For the first time since I was a teacher in Rwanda, I walked into a high school classroom. And because the last couple of months in Rwanda were on holiday, I hadn’t entered a classroom since late October. Not to mention, this classroom was a bit different. Each student sat at their own, personal desks glancing my way as I entered the room.
It was particularly cold this Wednesday morning and so most students wore jackets, coats, and vests to stay warm. I smiled nervously as my dad exclaimed proudly, “everyone say ‘hi’ to Heather. This is my daughter, as you know, and she’ll be telling us about Rwanda today.” I placed my computer on dad’s desk and pulled up my PowerPoint presentation. I was going to talk about my 2 year experience in one hour. And really, I had even less than that as I had prepared a popular African dish the night before to share with the students.
Dad and I had ventured to about 4 different international markets around the Aurora/East Denver area in order to find the perfect African ingredients. We finally found everything we needed at a place close to the intersections of Parker and Peoria; the place was called Nana’s African Market. Perfect. I felt giddy upon entering the small store. I saw cassava leaves, the right flour to cook a plantain dish, and all sorts of packages and labels that I had been used to in my adventures in both Ghana and Rwanda. I spent about 3 hours preparing this particular meal for Dad’s students. It wasn’t exactly cheap either, as Dad spent about 40 bucks for three boxes of ‘fufu mix’, frozen cassava leaves, tomatoes, onions, peppers, and spices. It was so fun to cook! Divine would have been so proud.
And so I started to tell my story.
I told them a bit about the Peace Corps (of course showing a picture of my mosquito net over my bed and an image around the back of my house) and my motivations for doing it. I had prepared the presentation the night before and it took a long time. Mostly because I didn’t really know where to start. What photos should I choose? What anecdotes should I share? Which videos will best exemplify this country that I have tried so hard to get to know?
Around midnight, after finally finishing to cook and taking a hot bath, I decided to choose the photos that made me happiest and the videos that made me smile. That way, talking would be easy.
And it was.
I didn’t need notecards. I didn’t need reminders. I just talked about my life there and you know what was great about it? It wasn’t difficult. Sometimes I feel like I get it wrong or I don’t adequately explain what Rwanda has meant to me. But, in front of these students, I didn’t feel limited or constricted – it was literally just explaining my time there. Can I cover 2 years? No. But I can give a little glimpse, which is better than nothing. I showed them videos of me hanging out in the village, of me teaching, and of some of my students dancing and singing. I told them my job boiled down to four components: teacher, mentor, village member, and friend.
That hour came and went before I knew it.
I was far more intimidated in this technologically infused and brightly decorated American classroom than I remember being in Rwanda, but I suppose that’s the nature of time – we can get used to anything and when presented with something new, it can be like entering a cold pool for the first time. Sometimes you just have to jump on and trust that it’s going to be okay.
Rwanda isn’t continually around me only when I’m giving presentations like this or specifically speaking about my friends or family there.
It’s just naturally with me.
I’ll be driving on a long stretch of highway and remember the bananas that framed the Rwandan “black road” out East by my house.
I’ll think of Divine when I’m praying, wondering what she would make of my American church. There’s so many instruments, stage lights, and chairs for every person to sit in.
I even read some of the Christmas Story at our family Christmas Eve celebration in Kinyarwanda. I’m pretty sure it was the first time we had ever read in another language, and it was a fun experience for everyone to gather round and listen to the story of Jesus in the best Kinyarwanda I could muster. And hey, if I made a mistake, it’s not like anyone would really know. That’s the huge advantage of having an English-only speaking family – I could speak the worst Kinyarwanda in the world and they would still think it’s pretty darn cool.
Life is continuing to glide by here. Some days harder than others. Some days are quite enjoyable – easy, even – but sometimes I have to remember all of this is a life transition and that the adjustment won’t come in days, weeks, or even months. It’s going to take a while. And maybe I fear that I’ll never be quite “comfortable” again. But I realized praying this past week that maybe that’s totally okay. My perspective has been tweaked a bit, and if it has changed the way I see the world then what’s really wrong with that?
I spent my birthday – and all of last week, really – with my Hendrix girls. (Oh yeah. I turned 25. I’m officially a middle-twenty-something. I am no closer to having any answers about life. Other than that good friends and family are the answers to most things.)
Ali, Michelle, Lauren, and Jordana all made the trek out to Colorado last week for a visit. We spent time at home in Aurora, in Estes Park, and a bit in Denver too.
Being with them was like taking a vacation from re-adjustment and I needed that. I didn’t really think about how DIFFERENT everything is for me right now. Instead, I just tried to soak up being with the girls whether we were all reading in the couch, staying up late talking, or cooking together. It was an alternate reality, a vacation, and something I really needed.
We drove through Rocky Mountain National Park on a really sunny and beautiful (albeit windy!) day. We took “Rhonda” on those windy mountain roads and made it to some stunning photo locations. We took it all in, amazed at just how gorgeous nature could be. The best parts of our week together was actually our chats. I just loved being able to share, to catch up, and to better understand how our lives have played out for the last couple of years – especially since I hadn’t been around.
I start work next week. A job. Like, one that I’ll need to be on time to. A job that will require intense organization and an American-standard work ethic. I’m excited to be doing something different for the time being – as I await answers from graduate school. And let’s be real, I can’t live off my Peace Corps adjustment allowance forever. I have a car, loans, a phone, and some real things I have to pay for. Welcome to the real world.
If I’m going to be perfectly honest, however, I don’t really know what my ‘real world’ looks like anymore. I thought for a long time that life in America, in school, going along the path that will provide stability was what I should do. What I needed to do.
However, as I consider my future, I’m not sure what I’ll do. There are a lot of opportunities in the world and I suppose now, more than ever, I’m really open to anything.
“The real world.”
Each day I’m getting a little bit more of it. Some I like, some I don’t. But I have my family and friends around and that, above everything else, makes the adjustment completely worthwhile (and a bit easier). I even have Divine and all the girls via skype and for now, it’s enough.
It certainly gives a plentiful amount of people to soak up America with:
55 choices of cereal!
what the hell – I have to pay loans?!
what is a “cloud”?
music streaming & gym memberships!
wi-fi every place, every day.
why is everyone moving so quickly?
Yeah. I am still in that phase of where everything is weird and quite fascinating. I’m also easily entertained and can enjoy most things. I just hope I don’t lose my grip and find myself in all of it. I want to be able to apply a lot of the things I learned in Rwanda. It sure won’t be easy, but if the experience means as much as it did, I think it’s important to do.