I find myself again on an plane flying 450 miles an hour feeling like time is standing still. The land below slowly changes from land to sea to ice to land again – I will have covered more than 4,000 miles at the end of this plane ride, more than 8,000 at the end of this journey. It will be more than 20 hours in the air and probably close to 30 hours door to door. It is a day lost to travel – a day for which I am eternally grateful.
I am grateful because, in the middle of that day lost to travel, I find the time to breathe again. Time to let exhaustion come, to rest, and time to mindlessly watch a movie or read a book. Only then is there time to breathe, and in that breathing there is time to think. It is precious time for me to remember all that I am leaving and to begin to look forward.
As I leave Rwanda this time, it is with my bags packed, leaving a home behind. In the belly of the plane are the simple things I will use to start my next kitchen, some of my work clothes, my tent, some beautiful last minute gifts, and a few small trinkets which make a house feel like home to me. What is missing are the people and places that made Rwanda home for they cannot be packed in amongst my shirts and socks, squished into a plastic trunk. So I hold onto the memories of each person and in each place and pray that my memory does not fail.
There is a part of me that did not want this time to end. So now I take a moment to treasure my dear ones in my mind – the times we shared and the community we built. I have learned so much and each one is knit into my soul. As much as I know it is time to move on, it does not negate the sorrow at the leaving. I have spent time enjoying last meals and outings, treasuring community and home, but I need this time to remember one last time before I step forward. I need this time to breathe, to catch my breath before I move on.
The moment I step off the plane onto American soil my time in-between will be finished. The clock will tick in only one direction rather than jumping forward and back with each time zone I cross. An hour will be an hour, and my feet will be on solid land moving only as fast as I pick them up and put them down. I will have entered reality. I believe that I will be happy for reality, thrilled to be with my dear ones that are waiting for me. I believe I will then be ready to move forward. I will be ready because I will have had 8,000 miles of time in-between.
It takes a year to make a place home. I am not talking about meeting people, putting pictures on walls, or knowing the streets and stores of town. What I am talking about is a sense of belonging.
When I first move to a new place, I work to get to know the place. I start by putting my own fingerprint in my house; I make a kitchen workable, put art on walls, and grow plants of beauty. I want my house to feel like a home and a place of peace. I wander the streets of town by car and on foot; I hunt for my staple foods, the treats, and the restaurants. I want to know where to find things before I actually need them (though not always possible). I hunt for people worth getting to know; I go to coffee shops and dinners and parties whenever I can (though I am an introvert). I want to find people to invest in and hope that they will invest in me. I hunt for a church – not a building, but a group of people. I want a church family and a place to worship. It is an exhausting process but one that is worthwhile because it lays a foundation for building a home. I try and approach it all with a sense of adventure and discovery; most of the time it works.
That is the foundation upon which a home starts to be built as it is the beginning of knowing a place and the people within it. It is also the beginning of building patterns and making memories. Every time a place is revisited, it becomes more cemented as a place that is known. Each memory made with a person builds a friendship as a common history is created. Every time you leave and return, you discover that there is a different type of contentment in the return because you know more and are known by more. The foundation becomes stronger and a home is built.
This is why I say it takes a year to make a place home: it takes just over a year to repeat a season and to repeat a holiday. Seasons feel different in different locations. Holidays look, feel, and taste different. The first year you are not quite sure how to decorate, who to be with, or how make (or find) those special foods. It is in the repeat that you are able approach the holiday with the assurance of having done it once before. You might not do it the same way (maybe it was a flop the first time or maybe you want to try something different), but you have the choice to do something different. And in that choice of repeating or changing, you have crossed over to knowing. In building on history from the previous year, in creating the holiday foods and decorations, and in gathering with people with whom you have made memories, you belong and a home has been made. It is never a perfect thing, but it is a rich thing.
It takes a year to make a home, and that is why I am so thankful to be celebrating Thanksgiving here in Rwanda. For the second time I am helping dear friends host a crowd. This year I know where to get the ingredients and what substitutions work well. I have already made memories with many of the people coming, so tomorrow we will share a history, not be starting one. Together we will create a memory and a shared history. Together, we will make this place a little bit more home.
I am moving to Rwanda. The final decision was made last Thursday, and I celebrated with drinks and games (I kid you not – I love board games and card games), and announced it to the world on twitter. I said there would be more details this week, and so here I am getting ready to share a few thoughts.
But, what I really want to do is to go back to that discussion on toilets and dignity. You see, there is this great article titled, “Donor aversion to ‘unsexy’ water projects threatens development goal.” It is all about the sanitation goal to halve the number of people without access to basic sanitation by 2015 and how that goal will not be met because sanitation is not sexy. But, I guess the article is written, and you can read it, so I shall get back to Rwanda. Just know I will return to toilets again in the future.
I will be moving to Rwanda in October to do my current job with Blood:Water Mission while based in Africa. The idea is that this will save me a lot of hop-skipping-and-jumping over that small pond called the Atlantic Ocean. It should also prevent days being lost to jet leg and hopefully I will get to be home (my new home) a bit more on the weekends while getting to be with our amazing African partners even more. For you dear readers, this means more stories and pictures from Africa.
I have started to think about the move. Part of me wants to say much more right now, but I need a chance to think, to process. And then I will share. You see, transitions are not easy. They are hard and difficult and beautiful too. They are stories of living, of goodbyes, of helloes, of the past and of the future. It all gets jumbled up and sometimes it is hard to sort out. And that will very much be where I am for the next while.
Right now, I know that I ordered a some fun bowls and plates to take to Rwanda. Yellow and purple, they are bright and happy, just what I imagine my future kitchen to be.
I donâ€™t know if anyone is checking this blog anymore, but I thought I would post what I intended to a week ago just in case someone is.
I am slowly getting into the swing of things here, but it is an adjustment. Life is different here. It doesnâ€™t seem to get dark until after 9pm. I sit at a desk most of the week in front of a computer. I am back in the pool swimming again. The sky is filled with light pollution and the AC chills most rooms. The list goes onâ€¦There are pluses and minuses to each location.
On the plane back from BÃ©nin I was already missing parts of village life, and in response to the question of why I love life I in a small village in West Africa, I wrote the following:
Life can be stressful, everything going wrong, but I can always step outside at night to be awed by a night with no light pollution. I can sit in Martineâ€™s kitchen, I can grab a few kids to play with, and I can tease FelicitÃ© about showering. I laugh and I play. There is releaseâ€”release that is enabled by the purity of the land and the simplicity of the people. I think Africa is in my blood.