The things I took for granted*

So, as I roll into day seven without any water and day five without any electricity, I notice that my initial annoyance with living in what appears to be the only (small) area of Huye and its environs that does not have a consistent water or electricity has dissipated.  I have thrown out the food in my refrigerator and, to save my computer battery, I hop into bed at 7 or 8 with a book and a flashlight.  I realize that it was not not having water or electricity that was unsettling, it was expecting that I should have it and never knowing for sure that I would get what I thought I deserved.  Once I decided to accept the reality that I did not have it, I quit expecting it, looking for it, or even needing it to be in my home.

Having no electricity at home got me out of the house to join the hundreds of Rwandans who walk the streets of Huye, going one place or another on foot, moto taxis, or mini-buses. My mission was to find electricity to recharge my computer battery and I decided to head to the university campus, even though I had given my office away to another volunteer who did not have one.   When I explained my electric plight to my friends at the print shop, they welcomed me enthusiastically into their den of mysterious, and mostly unused, printers and photocopiers (described in the post entitled “Paper clips, large”).  They gave me my own little corner, at the end of a table with a strip that had several open outlets, and left me to do my work.  As I worked, I was able to watch the glow of the adapter on my computer telling me that the machine is charging and the little battery icon climb from 15 to 30 to 40 to 50 to 70 to the ultimate electronic security blanket — 100%.  It was pure bliss!

We all worked silently, each in our own areas.  I enjoyed having company and knowing that I was welcome.  Later, when I was shooed out for the lunch break, I went into town, bought myself several samosa, deep-fried triangular meat- or potato-filled savories, took them to the swimming pool in town, and had a lovely afternoon eating, swimming, and watching big puffy white and gray clouds pass by overhead without gracing us with a single drop of rain.   I came home curious as to whether I would find the electricity on, but not really concerned about whether it would be there. Even when I got home and found the power back on, I no longer felt the need to have it.  When it is on, I will use it.  But I no longer expect it to be there at my beck and call.  And, of course, it was out again the next morning.

I smile at the thought of the things at home that I took for granted:  the knowledge that when I flipped a light switch, I would be able to see what I am doing; the assurance that when I turn the faucet on, water would flow; the confidence that the internet would work at all hours of the day, and at lightening speed; the answering whoosh of water flowing out of the toilet when I pushed the button.   In fact, the biggest thrill of my day at the print shop was to discover that their toilet whooshed enthusiastically when I pushed the button!  My new idea of heaven is a toilet that flushes.

I also remember the “luxuries” of life in America, unfamiliar to most people living in Rwanda:   The choice of two faucets, one of which runs deliciously warm, or hot, water, depending upon my heart’s desire; the washer that cleans my clothes with the touch of a button, and its soul mate, who takes a wet soggy mass of fabric and transform it into a pile of soft fluffy clothing in less than 20 minutes; the reality that I even have a computer, that I actually have two; the luxury of having  a car (not to mention my own golf cart) to use to get around, and an unlimited supply of books to read, and even delivered to my doorstep on demand.

But what I cannot get in America is my little brown bag of samosas at almost any time of the day, warm from being freshly fried by hand by some unseen local woman, enough for a complete meal, for a mere 58 cents.  Nor will I get the little frisson of delight when the lights go on, the internet works, or the toilet whooshes.   I noticed today as I watched with great concentration and delight as the water in the toilet disappeared that I must have resembled a toddler who had just discovered the magic of water swirling down and out of the bowl whenever I push a button.  It’s really a lot of fun!

Last but not least, once I leave here, I will never again feel the pleasure of seeing a mini-van loading in the distance down the road to my house and waving for them to wait and seeing them wave back and then wait for me.  I don’t even have to run.    Somehow what I don’t have here feels insignificant when compared to what I do have.

Tonight I am content to sit in a dark house.  Tonight I am grateful for all that I don’t have, as well as for what I do have.  Tonight I am reminded that, in the end, all that really matters is that I am alive, fed, sheltered, and that I have friends who will help me out when I am in trouble.    Who could ask for more?

*The content of this website is mine alone and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government, the Peace Corps, or the Rwandan government.

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