Thursday, June 23, 2011

Final Update

My friend Alaine told me she would drive me to Kigali. I wasn’t particularly pressed for time. I imagined she would arrive whenever she did and I would make a final round to classrooms, say my goodbyes, and speed away before I had a chance to change my mind about anything. She arrived at 10:30, and I wandered around and said goodbye to each classroom and the students studying in the library. One of my students halted me in the library.

Her: Ms. Jenny, you need to see Witness before you go.
Me: What’s wrong?
Her: Nothing. She has something for you.

I imagined it was a note. Several of the students created handmade goodbye letters and handed them off to me, but when I stepped into the computer lab, Witty handed me a flash drive. I accepted it and tried to ask what was on it but she only flashed her most charming smile and replied: “It’s a surprise!”
Technically, I had a medical appointment with Peace Corps at 11am, but I didn’t maintain much loyalty to the agreed schedule. At 11:30 one of my doctors called to ask where I was.

Me: I’m just leaving Gashora.
Him: We agreed we were meeting at 11.
Me: We also agreed that I wasn’t going to be leaving this week.
Him: I have to leave for PST at 12:30. We won’t have time to do your physical today. Why are you late?
Me: It was difficult for me to find a ride from the village with all of my luggage. Plus, I had quite a bit to do. If you were on such a tight schedule, you could have sent a car for me.
He proceeded to laugh over the line for over a minute and then simply said to try my best to get there as soon as possible.

I was ready to be as petulant as possible. I didn’t plan on putting on a brave face anymore. They didn’t deserve my attempts at politesse. When I got to the office, the process was surprisingly clinical. Perhaps I should have expected as much, but after several days of incredibly high emotional, this was a stern contrast. I went to my doctor, did a few of my tests, and then proceeded to the hostel to decompress for a moment. In that time something really amazing happened. I met with my friend and co-worker Kerrianne. She and I were two of six people (and the only remaining volunteers) of those who originally came together to create the PC Rwanda Peer Support Network.

We sat on the patio and just started talking. I let out everything I had bottled up in me about my service, and my life, and my transformation into whatever it is I am now. I Thought it was all going to be very negative, but over the course of that discussion it dawned on my just how completely enamored I was with my work. Now that it’s over, I can say this experience was completely invaluable. There were many challenges, and frustrations, and abuses that did not ever become justified, but I would never have had the opportunity to do what I’ve done, or life the live I’ve lived without the Peace Corps. I would have never met my girls, or learned to appreciate necessities, or understood who I am without this organization. It may be a small extension of gratitude, but I am grateful for having the chance to do what I did these past two years.

I opened my computer and plugged in the flashdrive Witness has given me. It was filled with pictures of my girls. Some were photos from sports games like the faculty-student volleyball game, some were of students reading books in the library, and some were just pictures of different students in front of chalk boards with messages for me.

We love you and will miss you Ms. Jenny! - CEM

The signatures were usually their class combinations, CEM being Computers-Economics-Math. I showed the photos to Kerrianne and started crying again. How could I ever regret anything when I had this? Even if it was for a short amount of time, I had something very few people ever get. I had real, unconditional love—and from 90 different people no less!

The next day I went in for my exit interview with my Country Director and she asked a series of expected questions, and I have a series of unexpected answers. I sounded happy about everything. Ultimately, I sounded very gracious about my time in Africa. I explained my shifts in site, my experiences with post traumatic Rwandans, and my successes with my new school. I showed her all of the notes, books and poems they had left me, and all about their development over the first and second terms, and she validated me. She told me I had the real Peace Corps experience and handed off some parting gifts to me, which included a hug and an invitation to dinner that night.

Before dinner I went to say goodbye to Dative and the baby. I held my niece for the last time in who knows how long and promised to be back as soon as possible. At dinner there were several of my friends. We made an amazing feta and arugula pasta dish, with a side of sweet corn and a dessert of chocolate and chips ahoy cookies. I got to make jokes about things, I got to say goodbye to several of my friends properly, I got to see a human side to administration and really appreciate the work they were trying to do.

Then I came back, sat down, and started to write. Shortly after that, the skies in Rwanda opened up for the last time I would see in many years, even though it’s supposed to be the dry season. Tomorrow I leave. The next day I land. The day after that, I start the next chapter of my life.

It’s gonna take a lot to drag me away from you. There’s nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do. I bless the rains down in Africa. I’m gonna take some time to do the things we never have.

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