In America… 

​“Mur’Amerika…”

“In America…”

Sometimes we PCVs say to each other things like, “Do you remember in America when we had hot water?” or, “Do you remember in America how berries existed?” It’s partly us missing the conveniences, culture, and cuisine, and partly reminding each other that we’re in a place we never really thought we would be.

We’re so immersed in life here that sometimes we have to sit back and make ourselves consciously notice all the things that are unique to this place, all the details of our settings and experiences that tangibly mark our adventure here as patently different from where we were before.

I could write you a blow-by-blow description of my daily life, but perhaps you will have a better holistic understanding of my situation if I tell you about the things that have happened in the past few weeks that would not happen in America.

In America, opening conversations with strangers would not include the following questions: 

  • “How old are you?” (followed directly by “You’re just a child!”)
  • “Are you married?” (followed directly by “Why not?” or 
  • “When will you get married?”) 
  • “Do you still have both parents?”

In America, my white skin would not cause ripples of whispers and hisses and whistles and shouts, and nobody would immediately assume that I speak French. I would not be hugged by random toddlers in the street, mothers would not point me out to their children, and babies would not burst into terrified tears at the sight of me. 

In America, I would not walk into the third day of school and hear that the administration still has not made an academic calendar or official timetable. I would not try to find the curriculum for my classes three days after beginning teaching, and I would not have the subjects I teach changed a week into the schoolyear.
In America I would not walk home for lunch surrounded by fifty or so unsupervised three- to ten-year-olds.

In America, I would not see a man carrying three stools on his head, and if I did, I would not cross the road to ask if they were for sale. He would not then tell me a price higher than the going rate, and I would not then counter with a lower price. He would not unbind the chairs and have me sit in each of them right there on the side of the road. I would not then walk home carrying a chair.

In America, I would not consider taking a bus to the nearest large city just to get internet, and I would not hoard my non-burnable rubbish to carry to that city—the nearest place with receptacles for waste disposal.
In America, I would not wake to roosters cackling, cows bellowing, and goats shrieking in the streets, nor to the distinctive sound of magpies fighting for prime perches on my roof.

In America, I would not stay home from work because it was raining.

In America, I would not walk to an open-air market several times a week for basic groceries, and I would not carry those groceries home in a backpack.

In America, I would not coax charcoal into flame in order to cook. I would not pay close attention to my protein intake, and I would not eat cabbage in nearly every meal. I would not—along with about a dozen other PCVs—nearly burst into tears at the sight of homemade chocolate-chip cookies.

In America, I would not feel obliged to introduce visiting friends to all of my neighbours, and little old ladies in the market would not feel obliged to inform those friends that I am “muzungu wacyu”—“our foreigner.”
In America, a shopkeeper would not send me home with goods I have not paid for, saying, “You’ll come back tomorrow.”

In America, children would not show up at school on a Saturday armed with machetes and hoes and proceed to cut down all the coffee trees and dig a volleyball court out of the hill behind the nursery building, and in America, I would not join them if they did.

In America, a stranger would not meet me in the street, ask if I live alone, and then appear in the evening to visit with me because “it is not good to be alone.”
In America, my neighbour would not give me beans and milk purely because she has them and I do not. My neighbour would not check on me every few nights to ask if I’m doing alright, and she would not teach the neighbourhood my name. My boss would not consider it his duty to make sure that I “live well” in my neighbourhood.

When I stop to think about it, there’s very little of my life here that would happen in America. Some of it is hard. Some of it is so easy I almost don’t notice it. Sometimes the culture here feels like a puzzle I’ll never fit into, and sometimes it takes my breath away with its kindness and welcome.

The important thing isn’t what would be happening if I were in America right now; it’s that I’m not. I’m here, in Rwanda, living this life with these people, and I love it.

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No Problem

Ntakibazo. 

No problem. 

It’s the unofficial slogan of Peace  Corps Rwanda. The number of things that are not a problem in this country constantly amazes me. 

Transportation is ntakibazo. 

When the bus takes us to the wrong place, when we spend three hours looking for a ride home, when a friend can’t find a bus to her site and needs to stay with me for the second unplanned night, when a four hour trip turns into an eight hour trip… Ntakibazo. 

 Integration is ntakibazo. 

When I’m alone in a new village without matches or charcoal, when strangers come to the door and I understand only a few of their words, when I cannot find the market for two weeks, when anxiety paralyses me in my house until my neighbour comes to my rescue… Ntakibazo. 

Teaching is ntakibazo. 

When I don’t know what classes to plan for until after the first day, when I can’t understand my students and they can’t understand me, when there are no textbooks, when I don’t know the rules, when my timetable changes for the fifth time in three days… Ntakibazo. 


I’ve come to understand that the reason so many things are ntakibazo is that no matter where I am or what predicament I find myself in, someone will help me. This is a culture that believes in fostering community, in supporting one another, in cultivating a strength that comes only from unity. 
Transportation is ntakibazo because when I cannot find my bus, a stranger will walk me across the bus park. Because when I don’t know my stop, the driver will point it out for me. Because when I need to be somewhere and the bus schedule is off, two competing bus companies will collaborate to get me to the right place at the right time. 

Integration is ntakibazo because when I cannot find the market, my neighbour will take her morning to help me shop. Because when I stop by the umudozi—seamstress—for cushion covers, she will introduce me to her whole compound. Because when I feel like a stranger, the little girls next door will teach my name to every child on our street. 

Teaching is ntakibazo because when I am lost, someone will show me to my classes. Because when one day the students are terrified and refuse to answer questions, the next day a few brave ones will speak up. Because I feel out of my depth at every moment, but together we will grow and learn. 

The day before school began, our Ed8 group chat exploded with texts about our fears, our doubts, our incredulity at the total lack of communication and the total impossibility of our job, and my friend Claire spoke up:

Y’all, we can do this. It’s no more absurd than the first day of model school, or the way they rewrote the TPI the day before, or when PC told us we were responsible for making our way back from site visit with barely any language training about transportation. This is not even the most ambiguous, stressful thing we’ve been asked to do in this country. We’re all gonna be alright.

And she was right. 

Because Rwanda has taught me that no matter whatnot gets thrown our way, when you support one another, everything is ntakibazo. 

One Who Works Willingly

​Ndi umukorerabushake. 

I am a volunteer. 

Umukorerabushake” is perhaps the longest Kinyarwanda word I know, and I learned it early on by memorising its parts:

Umu: the singular prefix for a person

Korera, derived from gukora: to work

Ubushake: a will or desire

Put all together, it literally means “one who works willingly.”

This is something I understood when I applied to come to Rwanda, that I would be working willingly. 

I remember saying once, “In the worst case scenario, I find out it’s hard and I hate it, and I work really hard for two years to do something that helps someone else.” It sounded noble at the time, but more than that, it sounded feasible. 

Today I’m lying on my bed, alone in my house, the only American in my village (although I keep hearing about a French guy in town?), and the term umukorerabushake seems very far away. Work seems like an abstract concept. Until school starts in about three weeks, my only work is integrating—a small word that carries a big punch in the Peace Corps. 

On paper and in PST lectures, “integration” means walking every road in my village, meeting everyone I can, visiting houses, attending religious and social functions, asking questions, memorising names, learning everything I can about the village, it’s people, and my place in it. 

But in real life, integration is much less standardised and much more personal. 
For some of my friends, it has meant joining church choirs, playing sports, or hiring local kids to haul water. For me, it has often meant simply opening my front door every day. 

Some days, of course, it means more than others. Sometimes it means walking down the street to another teacher’s house and having a conversation on her couch. But sometimes I consider it successful integration if I manage to return my neighbour’s milk jug in the morning. 

On Tuesday it meant greeting everyone I passed on the way to the market and learning the name of the girl who helped me find garlic and potatoes. But then it meant not crying on the way home before I locked myself in the house for the evening. 

A sense of guilt hangs over me, a pressure to do more—to know more names, go more places, to ask more questions. Somehow the freeing idea of working willingly gets lost in this heavier idea of doing all the right things. 

But this isn’t about “all the right things.” Someone pointed out a while back that, “we are the resource Peace Corps sends,” and if they wanted to check off a box, they could ship in some materials, hold a week-long training, and walk away. But they don’t. They ship in us—individuals. Scared, excited, uncertain, hopeful people with a mediocre grasp on the language and a passion for some aspect of this job and a lot of quirks.

Some of us have convenient quirks, like enjoying visiting strangers. Some of us have inconvenient quirks, like anxiety. But we are all here to work willingly. 

In a few weeks, when school starts, that working will involve lesson plans, counterpart teachers, and classrooms full of students, and we will do that willingly. 

Right now, though, sometimes that work involves walking out the door and breathing at the same time. And that, too, we find a way to do willingly. 

In General

Muri rusange… 

In general… 

I haven’t posted in a few weeks. Everything I want to tell you seems obsolete by the time I get it written. 

I wanted to tell you about finishing PST—about how I thought by the end of training I would feel confident and prepared and not like myself anymore but how instead I felt like I did the time the lights went off while I was in the latrine, leaving me in the dark with my trousers down and a family of cockroach was watching me. 

I wanted to tell you about seeing Nirere again—about how I had thought my umukozi was gone forever but how I stepped in the gate one night to see her sitting on the ground holding her baby, how before I left Rwamagana I got a chance to say murabeho—the goodbye you use when you don’t expect to see someone again—and how she hugged me and said something I translated roughly as “go with God,” and how it didn’t matter that I couldn’t entirely understand the words, because we understood each other. 

I wanted to tell you about leaving my host family—about how I never quite lost that anxiety that I was in the wrong place when I was around them but how saying goodbye felt impossibly hard anyway, how we exchanged gifts and hugs and promises to call, and how the little girls held onto me before I rode away in the back of a Peace Corps car. 

I wanted to tell you about swearing-in—about how solemn it felt with our right hands raised and phrases like defend the Constitution and Peace Corps legacy marching out of our mouths in unison but how the gravity of the situation dissipated immediately in selfies and conversations and overeating on the kind of food we won’t see again for months. 

I wanted to tell you about arriving at site—about how freeing it feels to have my own house but how terrifying it is to be alone in this beautiful little town full of staring eyes and muzungu-ing voices where I have yet to find the market or a tea shop. 

In general I wanted to tell you about everything. 

About how I spend my days in a house without furniture, slowly developing a routine, allowing myself to lie about reading or watching Friends if I’ve left the house at least once that day to talk to someone. 

About the first day here when it took me a box and a half of matches to light my imbabura for lunch and how I spent the rest of my matches without once seeing a successful flame that night. 

About the chicken that visits every day, appearing like magic in my backyard or livingroom—about how I followed it yesterday and discovered it squeezes through a drain hole in my compound wall. 

About how it doesn’t feel like Christmas here yet and might never, but that’s turning out to be okay. 

I wanted to tell you that some days I think I can’t do this—that it’s too much for me, that the feeling of suffocating every time I walk down the street is too strong and my communication skills are too weak and I don’t think I can actually help these people. 

But I also wanted to tell you that some days I think this is the best thing I’ve ever done, that my neighbour checks on me despite our language barrier, that a little boy named Gisa stops me at the end of the street to talk every time I go out. 

I’m general, I wanted to tell you that I’m still here and that right now here is hard, but it’s also good, and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

I Am a Teacher

Ndi umwarimu. 

I am a teacher. 

This is a scary identity to claim. Teaching terrifies me for many reasons, not least because it’s a task in which I might fail in front of a large group of people and then have to face them everyday and in which my failure might significantly affect their success. 

I feel underqualified and overwhelmed at every step of the process. 

I’m about to start my second week of model school. Model school consists of several hundred students willing  to show up each morning for classes at a local public school. It’s theoretically mutually beneficial—we get to practice teacing and they get a little between-terms education plus a pen and notebook each. 

The first day felt like drowning. 
There was a time, once, when I was swimming and the waves were too high and my legs were top tired and it took every ounce of effort I had to catch one more lungful of air each time I bobbed above the water and to hold it as I sank under. That is how teaching felt on my first day. 

I stood in front of about ninety primary 6 students and tried to teach them something—anything—and my hands shook and my heart tried to escape my ribcage, and I thought, This was a mistake. I can’t do this. 

But the next morning I walked back into that classroom. The students didn’t understand me, and I didn’t understand them, and I felt ineffective and miserable, and it was hard.  But it no longer felt like drowning. 

And by the third morning, when the kids rushed in and took their seats in a mob of pushing hands and kicking feet and shouting voices, I recognised a handful of faces. And when I stood in front of them and they chorused, ‘Good morning, teacher!’ I was able to muster an actual smile. 

Over the course of the week, I learned more than I could’ve imagined. 
I learned that the little girl in the yellow shirt knows the scientific definition for every word but may not actually understand the question. 

I learned that the older boy in the back has some sort of learning disorder and that asking him to come up and answer questions is both ineffective and unkind. 

I learned that the girl in the burgundy sweater has a vision problem but can do any assignment I give if I make sure she can see it and understand the directions. 

I learned that teaching children entirely in a language they barely speak requires patience on my part and tenacity on theirs and that learning happens when we all bend a little to accommodate each other.

I learned that this was not a mistake, and that I can do this. 

By Friday, when I said goodbye to them, I had fallen in love with that mob of bright eyes and loud laughter. 

I love their high-fives as they troop out the door, and I love the kids who circle back for a second one. 

I love the little girl who passed in the door to wink at me and the one who caught me after class to ask if I would be at the same school next week so she could still see me. 

I love their enthusiastic shouts when they know the right answer. 

I love the courage in their stammering when they know the right answer but have to frame it in a language their tongues struggle to form. 

I love that they try anyway. 

I am a teacher—not because of a qualification or a job title, but because of those children. 

Because by the end of the week,  the desk of boys at the back, who didn’t seem to understand a word for five straight days, were able to create a group project with correct ideas articulated in understandable English. 

Because I saw shy girls answering by the end of the week. 

Because they left singing the songs we had taught them. 

I am a teacher. There’s a lot to this identity. There are fears and aspirations, beliefs and doubts. There are students in my past and students to come in my future, and there’s a world of new experience waiting. 
But whatever is still to come, this identity is mine right now, thanks to a roomful of Rwandan children. 

I’m Tired

​”Ndananiwe cyane.”

“I’m very tired.”

I find myself saying this often. Before I came to Rwanda, I envisioned myself surrounded by new friends, confidently exploring a new environment, eagerly practising a new language. 

What I didn’t take into account is that being in a new place with new people and a new language doesn’t make me a new person. I’m still me. 

Peace Corps doesn’t change that, and Rwanda doesn’t change that. 

But it does force me to act like a different person, pushing me out of my comfort zone a hundred times a day. And yet while it can force me to make small talk with strangers in a language I barely understand, it can’t take away the fear I feel while doing so, and that is exhausting. Every day I see more clearly the sharp discrepancy between who I am and who Peace Corps would like me to be. 

Peace Corps would like me to be bold and outgoing, ready to talk to anyone and everyone—but I’m not. Some days I think I’ll shatter if one more child yells at me from the side of the road. 

Peace Corps would like me to immerse myself in my host family’s daily routine–but sometimes I can’t. Some days the anxiety and feeling of being and outsider are so overwhelming that it’s all I can do to greet them politely before I lock myself in my room. 

This is not to say Peace Corps is too much for me. I can do the tasks required, but I pay a price for that functionality. 

Some days I pay that price in tears or headaches or trembling hands. Some days I pay that price with exhaustion or a petrified mind, unable to process information or form coherent answers. 

Every day is different. Sometimes I talk to people even though I’m shaking, and sometimes I laugh when everything in me wants to cry. But sometimes I stay on my bed all afternoon, and sometimes I walk away without answering so I can break down in private. 

I’ve spent the last month searching for ways to cope with this dichotomy between who I am and who I need to  be to succeed here in this new world.

Coping strategies are hard during PST. I have little to no control over things like my schedule or diet, extremely limited free time, and a timetable that changes frequently and often without warning. My private space is limited to my bed, and my activities are limited to things I can do there or that I don’t mind people watching (working out on my porch ended after five minutes when a handful of neighbours lined up to watch). To make it worse, I feel guilty if I spend more than a few minutes at a time in my bedroom—I should be integrating, right? 

I have to find the things I can control, the things that make me feel most like myself, and fit them like glue into the cracks of my life to hold myself together. 


Things like reading, posting on Instagram, watching movies. Things like texting friends and family, listening to familiar music, writing. 

Right now the thing holding me together is NaNoWriMo. Usually it feels like one more obligation in a busy schedule, but now it feels like a goal I’m actually competent to achieve, an outlet, a way to feel like myself while I’m stretching and bending to fit into the Peace Corps mould. 

Ndananiwe cyane—I’m very tired. 

But I’m also many other things, even if sometimes I forget them. I’m also strong and brave and curious and eager and truly glad to be here. 

Being in a new place doesn’t make me a new person, but it does add things to my essential self, and I think this change, this constant growth, this struggle to discover what is me and what I can change—this is also a beautiful process.

Home

“Ndi gutaha.” 

“I’m going home.”

Those words rattled in my head with every bump of the crowded bus from Kayonza to Rwamagana. They bounced with my every step up familiar sidewalks and down dirt roads until I rounded that last curve by the banana plants and saw the familiar red gate rising at the end of the path. 

Home is a complicated concept—a network of small towns and rising cities and beloved people around the world—and somehow in the past six weeks, it’s expanded to include a cement and mud-brick compound on the outskirts of Rwamagana town. 

It’s been a rough week. For site visit, I left the comfort of my host family with my school’s Dean of Studies, a near stranger, and travelled to a different district to spend four days learning a new town and new people. 

Sometime amid the tears of fear and frustration this week, I realised culture shock had caught up with me. 

The name makes it sound like a sudden surprise at clear cultural differences, but the truth is it’s less of a shock and more of a pervading exhaustion. You go along thinking you’re fine, but it builds up little by little until, out of nowhere, you’re tired beyond belief. 

It’s a gradual wearing down beneath the grindstone of a million tiny things you don’t even notice in the moment. 

It’s the disproportionate effort required to communicate. It’s being stared at, shouted at, and touched on the street. It’s considering starving rather than take one more bite of unseasoned beans, and then taking one more bite. It’s struggling to keep my shoes clean and knowing that no matter how dirty someone else’s feet, mine are the ones being judged. It’s having to question the cultural assumptions behind any question. It’s not knowing the fair price of anything. It’s wondering whether I’ll ever have cheese or ice cream or chocolate ever again. 

It’s my fight-or-flight never resting, because I have no prior knowledge by which to predict any situation. 

At the beginning of this journey, someone gave us this advice: 

“Fall in love with your country as soon as possible.”

Someone else (probably on Welcome to Night Vale, to be honest) said this: 

“Growing to love something is simply forgetting, slowly, what you dislike about it.”

In the moments when life here feels like a storm battering me, when I think I will break if I’m bent any further, it’s all too easy to remember what I dislike about this country and to forget all the things I love. 

But there are things I love, even when I’m drowning under waves of culture shock and exhaustion. 

I love the rolling hills patterned with fields of beans and rice, the dry rattle of banana leaves in the wind before a rainstorm, the music rolling out the doors of boutiques and down the street. 

I love the warm greetings of shopkeepers I know and the tendency of old ladies to pull me in for a hug instead of shaking hands. 

I love the uninhibited joy of children and adults alike whenever there’s a game or a song or a good conversation. 

I love the goats by the side of the road and the tiny, impossibly blue swallows that dart and dive and swoop bat-like and the magpies and hawks vying for the right to circle any place that might have food. 

I love the sunsets and the dark storm clouds and the vibrant dirt roads. 

And today, when I knocked on that big red gate and heard a patter of feet and the bolt screeching back, I discovered I love the look of surprised delight on Simbi’s face, and I love hearing Nziza chanting my name before I ever reach the door, and I love Hiro’s silent, tight hugs.

I love walking into this place, so strange to me a month ago, and knowing I’ve come home. 

Foreigner

“Umuzungu!” 

It means “white person” or “foreigner.”

It follows me like a shadow. Children shout it from a distance—either hailing me or pointing me out to one another, I’m not always sure which. Old women mutter it to one another as I walk past. Men on bike taxis call it, maybe surprised to see me, maybe just hoping I want to pay for a ride. 

Some days I accept it with amusement. 

“Well, they’re not wrong,” I’ve said on more than one occasion. 

When I’m in good humour,  if it’s children calling it, I’ll pause on my way and turn to call back to them, “Sinitwa ‘umuzungu’—nitwa Elizabeth!” (“My name is not ‘umuzungu’—my name is Elizabeth!”) Sometimes they repeat this, laughing. If they keep up with me, I often ask their names in return. 

Sometimes it intimidates them and they stop following me and simply watch, eyes wide, maybe surprised to hear me speak their language, maybe surprised a foreigner could have a name, maybe surprised I responded at all.

When I’m in a bad humour, I walk a little faster, hold my head a little higher, keep my eyes forward and pretend not to have heard. On these days, instead of drawing a laugh, the word twists my stomach into a nervous cramp.

It grows tiring, this constant attention. The stares in the streets, the shouts of ragged English behind me, the children giggling and daring each other to run toward me or hanging back, watching… 

This week a toddler on the back of a slow-moving bicycle turned to watch me walk up behind him. In awed tones he said, “Umuzungu!” 

As I passed, I heard the woman walking beside him say, “Oya.”—“No.” And then, in careful English, she said, “This is a person.”

I almost turned and thanked her. 

I almost cried. 

In the past month, I’ve grown accustomed to having most of my identity disregarded every moment I’m in public. I’ve become used to knowing that when people see me, the whiteness of my skin supercedes anything else I may be. That I am a writer, an American, a recent graduate, a musician, or anything else is unimportant. That I so much as have a name becomes secondary to the fact that I am umuzungu. 

I have accepted this fact so thoroughly that in that moment I was surprised by the overwhelming rush of gratitude and relief on hearing a stranger teach her child that I am a person first and a foreigner second. 

But she may have been teaching me, too. 

In the past month, I have also grown accustomed to disregarding other people’s identities. 

I ask passing children their names for lack of better conversation, but I forget them immediately.  I cease to see them as individuals, as siblings or friends, as aspiring teachers or doctors or social workers, as mucisians or athletes or anything else. Instead I begin to see them as “the polite child” or “the one who always asks for money.”

I may not reduce people to the colour of their skin, but I reduce them to the quality of their words.

On good days, I may class all the strangers I pass as curious, benevolent bystanders. On bad days, I may reduce them all to hostile, invasive watchers. Either way, I deny their individuality.

I begin to see them all as either clean or dirty, as either welcoming or unfriendly, as likely to either cheat me or deal fairly. 

Any of these things might be true, just as it is indisputably true that I am umuzungu. 

I am a white foreigner, but before that, I am a person. 

And, thanks to a wise young woman I happened to pass one morning, I’m trying to keep in mind that each of these people watching me is also, before anything else, a person. 

It’s Good

“Ni byiza.” 

“It’s good.”

We learned this phrase in our first language session, and over the past few weeks, I’ve caught myself repeating it over and over. 

In the beginning, I didn’t know a better response for almost any question I was asked. How was I doing? Ni byiza. How was the food? Ni byiza. How was language learning? Ni byiza. 

I still catch myself saying this often, especially when discussing some quirk of Rwandan culture of some embarrassing language or cultural mistake. 

This whole experience is beginning to divide into categories in my mind. 

Things I expected:

  • Hot sun and dusty roads 
  • Lots of staring
  • Rice and beans
  • Noun classes
  • Sunburns and bug bites
  • Bucket showers and pit latrines 
  • Slow/nonexistent internet 
  • Cows and chickens on the roads
  • Haggling in the market 
  • House help
  • Long lessons
  • Language barrier 
  • Fear of standing in front of a classroom

Things I didn’t expect:

  • Reserved culture—Rwandans are nice but more standoffish than I’d expected
  • Chilly days
  • Almost total lack of non-meat animals (aside from ubiquitous giant magpie-looking birds) 
  • Almost total lack of coffee
  • Extremely supportive PCVs constantly on hand to answer questions and ease our transition 
  • Lack of daily rain during rainy season
  • Lack of humidity
  • Effort involved in acquiring water 
  • Brushing teeth with a water bottle and spitting into a latrine drain
  • Total inability to connect laptop to internet 
  • Extreme ease of texting/calling family and friends in the States 
  • Being unable to buy a pillow for weeks on end
  • Mixed consonants
  • Another TCK in the group 
  • Receiving preferential treatment from my host family—I still get fed first and take my tea out of nice mugs that nobody else in the family uses

Things I’m still uncomfortable with:

  • Bucket showers
  • Being stared at/followed/called “muzungu”  (“white person” or “foreigner”) 
  • Being uncertain whether any given child approaching will ignore me, follow silently, great me politely, or demand money
  • Constant people and social pressure wearing me out 
  • The concept of me as a teacher
  • Dichotomy between cultural emphasis on cleanliness and lack of some forms of hygiene—significantly hand washing 
  • Verb tenses 
  • Pressure on women to dress/behave properly 
  • Many cockroaches and a rat in my latrine
  • People talking very quietly 
  • Cooking over a charcoal stove

Thinks I’m surprised to discover I like:

  • Pit latrines—you never actually touch the facilities, so it feels cleaner than a toilet and smells better than any outhouse I’ve ever encountered
  • Market shopping—overwhelming, but satisfying and comfortable now that I know a few vendors
  • Repetitive food
  • Learning about the Rwandan school system
  • Porridge
  • Green bananas
  • Evenings at the garden bar with 40 other Americans 
  • Eating supper at 8:30 or 9:00
  • Watching the news in Kinyarwanda and understanding every fifth word 
  • Trying  to converse with my umukozi despite a complete language barrier 
  • Chatting with passing strangers on the walk home
  • Kinyarwanda’s complexity

    These lists grow and shrink moment by moment, experience by experience. Ultimately, to each item, I find myself saying, “Ni byiza.” 

    The expected and the unexpected are equally good. Recognising what I dislike is as valuable as noticing what I enjoy about this new life. Ni byiza, all of it. 

    The more I say it, the more I realise it’s not a judgment I get to pass on the culture or situation, but a position I take. It’s a choice to see each of these things as somehow, in some way, good. 

    I don’t get to choose any of these things. This is where I am, and this is the way things are, and the choice I have when faced with this is to recognise all of it and say, “Ni byiza.”