Saying goodbye to Rwanda was more bitter than sweet. I wrote very little about our last day because I had no words. I am still struggling to find words, but it is still good to share. Our bags were packed and sitting on the floor. They were bulging and heavy. Since there is a weight limit for baggage, we hired a man with a scale from the street to come to our house and weigh our bags for 200 Rwandan Francs ($0.30). Be lugged our bags onto the porch and began weighing. The limit was 23 kilograms. All of our bags except for one was over the limit by at least 2 kilograms. Our carry-on bags were just as overweight but we weren't so worried about those. We knew we would surpass our weight limit but we didn't want to worry about it until the people at the desk said something about it.
We were picked up by the center's truck a little after 5:30pm. Our flight was scheduled to leave at 7:55, so we thought we would have plenty of time. We met Willy at the airport to say our final good-bye's. I had held in all tears until this time. It was impossible not to cry. I handed Willy my backpack that I had owned since the second grade. In the top pocket was a necklace I had made for his mother, all of my spare Rwandan Francs, and an envelope that said "Dear Willy, Go get yourself a passport! Love, Ally, Elena, Bret, and Dorota." Enclosed was $100. Enough to purchase a Rwandan passport.
At this point we had to get going, so we gave our final hugs. Eye's puffy and watery, we checked ourselves into the airport. Some time passed as we waited in the line to check our bags just long enough for the tears to pass. I was ok. We placed the first overweight bag on the scale and the woman asked us if there was any way to rearrange. We said almost all of our bags are this heavy. She advised us to put all the extra weight into one bag and we would pay $150 for the extra weight. We did as we were told and along came the manager, or some woman of high status. She asked us how much the bags weighed. The woman who was working with us told her the heavy bag weighed 33 kilograms (the limit for overweight bags is 32 kilo's). This other woman was not a happy camper. She claimed that "none of my workers can carry a bag this heavy." She told us to put some of the weight into our carry on. When she saw our carry on items, she told us they were too heavy and were going to have to leave some stuff behind.
My carry-on bag contained ALL of the electronics I brought to Rwanda. After a lot of back-and-forth, and unpacking and re-packing, we were beginning to fall behind schedule, and they would be boarding the plane very shortly. As I fell into tears (again) the woman looked at me and said "Look, I don't do this for anyone, but this is going to be an even bigger mess if you miss this flight, so just pack up this extra weight in your carry-on and go." I thanked her, and we ran to the gate.
Once we got on the plane, I had a steady stream of tears that would last for about 2 hours. I couldn't look out the window to see my body being dragged out of this beautiful country (even though it was dark out). I almost felt like a prisoner of my own life; unable to be where I really wanted to be. I had left jobs unfinished at the center. My good-byes at the center were cut short. Saying good-bye to Willy was rushed and unfinished, but what IS a proper good-bye?
I slept on the majority of every flight. Hoping for some peace to enter my mind every time I woke up. Eventually I was ok. Numbed, but ok.
I was received at Burlington Airport shortly after 4:00pm on wednesday by my parents and Elena's entourage of family and friends (which can be expected because she was gone for 7 months)! The happiness of seeing my parents was a nice distraction from the sadness I had from leaving. They asked my many questions and we shared good conversation. I was excited to show them all of the clothing I acquired from the Josephine and my favorite seamstress, Chantal. Shortly after arriving home, my parents took me out to a new restaurant in town: The Prohibition Pig. They are good friends with the bartender, who would mix up something special for me to celebrate my 21st birthday a little late. We enjoyed a nice dinner together before heading home. My parents told me they would get me a bike as a late birthday and a welcome home gift. That evening, I went with my dad to pick up what would become my first bike since fourth or fifth grade. I was a little excited to say the least, even though I had had a long 30 hours.
I have been in Vermont for a week now. It seems my mind wanders over to Rwanda most of the time. I am constantly thinking about what is happening at the center, what the weather is like, and how my friends are doing. Communicating with friends in Rwanda reminds me of what it must have been like years ago before the internet and Skype. Since they don't have access to a computer every day, it can be weeks or months before hearing back from them. I wish I could pick up a phone and call the center to talk to all the boys to see how they are but that's impossible. I have never appreciated how simple and easy it is to contact someone in the U.S. whenever you want. Maybe one day technology will allow the same easy communication for friends around the globe.
Elena and I gave a successful presentation at Johnson State College. We raised nearly $500 for Willy's trip with the silent auction. I will be sure to keep everyone updated on the status of Willy's passport and visa, and the money we have raised. I owe a big thank you to those who attended and bid on the items. I also want to thank everyone who has supported me over the past four months. I learned more than I could have ever imagined, and I have you all to thank for that. THANK YOU!
If you haven't already, please take some time to look through Elena's blog. She stayed in Rwanda for 7 months, and has shared many stories. Also, current volunteers at the center, Bret and Dorota, are sharing their stories as well. They have a recent post sharing the journey of buying and giving out shoes to all the boys at the center. The video at the end of the entry called "I Have Shoes" was created by Bret and Willy!