Grant – Musings of a Male
“A man never goes so far as when he doesn’t know where he is going” – Oliver Cromwell in Pico Iyer’s Why we travel.
While working on a kitchen garden in another town, I was asked a question by one of the boys watching us work.
“Are you the only boy in the group?’ He asked curiously.
“Yes I am.” I replied politely.
“Why?” He asked, blown away, it seemed, by my answer.
This sort of question is not unfamiliar to me, as I have gotten it from so many Rwandans and even by friends and family back home. Many find it strange why I would agree to come on this trip knowing I would be the only male student. While I like to think of our group as a unit where everyone plays their part and gender is irrelevant, the matter does arise more often than I would hope. Even I had my doubts about it the first time I met the others, wondering “what have you gotten yourself into Grant?” in the back of my head. After our first retreat, however, my reservations disappeared almost completely, as I found that I got along with everyone rather well. Everyone in the group seemed like perfect people to go on an adventure with, and isn’t that what travel is supposed to be, an adventure? Whenever it comes up, it’s usually in the form of good-natured jokes. They laugh about my presence whenever they talk female bodily functions or call me cold when the books we share never bring me tears, while I counter with what I call my little “perks” (examples include never having to share a room, children running to them before me, and the less shaving I have to do). While I do miss having talks about gaming (sadly, I am the only gamer here) and other “manly” things, I love our group and wouldn’t trade it for the world.
The issue does come up here however, and with Rwanda still being a somewhat patriarchal society, I feel like some can be confused by my presence. While I am not the only male member of the group, our teacher Tim’s leadership position creates a much different experience for him than I have. I am not, by nature, an assertive person, and my passiveness can keep me from those strong connections many of my other group members have developed. Many of these relationships have developed around the basket weaving collective Covaga, run by a cooperative of women in Gashora. Being male, I lack the instant connection many of our group felt with the women there, and at times I felt like they did not know what to think of me, which my passive nature did little to help. One of our friends from the community said that he was going to be sad to see me go, but whispered that I should make more men go next year. During our building of the kitchen gardens, I could sometimes feel the stares of the people watching me while I stood, not knowing what to do about my presence. Despite these few isolated incidents, the welcome I have gotten from the community in Gashora has been overwhelmingly positive. Many who had seemed confused by me generally just accept me like they do the other group members, with open arms and hearts. Being the only male student in an all-female group may seem strange to some, in the end it really doesn’t matter, since it’s about personality, not what is on the outside.