Shannon Fish
Shannon Fish
Rwanda 2018
Amakuru! I am a recent graduate passionate about education, and the sustainable impact it can have on people and societies. Join me for seventeen weeks in Rwanda, as I tutor in English and equip students with skill sets that will allow them to strive intentionally towards their dreams and goals. Read More About Shannon →

Finding Your Voice

Why is it so hard to be heard? In the line of communication, where do our voices get lost? If we speak out against hate, disparity and prejudice, how far is our voice actually carried? Why are some voices given priority over others? What can we do to allow everyone the equal chance to step onto the platform and speak their truth?

What do I mean by “my voice?” My voice is my opinion. My voice is my own personal experiences that no one needs to validate, except for myself. My voice is my desire to seek change and prosperity. My voice is my outlet for loving and supporting those in my life. My voice is my public projection of who I am and what I think. I should be free to use my voice and not suppress what I think and feel. But in a world that polarizes more and more each day, I would rather choose the easier choice of keeping quiet and not polluting the world with just one more voice.

Recently I have been struggling with the action of using my voice and not being afraid to speak my own truth. As a person who hates conflict and heated debates, I often steer away from telling my whole truth and revealing exactly what I think. Well I am known to say how I feel about something if it impacts something greater than myself, when it comes to every-day decisions I often choose to go along with the opinions of those around me and reserve how I truly feel.

I encourage my students everyday to be bold and confident in who they are, what they are feeling, what they are learning and where they are going. Yet often I even struggle with that myself. Yes, I am an empowered, capable, passionate, confident woman who has been given the agency and opportunities to successful seek education and a career. But I am also a woman who struggles to say my whole truth in the event that someone would disagree or get hurt. I believe that there is a balance between using your voice and abusing the ears of others listening to your voice. In other words, attempting to destroy other peoples opinions beliefs, and tear down the spirits of others is not the proper use of your voice. Instead, you should seek mature discussion of issues, seek transformation in your communities, reveal publically how others have abused you and spark change. But then again, that is just my opinion and my own voice telling you how I feel.

In order to feel that I can fully encourage my students to use their own voices, I seek to demonstrate how I am using mine. Currently I am seeking to more bravely stand up for what I believe in and use my own voice to speak up against hate, violence and discrimination.

For example, there are so many things I see every day that have become a norm in my mind: street children asking me for money, boys walking with girls at night about to engage in prostitution, people living without proper access to nutrition, girls suppressing their voice, single mothers being ostracized from their family and society, girls missing school due to their menstrual cycle (being out for nearly a whole week or more), girls beating themselves up over being 20 and single without kids, mistreatment and misunderstandings of those who are mentally ill, and men constantly speaking over women in conversation. Sometimes I shock myself for how I have normalized what is going on around me and how it doesn’t infuriate me every second of the day. How I have assumed this stance of, “Okay, I would love to change this, but what can I do about this? Are you kidding me? Organizations with millions of dollars streaming into a community barely create a few ripples. In fact foreign development can often create more harm than good. So what can I do? Let my know when you find the answer.” Quite frankly one person does not change the world. In fact one person can barely change a community – let alone a person.

So when people back home tell me: “Oh good for you, sweety. You are changing the world. Go change the lives of those Africans. You will be so good for them. They are so lucky to have you there to empower them.” This makes me infuriated. Not only are so many things wrong with this western-centric mindset, but I can’t believe this mindset is still being propagated in the United States when we have the means to know differently.

Firstly, my goal while I am here is to develop relationships and encourage my students to pursue the very best in themselves and in their society. By the end of my felloship, I may have only impacted one student or one teacher, but that would have been well-worth my hard-work and dedication. In fact, the reality of international development is that I may never see my efforts come to fruition.

Which leads me to the “changing the world” part of that phrase. The reality of international development is that the most sustainable developmental work comes from creating realtionships with the local people and equipping local leaders with the agency to address the problems they themselves see in their community. So when international agencies and donors seek immediate outcomes and data tables proving their work is “doing good,” often workers on the ground are rushed to find immediate solutions instead of meeting with community leaders and members to strategize the best answers to the community’s problems. An organization that combats the normal metholodogy of foreign aid is Mocha Club, and I highly recommend you look them up to see what this proces looks like.

Next sentence: “Go change the lives of those Africans.” Africa is a HUGE continent. HUGE HUGE HUGE. Congolese and Kenyans are so different in mannerisms, opinions and speech than Rwandans, and they are neighboring countries! You can not group Africans into a category. There are Rwandans, Nigerians, Angolans, Egyptians, Moroccans, South Africans, and 48 more nationalities with people who have drastically different cultures, opinions and mindsets.

Lastly, I have a problem with the word “empowerment.” This word has been consistently misused in the field of international development and foreign aid. Counterpart International said it best in their recent article, “Banning the Phrase ‘Empowering Others’”:

“Empowering is giving authority or power to someone to do something. International development organizations do not have power to give to citizens. And talking about us as an organization empowering people robs them of their agency to take control of their own lives and claim their rights.”

What if as Western nations we stopped using the word empowerment, and began to support leaders in communities to obtain transformative agency that would equip others with the means to change their OWN lives? What would we call that? Possibly, it would simply be called sharing resources, education and opportunities? Maybe we would see the real solution to be participating in humanity by seeking peace, security and happiness for all. What do you think?

I encourage you to bravely seek your own voice but to never lose sight of daily practicing empathy for those in your life who have contrary opinions to yourself. I hope this blog post sparks a new conversation between you and your family members and friends. Once you find your voice, encourage others to find theirs. Don’t worry, I’ll be working on it with you.

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On the bus ride from Kigali to Rwamagana.

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On Safari in Akagera Game Park!

 

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Visiting the Kibungo Girl’s Soccer Team!

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Helping my friend Lily set up at the market.

 

 

0692BF5C-F126-4053-92D4-A4988A0371D5My host sister.

BD346205-5EF3-48ED-AC10-75E5876DA9A4 With my host mother, Laura.

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Visiting a new friend’s home, Jean Claudine, with my friend Meredith.

91E5CE06-5EF1-4D51-9B0D-BDBCF681CDB8  A Sunday afternoon in Kigali.

BA29110D-5769-4711-94D1-A91ADD09F5C1  Leading the first Drama Club at RLS.

The Power of Stories

Dedication: This week a dear friend of mine passed away on a trip in Vietnam unexpectedly and without just cause. This set the tone for my week. I have been confused and angry at the circumstances, and sorrowful for the dreams Ryan had to make great change in the world. Grieving in Rwanda has been an interesting setting and process, as death is common and funerals are frequent. My close friends, recent graduates of RLS, Mabel and Ornella have been so loving, empathetic and supportive during this week. In fact, I have felt a different level of empathy from my fellow teachers and host family. It’s as if everyone carries the burden and weight of death on their shoulders in Rwanda, but they do so collectively, holding each other up with resilience and strength. A humbling and poignant realization. I and so many others will remember Ryan’s heart and continue his mission and passions in our own lives. May you be at peace Ryan. This one’s for you.

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In the past week I have visited Nyamirambo Women’s Center, Urugo Women’s Center and Akila Institute. Nyamirambo Women’s Center began in 2007, and today they have become a booming cooperative that sells handmade goods, and offers a basket weaving class, cooking class and walking tour around the Nyamirambo neighborhood. I took the weaving class and I actually ended up being the only person who signed up that day. I was so grateful it was just me though, because I had the opportunity to communicate one-on-one with my teacher, Alicia. I even had a translator who helped me communicate with Alicia. As we worked with our hands and got caught up in the therapeutic monotony of weaving, Alicia began to tell me her life story. She told me how she raised her three children as a single mother, and worked to give her children a good life. She told me, “I support my children with my hands. I got here by using my hands.” He determination and ambition has led her to work hard at the women’s center and give her children a healthy, educated lifestyle. After the workshop, she generously gave me two pairs of earrings as a gift and some thread to make more earrings. Once I finish my next pair, I’m going to go back and show her!

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During my research, I have found that when I ask women questions about their life story they will begin to tell me their whole story and then stop in the middle and say, “I’m babbling, are you sure you want to hear this?” To this I always respond that it is an honor to hear their story and I am so grateful that they are willing to share it with me. I have found that when someone listens your story, you find validation and you feel understood. It’s freeing, troubling and healing all at once. The best friendships I have formed in Rwanda are the result of deep, meaningful conversations, where I have learned about their heart, soul and desires.

When I visited Akilah Institute, the first all-girls institute in Rwanda (which was actually started by a woman who went to Vanderbilt funnily enough!), I was welcomed with open arms. I was actually running late because the bus wasn’t on time from Rwamagana, and I only had 45 minutes to tour the campus, talk with Nadine, the External Relations Officer, and interview some students. Since Nadine had to run to a meeting, I told her I would just go get lunch and come back after her meeting. I did so, and while waiting for her I chatted with Ernestine, the librarian at Akilah, for at least an hour and a half. Ernestine is honest, real, upfront and courageous. Her family was displaced during the genocide, and she came to Kigali when she was 11 to work for a pastor as a house helper so that she could support her parents who could not find employment in Kibungo. She did this for a year without having the opportunity to gain an education. Eventually the pastor offered to allow her to attend school. All the way through 0 level education (elementary school) she studied at school during the day, and worked as the house helper when she returned home. When she entered P level education (middle and high school), she went to FAWE School for Girls which was a boarding school. Serendipitously, she studied in the same class as Laura’s sister. (Yes! Laura is my host mother.) She in fact knows Laura as well, which was such a fun connection to make. She was in the first class at Akilah, and came to work as a librarian soon after. She put her two sisters through school at Akilah, and hopes to help her brother obtain high education one day. She raises her son alone and loves the people in her life fiercely. I learned all this as we chatted and ate bananas – of which she hounded me to eat more than 2. Let me tell you, don’t mess with Rwandan mommas. They be fierce and they want you to EAT.

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Afterwards, I had the opportunity to chat with Nadine more, and then attend Akilah’s Gender Club. The girls were so welcoming and we talked about what barriers girls face when trying to obtain an education, and about how they see gender inequality in their own lives. Afterwards, I spent some time talking with Esther, the VP of Gender Club and Student Body President, and we are going to hang out soon. Woot woot! I also connected with their communications director, who is an expat as well. Let me tell you, if you are willing and open-minded while traveling you will make so many valuable connections, and even-more, lifelong friends. As I type, I am preparing to leave to eat some chili with my friend Kurtis, past peace-corps, and Sela, a Kenyan researcher in Kigali that I met at the workshop Kurtis put on. To add to the willingness factor, you also have to be intentional with new relationships or else they slip away. For me, as I came here alone, only having briefly talked to the founder of RLS, I already have a huge support network of Rwandans and expats in Kigali and Rwamagana, because I try to continually put myself out there and to courageously form connections.

I know that I still have a good amount of time here in Rwanda, but time is moving so quickly. I honestly don’t know if I will be ready to leave when the time comes. I really do love this country, despite cultural barriers and challenges that come up. In Rwanda, my character has been building so dynamically and I feel more strength and courage by the day during my time here.

The students in the Gender Club asked me for advice, and I really didn’t know what to say. What I told them was to BE BOLD. To use their voices to help other girls and women find theirs. And to create ripple effects by going into their communities and creating change. I encouraged them to keep working towards their dreams, and to know that they are at one of the best higher ed schools in the city and that they must use their education wisely and thoughtfully to empower others. That being at an all-girls school gives you the power to unite with fellow women and build each other up through healthy competition and collaboration, without tearing each other down. That they are world-changers and that if they ever come to America, I’m going to show them around and we will have a blast!

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I feel so lucky that one of my jobs here is to listen to women’s stories and connect with powerful bad as women who are leading their families and communities. It makes my heart oh, so, full. And my time here so much more special.

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“We are the ones we have been waiting for.” -June Jordan, “Poem for South African Women”

Dawn to Dusk

My favorite part of the day is the last few hours of daylight before the sun goes down to rest, when everything seems to glow and I can have some final moments with the sun before night. Dusk is the time I feel most contemplative and at peace during the day. Yet recently, I have begun to adore the very first moments of the day as well. I wake up at 6 a.m. most days when the birds first awake, when the sun brightens up the clouds, and when the day is still crisp and dewy before the hot African sun begins to make an appearance. I find comfort in the familiarity of dawn and dusk no matter where in the world I am. The end of the day means that the next day there can be new beginnings.

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On the top of Mount Kigali^

These past few weeks in Rwanda, I have been focusing on my roles at RLS, furthering my research and traveling back and forth from Kigali. Life seems very normal and natural. At school, I have settled into my roles and have begun to come up with ideas on how to improve certain programs and contribute to others. I tutor 4 students: Jeanette in English-speaking and confidence-building skills, Kennedy in mathematics, Kevin in English, and Margaret in English and helping her to create useful study habits. I alternate from having them read books and write short little essays about things they love to having them just speak to me so that they can practice speaking and thinking critically out loud. I also seek to be someone that they can come to when they need to talk about something challenging or whenever they need a resource. In Brene Brown’s book, “Braving the Wilderness,” she discusses the importance of vulnerability in creating relationships and focusing on building trust in order to have candid and powerful moments. I seek to accomplish such intentions with my students. She also discusses that we as humans should live from a wild heart and not a weary one. That we should have a…

Strong back. Soft front. Wild heart.

Living with purpose and curiosity, seeking to making meaningful connections and to continue learning every day, is in my opinion the purpose of life. While I want the students I tutor to learn and grow their minds, I more importantly want to make sure that they know the power of relying on another person through friendship and how to practice trust, empathy and vulnerability. Only after making valuable connections and relationships, can we begin to shape communities and seek to create solutions to cyclic problems in society. 

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I really look forward to tutoring Jeanette each week, as I get to work with her on building her own confidence in herself, her speaking skills and her English. So far I have had her practice speaking loudly by having her repeat loud and soft voices in order to differentiate volume levels and feel more comfortable speaking in a loud voice. In Rwanda, women are discouraged from having a loud voice and are instead expected to be reserved, quiet and un-vocal. With Jeanette, I am trying to break this social expectation and have her feel comfortable having and more importantly OWNING her individual voice. For example, I have her repeat sounds that I make along with the movements of traditional Rwandan dance moves; Jeanette is in fact a magnificent dancer, which is why I wanted her to connect something she loves with something new and unfamiliar. I have also had her read a storybook aloud like she was presenting to a classroom. I can already tell some major improvements in her attitude towards speaking English and her desire to build up her confidence.

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My other role at the school is leading music class with Dan. I surprised myself by how naturally I fell into the role of teaching and commanding a classroom. In the class I led by myself, I opened by having them say their name, their favorite animal and performing their favorite dance move. Then we stretched and vocally warmed up. I taught them the song “Hosanna” by Hillsong United, and then we played singing tag (which is basically tag but the person that is “it” sings whatever song they like until they tag someone else.) To my surprise when I taught my youngest class the week after teaching them the song “Hosanna,” they remembered the whole song! To explain, it’s not like I gave them sheet music or anything, I just had them repeat a line of the song after I sang it. So the fact that they retained the melody, rhythm and lyrics was very impressive. I believe that this ability stems from their culture that puts such an emphasis on storytelling and oral tradition, hence allowing them to retain oral sounds and messages more adeptly and accurately. I wonder too if this ability is ingrained in genetics as well as culture. Just something to ponder.

Some other roles I have assumed at RLS are: managing social media, researching potential grants for our school, and helping with random projects that pop up. I am hoping to organize a discussion during one of our clubs to discuss gender equality and to help the students think critically about their communities. Additionally, at the next staff meeting, Dan and I will be presenting what we learning at the MAP workshop which will be incredibly helpful for some extracurricular grounds and for CREW (their class focused on developing critical thinking through activity-based applications.)

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On the side, I have been furthering my research! This past friday I went to the Women’s Bakery in the Remera district in Kigali. I spoke with my friend Hilary, an expat, who works as the Project Manager at WB, and I interviewed Ruth, the Cafe Operations Manager. Our discussions were extremely fruitful and they have lead me to many more connections and new ideas to pursue. This upcoming week I will be attending a weekly meeting at Nyambinga, a project of Girl Effect that seeks to advocate for the health, creativity and agency of Rwandan girls in the Eastern district. I will also be visiting my friend Kurtis at Mashrika, the organization that organized the workshop I attended two weeks ago. Lastly, I will be taking a basket-weaving class at the Nyamiramba Women’s Center in Kigali this weekend. My goal is to visit as many organizations that empower women as I can, so that I can begin to make connections with other people involved in similar work. Additionally, I want to accumulate as much research as possible as I can over the next month, so that I can begin writing and connecting my previous research with the observations and interviews that I make during my time here.

For the interviews, my goals are to ask women to share their stories and explain how their choices have lead them to where they are today. I want to understand what barriers they have encountered and how they have faced these challenges. I also want to understand individual understandings of feminism and opinions on gender equality in Rwanda.

My overall goals for my research are:

-To study the differences between Western and African feminism.

-To understand more fully what African feminism means.

-To define Rwandan feminism.

-To understand how there are still so many obstacles for the women in Rwanda, and yet they are ranked as the fifth-most gender equal nation out of 143 nations.

-To analyze the accuracy and relevance of rankings/data research.

-To see what roles Rwandan women play in society – public and private.

-To learn how the women I interview have led and impacted their communities.

It has been affirming and energizing to get back into my research, as my thesis-writing was such a big part of life this past year. Also, writing has given me an outlet to explore new ideas and share the incredible testimonies of resilience and leadership here in Rwanda. Amen for that. Sawa Sawa.

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At the annual Rwandan Cultural Fashion Show with my friend, Shema^

Breathing

At the beginning of this week I purposefully reflected that my goal throughout the week was to be generous, empathetic and curious. Generous to the students, the teachers and my host family. Empathetic of those feeling pain and despair in my village, especially Laura who just lost her aunt due to cancer. And curious of the things I may find bizarre and unreasonable. I too sought to be confident in myself, my opinions and what I have to teach my students, as well as focused on the goals I have set for myself. I truly feel that I have accomplished immense growth this week, and that I have stepped more into my role here in Rwanda.

This was the first week I felt like I could breathe. Ever since I arrived in Rwanda, I have been inhaling everything in and holding on so tight to my breath. I’ve been sucking in this new life and there have been times when I have really wanted to spit it right back out. I have questioned why this new air smells, tastes and sounds so different. I couldn’t seem to breathe out my tension, stress, worry, loneliness, confusion and frustrations.

The first moment I truly let myself exhale these emotions is when I talked to Meredith, my American colleague, about how I was struggling with culture shock. I then talked to Robin and received wonderful advice and support from her.

Breathe out.

I have learned more about how to get around my village and do normal things like buy water, fruit, and where to get the best pastries in town.

Breathe out.

I know how to call the bus and ride it to Kigali, and how to direct a moto despite the fact that there are no addresses in Rwanda.

Breathe out.

I am starting to plan adventures and trips with friends.

Breathe out.

I am starting to trust in myself.

Breathe out.

Breathe out.

Breathe in.

I am starting to take in new air with ease and certainty. I am breathing in everything I love about Rwanda.

Breathing steady and faithfully.

Finding my place in Rwanda //

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This week I formed powerful connections and invested in a wonderful new community. Oh how God’s timing is generous and bountiful. My second day here, Kurtis, an ex-peace corps volunteer invited me and my fellow music teacher, Dan, to a training workshop to learn how to facilitate and incorporate drama into daily teaching curriculum. I really didn’t come into this workshop with any expectations. Honestly I felt a little lost on how to find purpose at my school before this. Yet through the relationships I have formed this week and the leadership I have observed, I feel so much more BOLD and certain that I am competent and ready to create lasting relationships with my students and new friends.

The program I attended this week was called Mobile Arts for Peace and was organized by a non-profit called Mashirka. My first friend at the workshop was Cela, the researcher on the project who lives in Kigali and is actually Kenyan. I was immediately drawn to her, because she spoke wonderful English and was cool, confident, opinionated, courageous, humble and loving. Over the week we had some wonderful conversations, and I am so grateful to have a new friend to visit in Kigali.

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I also grew close to Laure who was the mental health therapist there to observe and step in when necessary. She has such a servant’s heart, and a passion to serve the Rwandan community. She was telling me in one of our conversations that Rwandans have been in fight or flight mode for the past 20 years, and when they come down off of this current need to strive, persevere and move forward, there will be some nasty repercussions from bottling up their trauma. In fact there are 12 million Rwandans and about only 4 sites to receive mental health care and treatment in Rwanda. Her social enterprise seeks to reconcile this and create a culture of support, discussion and healing. I am grateful I will get to visit her in Kigali as well, and I am very excited for what will become of our new friendship.

Through this workshop, I have been able to observe Rwandans together, how they lead each other, how they respond to each other, how they translate English to Kinyarwanda and the reverse, how they love each other, and how they do life together. Something that sticks out to me in the Rwandan culture is their use of, the phrase, “You are welcome.” When you meet someone in Rwanda, they will most often say this to literally welcome you and make you feel comfortable, but more so to show respect and honor to you. At times I laugh because 10 people in 5 minutes will tell me at breakfast, “You are welcome,” and then just walk away and leave the conversation at that. It’s a new form of small talk I suppose and a way to make someone feel included. I do find it amusing at times, but I definitely love the thought behind this new phrase.

In fact, I really did feel welcome this week. As a participant, I collaborated, brain-stormed, co-led and co-facilitated with these Rwandan teachers all week. I really learned how to break through language barriers, cultural barriers and gender dynamics. For example, I heard a lot of Kinyarwanda this week and have begun to catch on to key phrases that will be very practical and just fun to use in everyday life. I also observed that Rwandans don’t jump into things like Americans do. Often in America we will jump into something ill-prepared and just wing it, but in Rwanda everything needs to be fully clear and the instructions need to be repeated strenuously before any action can be put into place. Learning as you go is a foreign concept for Rwandans.

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For the issue of gender, I saw that they tried to balance the participation of women and men, but I also observed that there were times when men would be more forceful than they needed to be with women. For example when a Rwandan man was instructing a game, he would just move a woman aside and make sure she was standing in the right position for the game. Or when we were discussing in a circle, one guy literally moved a girl’s head because she was in his way. Their physicality and lack of consideration was really frustrating me and I made sure that every guy knew that it was unacceptable to grab my hand/elbow or move my shoulders/head without asking for my permission. There are so many more gender dynamics for me to observe, especially between the teachers and students at my school, and I promise I will be blogging more and more about gender issues as my time here continues.

 

 

As this new week begins, I plan to focus on establishing trust between my students and myself, to teach students in my music class new activities I have learned at the program, to study more Kinyarwanda, and to begin to set up some interviews. I hope to fill my lungs with curiosity and strength this week so that I can teach and learn as much as is possible.

 

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Waramutse!

 

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August 20, 4:00 pm

Mwiriwe. Good evening. There are so many sounds to wake up to in Rwanda. I just woke up from an afternoon nap and I have begun to pay attention to the sounds outside my door. I hear goats, a roaster calling for the last hours of the day, a motorcycle, the constant thrum of traffic down below, children playing, Rwandans laughing, horns honking (a very common thing in Rwanda to say “hey, hello, I am here, I have arrived”), hollars/singing/faint remnants of a song in the distance, feet shuffling, afternoon birds chirping, dogs barking, and some things I can’t even place. One of my favorite things to do when I travel or even if I go to a place I have been many times before is to listen to everything happening around me and to be still myself. I do it at home when I go to the beach, at Sevier park in Nashville, and when I travel to new places, because I know that there will be comforting sounds, interesting sounds, joyful sounds and new sounds. 

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August 21, 3:00 pm

I write to you exhausted and tired this afternoon. I have been in Rwanda for officially 3 days now, and I have had some wonderful moments but I am just so tired from trying to get used to all these changes. This morning was particularly draining. Robin, my host for the time being, and I went out to go bird watching. The thing is we went to a popular dirt road that passes down a valley connecting two hills in an impoverished part of town. Of course there were people traveling with water, hay on their heads, some hearding cows, children wandering about, and Rwandans just trying to get somewhere. The difficult part was that as we would stand and watch birds, Rwandans would begin to crowd around us. It started with little boys who participated in our bird watching, but then grown men and more children would crowd around to gawk at us looking at birds. It was really hard to stick out like a sore thumb and to have people stop what they were doing in their day to follow us around. It was helpful that Robin is fluent in Kinyarwanda, because she was able to explain what we were doing, and what our funny contraptions (the binoculars) were. At a certain point she pulled out a book of East African Birds and I kid you not, 4 adult men and 5 children crowded around her to look at the pictures. Having people just stand and stare at us as we walked was unsettling. My takeaway from this experience is that as a foreigner I will stick out and people will watch me so much more closely, which will be unsettling and uncomfortable at times but I will learn to take it with grace and humility.

Cultural barriers are definitely ever-prevalent. One of the hardest things is how much thought has to go into every day action. But as the days go by I am beginning to get more familiar with the ways of Rwandans, and used to Rwandan life. As for language and culture, I have learned many different ways to greet someone – be it a child, an elder, a new friend or an old one. I am also learning kinyarwanda, which is an incredibly difficult language, but very rewarding.

The first day Meredyth showed me around Kigali. We walked to the market (Kimirojo Isiko) and took some motos over to a coffee shop called Question Coffee (which supports female Rwandan farmers). We asked the manager for the story behind their entrepreneurship, which was very eye-opening and inspirational because he spoke about the positive impact of this co-op on the women. He said that one of the hardest challenges in the beginning was fighting against husbands wanting to keep their wives home to take care of their children or to maintain the home, and that furthermore these women just didn’t have the desire to enter into a co-op and do a laborious man’s job. But over time these views began to change, and these women have ascertained sovereignty, confidence, dignity and leadership in their communities. Now there are 3,000 female farmers and near 1,500 are in training! Their collaboration and motivation to work together has been a huge step for their communities and most importantly for the families of these women. Q Coffee has a coffee taste testing room where they educate you on local and international coffee. They also do excursions to the farm to see their production methods, learn about their business and meet the women. I hope that I can do both during my time here.

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August 23, 9:00 am 

Waramutse! Today has been a wonderful morning. I met my host family yesterday and they were so welcoming of me. When Laura first met me she opened her arms wide and hugged me so tight. What’s remarkable about staying with Laura and her family is that Laura is a woman championing change here in Rwanda. She teaches English, French and Swahili at our school, but more than that she mentors girls in schools across this district and is the representative for youth in Rwanda for FAWE, the Federation of African Women Educationalists. She in fact won the Woman of Courage Award from the US embassy this year. Our pairing couldn’t have been more perfect. I will have so much to learn from her!

So, back to this morning. I walked to school for the first time from my host families house and I finally had a moment to start a wonderful habit. In the states I love to walk around (campus, the park, a new city, etc), so getting the chance to walk at my own fast pace with my own thoughts was really helpful. I additionally didn’t realize how much I missed listening to my music. Music has been such an integral part of my life, especially in the past few years. I have always listened to music in mornings to get my day started, be it as I get ready, drive to my internship/work, or walk to class. It’s been my driving force and the pulse that gets me ready for the day. So having the chance to listen to my music and just have time to myself was beautiful. It’s not surprising that what I needed to easy my stress and exhaustion was music.

Yesterday was particularly hard for me. I was having some really bad culture shock and home sickness from the combination of so many things. The hardest thing to get used to has been the attention I get just because of the color of my skin. Every person I pass on the street stares and is just so curious by me, and the kids will yell out “muzungu” which means white person. I try to respond with a smile and an “Amakuru” which means “what’s up” in kinyarwanda. I would say 4 out of 5 people respond when I say that, and 2 out of the 5 give me a smile back. It’s still weird and hard, but I’m learning how best to act in this situation. The next challenge has been the cultural barrier, people are still people who need the same necessities such as love, friendship, food, water, shelter, and family. But when you look past these things there is so much dividing me with a lot of the people I talk with. Often the teachers will talk in kinyarwanda over lunch or when they are together, so since I obviously can’t participate I normally just read a book. Another challenge has been the fact that there are so many different ways to shake someone’s hand or greet someone. I’ve been catching on, but I can also tell I’ve already offended some elders by not doing it the right way.

Another challenge has been the fact that I haven’t had alone time. With Robin I was getting used to everything so I needed a lot of guidance, and then now at my host house there are 3 kids running around. They are wonderful and adorable, but it’s hard having someone tell me when to eat and how much, and never really having quiet. But I will begin to form habits, such as spending time in the word in the morning, walking to and from school, and maybe buying myself a treat from the market, which will help.

Yesterday I got to know the wonderful students and teachers. I sat in on some classes, helped organize their resource closet, got to know some students, and helped with an after-school club for driven and exceptional students to talk about preparing for their future. Today I have a little bit of time in the morning which allows me time to publish this blog, but later today I will begin tutoring which I am definitely excited to start. I think it will give me a little bit of purpose and insight into what I will be doing here. Also, an expat will be coming to talk about starting a musical theater program today, and I honestly can’t wait to meet another American and get to participate in something I know a lot about.

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__________

I wanted to give you a flavor of the emotions I am feeling by not just posting a reflection from one day. In this past week, since I arrived on Saturday night, I have been growing, dealing with unforeseen circumstance and culture shock, relying on my incredible friends and family back at home, and just hoping that each next day will be easier.

”The price is high, the reward is good.” -Maya Angelou

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On The Pulse of Morning

You know that feeling when you sit down for too long and your legs begin to become numb. You sit there in the middle of that tingling sensation anticipating the end of this uncomfortability, all the while knowing that you have to begin to move your feet and stand up if you ever want this unnerving sensation to dissipate. You tell yourself, one foot after another. Just begin to walk and eventually it will go away.

This is the head space I am in two weeks before I land in Africa. The irony is that it’s not due to my upcoming move to Rwanda or the nerves one would expect from moving to Africa, a continent I have yet to travel to. This feeling of suspension is contrarily due to a recent heartbreak that I did not expect to come.

Today, I got lunch with Dr. Thandi Dinani, a wonderful friend and mentor at Belmont, who also chairs the Lumos Committee. She encouraged me to be honest about where I am at personally in my blog and to avoid underplaying how I currently feel. So in all honesty I am in a phase of transition and pain.

When I received the Lumos Award I would never have seen this coming, and would have been shocked and a little disappointed by the position I am in now. But as life would have it, this summer did not roll out the way I thought it would. While this summer I was able to give myself space to breath after senior year, I also had a lot of unknown variables thrown at me that I did not see coming. So now as I step into this new chapter, I am in the midst of processing recent occurrences and the pain that I feel. But in the midst of this, I am beginning to understand why God decided to change my plans and rip the rug right out from underneath me. When I applied for the Lumos Award I had an agenda, and while sure I still have objectives and hopes for my experience, I am leaving this country raw and exposed ready to completely devote myself to fully experiencing the culture of Rwanda.

I have prepared for Africa in the sense that my bags are packed, I have taken all the necessary vaccinations and pills, I attended a workshop on trauma healing sponsored by the East African Leadership, and I have made contacts with non-profits in Rwanda as well as with Rwandans in the United States. I have done these tangible and critical things to prepare myself for this journey, but mentally I am in the middle of processing, ready for what comes next but a tad overwhelmed by everything being thrown at me all at once.

What are my expectations? I expect Rwanda to be a wildly vivacious place full of loving people who live life in color, in every sense of the word. In fact, my suitcase has almost every color of the rainbow in it, because that is the land I am going to. Full of passion and joy and pain and disparity and hope and faith. Full of purples and reds and blues and grays and pinks and yellows. I may be stepping into this raw and exposed but I am open-minded and ready for this adventure. I am proud of myself for being able to settle in my pain but also to acknowledge the growth and faith that is to come out of these uncomfortable circumstances.

All of this being said, each day that I come closer to leaving I feel even more of a spark of passion, excitement, healthy nerves and readiness. Rwanda has been a place of academic fascination for me for awhile, but now it is soon to become a place I call home. And I am beyond grateful that I get to call this place of a thousand hills home for the next four months.

On The Pulse of Morning, by Maya Angelou

The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.
Here, on the pulse of this fine day,

You may have the courage
To look up and out upon me, the
Rock, the River, the Tree, your country.
No less to Midas than the mendicant.
No less to you now than the mastodon then.

Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up, and out
And into your sister’s eyes, into
Your brother’s face, your country,

And say simply, very simply, with hope,

Good morning.