It’s recently come to my attention that all of us – you, me, the grocer, the man in the car to your right, the neighbor down the street – we’re all seeking.
What, exactly, are we looking for?
I think we’re searching (be it subconsciously or totally, 100% fully aware) to connect with each other.
And let me be honest, here.
On the outside looking in, it kind of appears to be the complete opposite.
At least in my little corner of the world, so much of our time is spent with our necks arched, staring at our phones. We’re closed off in the world of our customized “what love sounds like” playlists (that could just be me) and a lot of us are one step ahead of the game: what will we cook when we get home? What’s on tap for tomorrow? Did you send that email over in time?
For the first month or so after arriving back home, this kind of insular world really freaked me out. I didn’t get it, I didn’t understand it, and I wasn’t sure I could find myself in it.
But sure enough, now I’m doing the very same things: I’ll go outside for a breath of fresh air and before a minute or two has passed, my phone is out and I’m unaware of everything happening around me.
It’s different, you know. And really, I wouldn’t say it’s different from Ghana or Rwanda as a whole– but it is significantly different from my small little village that I lived in not too long ago. The divergence of urban and rural worlds, I might argue, are sometimes bigger and larger than cultural variances themselves. A city can be a city anywhere. Yes, the infrastructure, atmosphere, weather, people, accents, food, and housing can have major divergences. However, if you compare the kind of “city lifestyle” to the rural life that most people in the world lead, than you would be amazed at how it’s like we are living in two completely, separate worlds.
Out in the country, speaking from my own experiences, you can just talk. To anyone. Perhaps that’s why I fit the mold of a village woman oh-so-well. Maybe a little too well?
But the village inclinations in me haven’t stopped just because I’ve re-entered the wonderful world of suburbia, first-world speeds, and unlimited access to Starbuck’s, Five Guys, Q’doba, and excessively stocked grocery stores. I bid farewell to those really dusty roads, my aimless walks for hours, and the small run-down shops that provided just enough for me to get by.
I said goodbye to all of that, but somehow, I’m still doing the same sort of things.
Case and point.
I stomped on into the bank earlier this evening – in my black heels, still dressed in work clothes – in order to put in my money transfer for the girls’ education in Rwanda. They are about to start school in just a few short days and so I am trying to be sure they have the funds they are needing to pay for their new school tuition, uniforms, books, laboratory fees, and transportation. Maisara, Yazina, and Divine will all be attending new schools this year and I couldn’t be more excited. Zahara has one more year in what is called “ordinary level” and so she is doing another year at Ruramira Secondary, the school I taught at for all of 2012 and 2013.
So, like I said, I walk into this bank and get this process started. I grab a butterscotch sucker as my forms are processed and me and the teller, well, we get to talking.
She asks about why I have dropped in for multiple money transfers to Rwanda. One thing leads to another and soon we’re talking about her former career in Albuquerque and her struggle to be separated from her husband and kids. I had come in for a 3 minute transaction and I stayed for over 10. By the end we were talking about what makes a good cup of coffee and how really, everybody is really just trying to make it work. That is, in life at large.
I couldn’t believe I was having this kind of conversation randomly with a bank teller.
That isn’t even the only example.
I discovered an investment client at my job that had recently adopted a three-and-a-half year old from Uganda.
Another prospective client is dealing with the death of her husband and is facing the possibility of having to deal with finances on her own for the first time in her 76 years of life.
The barista over at Starbuck’s – who has been happy to provide me with grande decaf misto Americanos for the last couple of nights as I’ve passed by following my bank trips – helped cover my coffee the other night when I was down about 50 cents. This got us to talking and she’s not exactly thrilled with her job, but what can she really do? It’s a job.
If someone calls the office and merely mentions the words Denver Broncos, I can easily be on the phone for 15 minutes discussing the ins-and-outs of our Superbowl bound team.
This guy and I talked the other day for several minutes about his upcoming trip to New Orleans. Oh for business? I asked him. It wasn’t. He is going to cause mayhem and I realized I should probably get off the phone before I start leaking my own tales of New Orleans. That city is quite legendary.
Yeah, you demonstrate good customer service if you relate well to potential clients, but I should probably reign in the 15 minute digressions as I tie up the lines and neglect my never-ending pile of paperwork to get through.
My point is this.
It’s not just me.
We’re all trying to connect.
To something. To anything. To each other.
Our phones helps us text, call, reach out, or acknowledge another person so that we can feel a little less alone in the world. We want – we need – someone to know about our day, about our interactions, and for that person to really take the time to listen.
I’ve made the mistake of writing off America too quickly when I first came home. I was aghast about our lack of true communication and genuine value for relationships on a daily basis. And for sure, it’s not perfect. But I made the mistake of assuming that we aren’t trying. And we are. It just looks a little different, doesn’t it?
Admittedly, it’s exhausting to keep up. I’m the queen of staying in touch and for every text, phone call, email, tweet, Instagram, status update…it’s like, am I actually being heard? Does it really need to be like this?
What brings it all full-circle is the times I turn on my computer, load skype, and call back to Rwanda to say “hi” to my girls. How do I even begin to explain all of this? It’s a struggle to explain Rwanda to Americans and it’s equally hard to explain America to Rwandans.
But it doesn’t change the end goal: we are still trying to understand each other and really, that’s one of the deepest and most enduring human needs.
And that definitely goes for me. Some days I just want to thrown on Netflix, watch Parks and Recreation and relish in just how hilarious Leslie Knope is. But for me, that isn’t enough to keep me fulfilled. So, I’m trying. I’m starting to attend a small group at church. I’m looking at library-sponsored events at my local branch (probably much like my old, retired neighbors), and I’m reaching out to the Returned Peace Corps Volunteer community in Denver. I’m attempting to connect because for me, it’s really the only way I know how to feel satisfied, happy, and like I can combine two parts of my life in the most cohesive way possible.