Kigali, Kigali Province, Rwanda

March 6, 2016

A Goodbye to Rwanda

The rain hit the brick driveway with a hard splat yesterday, then turned sideways into the windows, washing the house, and my desk, clean.

The power flickered, then failed, then returned.

All the while, the sound of hammers, buzzsaws, and birds flew forward, unabated.

A typical late afternoon in Kigali.

This is my last week here - at this time next week, I’ll be on a plane covering half the planet. Then a dear friend’s wedding. Giving a TEDx talk. Seeing my sister and nieces for an all-too-brief few days.

But here, watching the clouds crawl southward, brushing the hills like fingertips, I’m thinking back on Kigali. How it wasn’t at all what I expected.

I always try to know as little as possible about a place before going there. People suggested I watch Hotel Rwanda before coming, and read a half-dozen books. I stubbornly refused all of them.

My hope is that this stubborness lets me meet a place on its terms. To see stories with my own eyes, instead of projecting a picture I read or saw over the world in front of me.

I’ll remember a lot of things here - the smiles and races with kids just out of school on my afternoon runs, the sound of singing echoing up the valley all Sunday, the weave and strain of the motos, climbing the big hill to downtown.

I found the reserved faces of strangers on the street, determination seemingly wired down to DNA, the sense that, no matter what, I wasn’t ever going to get the full story.

I’ll remember popping open the hellofood app on my phone, making a few taps, and having a late night dinner delivered from any restaurant in town. The safety of a dark, unlit streets. The striped curbs and the smooth pavement, poured over the hills.

Kigali has reminded me of a fundamentally good thing to be able to do as a person - to hold conflicting thoughts in my head, and just be able to sit with the unsettled feeling.

It’s a place where the easy answers left years ago, and everything is a shade of grey. One where the more I try to get a grip on things, the less steady my hold becomes. Tectonic. Exoskeletons. Deep currents and a still surface.

It’s a place where I can’t tell you - not even in the slightest - how I think the story will play out. I simply don’t know.

What I do know is that I’m honored and lucky to have been a guest here. To have walked among the big red churches, the green hills, and the grey scaffolds of the future, rising. To have been challenged every day I’ve stepped out the door, and to have felt steadily but deeply uncomfortable each afternoon.

Growth and understanding are rarely comfortable processes. To Rwanda, I just want to say thank you. Thank you for sharing a world with me that doesn’t fit in any of my boxes. One that doesn’t work the way I believed. For giving me new stories.

And thank you for coming along, and experiencing this place with me. :)

We’re just getting started.

-Steven

p.s. The best thing I read all week was this piece on happiness and language. “Happy,” it turns out, isn’t at all a universal concept. :)

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