“There are only two stories: someone went on a journey and a stranger came to town.” John Gardner, as quoted by Janet Burroway in Elements of Craft Writing.
It is our last day in Gashora, and both our journey and our strangeness here is coming to an end. Walking through town, we stop often to greet familiar faces, from Covaga, the health center, the local pub. We’ve nestled in and taken the time to build genuine relationships and I believe this has allowed us to empathize with the people in Gashora.
We had our last day of English lessons at the health center on Wednesday, and to say goodbye and thank you we sang I’ll Fly Away. In a few days we will do just that, returning home with stories featuring our friends in Gashora. Our challenge now is not to portray our friends as merely characters in our African adventure. The Travel Writing course has trained us to avoid stereotypes and writing what the audience expects of us. But what has been even more influential is that we now know a lot about the people we’ve met. Together we’ve broken bread and visited homes and shared our dreams. We’ve seen the good and the bad, and we’ve loved and been loved.
Our partners in Gashora are not characters that have adorned the stories of our journey. They are our friends. I could talk about Dancilla, our mother figure who taught us to survive in the world of fabric shopping, or Patrick who works at the hotel and always wears light pink converse and a 10-inch grin. But this perfunctory description portrays both individuals more as curios decorating the tales of our escapades than real people, a sin made especially grievous by the familiarity we’ve established. We’ve moved beyond that, both as travelers and writers. Dancilla built Covaga from the ground up and has positively impacted and empowered the lives of 60 women in the community. Patrick and his brother and sister cared for each other after their parents died and went on to study hospitality at university.
I find it difficult to create engaging stories about relationships that developed subtly over the span of a few weeks. “I pet a monkey!” or “I danced to drums at church!” are instantly stories that are both vivid, exotic, and in line with what I think audiences expect out of my adventure. But these had nothing to do with what shaped the core of our time in Gashora, the interaction with our partners and friends. So as I say goodbye to one journey, shed of the strangerdom I arrived with, I embark on another, to tell truthfully of the people who helped shape my perspectives of my time in Rwanda.