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First Impressions…and a Little Perspective

 

Upon arrival in Rwanda, I immediately realized I was in a whole new world. Granted, I knew that going in, but it was more of a conceptual idea until we landed – hearsay if you will. Just stepping off the plane, I noticed the faint smell of something burning like a campfire off in the distance. What was I to do, though…I still had to go through immigration and head to the Peace Corps office. Time to shrug that off and figure it out later, a new chapter was set to begin.

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Peace Corps Rwanda Front Gate

Motorbikes everywhere, people slowing down at intersections using their horns to alert others (yet minus the standard American salute that typically follows), winding decently lit paved roads through the hills, houses…with gates…where am I?? I thought I was supposed to be in Africa, yet there I was stopped at a traffic light. Clearly there must be some mistake. Coffee shops with wireless internet, a blend of Kinyarwanda, French, and English being spoken, all with views that belong in a magazine of beautiful places in the world – this is not real life.

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Coffee Shop with a view

As we pulled up to the gate to my new home in Muhanga, my counterpart, Philbert, was there to greet me. We unloaded my two bags (OK, three if you count the backpack) into a house that I would be more than happy to have in any country. Seriously, I have lived in an apartment the size of my main room; this place is nice. The floor is painted – not always the case – and I have two small storage rooms along with a bedroom and “full” bathroom.

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Front Door
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Table and chairs on loan from the office
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Laundry and dishwashing
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Not a spill…just how to properly mop the floor

 

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Full size…say what you will

 

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For those who are curious, they are cold showers
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Private water source

As we were going through making sure I had everything I needed, one of the young boys who also live in our compound popped his head in. We greeted as well I could (one of about 10 words in Kinyarwanda I knew at that point), but it became obvious to me that everyone was a little curious. Who is this new guy who just moved in, what is he doing here, and why can’t he speak to us? Not going to lie, I would feel the exact same way.

COFORWA Office is up the hill to the right
COFORWA Office is up the hill to the right
My house is back around the corner to the left
My house is back around the corner to the left

On the walk to the office, I notice shopkeepers sitting outside with fresh produce for sale. Men are working on both bicycles and motorbikes, there is a shop grinding cassava down for use in flour, school kids are heading off for the day, and women are headed to the water source with their buckets to fill for the days usage. I may or may not have noticed a few actually stopping and turning around, though I doubt it is for my boyish good looks these days. Little kids stop, stare, and then yell “Muzungu!” (white person) wave or say “Good morning!”

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The views like this go on for miles…

I took the picture above on my first walk into town (could have used more sunscreen on the two hours it took there and back). I posted this to social media, but did not caption it correctly. I should have focused on what you cannot see: Just out of view, there are two little boys playing. It wasn’t until after I took the picture that I noticed them looking at me. I have no idea what was going through their minds. It was probably just curiosity about why this white man would stop to take a picture of their backyard or it could have been nothing.

It hit me, though, at that very moment: Our realities will never be the same – regardless of whether or not we are breathing the same air or walking on the same soil, living in the same country at the same time. As much as I think I understand what life is like for the people around me, I honestly have no idea what it is like from their perspective. This is not to say that it makes me happy or sad, just more aware. Here I am, admiring what they see on a daily basis and simultaneously they see a stranger, passing through their lives – one they might never see again.

In just a few weeks in Rwanda, it is already clear to me that I have no concept of what life is really like for people here, yet I am slowly learning. In our shared compound, I am the only one with a water source for private use. I clearly have the biggest house except for the owner, and I am pretty sure I’m the only other person with indoor electricity and a shower. I also learned the campfire smell is from people cooking dinner using charcoal as opposed to my gas stove.

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The gas is supposed to last for a month…here’s hoping!

 

 

It is easy to lose sight of one’s original motivation for being in the field of International Development and sometimes being overseas helps to redefine that. The past few years have shown me that by being active, supportive, and engaged, I have a better chance of having that impact so many of us seek. I certainly know that my perspective continues to grow.

A new perspective creates an understanding.
An understanding develops trust.
Trust carries you through when communications are imperfect.
Trust allows for change to happen.

It all comes down to perspective…

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My counterpart, Philbert, and I – he approved this picture

…time to go to work.

10 thoughts on “First Impressions…and a Little Perspective

  1. As always, Pete, so very happy that you have found something so rewarding and fulfilling! Best wishes. Keep up the good work!

  2. Hi Pete,
    Perhaps you don’t remember me…it’s been many years. My husband, Peter, was your Dad’s surgical partner. I am following your posts since your Mom and I are FB friends. I am so fascinated by your photographs and love your writing. Peter and I traveled to Tanzania a few years back for a safari and cultural experience. It was captivating, so I am vicariously “traveling” with you. Looking forward to the next chapter!
    Be well and safe,
    Cindy Baute

    1. Thank you so much, Cindy! Yes, I do remember you from many years ago and appreciate you joining me on this journey. East Africa has been very enlightening is such a short amount of time, I can only imagine what will transpire over the course of a year. I look forward to sharing more soon.
      Pete

  3. Loved reading this and getting the ‘inside’ view. Thank you Pete, enjoy every second of this new adventure (and write more!).

    1. Thanks, Anna! I really appreciate you giving the post a read. I will be sure to post more often this time around. Already have ideas for future postings. Hope you, Andy, and Daniel are doing well! Please tell them I said hello.

      Pete

    1. Haha thanks, bud! Glad you enjoyed the read. I hope to post more frequently – maybe once a week…but most likely every other would be the highest frequency. Come visit!

  4. Looks beautiful Pete:-) Glad to hear you are doing well and settling in…. look forward to future posts as you share your journey and experiences with us!!! Take care. Eileen

    1. Thank you so much, Eileen! It really is – everywhere I go I want to stop and take pictures, but then I don’t want to seem like a tourist if that makes sense.

      Have another post coming soon with some more project-related pictures, too. Really appreciate you checking in and reading! Feel free to share with anyone back in Philly you might think would be interested.

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