Thursday, May 15, 2014

10 Reasons I'm Staying in Rwanda

In February 2012, the U.S. Peace Corps chose me to serve in Rwanda. It was a fairly random selection; I knew I wanted to come to Africa, and speaking French meant that I would come to a francophone country.

But now, two years later, I’m choosing Rwanda.


These past two month I’ve spent a LOT of time deciding what my next steps are in life. I was facing some big decisions: go to grad school for my Masters in Public Health at Emory, Columbia, or Yale, take a job with an NGO that does agriculture work, or extend a third year in Peace Corps.

Starting this June, I will be a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) who decided not to return. I chose to turn down my grad schools, and begin life as a program associate with an NGO that does agricultural and microfinance work. I will be based just an hour away from my current site. It was a difficult decision to make, and one that I think many of my friends and family are still trying to come to terms with. You’ve already been in Rwanda for two years, why would you want to stay longer? You worked so hard to get into your graduate schools, why would you throw that away?



But I couldn't feel happier about my decision to stay. I feel a huge sense of peace about continuing to live and work in Rwanda, and that in itself is invaluable. 

Someone should honestly warn you about this kind of thing when you sign up for Peace Corps. Caution: may fall in love with host country and never want to leave.



1) A sense of purpose: I crave meaning and purpose in my life even more than I crave cheese (which, if you know me well, is a lot). I’m an INFJ personality type. I struggled with finding a sense of purpose a lot living in America. I think a lot of people in my generation do. We find a lot of things to try to fill the void. I have found such an incredible sense of meaning in my small village in southwest Rwanda. I love waking up every day to feel that I have important and meaningful work to do, that what I’m doing makes a difference, however small.


2) Personal growth: I have had so much personal growth in my two years in Rwanda, and I wouldn’t trade that for the world. I care a lot less what other people think about me here. I try my hardest to understand where someone is coming from, even if I disagree with him or her. I have a better understanding of a different culture and language. I’m much more independent and less hesitant to take risks. 

3) Adventure: I love the adventure and serendipity that comes with living in another culture. Rwanda forces you out of your comfort zone. I love speaking a different language (although I thought my brain was going to explode learning Kinyarwanda during training). In Rwanda, adventure and the unexpected finds you. Always. Without having to plan it or pay for it. Even everyday activities always have twists and turns. It might be on the bus when a lady brings a flock of chickens on, finding a beautiful new vista on a hike amongst Rwanda’s thousands hills, or learning a few new expressions in Kinyarwanda. I’ve hiked the Congo Nile Trail, climbed a volcano, went hiking in the rainforest, went on safari, and rafted the Nile. There’s a vibrancy and challenge to my life here. I never, ever want to settle into a comfortably safe routine.


4) Not taking anything for granted. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, any bed bigger than a twin makes me feel like a princess. Being served food at a restaurant in less than 45 minutes counts as fast. Having running water and a working toilet are luxuries, not necessities. Eating eggs more than just on Sundays or eating peas other than on Christmas and Easter makes me feel spoiled. Going anywhere without waiting for anyone, without stuffing 20 people in a minivan (with or without animals), and without breaking down, seems like a miracle. It’s amazing how quickly we get used to our surroundings and begin to take them for granted, and how amazing little things are when you don’t have them on a regular basis. I can now find happiness in the little things: savoring my morning coffee, coloring at night with D’Assisi, reading a book, and singing with the nuns. I never want to start taking things for granted.


5) Career Opportunity: I’m really, really excited for my new work here. It's going to be great to have constant, steady work with some amazing coworkers, in the same region I'm currently residing.  I wasn’t planning on applying to any jobs, but this opportunity was really too good to pass up. It will be great to have a new challenge in a country I know and love.


6) Beauty and wonder: There’s no way around it: Rwanda is a gorgeous country. Stunning. Beyond its physical beauty, there’s realness to life here that is captivating. There is joy, and there is struggle.


7) My “family” here. I'm so happy to have more time in Cyangugu (the best part of Rwanda!). I'll be just 40 minutes away from my current community, which means I'll be able to continue seeing the nuns and especially D'Assisi on a regular basis. 


8) The avocados. And passionfruit. Let me just say that when you have avocados the size of dinner plates, there's no going back. 


9) You guys, winter really sucks. And let's be honest, I can't afford to lose my fantastic tan :) . Plus I’ll be able to come home for Christmas and experience all the snow I want…for two weeks.


10) Because I'm 24, and the world is my oyster.