Over a month has passed since returning to the States, and while I came home with an immediate excitement to share my pictures, stories, and greatest memories, I’ve more commonly experienced a desire to retreat— to avoid the questions, the space to remember, and frankly to avoid the frightening emotions yet to be experienced.
I wasn’t sure where to start.
The homecoming was nothing short of exciting. After the bittersweet reality finally hit that I was indeed leaving Rwanda and heading home, I began to prepare for what that meant; I would be reunited with friends who have been away, a recently-married sister and new brother-in-law, a very-soon-to-be-graduated brother, and parents who looked so relieved once they saw I returned in recognizable form.
As I made my way up the escalator, with a wide grin set under half-opened eyes, the search for familiar faces stopped with a neon yellow sign, which read, “Welcome home Mzungu! We’ve missed you!!” Without meeting their eyes with my own, I knew they were with me.
The thrill of being home began to fade as I realized the difficulty of readjusting to life at home. The luxuries in my own room were meaningless and trivial and the guilt of having so much “stuff” took root. I wanted to get rid of it all, in order to quiet the overwhelming feeling to do something worthwhile, but more than that, to prove that I was no longer the same me.
Honest questions from people I care most about, inquiring about the past semester, began to seem overbearing and maddening. The thought of providing a simplified “Good” to answer how this past semester was felt far from appropriate or sincere. So I hunted around for synonyms with greater impact which attempted to verbalize what I really wanted to say. But the English language seemed to fall short.
Naturally I found it easiest to enter into a state of avoidance, which included avoiding people I haven’t seen in a long time in fear of conversation turning to me and trying to voice what I have been up to the last semester.
I just don’t know where to start.
So here I am, returning to the one thing left to do. To begin to unravel stories left untold. Acknowledging my avoidance of confronting honest emotions and the real struggle of what comes next, has taken time, over a month to be exact; yet in these times of fighting to try and articulate what I cannot put into words I’ve learned that until I put thoughts to paper, nothing has truly been told.
I have kept silent long enough. There’s so much to tell. But these are the words I would say.
I just wish you knew what it was like.
I wish you heard the same stories I did.
I wish we walked together down the red dirt roads contemplating endless questions and striving to give reason to unsettled longing and indefinable answers.
I wish you saw the look in the childrens’ eyes as they let go of your hand when you left them.
I wish you saw the beauty of the thousand beautiful hills of Rwanda, reminding you of the hope of the future and the presence of a brilliant God.
I wish you could feel the physical heartbreak as you passed so many children on the street, all begging for the one thing which somehow left them unfulfilled.
I wish you were there to see the precious little ones pleading for your hand to hold— a beautiful braid of intertwined black and white, refusing to let go.
I wish time could stop as you held onto a little boy who spoke a different language, but the same heart language— full of laughter, goofy faces, and painful good-byes .
I wish you could hear the beautiful hearts of my peers, struggling with new knowledge in a new reality .
I wish you could experience the uncomfortable, foreign reality of becoming a minority, adopting a new name: “mzungu,” and finding your own at the same time.
I wish you could sit atop a lime green land cruiser jeep and for a brief moment soak in the unbelievable image of a breathtaking painting come to life as exotic animals run around in their native homeland.
I wish you could feel the warmth and security of the intense sun, reminding you of the hope of “today” while illuminating the lavish landscape.
I wish you could dance with the women as they sang songs to you full of heartfelt gratitude.
I wish you could experience the freshness and realness of church— not as a Sunday morning event, but a lifestyle engrained in the everyday lives of the people.
I wish you could struggle with the challenging language of kinyarwanda, longing to communicate and longing to be understood.
I wish you could see the beauty in difference— 5 bordering countries proudly presenting their traditions and heritage through song and dance, without competition and desire for a gold medal.
I wish you could feel the undisguised stares as you walked the busy streets of the city and the countryside.
I wish you could smell the sweat of the person squeezed next to you in the matatu, revealing years of hard work and long hours spent toiling under the sun.
I wish you could taste the richness of the flavorful spices of ginger and cinnamon in African tea.
I wish you could wipe endless tears from your cheek as you saw the reality of hundreds of kids living without the love of family.
I wish you could accept the hug and greeting from an unfamiliar face with humility and grace.
I wish you could have your patience tested on long bus rides where time was disregarded.
I wish you could admire the simplicity of living in this beautiful land, where security and joy are experienced without ‘stuff,’ beyond unfortunate circumstances.
I wish you could see the gravesites for thousands— unmarked and yet decorated with flowers— signifying the respect and remembrance for the fallen.
I wish you could hear the footsteps of tiny feet hitting the dirt road as they ran towards you.
I wish you could feel the pressure of having much in a land that has more life to offer.
I wish you could accept the extended hand that welcomed you to the front of the church to join in dancing— celebrating the life of the moment, the breath of today, and the joy of togetherness.
I wish you could walk down steep hills, in open land to collect water, with a little girl’s hand held tightly and a jerry can in the other, with guilty thoughts of running faucets at home.
I wish you could be challenged by Michael to tune into your intended design as a little “creator”— made to reflect the One Creator who gave you the ideas, tools, and imagination to create and reveal His goodness with the life you have.
I wish you could join in the creation of cooking with Aidah— accepting correction and the look of satisfaction when you finally roll the dough the right way.
I wish you could spend a timeless afternoon with Adele watching the birds from the front porch, taking notice of the details of God’s creation.
I wish I could see you smile at the unnatural juxtaposition of baby Tarison’s cry turn into a contagious laugh.
I wish you were there.
I wish we could sit down together, with a cup of African tea in hand, and through the silence of unarticulated words we could share a slight grin with mutual understanding of a shared yet unspoken experience.
These are the words I would say to you— probably with moments of unattractive sobs mixed with memory-filled laughter. And through my puffy, tear-filled eyes you would get a glimpse of another land, another life, a place unlike your own. You would begin to see what could-be: experienced, felt, seen, and learned. You would undoubtedly know the depth of an experience spent in Rwanda, in a land of a thousand hills and 10,000 images of a beautiful life.
As I wipe off the faded red dirt covering my shoes, I would hope that it would land on your own. Your plane ticket would be bought and your adventure would begin, chasing hard for what could be and what is.
These are the words I would say.
And I’m far from being done.
photo credit: Brittany Libby