Embarking on a mission to Rwanda marked a major highlight of my senior year at Santa Fe Christian and a significant event in my life experiences. It was my first return to Africa since my family and I immigrated to California from Burundi nearly a decade ago. Little did I know that this trip would unfold in ways I never imagined, offering me the chance to reconnect with my roots, engage in meaningful service, and remind me of where God brought me from. 

When Mrs. Ruge dropped the bomb about me being accepted to go to Rwanda, I was like, “Pinch me, am I dreaming?” Driving home, I was still in shock, wondering if this was real life.

Being back in East Africa, though ten hours ahead in time, felt like a step into the past. Yet, amidst the familiar green landscapes and cultures, time seemed to slow down, allowing me to immerse myself fully in the present moment. The warmth and hospitality of the people, notably absent in my fast-paced Californian life, enveloped me with a sense of belonging and a sense of cultural revelations. Let me explain what I mean. While being there, for a moment I was getting a little too comfortable because it felt as though I was living my past, specifically my childhood. Hearing the kindergartners sing songs in French that I was taught, seeing people fetch water and carrying on their heads, sitting at wooden desks with a chalkboard, playing outside barefoot, engaging in the most random icebreaker games ever, “I am a true star because I am ‘D-O-R-C-A-S.’”

The contrast between my experiences at Kigali Christian School and my life in California was stark. The genuine warmth and humility of the Rwandan people, their pride in their culture, and the emphasis on discipline in education left a lasting impression on me. The simple act of greeting each other with respect and genuine smiles felt like a breath of fresh air. It was somehow so easy to talk to anyone and just have a genuine conversation. The way people live their lives, though you may have the sense of “their lives may be really hard,” maybe because of their economy and low work salary, regardless, you can see their joy and how appreciative they are about life. While driving around the city, I would stare out at the mountains and hills, where the busy cities were full of people, walking back and forth, the vibe, the scenery – it was like a warm hug from the past. 

One of my favorite parts was the language and connection, which were quite funny. Going there, I was expecting that English would be our only way of communicating well, even for me. However, picture this: me trying to blend in, thinking my English skills got me covered. But nah, as soon as they heard me talk, it was game over. They were giving me the side-eye like, “Girl, you ain’t fooling anyone.” Then came the ultimate test – speaking Swahili and French. Let’s just say, my cover was blown, and there was no going back. There was no way for me to hide anything anymore, so I said I was Congolese, but I was born in Burundi, just a couple of hours away from Rwanda.  

Surprisingly, the prevalence of French and Kiswahili alongside English in Rwanda deepened my sense of connection to the people and the land. Communicating in languages I grew up knowing fostered a unique bond and made me feel more at home in this foreign yet familiar setting.

Unexpected Encounters:

In a serendipitous turn of events, I stumbled upon a long-lost relative teaching in Kigali, a delightful twist that underscored the interconnectedness of our lives. My dad’s late-night call revealed that his old buddy, whom we considered family, was now teaching there, a shocking coincidence that left me reeling. Sharing tales and memories with him brought a comforting sense of continuity amidst the unfamiliarity of my surroundings. Meanwhile, rumors swirled about a Congolese girl resembling me, sparking playful speculation from the teachers. Intrigued, I sought her out, only to discover she’d been hearing the same chatter from her friends.

We…are playing VOLLEYBALL?

On the third day of our trip, after church and lunch on a sunny Sunday, we decided to join in the fun and games with everyone. Little did we know, things were about to take an unexpected turn. As we gathered, a group of kids in bright neon jerseys appeared, starting to warm up as if preparing for a match. Confusion rippled through our group as we exchanged bewildered glances – did they have a game scheduled? No one had a clue. Suddenly, a senior with a whistle emerged, signaling the start of something we hadn’t bargained for. A man stepped forward, revealing himself as the coach, informing us that a match was about to start and giving us a mere six minutes to get ready. Panic ensued as we scrambled to select our starting six players, with bewildered exclamations echoing among us. We turned to Ms. Oden to ask if she’d known about this, only to find her as clueless as the rest of us. With no time to spare, we braced ourselves for the unexpected match ahead, diving headfirst into a level of competition we never saw coming. And yes, in case you are wondering who won, certainly not us. We let it slide this time. 

As I bid farewell to Rwanda and returned to California, I carried with me cherished memories and a renewed perspective on life. The journey had been more than a physical return to my roots; it was a journey of self-discovery and appreciation for the beauty of simplicity, the power of connection, and the richness of diverse cultures. This truly reminded me and showed me how blessed, favored by God, and privileged I am to be in a position that many dream of and that I should take advantage of and appreciate more of what I do have rather than what I can have, and instead of complaining because I have so much homework when many don’t have money to attend school, and being blessed to be the one in the family who got to attend to high standard college preparatory education. This just fed on my reasons to not take education for granted because it is what will take me further in life than anything else.