Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Space in Between

For the past couple of months, I've been living out of suitcase, traveling between what has been my home for the past two years, in Kamembe in southwestern Rwanda, to where my work is primarily based now, in Rubengera in western Rwanda, to Kigali in the center of the country, to get physical therapy for a foot problem I have from running a half marathon in May (side note: when given the choice between running a half marathon in a hilly city on a warm day or getting a few more hours' sleep, always choose sleep). 

I've been feeling a little discombobulated with all of the traveling, like a plant trying to grow without proper roots. I'll take the last bus after work to Kamembe, in the dark on the road that twists alongside the shores of Lake Kivu, or a 6 am car to my work's headquarters, fueled by coffee and on too little sleep, or I'll drive myself from Kigali late at night to make an early meeting the next morning, without ever unpacking my bag. On average, I'm commuting about 9-12 hours a week. I've been living somewhere in the space between all three places, without properly feeling settled in any of them. 

The feeling of living in this strange space-in-between hasn't been limited to only physical spaces. For the past two months, I've been taking care of D'Assise* every other weekend, in full mama mode. I feel a wave of gratitude wash over me when he gets to join me, and my weekends with him are usually filled with playing soccer, reading Goodnight Moon, and trying to teach him how to use his new bike (which is a lot harder than I expected and a good exercise in patience). My bedtime is somewhere around 9 pm, with a few middle-of-the-night wake-ups because D'Assise is scare d of the dark and not used to sleeping in his own bedroom alone, and then he wakes me up to start the day around 5 am, a time of day that in my mind was previously reserved for red-eye flights or maybe your house burning down. Though my sleep is lacking, our weekends together are filled with joy, and I feel incredibly grateful to call him my son. 

But on the weekends that I don't have him, I'm still living my old life: enjoying Kigali's lovely cafes, binge-watching terrible reality tv shows, staying out late and sleeping in later. And somewhere on the motorcycle taxi ride in between leaving the bar and arriving back home, I feel a pit in my stomach, and a sort of emptiness at saying goodbye to my former life. I'm living in the space in between being a mother and being a childless and relatively carefree 27 year old, and it has not been an extremely easy transition for me. In some ways, I wished that I had to go through the nine months of mandatory mental preparation for motherhood that accompany pregnancy. I don't feel like a proper Mom with a capital M yet. 

I feel so many things slowly changing, and it's been hard for me to cope with them with an at-times grueling schedule and so much travel. Most of all, I feel many of my relationships changing since I've become a mother. I have only one good friend in Rwanda who has a kid, and I've found myself longing for more friends with kids, to be able to relate to people who know what it's like to have a seven year old who insists on sleeping with all the lights on, no matter how many times I tell him there's nothing to be afraid of, or calling for me to come pull him out of the toilet because he fell in. 

At the same time, I sometimes feel like a fake when I think about befriending other mothers, for I have never given birth to a baby. I've never breastfed or spent sleepless nights with a crying infant or heard my child's first word, and I was not there to see D'Assise take his first few steps. On the weekends that I have D'Assise, after we've brushed our teeth together, sung our nighttime songs, read his stories, and tucked him in by 9 pm, I wonder what my other friends are doing, if they're having fun without me, and I ask myself if some of my friendships will survive motherhood. I feel extremely guilty for even thinking that, but it crosses my mind in those brief moments of solitude when my head is on the pillow before sleep overtakes me. 

In November, both D'Assise and I will be moving to a new home, three hours up the lake from Kamembe, to Rubengera, Rwanda. I already have a room in a house there, and I won't have to commute as much every week. It was a difficult decision to make; I will be leaving southwestern Rwanda, where I've lived for more than 4 years. I will miss my friends in Kamembe, and I will be much further from the nuns, who have been my rock in Rwanda, celebrating with me during the good times and making me waffles and giving me group hugs during the not-so-good times (seriously, they're the best). As hard as it is for me to move from beautiful Cyangugu, I think it's what will be best for my little family right now. I'm looking forward to feeling settled and to once again growing roots. I'll be happy for the day that I'm no longer stuck in this space in between three cities and between motherhood and my former life. 

*If you're wondering why I'm now spelling D'Assisi as D'Assise, it's because that's what's on his official Rwandan passport (and is actually the correct French spelling of his name, Francois d'Assise). The nuns had always spelled it with an "i" before, but because I want him to use the correct official spelling, I'll be spelling it with an "e" from here on out :)

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