When we first came to our training site, it was a cold and rainy day. Everyone was tired and jet lagged. We were loaded down with a new water-filter and med kit in addition to the two, fifty pound suitcases we each brought from America. We crammed into buses and drove along the winding roads from Kigali to our new homes.
When we arrived at the Hub, it was absolutely pouring. We were ushered under a large, white tent where we were met by a room full of Rwandans waiting to greet us. We had absolutely no idea what to expect and were all pretty intimidated by the crowd. We sat nervously on one side of the room, staring back at our future host families. One by one, each of our names was called and we came to the center of the room to meet our Rwandan hosts.
We were not prepared for what followed. Our host families were so excited to meet us, they ran to the center to pull us into bear hugs. But do you hug once on each side, twice? Do you shake hands after you hug? Is it culturally appropriate to hug someone of the opposite sex? What’s the Kinyarwanda word for nice to meet you? Needless to say, there were a lot of awkward half-hugs and some accidental head butts in the midst of all the confusion.
Then we sat down with our new family and drank a Fanta together. We tried to speak the five words of Kinyarwanda that we had learned thus far, but we butchered the pronunciation so it was incomprehensible. Our host parents tried to strike up conversation, but we couldn’t keep up. Instead, we sat in silence, all staring at each other wondering what to do.
Yesterday, we had our Farewell Celebration with our host families. Again, we trainees sat on one side of the white tent, and our Rwandan families sat on the other side. This time, however, there were no awkward silences and uncomfortable stares. Speeches were made in Kinyarwanda, French, and English. Bob cracked a joke in Kinyarwanda during his speech that made all our families laugh. Matt made us all teary-eyed with his speech about the new Peace Corps family that we’ve forged during the past three months, and Elisabeth reminded us of our commitment to love, peace, and understanding that we’ve made for the next two years.
After the ceremony, we shared another Fanta. Instead of silence there was laughing and chatting as everyone introduced their families to their friend. Last pictures were taken to remember our families by.
The celebration yesterday gave me a wonderful sense of closure to this part of my Peace Corps journey. I feel like I’ve come full circle, and I can’t believe Pre-Service Training is already over and that it’s already time to pack up and move to my permanent site. I finally feel like I’ve integrated into this community and family. Children call out my name instead of Muzungu when I walk through town. People ask me to come visit them in their homes. I can actually talk to my host mama at dinner. I think I finally have the hang of doing laundry. Now it’s time to leave this home and start again back at square one.
I’m a mixture of excitement and nervousness heading to my new site. I look forward to meeting my students and starting to teach in January. I’m eager to explore the beautiful countryside and do a lot of hiking. I’m glad I will be unpacking my bags once and for all and won’t still be half living out of a suitcase.
However, I’m nervous to leave everyone I know and be on my own at site. Here I’ve had my support network of fellow Trainees around 24/7. I’m incredibly thankful they’ll only be a phone call away, but it will definitely be an adjustment leaving them. I’m nervous my Kinyarwanda isn’t good enough yet to make many friends. And what in the world will I do with all my free time during my first month before I actually start teaching?!
The feelings of accomplishment and fullness that I had yesterday at the Farewell Ceremony comforted me against these worries. When I first arrived here, I was just as apprehensive as I am now. However, after only three months, I already feel at home here. Imagine what life will be like after a whole year here! Now I have some experience, cultural knowledge, and Kinyarwanda skills added to my arsenal of coping strategies. Although it will still be a difficult step in this adventure, I am confident it will be worth my while.