The house of Impano

Finding home in Rwanda.


Impano: means ‘gift’ in Kinyarwanda; also the name given to the author during her Peace Corps service in Rwanda

umuzungu: Kinyarwanda word for foreigner

By Heather Newell - Peace Corps Volunteer, Rwanda (2011 - 2013)

On the corners of craziness and beauty,

Mice creep in territorial insistence

They live above life; in between tin and bamboo

Dripping between the linings of hunter green mosquito net protection, they peed on me once –

In my eye.

Exuberant cows, incessant goats, and screaming children are frequent visitors

The world at my fingertips in the fields of cassava, corn, potatoes – whatever the season may be

I saw rainy, summer, rainy, summer, nearly 3 times over –

Seasons repeat but life is always anew

New sunrises, new markets, new mud to lay bricks at school, something is always changing, something is always the same.

Blue-doored with turquoise paint all around, this is umuzungu land for a time

Sunday afternoons, come for nail polish, little ones

We’ll adorn ourselves in pinks and blues and purples and dance so the dust mixes perfectly imperfectly

Monday mornings, come for shared milk tea and coffee, village elders

By Thursday, rumor has it that banana beer was purchased, but I’ll neither confirm nor deny

On weekends, bring a football or cards – we’ll play either one

I pray incessantly on that mat in the corner; I cry there too; I laugh there often;

I fall in love in that room. Deeply.

home is love’ adorns the walls – with maps, photos, letters, ticket stubs; the walls breathe adventure

I grade papers with red pen at my desk as Ira Glass poignantly shares stories of ‘This American Life’

I write home describing ‘This Rwandan Life’ and it’s hard to find the words –

Balanced. Confusing. Complicated. Peaceful. Incredible. Sad


The life is good, I tell them. The house of Impano – my home – it’s a special place

On the corners of craziness and beauty.

This poem was entered in the returned Volunteer category for the 2015 Peace Corps Poetry Contest. The contest received more than 1,000 submissions, representing over 50 years of Peace Corps service in more than 100 countries.

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