Monday, February 15, 2010

Back on Canadian Soil

It has been over two months since my return to Canada. The sparkle season has come and gone. My mother is settled into an assisted living facility and is doing better. Relief is pouring into Haiti. Snow is burying the US south while helicopters ship snow in BC to keep the Olympics from stalling. Parliament is prorogued. Again. And we have welcomed a new grandchild into our family. Life, with all its twists and turns, goes on.

And yet…

Although I have been busy, today is the first day I have felt I can write about Rwanda and my adventures there. As yet, I have not been able to put my finger on why. Processing my experience, trying to put it in place, juxtaposed against my life of relative ease and luxury here, has been elusive. It is as though a chapter has closed and another started. Or like I put it all in a compartment and it is over, like a box of archived files I’ll never look at again. Why have I not looked at all my photos? Why have I not been able to prepare presentations that people are so eagerly awaiting? Why have I not tried to sell that quilt? Why am I not filling a box for Rwanda? Am I so cold? Will it just never make sense? Am I still processing?

I know, when I returned, that I was tired and busy and preoccupied with my mother and that this has not really stopped. I know I could easily just tuck this experience into the past, like a great vacation. But the fact is, I don’t want to. Something happened over there. To me. And perhaps more importantly, something happened to all the people whose lives I entered. It is just not fair to go somewhere, give of yourself, form relationships with others and then disappear. Morally, I have a responsibility. To myself as well as to them.

If I close my eyes, I can conjure up their faces and names. Such lovely women. Such generous people for whom life has been a series of losses, large and small. How can I add to that through my silence and inaction? I cannot. But what is my role, here, so far away? For this is actually the place where I live, the place I call home. I know that much is true.

I can see how people can devote themselves to people in another needier place, give of themselves their whole lives. Although there are difficulties associated with living in an underdeveloped country, there is something freeing about it too. You know exactly what you have to do every day from the moment you wake up to the second your head hits the pillow, if you are lucky enough to have one. A bit like an addiction perhaps.

I felt that myself. And I think that was part of my emotional inertia when I returned to Canada. I had lost my way in this western life. It felt too easy. It felt too open, with endless possibility. I was not shocked by the consumerism. I was not shocked by our relative wealth. Perhaps, yes, I did miss the sun and my daily dose of Vitamin D. But still, it all felt like home, just the way it is here. It was this wide open space ahead of me that I had no idea how to fill. My life here felt trite, meaningless. This despite being busy with a range of activities, from yoga to book club to granny group to volunteer work. All of these are things I love.

So time has passed and my heart is lighter and freer. I feel more engaged. I think I am emerging from a minor depression, all to do with all the things above. It is hard. It is hard to have more than so many, especially when you know their names. It is hard to feel joy in little things you love when people are struggling to put food on their tables or to send their children to school.

And yet…

And yet what are the women I met doing right now? They are living their lives. If
they think of me at all, they are happy that I was part of it for a short while. They are finding joy in their lives, despite their hardships. They are finding deep satisfaction in their relationships. They are making the best out of everything that is put before them. They are loving their children and their families. They are making their homes. They are putting food on their tables. They are trying to make their homes and lives better. They are happy to be alive and happy to have the support of others in their lives. Who can ask for more?

I must do the same, here, in my life. And I will.

1 comment:

  1. Hello from South Carolina in the US! I had read about this organization, was interested in volunteering next year possibly, and was looking for more information on it when I came upon your blog. I have so enjoyed reading it! I am graduating from college next year, and I am saving up to spend a year or so abroad, volunteering.

    In the off chance that you still check these comments, I would love to hear about more of the technicalities of volunteering there (how did you get there, did you find it safe, etc.). My family is urging me to talk to more people who have volunteered at the organizations I am looking at before jumping in.
    Please let me know if you are interested in sharing more of your experience! My email is

    -Maria Jackson