Hunger

Remember that time I told you that I had FORTY STUDENTS?

Well, turns out I now have sixty.

Yes. SIXTY. STUDENTS.

Screening "Pursuit of Happyness"

It’s pretty incredible. I can hardly believe it myself. But I did find out why last week. On Friday, the LC director interrupted my class and took 10 students out into the hallway. It turns out the other English teacher had zero students and all her students were in my class! No wonder – I couldn’t figure out how it was possible for me to have new students trickling in everyday…

Anyway, that’s why I’ve been sort of M.I.A. with my blogging. The past two weeks have been draining on many levels – one of them being lesson-planning, grading, and teaching – but, of course, teaching is still very rewarding. I love all of my students dearly, and I am so thrilled to see them every morning. However, aside from completely veering from my original curriculum and developing new lesson plans on interview questions, job applications, and business letters; I have also started to stay after class to offer support to students pursuing project ideas and seeking advice on finding jobs. I’m far from being an expert on starting new businesses, but I listen and advise them where I can. I am careful not to make promises, but I always assure them that I will do what I can to help them.

This afternoon, three of my brightest students visited me at my house. I finished class at noon, met with the Statistics specialist at MINEDUC, visited the 2010 Expo in Gicondo, and arrived at Kimihurura at 5 PM with time to spare when one of my students, Emmy, called to let me know they had arrived.

I invited them in, served them some light refreshments, and asked them what they had been up to since noon. They looked at each other, confused. I tried to rephrase my question: “What did you do after class?”

Ezechias raised his eyebrows. “Teacher, we started walking,” he said.

My jaw dropped.

Eric, Emmy, and Ezechias (yes, my three brightest students have names beginning with E) do not even have 100 RWF to spend on a minibus, so they walked nearly four hours to visit me. 100 RWF is less than 20 cents USD. In addition, I learned that all three wake up every morning at 6 AM to walk to class by 8:30 AM, and make the long trek back home after class finishes. “It is not good for the shoes,” jokes Eric, laughing as he gestures at his worn dust-covered sneakers.

I wake up at 8 AM every day and I pay 400 RWF for a taxi-moto to take me to the LC by 8:30 AM.

Not only that, I also discovered that many of my students only eat one meal a day. And not a large meal at that. For Friday’s test, I assigned the following composition question: “If you could have any three wishes granted, what would you wish for? Why?”

In his composition, Ezechias’ first wish was “not to see a genocide again, because a genocide is very bad, kills everybody according his race.” Then, he wrote the following: “Secondly, I would not be hungry, because when I am hungry nothing I can do. So that my vision can be ended.”

I didn’t understand the second sentence at first, but after talking with him, I think he meant something more along the lines of “If I cannot do anything when I am hungry, my vision for the future becomes impossible.”

My students are hungry. Not just hungry for sustenance – they are also hungry for knowledge. Hungry enough that they physically push themselves to walk two hours to school every day to sit through class with growling stomachs, and still, they force themselves to learn the material.

I can’t grasp it. And I really can’t process that I only have two weeks left.

Sometimes when I think about these things, I get a strange hollowness in my chest and I suddenly feel tired and old. I’m not sure why. I can’t identify the feeling, nor can I pinpoint its cause. Sometimes I get it when I remember that many of my students are my age but the problems we face in life are vastly different. I get it when I realize I cannot do more to help them, and that I do not know what their future holds. Other times it comes when I see Jacqueline’s missing ear and Cecile’s missing arm, or when I read compositions such as Theophile’s that discusses what “adversity creates opportunity” means to him – in 1994, the priest of church denied sanctuary to him and his mom; that very same day, everybody in the church was massacred.

What is the meaning and purpose of all of this? Why am I here?

I really don’t know and I don’t expect to know until I get back. But until then, I’ll be making the most of my time here. Enjoying, breathing, hungrily savoring every last minute I have left in Kigali.

Wash over me, Rwanda, wash over me.

Immerse me in your people, your culture, your history, your politics, your DJs and bakers, your wealth and technology, your hunger and poverty, bananas, passion fruit, music and art.

Wash over me, Rwanda, wash over me.

And as you immerse me in my final days here, I will do my best to digest the experiences in the hopes of preserving them for the day I return.

I will return.