In Boston, I know precisely what to expect; I know that things will function with a certain level of efficiency, of predictability, even finesse.
I know what I’ll find at the majority of the T-stops; I can more or less anticipate how people will respond if I smile in passing; I know that I can use the word ‘wicked’ and the vast majority of people will understand what I mean.
I know when places will open, when they’ll close. The weather is far from predictable, but having lived in Boston for most of my life, I have a ready blueprint response for every sort of bizarre weather the city conjures up. Really, in Boston I know, and often love, my context.
Here in Kigali, I lack consistency, predictability, and the cultural knowledge to maneuver comfortably through this place. I am an aesthetically and culturally disparate creature here: I look and sound like no one, and can do virtually nothing in the absence of insistent stares. The hyper-productivity and efficiency to which I cling in Boston has been replaced with an entirely different cultural construction of time- one which I am not yet used to.
Multiple times I have been tempted to accept the disappointment in myself, the disappointment from others, and to book a flight home, because in all honesty, it has been frustrating here. The shower has been broken for the bulk of my time here; the wifi is capricious at best; the power spontaneously shuts off; there is a pronounced language barrier. I am uncomfortable. And yet I have to consistently remind myself that it was this very discomfort I sought when I chose to come to Rwanda for co-op in the first place. I desperately needed to be shirked from the mechanical functionality of my routine in Boston; I needed to be someplace new. And I do think there’s a utility in being a complete outsider; I’m attune to the cultural and social nuances, and I’m deeply aware of the ways in which I don’t yet fit here—and this is hugely important.
Beyond the subjective challenges that come with moving from one place to a another [radically different] one, being in Kigali has made me infinitely more secure in my passion for human rights studies. This is a landscape and population shaped- physically, psychologically, socially- by its history of genocide and trauma. For me, it is impossible to interface with the topic of mass atrocity, specifically genocide, and to not feel and overwhelming compulsion to do something about it. My work has underscored my desire to comprehend the infinite complexities of past genocides, for one, and how these genocides continue to reverberate in current dynamics around commemoration, persistent antagonisms and the ongoing persecution of genocidal crimes. Furthermore, working and being here in Rwanda has compelled me to develop an understanding of how something so horrific (and simultaneously, so repetitive when situated in international history) can be prevented.
And a bit off topic, but really: this place is stunningly beautiful. Independent of its traumas and frustrations, this is an incredible country. Every landscape photograph I take feels like a voyeuristic glimpse into the inner workings of this rapidly-changing city, divided by winding paved roads or red clay roads and dotted with cars and boda-bodas. Every time I look out of the window in my office, I’m genuinely stunned by the beauty of this city, and I’m progressively more enamored with this place. More to come over the next few months.