Blog Stuff, Musings, Rwandering

Being an Engaged Citizen Abroad

NOTICE: IF YOU ARE AN ELIGIBLE VOTER IN THE UNITED STATES, YOU NEED TO VOTE IN THE NOVEMBER 6th MIDTERM ELECTIONS!

Now that we have that out of the way, I wanted to talk a little bit about what it is like being an engaged citizen while living abroad. As many of you know, I do not support the current administration for a wide range of reasons that I would love to discuss in a one on one setting. Living abroad can offer the temptation to disconnect from the news of my home country because it is not necessarily a part of my everyday reality. In fact, the narrative around the United States in Rwanda can take on a very different tone. USAID (United States Agency International Development) funds a major program across Rwanda called Twiyubake (Let’s Build Ourselves). This program is being implemented in many different ways across the country to help Rwanda continue to develop. An understanding of the United States in this way is much more universal in my new home. That does not mean that everyone loves the US, but they aren’t as concerned with the Senate Judiciary Committee nominations.

Living here, it would be much more convenient to live into the identity of aid provider and not worry about the state of my own nation. However, my own nation cannot wait a year for me or my colleagues to return. We need to be engaged now and we need to offer our engagement as directly as possible. The first way that I and a number of the other volunteers here have done this is to request some form of absentee voting. So anyone how doesn’t think they have time should try doing in a time zone 7 hours ahead. While I am concerned about who people choose to vote for, I am significantly more concerned that people vote. The only way to have the government work for citizens is for those citizens to engage.

Another way to stay engaged here is to listen. The current administration has made some astounding remarks about countries all over the globe that are less developed economically. Living abroad has offered me the chance to change my own narrative around African people and African nations. The next step is to challenge the narrative that I will be faced with back in the states.  I get questions that are harmless enough, but that prompt me with opportunities to flip the script. Questions include: Are you living in a hut? No I live in a home that is made with available resources and I have had an opportunity to see inside a “hut” and it was very livable and did not take up unnecessary space; Do you go to the bathroom in a hole in the ground? Sometimes yes, but some houses also have indoor plumbing and using a hole in the ground a few times a day is really not the biggest concern, instead the concern is that people be educated about how to maintain a safe latrine to protect their health; Are people only nice to you because you are a Westerner? Maybe, but maybe its my job to invest in my community in ways that help to show that I am not above them simply because of where I was born.

This time abroad continues to pose interesting questions about what kind of citizen I am both in a country where I am a guest and in a country where I have specific civic duties.

Once again: VOTE NOVEMBER 6th!

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