As I wind down my time here in Rwanda, there are a lot of thoughts crowding my mind. I’m ready. I may or may not live in Africa again. How do I keep in touch with the Art Club kids? I am planning my future but also reminiscing a fair bit about this very challenging year. I wouldn’t trade it for anything but it’s been quite hard.
My last little project’s name is Roger. He is my three and a half year old neighbor and today I met his mother Francoise. Roger appears to be blind, or atleast his eyes are clouded over and grey. I want to take Roger to meet Piet, the Belgian eye surgeon friend of ours. Today Roger tried to follow me home. When I tried to send him back to his mum, he toddled after me again. Finally, picking him up and taking him over to his mum, Roger did the most touching and trusting thing- he laid his head on my shoulder. Some logistical questions: does Piet have time to meet him? Is his condition correctable? Do I have enough Kinyarwanda to convince Francoise to come with me to Kabgayi Hospital? Can this happen in the short amount of time I have left here?
Yesterday in the market, Karen and I met a young woman with a very deformed baby. He looked like half of a Siamese twin as his head was caved in down the middle and his eyes very wideset. As per all the handicapped people here, she was begging for money on his behalf. My response hasn’t changed since day one. I spoke with her, asked her questions, shook her hand, patted the baby’s arm and the most touching thing happened. For a moment, she stopped being a desperate beggar and turned into a loving mother. I asked her the baby’s name. Tomas, she said, and with that reponse a flicker of pride or love or something flashed from behind her eyes. Karen and I discussed this interaction afterwards and had differing views. How tragic it was to have such an enormous deformity and probably no hope for a normal life. Or… how amazing that this very young mother is choosing to care for him, love him and has decided not to leave him somewhere, abandoned.
I have a busy couple of weeks. After a goal-setting meeting at my model school, I will try and draft a strategic chart in hopes that the staff can set towards accomplishing some of these goals after I go. Emmanuel will buy the paints and I will take him to the school where I have decided that my farewell gift to them is to have Ema paint a mural on the wall of the school. The previous short-term volunteer bought them a cow. I don’t have that kind of cash but 20 years from now- especially if I pick the right paints- the cow’ll be gone and perhaps the mural will still be there.
Kate’s book is finished. A colleague from the Program Office, Noel (he is in fact the janitor and has offered me nothing but kindness since day one) helped me to bind three copies. I’ll meet Kate later this week and give her what we started out creating back in July- her completed memoir.
We are going to make a sign that reads “Chez Marie” for the front of Marie’s store. If you scroll back to my earliest photos you can see Marie, looking very disheveled and dusty with a little JeanPaul in her arms last May, standing in front of her previous address; a rundown home. The Marie of today is a glowing, youthful entrepreneur and has taken ALL the initiative to get her store up and going. It is such a pleasant sight. JeanPaul is walking and mischevious as ever, never venturing more than 2 feet from mum’s side, but still doesn’t speak. He is almost one and a half years old.
I have started to tell my friends about my leaving date. It’s harder than I thought. Take me with you, Fils says. I tell him it’s cold in Canada and he’d have to speak English. He says he doesn’t mind the cold and tells me his English is good. (Which it is by the way- in a strange twist he is the brightest of the Art Club kids but has befriended some local mechanics who are training him to be a mechanic. He is an orphan, his aunts are away at school year-round so I think the positive adult attention is what he craves and it’s unfortunate that a bright, young mind may not be seeking higher education. The mechanic’s job however will allow him to make a living…here in Rwanda, not in Canada with me.)
I attended my last church service at the Urukundo Home for Children last Sunday. Gatete, my basketball buddy who still hasn’t opened his Christmas gift yet, strikes me as the ideal candidate for sponsorship. I might follow up with Mama about that later on. This is the hard part. When the Headteacher of my model school cries to me in his office that his school fees are due in two weeks and he is 130,000 francs short, I know I can help him. When my co-facilitator brings his three children over to visit- the two darling daughters and the one son who is not his but came to live with them after his mother died- and asks me to help him with school fees, I know I can help him. When Emmanuel asks me to fund his AutoEcole dream, I know I can help him. When the staff of my model school tells me they want to build a kindergarten room so that the little ones that greet me every morning on my drive in can come to school, I know I can help them. When they also ask me to photocopy more resources for them, I know I can-d (although I do point to the bag in the corner wherein lies all the didactic material I have given them upon completion of my trainings and inquire why they are not using them daily. If even the co-facilitator of the three workshops chooses to teach his lesson on Thursday in the “chalk and talk” fashion after ALL the methodology training we’ve done together- I don’t know how I can help them! )When the two one-legged men in town panhandle or Eggboy asks me to buy something or the streetkids tell me they’re hungry, I know I can help them. When the Director of Education in Kamonyi District asks me to sit down with him to organize his office and help him with this new overwhelming job of his, I know I can help him. When the Headteacher of the new sector I’m training in insists that all 26 of his teachers be allowed to participate in my workshop instead of the allotted 3, I know I can do this. I can help Cadette pay her university fees, I can help Media go back to school, I can give JeanPierre and his father a leg to stand on and perhaps a small contribution will get them out of that impoverished atrocity they call a home. There’s only one problem: I can’t. It’s not that I won’t give money but part of me feels that what I came here to give, I’ve given already. I traded ideas, I shared resources, I made friends, I gave in kindness, I collaborated professionally, I made connections personally, I gave away most of my clothes and belongings and I gave my time- almost an entire year! If I throw money at the problems, then the next time a mzungu comes to work with them (with a bank full of ideas, friendship and goodwill), the expectation will be just as it always is: eventually, they’ll give us money. On top of which, after two years off work (the first year being the Habitat for Humanity trip to Ghana and the looooooooong VSO acceptance process and the second being my year in Rwanda), I don’t quite have the means to give financially. The development world is a slippery slope and I’m sure tons of sociologists/UN-ologists have waxed poetic about it long before, and much better than, me.
There were a lot of sad faces when I announced my leaving date, which is very soon by the way. I am partly travelling my way home so will be leaving Rwanda shortly. But I think there are a few kindred spirits here whom I’ll keep in touch with, in any way possible. A friend of mine has created an NGO and I plan to contribute to its development as best as I can. I may be leaving Rwanda in a few weeks but I don’t think Rwanda will ever, EVER leave me.
I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual... O how I laugh when I think of my vague indefinite riches. No run on my bank can drain it for my wealth is not possession but enjoyment.
Henry David Thoreau