It would not be a successful trip abroad if the soundtrack did not include at least a few songs from one of the greatest movies ever: The Sound of Music. When shuffling through my iPod a few days ago, I came across a mix from study abroad in Germany in 2004 with “Do-Re-Mi.” Later that afternoon, I caught myself walking around the village humming, “Raindrops on roses, and whiskers on kittens.” In that spirit, here are a few of my favorite things about Rwanda.
- Cooking with Mama Shalom. The time after our Think Impact work ends for the day and before we sit down to family dinner is my very favorite time of the day here. Preparing dinner is a very involved process over roughly three hours, and I have learned to plant myself near the portable charcoal stove in the back yard outside the kitchen to help Mama Shalom shell ground nuts, peel potatoes and bananas, and stir the pot. Mama sometimes sneaks me an ear of corn or a piece of pineapple while we wait, and we mostly sit in silence except for the repetition of food names in English and Kinyarwanda as we add each successive ingredient to the pot. Neighbors stop by to say hello, and I imagine that they are laughing that I do not know how to cook ubugali (cassava bread). Even so, it is in these moments that I feel most fully present here.
- Singing and dancing with the neighborhood kids. One day I came home determined to teach the kids a new game from America: hopscotch. Much to my chagrin, they already knew it, and of course they had added more rules, twists, turns, and jumps than I remember from my elementary school days. As soon as I step out of the house, I immediately find a throng of around 20 children at my side every single day. They are eager to teach me a new song, to follow me to a meeting, or to show off a new word they just learned in English class. I have never been particularly good with small children, but early on, I decided to simply jump right in with them. We belt out “Come to Jesus” and “Old McDonald” in the back yard, and I think they are determined to help me master the traditional Rwandan cow dance before August. Sometimes the mothers gather to observe and laugh at this spectacle, but I am laughing and enjoying every minute of it.
- My name is Meriana. One our first day in the village, a round-faced, barefooted, boisterous two year old chased us down the street yelling, “Muzungo, MUUU-ZUUUU-GO, MU-ZUUUUUUU—NGO,” meaning “foreigner” or “outsider.” These antics became a daily routine, as our new friend, affectionately nicknamed “Muzungo Baby” appeared every time we passed his house. This not isolated to our friend, however, and we often hear echoes of Muzungo following us around town. Slowly, however, this is changing. When we returned from a scholar day trip away last weekend, a pack of kids came running to greet the car yelling my Rwandan name, “Meriana,” and they of course proceeded to follow me home. Instead of hearing Muzungo from the banana fields on our morning runs, I am hearing “Meriana” from the faces we pass. Slowly we are becoming people and not just Muzungos to our new neighbors, and this makes me smile. The best part of this story? Muzungo Baby has learned to say “Good Morning,” AND we learned that his real name is RICHARD!
- The African Stars and Moon. Since my days camping in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and my nights on the farm checking on the horses before bed, I have always had a special appreciation for the peace and tranquility of a sky filled brightly with stars without the distraction of city lights. Here we are a 90 minute drive from the capital city of Kigali, and the nearest town with electricity, Rwamagana, is approximately 10 miles away. When the sun sets at 6:30pm, the horizon changes from rich hues of gold and red to an expansive dark ceiling dotted with thousands of stars. Last week was a full moon, and it was so bright that we did not need headlamps to prepare dinner outside. It was spectacular. I am often alone when I go outside to brush my teeth at night. At home we usually do not take the time to look up at the sky, but here I pause. There is something majestic and intoxicating about the blanket of stars that surrounds me, and I head inside for bed feeling thankful, grounded, and ready to tackle another day.
The view from Emily's homestay in a rural community outside of Kigali, Rwanda.