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First Day of School

One of my struggles in coming to Rwanda has been so painfully cliched, so unbearably P.C. that I am somewhat embarrassed to recount it here. What it amounts to is white guilt. A phenomenon, I have found, which is easy to dance around intellectually but hard to find a place for it to settle emotionally.

Today was our first day of hosting the Academy, and my first day meeting the people I’ll be spending the next two weeks with. The questions kept leapfrogging over each other in my brain:  Given the dual fogs of language and circumstance, how would we see each other? Was I going to be able to connect with these women? Would they be able to connect with me? How were they going to receive a group of muzungus (white people) pulling into town?

One of our translators is Joseph, an economics student at one of the universities here. On the hour and a half drive to the town of Byiman I tried to have him teach me a couple basic words in Kinyarwanda – the local language.

Mwaramutse – Good morning.

Ndabishimiye – Nice to meet you

Nitwa Laya – My name is Laya

By the time we pulled up the dirt road that leads to the school house, the 37 women were already there waiting for us. I reviewed my words and stepped out of the van only to discover that there’s nothing like 37 women looking at you to make you instantly forget how to say hello and what your name is.

And then in the next moment it all changed. I don’t remember who began it, but an arm got outstretched and suddenly I’m surrounded by 500-watt smiles as each of them greets each of us with grasping hands and shoulder pats and triple cheek kisses and lots of smiles. Lots and lots of smiles.

It felt like we were family, being welcomed home after a very long journey.

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