“We have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night” – Sarah Williams
I have a stalker. He is very persistent. He is also about three inches long, scaly, and likes to hang out in my left Birkenstock whenever it is not on my foot. (My stalker is a gecko).
My experience with lizards in general is extremely limited, and my experience with creepy ones who enjoy loitering in my bedroom at night is even less extensive. But while I do not relish opening my eyes every morning to a little orange gremlin glaring at me through my mosquito netting, it has occurred to me that this turn of events has not fazed me nearly as much as it once might have.
In the U.S., the general expectation is that any form of life that is not human (animal, vegetable, or bacterial) must be securely penned in, fenced out, cultivated, or exterminated. Most Americans don’t have to struggle simply to stay alive, and this privilege allows us to fret over the existence of others. But in Rwanda, where food security, access to potable water, and adequate shelter are everyday concerns for many, the “live and let live” mentality is not so much a choice as a practicality. Who has time to worry about a stray gecko when you’re busy trying to avoid malaria? (I do not mean to suggest that the houses here are less clean, or that people are so busy eking out a living that they aren’t interested in any loftier pursuits – simply that systemic sterilization of any natural life forms seen to be encroaching on human territory is a distinctly Western phenomenon).
This same laissez-faire approach to life is slowly seeping into my previously pampered American consciousness. Yesterday, while showering, I opened my eyes to find myself face-to-face with a rather large, rather bulbous red spider. It looked like a cranberry with legs. We stared at each other for a moment, then I closed my eyes again, wondering vaguely if it was venomous but mostly if I had gotten all the conditioner out of my hair.
I believe this permissive attitude towards other life forms is mostly pragmatic. However, I’m starting to think there is another cause for my growing indifference towards potential “threats”: risking a life closer to the edge of discomfort is worth it if the return is as mind-boggling, eye-opening, and growth-inducing as my past two weeks in Gashora have been. Yes, last night left me a bit more mosquito-bitten than I would have preferred – but in exchange, I got an evening with friends, sprawled out on-still warm cement under crystal stars and an amber moon. There’s an ants nest in my shower, but this afternoon my English student Dancilla tucked a still-wet strand of my freshly washed hair behind my ear before confiding in me about her family and her past. More and more I’m learning to respect the lives of others, and that I needn’t let their actions impinge on my own happiness and development. Even if there is a gecko in my shoe.
Author’s Note: I wrote this blog in the morning, then set it aside while we walked to Gashora Girls Academy for an afternoon of games with the students. On the way, several of us spotted a young boy lying in the ditch next to the road in the middle of Gashora Town. He was not moving, his eyes were closed, and his arms were bent at an unnatural angle that suggested he had fallen – and no one was helping him, despite his location on the main thoroughfare into town and the bustling market just above. Gwen went over to check on him, and immediately informed us that something was very wrong. To make a long and very stressful story short, a crowd gathered, a truck stopped, and we were able to give the driver some money in exchange for taking the boy to the health center up the road.
I may never fully understand the events of this afternoon; I am only twenty, life is complex, and some cultural differences are too intricate and historical for me to fathom. But I did not feel I could conscionably post a blog extolling the virtues of a live-and-let-live mentality without acknowledging that there are multiple facets to every issue, including this one. Blindly portraying only one version of the truth is, as the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie puts it, “the danger of a single story” – this is my attempt to avoid that particular pitfall.