Kitt, what a wonderful story you have, I would love to hear more of that!
And Karen, I think I will post my story on HW, since it also helps me with the processing.
So, let's start at the beginning. After a long day of traveling we arrive at Kigali airport. We are awaited by 20 students and 3 teachers, who are still pretty unknown to me. The students all wrote a letter which I had read, but only once. Some of my fellow students could already pick out some of them, because of the pictures that were attached to the letters, but not me.
The first thing that I noticed during the unbelievable happy meeting was the physical moves they made. In Holland, a simple handshake would suffice, but here you couldn't escape without a firm hug. For me, this was a bit strange and unpleasant, since I wasn't used to physical contact, but after the first few hugs it already started to feel familiar.
After an hour or so in the bus, we arrived at our place. It was small for our standard, pretty luxurious for the Rwandan students I suppose, when you compare it from were the usually stay. And immediately it became clear that privacy would be hard to find.
Ow, it starts to look a bit like a diary now. I'll summarize it a bit. After a night at Kigali, we (the 21 Dutch students, 20 Rwandan students, and 7 teachers) went to a lake. We stayed there for 2 days, with the intention to learn eachother, and do some early preparations for the theater. During this time, what struck me most was the open way the Rwandans lived together. They told eachother, and us, everything, and also physically they were very close. Taking a shower with 3-4 persons at the same time wasn't an exception.
After the weekend, we got back to Kigali, to the King David Academy, to start our program. We first focused on getting the books for the library prepared. We used the 41 students, and also other students from school who wanted to help in there free time. Most of this was during the mornings, while the afternoon was for the theater.
The King David is a very strict school, with some "bullcrap" rules for me as a Western students, like no dancing, no 1 on 1 between boys and girls, no singing except Christian songs etc. Of course, the students there couldn't break the rules, because as one of the cheapest and poorest schools in Kigali, it was there last hope. I broke all of them in the first 5 minutes :). Even the headmaster couldn't make us, or any students we involved, anything, because of the protection we had from the headmistress (who lies in the hospital). After a while our Rwandan students became aware of that, and it was really hard to get them to stop dancing and start working :).
In the meantime, I started to know the students better, and it was obvious that all of them would become friends, some for the rest of my life. In Africa, physical contact is so common, so much more than in the Western world. Walking hand in hand, hugging, giving someone a pad on the back, even if you don't know that person. Also, they share almost everything they have. Compare that with the Western world.
We finished our trip with of course the theater show, and the opening of the library. First the theater show. We worked really hard for 2 weeks to get everything working, and to built this huge stage and decorations. But 2 hours before the planned start of the show, the rain came, and it came hard. The rain season hadn't started yet, but it felt like a hurricane. I never experienced rain and winds that hard, and it destroyed everything. That came hard on some of us pretty hard, even on me, who normally don't feel bad about things like this. Luckily, there were enough Rwandans to hug :). Right after the rain stopped, some of us stood up and managed to get everyone to rebuilt in the hour left. It was are only option, and we did it. That gave me a real rush.
The opening of the library was ok, but not special. It was strictly organized, in a disciplined Rwandan way. Me and a friend of mine sometimes had to laugh at the remarks the headmaster made, which resulted in a couple of warning looks. Anyway, the real miracle happened after that. The placing of love for Africa in the deepest part of my heart. I already told you some about that in my first post, but I really like to give it a wider perspective.
This girl, Franklyn, was one of the girls I liked most of the 10 female students. We already had some good conversations which made me feel really good. I think because I always feel really shy when around girls, but since there was no real physical attraction, I felt way more comfortable. And of course because of the feeling of acceptance she gave me. Anyway, during the rain before the theater, we sat down together, and holded eachother for comfort. I needed that because I felt frustrated about the rain, she because of the visit to the genocide memorial and some other reasons. I think this is the first time I ever spent holding a girl for so long, it was about 30 minutes or so. That really gave me the best feeling ever. Especially because it was the putting to practice of my newly acquired skill to lay an arm around someone as a way of comfort. I never done that before my trip to Rwanda.
Anyway, because of that, I wanted to have one final conversation with her the following day, since it was the last full day we had. We would leave the day after that. During the day it was still busy, and in the afternoon we started to play cards with a whole bunch of students (I thought them a really funny game :) ). I wasn't after forcing a conversation, just hoped for it. After the cards, we had dinner, and after that some of my fellow Dutch students went to the school hair-cutter to shave of their hair :). Silly's, although they all looked good in there new non-haircut. But because of that, we couldn't finish the card game. In the meantime, the air started to cool down because of the sunset, and the Rwandan students became cold. As Dutchies, we had no problem with the incoming chill at first. After a while though, I started to get really cold, and Kellen, another Rwandan student, noticed. She gave me her robe and got herself another from her room. But the robe was a bit small, and Franklyn noticed, and got me a bigger one. We three sat down while I showed them the photo's I brought from Holland. After a while, Kellen left to write things down in some diary's. It was getting colder, and I noticed that Franklyn started to shiver, so I put my robe around her. On her turn, she noticed that I was now wearing a shirt only, and she put the robe back on me, after which we decided it was big enough to share. It was, although we had to cuddle together in order to fit in both. We moved together closely, which was a real good move, since it was getting even colder, and the robe alone wouldn't suffice anymore. After that we spent more than 4 hours talking, and hugging eachother non-stop. It was an out-of-this-world experience to me, and I was very aware of that. It wasn't a dream, a hope, a past that made me happy. It was the pure now that made me feel the best I ever felt for such a long time. Normally those feelings of total happiness and peace will only last for seconds. That was my uniting with Africa, the moment we put our hands together (and saw that mine were a lot bigger :), African girls really have small hands).
After that I got back to the boys room, but before I reached that place, I was pulled in the teachers room to explain what just happened :). They were in a fight over who the girl under the blanket was, and I had to give them the answer, as well an explanation why. After that, it was pretty late (nearing 4 am), and I had to get up at 9, so I decided to get some sleep.
The next morning was easy-going, packing etc. The afternoon was the time of the goodbye's, and that hour will stick with me forever. The Rwandan students just broke. If there ever was any doubt over whether they liked us there, that was the ultimate answer. The Dutch students overall coped better with the fact we had to leave, but not for me. It was the first time ever I had to cry because of an goodbye. I never even cried for the death of my grandmother/fathers, to put things in perspective.
At the airport, the sobbing continued, and we hugged eachother for 3 times at least. When we were just about to go through the gate, some of them came back. I really needed that last hugs to fill up the gap I still had in me, because of me leaving 20 new friends. I all promised them I will come back, and I will, as soon as possible.
As I wrote down in my diary, the last impressions will remain, and those last impressions were the best I could ever have.
This trip is the first thing I am proud of, ever. I am so grateful that I was able to do this, and I really think I have gave the energy that was needed, and more. I made new friends, discovered a part of the world in which I will always be welcome, and found a sanctuary of peace within me. I found a place in which I can put my energy in, were my energy will be welcomed with happiness, and were it can make a difference. I am forever grateful for that.
And one important thing I have learned from this project, except the things mentioned above, is the fact that one man can make a difference. This entire project started as the dream of one of our teachers, and gradually evolved into a tight bond between two schools, a bond which will be strengthened every year. I am happy to be a brick in this wall. I am happy, truly happy, for the first time in a long time.
Thanks for giving me the opportunity to write things down here, although I am not sure if anyone will read this ridicules long item.
Now I have to pack my stuff for my big move-out-of-the-house tomorrow.
A big, 4 hour long hug to everyone!
Acceptance is the key
Existential depression and Insecurity
Try to keep smiling! :)