Sunday, February 6, 2011

2011 Update

It’s been a while since I’ve posted. I wrote three separate entries thinking it was the one I wanted to submit to the public, so hopefully this will be my final copy. Returning to America was not like anything I could have anticipated. It was shocking. I mean really physically and psychologically shocking. For my first week I was enchanted by everything, disconnected, and preoccupied with the busyness involved in all of the superfluous details. There were fountains in the middle of shopping malls that spit water for children to play in, or simply for people to admire. I couldn’t imagine what my twelve year old neighbor, Mugeni, would have thought if she saw it and was told it was “just decoration” after years of having to carry Jerry Cans from the source, up our mountain, just so her family could cook at night.
I spent a lot of time hiding in my room with my computer, trying to find a lifeline to ground me into my new First World reality. A few of my friends who had gone through this process before told me it would just take some getting used to. There were things I could get used to, and then there were things I couldn’t. Though, I rapidly got used to all of the food I had missed the previous 15 months, daily hot showers, and reliable transportation. I think it took some time for my friends and relatives to readjust to me as well. After all of the “Hi”s and “How are you”s, immediately followed the “Oh my GOD you’re so skinny”s, and some assessments on the change in my demeanor. I had a lot of people tell me I had become awkwardly quiet and detached. Devan’s phrasing of my transformation was probably the kindest. “There’s stillness about you now,” he told me. It was nice to be around him again and see that he still had absolutely no demands of me. After everything, he is still the one person I can be around and never have to feel like I’m trying to entertain or impress. I could be at zero with him, which was an invaluable emotional sanctuary when things got overwhelming.
I kept myself together until the very end. My last few days at home were tumultuous at best. The thought of getting back on the plane and returning to the place that handed me my ass for more than a year caused a visceral reaction in me. I just wanted to run as far in the opposite direction as humanly possible. Rwanda no longer represented this holy grail of undiscovered potential. It was the place where my dreams went to die, and I suffered the better part of that passing alone. I forced myself onto the plane under the pretense that “things would be different this time.” I had a new school, a new village, and a new job. In reality, I forced myself back because I didn’t think I could ever be able to forgive myself for abandoning my friends to the Heart of Darkness. Every time someone I cared about walked out, it was like one less thread keeping my pieces together. “It takes ten times as long to put yourself together than it does to fall apart,” I would remind myself, and try my best to continue forward with what then seemed like a missing limb.
But it was different this time. I’ll admit, my first few days on the ground I was depressed. I thought about leaving every day, and every day it became harder and harder to come up with reasons to stay. Then, I finally got to move to my school, and things changed. The paranoia of being sent back to “the arena” dissolved. It became clear in the first 24 hours that I wasn’t going to have to fight for the essentials when they brought me to the dining hall and served me a fully balanced meal three times in a day. My house had a refrigerator. My room was like having my own private college dorm. I decorated it with letters and pictures from home like I did my freshman year at Davis. There was always water. Even when it was cold or took time to come through the pipes, there wasn’t any 45 minute hill that required conquering before I could have a shower. My mattress didn’t slope in the middle and I found myself sleeping whole nights through for the first time ever in Rwanda. That was the real kicker. When my door closed, the world stopped moving. I had solace, privacy, and absolutely no one to look out for aside from myself. That’s right. No Meow Meows de la Nuit attacking my housemates, no one waking me up to walk them to the latrine, no one knocking on my door in the middle of the night because of a post traumatic flashback. At night I could lie down, close my eyes, and not open them again until my alarm went off the next morning.
It didn’t take long for me to realize I was going to finish my service. About a week into being a site I made the unconscious decision to stay the course. I didn’t need to think through it. It was just a change in my mood that let me know I was going to be doing okay.
Thursday the girls arrived and we’ve been preparing for classes ever since. The latest from the Peace Corps rumor mill is that the school year will end in June due to MINEDUCs desire to match its school year with the rest of the East African Community. Man, wouldn’t that be a monkey wrench in the plans on everyone involved in Rwandan Education outside of the Ministry of Education? Even the Peace Corps would have to make adjustments to when they requested volunteers and when they would implement trainings. The school year would start up again in September leaving me to wonder why I didn’t apply for fall semesters at all of my Graduate Schools, but I’m trying not to dwell on how ridiculous this sudden change “would be” until everyone is sure it’s a “will be”.
More on that later.

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