The feeling of isolation can creep up at any time, anywhere, in the midst of friends and family, and not. Peace Corps is tough. It forces you to take control of what you can actually control, and be okay with life sometimes just happening to you. This past week has been tough. From a mental standpoint, the idea of being in a small rural village for two years is daunting. Being in a small Rwandan village is even more daunting. There is the language barrier, the necessity of making friends and building relationships, the uncertainty of what it is your are doing at any given time, and the cultural barriers that exist despite your peers in village telling you they understand.
Sometimes someone telling you “I am sorry” is not actually what you want to hear. I am sorry is sympathy not empathy. Empathizing with the muzungu is not possible because it’s hard to even describe what 24 years in New York City means, considering 90% of the Rwandan population are farmers in the agricultural industry. This is not to say that common ground cannot be achieved. I am an optimist, or I like to think so. When times are tough, when you think no one knows what you are going through, you are your own best friend.
Yesterday, I decided to go for a long run, to bring some sense of normalcy back to my life. 7.5 miles in the hills of Rwanda isn’t exactly normal nor is it easy, but it brought me back to good times with my close friends, my running crew, having a good sweat—followed by the endorphins. After an elevation gain of 909 feet, being chased by children and goats and some adults, and several rocky stumbles later, I returned back to my village, met by my neighbors’ faces of shock when I told them I had just run to the next mountain and back.
It is not just a feeling of boredom. It is a feeling that there are no options other than work, some socializing, but primarily a lot of thought about how best to be impactful and to not just have life happen to you. But sometimes it does. And on the rainy days, it seems like there’s not a whole lot you can do.
Being a part of Rwanda’s First Thousand Days program has taught me a lot about the general landscape of health in Rwanda, the services available, and about how people live on a day to day basis. But it doesn’t emphasize the importance of behavior change, and how, despite day after day of giving the same talks, people continue to do the same things. I am not in the business of changing people nor convincing them that I know, above all else. From a non clinical aspect, behavior change has been my biggest challenge thus far. Not just behavior change but how to explain to a group of mothers that I have any street credibility when it comes to sound advice on how to keep children healthy, that the impact of washing hands might not be immediate and visible but is essential, that despite not having children, you still can have knowledge on the subject.
All is not lost. The feeling of loneliness is real. But you can feel lonely almost anywhere, despite being in a city of 21 million, despite having everything at your fingertips. This new alternate reality is setting in—the Kerong in village reality, the bucket bath reality, the rainy season reality, the 27 month reality.