Sunday, April 16, 2017

Five Years and A Few Heavy Things.

In a couple more weeks, I'll have been in Rwanda for five years. 

My Rwanda host Mama, May 2012
When I arrived in Rwanda as a fresh-faced Peace Corps Volunteer eager to change the world, I was 21. I've celebrated six birthdays in the Land of a Thousand Hills, and I could apply for citizenship in Rwanda this May if I choose to do so.

My first week in Rwanda
(Side note: It's really time to change my blog's header "One girl. Two Years. My Life in Rwanda." Now accepting alternative blog header suggestions).

One of the first sunsets I experienced in Rwanda. Yes, they're really this beautiful. 
I never imagined that I'd stay for this long, and I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to stay in such a beautiful, vibrant country, doing work that I find very meaningful. I feel even more grateful to have adopted my son, D'Assise, and to have started our life together amongst these thousands green, rolling hills.

But if I'm being honest, the last three months since I came back from maternity leave in the U.S. have been the hardest of the five. To put this in perspective, the last five years have included times without water or electricity living in a rural village, starting my Peace Corps projects and learning kinyarwanda, getting held for ransom on a boat by Congolese soldiers with a gun to my boat captain's head, going into septic shock in a hospital in Kigali while the doctor was giving me the wrong medicine, having my heart broken a couple of times, the time I found half a lizard in the vegetable curry I'd already eaten, and trying to find treatment for D'Assise's mysterious brain lesions for several months and eventually bringing him to Kenya for treatment.

Five years ago, learning kinyarwanda by headlamp and introducing my host siblings to glitter (?!) 
Actually taking care of D'Assise has been far easier than I was expecting. Before the adoption, I was worried about having his life and health entrusted to me, whether I'd be a good enough Mom, and whether I could balance work and motherhood. Taking care of him has actually been the easy part, and the past three months have actually been very full of happy moments with D'Assise. We've settled into our routine, and being with him is the best part of my day. We bike to school together on weekday mornings, read books together before bed, and spend Saturday mornings drinking coffee and watching old Beatles concert videos. He is the best thing that has ever happened to me, and I feel like the luckiest person in the world getting to be his Mama.

Back when D'Assise was just a little tadpole. 
 When I read through my old blog entries, where I dared to hope that I could one day be D'Assise's parent, the things I longed for the most weren't the big things like going on vacations or getting him Christmas presents or seeing him graduate from college. It was the every-day, the mundane activities that tend to slide by without much notice, but that are the tiny threads that make up the fabric of our lives. In many ways, I am living in the dream world that I imagined nearly five years ago. 

D'Assise didn't have any toys, so we'd play "bowling" using a ball and some water bottles. 
What has been exceedingly difficult is everything outside of taking care of him. I didn't expect that my social life would change as radically as it has as a single Mom, and I took having close friends in Rwanda for granted. After five years, I find myself lacking a community, when I need it the most.

Although expat life can be (really) fun and adventurous (exotic travels! a life off the beaten path, free from the daily grind! an international group of friends!), the underbelly of expat life in Rwanda is that there's a steady churn of friends and faces that can be exhausting and isolating. In five years, I've gone through several groups of friends, and countless goodbye parties. Each time, it feels like the rug has been pulled out from under you.

Gug crew, you are missed. 

None of the people I arrived with and was friends with five years ago are here. Zero. I can count on one hand the number of other expats in the entire country I know who have lived here longer than I have. After moving to a new place in November and the departure of two very close friends this month, I find myself looking to make new friends all over again.

But this feels much different from other times.

In my previous life, upon the departure of friends, I'd energetically work on building new relationships--inviting people to my house and planning trips and attending parties, saying "yes" to anything and everything, and slowly but surely making new friends.

But now, I'm a single Mom.

Who's 27.

Who has an 8 year old kid.

The number of other 27 year olds I know who have 8 year old kids include me and the cast of "Teen Mom", and the number of other people in my age group I know in Rwanda who keep hours of 5:30 am-9 pm, nearly seven days a week is approximately zero.

It's hard to build new friendships under normal circumstances, but doubly hard when my schedule is crammed with either work or being with D'Assise. Being a single Mom feels a lot like juggling some porcelain plates and trying not to let anything smash (while trying not to show your kid how worried you are about things smashing). I've engineered my day to be as efficient as possible from the moment my alarm goes off at 5:30 am, and a lot of the time it feels like a huge accomplishment just to make it back to my bed at the end of the day with no major casualties. But that means that I don't have as much time for saying yes as I used to, and that can sometimes be a bitter pill to swallow. If there was some friendship app for people who are looking for friends but who are only available in between 8:30 pm and 9 pm, I would definitely join it.

I'm trying to be patient with myself, and realize that I've just made two really, really big changes in my life (adopting a kid and moving to a new place), even though that's a lot easier said than done. I'm trying to be okay with giving myself more time to make new friends and build existing relationships, even if that means getting a babysitter sometimes. I'm trying to stay open to whatever the next year brings, and to continue saying "yes."