“I was writing about up in Michigan and since it was a wild, cold, blowing day it was that sort of day in the story…in one place you could write about it better than in another. That was called transplanting yourself, I thought…” – Ernest Hemingway, “A Good Café on the Café St.-Michel”
I find the quote from Hemingway’s short piece set in Paris very relevant to this trip, especially at this point in our program. We are just now eating our last breakfast here in Gashora, spending our last moments on the peaceful, picturesque grounds of La Palisse. We will take our last jolty bus ride down the road we’ve walked at least twice a day for the past month and head out for a next adventure. We have all done a lot of writing these last few weeks, writing about images and settings and characters that have been a part of this experience, and we have undergone the writing process in a variety of places: a pagoda by Lake Rumera at sunset; a bus on the way home from a genocide memorial center in Nyamata; at a plastic table in the Lakeside Restaurant, beside doors open to Gashora’s center.
It’s one thing to write about a place while you are there, receiving information and inspiration from primary sources (the five senses), but, of course, it is a completely different process to write about place via transplantation, such as Hemingway describes. During our stay here, one of our exercises for class involved listing imagery that stood out in our minds; my list includes such sensory experiences as “the smoky smell of Kigali after coming off the plane,” “the taste of tomato fruit”, “the color of the lavender sky at dawn”, and “the feeling/taste of dirt in my teeth from building the garden.” I have been able to go through my journals and see descriptions of these experiences that were recorded as they were happening.
As I’m sure is the case for all of us, writing about this experience won’t stop once I’m home, and I am very curious to see how my writing will change as I write from thousands of miles away. Will it be easier to pick topics and experiences to focus on, with the significant ones being most fresh in my memory? How much potential material will be lost with the spatial and temporal distance? How will my voice and perspective change once I have had time to explain this trip in words to my friends and family? Might it be easier to write about Rwanda once I’m not here, as Hemingway would suggest?