Saturday, May 14, 2016

Four Years in Rwanda.

It's been awhile since I last wrote. I find that I don't have as much time to write as in my Peace Corps days, and that I don't take the time to write as much. They are two different things. I hope to get back into writing more frequently, if for nothing than for my own good, like being able to look at a map as you make a long voyage and remembering all the beautiful places you passed on the way.

Anyways. As of 10 May, I've been in the Land of a Thousand Hills for four years. Give or take 1,460 days. Two years longer than I planned on staying.

I suppose that I'll have to get another subtitle for my blog now, as it's currently set as "One Girl. Two Years. My Life in Rwanda", which was last appropriate in May 2014. Alternate options for subtitles include "I Never Expected to Stay this Long" ,"The Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Who Never Returned", "The Staring Never Stops", "I Swear Rwanda is Awesome" and "Sorry, Mom."

I'm sitting on the long porch of my house in Kamembe thinking about how I somehow never left Rwanda, watching lightning flicker across the inky sky over the DR Congo. Night is when my small town in the southwest is the most peaceful--the border closes, and the hustle and bustle of traders and travelers ceases. The lights of fishermen's boats are scattered across placid Lake Kivu, the darkness of the night disguising the depth of the lake. I can faintly hear the songs of the fishermen on the lake, Congolese rhumba music playing across the peninsula in Bukavu, and engines braking in the distance. It's when I become most introspective and thoughtful, thinking about life and what I'm doing here, so far from my beloved Cornhusker state.

Fishermen on Lake Kivu
Sunset on Lake Kivu
When I strike up conversations with Rwandans on the bus, in a restaurant, or in the crowded sauna I sometimes frequent here, they almost always ask how long I've been in Rwanda. Imyaka ine, I respond. Four years. Then they ask how long I will stay in Rwanda: iteka ryose, I respond jokingly. Forever. We both laugh, and they almost always ask why I stayed so long. Abantu beza, Imisozi myiza, I respond, trying to condense four intense years into as many words. Good people, beautiful hills. 

I guess I don't have any good answers to why I stayed, other than I have found meaning and purpose and beauty in the everyday here that I have not found anywhere else, and these are more necessary parts of my life than nearly anything else.

Part of this is my job, working with a fantastic group of people to make farmers in Rwanda and East Africa more prosperous, part of it is the communities I'm a part of and the people I love here, including D'Assisi, and part of it is seeing growth and change all around me, and feeling that I am contributing to that, in the smallest of ways.

One of the many lessons I've learned: always work with joy

Rwanda is not the same country as in 1994. It is not the same country as when I stepped off the plane in Kigali in May 2012. In the four years I've spent here, I've seen roads being paved, hotels and buildings going up, the Kigali Convention Center's dome lighting up the city.

I've seen friends from my village improve their houses, get bigger harvests, buy cellphones, open bank accounts, and attend university in Kigali.

 I've talked to members of my community who had their lives destroyed in 1994, and have managed, impossibly, to forgive and to rebuild. It's hard to describe this feeling of momentum, but it's exciting to be a part of, like being a tiny droplet in a river rushing rapidly downstream.

I fell in love with this mysterious, beautiful, bewildering, lush, exciting country, and sometime during those four years, it became my home. 

I adore the vibrant colors and patterns of the igitenge clothing worn by Rwandan women, the kinyarwanda songs and energetic dancing of my colleagues before and after every meeting, the reddish brown earth that seems to pervade the very pores of my skin whenever I wander outside, piles of speckled multicolor beans at the market and mounds of fresh fruits balanced atop vendors' heads, the fresh air and tall trees of the misty rainforest near my house, and the cool blue waters of Kivu. I traded the flat plains of the Midwest for the green rolling hills of this small east African country. For how long, I don't know. It's hard to give up on momentum.

For now, I just want to be grateful for the most challenging and most rewarding four years of my life.

Murakoze Cyane, Rwanda. 


  1. Congrats on your anniversary, Claire! May you have many more years of reward and happiness. The Mackie's are so proud of you and the work that you do.

  2. Murakoze for giving me chills and a smile. And greetings from Kasama, where I'm working with a 3rd year PCV who is in much the same situation. You two are an inspiration for an old man who got a late start. Henry Tenenbaum

  3. Thank you for sharing this journey with us. May you be blessed with guidance and may all you do be blessed. (((hugs)))