Friday, November 1, 2013

The Sweet Spot of My Service

There are good days and bad days in Peace Corps. And right now, I feel as though I'm living in the sweet spot. There are still challenges, every single day, but in general I feel extremely satisfied with my life. There are a lot of things that have contributed to this. Firstly, I've had a lot of work to do. When I love what I'm doing, I want to do as much as possible. And when I'm busy, my thoughts don't wander to how beautiful fall is in Nebraska, or missing out on another year of Notre Dame football.

In the past month, I took the GRE, planned and helped lead a day-long Malaria Camp, started a youth radio show on HIV and malaria,  established a pig cooperative and nutrition program for over three hundred people living with HIV/AIDS in my community, and upped the number of community English classes I teach every week to eight. I might be slightly insane (but if you know my mother, you know where I get it from. I can't remember my Mom sitting down while I was growing up, other than to eat and pray :)

Recording our first radio show on HIV/AIDS
I reflect a lot on how I was feeling at this same time last year. I felt unsure of myself and seriously wondered what had I gotten myself into. I remember the long, awkward pauses and blank stares in all of my conversations last year when I was struggling with kinyarwanda. Now, while I'm far from fluent, I can say pretty much anything I want to say, do my work at the health center, and understand most conversations. Last year I felt like a burden at my health center. I wasn't a nurse or a doctor, and I didn't know how to remotely help. Now, I've kind of figured out what I can and can't do, how to get a project off the ground, and all of the hoops I have to jump through. It may not sound like a lot, but even small projects can take a ton of work, and it's kind of cool to look back and see how far I've come.

Some of my community English students
I feel integrated in my community, and life has generally settled into a pattern. The other day, my Peace Corps sitemate Tim and I were at our shared market, and I decided to buy some limes. Tim and I usually buy pretty much the same things from our usual market Mamas. Mama Kamikaze (yes. she named her baby Kamikaze) for onions, Mama Clever for peppers and carrots and garlic. I'm not in the habit of buying limes from the market, and it was a spur-of-the-moment decision. I asked the vendor how much the small pile of limes cost, and she said that they cost two-hundred francs, or about 35 cents. The woman next to the lime vendor slapped her arm and said, "One-hundred. What are you doing?? This is Mahoro!! [my kinyarwanda name, meaning "Peace"]" The lime vendor insisted, "Two hundred." The woman next to her said forcefully, "One hundred. She's our girl. She's a good kid."

Market day! 
It was a such a tiny action. They were arguing over the difference of about fifteen cents. It's not a lot of money to me, but in a country where a majority of the population makes less than $1.25 a day, it was a lot to them. Even though I still get called "MUZUNGU!" every single day I step outside, it was a small sign that I'm doing something right. And it truly meant the world to me.

Perhaps another reason, which I hate to admit, is that I've realized that my time in Rwanda as a Peace Corps Volunteer is limited. Tim is finishing his Peace Corps service in the next week, and it's difficult picturing life without him. I can say with 100% certainty that I wouldn't have made it this far without him. We've been a twenty minute walk away from each other for the past sixteen months, and it will definitely take some getting used to once he leaves.

The fact that he's leaving has been a wake-up call for me. I have eight months left in my village. When you start your Peace Corps service, two years seems like eternity. But here I am, applying to graduate schools. I won't be living here forever. This is my home now, but it won't be in less than a year. This realization has made me learn to savor the little moments even more: sipping coffee grown just yards from my house, blowing bubbles with D'Assisi, waking up to the sound of the nuns praying (my bedroom shares a room with our little chapel), juicy, fresh-picked pineapples, and taking a run with breathtaking views of the mountains of Congo, Burundi, and Rwanda.

Peace Corps life is short but sweet for certain.