By JoAnne Sutton - Peace Corps Volunteer, Rwanda (2013-2015)
What is it like to be here?
You cannot really know unless you come
Then you might
Wake up to the sounds of cows and crows and bicycle bells, a group of girls giggling while walking arm-in-arm
Feel the words of an unfamiliar language in your mouth until it seems that you always have known them
Find yourself listening to six different choirs each singing their own song in four-part harmony, spread out in rooms all around as the sun dips down at Sabbath sunset
Half-close your eyes to the breeze in your face on a moto ride to the next village, up and down hillsides, the sun warming open green valleys and you, children stopping mid-bite of an unripe guava to point as you go by, yelling out “umuzungu!”*
Look up to see preschoolers sprinting towards you with arms outstretched like airplanes to wrap their hands around your knees
Exchange greetings in Kinyarwanda, in French, in English, with hands waving and handshakes, with smiles, eyebrow lifts, and cheek touches
Have conversations with curious college students on the bus ride to the capital, sharing oranges and ideas, as a tired child’s head comes to rest on your shoulder
Rock a baby to sleep in your arms at a choir practice where everyone stands in a circle to sing, arms draped around each other’s shoulders, holding hands
You will be a different person when you leave,
This life refining you into a better version of yourself
If you can find a way to let it
This poem was selected as a finalist in the Volunteer category for the 2015 Peace Corps Poetry Contest. It was selected from more than 1,000 submissions, representing over 50 years of Peace Corps service in more than 100 countries.