I spent the summer of 2004 interviewing Somali refugees in southern Uganda in Eastern Africa. It was important but intense work, so one weekend, two friends and I planned a girls getaway in neighboring Rwanda.
Rwanda is a stunningly beautiful country marked by rolling green hills, drool-worthy coffee, and friendly people. It quickly became one of my top 3 countries in the world, even though I could barely order breakfast.
Luckily I was traveling with two fluent French speakers.
My companions were both brilliant and impassioned women – one was working with people displaced by the war in northern Uganda, and the other had been holed up at a refugee camp in Burundi that was being raided weekly by militias.
The getaway was her idea.
By coincidence, we were there in 2004 – the 10-year observance of the 1994 genocide that decimated Rwanda’s peace and shamed the world for its inaction.
Although the April anniversary had passed, there were still banners flying on some government buildings, displayed for the visiting dignitaries who’d recently come to make speeches that would’ve been more useful 10 years before.
Better late than never I suppose…
One day, our little group hired a driver to take us to some of the more infamous genocide spots – the ones we’d read about while sobbing alone in our studio apartments in grad school. (Bleeding hearts really know how to vacation, huh?).
I’ll note here that it was a horrifying and stomach-turning day. Many of the massacres took place in churches were people had sought refuge and their bones remain piled on the floor where they died. Nothing can prepare you for this, so be forewarned if you do a Google image search later.
While standing in the courtyard of one of the churches, I looked up. It was a perfect day – baby blue skies with soft while clouds running in gentle streaks along the horizon.
I watched 3 crows fly overhead, making lazy circles around our unlikely group. Three mid-20s white women in long skirts dedicated to saving what was left of the world.
500 miles in any direction, war was raging – northern Uganda, Burundi, the Congo. I felt like we were in the eerily calm center of a hurricane of hate, displacement, and injustice.
My colleagues were inspired to get back out to the field – to help the starving, homeless families find safe, new lives.
I reached a different conclusion.
To me, what raged around us wasn’t the problem; it was the symptom.
Like an abscess that won’t heal because the immune system is broken – I wanted to get to the source of the instability and start there.
For the next 6 years I worked in various offices and Departments of the U.S. Government on just that – destroying weapons stockpiles, interrupting the trajectory of instability before it starts, and helping countries find their way out of potentially violent downward spirals.
It felt important and like the best use of my skills – the best way one 5’9″ white woman could help hundreds of thousands of strangers worlds away.
At least until my awakening in 2009. But that story will have to wait for another time…
Here’s what I want you to know today – to take away from this story of one long, gut-wrenching day in Rwanda:
Are you making the right impact?
Too many of us spend years skirting around the issue of what we think is really important.
We patch the symptoms, instead of focusing our efforts on the source.
– You take anti-depressants instead of being bold enough to leave you bad relationship.
– You drink after work instead of facing the disappointment of having spent decades in an unfulfilling career.
– You watch TV for hours instead of opening to how lonely and isolated you feel.
It doesn’t matter what your source is — have the courage to face it.
Because no amount of patching will solve your problem if you’re continually focused on the wrong issue.
Spend time this weekend checking in with what you really need to feel happy, inspired, and free.
So you can stop creating causalities out of your self-esteem, joy, and passion and finally step into your purpose-filled life.
Be free. Be brave. Be YOU!