Toute La Vérité (All of the Truth)

“Cling close to the rock, you’ll save energy that way.”

I hung on a rock face overlooking the Yanze river and “Secret Valley.” It was another “what is my life?” moment, one of many I have experienced thus far in Rwanda. Stubborn determination overtook physical exhaustion, and I eventually traversed the extent of the vertical route buhoro, buhoro (step by step). The writer in me finds poetry in unconventional places, and I found something lyrical in Sraith’s advice. I acknowledge the fact that I’ve failed you- you, my audience consisting exclusively of family members and occasionally a bored friend from university. I owe you, and I will try to rectify my negligence in this post. In some ways, though I’m grateful beyond words kuko ntuye muRwanda (because I live in Rwanda)-professionally and personally-I lost sight of Sraith’s truth. Accelerating recklessly through adventures, deadlines, personal goals and new friendships, I lost sight of my rock.

“Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go; give the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress” (Psalm 71:3 NIV).

Nkunda kurira imisozi (I like to climb mountains)

Muhabura deserves its own subheading. I’m addicted to challenge. Tell me I cannot do something and I will expend every ounce of my energy attempting to disprove your underestimation. If you want to see Danielle in her full glory, tell her “no.” So it was that Katie (likewise a challenge junkie) and I set out to climb Muhabura, the toughest climb in Volcanoes National Park, attempted only 10 times annually and with a 50% completion rate during rainy season. The Rwanda Development Board (RDB) does not advertise Muhabura to tourists, and locals greet Muhabura aspirations with raised eyebrows and disbelieving well-wishes. Katie and I (both abakobwa batoya, or “small girls”) summited Muhabura (a crater lake bordering Uganda and Rwanda, at nearly 14,000 feet) in three hours and twenty minutes, an hour and a half faster than the average climb. “You are the heroes of Muhabura,” Patrick, our guide-who never attempts Muhabura without three Red Bulls in tow-informed us.

“You know, one of the only things that went right during the past 24 hours was the fact that we successfully climbed that volcano,” I commented to Katie on the bus back to Kigali. It was not an inaccurate statement. Our excursion began the previous evening. My organization maintains a staff house in Musanze, a northwestern Rwandan town outside Volcanoes National Park. I work from Musanze 1-3 times per week. On this occasion, I had forgotten to inform our night guard that Katie and I planned to stay in the house Friday night. Inside the house but locked out of every bedroom, we swallowed our pride and called another Musanze-based friend as midnight approached, the morning’s 5am wakeup and 7 hour hike proving powerful incentives.

Following a 6am coffee break at Africana, Musanze’s premier nightlife destination, amidst still-intoxicated young Rwandans and the fizzling embers of Friday’s fire, we set off for Muhabura. An artifact of frequent work travel to Musanze, I’ve now befriended nearly every park guide and driver at Volcanoes National Park (an exaggeration, but not an egregious one). That said, our driver, our guide, and the guide who arranged our reservation were all personal friends of mine.

Muhabura stands alone among the Virunga volcanoes for the directness of its ascent, comparable to climbing up a set of stairs for five hours, with rain, mud, hail, and thorny foliage thrown in for good measure. Muhabura is a fickle character, a marriage of sadistic physical trial and arresting natural beauty. Fatigued, we greeted a crew of Ugandan trekkers at the summit and witnessed, bemused, a microcosm of East African cultural variation. The Ugandan crew consisted of two tourists and three park guides, only one in uniform, with beaming smiles (“I have the best smile in all of Africa,” one boasted) and small talk: “How is Rwanda? Oh you like chapatti? We have chapatti in Uganda too! You should come visit me in Kampala!” Our Rwandan contingent consisted of Katie and myself accompanied by our own personal Rwandan military unit (“3 soldiers per tourist on every hike”) and a guide equipped with a state-of-the art GPS who interrupted his Ugandan counterparts to explain that, “We have to begin the descent, we can only rest at the summit for exactly thirty minutes, it is for the safety and security of the tourists.” Patrick assured us that Muhabura’s Ugandan slope was much more forgiving than its Rwandan cousin- true bragging rights belonged only to those who tamed her ascent from the south.

My morale plummeted with our altitude as we dipped below the tree line amidst persistent hail. I had taken my insulin pump off to protect it from the rain, and I began to feel my body protest the absence of medicine. Losing my balance more than may be expected (and circumstantially this was a very high threshold-try walking downhill for three hours in the mud) and being caught more than once by my very attentive companions in the Rwandan military, I verified that my blood glucose was dangerously high. By the time that we reached the car my health was on the mend, but not before Patrick offered to “call his direct line to the health center” because “the Minister of Health has been insistent about this, there is insulin at every [remote, rural] health center in Rwanda, because [diabetes] is becoming more common among the locals.” Parents, take note. High up on a volcanic mountainside somewhere between Rwanda and Uganda, I was in good hands.

Kazi ni Kazi (Work is Work)

Cultural differences can be challenging. They can be exciting. They can be frustrating. But sometimes they are amusing. There is a roadside snack shop on the highway to Huye, in Rwanda’s southern province, called “Amen House of Milk.” There is a barber shop in my neighborhood bearing the sign “Kazi ni Kazi” (Work is Work). As a recent graduate with few credentials and even less experience, I could not be more thankful for my professional experience thus far in Rwanda. I get paid to write, travel to the most remote and beautiful places in rural Rwanda to conduct interviews, and engage in my own small-scale form of investigative journalism. I get to practice my Kinyarwanda when visiting partner families, my translator remarkably tolerant of my slow, measured Kinyarwanda introductions. I love examining the way culture weaves itself into language, words betraying norms and social prescriptions. In the Francophone linguiverse, a group of mixed-gender nouns automatically assumes a male identifier.

“But you do that in English,” a European friend here in Rwanda insisted. “You say, ‘you guys.’”

I stared at him, resolute. “I do not say, ‘you guys.’” My face softened into a smile, “I say, ‘y’all.’”

Praxis is a favorite word of mine, denoting the intersection of theory and practice (bear with us nerds, we have a lot of favorite words). In my current job, I examine the praxis of media ethics on a daily basis. Coming from an American cultural background (not withstanding my years spent as a college activist), I’m primed to interrogate, scrutinize and expose, viewing destructive inquisition as a prerequisite for constructive solutions. Such betrays my difficulty adjusting to an environment in which leveraging critique negates rather than catalyzes progress, and “toute la vérité n’est pas bonne à dire” (“all of the truth is not good to say”).

Amahoro (Peace)

I am beginning to make peace with Kigali. To date we’ve cultivated a tortured relationship characterized by ambivalence. While I love Rwanda, my discomfort with its capital arises from its eerie order, its pristine formality, its serene severity. The incongruence of its urban wealth and the daily realities of rural Rwanda. Its Mzungu “alter-verse.”

But alas, Kigali, I believe we’ve entered the beginnings of a truce. I’ve joined a crew of intrepid adventurers for Sunday rock-climbing outside the city. I’ve found a pitch and a team to provide an outlet for my football nostalgia on Thursday nights. At Kigali’s up-and-coming art studios, I’ve met young Rwandans who visually verify celebrations of women’s empowerment and aspirations for the full realization of democracy.

Toute La Vérité

 Apart from my immersion in both American and activist cultures, my proclivity for truth-telling and exposure also owes to past experience. For a decade I’ve fought a disease that erodes health in pursuit of intangible perfection. I’ve felt the exhaustion of inauthenticity, because perfection, as an unattainable ideal, is inherently inauthentic.

I have a full-time job. I’m applying to law school. I am training for a marathon. I’m living in a different country and learning a new language. But the hardest thing that I do on a daily basis is battle my eating disorder. Why do I choose to reveal this? Well, October 11-17 is Mental Health Awareness Week. And I’m tired of the recovery narrative. I am tired of the binary narrative of suffering and healing, a narrative that allocates no gray area for “survival.” A narrative that ignores the functional dysfunction that so often defines the day-to-day for those unlucky Type-As disproportionately vulnerable to anorexia. I’m telling you because toute vérité est bonne à dire– all of the truth is good to say. So here it is: sometimes I struggle. Sometimes I fail. Sometimes I hurt. But that doesn’t make me less happy. It doesn’t make me less human. It doesn’t make me less whole. My narrative does not conform to the binary. But my narrative is truly, authentically, mine.

“Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go; give the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress” (Psalm 71:3 NIV).

DSC_0366

An Invitation

Imisozi yanyu

Straightforward like green

Seamless like

Blue

Imisozi yanyu

The sun beats down

Yellow

A perfect smile

Another mile

Imisozi yanyu

Chasing highways

Elevation

Innovation

Even new things

Are the same

Imisozi yanyu

Highways chase mountains

I don’t know what I’m chasing

Deception of pavement

Mirrors deception of dreaming

Buses and ambitions

Only take you so far

Imisozi yanyu

Blue-green fuse with the fellow sun

Izuba, Izuba

Amahoro, Amahoro

Exhaustion in exertion

Directionless ideal

Imisozi yanyu

Your hills go on forever

And even as I climb them

Kurira,

They aren’t mine.

Imisozi yanyu

Kigali’s subtle sparkle

Aloft, alight

Hope, heaviness, rebirth, façade

Imisozi yanyu

Eastern light

Invites the lowlands

Imineke, imineke

Bananas nourish rolling hills

Imisozi yanyu

Western lakescapes beckon

Beautiful fogs of uncertainty

Invisible distant shore

Imisozi yanyu

Security

Southern canopy

Tea leaves, serenity

Betwixt in paradise

Imisozi yanyu

Blue-green, yellow fusion

Erupts in the north

Hills turn to menace

The sky as it ruptures

Fabled cataclysm

It’s colder here

But greener here

Seamless blue-green sun smiles

Fracture

Imisozi yanyu

Disguise a feeble shelter here

Insufficient

Hidden authenticity

Circumspect simplicity

Revealed in an eruption

Exposed by the lightening

Interrogated by fire

Imisozi yanyu

Your hills go on forever

The summit of disguise

A summit of my lies

Only relief of tragedy

Will truly bring rest

What am I chasing?

What are you chasing?

What are we chasing?

Your hills hide my dreams

Amahoro mu musozi

Mu misozi yanyu

I watch out the window

Waiting for an invitation

Imisozi yawe

Your hills become mine

Imisozi yawe

Imisozi yanjye

Imisozi yacu

Umusozi wacu.

DSC_0051

Canvas

I want to dive into the pain

Because it’s there

I want to embrace the pain

Because it’s there

Bandaged and smile-polished

The ache of façade

Rivals ache of pain itself

Pain not identical

Never commensurable

Acknowledging existence

Is enough to trap my soul

I can still see the sun shine

I can still here the birds sing

I can still taste life’s sweet things

Functional dysfunction

Erratic discontent

Who am I to perceive pain?

Who am I to embrace pain?

The luxury of empathy

Enclosed in privileged canopy

Insulating inequity

Who am I to share my pain

To make my story yours

Give you voice

Voiceless not

Impose your own pain onto you

The illusion of numb

Deadened to the everyday

You cannot still feel

I’ll take your pain for you

Embrace your pain for you

I’ll tell you how it feels

Let my words color your experience

Tracing inside fractured lines

The pen is mine

The pen is mine

I can walk alongside you

I can choose to embrace your pain

But from pain’s path I deviate

Heartache’s exit strategy

Detour from uncertainty

To pain we both cling but

I can let go

Though we are both walking

We walk on different roads

Let the pain color everything

Full richness of life

Refined by deft embrace

Thin line betwixt

Perception and grace

Let the smile fade from the

Canvas of your face

Only to return.

 

 

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