throw out your boxes


I’ve read articles from psychology journals that have proven that as a baseline, a human needs 12 hugs a day. Take or leave it, that’s what they say. They say this helps you feel emotionally and physically needed – in short, 12 appears to be the magic number that helps you to feel the necessary amount of ‘loved’.

I’ve known people all over the spectrum; I’ve had friends who need at least 5 feet of personal space and I’ve also known people who thrive with physical touch. Humans are all over the place.

Personally, I love hugs (I mean, who doesn’t?) and “personal space” doesn’t always exist when I’m communicating how I feel. So, you can just imagine what it was like to receive approximately 300 hugs upon my return to my village home the other. It was…well, it was out of control. In the best way possible.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I think most of my village knew I was back in Rwanda. I mean, that’s just how it works. Show up, someone finds out, and everybody manages to know. Plus, once I confirmed the weekend I would be visiting from Kigali, Margaeux, the current Peace Corps Volunteer at my old site, told enough people that I started receiving regular calls from old men and women, neighbors, students, and school teachers telling me, “you are most welcome! We will be happy to see you!”


It started sprinkling a dash of rain when I boarded the motorcycle to ride the 5 or so kilometers into my old stomping grounds. I wasn’t particularly phased; I knew these roads well, and more than that, I knew these motorcycle drivers. I trusted them. I can’t really describe the feeling of passing homes, fields, buildings, and forests that I had come to know over the course of the previous two years. I knew this place. And I was back – but under a completely different situation. It looked more or less the same. I know it had been only something like 7 months, but for some reason it simultaneously felt like it had been ages and also like I had never left at all.

The best part really had yet to come. Children started shouting, “Impano! Impano!” and I was laughing. Seriously? They remember?

It continued. After putting my things into Margaeux’s home (yep, the very green-blue house that I used to live at (which I should note, she has redecorated beautifully), we showed up at school.

Girls screamed. People cried. What the….? This was not really the reaction I had expected. I anticipated people would be happy to see me, but what you have to understand is that outbursts of emotion isn’t necessarily the most common of things in Rwanda. And yet, here we were at school of all places, and my students were seemingly overjoyed. It was humbling and I was in shock most of the time.

I arrived just in time for girls’ football practice – that is after the drums were played and the choir sang in a school-wide assembly. Welcome back, indeed.

Did I participate in practice? UH YEAH. OF COURSE.

We played for almost two hours under the burning sun on the very field I had spent so much of my coaching days. It felt good. I managed to do something that probably happened a total of two times from 2011 – 2013: I scored a goal. What. A. Day.


Honestly, that’s how most of the weekend went. I was continually blown away by the amount of recognitionfollowed by exuberance that I saw in people. In their eyes, in their arms, and in their expressions. At Friday’s market, Margauex and I took nearly 45 minutes to get a small amount of vegetables simply because everyone – left and right – needed a hug. I simply kept repeating,

“ndishimiye kugaruka. Umuryango yangye baraho. Nanjye ndaho. Ubungubu ntuye I Kigali ariko Ruramira ni wa mbere. Nagukumbuye!”


“I am happy to come back. My family is all doing well. I am also happy and doing well. I am living at Kigali right now, but Ruramira is the best and I have missed it so much!”

I often repeated the “news” of my parents – their visits to the village are still fondly remembered by many. It’s kind of adorable.

Saturday was a full day of family visits (namely at Zahara’s where we ate far more than I have ever consumed at an American buffet) and Sunday was Pentecost and so that entailed a three-hour mass service, accompanied with baptisms, and a party afterwards. On Saturday, a couple of my American friends from work made the journey out East and joined us in the village. It was their first village experience and even though it was quick, I think they experienced as much as they really could in that amount of time. church, visits, moto rides, cooking on charcoal, and life amidst an endless amount of dust. Margaeux was beyond a wonderful host and she had put a lot of energy into planning the weekend to make it special. It meant a lot and I couldn’t have imagined a better way to come back, greet everybody, and soak up a place that will always have a piece of my heart.

It wasn’t like I needed validation for the two years I served. I really didn’t. However, to know that that many people have that kind of love for you – it affects you. It touches you. More than anything, it pushes you to appreciate the people and experiences you are presented with in life. You never know how you might be affecting people. I left unsure of the mark I might have had; now, I just know. It makes all the trials, challenges, and frustrations worth it, I suppose.


Inevitably, Sunday came and went and it was time to go. My friends – Nate and Juan – and I moto’d on out of the village to reach the main road and get a bus home. In true Rwandan travel fashion, we waited (and waited) for a bus that never came. Eventually, we were forced to climb (literally) into a 16 passenger van full of at least 21 other people. This took us to a different location where we then had to find a bigger bus onto Kigali. As this whole process transpired, Nick put on his recently acquired MTN phone-seller uniform (the vest is worn by employees of one of the major phone companies to sell credit to customers) and we gallivanted between people and children trying to “sell” phone credit. It was a joke that we found hilarious. Rwandans? Well, the whole sarcasm thing doesn’t always go over well. But we managed to have our own fun anyway. On the bus, we talked economics, philosophy, and our recently written apologias (certain ideas we have about life) and so the 2-hour bus ride went by in a flash.

We got to the bus station after the sun had set and I rushed home to host a couple of my friends for tea.


They asked how it had gone and all I could tell them was that, “it was something I have never quite experienced before.” That sounds funny considering I had lived there for quite some time. However, I felt like my service had been one of “planting seeds”, so to speak. On this occasion, it was like seeing what had taken root.

It’s hard to elaborate. It’s hard to explain. But much in the same way coming back to America made me feel, coming back reminds you that love can never be lost.

Knowing the value of the past and the way it directs our future paths, these last few weeks (both in the city and in the village) re-energized me in a lot of areas in my life; for this summer working at the bank, but also in defining my goals, direction, and not being afraid to make the difficult (albeit right) decisions.


God puts situations, people, and experiences in your life for a reason. Some of them pass us by, others stand out. And some, they make you come alive. I can’t always explain why certain things make me feel the way they do, but as I have been praying and articulating what I believe in, I’m starting to get answers.


Alisha and I spent 5 hours at Aromas, our favorite hangout (their coffee is amazing) the other night. A large part of this conversation (outside of our on-going debate of the best Rwandan snacks) involved boxes. We put God, our lives, Jesus, our identities, our relationships, and our work in boxes. As if everything has to fit neatly in some kind of package that we can explain in two-minutes as to define who we are. It’s exhausting. I realized in visiting an old place that the reason I connected there so strongly was because I liked who I was there. I didn’t usually live stuck in expectations for other people and for the world around me. Well, except for maybe wearing longer shorts on my runs for conservative culture purposes. My time there was far from perfect. Believe me, I remember that too. I remember the blatant issues of alcoholism all around, the evidence of poverty everywhere, and the isolation that cuts deep when you live out somewhere so far removed from other parts of the world. Yet, even in those difficult and painful times, I remember vibrantly relying on God. I HAD TO. His way – that’s what I wanted.

Somewhere in the last 7 months or so, that shifted and I have been living guided a bit much by outside forces.

At Thursday’s bible study the week prior I again confronted similar fears and limitations I had inadvertently placed in my life. Why was I consumed so much by living to the standards of others? Why do I continually “chase the wind” and seek acceptance and approval based on what everyone else says is good, right, or logical?

Let it go. That thing that “lights you on fire” – FOLLOW IT. Find your way back.

God’s been there all along. Sometimes you just need to re-visit old places so you can remember.



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Heather Newell Oglesby

Hi! I'm Heather. I am a writer and counselor in-training. I share stories so we can keep the magic of being human alive. I spend a great deal of time going on long walks with my wife, rollerblading, learning, and traveling to find new adventures. By day, I work as an Education and Employment Specialist for Jefferson Center for Mental Health, working with adolescents who have experienced their first episode of psychosis. A Colorado native, I love dark-roasted coffee, sunshine, and succulents. Enthusiasm, passion, and possibility: that's me at my best.

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