This week contained the American Holiday of Thanksgiving, and for the second time in a decade I find myself outside the US for this distinctly American holiday. I find myself feeling more grateful than I have in quite some time, thanks to the last few months living in Rwanda and its inevitable way it shifted the way in which I experience the world.
Why am I so full of gratitude lately?
I am thankful for my education.
Lord knows I have enough of it and sometimes it was a struggle to get and pay for, but never, not even once, did not think that I couldn’t finish high school or go to college. I may have been/be on the most circuitous path ever, but dropping out of school because I’m female has never crossed my mind.
I was a latchkey kid, got myself up and fixed my own breakfast from about 8 years onward, and caught the school bus until I could drive, but these struggles are nothing compared to what many students in Rwanda face. Many students walk up to six kilometers every morning to get to school, some without shoes over the hilly and rocky terrain. Some struggle to concentrate, because their growling stomachs compete for their mental attention. They sit snug as bug next to their classmates — three, sometimes four to a wooden desk — in the hot or cold classroom of up to 60 students. They rely one notebook and one pen with zero additional educational materials. Kids return home, make dinner for their families, sell food at the market, and take care of their younger siblings. And repeat it all, the next day.
Living in a place where so many students stop attending school after primary school… primary school! reminds me how much of a gift my education is. I am lucky for the teachers that challenged me and the resources made available to me, and while I can’t name every teacher I’ve ever had, I do remember some of the more special ones and am thankful for them on a regular basis.
I am thankful for the kindness in my life.
Rwanda is not an easy place to be a foreigner, and I’d guess it’s probably not that easy to move to a different area within the country. My guess for that is due to the genocide that occurred almost 25 years ago. Depending on their age, most adults in Rwanda were alive during that period either as babies, children, or young adults themselves. It doesn’t come easy or natural for Rwandans to trust outsiders. That being said, I have experienced kindness while I’m here. The people I work with who help me learn Kinyarwanda on a daily basis. The people who have helped me find my way when I’ve gotten turned around. Kindness comes in many forms here, but one usually has to prove his or her worthiness in order to receive it so it’s nice to experience true kindness with no strings attached.
I am thankful for life’s challenges and the values instilled by overcoming them.
It’s the hurdles I had to jump in the past that make me the driven, independent person that I am happy to be today. If it weren’t for the bumps along the way, I would not have had the opportunity to grow in ways that I did and continue to do.
As much as I have dealt with and overcome in my life, people in my community face an entirely different set of challenges than challenges I have faced and ever will face. Their resilience, perseverance, and unwavering hospitality in these times of difficulty, is admirable. Going through tough times in America, while still challenging, is not the same as going through tough times in Rwanda.
I am thankful for learning more about myself.
As noble as “saving the world” sounds, a majority of my Peace Corps experience thus far has been a heroic adventure of self-discovery. I have found the beauty in stepping outside of my comfort zone and saying “yes” to self-growth opportunities. I have practiced patience, continued to learn the value of making mistakes, and appreciate the importance of perseverance. I am becoming more sensitive to what makes me happy or sad, and making decisions based on those observations. Self-respect starts with making decisions with your happiness [among other things, of course] in mind.
I am so grateful that my time here has allowed me to grow in these ways.
I am thankful for my friends and family.
Though there are few places on Earth I could be where I would be physically farther from my peeps, my time away has made us closer in many ways. In order to join the Peace Corps, I had to quit a job, ‘alter’ a relationship, and give up my kitty cats to the care of another person. The support from my friends and family allowed me to start a new chapter of life in Rwanda.
Separation often acts as a test, whether it intentional or unintentional, and to my delight, I have a small little team of supporters cheering me on this adventure of mine. While I probably could have survived [ definitely not thrived] without them, it makes it a whole lot easier knowing that someone I know is watching Lucy and Molly, people are sending me little notes and gifts, letters and postcards, and people are generally interested in what I am doing.
I am thankful for a gained perspective on the world and its people.
I’ve traveled a fair amount prior to joining the Peace Corps. I’ve even been outside the country for an extended period of time before. I always try to be a temporary local rather than a tourist whenever I go some place new. But staying in a neighborhood for a week or even a month at a time is not the same as staying in one place for a year [or two if I make it that long]. Being in the Peace Corps gives one the opportunity to truly immerse oneself in a community, and if that person is lucky, have the community accept them as one of their very own.
I often think to myself how lucky I am to be experiencing the world through a different lens while I spend each day immersed in a community on the other side of the world. With each culture brings unique values and it has been enlightening and refreshing to experience Rwandan values, and see how they take precedence over things that are often obsessed over in the American world, such as technology, material items, money and work. Life here has changed my perspective on my personal values and I am grateful for the lifelong lesson my neighbors has taught me.