Peace Corps Rwanda As Famous Literature

When you’re about to COS and you need to procrastinate cleaning and packing, you make a list of book titles to describe the expierience of Peace Corps Rwanda as famous literature.

I had a lot of fun with this—if you have more titles, send them my way!


isombe
Like the Dr Suess classic, about all the foods you think you do not like, but you try them here, you try them there, it turns out you have to try them everywhere—and in the end you like them. (Actually, I still dislike isombe.)

imbabura
Like Jack London’s “To Build a Fire,” the story of a PCV slowly starving to death while trying in vain to light a charcoal stove.

 

twege
Basically Kerouac’s On the Road but actually just about a PCV who takes two hours to make what should be a fifteen-minute trip in a cramped van with someone’s elbow in their ribs.

inyoni
“Inyoni” means “birds,” and like Poe’s “The Raven,” it’s about a PCV haunted by phantom knocks at the door when really it’s just pied crows landing on the roof.

swim
Like the Dostoyevsky classic, but nobody dies; a PCV swims in Lake Kivu and gets schisto.

hobbit
J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, except instead of that, the epic tale of what should have been a quick trip to the nearest regional town.

fish
Like the Dr Suess story, but more honest. (I mean, unless you have money to buy fancy food in Kigali. I don’t. Luckily I don’t have a deep love of fish, either.)

lessonplans
Similar to Nabokov’s Laughter in the Dark, but instead of all the relationship problems and films, just a PCV alone in a house at night with no electricity trying to prep for tomorrow’s classes.

web
Actually nothing like the E.B. White classic, because instead of friendship and laughter, just a true story about me avoiding my shower room because it’s infested with spiders.

 

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The Mess of Transitions

Hello, my darlings! I have a treat for you this week: my dear and talented friend Emily is here to talk about transitions and the books that get her through them. I’m constantly inspired, challenged, and encouraged by her writing, and I hope you will be, too.


I’m always caught off guard by how ungloriously messy transitions are. I want them to be Instagram worthy at every turn, but they never ever are. It makes me think I’m doing something wrong: I didn’t plan well enough, or I’m not really ready to make this move, or I don’t deserve it. If I had and was and did, it would be more glamorous, right? The lighting would be better. I would have woken up with enough time to do my makeup. The corners of my books wouldn’t have gotten bent during the move.

I know it’s not true, but I buy the story every time. It’s the one crowding the shelves of every supermarket, eternally on discount.

I’m starving for richer stories, for brave words about messy times. I need a supplement for the weak, over-processed stuff I’ve been consuming.

 During the long interim of preparing to graduate from college and learning how to be a post-college adult, I happened across two books whose words felt so true and nourishing. Their words still echo in my gut, filling me, moving me, growing me, and fortifying me.

Tables in the Wilderness

I read Tables in the Wilderness during my final semester of college. It tells the story of Preston’s college years and his spiritual questioning and formation during that time. College was a time of spiritual upheaval for me as well. Though Preston and I asked different questions and worked them through in different ways, I could see reflections of myself in the words on the pages of this book. I understood the confusion and the shame and the out-to-sea-ness that come with reformulating one’s spirituality.

As graduation neared, I wasn’t finding any of the neat closure or conclusions I expected to have by the time I left college. Doubt does not care about my collegiate time frame, it turns out. But Preston’s book gave me an example of wading along through murky waters, not gracefully, but faithfully. He demonstrated how messy moving through a wild place is, transitioning from certainty to hazardous possibility.

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Bittersweet

I made my way through Bittersweet the summer after graduation. From the first essay I read in her first book, Cold Tangerines, I have been captivated by Shauna’s candid truth telling. Bittersweet moves through the breadth of experiences a person will encounter in her life: job loss, the deaths of loved ones, moving to a new city, fighting to create meaningful contributions to the world.

A few months ago, I wrote about what this book taught me about making time for creativity. Another valuable lesson I learned from Bittersweet is to always always say something when a friend or acquaintance is grieving the loss of a family member or is just going through a rough season. As Shauna says, it is worse to say nothing in that situation than it is to embarrass yourself by saying the wrong thing. I have found myself calling up this reminder multiple times already in my post-college life.

It carries over to other areas as well, I think. I put so much pressure on myself to say the right thing or act in just the right way in a new situation that I sometimes stop myself from saying or doing anything at all. A big part of life is just showing up, even if you aren’t completely prepared—showing up for your friend who is mourning, showing up for job interviews you don’t feel quite qualified for, showing up in the handyman’s voicemail inbox for the fourth time that week asking that he please come look at the leaky ceiling.

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For nearly nine months now, I’ve been in the transition out of college. It’s messy beyond belief, and I’m glad for the few voices who stand in the mud, unflinching, saying, “Me too.”


Emily is a product of the prairies of Nebraska—equal parts poetry, flowers, and wilderness. She studied professional and creative writing at Taylor University in small town Indiana, and is now learning to balance a part time job, graduate classes, and apartment life in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
She blogs at expressionsofarestlessmind.wordpress.com and tweets at @emsimily.