On the Importance of Doing Nothing

Kigali is a bustling city, full of life, full of traffic, full of people. If you step out onto any street and look around, everyone seems to be on a mission, trying to make a few Rwandan Francs to bring home that day. From my observation, the citizens of this country know how to work hard.  On several occasions I have woken up to the sounds of men outside my window at 7am, already digging a massive hole in the ground just after sunrise. The women who cook and serve food at the guest house walk home at 10pm. Even the teachers at our school stay until 6pm so that we can have English class after the students finish at 5pm.

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On the other hand, when it is time to rest, they know how to totally chill. By this I mean that they do literally nothing. They don’t try to run errands. They don’t check their email incessantly. They certainly don’t read books. Instead, they just sit, maybe take a nap, or chat with friends or family. With this all-or-nothing lifestyle, I think that they have captured or preserved a sense of the Sabbath which we have almost forgotten in modern day America. If there is anything that I can most appreciate about this country’s culture, it is that people always seem to have time to spare just to chat or establish relationships with other humans. Sunday is most often times a day of rest, a day to go to Church, and to enjoy family time. They even still dress up to set apart the day as one differentiated from the monotony of a long work week.

One of the cultural aspects that I hate most about contemporary American life is when people always make excuses to not join in the fun. “I would love to attend your concert, but I have too many papers to write this week!” ” I used to go to Church, but for some reason my life is too crazy now!” These are some of the most annoying comments that I hear way too often, and are so representative of the need (or the need to appear) to be ridiculously busy. I don’t remove myself from this culture at all, because I think I am very guilty of this. So, this week, I learned an important lesson from the Rwandan people: how to do nothing. For an incredibly long time.

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The first example of nothing-ness this week was our trip last Sunday to a small town called Kabarondo. We visited Jean Marie’s cousins, who all hail from Burundi. We traveled a solid two plus hours on two busses and a moto to their simple, beautiful house in the Eastern Province. We were warmly welcomed into the unadorned sitting area of the house which comfortably seated everyone on plastic chairs around a coffee table. They had three beautiful small children; the two oldest were so adorable but shied away from us for the most part. Jean Marie kindly translated for us that the oldest girl thought we came to eat her. (Thanks buddy, but that piece of info could have been left untranslated haha!) For me, the highlight of the trip was his beautiful two-week old second cousin, Marie Celeste. The mother just handed her over for us to hold, and she was so tiny and fragile! For hours we just sat, attempted to converse in a few languages, and tried to drink our Mutzig (popular lager) slow enough that the bottles would stop appearing in front of us. Then randomly, they brought food, so we ate and then continued to sit. It was so relaxing! Ironically, due to my aforementioned comments, we missed Sunday Mass with the confusion of traveling, but it felt like much more of a Sabbath than many Sundays when I squeeze Mass in during a time of convenience after work.

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The second example of accomplishing nothing was a day when I sat next to a pool for 6 hours for “work.” Martha and I had the fortunate happenstance of living with some Polish film producers who asked us to be extras in their movie. Apparently they needed some white people, who are difficult/impossible to find around here. So, unexpectedly, we signed up to work 6 hour shifts the following day. When I showed up to the set, I found a small group of Rwandans hanging out and suspected that they might also be extras. I was slightly intimidated, but finally introduced myself to a few of them, and we just started chatting while waiting to be called. After about two hours, I was getting slightly confused and restless. I pulled out my curriculum book and started compulsively lesson planning. After four hours I met some new friends, found a poolside table where we could chill, and just started talking. After five hours, I lost hope that I would ever see my movie star days come to fruition, and frustration set in. I hesitantly pulled out my laptop and continued to lesson plan. Meanwhile, I looked back at the rest of the cast of “extras.” They were sitting, patiently, in the same location for almost 6 hours straight. Some napped, some talked, most started straight ahead. We all had a little water, but none of us ate any food. Yet no one complained! This was normal for them! So I learned, yet again, this is Rwandan life. There is no need to do work compulsively. Just show up for the original mission, and do that one job. Even if the job entails doing nothing.

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