Last year while I was still a volunteer for The U.S. Peace Corps in Rwanda the coordinator in charge of media asked volunteers to submit stories. I asked him if there were particular topics that were underrepresented. His response came in a bullet-pointed list of stock ideas, and I lost interest. My disinterest was more my fault than his. See, I already had an idea in mind, and I probably would have done better to be open about that. I guess I assumed that Peace Corps was unlikely to publish my writing. Since I made that assumption and imposed that limit on myself, we may never know. However, I have decided to publish my original idea here.
Service in The Peace Corps is like a soft-boiled egg.
(Photo credit: Sara Hillstrom)
Living so close to the sun, a body moves slowly for self-preservation. Lungs expand with effort, making efforts to make less effort. Thoughts persuade the blood that we are cool and calm, we are cool and calm. Slowly is the way. We move with intention. And, we know that we are not alone.
Per its abbreviated nature, this grammar does not seek to present an all-encompassing description of Rwandan’s rich inventory of forms and sounds. For instance, the great gap between highest high vowel and lowest low valley is left for later editions. Decentralization of sounds is also unaddressed; its heavy politics better explained by a native speaker. To glean a deeper understanding, the author encourages readers to explore for themselves, in-person. Indeed, this is the only way to truly understand Rwandan’s speakers. Immersed in authentic forms, in the pragmatic realities, the routine movements, the so-called norms–then one can know.
Until such travel is possible or later editions arrive, may this brief description suffice.
The first time she knew that she was different was in primary school. One day, her teacher instructed the children to divide themselves by Tutsi and Hutu. Some children knew what this meant. Among those who did not, she hesitated. After pause, she made her own choice and simply sat in the front row. This is where the best students sat on any other day. She sat because that is where she wanted to be.
A friend’s father once told me that our school colors originate in an old union of two places. One color represents the city of Greensburg, the other Salem Township. Two generations back, when they merged into one strange gerrymandering of a school district, they merged colors, too: brown and golden yellow. Separately, brown and gold, they are fine. Together, they are nauseating.
I felt nauseated looking at the crinkly, brown wind-pants meant to warm my legs. Beneath them, loudly yellow shorts barely covered my upper thighs. Which color represents me as someone from the township, the flimsy brown or the discordant yellow? Also yellow, a sleeveless jersey probably as old as the district itself draped over my thin torso, and each time a breeze blew in through an open school bus window I shivered. I shivered in part from cold air and in part from anxiety.
I am asking for help.
In writing my first novel, multiple dreams have converged. I dream of communities that do not need to depend so strongly on tourism to sustain themselves financially. I dream of a world that understands people and places whom I love in a way that goes deeper than headlines. I dream of setting a higher standard for outsiders (particularly white ones) who want to tell local (particularly non-white) stories. These dreams lay dormant in my mind until I committed to writing this novel. Then, they awoke. They began as feelings, evolved into questions, and are now possibilities.
This space has been for sharing stories.
Two years ago in my first Chicago winter I found myself warmed by the mornings spent teaching English to immigrants: parents, grandparents, refugees from war-torn places. They shared with me until I was overflowing with their stories. Soon, I realized that it might be valuable to give what I had received. I began writing brief stories here on this blog based on what others had shared with me.