Our replacement fellows arrive in Rwanda tomorrow night.

That simple fact feels overwhelming in some senses. Where did this year go? How can it seem like I have been here forever and that I arrived only yesterday? To suddenly face the prospect of letting go of all the projects I had a hand in, to say goodbye to my wonderful office and to leave this community, fills me with bittersweet feeling. In the simplest terms, this has been a good year. While I am beyond excited to see my family and to return to my fiance, a big part of my heart will stay buried here.

I used to tell students that the experience of living abroad would not be a roller-coaster ride of enlightenment–meaning that the true lessons and understanding of how you changed as a result of the experience would not become evident until long after you returned home. But how does one even begin to process an experience like this? Only reflection will yield the lessons to be learned or the changes wrought, but where to start?

Just the other day, one of the higher-ups asked me how things were going as we prepared for the new fellows’ arrival. I quickly rattled off everything on my to-do list, breathlessly piecing together all the tasks requiring attention so that my replacement can have a (hopefully) painless transition. At the end of the tirade list, he grinned at me and said, “Remember six months ago when you felt like you were under-utilized? This is what falling off the cliff of work feels like.” 

I sat stunned for a moment, then laughed. That conversation occurred at one of the lowest points during this year. To have reached this point–dashing around from office to office, putting all my ducks in a row–after experiencing that lassitude and uncertainty is indicative of how much can change within the scope of 12 months. It took a long time to find my feet and only recently did I begin to feel like I actually knew what I was doing. Transitioning out now feels like ending a race prematurely, just when you start getting your pace right. 

Two weeks remain before I say goodbye to the dust and sunsets of Rwinkwavu. Three weeks until I say goodbye to Rwanda for an indeterminate period of time. I do not claim to “be Rwandese” or even to truly understand this place after a year, but I do feel immense gratitude to my co-fellow, my friends, and my colleagues for challenging and supporting me over the course of this year. Searching out the changes in my soul and processing the lessons from all of the experiences we had together will take a long time. With any luck, we will have all crossed paths again before that process completed itself. 

A deliriously wonderful group of people

A deliriously wonderful group of people

Next year’s fellows have a lot to look forward to.