Life is different here. Every day I see, discover and hear things that strike me as odd, but that is just because they are different from what I am accustomed to. I find some things amusing, others intriguing, and others just downright baffling. My quest to learn 1 thing a day is still alive and well, as there is always something to learn here in Rwanda. I will start with the notion of urgency, effectiveness, and efficiency. Those are three words that have been engrained into my thoughts and actions since the day I began working as a teenager at the local Geauga County Fair. As I have grown older, I have become someone who requests that those three tenants be respected and heeded, so I have had to switch gears a bit, take a back seat, and bite my tongue since moving to Rwanda.
Urgency does not exist – plain and simple. Rwanda has its own pace, and it is most definitely NOT urgent. The other night I was walking back from the dining hall and one of the staff members mocked me because I was, “being passed by Rwandans.” People here walk S-L-O-W-L-Y, so to be passed by a Rwandan indicates that you are practically moving backwards because they are never in a hurry. I must say though that I have learned to take my time and not rush. It is refreshing to slow down and live in the moment, and to allow myself to get lost in my surroundings as I go to and from a place, BUT, the slower pace means that less gets accomplished, especially when there is a lack of effectiveness and efficiency. Case in point - last week the Village water pump stopped working, and we ran out of water. For two days, there wasn’t any running water – to shower, to brush your teeth, to flush the toilet, to drink…the pipes were dry. Although I was beginning to feel as though the water issue was an urgent matter, none of the Rwandans seemed especially concerned. There was even a hour when I saw people using the backup collection of rain water to wash a Village vehicle. Clearly THAT was an urgent activity, although not an effective or efficient use of backup water from the point of view of a Westerner :)
It is so easy as a Westerner to be tempted to jump into a project that is underway and explain, show, or overhaul the process from a Western perspective. But, I stop myself every time because that is not why I am here. I am not here to tell people how to do something, or to explain that the Western way may be better or faster or more effective or efficient. My job is to assist the Rwandans and support them with their efforts; all while proposing supplemental ways of enhancing their ideas or plans. Even if I have a great idea, I have to introduce it in a way so as to make them think that it is an idea that they cultivated, thus making them believe in it more, thus increasing the odds that there will be buy-in from those involved. It’s a slippery game, but oddly intriguing. The key is sustainability. I can arrive with the most incredible plan or idea, but if there isn’t local buy-in and belief in that plan or idea, it will die when I leave this Village 10 ½ months from now. It also has to make sense to the locals. In a way, many people here seem to have the old-school American mentality of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” They seemingly do things a certain way because that is the way it has always been done, and there isn’t any reason in their mind to change the course of action, regardless if the “new” way is more effective or efficient. That notion drove me batty at my last job, but keeping it in context here in Rwanda, it makes sense here, and with that newly found discovery and understanding, I have a new sense of calm when it comes to those kinds of situations.
In addition to appreciating and understanding a new way of looking at things and situations, I also uncovered an discovery. I came to realize that urgency, effectiveness, and efficiency aren’t as important as I always thought them to be. What matters is to have competent, intelligent leaders above you and workers surrounding you, all who possess the passion and inspiration to make the work meaningful, and the respect for one another to make the work possible. If you have those key ingredients, most everything else will fall into place, and the bits that don’t, don’t really matter. That recipe for success did not exist in my life before Rwanda, and I am so thankful to have made that discovery so early in this journey. This really is a good fit, and these people are exactly who I want around me each and every day. They make me stronger, smarter, more worldly, and more productive. They are what each and every place of employment needs.
Funny Story of the Week: I was sitting and waiting to meet a tour group which was coming to the Village, and several staff members scolded me for sitting out in the sun. When I came inside to sit and wait, one of the staff members said to me, “your skin is changing color…WHAT IS WRONG?!” I looked down and all I saw were my ever-present freckles, which apparently are not very common here. It is one of those things I have taken for granted because in America, I don’t think I have ever had to try to explain what freckles are to another person. Like I said before, this place is different. Think about it – how do you explain freckles? After trying to clarify the dots on my skin, the staff member responded by saying, “so it is a skin disease that you will pass on to your children.” There was no way to cleanse that way of thinking, so I just had to laugh. I really wanted to tell him that because I have been eating so many beans, the color of the beans is starting to ooze through the pores in my skin, but I refrained.
Sweet Moment of the Week: It was one of my little sister’s birthdays this past week, so I found her in the dining hall and gave her a hand-made card and a hug. During our nightly family meeting, she mentioned how my gesture made her feel so special, and that she could feel the love that I had for her. She said that I made her day special. Little did she know that I was struggling a bit emotionally that day, and when she left her friends at dinner to come sit next to me, SHE made my day special.
Cultural Highlight of the Week: A Kigali-based theatre troupe (Mashirika) and The Anne Frank Project from Buffalo State University came to perform at the Village on Saturday. The entire show involved our own students performing traditional dance, Mashirika performing an emotional and thought-provoking piece about genocide, and The AFP performing a medley of Rent songs intertwined with scenes from Romeo & Juliet. It was a joy to watch it all take place outside in the amphitheatre!
What I Am Craving This Week: dried mango, apples, southern sweet tea, and my iPod (mine died)