You are a Rwandan resident? The Rwandan customs agent said to me just one month ago after reviewing the visa in my passport.
Yes, I equivocated, rather than tell him that, although my passport said I was a resident, I was actually only back in town in transit, that I was leaving Rwanda tomorrow, possibly forever, and this would be the last time that I would be using my visa.
Welcome home. My heart flipped, and I sighed nostalgically. Finally someone welcomes me home and I am leaving.
For me, Rwanda was not an easy place to get to know. She made me work hard to demonstrate my commitment before she began to let me in. Whether it was in her nature or a shadow cast across her from her darkest hours, or a combination of both, to keep her secrets close to her heart and share them with only a select few, I do not know. However, I had an interesting conversation with the Rwandan cab driver who brought me from the airport to my hotel about the difference between Rwandan and Swahili people with regards to their receptivity to, and inclusion of, foreigners. Luckily, we were able to have it because he spoke very good KiSwahili. Two and a half weeks of speaking only KiSwahili seemed to have swept whatever Kinyarwanda I had managed to store in my mind right out the window.
Swahili people read the Koran every day, four times a day. And the Koran says that you must embrace and welcome everyone and so people do because they are reminded so often of the importance of loving everyone.
I found his proposition interesting.
So… it is because they are Muslim that they are so welcoming to strangers?
Yes. They must do what the Koran teaches them. It is part of who they are.
Don’t Christians believe this too?
Yes, but Christians leave it at the door when they go out of the church.
From the mouths of babes, I thought, not that the taxi driver was a baby. I was not expecting a Rwandan to necessarily want to characterize his own people, and their religions, as less observant of their spiritual traditions than others. But I have been surprised at the frank and insightful wisdom of taxi drivers on many occasions in the past. People underestimate cab drivers, I think. I have yet to meet one anywhere from whom I did not learn something if we engaged in a conversation while I was being taken to my destination.
He was right of course, my taxi driver, not necessarily about why Muslims are more welcoming of strangers than Christians, but about the fact that how we think and, perhaps what we think about on a regular basis, informs our actions in and our feelings about the world.
With our thoughts we make the world (Dhammapada). A spiritual system of beliefs that teaches that only some of us are worthy of God’s love, such as Christianity, creates in the psychi a sense of separation and superiority over those who do not share our beliefs. One that teaches that we are all the same in God’s eyes does not. This aspect of these two spiritual traditions also account for one of the key distinctions between Islamic and Christian colonial systems which, in turn, explains how the WaSwahili people ever came to exist in the first place: Arab traders lived in and among those whom they conquered, as owners, as husbands, and as fathers. European colonialists did not choose to marry and bear children with the people whom they oppressed; they only chose to use them for their own purposes.
As I begin my stay in a year in a country which was never colonialized, whose spirituality is predominantly Hindu, one of the religions of the world that acknowledges, serves, and celebrates the myriad of unseen deities who protect and challenge us on a daily basis, I wonder how a people whose indigenous beliefs have never been trampled, never been cast aside as unworthy, will respond to newcomers in their country. Whatever their response will be, I know that we will not be alone in our encounters. In fact, if all the Hindu gods and goddesses, if they do their jobs as they should, they are going to keep us pretty busy.
For those readers who are unfamiliar with the gods and goddesses that surround us, let me introduce at least the triumvirate who is responsible for the creation, upkeep, and destruction of the world, since it is they who are going to be keeping a close eye on what I do while I am in this land for whose well-being they are responsible.
Brahma is the greatest one of all, creator of the universe. It is said that he has four heads, presumably so he can keep an eye of what is going north, south, east, and west simultaneously, and four arms, again perhaps so he can manage his creative efforts in all four directions.
Vishnu, the preserver whose power knows no limits. He is considered the origin of all that is present and his role is to protect humans and restore order to the world.
And my all time favorite, along with Hanuman, the monkey god who symbolizes the human excellences of self-restraint, faith and service, and Ganesh, the elephant god of wisdom and learning, who removes obstacles, is the infamous Shiva, the destroyer. Shiva is responsible for transforming the universe and those of us who inhabit it. It is he who protects us when we need to change; it is he who helps us create ourselves anew.
I hope that Ganesh will bless my work here at Tribhuvan university, and that Shiva will help me changes as I will need to change to better serve the people with whom I will be working here at the top of the world.