It’s been a busy start to 2019: readjusting to life in village after a brief pause in Germany, planning ahead for maternal and child health projects, photographing the Tour du Rwanda among other things, running the Nyungwe Forest Half marathon.
This past weekend was spent in Nyungwe Forest, at the Nyungwe Marathon (I ran the half). This was one of the toughest races I have run thus far—the total elevation climb was 2,700 ft above sea level, not including the start elevation of around 9,000 ft above sea level. After the half marathon, our small group of volunteers enjoyed brochettes, bonfires, and camping among the vast expanses of the western tea fields. On a clear morning, we were able to see the hills of Burundi in the distance.
But here are some things I have noticed more recently. It is easy to generalize. To generalize a person’s intent, capabilities, and possibly the way they see the world. In the recent months, I have been humbled by the smallest experiences, by the things you’d least expect. For all intensive purposes I am a stranger in a foreign land and that’s a fact. I have struggled a lot with the intense stares, the type that will follow you across a mountainside, that will watch your every move, that will seem blank and not present. It’s hard to have feelings other than ones of annoyance and dread, for each time you leave your house, it becomes the event of the day for many small children and some adults. The quotidien things I don’t think about, my walk to work, locking my front door, going food shopping in village. But there is always a flip side.
Being a Chinese American adoptee in Rwanda has also had its challenges—both in translation and in cultural understanding. When I go for runs in my village, I am called one of two names “umuzungu” which roughly translates to foreigner or “umuchinois” which is someone from China. As a volunteer in the U.S Peace Corps, I do not identify as Chinese, culturally speaking. But explaining this to someone who has never seen a foreigner, often doesn’t make sense and diversity is a strange concept. 7 months in my village has taught me patience and the knowledge that I am not here to change everyone’s perspective. It’s the small changes like calling me “umuzungu umunyamerika” (the foreigner plus american) is a small step in finding a common ground.
“Sometimes the slightest things change the directions of our lives, the merest breath of a circumstance, a random moment that connects like a meteor striking the earth,” The Power of One