Connor summed up the past few weeks pretty well in his most recent post, and his video teaser really captures our experience these past few weeks. We could hear the songs from the video everyday floating over our courtyard walls as we ate lunch and had friends visit.
I wanted to take this time though to thank the inspiring bunch of goons who dared to come on this trip with me and spend every moment with me on this trip. I have been honored to be a part of one of the most passionate and ridiculous group of people, and with them, we have made ourselves a second family in Rwanda.
Last September, this group formed as a part of Duke Engineers for International Development. Everyone joined for their own reasons. Some were brought in by friends while others found the group themselves. We worked all fall to raise money for this project with fundraisers like selling hot chocolate and hosting dodgeball tournaments. We worked all winter to design this bridge and redesign it to satisfy the engineers at Bridges to Prosperity. We made construction schedules and safety plans and met every Sunday at 1 PM to make our dream a reality. And this was just a fraction of the work we did; the real work started when we got here.
In Rwanda, we woke up every day at 6 AM to roll out of bed and put in eight to ten hours of hard labor on our bridge. As soon as work on the bridge ended for the day, we all rallied to go on hikes, play basketball with the locals, and host friends for dinner. Sleep was a low priority. Even on days off, such as Umuganda, we still would go out to help hoe drainage ditches and work at IPRC and visit fellow laborers from the bridge who lived on the top of mountains.
My team had two leaders, Connor and Caroline, who worked incredibly hard all year to keep us on track and involved in the project. Caroline always made us laugh with her silly stories and question games that helped pass the time as we carried countless rocks. She worked the hardest on perfecting our design to B2P standards, and she was a great person to goof off with and make jokes, but she knew when to get back to work. We missed her ditzy ways and strong leadership the last three weeks when she left early for an internship. Connor surprised us all the first week with his incredible, ridiculous sense of humor after we had only seen the hard-working side of him all year. He was our crunchy granola mentor and everyone’s trusted friend. He was always the first to introduce himself to new people in the village, and he worked very hard to build connections with every worker on the bridge and every leader in the village. Connor was a mediator and one of the hardest working laborers on the bridge. His videos and photos can attest to his true dedication to not just the bridge but the people who live in Rwamahwa.
Michael left the week after Caroline, and our friend Abraham said our home would be cold without him. Mike was the comic relief and constant narrator of the trip. The workers called him a “wala wala” or a big mouth because he would talk to everyone and made everyone laugh. The whole town thought he was slightly insane, and all the kids still shout “Marichael umusazi” or “foolish man Michael”. Either way, it was hard not to laugh when he was around, but he also was there for all of us at the end of the day. He would listen to us and anyone else in the village and always had a thoughtful response. Mike captured some of the happiest, funniest, and most touching moments from our trip in his photos which appear in this blog and on our website.
Adam had a gift for connecting with Abraham and Aristo. They opened up to him right away. He amazed all of the young men in the village and from the local secondary school with his skills on the basketball court, and he was always down to go out and play ball with anyone. He kept a detailed account of this trip in his journal and through his fantastic assignments for his creative writing class. Adam also could always make us laugh, and he kept the team spirit up with his constant “sikes” and other antics. Our Australian friend, James, was right when he said that you could trust Adam to get the job done.
Varun was always down to work and ready for any adventure. He and Adam amused us all with their haircuts from the local barber when they got lines and designs shaved into the sides of their heads. Varun always knew the answer to any random question you had, or he would find it out for you such as when the guys spent multiple days trying to remember the Jurassic Park theme song. He was quieter than the other guys, but he was always ready to meet a new challenge from sunrise hikes to whittling dice. He even got to be King for a day at a cultural village we visited.
I didn’t know Tim very well going into the trip, but he surprised us all with his warmth and humor. He always got into the weirdest situations such as when a taxi driver offered to buy all of the women in the group from Tim. Tim never got angry even when things would go wrong, but he got very flustered over water and his hair and it was very hard to tell him no. Tim was a steady presence on the site and after work, and he would always be ready to go explore and to go for a run.
Martha had a “sparkle” as James also said. Martha would work hard and help plan, but she also would crack us all up with funny stories and riddles and games. She was a favorite among the children who were all convinced that she was the same age as them. Everyday, kids would ask us all where Martha was. She helped us all become friends with Sadi and Bonnaire, our “body guards” as David said. Martha helped inspire some of our culinary creations from guacamole to fried eggs and toast over the charcoal stove.
Catherine was one of my closest companions and apparently she was the only reason I was warm at night (after she left during week 7 and took our bug tent with her, I froze every night). She was always giggling and happy to play along with jokes. Everyone teased her in our team and in the village because she was so lovable and ready to laugh. She also was a planner and hard worker. I remember many nights all year staying up with her to work on bridge design and read the letters she edited and work on the budget. She could be relied on to take a critical, thoughtful eye to everything and make us all do better work.
Finally, Charlotte, our graduate student who came to help us with the budget, turned out to be much more than just an accountant. She was our leader and our friend. She became our mom here and helped keep us out of trouble and hard at work. She happily joined all of our crazy games and tagged along for ridiculously steep hikes and long days at work. She made us all friendship bracelets and gave us coloring books and happily shared her wisdom and advice with us whenever we needed it. She was never afraid to use a little sass if we needed it, but she could also be incredibly sweet and kind with the children in the village.
Countless others helped us make this bridge a reality like our mentor Chris and the B2P Princeton intern, Corrie. I could go on about all of them because each one touched my life and made this trip unique, but I really want to thank my team that has been with me all year. You guys have been part of one of the most life-changing experiences and years from now I will still tell my grandchildren about the crazy passionate people who helped build this bridge in Rwanda.