Ups, Downs, Lessons, Thank Yous

My suitcase was exactly 50.0 lb!

Yeah, I missed my first flight.

My (first) changed flight!

I’d originally planned to write my next post once I got to Kigali, but United Airways (for a variety of reasons) booked me onto the next flight to Dulles at 4:00 PM. Anyway, I’m sitting at O’Hare right now munching on blueberries and trying to process the strange idea that I will be landing in Kigali at 1:45 AM July 20 – that is, approximately 30 hours from now on Tuesday morning.

The past few weeks have been a blur of fireworks, BBQs, sunny days in downtown Chicago, Picasso, crazy CTD kids, and lots (and lots) of ice cream, punctuated by the occasional disastrous circumstance and several pleasant surprises. The adventure of the summer hasn’t yet begun, but so much has happened before Rwanda that I already know will have a significant impact on my experience in the following two months.

As with every project, this one has had its share of (sometimes comical, sometimes really not) low points, challenges, and lessons. Here are some I have learned thus far:

  • Do not drop your netbook. Especially after only a couple weeks of purchasing it. Especially when you only have one week left before leaving for Africa.
  • Evaluate your budget and suitcase space before agreeing to pack much needed school supplies and baking goods to Kigali. Reasons why: it is a) expensive, b) takes up a lot of room, c) weighs a lot.
  • (a corollary of 2) If you don’t do 2) you will likely be broke by the end of the summer and have to personally contribute $1000 to the trip (i.e. Goodbye CTD earnings).
  • Do not expect to have enough time to see and say goodbye to people you may never see again 🙁
  • Raid the dollar store.
  • Anticipate that research from outside of the country will be difficult to conduct. Especially when you’re trying to research primary education in Rwanda and the Ministry of Education’s website is down.
  • And, of course, the most recent lesson: it is not worth getting upset over flight issues. It just isn’t.

Basically, I’ve realized that anything can happen and I’m learning to take it all into stride and keep myself grounded on what’s most important.

That said, I can say with certainty that the highs have definitely outweighed the lows, and the sunny, gelato-mango-laughter-filled days more than make-up for the frustrating and disappointing moments that already seem to define my project. As busy as the past three weeks have been, they have also been an amazing period of healing and self-discovery. It turns out you can learn a lot about yourself in just two and a half weeks and radically change long-standing perspectives on life, future aspirations, love, and people – sometimes just over a breakfast of syrup-soaked German pancakes and mangoes (yes, these will feature heavily in my posts, although the ones mentioned this time were admittedly a little under-ripe).

I’ve met many amazing people in this first stage of my journey, and I’ve realized more and more just how much I need and rely upon my friends. I could not have come so far without the constant care and encouragement of my closest friends (D, N, 3Js), nor could I have stayed mentally sane and prepared without the many supportive phone calls and visits I’ve received in the past few days (shout out to LN, TD, WK, MV, and RS!). There are so many people to thank and to be grateful for. Who would have thought that a random encounter last year could lead to an introduction that would eventually bring me to two volunteers and a job offer in Rwanda? I am so blessed by all the people who have helped to make this dream into a tangible reality, especially one particular person (you know who you are) who has been there every step of the way for the past few weeks and has lost sleep, ran numerous errands, made tons of phone calls, packed my suitcases, and basically kept track of everything I was supposed to do (but was too frazzled and scatter-brained to do). Thank you. Gelato says hi.

With that, I am going to board my first flight to D.C.!

See you again soon – or, as they say in Rwanda, TURONGERA 🙂