The Moment Begins Now.

Friday, January 7, 2011

And Fade (To Black).

What are the lessons learned from six months in Rwanda?

What do you take away from a country, a people and a place that you feel like you've never really left... or that you left such an important piece of you there, you never fully came home.

How do you find meaning in what happened; find hope and strength and inspiration from the work you poured your soul into?

How do you come home after an experience that tested the mettle and courage and resurfaced all of the fears that you've ever had to deal with to answer the question everyone asks when someone gets home from an adventure...

"Well. How was it?"

What do you say to that? Do I dismiss it with a grin and a simple, "It was good, man. It was really good." Or do I try and dig deeper, unprying thoughts, feelings and experiences I have yet to wrestle with. Things that you may not want to hear when you asked that three headed dragon of a question. Things that you have to deal with on your own, before you can deal with them aloud. The state of humanity, overwhelming suffering, abject poverty, crippling disease, greed, corruption. Alternatively, the perservance of a people, hope, a thriving culture, sustained harmony and safety. The absence of war.

I internalize a lot of it.  How do I help this world most? How do we help each other get through life better? And how do we do it without losing ourselves... without losing enthusiasm, optimism and hope?

These questions emerged over the half year I spent in Rwanda, and the more I thought about it, the more I realize we may never have the answers. Heck, like my friend once pointed out, we may not even have the right questions. And that's starting to become okay with me. There's no easy answers, no simple cliche's that will solve the thoughts that have resurfaced in the land of a thousand hills.

But this came close. Halfway through the trip, a sentence arrived from a closely distant friend.

"We're doing it, Rav," it read. "We're living our dreams."

At the heart of these questions, through the answers we maybe will never find and the world we'll never completely understand, maybe the lesson of this whole journey... is this simple. We. Are living. Our dreams. We're doing what we feel is right. We're going to try and make this world a better place when we leave. This, I believe, is my purpose in all of this.

 So please, go ahead. Ask me how it was. I may not have the answer your looking for, or any answer at all for that matter. But I hope the smile that flickers across my face when I think of Rwanda in that instance is enough to give you a glimpse of a place and an experience I could never fully articulate.

It was... exactly how it was. Exactly how it was supposed to be. It was...
A Moment in Rwanda.


For everyone who has followed and commented on this blog, sent and received emails or letters, laughed or shared in the tears, my gratitude goes out to you. Family, friends and perfect strangers, you were there when I needed you.

Every. Single. Time. You. Were. There. I won't forget that. I couldn't forget that. Thank you so much.

With love, hope and the continued search for meaning in what we call life.

    Live the Dream,

    Ravi Jaipaul

   (The photo journey continues on:

Monday, January 3, 2011

It Begins (The End).

The class erupted at the opportunity to sign my flag, as they leapt from the desks to grab at the markets. It was a silly day, this last one, and as I handed out Canadian pencils and paraphenalia that my parents had shipped in an overstuffed box, I took out my camera and began taking pictures of the students I would never see again.

They returned the favor, bombarding me with cell phone cameras and the like, snapping away, chattering and giggling among themselves (just like Nursing students would do anywhere). I spent ten minutes explaning the timer on my camera and asked the class to pile into the corner. After many hilarious practice shots, we finally had everyone in the shot, and we cheered as the flash went off.

We had come so far, I thought, as I reminisced to my first day of teaching...

For a public speaker, I'm used to pre-talk butterflies. This time, they are in flight, diving from my throat to the depth of my legs. 36 students, the Dean of Nursing and the Faculty Head all crammed into an old military room that constituted the classroom. The class remained unnervingly quiet as I nervously plowed through an hour and a half lecture on the Central Nervous System. No one said a word. At the end of the elaborate power-point and diagram presentation, I implored them to give me any feedback. One nervous student eventually raised her hand and said, “Sir. We could not understand a word you said. You speak too fast.” I gulped, and promised to repeat the class in the afternoon, speaking one third the speed of what would be considered regular pace.

With... my.... new... pace of.... speaking.... established... we moved on and.... began to learn. In the afternoon class, only half of the students showed up, but had signed in for everyone there. This was the only time I ever lost my temper. I held the sign-up sheet in front of everyone, counted the signatures and the number of students aloud. Most students dropped their heads as I ripped the sign-up sheet in front of them and wrote on the board, "I DON'T CARE."

"Listen guys, I don't care if you come to my class. If you don't come, that's fine with me. But don't EVER lie to me. From now on, there will be no sign in sheet. I'm not going to chase you down, I'm not going to ask where you were.  I... Don't... Care. But you should. You are the future of Nursing in Rwanda. Rwanda  needs you. But your old enough to decide what you need. If you don't come to class, you don't learn the material. You don't learn the material, you won't pass my course."

I took a deep breathe and softened, spending the rest of the class showing them a slideshow of Canada, my family and friends of what my life is like. The explanation of strapping ice-blades onto your feet to slide on frozen water to chase a puck, I am sure, seemed like pure insanity, as evidenced by their open mouths and wide-eyes. This guy, they thought, was nuts.

I thought I had took it too far. They clucked and cried out when I ripped up the sign-in sheet and at the end of class tension was still palpable in the air. Great, I thought. First day and I'm fired.

I arrived the next morning, and walked into the classroom to find all 36 students seated in their chairs, books open and quiet. "Good Morning Professor," they said. I smiled. "Good Morning Class. Let's begin...."

They had gone on to be a great class, studying hard and destroying the midterm test I had set out for them. We had fun, and they continually poked fun at my stickmen drawings, my 'thick' Canadian accent and how much chalk I had usually managed to douse myself with at the end of each class.  
Regardless of how much you travel, goodbyes never get easier. The relationships and work that you find yourself connected to cause you to live in the moment, leaving the last moments to fall with such a shattering finality. You soak in all the moments with a grin on your face, but a crack in your heart.

The class rep shyly stood up after the class and  held up a package which said "To Jaipaul." I opened it in front of the class, as tears began to well up in my eyes. Stay strong, kid, I told myself. I pulled out heartfelt (and totally Rwandan) goodbye gifts; a watermelon flavored lollipop, a Wooden keychain of a shoe that I was wearing, a minitaure Amahoro (peace) basket colored in the national colors of Rwanda and a package of Juicy Fruit. At the bottom was a card, which I read aloud:

"Dear Jaipaul. We thank you for your kindness. You are a wonderful teacher! and we have learnt a lot from you. This is just to wish you all the best as you go back in Canada and don't forget Rwanda and your A0 Nursing Students (Level 2). All the Best. Your students."

Thank you was all I could muster, biting my lip, and gathering my bag. I grabbed the Juicy Fruit out of the package and loudly chewed it while looking over the class one last time. I get nervous at the end of farewells, swallowed down the frog in my throat and told them I was proud of them for being my students.

I looked to the right, the door was swung open and the sunlight was blinding outside compared to the darkness of the classroom. I gave one last wave, and with my backpack slung over one shoulder, walked out of Room Nine for the last time, the class quiet as I walked out.


Staff organized a surprise going away party at the local watering hole (Carwash) and the entire faculty showed up, gathering around three large U-shaped tables underneath an imitation Tiki-Hut that sat on the corner of the bar. Amidst an unlimited amount of Fanta's and Coca Cola's the Faculty took turns going around the table thanking me for my time, and presenting me with various Rwandan relics to bring home with me. Trays of large animal husks showed up on platters and the newfound vegetarian in me tried to disguise it by loading my plates with an obscene amount of overgreasy fries.

After the meal, I shook as I stood up to finally say my piece. Near the end, I faltered, looking up and seeing my colleagues eyes filled with tears, the ones that had brimmed on my eyelids began to fall as my voice cracked. "You guys do so much, with so little... and it amazes me how you keep going through all of this. It meant... so much to work with all of you," I finshed, taking a seat and looking down, unable to control the torrent now. Elizabeth glanced at me through her own watery eyes, "You ass," she said. "You made me cry."

That was it, I thought, shaking hands and giving hugs one last time, as the group left and eveyone scattered for home.
 My last night, brought with it both a sigh and a smile.

I did what I came to do and it was time to go. I am forever grateful for the opporutnity.