Friday, November 16, 2012
A Painfully Detailed Chronicle of My Last Week(s) in Peace Corps, Part II
Saturday, November 10, 2012
I wake up early with the intent to go for a run, but it’s raining. Instead I make coffee with fresh ginger root and honey and write a list of things to get done that day. Then I make banana pancakes and bring them to the convent to share with the nuns. Over the course of the day my rooms are slowly stripped of furniture, kitchenware and other odds and ends. I sell my chairs and the stool I use for cooking. I give my wall calendar to the gardener. By the end of the day the larger of my two rooms is more or less empty. I sit on the floor and stare at the bare walls.
I expect to feel something, but I still don’t. It’s like my head is full of white noise.
Sunday, November 11, 2012
Despite my best efforts to be innocuous about leaving, visitors trickle in and out all day. Louise comes by in the morning. Meredith invites me to get tea with her at the market, and when I get back Valentine is there with her two younger sisters and her newborn baby. Innocent comes later that morning with his father and sings me a goodbye song he composed himself. Abakecuru and students come and go. As news spreads through the health center that I’m leaving, nurses start to drop by. With each visitor, the fact that I’m leaving sinks in a little more. The white noise dissipates, but it’s replaced with a cacophony of divergent emotions – sadness, elation, anxiousness, relief.
Rain clouds roll in over Gihara and the stream of visitors slows to a trickle. Then I get a visitor I wasn’t expecting. Josias has walked all the way from his home in the valley just to say goodbye. He’s dressed to the nines, in a secondhand suit jacket, pressed pants and leather hat. When I ask him why he’s all dressed up he says, “To come say goodbye to you.”
I have no furniture left in my house so we sit together on a bench on my porch and watch the rain fall. It reminds me of my first year at site when he was still a night guard at the health center. Before I leave, I gift him two more parting gifts – a micro fleece blanket and my radio. As he leaves I feel oddly content – I’ve given him the two nicest things I had left in my house. It feels right to give him the best I’ve got, even if it’s less than he deserves.
A vehicle from Peace Corps drops by on its way to the office in Kigali to pick up some of my Peace Corps-issued effects. I help load my trunk, my bicycle and my water filter. Then I go back to sitting in my empty kitchen and staring at the blank walls while the rain lashes the windows. I smile into space and think about going home.
Later that night I have dinner with the nuns for the last time. They’ve baked me a cake and bought Fanta for the occasion. We celebrate until Sister Marie Rose starts to fall asleep at the table. Then they walk me back to my room and wish me sweet dreams on my last night in Gihara.
Monday, November 12, 2012
It rains again so I skip my morning run and spend an hour unpacking and repacking my bags. I have a duffle full of things to bring to Kigali for other PCVs. Everything else has been given away already except my spare pair of sandals. While I’m standing on my porch trying to figure out what to do about them, two barefoot old women walk by on their way to the health center. I greet them and they respond with a predictable, “What do you have to eat?” This isn’t so much a request as a convention. I know this, but I tell them, “I have no food right now but I have these shoes. Do you want them?”
I smile as one old Rwandan walks away with what might be the best pair of shoes she’s ever owned.
I have tea and leftover cake with the nuns. They ask me how I plan to get to Kigali with all of my bags. At one point I’d had a plan for that, but I got caught up in packing and giving things away and forgot to actually arrange for a car. The nuns suggest that I go out into the market and find a couple of available moto taxis. Sister Donatile offers to accompany me to Kigali, but I convince her to go only as far as the main road. I then spend a good twenty minutes waiting in the market for moto taxis to show up. It figures that the day I leave Gihara forever is the one day I can’t find a ride.
I finally acquire two motos and send them ahead of me back to the convent. Sister Donatile meets me at the gate and helps load my giveaway bag onto one moto. We quickly realize that we’d need a third moto to transport me, her and all my things. I tell her, “Don’t worry. It’s better to say goodbye here than at the bus stop. This was our home.” She takes my hand and puts it against her cheek. We spend a good minute just looking at each other with tears in our eyes. Then I get on the moto and I’m off.
I expected to feel good on my last ride out of site, but I cry silently the whole way.
When I get to the main road I realize I have no idea how I’m going to get myself and my bags onto a bus. Fortunately for me, the motari recognizes the hopelessness of my situation and immediately goes in search of a car taxi. He finds me a driver named Bosco who agrees to take me all the way to the Peace Corps office for 10,000 francs. It normally costs more like 15 or 20 thousand. I thank him and ask him in all candidness why he didn’t try to overcharge me like taxi drivers normally do. He says, “You’re leaving Rwanda, yes? You need to go with peace in your heart, and we must send you away with love.”
I wonder at the benevolence of Rwanda. For a moment, the anxieties and frustrations of past weeks melt away.
I arrive at the Peace Corps office, unpack and take a lukewarm shower.
Tuesday, November 13 – Thursday, November 15, 2012
Since Monday is a national holiday, none of us can begin our COS process until Tuesday. Things go alarmingly smoothly. I manage to turn in all of my Peace Corps stuff, get my paperwork signed off on and see the PCMO before noon on Wednesday. When it finally dawns on me that I’m no longer a PCV, I feel the same blankness I felt before leaving site. It’s too much to take in.
Wednesday and Thursday night are spent out on the town with other COS-ing volunteers. There’s a lot of benevolence and nostalgia but not too many tears. One by one, we start leaving for the airport.
Friday, November 16, 2012
Bags have been packed, francs have been exchanged for USD, boarding passes have been printed. It doesn’t occur to me that I’m actually leaving until I’m hugging people goodbye. In the kitchen at the Peace Corps office, Kay tells me she’ll miss me and I finally burst into tears.
I realize that the silent crying I did on the moto out of site really didn’t count as much of a release. Now, this is real.
Jed, Shawn, Jamie and Keira accompany Brittany, Caroline and I to the airport. We discover that our flight has been delayed by five hours. By sheer luck, we won’t miss our connecting flight from Jo’burg to Cape Town. It’s a fitting start to our adventure.
And now I find myself here. In an airport in Kigali with Caroline and Brittany, waiting for a 1 am flight. Goodbye, Peace Corps service. Goodbye, Rwanda. Goodbye, ibitoki and cold showers and abasabirizi and abakecuru and abanyeshuri, spiders and lizards and filtering our own drinking water, Peace Corps rules and Peace Corps guidelines, to everything and everyone familiar from the last two years.
Hello, the rest of our lives.