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|My Journey into the Unknown|
It's been almost a year since I visited the beautiful country of Rwanda. Even as I was looking for my seat in the airplane, I was still unsure if I was ready for the journey. Today, when I look back, I know it had been a good decision. The thirteen-hour flight was the beginning of my journey into the unknown, dangerous and exciting.
I still think about the people I have met in various parts of Rwanda. All of them have found a place in my heart. Those people are trying to do their best in the given circumstances, and they were always able to draw out a smile on my face.
When my airplane landed in Rwanda, I was fearful of the situation that awaited me there. I was coming from a different place and I was used to something else. In the beginning everything was very unusual for me.
I stayed in Rwanda for a month. It was the hardest month of my life so far and a month in which I have learned the most. I was not ready for all that was in store for me there. Especially not mentally ready. Through the news outlets I had learned quite a bit about the situation in “Third World” countries, but I became truly aware of it all only upon my arrival there. At first it was pretty hard to get used to living in accordance with the rhythm of the community I was staying in. It meant that I had to get up at 5:30 AM every morning, get dressed, clean my room and attend the morning mass with the community’s nuns, and then set the table for the 7 AM breakfast. Everyone stuck to the rules, which taught me a lot about life and myself, but I will tell you more about that later. After breakfast we had some free time at our disposal, and at first I used the time to get some more sleep because I could not put up with the rhythm. It took me around five days to get used to the life. After I’d gotten used to it, I realized that it made sense to start your day earlier.
“The day starts as soon as the sun rises,” fra Ivica would say. The day should be used. And so I did.
In the mornings, after breakfast, I would go to the school where together with other volunteers I worked on posters, which teachers used in their lessons in the Kivumu school. Rwandan children go to school the whole day. There are no moments of silence in the schools. There’s laughter all over the place, and still the students manage to learn a lot. Right away I noticed that they were grateful for being able to learn something. They like to go to school because, more than anyone else, they are aware that hard work leads to success. Besides, the teachers have a very good and personal relationship with the students. They put a lot of effort into making sure the children learn something, so that every child has a future. Right now a second school is being built in Kivumu. It is supposed to be a secondary school for older youth.
The community in Kivumu puts great emphasis on education and tries to provide every child who attends the school with a better future.
At noon, among other things, I helped with lunch preparation. I would pick the garden vegetables and then cut them. The community’s cook is a very likeable man. While he cooked we would listen to loud music and dance. That was always fun. The cook spoke neither German nor Croatian. He spoke very little English, and I didn’t speak Kinyarwanda. But he always knew what I wanted to say, and I knew what he wanted to say. And it was like that throughout Kivumu. Despite the language barrier, we all managed to communicate one way or the other.
After lunch I would go to visit the Kivumu kindergarten. There I would sing and play with the little “chicks,” as they were called in Kivumu. As soon as they saw me coming they would run out of their little building and hurry towards me. They would jump on me, hug me and kiss me. There was so much warmth and love over there; they were my favourites and the reason that, every time I would take a walk through the village, I would always pass next to the kindergarten.
After lunch I would often go to the “City.” You can get to the “City” only by taking the “bus” packed with people or by going on a motorbike. But that did not bother me, because every time I would meet very interesting people. Even if we all had to squeeze in the minibus it was all very fun every time. There was a lot of singing and laughter, which is in fact typical of Rwanda. In the city centre there was a lot of small stores that mostly sold clothing fabric. The fabric is in high demand because people mostly make their own dresses. But not everyone had a dress, and if they did they did not have more than two. On such occasions my closet would come to my mind and I felt ashamed for having more than I needed.
In the evening hours, after I had returned from the city, I would set the supper table and then go to the evening prayer. During supper everyone talked about what they had experienced and seen that day. We talked a lot and we would make plans for the following day. The evenings usually ended in the yard where we would end our day with a beer.
Sunday is a very special day in Rwanda. On that day everyone puts on their best clothes. Women wear their dresses and men their best pants and prettiest shirts.
In Kivumu Sunday is greatly celebrated. The whole settlement gathers in the church. The mass is celebrated in a special way, with lots of dancing and clapping. There is also a choir, which provides beautiful singing. The church is completely full each time and it’s always very cheerful. After the mass boys play soccer in front of the church while girls watch them.
My favourite memories are related to a small celebration organized by us in our yard. We bought food and cooked together. We lit a campfire. We also invited the school’s teachers to the celebration. We all gathered around the fire, we ate and we drank. Fra Ivica brought out a large drum from the house. Each of us played the drum trying to create music for the rest of the group. Of course, I was not as good at playing the drum as the rest of the people living in Kivumu. I nonetheless danced and sang with the others. The girls at the school had taught me how to dance the traditional dance, so I was able to dance with the others around the campfire. It was very nice because at the very end everyone held a short speech. I was very touched by what the teachers said. They talked about how hard it was to survive the day, but that they knew that God was with them, helping them every day. All of them also thanked far Ivica for doing so much for the community. I was very impressed by their gratitude, which was there despite all the difficult circumstances.
I have also experienced many nice moments during my numerous travels to different parts of Rwanda. Rwandan nature is something you should see at least once in your lifetime. Rwanda is so diverse and beautiful that I was able to enjoy it anew every time I got the opportunity to go exploring.
In the end I can say that it was a very pleasant and informative stay. I have never met more warm-hearted people than those in Rwanda. They have almost nothing and, despite all the circumstances, they are trying to make the best of their lives. And the best part is that they truly laugh from their hearts.
Life in Rwanda is very hard. No one can justify that people live in such circumstances.
The inhumane housing and living conditions made me very angry. Every day, as I was walking through the village, I would be shocked and moved to tears. It was hard for me to see all of that and supress my feelings in the presence of Kivumu’s people. I was ashamed of the way I thought before I came to Rwanda. I thought about Germany. I thought about the people who live in Germany, especially those my age. I was ashamed because I was living in a society in which everything revolves around money, in which people only care about what other people have, what kind of a vehicle they drive, what clothes they wear… In this society you are someone only if you have money. Nothing else matters. Is that the meaning of life? In the end, does it matter how much money you had? Does it matter if your T-shirt costed 20 or 100 dollars? Before coming to Rwanda my thinking was no different. To be honest, I was very fixated on those things. I would buy expensive shoes and I would be happy. That was my only desire – to possess expensive things. And just to be the same as others. For Christmas and my birthday I always got the best presents. Those presents made me happy. Then I realize that children in Rwanda mostly did not wear shoes at all, and they always wore the same pants and the same shirt. They did not get anything for Christmas or birthday from their parents but they were still happier than other children who get everything they wish for.
Today I can only feel sympathy for materialists. I am sad to see people who only care about that because they are really neither happy nor rich. They are to be pitied because they do not know what the point of life is.
To board that airplane was the best decision of my life so far. The experience and the things I learned about myself cannot be taken away from me by anyone. That journey changed me and showed me that true love and true happiness cannot be bought. I am very grateful for the opportunity to experience this. I am aware that I could not make miracles and save someone from his or her sorrow, but it all showed me how important it was not to concentrate on oneself, but to open one’s eyes and stop ignoring poverty. “Don’t give fish to people. Teach them how to catch the fish.” That’s what fra Ivica always said. Many think that they can change the world. That’s wrong, and that is not the goal anyways.
Education is very important in Kivumu. They have decided to invest all of their strength and energy into education. That is the only way to change the situation in Rwanda.
Regardless of that, it is still important to donate money, because it is used to build schools and provide better wages to the teachers. That is the only way to help the development of Third World countries.
Thank you, Rwanda, for the experience.
Translated from Croatian by: Branimir Mlakić