Happy New Year! Hope everyone had a great holiday season. Mine was… eventful. Or, if we’re being perfectly honest – the past month of my life has mostly been one giant struggle.
Apologies to those who I speak to on a fairly regular basis, because you’ve probably already heard the majority of this described more colourfully.
Once I arrived in Musanze, I went to our field office for a day, but worked predominantly from home – the majority of Project staff were on holidays, so it made more sense for me to just work independently. Honestly, I don’t mind working from home – I can take workout and snack breaks whenever and don’t need to wear real clothes, so those are all huge wins in my column. But, considering the social scene in Musanze is pretty small, working only from home and speaking to a dog can drive you a little crazy.
Regardless, I was making some pretty steady progress with work, and thinking I’d be able to take a few days off to do some trekking around the volcanoes here.
The best laid plans of mice and men, I tell ya.
Christmas evening, I’m eating my dinner and having a beer, turn to see what the dog is barking at… and spill about half a cup of beer on my laptop. The closest Apple store? Nairobi. That’s a two-hour bus and two-hour flight away.
Remember the old ‘cell phone in rice’ trick? Well it applies to computers, too. I had left my laptop open and upside down all night, and then put it in rice the next morning. Since I couldn’t work anyway, I decided to go mountain biking with a couple friends.
Good bikes in Rwanda are difficult to come by – I managed to get a used mountain bike with no suspension, so wasn’t planning on going too hard on these trails, but then my classic competitive nature came out. I tried to keep up with someone with a much better bike than I, who has been riding these trails for years, ended up hitting a huge rock going faster than I should have been down a hill, flipped over my bike, stood up, looked down at my leg and said, “That’s a lot of blood.”
I really wish someone had got that fall on video though. I probably looked so badass.
Eleven stitches later (FAMILY, WHATEVER YOU DO, DO NOT TELL BABCIA), and I was told to take it easy. Do you know how hard it is to take it easy when you don’t have access to a computer, or a wifi connection for your phone? My leg had a seriously limited range of motion (I couldn’t bend it at all for the first 3 days afterwards), and I was covered in bruises and scrapes – all over my legs, my back, my arms, and my hands… so I couldn’t even do planks. I read 5 books in 5 days. I love reading, but you can only read for so long before it’s boring, regardless of how good your book is. All my music is on my computer. I have two albums on my phone. If Netflix hadn’t come out with the downloads feature, I honestly would have gone full on Shining.
After letting my computer rest for 2 days in a bin of rice, I turned it on to find one of the keys wasn’t working. I learned how to remove keys from a macbook and clean underneath, feeling pretty good about myself when it started working again – and then 7 other keys stopped working.
I hobbled my way into Kigali to bring it to the “Apple” store there, and said goodbye to having a computer for 2 weeks. If I thought people were staring at me when I was just a blonde white woman, think of how much worse it was as a blonde white woman with a limp.
I had to go back to the doctors’ every couple days for two weeks – they all spoke French, thankfully, but, man. One of the doctors kept telling me that the doctor doing my stitches was still single, and that, since I was single, I should find a husband and have children very quickly because otherwise I would pretty much be in menopause by the time my children were born. There are so many things wrong with that interaction, but let’s just appreciate that it was coming from a doctor, hanging out beside me as his buddy stitched me up.
It’s tiring to work in gender equality, and then feel like you have to deal with it in your personal time as well. Do I want to lecture a doctor on the fact that my potential breeding capabilities have never been a primary concern of mine? Do I want to tell them I don’t care what age I get married at, or if I’m in a relationship at all, as long as I’m happy in other aspects of my life? Do I want to tell them that not all women want to be mothers?
There are times I just smile and nod, because I can’t bring myself to hear another person tell me how I’ll change my mind as I get older. There are other times where I know I’m helpless to stop people from harassing me – I went for a run to clear my head after a day of reviewing issues I need to address at work, only to have two teenage boys at different points run up behind me and grab my ass, and run away laughing when I turned around.
It’s a bit of a catch-22, because it shows me that the work I’m doing here is sorely needed – honestly, if a 13 year old boy feels bold enough to harass a foreign woman twice his age, imagine how they treat local girls – but it’s hard. Especially when you’re in an isolated area with very few people who get where I’m coming from. I met up with another Canadian woman, who has been working in Kigali for five years in women’s empowerment initiatives, and just having someone who has experienced it all here, and knows why it’s not ok – it’s huge.
Don’t get me wrong – I don’t regret coming here, and most days, I like the type of work I do. I honestly feel like I’m doing something that means something, even if it’s small. Rwanda is safe, and there are a lot of great progressive men and women here who are working towards a more equal society. But, there are definitely times where all I want is a teleportation machine that will bring me to my parents’ basement so my mom can make me a fruit smoothie, we can trick my dad into eating cauliflower crust pizza (and then he can complain for an hour straight), I can cuddle with my dog, go to a gym with kettlebells, watch the Bachelor when it airs, and drink craft beer and reasonably priced wine.
I feel extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel all over the world and learn from different cultures. I’m still not ready to return to North America permanently, but recently got some great news, and will be moving to the States for a year, starting in August of this year. Having a firm end date for my contract here, and having an idea of what I’ll be doing next, has really brought me some peace of mind. It’s made it easier for me to set up my schedule and goals for my time here, and it’s reminded me that all the work I’ve been doing over the past two years, despite its challenges and my mental breakdowns, is paying off, and is going to lead me to positions where I can more effectively advocate for issues I care about.
And for now, it’s made more appreciative of everything Rwandan has to offer. Even with all these struggles, and when things feel overwhelming, this is such a beautiful country and the opportunity to learn more about it, and its social issues, is fascinating. I’m writing this outside in sunny 25 degree weather with volcanoes in the background, and there’s honestly nowhere I’d rather be right now.