The Light - An Alumni Publication Winter 2014/2015 - Page 17

REFLECTIONS “When I was 16 my father chose someone for me to marry. My cousin found out about it, told me, and I ran to Uganda. I hid for three years. When I came back, I did something terrible.” She stopped there. “I can’t tell you.” Silence for minutes. I found some toilet paper for Shyaka’s nose. “I will write it for you later.” I tried to hug Shyaka, who stiffened, unused to it? Scared? Surprised? “You don’t have to read that book. We can find something else for you.” I tried to look in Shyaka’s eyes, but they were downcast and brimming. Shyaka said she wanted to go. She didn’t want to miss Leadership class. Shyaka left, and I sat in silence with the book which screamed, “... disowned by her father, and expelled from family and clan, she refuses to be silenced. One of today’s most admired and controversial political figures …” I wondered where I was going with this. In the States, I definitely pushed buttons with my students. Made them confront the uncomfortable. Made them squirm in their seats at 8 a.m. on Monday. Required reflection of the past in order to forge a solid future. But that was America. My students could lose themselves in MTV afterwards. Forget about personal growth and subdue raw scars with lattes and long drives in convertibles. Or they could deal with it and see a counselor. I felt as if this morning I had asked my students to try and walk a tightrope across the crocodile-infested Nile without a net. Shyaka had fallen. Was I going to dive in after her? Or was I going to drop the book? Instead of the tightrope over the Nile, give them cotton candy and forest fairies? I wondered if I could buy a net. Or teach them wicked-cool ninja moves to kill crocodiles in the water. But did I myself know those moves? Perhaps we could learn them together. “I felt as if this morning I had asked my students to try and walk a tightrope across the crocodileinfested Nile without a net. Shyaka had fallen.” These chapters are taken from the manuscript for Schmidt’s second book, Milk into Butter, about her experiences living and working in Rwanda from 2009 to 2012. Monique Schmidt grew up in rural South Dakota, but felt there was so much more to the world. So at the age of 17, she started exploring. First, she went on exchange to Japan on a Kikkoman Soy Sauce Scholarship with Youth For Understanding. Next she spent her junior year at the University of Grenoble, France. That taste of the world led her later to Francophone West Africa, where she spent several years as an educator with the Peace Corps and Fulbright programs. Inspired by the African world she encountered, Schmidt continued to graduate school for a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and wrote her first book, Last Moon Dancing. Schmidt has won numerous awards for her work, travel and writing, including Outstanding Young Alumnus, Augustana College Thought Leader and the Peace Corps’ Paul Cowan Award for Best NonFiction. Currently, she is director of education for a nonprofit in Washington, D.C. Sarah Coomber is editor of Reflections. Sarah went to Japan in 1986 with the YFU-Japan-U.S. Senate Exchange Program. She has worked in journalism, public relations and academia, and now is a writing consultant in the Vancouver, Washington, area. You can find her work at YFU • The Light | 17