Tuesday, September 21, 2010

September update

Well, there’s only a little bit of September left, so I can safely say I’ve survived it. In just a few weeks I will have been in Rwanda for an entire year. How weird is that? I don’t feel like I’ve been here a year. A long time sure, but not an entire year. I’m counting down my weeks until December, when I’ll be back in the United States.
As I walked up the mountain with Jo today she asked me why I seemed to be so down recently.
“I miss my home.” I replied. I wasn’t going to get into the details of my defeatist attitude. Trying to explain what I had given up to be in Rwanda, only to experience a complete lack of return on my attempts to impact the village would have been like trying to describe a color that no one had ever seen before.
“But you are on the computer all the time. You talk to people at home everyday.” She said.
“It’s more than that. I miss being a human.”
She didn’t immediately understand. “I think you miss the things you can’t touch in America.” She said.
“No. I miss being a person. In Rwanda I’m a lot of things. I’m a spectacle, or an exotic animal, but I’m not a person. I miss being a human being.” I explained.
“A human being? Jenny! You aren’t a person in Rwanda? What a thing to say.” She laughed. “I see you miss your country. It is understandable.”

It’s not a feeling any volunteer can properly explain to their counterparts in Rwanda. The total alienation that I experience in the village can be all consuming. Not five minutes before my attempt to define my loneliness, she noted that a primary aged girl walked up to me and held my hand for a moment. This seemed particularly extraordinary to her because in her own words, “The girl was not afraid to touch you or come near you!” But somehow, the idea that I’m not treated like a human being in Rwanda was too much of a stretch for her. It’s funny what host country nationals are willing to accept as logical and what they aren’t.

In that vein, I had another interesting conversation with her while walking to school one morning. We met a groundskeeper on the road who told us that her daughter was sick and that she had to go home to take of her.
“Ihangane,” we both said. And I went on to advise that if her daughter was showing symptoms of malaria, she should visit the health center for medicine. The response I received was a mélange of incomprehensible Kinyarwanda and Urukiga, then a flat “No.”
Needless to say I was a little shocked by how seriously she rejected the idea of getting her sick child medical attention, and when we said goodbye and went back to walking toward school Jose kindly began to explain to me what had been said.
“Her daughter is sick with sorcery.”
“Sorcery? Like, she’s under a spell?”
Jose was delighted that I understood. “Jenny! You know sorcery? Yes, it is very dangerous. She must pray to make the illness go away.”
“… But, you know that here is no such thing as sorcery, right Jo?” I asked thinking I already knew her answer, but was totally caught off guard when she began to protest.
“Jenny! Sorcery is real! She cannot take her daughter to the doctor or she will die the moment they try to give her an injection!” She explained.
“Uh huh… And how often to people die of sorcery?” I asked.
“All the time!” She replied enthusiastically.
“Don’t you see the logical flaw in that way of thinking?” I attempted to explain how any illness could be considered sorcery if the general public believed seeking medical attention would kill them. It would take very little, especially given how terribly paranoid Rwandan society already is. If someone in the village doesn’t like you and one of your loved ones gets sick all they would have to do is claim it is a magical sickness in order to punish you, because you’d already believe seeing a doctor would only exacerbate the situation. Then their point would only be proved when your loved one’s health continued to fail and you continued to deny them the medicine that would normally cure them. The cycle perpetuates itself.
“But Jenny,” she protested, “there are lots of diseases that doctors cannot cure. It is because of sorcery.”
“Like what? HIV/AIDS? There is no cure, but doctors can help prolong your life or make you more comfortable while they research a cure.” I replied.
“Well of course. That’s the exception.” She told me, and I promptly gave up on trying to put my logic up against her years of village propagated fear mongering.

So many people are afraid to open their eyes--not because they know they will see a world that is drastically different from the one they’ve been imagining, but because they’re afraid that that world won’t have a place for them. In a lot of ways I think Africa knows it’s been left behind, and it is terrified by the idea of trying to play catch up. Then again, I suppose there are people everywhere that prefer not to try things because they’re afraid of failing. Accepting, or even considering a new idea is much more difficult than my American heritage always made it seem.

Lastly, I suppose I can let the news out. I’m attempting a site change. The idea has been bouncing around in my head ever since my family visited and I got my sea legs back, so to speak. This village is nubbing me, and I am not helping them the way someone else probably could. My efforts are better directed elsewhere; ideally at an all girls math and science school that is opening in the South-East this next year. I’ll post more on that when the details are hammered out. Hopefully we’ll be discussing some of the terms this week.

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