Four years ago I set out on a journey that forever changed my life. Reading my thoughts and emotions upon returning has brought back so many memories, and it was nice to hear my own thoughts. I wish more than anything that I could be going back right now, but until next time, the people and memories will forever stay in my heart…
As I sat on the plane, anxiously waiting to see my friends and family, I began to reflect on my experience with the orphans I had been working with in Rwanda. In that time I was supposed to be teaching them, I didn’t quite know just how much I would be learning myself.
I was headed back to the comfort of my own home, the joys and luxuries of living in America. I realized the everyday things that I take for granted I was able to live without. Yes, no electricity, no toilets, no running water, and a cot for a bed; I somehow managed without them all. Hard to believe that as a teenage girl, not having a cell phone and the internet at the touch of my hands didn’t kill me. I had realized just how materialistic my life was. For that summer I managed with only a couple phone calls home (if I was lucky with the phone lines), I was able to enjoy the peace and quiet sounds of nature and put my nose in a good book instead of a computer screen.
The thought of a warm shower, flushable toilets, and being able to actually wash my clothes filled my mind the closer I got to being back in the United States. I could hardly wait! I’d finally be able to get rid of the smell of urine and sweat, and I could just hear my bed calling my name. My parents had always told me how lucky I was, I took their word for it, but I never really grasped that concept; I didn’t know how truly blessed I was. I had adapted very well to the life-style of Rwandans, but it gave me such an amazing insight on how other countries can survive with so little. I couldn’t just go to a grocery store and grab some food, it’s not like a bag of chips is available in the jungle, I had to eat what was put in front of me, and, I had to like it. I survived just fine; I was caught up in the moment of living life for the simplicity that it really is, and let me tell you, it was beautiful. Not once did I find myself thinking “Man I’m bored! I don’t know what to do,” funny to think when I didn’t have half the things I have here. I didn’t have the option of going to a movie, turning on the TV, going bowling, sitting for hours on the computer, texting my friends every five seconds; yet I was never bored. It wasn’t until I left and had those everyday privileges when I realized how much I missed them and how much more I now appreciated them.
What hit me the most, what really touched my heart, were the children. Sure I taught them a few words, I took care of wounds that otherwise would have been badly infected, and I like to feel that I made a positive impact on their lives. But it was them who taught me the priceless things in life; that every healthy breath, every non-necessity, every friend and family member is a precious gift, and that too often I take them for granted. These children had lost everything, they live in ways that we don’t even dream of, but they still look at the bright side of things. I cherish so much more now, yet I still find myself “needing”-wanting-more, and I constantly have to remind myself of all the things they don’t have, all the things I managed without, and that through everything, they still wear that million dollar smile. Just as the song Hands by Jewel goes, “Poverty stole your golden shoes, but it didn’t steal your laughter,” and those kids are living examples of that.
We all take things for granted, and until we step outside the box and take a look in, we won’t realize all that we have. It’s a challenge to everyone; to start to appreciate and cherish all that we do have and find a way to give to those who are less fortunate. We’re only human and it’s a hard thing to do, but with little everyday reminders, we can all be more thankful for the many blessings that surround us.