From Beijing, with love

Greetings! A few months ago I was fortunate enough to get a scholarship from the Chinese government to study in one of the nation’s premier universities and having only arrived on Monday all I can say is that I’m flummoxed by everything. When you’ve lived in East Africa for as long as I have, you forget that there is a huge world out there where no one speaks your language, looks like you, or has even heard of your country.

The blogger in front of Joy City Mall, Chaoyang District

The blogger in front of Joy City Mall, Chaoyang District

I felt smug about the strides that Rwanda had made, especially when I compared the state of our airport compared to Addis Ababa International. Visiting the bathrooms there, I was shocked to see men wash their feet in the sinks; to say that I was relieved to leave the airport would be an understatement. However, Beijing airport put me firmly in my place. The massive piece of infrastructure was a sight to behold. It took me a long walk, a train ride for about five minutes and a bus trip to leave the behemoth. My eyes only widened as we drove into the city proper. My senses were assailed; the air was heavy, the neon lights made my squint and the muggy air made the sweat stick on my brow. And the people! My goodness. I knew that China was the most populous country in the world, but knowing something, and then seeing it is another thing. Heard the story about how Chinese are short? Honestly, I didn’t find them as ‘vertically-challenged’ as I thought I would.

I expected many things but I didn’t think I would be so surprised by just how modern everything

A snapshot of bustling downtown Beijing

A snapshot of bustling downtown Beijing

was. And just how wealthy many of the people were. It seemed that every second car was an expensive German brand (people here especially seem to be in love with Audis). And how business savvy they are. As soon as you step outside the university’s gates, you are plunged into the topsy-turvy world of Chinese commerce. You want fresh fruits? You’ll find them. Want a bicycle? A laptop? A car? Anything at all? I’m sure you can buy them everything you could possibly want a kilometer from the university.

More than merely education, I appreciate this opportunity because it has allowed me to step back and look at things a new. First of all, it has taken me out of my comfort zone. Experiences like these make one realize just how small and inconsequential they are in the larger scope of things. When you are in a community like ours where people know not just you, but also your father, grandfather and every single member of your family, you forget what it’s like to reestablish yourself as an individual of substance. No one knows just how interesting, friendly or intelligent you are. They don’t know your country and what why you are proud when you tell them you are from Rwanda. “That is in Africa right?”, one fellow international student asked.

When you are in the hurly-burley of Kigali daily life, one forgets to look around and appreciate everything. I miss the hills, the sunny sky ( I haven’t seen the sun in the sky for most of the day), the regular rhythms and my community. I miss going to work in the morning and relaxing in my sofa in the evening. But as I say that, don’t for a second think that I would change a single thing. Rwandans have prospered all over the world, without losing who they are as a people, because of the strength of our culture and inherent ‘agaciro‘. I can’t think of a reason why my experience will be different.

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