At some point recently, I hit the milestone of “longest time ever spent in a single country (not the US).” I actually think this milestone was a week and a half ago, because I spent 2 weeks in France with my grandparents the summer after 6th grade. Above all, maybe this fact shows how particularly unprepared I might have been packing my bags for Rwanda for a year.
The second thing this fact shows, I think, is how quickly I’ve assimilated to life in Rwanda because the milestone passed so seamlessly, without me even realizing it happened. (Yes, sorry, this is going to be a reflective blog. They have to happen every once in a while amidst the humor. If your name is Isabelle Schless, stop reading now or forever live with the knowledge that I am capable of expressing emotion.)
Yes…I’ll be the first to admit that I’m living a pretty cushy life in Rwanda. If I was working 100 hours a week in NYC, I certainly still wouldn’t have my own cook or maid (unless I was living with my parents in the Dirty Jerz…love you mom). And I only today learned how to count to 10 and conjugate to be in Kinyrwandan because I haven’t had a need to know it. And our secluded compound was fittingly dubbed “Americaland” by the local Peace Corps volunteers.
But, if I focus on only material things, I might not be giving myself enough credit. I do, after all, currently have fleas.
I have been living here for almost four weeks; it has not been entirely easy; and I think I should give myself, or Rwanda, some credit for not even realizing that I passed the milestone mentioned. My conclusion so far is that Africa – and especially Musanze, Rwanda – represents so much of what I crave as a small-town, New England girl that I’ve been able to assimilate and appreciate, rather than criticize and isolate.
Rwanda is the most densely populated country in Africa, so Musanze is by no means a “small town”, but the simplicity of life is exactly what I have always imagined to still be hiding somewhere in the hills of New Hampshire and Vermont. It seems quintessential to me that people here recognize each other in a slightly bustling metropolis (driving back to Musanze one day, Gabby recognized a former volunteer’s mother from behind and pulled over to give her a ride), that everybody takes the time to fully great each other (“Muraho” “Amakuru” “Ni meza” is an obligatory part of any conversation – even if you are just asking directions), and that there exists an impressive level of trust (I sat next to a hitchhiker today on our drive to Kigali…whatevs).
Unfortunately/fortunately, so much of this attitude can be credited to the lack of modern technology. Children are not rushing home to videogames; they are creating games with sticks and yarn, forming deep friendships at the same time. Women cannot disregard their peers, who could create the community that cares for them/fetches water for them/prays for them in a time of need. I almost fear that along with incredible knowledge and incredible speed, the new fiber optic and electric projects will bring with them a spell that might break the community and the bonds. But it’s possible the community will survive amongst the people – that is why, at any rate, we muzungus will always be muzungus, forever recognized as outsiders, onlookers onto the perfectly quintessential community.
So, given that Hanover, New Hampshire seemed a little too large and overwhelming to me at times, it is only natural that I have already fallen in love with a country/district/village that embodies all that I have imagined a truly small town to be...except for actually being small, of course.