This month has been the most trying time of my life. It took this month’s tragedy to realize that the moments I’m experiencing here are not contained within a 27-month period. Even my blog’s tagline, “See you in 2!” won’t hold true. After two years, I’m not going to be the same person that left home in June 2014. None of us in Peace Corps Rwanda will be. I know I’m sounding mighty melodramatic right now, but stay with me; this month has changed my outlook on so many things in life and in service.
As most of you know, my friend and fellow Health 6 Volunteer, David Ripley, passed away on March 31st while on vacation in Tanzania. David was warm and kind in ways many of us will never be. His truths ran deeper than most and his laugh lines were plentiful. When I say David was one of the best people I’ve known…it’s not bullshit. David lived his life according to his own terms, but with the best intentions.
There’s an endless stream of things I could say about David. Instead, I’ll just put here what I sent to David’s family:
The first time I ever saw David I thought, “There’s no way this guy is here for Peace Corps.” He walked through the lobby of our hotel, matching suitcase set in tow, hair slicked back, looking dashing as ever…and I thought, “He must be here for a business conference.” A few hours later, he quietly walked in to the Staging event and my notions of what a Peace Corps Volunteer should look like were shattered.
Over the course of the past ten months David also shattered any preconceived ideas of how a Volunteer should act. As he became one of my closest friends, I was lucky enough to watch his passions grow (for both our work here and for one of our best friends, Carrie). It didn’t matter if we were digging ditches, building hand-washing stations, or playing Taboo in the city…David brought a light with him that I will never forget. He was one of the most unique people I’ve ever met…incredibly laid back, independent, fiercely supportive of the people he loved, and sometimes a little neurotic when it came to finishing projects. But what made him so unique was his honesty. On my worst days, David reminded me that it could always be worse…that I needed to suck it up, grin and bear it…that he was there to support me and that nothing was out of reach.
A couple of months ago, David changed my life. Before joining Peace Corps, we both shared a love of emergency medicine. A while back, David asked me what I wanted to do after Peace Corps. When I responded, “nursing”…David looked at me and, without missing a beat said, “You’re better than that.” He was sincere in every single thing he did and said. We spent the day talking about our dreams, what made us happy, and where life might take us after Peace Corps. He told me that his family would visit while he was here and that he couldn’t wait to have everyone meet Carrie. The love that David had for the simplicity of every-day moments is a gift that he shared with every life he’s touched in Rwanda.
There is nothing that will ease this pain. David was a truly extraordinary person, with a passion for life that I can only hope to emulate. In his memory, we will work to continue his sanitation project and help David’s community realize his dreams. Since June, we’ve grown as a family and will continue to remember David for his visions, his honesty, and his incredible compassion.
As you can see from the photos above, David has had a profound impact on many of our lives here in Rwanda. He truly was the sunshine in our group and, with a little help from our friends…we’ll remember him for that…and we’ll get by.
I wish I could say that this was April’s only travesty, but – alas – the shitstorm kept coming.
The past couple of weeks have been extremely difficult for many of us in Peace Corps Rwanda. Some Volunteers have decided to return home for personal reasons. To make a long and devastating story short…there’s just a few of us left in Health 6. And all I really have to say is…
I feel incredibly lucky to have met such wonderful, talented, unique individuals. I’m fortunate to have bonded so tightly with my Health 6 family. As we held it together to plan David’s memorial (with the help of some truly wonderful PCVs outside of Health 6), we were repeatedly told, “I’m not sure how another group could’ve made it through something like this.” We struggled, but constantly told ourselves, “At least we have each other; at least we have Health 6.” That’s not to say that it was all peaches and cream 24/7. Just like any other family, we bickered amongst ourselves and got on each others’ nerves. But it worked.
It’s literally a day-by-day kind of thing. I miss David. I miss the rest of my Peace Corps family. This journey is going to be more trying than I ever expected. I’d never thought about going home before this month. I spent a solid couple of days wondering if this was worth it. I remembered seeing somewhere (on one of the countless Peace Corps blogs I read before coming here) that any time you think about going home…wait two days. Typically, the feelings dissipate. (If not, maybe consider talking to someone you trust.) So. I waited two days. And, lo and behold…the feelings dissipated. Not entirely, obviously, but it just comes in bouts now. For now, I’m getting by because of my community and because of the other Volunteers who’ve experienced the same losses this month. Misery sure does love company and I couldn’t ask for better company throughout this mess.
What I can say is…the reason this loss is hitting us so hard is because we were so fortunate to have had each other in this journey and to have created such a tightly knit family. It’s so odd to think that, just eleven months ago, I didn’t know these people. That they haven’t been in my life for years. Remembering that, and remembering exactly why I signed up for Peace Corps (and waited two full years for an invitation), I can honestly say that I’m going to do everything in my power to stay here. (If April taught me anything it’s that you can’t say anything for certain.)
With everything having changed so rapidly, some of my projects are going to require to major repair (namely, the WASH Implementation Plan). But WASH is going to happen! (If it’s the last thing I do here!)
After we’re rid of the monsoon-like weather, I’ll have a builder come make a cabinet for the TV/DVD Player. Our first movie night with the HIV+ kids will be in May. Depending on the ages of the kids, I’ve got Avatar or The Avengers (need to download Kinyarwanda subtitles, but seeing as I don’t have 3G at site anymore…).
In four days, World Malaria Month begins and a few of us South PCVs will be doing a Malaria Walking Tour throughout three villages in our District. We’ve got tons of activities planned…staying busy is great for my mental health. I’ll also be doing a bunch of the activities around my villages (trying to win Malaria Month, ya’ll).
That’ll bring me to the end of May…which leads into June…which is when new Trainees arrive! We have a Training of Trainers (ToT) for the Volunteer Advisory Trainers (VATs) just before PST (Pre-Service Training). (I don’t know if you could tell, but Peace Corps loves their acronyms.) I’m really hoping that the handful of us Health 6ers left can go to the airport to pick up the new Trainees. When we arrived almost a year ago, there were two Volunteers there and I distinctly remember seeing Nikki right when I stepped out of the airport. It was the most exciting thing. I’d love to have us all there, supporting the new group when they arrive. (Throwing myself into work and the happy parts of this experience are certainly my ways of coping.)
By August, the new Trainees will be sworn in as Volunteers and we’ll host BE/GLOW Camps in the South. That’ll be the one year in-service mark for us…I hear it flies by after that. (Here’s the hoping.) My COS (Close of Service) trip now includes a whirlwind tour of the States to visit Health 6 homies!
And as for the living day-by-day…well, it starts tomorrow. (Always a procrastinator.) Being April, Rwanda is still in a period of mourning for the hundreds of thousands of lives lost to the Genocide. (A recent report has upped the death toll to nearly two million…TWO MILLION.) It’s a hard time for everyone in Rwanda right now. Tomorrow, I’ll be attending a memorial event held at my Sector office, with my entire Health Center staff.
It’s a reminder that my community is my home. My co-workers are my family, too.
I signed up for 27 months of service.
I’ll be here.