During Peace Corps’ Pre-Service Training (PST), several hours every week are devoted to integration and learning about Rwandan culture. You learn what things are big no-no’s in Rwanda, like having dirty shoes, women whistling, eating in public, or asking what ethnic group someone belong(ed) to. Peace Corps staff practically beat you over the head with the message of integrate! Integrate! Integrate! And for the first few months of my service, I tried to avoid every possible cultural faux pas. I was determined to blend in, to become one with Rwandan culture. I painstakingly cleaned my shoes every day, for maybe the first few weeks at my site. Okay, maybe the first few days. As a woman, I avoided drinking at any public events. I was basically terrified of ever showing my knees in public, and I never wore makeup.
|rainy season blues...|
I’ve come to realize that since day one, a lot of people in my village already thought I was crazy. And there’s a hidden power in being seen as the crazy American. Short of going streaking through my village, there are few things that I could do that could make me stand out anymore than I already do. It’s kind of like, well, I’m already crazy, so why not go big or go home?
So a couple of Sundays ago, after a long day of studying for the GRE, I decided to take a run. I need to explain that running and I have had an on-and-off relationship my entire life. I’ll go through passionate periods of running every day in preparation for a half-marathon, and then once it’s over, I won’t run for months. And I almost always like to run alone, for two reasons. First, I find I can clear the frantic thoughts from my head a little easier when I’m by myself, and secondly, I am the world’s slowest runner. If I were an antelope, the lion would definitely eat me first. No question. I’ll take occasional runs in my village, but often, the combination of intense staring, forty kids all trying to run with me and yelling my name the whole time, and those infamous Rwandan hills are enough to keep me doing workouts in the privacy of my own room. The urge to swat a few kids running right in front of me or trying to touch my skin also needs to be kept under control.