It’s a rainy Tuesday morning in Kigali. This isn’t all that special. But what makes today different is that it’s my last morning in Rwanda. At 4:45 pm, I get on a plane and fly back to the States. Of course, I have to go through the Nairobi airport, so Africa might not let go of me quite that easily.
It’s been 25 months, almost to the day, since I last set foot on American soil. Right now, the USA doesn’t feel real. Real is red clay roads and endless banana leaves. Real is foggy mornings and afternoon thunderstorms. Real is the old mamas that grab my hand and won’t let go, the children that hug me in the marketplace, people that stare, people that smile, people that greet, people that shout, people that beg. Real is eating an entire pineapple for dinner. Real is a clear night when I can see the stars forever or a cloudy night when it’s too dark to see my hands. Real is watching the mold grow on my ceiling and the pieces of mud brick wall that fall on me while I’m sleeping. Real may or may not be the rat that I think lives in my rafters. I’ve never seen it, but there’s something squeaky up there.
I can’t neatly sum up what the last two years have meant to me. If this were a movie, the critics would likely praise its artistically ambiguous ending, while the audience would leave full of popcorn and lingering questions. The good and the bad, the amazing and the heart-breaking, went so hand in hand here. It was little good things like finding perfectly ripe bananas at the market and getting them back to my house unsquished, or little bad things like stepping in a puddle on the way to school and having to feel ashamed of my dirty all day. It was amazing things, like my students telling me, “Teacher, now we have confidence to speak English,” going to a baby-naming ceremony and watching the father hold his daughter with so much love in his eyes, or walking through my village and not feeling out of place. It was the heart-breaking things, like going to a friend’s brother’s funeral where even the priest cried, listening to my neighbor scream with night terrors all during genocide memorial week, or a close friend at site telling me that she was recently diagnosed with HIV and simply saying “bibaho” (it happens).
I’m leaving Rwanda a different person than when I came. That much I know for certain. When I get on that plane this afternoon, it won’t be the same person that got off a plane 25 months ago. But I’m looking forward to finding out what that will mean back in America. So friends, for the last time in Rwanda, thanks for coming with me on the journey. Let’s meet up for coffee. I’ve heard rumor of a magical place called “Starbucks”…