View of Paris rooftops (Photo by Stephanie Novak)

I really should just go talk to her, I thought.

I thought of a million excuses, a million reasons why not and made a mental list. I was exhausted from running around Paris since morning, attending lectures and visiting publications. I promised my roommate I would be home by 10, and 10:30 was settling over the rooftops of Porte Maillot, the area of Paris in which I found myself, the district that was a 45-minute metro ride away from my apartment. And on, and on and on until…

Okay, I’m a little intimidated.

Or a lot intimidated, I realized. Suddenly, “having an interest in Rwanda” was too scholarly, too removed from the reality of Sugi’s life. Nothing seemed more inappropriate than my friendly, enthusiastic American handshake saying, “Hi! I’m really interested in hearing about how you experienced genocide while I was learning to ride a bike without training wheels. Would you mind if I emailed you with some questions?”

What questions? I thought. Where am I going to begin? How do I relate to her?

I made my way towards the door along with my fellow future journalists—forty eager Americans mingling around and mostly talking to one another. Lingering at the coat check, I ran into our program coordinator. I heard myself utter a thank you and couldn’t stop…I kept talking, rambling about taking a class on Rwanda next term. I began listing off the books I’d read on the subject—two—to make myself sound legitimate. My words ran on, and I felt acutely aware that every attempt to justify my limited knowledge about the Rwandan genocide made me seem like I was trying far too hard.

“Well here, oh my goodness, have you two talked?” My awkwardness didn’t seem to derail our program coordinator, as we weaved through the crowd towards the genocide survivor who, only about half an hour earlier, shared her story about Rwanda and the state of the media in Africa with us.

All of a sudden, there I was, face to face with one of the three international students who had spoken to us about their home countries earlier that evening. “Hi,” I said, “I really liked what you said earlier. I don’t know much about Rwanda, but I’m taking a class on it, and, well, I’d love to learn more about Rwanda…” I stammered out, trying to think of follow up questions, still unsure of what to say.

“I would love to talk to you about Rwanda.”

“Wait, really?”

“Sure. You’re heading out now too, yes? What’s your name?”

A few words later I scrambled around for a scrap of paper in my bag and scribbled my name on it while Sugi did the same.

“Cool. Friend me on Facebook, okay? We’ll definitely talk.”

Wait, that was it? That’s what I was nervous about? I may not have survived genocide, but I know how to use Facebook.

Walking towards the door, we smiled, making small talk and then giving into our exhaustion, we parted ways after heading out of the apartment. My tired brain registered the basic facts. Sugi is a survivor of the Rwandan genocide who now lives in Paris. Sugi is also an aspiring journalist with an interesting story who spends time on Facebook.

Just like me.