Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Highest Highs and the Lowest Lows

          One of Peace Corps’ mottos is “the hardest job you’ll ever love”, and I have certainly found that to be true in my daily life here in Rwanda. I’ve had moments in the past nine months that make my face hurt from smiling, that make me dance around my room, sing out loud, and feel something like pure joy. And I’ve cried, felt confused, frustrated, sick, hurt, and even furious. Sometimes all of this happens within the same week.
            In this past week, I finally, officially started the women's soymilk cooperative! The grant money from Peace Corps took a long time to come in, but we’ve purchased all the necessary materials, and on Wednesday and Thursday of this week my counterpart and I led a training on soymilk and malnutrition for 183 community health workers in my district!
            I was pretty nervous going into it: my counterpart randomly decided to leave town on the day we were supposed to go over the lesson plan and translations. I was pretty pissed: we had planned it a couple weeks in advance, and I had even called him the night before to make sure our planning session was going to happen and he didn’t say a thing about leaving our village. I’ve learned that “American time” and “Rwandan time” are quite different, as meetings often start two or three hours late, but this was crossing the line.

Despite all of the drama leading up to it, the whole training happened pretty seamlessly. The community health workers were excited about the project, and the whole training just gave me the confidence boost I needed. I couldn't sleep the night after the training finished because I was so excited. My titulaire (the head of the health center) really got behind my project as well, and asked me to make the presentation to all of the workers at the health center.

 I also experimented with making tofu this week. Our soymilk cooperative is looking at the possibility of selling it brochette-style in the village; we would gain a larger profit margin than simply selling soymilk and it would deliver even more protein and iron to the community at a cheaper price than animal proteins. I served the tofu I had prepared to the nurses at the health center, and it was a huge hit. Everyone was asking me when they could buy the soymilk and tofu. I feel like my community finally understands what I can do and why I’m here, and it’s an amazing feeling to have.

And then I found out some absolutely crushing news: my favorite nun, Sr. Adelinde, had to move to another convent. She told me she was leaving at breakfast a few days ago, and both of us started crying.  Let me just say that if I knew how to nominate this woman for sainthood right now, I would do it.

Sr. Adelinde is one of the strongest women I know, and she has the magical ability to make any problem better. I go to her whenever I just need to talk, and we've become good friends over the past six months. Sr. Adelinde is one of the head nurses at the health center, and she works herself to the bone, but you would never know it from her joyful attitude and easygoing laughter. After a long day’s work of treating patients, she waits until everyone else has served themselves food and stays in the kitchen washing dishes and cleaning, while singing and cracking jokes the whole time. And she never, ever complains.

Another nun who served as the head nurse at a different health center recently became very ill and had to be moved to Kigali for treatment, so Sr. Adelinde is replacing her. It all happened so quickly: she found out on Tuesday and we moved her into her new community today. She wore sunglasses on the trip even though it was cloudy, and I could see tears through her lenses as we drove further and further away from the convent. There's a pit in my stomach just thinking about it. 

It wasn't her choice to be moved, but she has accepted her Mother Superior's decision with more grace than I'd ever be able to manage. When I asked her how she felt about such an abrupt switch to her life, that she had no control over, she said simply,"This is the life I have chosen: obedience to God. I go where am I needed most." She truly lives the message of the Gospel: giving her entire life in service to others, especially the sick and vulnerable, living simply, and loving greatly. Even though she moved to another community just an hour away, her cheerful presence here is already deeply, deeply missed. 

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