Growing Pains

10 Apr

Growing up my brother and I were always spending school vacations at one parent’s house or the other, and frequently visiting extended family. My grandma has a picture that says, “Bloom where you are planted” and I think that having reading it so many times from an early age I learned to do just that. As a result I wasn’t sure that it was possible for me to be homesick. I now know it to be possible.

For the last little bit (a month? Three weeks?) I have been so incredibly homesick. It’s hard to put into words the reasons or the source but it has manifested itself in a restlessness and frustration with the fishbowl effect not to mention the frequent urge to cry.

I’ve been able to go about my daily activities but so often I’ve felt just below the surface like a kid covered in chickenpox who can’t sit still for itching. The fishbowl effect seemed to magnify with an inverse relationship to my ability to tolerate it. There’s always someone with something to say about my choice to buy a box of crackers, the number of eggs I buy at the market each week, who I do or don’t greet, and what I wear. I found extreme resentment at the maneuvering and fibs necessary when I find myself hungry and wanting to visit the cantina since I’m too lazy to make the 40 minute round trip home for lunch during my 1 hour lunch break. I was unable to read anything from friends or talk about home without tears springing to my eyes. Since crying in public isn’t acceptable it’s really been quite inconvenient.

I also had a lot of anxiety about Rwanda’s commemoration of the 1994 genocide during the month of April. How my community would observe the month and how to conduct myself in an appropriate and respectful manner.

Last Tuesday afternoon in an effort to muster some sanity and energy I cooked up an excuse for work and headed to my regional house/town for a little self-care. It was my intention to make it back to site on Thursday, but it didn’t happen until Friday. It was a glorious time and just the recharge I needed. I drank wine and ate French fries Tuesday evening. Wednesday morning I took myself out to breakfast at a quiet little spot and enjoyed a thermos of café au lait (pretty sure it was even real coffee!) and wrote letters. Writing letters always proves to be a meditative and clarifying experience for me and the recipients seem to be good sports about my ramblings. I also got to spend some time with the two newest volunteers in our region. It felt good to reclaim my time and have a little bit of solitude and in the end I returned back to site, not cured of my homesickness or anxiety, but with the courage to continue.

There was a girl with the same Kinyarwanda name as me working at the breakfast place Wednesday morning. Each time someone called for her I couldn’t help but look up. I also picked up on the different ways people pronounced it and could then hear various coworkers of mine in my head calling for me.

At first I was a little resentful that my supervisor decided to give me a Kinyarwanda name after only a few hours of knowing each other. There’s a ceremonial element to naming a baby in Rwanda and the manner in which I was given mine didn’t seem to honor that. Regardless of the method in which my name was given, I am so thankful to have one. It’s much easier to pronounce than my English name and is pretty much the only thing people call me in the village. It only gets a little tricky when I forget to tell people when they come to visit.

After chores Saturday morning I was looking for the world map I had sent to hang on my wall (just now getting around to decorating my new room) and brought out all the letters I’ve received. In that moment I was finally able to let the tears come. Fleetingly I thought about the promise I made to visit a friend but decided to be fully in that moment. I read some letters and I cried, out of longing for people and my old life in America, out of joy for the good things, and at the absurdity of it all.

Successes/moments of my friends that I used to be able to celebrate in person but now am relegated to reading on fb or letters leave me feeling left out. As I reread letters of friends who shared they often wondered what I was doing at a particular moment the feelings of being left out were beat back and I knew that I am in their thoughts as often as they are in mine.

Despite how much it hurts to be away from the people I love I don’t want to go home. As much I’m aware of this homesickness I also spend just as much time in awe of all the beauty revealed to me here. There are so many things that bring me such intense bursts of joy.

Views of the valleys and hills unfolding to the lake on my walks to and from work each day. The way they change with whatever the weather is doing that day.

The jokes and conversations I have on those same walks with my coworker neighbor.

Meeting the children of my coworkers and the way they’re miniatures of one parent of the other. The younger they are the cuter I think it is.

The way that some of those same kids used to look and me and cry but will now greet me with a hug.

There’s an old woman the choir at my new church and when she sings there’s a light in her eyes I’ve not seen in anyone else. She’s one of several old women I think are absolutely beautiful.


When people in my village call me ‘mama’ despite my marital status and lack of children. Also when they call me an umunyarwandakazi for wearing a long skirt or some other behavior.       

I thanked my coworker the other day for being such a great friend to me, explaining to him how much the friendship of he and his wife meant to me lately since I’ve been so homesick. We started talking about my eventual return to America and how he will miss me and people will ask him where I am since we routinely walk to work together. I told him that I’m going to have a hard time because I miss people now in America but when I got home I’ll miss people here. As a result I’d probably have to go live somewhere like Kenya which made both of us laugh.

I don’t want to think about that aspect of the future right now, especially since it’s just over a year off and I did such a good job of avoiding any real goodbyes when I left America. For now I’m all living the moment.                                                                                                                                                                    


One Response to “Growing Pains”

  1. alicia April 10, 2012 at 10:33 am #

    what a beautiful, honest, and thoughtful post. all these challenges are just what breaks us down so that we can be built up into stronger, more authentic, vibrant beings. I’m so glad you are finding your strength in the small beautiful moment of now. thanks for sharing heidi!

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