The Sweetest Moment

20 Aug

During training, before my English speaking younger host sister came to stay with us and I knew next to no Kinyarwanda, my older host sister and I communicated primarily in gestures. Our lack of verbal communication didn’t really register with me until one day when I finally heard her speak my name.

In the beginning it felt like my rather private host family and I were engaged in an awkward dance neither of us could get the hang of. There was a lot of coexisting and observation with a pinch of interaction here and there. When my sister spoke my name it marked a change in things, we (my family and I) had found the same rhythm and started to sync up.

Heidi can be rather tricky to pronounce for Rwandans. I get a lot of Hiriye and Hiliyes. So when my supervisor gave me my Kinyarwanda name during site visit I never really turned back. If you came to my village and asked for Heidi few people would have any idea who you were looking for (except for the fact that I’m the only American in the village). Ask for Mahoro from the hospital though and you’re in business.

A couple months ago the teenage girl working as the umukozi (housekeeper) was called home and one of the ladies who was around the house regularly stepped in and came to live with us. She also brought her two kids, one of whom is my favorite neighbor boy. The other, a little slip of a girl who would often cry at the site of me. Since coming to live with us, the kids eat a lot better and the girl’s temperament has improved. One day, it seemed overnight she started talking (later than most kids her mom says because of a problem with her palate I think) and sweetest moment number two happened when she started saying my Kinya name. She’s still getting the hang of speech so usually ‘Mahoro’ sounds more like ‘MA-ho’. Now whenever I’m outside every five minutes or so it’s ‘MA-ho book!’ ‘MA-ho sweet potato!’ ‘MA-ho Helena!’or whatever it is she sees. If you think baby talk is difficult to understand, imagine trying to decipher it in a language you only have some semblance of a grasp on. Her mom often has to play translator hahaha.

On my moto ride to get ready for camp last Friday I was seized by an overwhelming amount of gratitude. Sometimes it’s kind of a bummer that there’s no one in my village to have a beer with from time to time. Conversely, that means that on market day (Friday in my village) I don’t have to smell the moto drivers’ breath to see if they’re drunk, something they told us during training was important to do. In a lot of other places this is not the case. I was at one of the training sites on a market day and saw 3 or 4 moto drivers knocking back Mutzig. Alcoholism runs rampant in many parts of Rwanda, particularly the out of the way, hard to reach places, but it’s homebrew made from bananas or sorghum that they drink. Alcoholism certainly exists in my village, but the folks with a propensity for over imbibing tend to be the minority. Most of my coworkers don’t even drink.

I was also grateful that I could think of at least five of my friends/coworkers who I know would help me no questions asked if I really needed it and that there were probably as many more I didn’t think of who also would. Both the times I had money stolen my coworkers always made sure I had money to buy food.

I’m so late in writing about it, but my ‘new’ house is so awesome and I feel so blessed to live there. Mama wachu (our mom) is an amazing and kind woman with a lot of influence. It came up in a conversation with her early on that I don’t like being called an umuzungu, she reiterated that to all the kids within earshot, that I was to be called Mahoro only and from that day I’ve not been called umuzungu at my home by any of the dozens of people who come to fetch water. Nor do I get asked for money or food from people when Mama Wachu is at the house. She does a lot of business in Kigali and Kamembe so she’s frequently gone for a couple days at a time and occasionally the women will feel brave and ask me to give them something.

Since my work at the health center is seldom very fulfilling, it is definitely my relationships with people here that keep me going. My friends are always asking me when I’ll be returning back to America, will we keep in touch, will I tell them when I get married, and how much they will miss me. Not being very fond of goodbyes (just ask anyone I avoided saying goodbye to before I came here), I don’t like these conversations. My heart feels pulled in two directions, there’s home in America with family and friends who share the same culture, where I have anonymity and don’t belong to the ‘not fully human uuzungu’ class. Then there’s my home in Rwanda, where I have been warmly received, loved and supported in so many ways despite my American oddities. I have a love/hate relationship with Rwanda depending on the day, my emotional stability, and the number of people who have asked me to give them something. My relationship is further complicated by the fact that I’m half decent at navigating life here. Coming home after being away at GLOW camp, greeting and catching up with everyone feels so good. I have this sinking feeling that saying goodbye and leaving Rwanda is going to be much more difficult than I imagine.

When I said goodbye before I came here I knew that Peace Corps service is 27 months and that I’d be home after that, no questions. When I leave Rwanda, there’s no certainty in when I’ll be able to return. But I can’t imagine not coming back to see when the paved road finally reaches my village, how things will change and develop after the electricity finally comes, or how the babies I know now grow into kiddos. Keeping in touch with people will be reliant on them not changing their phone numbers, finding ways to check email, and not moving away or falling out of contact with the people I keep in contact with.

I’m so blessed to have people on TWO continents who love me so I suppose I ought to just quit complaining about it.

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One Response to “The Sweetest Moment”

  1. Jamie Wulfekuhle December 15, 2012 at 7:44 pm #

    awww… I just read this one. Dug the update out of my inbox where it got buried around wedding time. I’m so happy I got to visit you! I love your updates!

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