Using a squatter toilet is the easiest ……
Using a squatter toilet is the easiest thing I’ve tackled since living in Rwanda. Although it requires moving outside of your comfort zone, it’s fairly easy. Using one requires walking outside; opening a wooden door, and squatting over a hole that goes into the ground …you get the visual.
I can think of a much longer list of challenges that are more difficult than using the toilet outside or bathing from a bucket. Trust me, these physical adjustments are easy in comparison to the emotional challenges that come with living abroad.
I’ve had to wrestle with my privilege in some of the most unfamiliar ways to me. I’ve had to entertain conversations for the sake of representing my American nationality. I’ve had to eat food to remain in relationship. I’ve had to sacrifice “me time” for the sake of community building. All of which have felt more taxing and uncomfortable than using a squatter toilet.
You Are Not in Control
I’ve officially been in Rwanda for a little over 2 months and with my host family for about 7 weeks. These last 7 weeks have taught me so much about myself and stretched me in ways that I would have never imagined. The week I moved to Kayonza, I felt like chaos broke out in my life. Everything that I once had control over, I lost. Little did I know, that this was just the beginning of God trying to teach me a very important lesson: Shemiah, you are not in control. So for the last 7 weeks my faith has been stretched. I lost control of relationships back in the United States, my weight, my skin, my schedule, my alone time, and almost a little of my identity. I began to reflect on several questions: How can I be myself in a culture that is so different from mine? How can I voice my opinions in a space where women are treated so differently? How can I be a woman in a culture where I am categorized as a girl? How can I nurture my spirit on Sunday mornings when I don’t understand the service? How can I charge my phone when the electricity is inconsistent? How can I feel comfortable living with two father figures who are not my father? I lost control over everything and I was miserable. I desperately wanted control back over my life so I could regain the peace I had a couple of months ago while in America. But God said no and is still saying no.
My friends this why I could not give you an October update. The growing pains were so tough that I didn’t have the space to write. I wanted to be responsible with my word choice and I was too fragile to care about that at the time.
Since deploying to our countries of service other volunteers have made the decision to return to America. This has been my reminder that what I’m experiencing is truly tough and sometimes we can’t always make it through. So I am grateful for the other 85 volunteers internationally who are experiencing similar growing pains and wrestling with what it means to live in another country.
I Almost Gave-Up
I’ll be honest–3 weeks ago I honestly thought about going home. This is because I returned home from work one day and witnessed a rat scurrying through my room. I was emotional about this experience for several reasons:
1.I am petrified of mice and rats
2.The rat being in my room threatened my control
3.I asked God far in advance to protect me from mice and rats 🙂
Point 2 really sums it up. I had lost control over everything and the last pieces of control I had were my phone and my room. Those two things gave me peace and now the rat threatened that. I didn’t sleep for two days because the rat ran through my bed and I didn’t eat for 1 day. I’m sure those of you with phobias understand. My host mom could sense the emotional strain this was causing me and tried really hard to fix the problem.
Eventually I snapped out of my emotional roller coaster and made the decision to keep pushing. The motivation? These kids. They are literally my saving grace on sunday mornings. I love them so much. I am grateful for their light and the light they continue to share with me. I see God in these children and I couldn’t imagine abandoning my ship without finishing my mission with them first.
I pray your concluding thought is not, “Oh no, Shemiah is miserable!”
Let me clarify: I’ve had some miserable moments but no I am not miserable. I am growing and most times that is pretty uncomfortable. I am very grateful to be in Rwanda. The journey teaches me something new every day! And Iet me say it again– I LOVE my students. I find purpose in them everyday! The growing pains are still present but I’m changing my mindset. At this point, all I can do is roll with the punches. Thank you to my village of supporters who have kept me lifted these past couple of weeks. The journey continues!
There’s a popular hip-hop song that says “slim -thick with yo cute….” Many of my audience members may be familiar with this song because it encourages women to maintain a slim- thick body frame. Thick meaning nicely proportioned in the back and front of the body. Before coming to Rwanda, my friends and I joked about me becoming slim-think due to the massive amounts of rice I would have to eat.
Consequently though, eating has been a really intense task while living in a host community. Everyone wants to overly feed me because they think I am a starving American. They think I am a starving American because of my small size and the little amounts of food I eat (I actually think this is funny).The picture above was sent to me by a fellow Rwandan who was encouraging me to eat more.
I can never eat just one plate because someone is always gracious enough to put a second plate in front of me. I’ve definitely gained weight since being in Rwanda but it’s not going to the slim-thick places the song describes (I also think is funny). Last week I ripped a pair of jeans in the thigh area and noticed my face looking a little fuller when a fellow community member told me I was “beginning to look healthy.” Now the weight gain was bound to happen when maize, rice, bread, and potatoes are apart of your daily diet, but somehow I was still shocked when the jeans got tighter and the shirts began to feel a little smaller.
Another cohort member and I laughed as we sheepishly admitted we now have to hop into our jeans to get them on. My host family wants me to become “big and fat” so the community members can know they are taking care of their American guest. I tried to explain that if I gain the 10-15 pounds they are encouraging I won’t be happy, but cultural barriers limit their understanding of my concerns. So if I return to America in July of 2017 resembling a slim-THICK African Queen, we know why.
While I wrestle with my privilege I think this is an opportunity for us all to grow.
3 Reasons You Are A “Blessed” American
1. In Kayonza, Rwanda we mop the floors with our hands and a rag.There are no physical mops in my home. The women and girls in my family hunch over , bend their legs , and mop the entire floor with their hands using a rag.
2. I don’t have running water in my home. Imagine having to fetch water for washing, bathing, or eating. Imagine having to buy water every time you wanted a drink. Imagine having to carry water around with you to ensure that you can wash your hands after using the restroom.
3. I have not sat on an actual toilet seat in over 7 weeks. I’m pretty sure you have one. Use it and be grateful for it.
I’ve had some really amazing moments since being in Kayonza, Rwanda. The community has truly welcomed me as their own. I am almost always magnetized to any elementary student I meet and develop a sisterly relationship with many of the high school girls. I love all of my students and I am grateful that I get to experience God in them at church, in the community, and at school. As I travel the neighborhood I usually have at least one person stop me and say “Hi Teacher”. They pull me out of my comfort zone. Most times they are my Kinyarwanda teachers and cultural interpreters. If Miss Shemiah has a question about Rwanda she talks to her students. These kids are thirsty for knowledge and are always eager to learn. They keep me on my toes because learning English is access to power and power can bring wealth. In a crazy kind of way, I give them hope.
Meet Fannie! She is in Senior 6 at Fawe All Girls School (high school is 6 years in Rwanda). On the last day of school she yelled, “ Hi, Miss Shemiah!” Startled by her confident response, I stared really hard because I couldn’t believe this meek and shy student from 6 weeks ago was now yelling my name. She then yelled, “ Bye, Miss Shemiah!” I ran up to her and we joined for a big hug. I then yelled, “ I am so proud of you! Very good English.” She smiled. I see God in Fannie.
Meet my Host Mom, Jackie! She is amazing. I am so grateful to have Jackie as my mother figure. Because she is only three years older than me, we really act like sisters. We can literally sit together for hours and laugh at anything. She knows a little English so we have conservations about love, family, food, our countries, and God. Jackie is not only the wife to Shema and mother to her boys, but she is an accountant at one of the local schools. She is also in school part -time concluding her accounting license. Jackie is an anointed prayer warrior and singer. Girls in the community affectionately call her “Auntie!”. Family and Friends meet Jackie.
FAQ’s – Updates
Where do I live?
I live in Kayonza, Rwanda.
Kayonza is a small town that is similar to DeKalb, IL and Greensboro, NC in the United States.
Who do I live with?
Shema and Jackie (Host Parents)
Cleaver and Derrike (Host Baby Brothers)
James (Host Father’s Brother)
Deborah (Host Father’s Sister)
Sylvia (Host Father’s Sister)
Janvier (House Girl)
What is a House Girl?
A girl (female between the ages of 12-30 if not married) who helps with housework. This includes cooking, cleaning, and taking care of the children.
Where do I work?
I teach English to students at 2 high schools, and I run a monthly English class at my host father’s church for children and adults. Per week I teach about 300 students. Schools are out of session for the months of November, December and January.
I see God in my students
I see God in my host mom
I see God in my host family
I see God in my church family
I see God in my community
I see God in my cohort
I see God in my support system
I see God in the hills
I see God in my growth
My Host Family
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