Site Visit and Beyond..

It was everything I didn’t expect and more, mainly because I didn’t know what to expect. This past week, looking back, was such a whirlwind of firsts and a glimpse into what my life will look like. Navigating the crowded the bus station in Kigali seems like nothing. From the regional bus on the main road, I took my first moto ride. I white knuckled it the entire way, fogging up my massive formula one grade helmet, bumping along dirt roads running parallel to vast tea fields and hectares of land. Traveling through the valley, you look to your right and left, to see steppe farming, primarily potatoes, banana plantains, and beans. And just like that,  45 minutes later, we arrived at the front steps of my health center complex. I stayed with my health center director (titulaire) and his family for the week, which is also just steps from the health center.

The health center

I received a full tour of my health center which consists of numerous buildings and divisions. My health center serves 15,000 people in neighboring villages. It has 10 nurses of varying certification levels, admin staff, a lab, technicians, a health insurance office, HIV wing, maternity ward, to name a few of the many services offered. While walking through the maternity ward, I greeted a woman who had given birth the night before and she handed me her baby. I have never held let alone seen a baby so young. Each month, the health center sees 40-50 new babies born. After lunch, the health center is quiet, as most patients and mothers come in the early mornings. 

Tuesday had quite a different feel to it. Tuesday is vaccination day. Babies and children under 6 months come in for regular weigh ins and vaccinations. I helped weigh babies, learning the numbers in Kinyarwanda quite fast because I had to. I also filled in paperwork for new babies, measured those babies, but primarily spoke to the mamas about what I would be doing there for the next two years.

On Wednesday I went to Musanze, a town which is often considered the capital of the north. It’s about 2.5 hours away, including the moto and bus rides. Musanze is a popular destination because it’s at the foothills of immense volcanoes, close to the forests where the gorillas reside, and it has one of the few indoor markets (8 floors). Musanze is also home to the best coffee shop I have seen in Rwanda thus far, called Crema—so good, because in fact, I had a bagel & cream cheese, latte, and a muffin. The Dian Fossey gorilla conservation center is also in Musanze. It was founded be Ellen Degeneres in 2007 to protect the few remaining gorillas. 

Thursday was also quite a busy day at the health center. Thursday is when mothers with malnourished children and mothers in the first category of income come for complementary feeding for their children. Similarly, on Thursday, I weighed children, mothers, and filled out forms stating they had received their monthly amount of porridge and dry milk, dependent on the age of the child and economic status of the family. I was also asked to give a talk in Kinyarwanda about the importance of a balanced diet. I think it was well received but it’s hard to tell. 

On my way back to Rwamagana for the final two weeks of training, I stopped in Kigali for a very western lunch—a burrito and a milkshake. After a week of stewed plantains, beans and potatoes, this meal was much needed. 

 

 

Other things..

Just 12 hours after arriving back to Rwamagana, I attended an 8 hour wedding ceremony . It started with a lunch reception where friends and family gathered at the bride’s house. In the first part of the ceremony, attendees told stories about the bridge and groom and reminisced about their lives. We then went to the church for the religious part of the ceremony. We were there for about 4 hours, during which the bride and groom exchanged rings. I somehow became one of the photographers at the wedding. At the church, two couples were getting married at the same time, and there was confusion when they were saying vows, as they spoke into the microphone at the same time, often confusing the names. After many song interludes from the local civilian choir, we headed back to the bride’s family home for cake and Fanta (soda). I am glad I was able to be a part of such a vibrant and exciting ceremony, as it’s similar to weddings in the U.S but also different in many ways.

(For more photos from the wedding, please see the gallery section)

New beginnings

Yesterday, I met my titulaire for the first time (head of the health center). His name is Bernard. Like most first encounters that have occurred thus far, this was no exception. With much anticipation on both sides, we commenced an awkward parsing of sentences, one third in kinyarwanda, one third in English and one third in French, with many pauses in between. We were able to successfully hold a basic conversation and I learned the following about him: 

1. He is 58 years old

2. He has a wife and 3 children, all girls

3. He has lived in my village for 20 years  

4. He and community members have identified key goals they would like me to help them achieve, mostly related to hygiene and latrine construction as well as my primary goal to work on maternal and child health.  

 

As I head off to my site for a week long visit, I am excited to see my village, to meet the people I’ll be working with, and to see the place that will be my home for the next two years. I anticipate there will be a large learning curve both with regards to the people, culture, language and general cultural integration.  

Disclaimer: I have never ridden a motorcycle but I guess I will have to get used to it, as that’s the only mode of transportation connecting me to the main road and many smaller villages throughout the country. 

To the north is the Ugandan border, my regional town Musanze, volcanoes, and a fellow volunteer from my cohort just 5 km away.  

Unfortunately Rwanda is in an “unfriendly” neighborhood with civil unrest in Burundi to the south and unresolved conflicts to the west in the DRC as well as a whole host of natural disasters, mostly erupting volcanoes and mudslides in the rainy season. Knock on wood all goes well, thankfully nothing catastrophic has happened to any volunteers in Rwanda recently. 

I can’t wait to share my adventures as I make my way to my site for the very first time!  

The Permanent Garden

The permanent garden was introduced to the Peace Corps program around 2008 and stemmed from Michelle Obama and the Obama administration to combat childhood obesity, food security issues, and malnutrition.

In the peace corps context, gardening is a means to teach communities how to grow balanced and nutritious gardens at little to zero cost. The target population is Maternal and Child Health. Permagardening improves accessibility not availability. Often times food may be available but in many places and for many reasons the two are not synonymous. Barriers to accessibility can be attributed to proximity to the market place, large family size, and limited financial ability.

Today we had our first session on perma gardening. We learned about available organic agricultural inputs that enhance and create viable soil. Perma gardening promotes smart water management, effective use of crop rotation (not monocropping) and provides a manageable solution for a single family. The inputs available are: 1. Cow manure (adds nitrogen and phosphorus) 2. Charcoal (carbon and air) 3. Egg shells (calcium) 4. Coffee and tea waste (nitrogen).

I am a NYC girl but understanding the growing seasons, the manual labor involved and how to build a sustainable garden is essential to understanding Rwandan culture (90% of Rwandans are farmers). The growing season breakdowns are as follows: Feb-May (rainy), Sep-Dec (rainy), June-Sep (dry).

The structure of the perma garden helps to prevent water loss. Planting diagonally rather than horizontally creates higher crop yield, creates a canopy that prevents water evaporation in the soil and reduces water waste.

The better part of the day was spent digging holes and preparing the soil for planting which will happen tomorrow. Today we focused on digging holes for added drainage, double digging, and creating berms. Double digging is a way of digging soil that mixes up the layers, adding air and more space for water. If rotated properly, this soil can last for 6 years continuously. The berms help the water to infiltrate the garden slowly.

Perma gardens deal with the issue of food security and creates a cost effective way of growing nutritious fruits and vegetables as compared to the current cost ineffective way of small scale farming here. The benefits are not often understood by Rwandans and takes time to see behavior change because they are accustomed to large scale farming. Perma gardens are usually close to the family land, it’s convenient, easy to transport the crops for harvest, and it produces fresh produce at no cost. Most gardens are started from clippings of neighbors’ already existing crops.

Some photos from today’s events.  

Some photos from today’s events.  

​Frustrations, Some Struggles

Cultural adjustment takes time and often comes in waves. This past week was particularly tough, from full days of language learning to finding a way to balance the American norm of personal space and the Rwandan notion that it does not exist. I have continued to run almost every morning; we’ve been here just about 6 weeks and yet the hills seem like they’re getting steeper. I am looking forward to visiting my site in the north—the next week will be primarily learning how to grow a permagarden and meeting with our health center directors. They will be in Rwamagana for the week, to discuss health center goals, to give a better sense of the logistics and to help us prepare for our week long site visits. I have very little knowledge when it comes to gardening and starting a garden, any advice or tips is much appreciated. I will try my best to keep you apprised of all that I am learning.

Site placement: I can see Uganda from my house

 

So I can’t see Uganda from my house, sorry to disappoint. But good news, I’ve been placed in Rwanda. More specifically, I will be serving in the Northern province in the Rukozo sector. The north is known for its gorillas, massive mountains, coffee and tea farms, and volcanoes…definitely expect some photos throughout my two years. 

Fun fact: I will have the “Big E” (electricity), but as of now it’s unclear how reliable it will be. The north tends to be a bit cooler and rainy season is certainly rainy. In a couple weeks, I will be heading to my site for a weeklong visit, meeting my titileri (director of the health center) and members of the community. I will be the first one at my site, no other volunteer has served there before. 

My community specifically is interested in making sure that all of its residents have proper latrines. Hygiene is essential to ensuring child and maternal health. Their goal by the end of my two years is to make sure all residents in my catchment area (15,000 people) have proper, code regulated latrines—includes having doors, roofs, and latrine covers. 

Getting to my site involves several buses and a moto ride. I think it’s safe to say I am not in NYC anymore, but I am looking forward to the challenge of living a small rural life in the high mountains of Rwanda. Stay tuned for more updates as I learn more about my site and health center. I will also update my local postal box for both receiving and sending mail! 

Friends and I representing three out of the five regions of Rwanda, just after site announcement!

Friends and I representing three out of the five regions of Rwanda, just after site announcement!

Observations

I’ve officially been here a month, these weeks have flown by, language learning has taken up much of my time. Saturday July 7 I took my LPI exam (language proficiency). I will know my results on Tuesday, will keep you posted about the level placement. 

This past week, I caught the “grippe” that my host children had, but I imagine this will happen a lot and often. A few notes about time customs and expectations.

Last night, my host mother “mama”, a family and career woman who is protective and invested in her children’s upbringing, invited me to join her on a quick “visit.” It turned into a soccer game viewing (Russia v. Croatia), a chicken stew dinner, and Fantas with my host family and their friends at the local bar. 

Later on, those friends stayed over at our house, no prior warning given. We ate a brunch hour breakfast in the morning, consisting of beef stew, beans and fries.

I then asked about when the wedding was on Sunday and what I should wear, to which they responded that they actually went on Saturday.

At first glance, all of the events above can be viewed as annoying or inconvenient. But time and timeliness mean completely different things in Rwanda. 10 min at a restaurant can mean an hour or two waiting, or it can also mean that they don't have the food you wanted.

Also events here seem to happen spontaneously and you have to be proactive about asking when things happen (the wedding for example).

But I think that understanding the lack of scheduling and rigidity of time is refreshing, frustrating at times, but takes understanding the culture and lifestyle. Lesson learned, now I know for the next time. 10 minute is often not 10 minutes. 

Umuganda: A day of service

As I have quickly learned, Rwanda is special for many reasons. On the last Saturday of each month, there is a country wide day of service. The concept of volunteerism is still new and not widely understood. As a peace corps volunteer, our time is time spent unpaid, working for the people of Rwanda and as a liaison for those back at home. There are many NGOs that bring material wealth and supplies here and this fact has shaped the way Rwandans see foreigners. Often children will walk up and ask if we have money or anything for them. Peace Corps volunteers bring knowledge and health education, not material resources. 

On Umuganda, people divide up by sector to work on a public works project. This can be anything from building a school, to cutting grass, to building roads. On Saturday, I went with my host brother and we worked on building a school from the ground up. The early morning started with moving bricks and later progressed into creating and laying concrete. The manual labor, when done with a small village, is inspiring because it is a day when people focus on others. It isn’t mandatory but the communal effort and aspect has each family sending someone to represent them at Umuganda. 

A few random notes:

- Don't keep hard boiled eggs in your bag as snacks, inevitably you will forget them once in a while (trial by error)

- I will be going to a wedding next weekend with my host parents. Their neighbor's daughter is getting married. Hopefully I'll have some photos to share!

The toughest job you’ll ever love

I have a feeling that this will indeed be the toughest job I’ll ever love. During our training sessions, we have been visited by a few current volunteers and got a better sense of what the day to day will look like. This doesn’t make me feel any less nervous about the site placement announcement that is to happen in two weeks. But I am resilient. I have faced hard times, personally and professionally as have many on this program and I still have both feet planted firmly on the ground.

I am grateful for such an amazing support network—friends, family and loved ones back at home, the friendships I have made in my cohort of 24, and my host family who has accepted me into their house and home.

Pre service training, the Peace Corps and everything in between is tough and takes true grit. Our goal is to become intercultural effective volunteers focused on capacity building. But this takes true GRIT to become one. GRIT: Guts, Resiliency, Initiative, and Tenacity. These are the components of a successful volunteer. This is how we are in tough times, how we fare during, how we hold ourselves after. Grit tactics require full integration, connection, protection, and empowerment.

During one of our training sessions, our Director of Program Training said, “no one here is more prepared than anyone else.” This is an epic journey for all of us. There are ups and downs; understanding what gets you up in the morning and what your motives are when you arrive, those will inevitably change. It takes passion and perseverance to figure out what your raison d’être ultimately is. We are all here for different reasons and one isn’t better than another.

As an example, someone in passing had mentioned how they did not “do” small talk. For those who don’t enjoy small talk but understand that it is a part of the Rwandan culture, be where you are. Understand that small talk (saying hello five times over) is cultural and that in this context, small talk isn’t small at all. In fact it is the building block and essence of a shared humanity.

A Single Story

A Single Story

What is a single story? In a recent training session, we explored the implications of what it means to tell or share a single story. My time in Rwanda will be multifaceted, ranging from time spent working on my primary project at the health center (in tandem with the first 1,000 days), but at the same time, we are ambassadors and liaisons for the United States and Rwanda. By reading my blog, you are actively interested and learning about the lifestyle, the people, and the challenges associated with such an experience. But it is important to acknowledge that what I am saying is from my perspective and unique understanding of my relevance and role in relation to the people I come into contact with and the people I work/live with. The way I see things is through the lens of an American expatriate living abroad, working in health, working on integration into a certain community. The larger lens and reality is that I am not from Rwanda, I did not grow up here, and two years in the grand scheme of things is not a lot of time. But I am hopeful that this two years will prove to give me insight on the work I will be doing and a more in depth understanding of what it means to be a Rwandan. 

In a TED talk by novelist Chimamanda Adichie, she discusses what it means to knowingly and unknowingly share and spread a single story and the implications it has on an audience. Adichie says, “The consequence of the single story is this: It robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar.” Her analysis of what a single story is and its repercussions is hugely important and should be explored on a variety of topics and issues especially now, especially today. 

But just like I am capable to telling a single story and I will work on making sure I don’t, Rwandans also have an interesting story of not just Americans but foreigners in Rwanda. The most popular beliefs when Rwandans see foreigners is that the foreigners are here to be spies and to collect data, that they are teachers of English, and that they are wealthy. My role here is just as important for the Rwandans as it is those back at home. If you have any insight on how to counterbalance and avoid telling a single story, I would love to hear it. 

Here is the link to the TED Talk. I highly recommend watching if you have 20 minutes. 

https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story

Health Center Visit

 

Today, we got a taste of what life at a sector level health center looks like. The health center we visited serves 20,000 people. It has 8 nurses, 1 doctor, admin staff and lab technicians. This was my first insight into the Rwandan health care system.

When you first walk in, on the room to the right, there are two computers and one man trying and transcribing the handwritten medical records. As you travel down the hall, there are consultation rooms on either side, a few more doors down, there is a room covered from floor to ceiling with bags of “igikoma” (nutrient fortified porridge for mothers, babies, and HIV patients), packages of “plumpy nut” (nutrient fortified packages of peanut butter), and milk packages for families in the lowest income brackets. 

We then reached a large waiting room with people to be seen by nurses and have their paper work processed. All in all, a visit to this particular health center could take up to an hour, but that is efficient considering the number of people they see each day. Typically, health centers such as this one have no doctors and are entirely run by nurses; this health center was an exception. There is health insurance paid for by the government for the poorest people. Other families pay 3,000 RWD per person each year for health insurance. Currently, 89% of this health center has insurance which is a high number comparatively speaking.

We then walk to the lab facility equipped with lab tech including machines to test for worms, TB, HIV, and Malaria, to name a few. We then introduced ourselves to a room full of mothers with babies under the age of 2. Each month, on average, the health center records around 60 births. The mothers check in each month or on a biweekly basis to ensure that their children are growing at a proper rate both height and weight related. 

And now, for the hands on experience. We weighed babies, putting them in a carrier and weighing them on the scale. We also measured these same babies, putting them on their backs and making sure their heels were flat to allow for accurate measurements. Measuring babies is not an easy task, especially when they are so small and wriggly. Vigorous record keeping and checkups is an overt effort to reduce stunting and wasting in children under the age of 5. This is the initiative of the Rwandan government, also known as “The first 1,000 days.” 

Stunting is a function of height and age (38% of children under the age of 5) while wasting is a function of weight and height. Stunting and malnutrition both have implications of their own, including issues with brain development and a continued cycle of malnutrition. Later on, this implicates the average lifespan of an adult, bringing it down significantly. These goals for the First 1,000 Days programs are in an effort to change this systemic problem and to educate the populations about the lingering effects of stunting and malnutrition on child development and societal development as a whole. 

Health and Infectious diseases

The topic you’ve all been waiting for…there’s a whole host of endemic infectious diseases both bacterial and viral that I have A) been vaccinated against B) taught about.

Here are a few:

1. Tuberculosis

Carinal signs include coughing, night sweats etc. It can also be spread through uncooked cows milk that is brought to a boil.

2. Shisto

A parasite found in all fresh water source in Rwanda. It starts as a rash and can be caught in fresh water lakes.

3. Typhoid

A fever caused by fecal oral transmission. A common fertilizer used here, called “night soil” is often the cause of typhoid and other diseases. Night soil is made from human waste.

4. Malaria

This is a parasitic infection whose causative agent is the female mosquito. Symptoms present themselves 7-14 days after bitten. Complications include renal failure, anemia, accurate respiratory distressed, and enlarged spleen to name a few. Not to worry, I sleep under a mosquito net every night, I take an antimalarial and I cover up when the mosquitos are most active.

On another note:

Language learning of Kinyarwanda (the language of Rwanda) has progressed. I can now form sentences but learning this language is difficult because of the sounds that don't exist in English such as “nt” which sounds like an “h”.

I had a skirt made, the fabric (igitenge) cost 3,000 RWD and the cost of making it was also 3,000 for a grand total of $6 USD.

 

Global Health Challenges


I am seeing global health from an on the ground perspective. There are challenges that face much of the populations in the southern hemisphere including both communicable and noncommunicable diseases.

The other day, I was introduced to the project I will be working on and the focus of my two years of service. Rwanda has a national health initiative called the first 1,000 days, created to promote health initiative and prevent stunting. The program targets mothers during pregnancy to provide support both antepartum and postpartum, hence the first thousands days.

“Stunting” or malnutrition is prevalent in 48% of children in the poorest households and 21% in the higher income brackets. My role will be to work with a health center that provides sector wide coverage. Sectors are an admin breakdown of areas in Rwanda. With the national average of 4-5 kids per woman, the average has gone down, but there is still much to learn about how to educate on malnutrition, living a balanced and healthy life, and create a foundation. For children, when it comes to a strong immune system from infancy.

“Muzungo”

We the "muzungo” or foreigner, have created quite the image for ourselves in our training town. Our Rwandan language and culture facilitators (LCF) came up with this list:

“What we observed about Americans”

  1. Like drinking water and coffee. Here, water is for cows.
  2. Walk fast and speak fast (Rwandans walk slowly so dust is not kicked up)
  3. They laugh when stressed
  4. Respect time
  5. Goal Oriented 
  6. Like clear instructions
  7. Speak loudly 
  8. Sit everywhere (in the U.S there is no dust but here, we only sit in chairs, not on the ground)
  9. They like to talk about food and diet all the time
  10. They invite you and you pay for what you consumed (In Rwandan culture if you ask someone to get a drink, you pay for everyone since you extended the invite)
  11. Most Americans not religious as Rwandans 

Life is very different, time moves slowly and I find myself adjusting to this new schedule naturally. Because it’s about the people not about the latrines or the bucket baths. Those are surface level necessities I have learned to live without. If anything, you can make light of it, make a joke about a funny latrine story or about something you mistakenly said in the language (happens to me a lot). 

Goodbye modern life

Goodbye, modern life

Prior to moving into our host families, we had an orientation geared towards the Americans in the room. Before I continue, I would like to make the point that Rwandans are some of the happiest people I have ever met. But, as I am an American, their way of life is new to me and like anything it takes practice. I feel like a child learning to take its first steps. I’ve been bawling words and limited phrases but it is a learning curve.

After the orientation I felt my stomach drop as it quickly became clear how exactly I would survive and thrive throughout my time in Rwanda.

A few cultural notes:

The squatty potty.

As someone who has used one maybe once in my life, knowing how to use it is a life skill that is acquired. A note about where they usually are. My latrine is in a room 10 feet away from the house. There is no light; it is a bare room. In this room, there is a book. This book is strategically placed. It is not for reading purposes. It is to replace the toilet paper—hence why some pages are missing. Using the bathroom at night is also an ordeal. It is tradition to wake up a family member to stand guard while you use the bathroom after everyone has gone to bed. It is thought to be more of a security measure, but Rwanda is one of the safest countries in the world right now.

The bucket bath.

I am now able to eek out a few words, one phrase which roughly translates to “I want shower.” According to my language/cultural exchange partner, she says that this isn’t rude to say. But shower also means going outside, filling a bucket of water and pouring that freezing cold water on my head. This can be refreshing if it’s warm, but the mornings are around 55 degrees F sometimes.

The janky meat.

This phrase coined by my friend Ian, is truly accurate. Meat here is 80% goat, as chicken and fish are expensive. It is janky because of its toughness, lack of flavor and seasonings, and the fact that you’re not quite sure what part of the goat it is from.

A few other random asides.

  • During meals, I sit at the table with my host parents while the children eat on the floor from a communal bowl.
  • I have just started taking my malaria preventative medication, which is known to cause hallucinations and vivid dreams. Safe to say I had a vivid dream last night.
  • My friend’s family asked her if she was moving to Africa or staying for two years because she brought two suitcases with her.

On the language of Kinyarwanda:

The letters are not as they seem. “R” can be pronounced as “G” and there are a lot of random silent “D”s.

So far I can say “Muraho! Nitwa Kerong. Ndi Umanyaamerika. Nturuka muri leta ya New York. Nishimiye kubamenya” The translation: Hello, my name is Kerong. I am American. I am from the state of New York. Nice to meet you.”

To be honest, this is a useful phrase but it also allows for some very awkward long silences after.

 

Kigali by night

Slowly descending upon Kigali at night by plane is truly an experience. What you see is a vast empty darkness, a few occasional lights dotting Rwanda’s thousand hills. As you approach, the lights form patterns, presumed roads. The roads converge into clusters and then we are on the ground. 

 

On the plane, I sat next to Christophe, a man in his mid 40s originally from Kigali. It was on the plane where I made my first Rwandan friend. An hour into the flight I had managed to get invited to a home cooked meal with his wife and kids. 

 

Some notable things I also learned from Christophe: 

1. Sugar is expensive

2. Bruchette is grilled goat

3.  Tuzasu bura means see you later 

Also a few of us went for a pleasant evening run. Since it’s the capital it was not found strange by the Rwandans; more updates to come re: my running adventures. 

Never trust a pen at 30,000 feet

After a day of training in Philadelphia, our small cohort said goodbye to the disappearing skyline only to cross the GW Bridge just two hours later. The surreal sensation of saying goodbye to your loved ones, the place you have called home for 24 years, and a modern life of convenience, through the window of a Peter Pan Bus, is a feeling that will always remain with me.   

72 suitcases later and 7 hours later, we arrive in Brussels, awaiting our final leg of the trip; destination, Kigali, Rwanda.

In every group trip, there is at least one representative of every personality type. Me, I’m the type-A New Yorker who will not, under any circumstances, miss her flight. There’s the person who has packed everything they want but nothing that they need. There is the person who has never traveled internationally.

In the Brussels airport, there is the Belgian couple sipping a cappucino at what I presume is a reasonable hour in the morning. There is a family traveling with two small babies, not older than 6 months of age, swaddled and content riding on the backs of their mothers. There’s the girl munching on a pop tart, contrasting smells of freshly brewed airport coffee waft, a reminder of just how lacking JFK is.   

As cliché as it is, we are all in this journey together, stretching our limbs before the next leg of the flight. 

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Progress, maybe...

Packing for just a little over two years takes time, patience, and a time lapse to prove it. These past few days have been filled with teary goodbyes, gluttony and many questions about what exactly it is I will be doing in the months ahead. Unfortunately, I am also at a loss for words, as each peace corps volunteer's experience is different. I will be documenting my time in Rwanda through the best way I know how--photography. You can find more photos on instagram @therwanderer. 

In case anyone is curious about what to bring for two years, just know that a lot of it is food, clothing, camera equipment, and the “essentials” my mom insisted I bring. But I also know that these “essentials” will also become essential. Off to Philly for a day of training and then next stop Kigali, Rwanda. 

Au revoir NYC. This is what 2 x 50 lb bags, a carry-on and a backpack looks like.  

Au revoir NYC. This is what 2 x 50 lb bags, a carry-on and a backpack looks like.  

The Invisible Thread

The Invisible Thread

Born to seek a thread
blind and senseless yet we glow
with vulnerable flesh

- For Kerong

I wrote my college essay about the 'Hallelujah man,' a fixture of the Upper West Side, whose only words I have ever heard are "God Bless You, Jesus, Jesus, I love you." That is his plight, day in and day out, walking up and down broadway, reinforcing these same words, as routine and involuntary as drawing breath. That is his plight, his human struggle. 

I am not unlike my parents. I am a creature of habit, a creature of comfort. Struggle has touched their lives in different capacities and at different times, as it has the lives of many other unknown, unrelated, random individuals. As a child who was guided by the ideals of one of the largest melting pots, confined by the concrete labyrinth of subways and yellow taxis, everyone arrived here somehow. 

Saying goodbye to the diversity and convenience that defines and supports this island of 8 million is not an easy choice. But that is my human struggle. It is one of many that I will inevitably encounter because no matter where I am, the basis for searching, the basis for understanding, the basis for that vulneratbility, that is the invisible thread.