Tastes of Home in A Faraway Land

Rwanda landscapeIf you’ve ever traveled far from home, you know how welcome a familiar face and invitation to dinner feels. Suzanne Skees recently traveled to Rwanda and posted a great story about her experience. Parts of her story are below. Be warned, it may stir up any feelings of wanderlust you have lying around. Sometimes, travel leads us to the most unexpected discovery of home.

When in Africa, you know you are an honored guest when your host pulls out the Fanta. I sipped an orange soda and chatted, and soon the dining table began to fill with grilled tilapia, barbecued chicken, fried potatoes, rice, stewed bananas, fresh peas and carrots, pickled vegetables and mayonnaise. Annonciata talked about her past work in elementary education and curriculum materials, and Lucie shyly described the little shop she runs with her adopted niece, Fabiana, who joined us for our hen-party dinner. Fabiana is so petite and slender that she looks much younger than her 25 years. I asked if she wanted to attend college and told her about Akilah Institute, the junior college for women coordinating our tour this week.

For just a few hours in Rwanda, I was not a student, but a woman, a sister [in the Kagaju family]. We sat around the table and talked, and laughed about anything that seemed silly, and a lot did. Being a jaded American, I was struck by their innocence, especially given the violence and hardships they’ve all endured, including death, poverty, heartbreak, and illness. Tonight there was no trace of sadness, and I sensed there was never self-pity.

Long past that evening, I still wonder why the Kagaju women welcomed me so heartily into their home. Yes, I was a friend of their daughter and sister [Marie], but Marie has thousands of friends all over the world—she’s just that sort of person—and I was clumsy and uninformed, stopping in for only a few hours, to take their food and hospitality and offer nothing in return. I suspect it has something to do with the generosity of Rwandan culture, as well as their deep rootedness in family.

I learned a lot that week about what’s working and what isn’t in social change, education and enterprise, economic development and government in this small country. Our American and European group came away knowing that we had far more in common with Rwandans—good and evil, passive and proactive—than we’d imagined. But what will remain the most vivid in my memory will be the night of no classes, when I got to be just another sister at the table of a million family dinners, in a home that felt more like home than anyplace I’ve been in years.


Please visit The Skees Family Foundation to read the entire story.