One of the best ways to better understand the culture your in is to leave it.Upon experiencing a new or different culture and re-entering the one you knew, new aspects of each come into view.I have now lived in a few different countries, and traveled to many more, and I am still struck by how much there is to grasp about the distinctive qualities of every place.For instance, on my first visit to the US in almost a year, I was struck by the sheer amount of discretionary time and money Americans have (for hobbies, pets, sports, etc.), the overwhelming number of choices and conveniences available (300+ TV channels and 30+ types of toothpaste!).The Internet and much of life runs at a much faster pace than in Rwanda, yet few seem satisfied they are running fast enough (or have the time or money to support the pace).I suppose this once described what I called ‘normal’, but it strikes me now as ironic so many people have so many resources to chase their dreams yet find them perpetually out of reach.
Such observations remind me of a classic Time magazine article from 1956 that claimed, “not far distant is the time when Americans need spend comparatively little time earning a living…” freeing them to “unleash their considerable powers for cultural, ethical and spiritual accomplishments.”From my vantage point, in the Southern California of 2010, it does not seem such benefits of American conveniences have proven as real or satisfying as suggested.
While in the states, we were able to share and celebrate the Karisimbi Partner’s story with over 200 people at various events and over meals. This video is a wonderful summary of what we are doing (and the work of some extremely talented and generous people!): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tcF0U7QQauQ.Wherever we went, people asked for details of the place we now call home, so I am happy to give a few…
Observations of Rwandan culture and life are also easier to see when juxtaposed with North America.While the Kigali airport has very few amenities (effectively a one terminal, one gate airport), disembarking passengers are greeted by a giant billboard for a local telephone company featuring a larger-than-life image of an entrepreneur friend of ours (who also happens to be an advertising model).The customs official has that particularly Rwandan air about him as he takes pride in the execution of his duties to ensure paperwork is in order, but is also quick to offer a smile.On the way to my house from the airport, I was able to see many friends and familiar faces walking the streets.Since the Presidential elections are coming, the major roads are likely to be lined with police and military personnel in order to thwart any would-be disturbances.I am grateful to know that what Kinyarwanda vocabulary and pronunciation I had are still intact.There is a perpetual cloud of dust over the city now that the dry season has descended in earnest.The night air has the familiar smell of distant coal fires, Islamic chants from the nearby mosque, and a chorus of tropical-sounding birds from 4:30AM on.When nearly a mile from my home, the boys that live on my street spot me in my Rav4 and chase me all the way to my house (where I am able to present them a soccer ball I’d purchased in the states).It seems people drop everything to welcome me back, and every greeting involves genuine warmth (and usually a hug).
It is easy to come home to such a place!
Onward and Upward,