Dings and Satori

Third month away from home. Two months in Rwanda, 4th or 5th trip here. At times feels like a second home. We now know the rules of the road, how to barter, who to call when the need arises, where to buy the best bread, the cheapest and freshest vegetables, how long it will really take to get there, what can be accomplished and what can’t in the time available.

Feeling confident and secure. Almost home.

And yet…

The vehicles in Rwanda are dinged up, not totaled, just battered. Bumpers are scratched and dented, doors abraded, windshields cracked.

The driving speed here is very slow. About the fastest you go is 60K, under 38mph, so you have plenty of time to slow down to accommodate the bus in your lane headed for you, or the jeep backs into you, inches from your front bumper, at least most of the time. And when you can’t accommodate, you get dinged. There are no godawful head on collisions here, just lots and lots of dings.

Sometimes, when I am homesick, I become aware of the soft traumas, the dings, of our work here. A few that happen in a normal week:

A flat tire, no jack.

Dangerous water, and  toilet duty for 2 days.

Out of stock.

Being cut off in traffic…by large trucks that do not even look to see if there is a car (you) in their path. You simply get out of the way. Period.

Pot holes. Giant, gaping caverns that crack your spine and dislocate your neck.

Personal distance, please just a little personal distance.

Please ask to touch me.

That itchy spot on my back that isn’t healing…

Sheets that do not fit the bed and waking up, mouth breathing mattress.

My god, the fumes. Huge black clouds, so thick that they obliterate the rear end of the truck you are waiting to pass.

No road signs and siri  twirling in the grey space.

Dirt roads that double as river beds.

Headlights lights, what headlights?  And do not get me started on brake lights.

Goat carriers, incredibly inhumane.

Barefoot babies in dirt-colored, oversized t-shirts.

Dropping my sunglasses into the hole of the squat toilet. My beautiful, Maui Jim prescription sunglasses, my signature sunny-day look, down into a pit to endure unspeakable indignities, becoming my sacrifice to Rwanda.

And yet.

There is that moment in training when the shy one masters that very hard part and the whole room erupts into applause; when the training is over and we spontaneously leap to our feet to clap and dance; when Joseph our gate keeper masters an 8 word sentence in English, beaming, later to be found, practicing that sentence to himself, over and over again; when we are recognized, and given that 3-cheek greeting or the 2-clasp handshake of affection; when we feel the coolness of the evening air with the slightest hint of gardenia and when we finally stop for a moment, covered in dings, and realize what a gift our work here in Rwanda has been to us.

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