By Rwanderings... on May 13, 2014
It is a strange sensation when a dream over one year in the making, is finally transformed into a reality.
I arrived in Rwanda a day later than I was supposed to but still I arrived nevertheless.
In this land of one thousand hills the road rises and falls as we climb out of Kigali toward Musanze. Escaping the city, I am struck by the notion that to be aware of beauty and to be presented with beauty are not one and the same for Rwanda is not a country that takes your breath away, rather it is a place that makes you questions whether or not you ever truly breathed before arriving in this land of undulations.
Two hours after touching down in Kigali we came to the place that I will call "home" for the next two months. It is embarrassing to admit that, even without a refrigerator or furniture more than a single bed, my temporary quarters in Rwanda are a far cry better than the apartment that I willingly gave up in Savannah more than two months ago. I unpacked my bags, a la Carrie Bradshaw, stowing my clothes in places usually designated for cereals and spices, sugars and saucepans.
After I finished, I sat on my porch with a book and a journal to breath in Rwanda. To the north there is a chain of volcanoes that is visible from my window. Separately, their names are Bisoke, Sabyinyo, Gahinga, and Murabura. Together, they are the Virungas. Bordering both Uganda and the RDC, this is where gorillas play in the mist and this is where it is difficult to tell where Rwanda ends and heaven begins.
When the day was about to relinquish its hours to the night and the cool evening mountain air sweeps its way across the hillside of Gashangiro a noise rose up from outside of the gates. It was the sound of men and women chanting and singing and beating on makeshift drums as they made their way down the hill. Towards what? I do not know. Their voices, fading into the distance, were replaced by a chorus of nocturnal insects and the soft purr of motorbikes traveling in the opposite direction.
I wanted to follow them, to see where they were going, to know what they were doing but this was only my first night in Rwanda and those answers, as well as the answers to all of the questions that will no doubt arise, will come in time.
On Monday I began to teach English at a sewing cooperative in town. This school is about four kilometers from where I stay so partly out of stubbornness and mostly out of curiosity I have decided to walk the hour down the hill in the morning and up the hill in the afternoon because it has always been my belief that the feet see just as well as the eyes.
Although it is my first day teaching the warmth of these women’s affections can only be compared to the Italian family that I left in New York, except here they embrace you three times, cheek to cheek, before giving you a half high-five/half handshake. So much of me wanted this greeting to be OUR secret handshake but this greeting is no secret because this is the way friends in Rwanda say hello.*
*Out of respect for these women I have decided not to write more about my experiences teaching at this school until I get to know each of them better for fear that I will do them a tremendous disservice by pretending to know anything about their lives just because I have read some books on Rwanda.
By the end of the week the sights along the road have begun to become familiar. And it is here, along this ascension and descension, that the reality of poverty in Rwanda begins to sink in. It is a poverty that I cannot even begin to describe.*
*So as to not sound brash and dismissive here, I will be dedicating a future blog to perceptions of poverty in Rwanda.
In town, tomatoes, charcoal, and shoes that are worn well past their welcome are sold side by side outside of shops peddling household wares and other necessities.
Further up, there are women who carry freshly cut stacks of wood or bundles of cassava leaves upon their heads. Even under their load the regality of their stature would make even the most primest and properest of ladies look as if they were slouching underneath the weight of a book bound in hardcover.
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