For me, nothing rivals the feeling of belonging when it is newly acquired. As I walked down the long path towards the view of Lake Muhazi that never ceases to take my breath and the neighborhood children ran to greet me with hugs, high fives, and a chorus of greetings, I smiled at our settling into this new routine together. There is something magical about feeling at home where it was once unfamiliar, at communicating across culture and beyond language (my Kinyarwanda is still limited), and at having a sense of knowing that brings deep peace.
And this is what I feel at my home in Nkomangwa. When Gabby, my five year old friend with special needs, greets me with our dance, I feel like we’ve had this way together for years. When we arrive at my house, my many siblings join the group of children that I accumulated on my walk and we play futbol or dance. When I tire, we play cards (slap jack or go fish), or teach one another our respective languages until dinner.
All parts of my day feel this way- worn before- like your favorite tee that is soft from use with balls of cotton gathering from the many washes. My morning has a similar comfort when I awaken and throw on clothes to meet scholars for our 6AM workout and my sister frantically joins me to walk together (her to school and me to exercise). I return from exercise to bucket bathe (everyday- I have never been so clean) and have breakfast with my mama.
On the mornings I don’t have munama (meetings), I share chores with my siblings and we sing together as we peel potatoes, wash dishes, and do laundry. But, as my sister says, “I have weakness,” and I am not allowed to do many chores. When I “help” cook, it so far entails being permitted to watch them cook and carry prepared dishes to the house.
The bed I sleep in is normally two sisters’, my presence displacing them and shifting rooms all throughout the homestead.
When children fight for who will hold my hand, sit beside me, or carry my water bottle, I cringe at the status- not simply the status of a guest, but that of a westerner.
So, as I rejoice in our new routines, I am aware that they are those of an outsider. While I enjoy life here, I continue to question the cultural imperialism I contribute to by my presence in their home and community.
Sitting in this paradox, I seek to posit myself as a learner- interested and invested in their culture, respecting, celebrating, and loving all I come to know, and enjoying my walk home along the way.