10 Things I Learned Living in Rwanda

1. Time as means of productivity is a western construct.

I am a control freak. When I don’t have control over certain situation, I begin to panic. However, being in Rwanda, I have learned how I and sometimes WE give material value to time. I would be so concerned and fixated on starting and finishing a task that I never had the opportunity to enjoy the time in between the task which is the best part. The Rwandan people are not so overwhelmed with time. They realize they are not machines and are not programmed to start and finish certain things at certain time. All in all, Rwanda has showed me how to enjoy myself. I have learned how not be consumed by stress and daily worries. Instead, I am now focused on LIVING.

2. It’s important to know your roots.

When I was ten, I had a family reunion in Ohio and my elders traced my maternal African lineage to Liberia, Guinea-Bissau and Sierra Leone. I am often confused as another Rwandan, Ghanaian or Kenyan. When I tell the Rwandan people, “Nturuka muri Amerika,” (English: I am from America) they are surprised and further push to see where my family originates from. Africans take great pride in their continent as a whole and are happy when they meet people from the African diaspora abroad. It’s important that as an African-American, I take great pride in this beautiful continent despite negative portrayal in the media.

3. Get comfortable being uncomfortable.

Africa is a place of resilience.  In America when something did not go my way or I fell through, I would beat myself up or even shut down. There have been instances in Africa when the water flows only once a week and I would have to go get my own water or the power would just go out and I would have to pull out my flashlight. These enlightening moments taught me to adapt to my circumstances and still function. Being on this continent has showed me that the only prison that can hold us hostage is the one we create in our own mind.

4. You have to risk the fall, just to know how it feels to fly.

It’s okay to make mistakes. My mom told me once “Life is nothing but learning, if you are not learning, then you are not living”. A part of being uncomfortable is the risk of making mistakes; however, mistakes are devices that show you problem, cause and solution. I have learned it’s okay to mess up and it’s okay to fall down, but the real test is whether you are able to get back up and move forward.

5. We created this box to put God and ourselves in.

Through religious and social doctrine, I conditioned God. When I was younger, I would think of God as this person who sits up in the clouds and watches over us, but being in Rwanda, I realize how much I did not know about God. God works through us by allowing us to practice our purpose, giving us hope when we are feeling hope and being the guiding light in our life. Yet, no matter what I say, God cannot be explain, God can only be experienced. God works through people who really want to be used. During the 1994 genocide against Tutsis, people were often murdered in churches and I would find it difficult to have faith after this mass tragedy. But this has made and their faith, and mine, too, stronger here. Know that God will see you through the bad times and good times.

6. I’m thankful.

Sometimes, I would look at the rough patches in my life and I would say, “Did I really have to go through that to learn that lesson,” and I have realized that yes I did. It’s a joy to be alive and it is a joy to be able to wake up every day and have a new adventure. Sometimes we get so much in our head, that we look at all the bad we are experiences, but every day is another chance to try and make it a better day. I’m thankful and grateful for this opportunity, I’m thankful for my friends. I’m thankful for my experiences. I’m thankful just to be a live and LIVE.

7. Piece of Mind = Peace of Mind.

I left America to run away from my issues: school, personal demons, family life and other problems I internalized TOO much. God has given me a chance to be in a place of complete peace and be able to better find myself. As my host father told me once “Greg, the only way out is THROUGH.” You have to confront your fears and your worries otherwise they will continue to pop up.

8. Being black in Africa.

Blackness is only a construct created by European society. I cannot describe how happy I am to be in a place where I am valued and fit in. It feels so good to be able to go to the mall or other places and not be followed or stared at. Though, prior to Africa, I would say I was comfortable with my blackness. However, being here has given me a new pride in my blackness to know and connect with the rich and valuable history I have within me.

9. Sadness don’t last forever.

My mother died when I was sixteen and it was the hardest thing I had to experience. God knew my heart and my pain and chose a host father who went through similar tragedies and still PUSHED THROUGH. He has been a model person of overcoming tragedy and I hope to replicate that same strength in my own life. I know that now sadness is temporary and though it hurts in that instance, it builds you up.

10. Why fit into a standard, when you are your own standard?

During my freshman year of college, I made a list of all the achievements I wanted to attain by the graduation and I brought the list with me. I ripped up the list after the third week here. I felt like I had to attain these accolades to validate my success, but it’s MY SUCCESS. There is no template or silhouette that I, my success or my experiences should fit into. Sometimes, I would compare myself amongst my peers or people I seen as model individuals, but we are own our own paths and we cannot be afraid to follow it.

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