I started this trip with many questions about how to travel responsibly and meaningfully—how to be a tourist without being a voyeur, how to travel lightly and respectfully but still fully engage in everything around me and take away as much as possible. In the words of a pre-departure hand-out Allan gave us, I wanted to know “How Not to be a Foreign Douchebag.”
I’m still working on figuring out the best way to interact with the world, but I think at least part of the answer might be simple: listen, be open to learning far more than you could ever teach, and make friends. Real friends. Not just a kid who you photograph but whose name you never learn.
Last night we had our staff appreciation night. Allan barbequed a feast and we all sat around the table and after we’d gorged ourselves on summer food, somebody tapped their glass with a fork and a round of thank-yous began. Allan thanked the staff for being so amazingly caring and hard working. The staff thanked us and Mama Yves, our cook, said that we’re all like children to her. We traded words of love and gratitude with JP, who has been both guide and friend, and, of course, with the Rwandan students. Tim thanked our field-trip bus driver for helping us survive the treacherous dirt roads that led us up a volcano on the way back from Gisenyi.
There was a chorus of Murakoze Cyane’s—thank you so much’s.
Once our bellies were full, somebody turned up the music and everybody began dancing around the living room. The Rwandan students, especially D., proved far more rhythmically inclined than any of us Canadians. Still, we all clapped along to our favourite Nigerian duo, P-Square, laughing at each other’s’ flailing limbs and shaking hips.
Eventually, breathless and red faced, people scattered outside into small circles of conversation on the grass, balcony, and lawn chairs. I ended up on the steps with N. We sat and talked for a long while. I asked him how his night was going. He said he was having fun, but then his face turned serious.
“I think you can’t even imagine how much I will miss you,” he told me.
“Sure I can. Because we’ll all miss you just as much. But we’ll be in touch, we’ll see you again.”
He nodded and said, “I promise I’ll stay in touch.”
“Me too,” I agreed.
We both peered up at the sky, quiet for a moment. Then Noah came along and pointed out the orange glow of Mars. “That little spark is our closest neighbour,” he said.
The three of us sat, our faces upturned, and felt the humanness of being both insignificant and infinite.
(…Travelling around the world and stumbling upon a little bit of common humanity.
Seems meaningful to me.)