I began packing up today. Packing is always something that stirs emotions inside of me and soon enough they boil over. In two days I will be in that mode of final preparations to hop on a plane and go home. Or, as I told my friend Nate, I’ll be making preparations to hop on a plane and leave home. This room, this house, this city, this country. This is a place where I have found bits and pieces of home. There are things here that will remain here and should I ever return, they will remind me that once upon a time for 68 days, Rwanda was my home. Leaving home to go home, I guess it’s a good place to find myself.
While packing I found a little brown paper bag. I opened it and inside was a handful of Fanta caps. I smiled as I pulled them out and remembered the many moments that a group of people sat in a circle drinking a Fanta and eating a hot dug bun. Twice it was a circle of pastors and volunteers from different churches discussing how to reach their congregations with HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention teaching. Once it was three pastors from Musanze sharing with me their lives as pastors for the past thirty years. Twice it was a group of orphans and vulnerable youth from one of the poorest areas of Rwanda. Once it was the girls from the village sitting on the couches quietly watching me as I walked through the living room. The most memorable time for me was with a group of kids in the living room of the guest house eating pizza and popcorn on a Friday night with their newfound friend Emily. The songs that soared and the dancing that literally took my breath away. All of these memories because of a silly little bottle cap.
There were yards and yards of brightly colored fabric lying in a pile on my bed. My mind raced back to bustling markets in Gisenye, Cyangugu, Musanze and Kimironko. The child telling us he would search and search for the perfect pineapple. The woman who laughed as we took photos of the piles and piles of beans she was selling. The one who told us she would give us a good price because she was a Christian and so were we. The girl who strategically replaced Stephanie’s skirt with another so she could sew the hem properly. The bicycle taxis, the babies on backs and the baskets full of avocados balancing on women’s heads.
I unzipped a pocket of my messenger bag and pulled out a handful of 100 franc coins. These were the result of many moto rides all around the city. I remember riding down the main road at night and watching the lights of the city zoom by. The lights that dot the horizon and transform the hillsides into a masterpiece reminiscent of a night sky. There was a day in Musanze where we went on a long ride through villages and small children screamed and waved as we zipped past them. I hear the word Mzungu and I watch the old man stare. I am a stranger in this land and it is clear I don’t belong, but I love it and wave at the man with the blank stare face. All I need to do is wave and the stare turns into a smile.
The stack of books has nearly been conquered. What started out as nothing more but a pile of words turned into brilliance. The Colors of Hope transported me back into a pew at Bethany Community Church as I read my father’s words. When I needed to be reminded why I was in Rwanda, I would read those words and realize that my purpose was not only personal and academic, but very much for the sake of the church which I call home. I remember when We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families was just a cover with a review on the back. Once I finished reading it, the streets of Rwanda came alive with the real stories of men and women living a life of terror seventeen years ago. My heart would ache as I remembered the truth, but my heart would also find hope as I met the friendly gaze of children walking home from school. Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God helped me start every single day. I would rise with the sun shining through my eye lids and reach my hand to the ground to grab hold of the book. Each day I would open to a new page and enter a world where pain is very real and hope is always waiting.
When I close my bag I get a whiff of what sits inside: four pounds of coffee and a dozen woven baskets. Little pieces of the country I adore will go back to my family so I can share with them a taste of the place I have grown to love. I fear the moment when words alone will not be able to describe all that I have experienced in Rwanda. It is my hope that over cups of Rwandan coffee and tea I can bring to life the world that I lived in for two months. Soon I will go home, but all I can do in the meantime is savor every moment I have left in the land of a thousand hills.