picked up a wicked cold and sinus infection, all mixed in with some chest pressure. It is always miserable being sick, and the challenge of such seems to be exponentially worse when you are far away from home. Although I brought boxes of cold and flu relief with me, nothing seemed to want to boot out whatever was in my system, which is when I turned to Rwandan Mother Nature Medicine, or so I call it. There are many plants, weeds, and trees that grow in the Village, and when Western boxed medicine failed me, I trusted what I was told by the locals and loaded up on sage, lemongrass, mint, honey, and a special tea made with an “antibiotic” leaf (see the picture to the left), which just so happens to grow in the courtyard of the health and wellness center here in the village. The leaf is quite well known, in fact any time anyone saw me with it, they inquired whether or not I was ill. I have no idea what the leaf actually is, what is in it, or whether or not it actually has magical medicinal powers, but I was willing to give it a try. Depending who I spoke with, I heard various tales about the antibiotic leaf. I was told that my best bet was to brew it into a tea. A second option was to hold it over my nose and mouth and breathe through it, much like an oxygen mask on an airplane. The third option seemed to be the most risky – I was told that I could chew the leaf and/or tuck it between my gum and cheek, but that the side-effects were strong and included a sudden loss in blood pressure, the loss of hearing (for an unknown amount of time), and/or the numbing of my tongue and cheeks. As I stated, I was willing to give anything a try, but I was not willing to faint, lose my hearing, or my sense of taste and feeling in my mouth over a leaf. In the end, I honestly don’t know whether it was my immune system, the numerous American cold pills that people were pumping into me, or the magical antibiotic Mother Nature tea which took away my ailments, but here I am a week later feeling much better.
Challenge 2: A second challenge I was faced with this week involved teaching English to 34 first year students in the Village (including the 2 boys featured in the traditional African dance video in my last blog). I never have been, nor have I ever planned on being a teacher, but when it comes to the kids in the Village, I do what I am asked to do. Every day this past week, along with one of the week-long ESL volunteers, I made lesson plans and taught English for 4 hours a day to the advanced students within the first year class. The challenge wasn’t so much in the lesson planning, or the instruction, but it was everything that goes into teaching students life lessons. The students here all come from very challenging backgrounds, ones that would put most Americans’ “tough lives” to shame, and although they have each been “raised” to an extent by an elder, there are seemingly many holes when it comes to them having worldly awareness and knowledge, and respect (for themselves and others). Don’t get me wrong, these students are brilliant – they could easily go toe-to-toe with many American University students when it comes to their ability to discuss and debate many topics at a high level, however when it comes to history for instance, their knowledge-base seems to be a bit one-dimensional, and when it comes to manners and respecting themselves and others, their knowledge-base seems to be semi-non-existent.
One of my favorite pieces of the Village’s mission is to educate students both formally (in school) and informally, and to teach them academic lessons, as well as life-lessons. Simple lessons like not conversing with friends while someone is speaking seems to be a new concept to so many students here, whereas in America, I am pretty sure we learn that in Kindergarten. Other lessons like respecting each other’s opinions, whether you agree or not, and not insisting that your opinion is more valuable or more accurate also seems to be novel (although many Americans don’t know those lessons, regardless of age).
The biggest and most surprising challenge arose while discussing various leaders, role models, and inspirational figures (specifically Anne Heyman, Nelson Mandela, Lady Gaga, Barack Obama, and Steve Jobs) with the students. During the discussion and lesson, other notable “leaders” were brought up by the students, particularly Hitler and Gaddafi. During those discussions, not only did I realize how insular my educational background was when it came to those two men and their actions, but I was also made aware of how narrow the views were of the students in my class. The big difference is that many of the students' views were polar opposite from what I had been exposed to in my formal education. It is all a matter of context and perspective I suppose, and it was a HUGE lesson learned on my part. It was a challenge like no other I have really ever faced, but it was a lesson.
This year will undoubtedly be filled with ups and downs, and although this past week was filled with challenges including those listed above and those not relayed to you via this blog, I am confident that this was the best decision I likely have ever made for myself – to stop living a life that didn't fit and which was challenging me in really negative ways, find the courage to walk away, listen to my heart, follow my instincts, and become a better version of who I was before. As Steve Jobs said, “Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life…Don't let the noise of other's opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
I challenge each of you to heed Mr. Jobs’ advice, or at the very least, learn from others who have.
Most Touching Moment of the Week: The girls in my family were making acrostic poems with their first names and decorating them for their rooms. Several of the girls wrote in the background of their poems, “I LOVE” and drew and line after the phrase. They then came up to me and asked me to write my name in the blank so that it read, “I LOVE BARRETT.” Priceless.
Most Amusing Moment of the Week: One of the boys in my advanced English class that I have been teaching for the week was asking me to tell him about my family and friends in America. He and his friends were very inquisitive about my romantic life back in America and found it “impossible” that I didn’t leave a boyfriend behind when I moved here. In the next instant, one of them raised his eyebrows in a flirtatious way and said, “well, I am available.” Again, priceless.
Best Meal of the Week: Not just once, but twice this past weekend I went to the Indian restaurant next to the Kigali house to eat, and gorged myself until I was sure I was going to pop. I have never had such amazing Indian food in my life, and I have a feeling that I just began a new ritual for each time I go to Kigali. If you are ever in Kigali, you must eat at Zaffran in Kiovu! PHENOMENAL!
Best/Oddest Compliment of the Week: I was buying groceries at a supermarket in Kigali, and during checkout, I was conversing in Kinyarwanda with the clerk (just basic greetings and conversation, NOTHING advanced), and after our exchange of words, he asked, “are you Rwandan?” I almost laughed out loud, but resisted the urge and told him that I was from America. I know that I have picked up a lot of sun, and that I have a lot of freckles, but there is no way in the world that anyone could possibly think that I am actually from Rwanda! I took it as a compliment nonetheless.
· Nimenshi Cyane! – That’s too expensive! (really helpful when you are bargaining for a moto or in a market)
· Ndwaye ibicurane – I have a cold
· Ndi ingaragu – I am single