these mornings have a refreshing crispness to them, laced with that earthy smell of old leaves. this weekend the wind blew in constant breaths and waves. the sun was warm, asserting its summertime dominion over clear skies still, but the wind, ah the wind was something else; the wind was ice and i loved it.
stephanie and i have not experienced the season of autumn since it ended near the conclusion of the year 2013. since then we have been in a perpetual summer and i can count on one hand the number of nights i have had to bundle up to stay warm – two of which were on mountain slopes above 11,000 feet. we have been warm always, rarely needing a jacket or socks. we’d pretend on those chilly rainy kigali mornings it was fall and drink coffee under the j.lynn’s awning, watching the water drip from tropical plants, wearing sweatshirts though they were still unnecessary. and then the afternoon would bring the sun and summer would return with humid vengeance.
perpetual summer was not bad, but I missed dearly those favorite seasons of mine when leaves turned and snow fell. i have longed for this time of year again in the northern hemisphere; the cold, the changes. and now that such an undeniable bite is in the wind i almost fear it. my body recoils from the low sixties and trembles at the thought of fifty or, heaven help us, below freezing! i want it and i don’t. so warm for so long what are we supposed to do with cold air, when we can’t simply walk out our door in t-shirts and sandals every day of the year? i suppose we’ll adequately remember how humans should respond to the deep cold in time.
and so we embrace the early autumn. much green still lines the streets and paths, most trees still clinging to summer colors. a third of the trees around have started the change, their tops crisped and yellowed as if burned by the sun. and a smaller percentage stand naked already, their strength weakened by the cool nights, feeble branches stripped by winds unforgiving, leaving boney, spindly twig-fingers to shake, shiver, rattle, empty. some street corners hold summer; some have succumbed to winter. the gutters gather their annual collections of tattered rainbow pieces. the prairies send up one last blossom of summer’s purples, yellows, and whites, while the green fields whither to brown.
but most trees are patient. they are in no hurry to change, their leaves in no hurry to die. they calmly, quietly, casually allow the green to seep from their long corners as they soak up the daily fading warmth, turning softly into themselves; the way enduring trees have always done for eons immemorial.
the summer job search has found me doubly employed. after we made our decision to defer admission to the university of glasgow and stay this year in the states i had hoped to find a job or jobs that would in some way connect my work in rwanda – kiziba specifically – with my studies next fall, studies in community development and education. i believe i have found such jobs.
the first is an aide position with the wheaton school district’s transition program, a place for post-high school special needs students to continue learning life skills and find job placements. i ride my bike from thence through the windy afternoons into glen ellyn where i help coordinate after school activities and tutoring for elementary school kids, most of whom are from resettled refugee families. in both jobs i find myself learning as much as i teach – about education, about immigrant and refugee communities in the states, about disabilities, etc. i hope that the experience and knowledge continue to prepare me for grad school and beyond.
with the job question answered for the time being we have settled into the suburbs of chicago as our home for now, until next summer takes us to glasgow. there is a strange sense of defeat in this, something i imagine many returning expats experience. ‘settling’ is a word i don’t like to use. this year is a transition, i must remind myself of this, and is not permanent. and it is a transition with purpose. i learn and work and i write and we both watch our wonderful new daughter grow. she learns humorously to use her voice and limbs and smiles often with her adorable chubby cheeks. she daily gives us joy. and she sleeps really well, which is something we are in no way angry about.
and yet a subtle unease eats at me. i have to remind myself that those two years in rwanda were real and have somehow brought us to where were are currently, and i try to live in such a way that honors that long and formative experience. yet I feel an odd lack of validation from others in that experience, which is perhaps why i have found it difficult to process. when we first returned to the states we wanted to enter back into old friendships half-buried by time and distance with a casual simplicity, a picking up of where we left off. it was in a way refreshing to not talk about rwanda and not bring it up, to be people together again without our time abroad being some glaring definition of our lives and persons. but now i feel like i have not spoken enough about what those years meant. the memories sometimes mark me like a wound, something blatant that i feel deeply but that no one else wishes to mention. i met someone new not long ago who asked me if it was true that i used to live in rwanda. i said yes. his next question was, what’s it like being back? as if those twenty six months on a distant continent could be explained by talking about a handful of months in america.
i feel perhaps a little too bitter about this. but realistically i have to remember that i, in writing a book based on refugee lives, in posting on voices of kiziba, in talking about my refugee friends in job interviews, am still closer to that world that anyone around me, including stephanie. these feelings are things i carry with me in a way no one else does or can. they are my stories and others’ stories and i leaf through their tattered pages daily. at times i feel sad, burdened, overly nostalgic; at other times, emboldened, hopeful, weathered and proven.
yet this all makes sense in some way. if no one else feels what i feel having lived what i have lived then how could i expect others to talk about it if i don’t even know how to talk about it?
so the days continue, the year turns; the leaves change, the earth spins. two years living and working in rwanda, beautiful and challenging though they were, were not the apex of my life. i am not yet thirty. rwanda was a step, a big one, but talking about the now and what comes next will be just as important. some days the steps forward are just harder than others.