We are now in our third year of life in Rwanda. After a wonderful time with family and friends on the East Coast, plus a week’s vacation in Amsterdam and Denmark, we were ready to reenter life here. I have never craved vacation as I have until I moved here. As a child, our family rarely took vacations. I’ve tried to place my finger on it and I think I need to face the reality that sometimes life in a cross-cultural situation is just challenging, thus draining and thus we crave some distance.
What are the challenges?
Constantly known as the Muzungu. Even if I’ve sought to learn some Kinyarwandan and have immersed myself in the neighborhood, I am still the muzungu the moment I walk out my gate. “Chocolate, amafaranga (money)” are the constant requests. Even if I have been to the market a thousand times in a year, I am still the outsider having to barter for what I believe should be the fair price and not the price due to the color of my skin. And even though I seek to understand the cultural nuances, I will most surely end up offending someone because I did something that is not acceptable here, but I just hadn't learned that nuance yet.
Constantly expecting something to not go as planned. As I’m currently reading Little House on the Prairie to my five year old, I am struck with the reality that my living situation here is quite comfortable in comparison to life on the American frontier in the late 1800s. Yet, compared to 21st century America, it is not. Water can turn off without any warning. My neighbors often come to share water when the village well is dry. A new road in our neighborhood is a God-send, yet, I am well aware that this will mean a power outage of at least an hour to four hours for every day during construction, which can last weeks. So I never stock the fridge to capacity, even though it is only a third of the size of a standard American fridge, because I don’t want to risk losing food. Even in work, I can plan for two weeks to get invitations out for an event, but when the printer actually runs out of ink and then asks the customer to purchase it for him, that was never in the plan.
Constantly reminded that a little can go a long way. Every time I open my gate and see my neighbor, I am faced with the reality that my Bourbon latte could pay for her son’s three months of education. Do I have a coffee that day or do I help my neighbor? I have to say that I have stopped buying as many coffees out and purchased coffee for my own home. It saves a lot and allows me to spend more on those in my neighborhood, but sometimes I just want to enjoy that iced late. My children have lots of art supplies – there is not much to do here, which is a positive. My children have become very creative at creating their own fun. Yet, there is always the tension of how much do I just keep the supplies and toys for my children and when do I use them to bless other kids in the neighborhood. These are daily decisions that weren’t always as apparent to me in the States even though we lived in an inner-city neighborhood.
These are all tensions for which I am actually grateful as they are forever changing how my family looks at the world. Yet, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that sometimes they just get tiring and the shores of Lake Kivu cry out for perspective, beauty and fun. Thankfully, I am married to a man who loves to both work hard and play hard and is committed to seeing as much of the beauty of this country and Continent as is possible.
After two or three days away, I do feel rejuvenated. When I look out into the beauty of Lake Kivu, I stand in awe that I am here in the heart of the continent for such a time as this. When I return home, I have the energy to have tea with the women in my neighborhood and to dream and plan with them regarding their future employment; I shed tears as the house staff for the Karisimbi team pray over us and thank us for treating them like family; and I celebrate with the 12 year old deaf boy, Imanishimwe, as he runs to my house to tell me he is first in his class! It is a good life here. Sometimes I just need perspective.