Our journey to Rwanda has been a blur of exhaustion, beauty, and joy. Small things stand out to me- the inky indigo clouds streaking across the sky during the sunrise as we rode the bus to Toronto, a happy toddler smiling and running around on the plane, the law student from India who watched Friends on his laptop next to me for half the flight. I loved seeing people of so many different cultures in the airports, all a whirl of faces and stories that were endlessly fascinating. I remember thinking to myself as I wrote in my journal on our second flight how I’d already experienced so much and the trip hadn’t even “happened” yet!
I sat next to a businessman from the Republic of Congo on our second flight who was traveling to Uganda and so interested in hearing about what I was doing. “Kigali is good, very good,” he told me, “But cold”. (I have found that the African definition of “cold” differs greatly from that of New York State. The weather here compared to CNY is an absolute dream). When I told him I would only be in Rwanda for three weeks he said “You should come back! Come back and stay. Come back anytime.” This incredibly welcoming attitude is something so foreign to me coming from the US. So far it seems that the people of Africa cannot wait to greet you and make you feel at home. I can’t imagine how different America would be if we shared that mindset.
“Africa has many problems,” the man said, “Life is very hard.” He paused. “But we try anyway.” When he got up to leave when the plane stopped in Uganda he handed me a piece of paper with his phone number and email address written on it so I could contact him to tell him about my trip. I felt an incredible glow to have arrived in a place where people meet you and they want to hear your story.
After waking up with a start as the plane landed in Rwanda, marveling over the beauty of the city and our air-conditioned bus, and arriving at the youth hostel we spent the evening visiting and relaxing. The hostel had laid out a beautiful table for our dinner- it was outside with a campfire, live music from a man singing and playing guitar, and lights strung in the trees. Some women read spoken word poetry as we ate some of the best food I’ve ever had in my life. I had been told before coming here that I would eat better as a vegetarian here than I do in the US, but I did not fully comprehend that until I ate this otherworldly food. Rice with cooked peas and carrots, soup, fried potatoes, and more. There was an avocado salad that blew my mind. “I want to marry this avocado,” I said, and Tim made me write it down to record the moment. Fruit kebabs were arranged stuck into a pineapple, and it was the best fruit I’ve ever had in my life. I don’t know how I can go back to eating the fruit from the States after this. I wish there were a way for all of America to experience it so we could all understand. It’s better than candy. Writing about it now makes me want more.
After chatting with some people from England and Australia who were also staying at the hostel, those of us who were not going out to celebrate New Years (like my very tired self) went to bed. I awoke early this morning and sketched out on the porch. We went for a walk after breakfast and these kids (maybe around ten years old) were interested in meeting us and ended up sticking with us during the walk. We started with two, Robert and Jean-Paul (who live nearby and are hilarious and awesome), and ended up gathering two more as we walked. The kids especially are so interested in hanging out with and talking to us. This friendly culture where it’s acceptable for kids to walk around alone and follow groups of foreign strangers as they walk around the city is so different, but so trusting and warm. I love these kids. They remind me of my experience as a summer camp counselor and I feel so lucky to be able to connect with them. As we walked people were so happy to greet us- stopping cars to shake hands, high-fiving as we walked past, waving from motorcycles and shouting “Happy New Year!” or “Mwaramutze!” We walked past a group of maybe five little girls all eating fruit, and we smiled as we passed by. One girl reached out her small hand to me and I shook it and said hello, and she tried to offer me the fruit she was eating. This kind of genuine joy and connection with strangers is something I have never experienced in the States. I have lived in the US my whole life and I have never felt so overwhelmingly welcomed anywhere. It’s truly remarkable.
After going out to lunch and exchanging our currency we returned to the hostel and utilized our time to rehearse. Some other guests were interested in our play and watched our process (they even want to play theater games with us, which we’ll be leading as an evening activity at some point). It felt really good to be back in the play that had been rehearsed and finalized in my absence over break. Rehearsing on a patch of grass behind the hostel with the beautiful hills and buildings of Kigali spread out in front of us, children laughing, birds chirping, was magical. It’s so much easier to be present in a place that already makes you feel connected to everything around you.
Tomorrow we start our real journey, learning about history, visiting a genocide memorial. I feel so incredibly lucky and blessed to be here. I can’t believe I get to do this, and I’m ecstatic that I can.