This is one of those funny reflective moments where I think back to a past prayer, and realize God completely put my thoughts to action. I remember at the beginning of college praying to gain patience and practice patience. A few years later after God continued to work on my heart to seek humility, empathy, and love, he also placed me smack dab in the middle of a culture that requires the utmost patience.
Patience is a necessity when you live in Eastern Africa. Everything requires patience here – conversations, any form of transportation, and all transactions with anyone ever.
The whole Rwandan culture revolves around “African” time, even the language. For example when trying to explain a simple task, a Rwandan can speak at length in Kinyarwanda because it requires more words and creatively piecing words together. Additionally, there is SO MUCH repetition in Kinyarwanda. When explaining and understanding a game, there is no jumping in through trial and error, but instead each rule must be understood and discussed at length. While I respect the Kinyarwanda language and this way of learning and processing, it drives my Western-self crazy sometimes... Especially when teaching students.
In addition, I had to gain patience with my host family. I loved living with Laura and Peter dearly, but often they would arrive very late from work (mostly around 8:30 pm but sometimes as late as 10:00 pm). Their mornings are early and their nights are late, and I have complete empathy for how long their days are and how challenging the commute must be. But I will still say it was difficult for me to be at home for hours with the kids and practically play babysitter every night. Don’t get me wrong I love these kiddos and I am so blessed for all the dance parties and games we played together. But it was hard to discipline children when I didn’t feel it was my place or my responsibility, yet I was the only one around to do so.
It was also challenging to eat so late every night around 9 pm – 10 pm. In fact I’ve been meaning to write a blog about the difficulties my body and health have had while here in Rwanda. The main diet here is beans, rice, green bananas, and potatoes. Halfway through my fellowship, I questioned why my energy levels had plummeted so drastically. I didn’t feel like my full optimistic, energetic, driven-self and that was directly correlated with my diet.
My diet has been starch, starch and more starch. Bread for breakfast (sometimes an egg), fruit for snacks (sometimes), rice/potatoes and beans for lunch (sometimes chips ie. french fries), and rice, beans, banana chips (sometimes), and green beans soaked in oil and cooked until wilting (for health reasons to cook out bacteria/parasites). Here’s the thing, I kind of gave in to the diet because the house helper cooked and I wasn’t allowed to help since I was the guest, and honestly there aren’t a lot of food options in the village I lived in.
Throughout my whole fellowship, I have been aware of my body, but I realize now that my body has really begun to deteriorate while living in Rwanda and I need to restore my body to a healthy condition where I receive proper nutrients and portions.
Patience and health have been two notions on my mind these past few weeks. I have really gained an understanding for how my emotional and physical well-being resonate from what I eat and from my surroundings. Also, I understand more fully how being even slightly undernourished can impact my whole life.
You might say, why don’t you educate locals about the importance of eating more fruits and vegetables, but that simply is just not the Rwandan culture. The Rwandan diet is so starchy in order to give that immediate, easy energy for hard long days of working in the field, since most Rwandans work in agriculture. Filling their plates with foods that make them full is a gift, as there are many living in poverty and starving. Also, they just produce a lot of rice, potatoes and bananas which makes them cheap and readily available! This doesn’t mean their habits of eating can’t include a bit more of nutritional factors, but there are so many socio-cultural determinants to also consider.
Of course everything I just talked about doesn’t only apply to Rwanda, but health in the United States is also completely correlated with the wealth gap. Those who live in poverty in America have less nutritional foods that are available and affordable. I suppose if you want to try to correlate my experience to your own, I would think about how you are treating your own body and if there are things you can eat or do that would give you more energy, joy or a better life.
How can you also serve your community to give everyone the opportunity to have a better lifestyle?
There are so many ideas, ways and arguments on how to do this. I mean, of course, we all think a little differently and have our own talents and passions. But my question is how can you use your talent or passion to make your community a little better?
Just some food for thought.
I had a local America baker make pumpkin pie for my host family to celebrate Thanksgiving!
My host family’s house.