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greener pastures

The grass always seems greener on the other side, so the saying goes, but there are exceptions, and this was one of them. There was no doubt in D’s mind as he transited three airports over the course of 27 hours that the return alone from Portland to Kigali was going to be a bit of a downer. What he hadn’t quite counted on was to find the saying to have literal implications as well. Rwanda is a lush, verdant country for most of the year, but D returned during the height of the dry season to find the countryside sere, the grass wilting brown, and the air pregnant with dust.

The six weeks D spent stateside seemed to fly by in a flash, but it was a long enough stretch of time – especially after a yearlong absence – for D to get re-acclimated to the American way of life, and to begin missing it as soon as he packed his bags for the return journey. Family aside, topping the list of things D pines for now that he is back in Kigali are all the usual suspects: live music, craft beer, a whole smorgasbord of favorite foods.

The most remarkable difference, though, owes more to relativity and circumstances than anything tangible. Even living with the haze of perpetually interrupted sleep that is part and parcel of parenting a newborn, D seemed to get more out of every day in Maine than he does now that he has a break from parental responsibilities. Coming home from work, for example, he finds scant energy to read or do much of anything other than stare at his computer. In Portland, on the other hand, D fished a book a week – the time spent cradling Junebug while she napped proved ideal for reading.

Perhaps owing to D’s first-ever trip East, most of the books he wound up picking up from the local library had an Oriental connection, from Haruki Murakami’s latest short story collection to Timeri Murari’s Taliban Cricket Club (which sadly did not live up to the promise its title invoked), to Tom Robbins’ Villa Incognito, whose esoteric narration brought to life the Bangkok streets D so recently roamed. D also read both of Viet Thanh Nguyen’s books, the first of which (The Sympathizer) justly won the Pulitzer two years ago.

A friend mentioned to D that he had recently set himself the goal of reading all of the Pulitzer-winning novels, which we think a worthy item to add to our own bucket list – not in the least because like the bucket list itself, this goal can never be exhausted (so long as the Pulitzer keeps getting awarded). With that in mind, D also breezed through Anthony Doerr’s captivating World War II novel All The Light We Cannot See, the only book that broke D’s Asian summer mold. D picked up a third Pulitzer-winning novel from the library – Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son, which also takes place in Asia, incidentally – but only got about 50 pages in before he had to make peace with the reality that he wouldn’t have time to finish it before flying back to Kigali.

With Rwanda in full-blown election mode, the last two weeks have flown by in a blur. And though a large part of D wishes he were still back in Maine, he’s happy that at least someone appreciates his return – our dog Emmie has been positively ecstatic to have D back in the house.

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