February 3, 2020
Understanding someone else and their frame of mind is very important in humanizing a person, which is what I spent this trip doing. It’s a bit of a challenge trying to do so in an unfamiliar place. It’s very easy to project our own beliefs and thoughts onto others, implying intentions that tend to be inaccurate. I spent this trip trying to make connections to what is familiar to me, respecting differences while not seeing locals as simply “foreign”, but unfamiliar humans.
Upon arrival, it didn’t immediately feel like I was in a foreign space. The setup of the city, Kigali, reminded me of the Mission District of San Francisco. Ironically, as I saw more and more people who looked like me, it started to feel like a foreign space.
On our walk to the market I could hear my peers talking about how many people were looking at them. I did not share this experience. This is another point of irony, me being a non-conforming black woman in the United States getting stared at much more at home than in a space that should be foreign. We visited the Kigali Public Library in Kigali. It was a really great experience. I love libraries and was surprised at how similar it looked to the libraries I am used to seeing at home.
Meeting the teachers and headmaster was a fun experience. It was nice to eventually get to know them a bit more. Communicating with locals in general was an interesting experience, sometimes people would start speaking to me in Kinyarwanda. It’s also interesting to ponder why some people thought I was Rwandan because it would give me more insight into the culture. Overall, being called “daughter,” being mistaken for Rwandan, and being stared at less makes me feel like I truly belong anywhere. It reminds me that what is foreign can still be home.
Vilesha Waller is a junior majoring in neuroscience at Indiana University Bloomington. In summer 2019, she traveled to Rwanda with the Books & Beyond Project and assisted Dr. Michael Courtney and Dr. Beth Lewis Samuelson with updates to the Kabwende Primary School Reading Room.