Sometimes, if the timing works out, I’ll catch one of my colleagues or former students on Facebook. Now that I am no longer at the school I have accepted their friend requests. Obviously, limited access to the Internet and the unavailability of computers in many areas makes these contacts infrequent from even the girls who are lucky enough to even have the opportunity to deal in social media.. But I am always happy to hear from them. Although with more than 150 of them in total, it is hard when a name pops up to identify them right away. It doesn’t help that half of them on Facebook use pictures of Rihanna and Nicki Minaj as their profile photo. We chat for a bit. They ask about my job, my family, my marriage, and whether I have any plans for children…in their way. I ask about theirs in turn. Their English is of varying degrees but any of it is better than my Kinyarwanda ever was and much better than my French. There have been births, deaths, marriages, engagements, and job transfers since I left. Some of my fellow Ed 3 Rwanda 6 PCV’ have returned back to the States. As I write this my group is down about 1/3 of our beginning number. Rwanda is one of the hardest countries to serve in, they say. I know it to be true. The PCV’s who remain are still going hard at it, starting Secondary projects, running existent ones, traveling in their free time, and continuing to win “Hearts and Minds” through their wonderful efforts. Relationship building is a process and community-building is a commitment. They are very committed of that I have no doubt, in their own unique ways. I have no doubt they will finish out their time having given more than what was expected of them. In Kigali, the Country Director has changed. Some other positions have been shook up a bit. The “Cas” has closed. One of my most pleasant surprises came on Facebook a short time ago. Esperance friended me on Facebook. Apparently she had gotten a good job soon after I left the country and it enabled her to buy a nice mobile phone with wifi capabilities. She told me all of the news: Electricity is coming to the parts of Kamonyi that don’t have it. She has a new boyfriend who goes to university in Kigali and who just loves Fiella. Once Papa Bertrand finishes university in a year, Mama Bertrand will start. Then maybe Esperance will go when Mama Bertrand finishes. They are all working hard in the meantime. Louise went to work for a family in Kigali and they weren’t happy so they sent her back to her previous family. Some of the Sisters have been transferred to another convent and they are no longer in Musanze. The Secretary has been forced into retirement by changes in the educational system. She continues to suffer from blood pressure issues. Clementine was very grateful for the clothes and told the Secretary to tell me that Clementine prays for me often and the girls ask when I am coming back. A lot of the teachers I worked with in Musanze have left for other schools. One has gotten married, one has had another baby. Two PC staff members have gotten married. My school finally received the donation that was to go towards the new computers. I would like to say I was able to follow their progress towards buying and installing them but after the money was distributed, I never got another update nor did the company who made the donation get any acknowledgement. I did prepare a gift from the school to the benefactor, and I hope that made a positive difference in the way things turned out. Another example of how I’ll never understand how things go along from a Rwandan perspective.
On the home front, a lot has changed in the past six months. My little sister moved back to Chicago from New York City. Both my grandmother’s passed away. They were both in their eighties and had gone into decline since before I went to Africa. I knew there was a chance when I left that they would not last until I returned. Coming home early gave me that time. I was able to be at their funerals alongside my family. I gave the eulogy at one and was proud to do it. My youngest brother got married while I was in Rwanda. I got to fly out to California to see his first baby. I danced with Matt at his younger brother’s wedding. I was able to share in the day when my older sister spontaneously married the love of her life. Most importantly, I was able to be there when my concerns for my Father’s health became a frightening reality. Days after my wedding, my Dad was disoriented driving my sister to the airport. He laid down for a nap and when my mother went to wake him, he wouldn’t wake up. He had had an arterial tear that led to a brain bleed. It turned into a clot. The stroke or heart attack I feared came to life and ruled our lives over the course of the next six weeks. My siblings, Mother, and extended family and friends took turns watching over my father as he went from those first tenuous days all the way to recovery. Never left alone, even overnight we ate, slept, and badgered medical personnel on his behalf. We fought like lions, the way we knew he would have fought for us. “I don’t know”, “Maybe”, “We’ll see”, none of those answers were good enough for the Superhero of our childhood. We slept by his side and held his hand, we exercised his legs, moisturized his lips, talked to him, and made sure he was changed frequently. He got a nosocomial infection and I thought I was going to lose my mind if they didn’t figure out how to stop the diarrhea and fever that ensued. He was given anointing of the sick by our parish priest and we all prayed in our own way that our last happy moments together as a family would not have been the day of my wedding. It could have gone either way so many times. The medical staff was amazed at his strength and remarked once he was out of danger, privately, that they had thought he was a goner for sure when he first came in. He didn’t go anywhere but from the ICU to the VA hospital to recover and then home. Minimal damage. His speech was a bit muddled, his memory for language not as quick, but therapy would take care of that. The staff at Rush Presbyterian St Luke’s Hospital, our constant care, the vagaries of the Universe, and my Father’s own bear-like USMC and police officer strength powered him through to recovery. I don’t know how I would have managed had I not been in Chicago when that nightmare began.
Matt and I have spent the past months since my homecoming getting to know one another again. Matt has been my rock through everything’s that’s happened. When I can, I’m enjoying making the family times I spent in my head in Rwanda come true in real life. The tail end of Summer, the crisp Fall, the frigid Winter in the city I love best. The Holidays were even sweeter after having spent time away. I got a job within 5 weeks of coming home due to some great experience and some even better connections. Barkley the wiener dog is still lovable and still un-trainable. In our free time, Matt and I do the things we always did. Only more in love now, more convinced that we (and I) have made the right choices regarding so many decisions. We enjoyed the process of planning our wedding even with all the craziness. We planned to go all out. The ceremony was at my parents’ parish on the SW side of Chicago. The reception took place at Matt’s family banquet hall on the NW side. Two huge families-Mexican, Polish, and Italian-coming together for one hell of an expensive drinking party. A Crosstown Classic if there ever was one. A made-to-order day in February, blue sky, sunshine…it was the best day of my life. Matt and I are talking about starting a family. I’m thinking about volunteering more. And of course, how I would go about getting my blogs published.
How do I feel now that I’ve been home for awhile? I feel older. I feel settled. I feel tired. Just a bit on all 3. I find myself forgetting so much. The sound of the birds, the smells in the air….my Kinya is almost entirely gone. Not that it was ever that great. But still. My umushanana is packed away, who knows if I will ever wear it again. I email my friends in Rwanda. We chat sometimes. Even though it’s only been months, we both know we live on different planets now. You would think since I’ve published this blog, put my experiences in the PC and Rwanda up for the whole world to see, I wouldn’t balk at telling a story or two, answering questions, breaking out the photo albums. Funnily, the idea of telling someone in person doesn’t interest me. In other words, I don’t bother to tell Rwanda stories unless someone asks. I don’t show pictures around unless someone asks to see them. They tell you in PC that you’ll want to “tell your story” once you go home. I haven’t felt that need, really. It’s my story. It’s my experience. My memories, my images. Mine and the people I met there. I don’t care much if I don’t share it. Makes it more special to keep it to myself.