Life from Inside the Fishbowl

It’s interesting living somewhere where you stick out like a sore thumb. It’s like living inside a fishbowl, where people constantly stare at you from the outside. No matter where you go, at least a dozen pairs of eyes follow you as you walk to class, visit a seamstress, duck into a restaurant for a quick cup of tea, and as trudge home after a trying day when you just want to be alone.

It’s a bit easier in the capital Kigali, where you can blend in with the numerous other abazungu who work at embassies or NGOs. In rural villages like my training site and my permanent site, there is no escape. It feels like we white people are the most popular form of entertainment.

Rumors spread like wild fire in this setting, and I’ve heard all sorts of stories about the scandalous things we PCTs have done. Let me tell you, it gets old quick. I’m kind of surprised at how blatantly some neighbors go around lying about our activities. Maybe one day my Kinyarwanda will be good enough to call them out on it like I pretend to do in my head every time I hear a new rumor.

Sometimes it can be amusing to be the center of attention. The other day when walking home from town, Liz, Steve, and I came across a goat that had gotten itself all tangled up on its tether. Steve, being the considerate person he is, untangled the goat while a dozen Rwandans looked on, my host mom included. That night as Mama and I ate dinner together, she laughed and laughed as she reminisced about how Steve rescued a goat on the side of the road. Only in Africa!

But like everything in life, there is always a silver lining. It’s really annoying to tell every child in my village my name as I walk to school each day, even though I am positive I told them my name the day before. And the day before that and… Luckily my efforts are finally starting to pay off and some of the kids are starting to catch on. It’s much more rewarding to hear my name shouted in unison by a bunch of five year olds than it is to be called Muzungu all the time. Second best to being called by name is being called American for a change. Some little kids run up and give me big hugs around the knees and bury their faces in my skirts whenever they see me.

On one memorable walk home from the nearby market town, a huge following of children joined our ranks for the 45 minute trek home. At least 30 children were thronged around us, and a few brave ones held our hands. Somehow it got started that one PCT would call out song lyrics, line by line, and the children would repeat. Soon our troop of kids was marching through town singing “Call Me Maybe” together. (We bring only the best of American culture to Rwanda.) When we finally reached our village, we had to shoo the kids back to their town, which was a good 20 to 30 minutes back in the opposite direction.

I know that adapting to life in a small town and constantly being the center of attention as an outsider will be something I’ll struggle to adapt to throughout my service. It’s frustrating that now that we’ve finally gotten somewhat integrated into the community here it will soon be time to move to our permanent sites, where we’ll be back to square one. However I look forward to the day when my new community starts addressing me by name and maybe even singing “Call Me Maybe.”

4 thoughts on “Life from Inside the Fishbowl

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