“Is tonight the night we get robbed? We’ve been lucky so far, but it can’t last.”
It’s been raining the last two nights and, as I fall asleep listening to the rain, that seems to be my last thought.
Rain in Rwanda meant noisy roofs of tin. Rain meant that night guards would be huddled on porches. Rain meant that the roads would be deserted. Rain made robbery more likely.
I’m not really afraid of being robbed. It seems more like an inevitable reality at this point. In our 5 years of marriage we’ve been robbed , at one point or another, of almost everything of value: car, cd collection, dvd collection, iPod and dock, guitar, camera. Some losses have been more impacting than others, but they have all led to a rather loose attachment to our possessions.
When our car was stolen in America there was a police report and official communication, “Oh yes, a Honda Accord. Thieves have rings of keys that they can try when they steal a Honda. Sometimes they don’t have to hotwire it at all. What’s the plate number?” When our car was found, trashed, a few weeks later there were phone calls and towing fees and “resolution.”
When we were robbed (the second time) in Rwanda, there were police, “This is a problem of the owner. You must lock all of your doors, every night. There is nothing we can do if you do not lock your doors” and shady men named Clapton who promised to track down ours and our roommates’ stuff. There were weeks of passing out flyers and knowing that every houseworker in Kicukiro was on the lookout. There was the saga of putting the night guard in jail. There was Robin chasing a man on a moto because the man had a guitar case that looked like Robin’s. And then there was nothing. “The stuff is probably in Uganda by now. They probably already had buyers waiting.”
In America I learned that I have a right to my stuff. The authorities work for me and I can expect that there are elaborate systems set up to handle theft.
In Rwanda I learned that, once again, my life is my responsibility. My right to my stuff only extends as far as I can protect it. If someone comes along and takes my things then that’s just the way things are.
I still live suspended between those two lines of thinking. I lay in my American bed and accept our (actually, probably, pretty improbable) upcoming robbery while at the same time teaching Ellie Jo during the days about the police sirens that we hear in our neighborhood. I obey traffic signals, but still fully expect cars to begin driving on the shoulder when the line for the turn lane is too long. I get frustrated when my internet is down, but feel like calling our provider will just be unfruitful.
My expat life has changed me, but not always in clear-cut ways. Some days it just makes things seemed muddled as I outwardly function in once society, but expect the other society to pop through at any moment. I follow the rules and wonder why everyone else is following them too. I can’t remember if it’s ok the trust a stranger to briefly hold my child while we chat, “Is this the culture where I let people hold my baby because they speak my language and probably don’t have polio? Or is this the culture where I let people hold my baby because everyone holds everyones babies and my child loves it and we’re a community?”
Rwanda is with me. So is the rain.