In the Wound Lies the Gift


I say to my guide in Rwanda, “I don’t know how you do this.”

He says, “Sometimes, I feel like I am in hell.”

The door to the church is riddled with machete piercings. On the pews are piles of clothing—baby clothes, dresses, hats. Everything is orange, a mixture of blood and clay. It’s like they made confetti of everything—flesh, stone, wood, bone.

He says, “Let us go to the basement.”

There are concrete stairs painted white leading down. To my left and to my right are cubbies filled with bones, sorted by type. Piles of legs in one cubby, then skulls in another. In front of me there are the bones of one person laid out and under glass.

I ask the guide why this one set of bones is encased.

He says, “Well, this woman, like most all the women, was raped during the genocide. And when they finished, they raped her with a machete—all the way up through her skull.  So we honor her.”

I want to know about this.

The first time I am raped, by a boy named Billy, I am babysitting. When the woman I am working for comes home, the house is a mess, so she calls my mom and tells her that I did not do a good job and I don’t get paid.

After that boys seem to know when and where I am babysitting. That’s because I tell them. And sometimes Billy, the original, brings a friend. Billy is cute and popular. When he tells everyone what he did, I am secretly hoping it is because he likes me. I have just turned 13.

The violence and humiliation change me. My brain turns to fog. Reading gets hard, math impossible and when my history teacher gives me an A for letting me wrestle him, I am relieved.

I have a strong feeling that I will go to Rwanda from the minute my friend Betsy tells me about her trip. She tells me about Ubushobozi, a project she visited which teaches head-of-household teenage girls how to make bags and to weave baskets to sell. I ask Betsy if the girls want to make yoga mat bags for my studio. The girls have never done yoga and think I am nuts but they make me the bags anyway.

Another year passes. I don’t know why or when—I just feel like I will go. And then photos start appearing on Facebook of the girls doing yoga. A young woman starts coming to the project once a week and teaching classes and the girls are hooked. When the new age music comes on, they get very serious.

But then the teacher just stops coming. So I think now is my time. I can go over and train them to teach so they can have class whenever they want. I ask my students here in the states if they will send me and within an hour I have most of the money. I spend two more weeks fundraising and then get on a plane and go. I don’t read any books, look at a map or plan. I get a hotel off Trip Adviser, a prescription of Ambien and go.

One of the first things I notice is there are no old people in Rwanda. Everywhere I go, it seems I’m the oldest one. It’s Day Four of the training and Selme asks to be helped into a handstand. Selme is the weaving teacher. I love her. We have a long hug every morning and she smiles at me in a way that my face doesn’t even know how. I think she is in her forties, which is old in Rwanda, but it’s anyone’s guess, as they don’t keep track of age.

I am relieved to be with a grown up. The kids have taken all my attention but they’re tired so she’s taking advantage. Selme has given birth nine times and since I taught her the Kegels she calls me the good doctor. Handstand it is. And after a few minutes of her trying to kick up, I say ok Selme, that’s good for today. She doesn’t speak English, the translator is passed out, and so keeps going and throws her body into a handstand. Victory.

The kids rouse from their impromptu naps on their mats and stare and laugh in disbelief. I feel Selme’s hips in my hands and get a rush of the pure adrenalin that she is running through her system and simultaneously become aware of the depth of my damage and the possibility of healing.

At 13, I never hear anyone use the words “slut, whore, bitch,” until they are said to me, about me. Brain damage, in one area of my skull. Straight A’s in the other. I still go to Disney World every year with my grandparents and stay at the Polynesian Resort.

Today, in yoga class, I make a big mistake. I’m teaching and I notice that one of the boys is not able to comprehend anything. So I grab him by his ankles to shake out his legs and try to loosen him up, get his energy moving. And he tenses and remains frozen. His eyes are glazed over and his classmates are laughing at him. He is suffering from something and I can’t get in. I put my hands on him and then I know his story. And now I’m having a hard time. I feel sick and there’s a camera crew in this kid’s face and I just need to move on to the next pose. I am only going to see this boy a few more hours total before I leave and there isn’t time to guide him through what needs to be done.

I never thought about this. I never thought about the people who I would leave in the dust, no progress, just their stories in their bones, now in my hands. I wonder if leading a yoga teacher training is the best possible idea I could have come up with. I am in over my head.

In the morning I arrive at the studio and it is packed. Word has spread and it seems we have some new trainees. I look to the front of the room and Faustin is leading the class in the Classical Sun Salutations that he has just learned yesterday in a language that he does not speak. I don’t know what Faustin’s real role is at the project. I’m told he is the gardener. But there is no garden and this is a project for teenage girls. I suspect he is being protected from something and watching him teach, I am so grateful. I will go back just for him.

I feel myself pouring back in. In and down. Filling out my flesh and then beyond the flesh. I feel the long journey of wherever my Spirit has been ending, in real time. I was told more than once while there that Rwanda is a place where you can see the progress in real time. I never thought it would include my progress.

Then I see Byuka has translated the class I wrote on the board into Kinyarwandan. Byuka is 15, head of household. Lives in a mud hut. Never done yoga. She is healing. Her brain works like crazy. My brain works too. Not the way I want it to but it works and watching them I know I can heal more, faster, better. It’s occurring to me that before my own damage there was a different kind of person in the works and remnants remain.

I can summon her back up.

It is a process of shining the light into the dark corners.

Honoring my bones, all the way up to my skull and down to my toes.


You can learn more about and support Megan’s work in training yoga instructors in Rwanda here.

Megan Leigh is the director of Chichester Yoga. After 20 years as an actress and then a few years touring the world as a yoga teacher, she happily calls Chichester her new home. Especially now that she has a treadmill and does not have to leave the house from November-July. More from this author →