I’ve been in Rwanda a little over a month now, which blows my mind every day. Sometimes I’ll be riding to school in the morning and I’ll look at the mountains rising out of the earth and it still makes my breath catch in my throat like I’m seeing it for the first time. I hope that never goes away.
On Friday I decided that it was time for me to try walking home from school. Usually I take the bus with the kids, but school gets out at 12:30pm and the bus comes at 4:30pm so that’s a lot of time to kill (you can only write lesson plans for so long). It’s not a bad walk, I was told it would maybe take me about an hour, which was fine with me because I wanted the exercise.
It is the middle of rainy season but it hadn’t rained in the afternoon for the last couple days so I figured I’d be fine. When it rains here it generally pours for 5 minutes and then stops, pours for 5 minutes and then stops. I figured that even if it rained I’d be able to make it okay–it’s just water. I brought my rain jacket just in case and brought my running shoes in my backpack, as well as an extra bottle of water.
I set out around 2:15pm, after the kids went down for their nap, and for the first 15 minutes everything was good; it was sunny and warm, but not too hot. Then I noticed the clouds behind me. Big. Dark. Imposing. I thought, it’s just rain, I’ll be fine. Then the wind picked up and the trees started to bend and sway and against the backdrop of those clouds I could tell it was about to pour. My grandparents live on a farm in Missouri and they taught us how to smell the weather, especially when it rains; and it smelled like a thunderstorm, the air thick and heavy. So I picked up the pace a bit and thought, You knew this could happen. You’ll be fine. It’s just water. It will dry.
Rain here is nothing like in the States. When it rains, it comes down in sheets, huge drops of water that can make it hard to see. And the tin roofs make it sound so loud that watching Netflix is hard, even with the volume turned all the way up. Sometimes it just rains but sometimes it pours. And Friday, it poured.
I kept walking in the downpour, feeling like a drowning rat. I thought, This came up so quick that it will leave quickly too, it’ll be fine. My jeans were soaked all the way up to my knees in minutes and I could feel the water pooling in my running shoes. Ten minutes later it was sill coming down in sheets and I reassessed, Okay, well maybe it won’t be so quick. But, amazingly, I wasn’t worried. I put my hood up and trudged on–the water may have soaked everything but they did not dampen my spirits. I was walking home from school by myself and I felt confident that I would be okay. Soaked, but okay.
After walking in the rain for about 15 more minutes, now completely soaked (my rain jacket from Target did a terrible job of keeping me dry), I heard a couple voices call out to me. Three Rwandan men building furniture under their porch were waving me over, offering me shelter from the rain. Part of me wanted to just keep going…I was already soaked so what did it matter. But what could it hurt? So I accepted their offer and went to stand with them under their porch.
Only one of them spoke English, barely, but I was able to communicate that I worked at Sonrise and they nodded and smiled. I asked some questions about their work, it was very impressive, and they pointed and showed me what they made. The one who spoke English jokingly asked me if I wanted a job and we all laughed. Then we stood in comfortable silence; I was content to watch them work and they were content to talk to each other in Kinyarwanda. I could tell when they were talking about me because they’d say mzungu and look at me, but from the tone and body language I knew it wasn’t anything mean or unkind. Mzungu is a term used to describe caucasians, it’s not a slur, just a descriptive term to distinguish differences. I stayed under their porch for about 30 minutes until the rain slowed. It was nice. There was no pressure, no awkwardness, just existing together in the rain. There was a kindness that came through here and I felt completely at ease.
When the rain slowed I said goodbye and thank you in Kinyarwanda, waved and continued on my journey. They waved and said goodbye as left, smiling and giving me thumbs up. I felt a renewed sense of determination to make it home. I made it by 3:30, still 2 and a half hours before I usually get home when I take the bus! I peeled off my clothes and took the best shower of my life before putting on leggings, a sweatshirt, and warm socks. I drank some black tea before snuggling into bed for a nap.
Being in Rwanda on my own has helped me develop a new kind of confidence in myself and what I am capable of. I am capable! Every day I’m here I feel more and more like I’m seeing myself in a new way, like I’m coming together as a person and I love who I am seeing. As silly as it may sound, I feel like I belong here. And it’s a really good feeling.