Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Dear America, I miss you dearly, but…

I’m staying in Rwanda another year! That’s right, two years wasn’t enough for me; I am knowingly subjecting myself to the challenges and struggles of another full year in Rwanda. Though I will be staying, I will not be continuing as a teacher at G.S. Rango. I have been accepted as a Peace Corps Volunteer Leader (PCVL) for Women and Development and Gender and Development (WID/GAD) and will be moving to Kigali in about 3 weeks to start this new adventure. I’m pretty excited about this new position and am even more excited about moving out of the village to the “big” city of Kigali.

“So what will this new job entail?” you may ask. It is a combination of PCV support and gender and development (GAD) programming development. To support PCVs, I will travel out to their sites to visit, attend regional meetings, and help them with project planning and implementation. There are so many volunteers and limited staff to give them all the support they need throughout their two years of service, so myself and a fellow Ed2 volunteer will be helping to improve the lines of communication and support between the Peace Corps office in Kigali and individual PCVs. I’m really excited about the PCV support side of things because during my two years of service, I received one visit from the PCMO (doctor) to inspect my house and never got a call from a staff member to just check in or give me feedback. This often left me feeling abandoned out in the bush without anyone at Peace Corps knowing about or recognizing all of the hard work I was putting in. As a PCVL, I hope to keep PCVs in the loop about what is going on at Peace Corps and give them the pat on the back and recognition they all so rightly deserve.

In the GAD programming realm, I will have a lot of work which will keep me super busy. After two years of 15-20 hour work weeks, it’s definitely time for me to go back to working 8 hours, 5 days a week. Peace Corps Rwanda has identified GAD and ICT as two of their Cross-Sector Programming Priorities (CSPPs – I think that’s what their called. In layman’s terms – initiatives), so myself and another Ed2 volunteer will be sticking around to work on those to projects. I have been a member of the GAD Committee since its founding earlier this year and have become extremely interested in the subject. This job will allow me to learn more about it and do a job that I think I will genuinely enjoy. I will chair the GAD Committee and coordinate projects and planning from the national level. I will work with the WID/GAD specialist at Peace Corps Headquarters in D.C. to get materials and learn about best practices. I will acquire and develop new resources and materials related to GAD, especially those that address the Rwandan context. Finally, I will be working to develop partnerships with other organizations who could help support GAD projects at PCV sites or who PCVs could help with larger projects. There is a lot of overlap in the area of NGO objectives and projects, so by working together we hope to increase the impact and decrease the redundancy. Also, PCVs often have great ideas, but no way of executing them due to lack of resources or PCVs want to help with other projects, but don’t know what other projects are out their needing free labor, so by talking with other organizations working within the GAD sector we hope to find solutions to these problems.

So, that’s a brief summary of what I’ll be up to next year. I’m really excited; if I could move to Kigali tomorrow and start, I think I would. I will be living with the other PCVL in Kigali. We found a house a few weeks ago and Peace Corps has approved it, so now we just have to sign the lease. It is 5 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a living room, and an outdoor kitchen. It’s definitely a step up from what I’ve been living in for two years. Water in the house is a HUGE luxury for me. I think if we decide to cook with gas or a hot plate, we will change one of the bedrooms into a kitchen. We do plan on getting a refrigerator, so I’m pretty psyched for that too. The house is brand new and not completely finished yet, but once it is I will upload some pictures. It’s in a great neighborhood, right by the bus stop to go to work, a HUGE market that has basil and cauliflower (WHAT?!), and a bunch of shops. Only problem I may face is that I will be broke. Peace Corps does not give us a raise for living in Kigali, despite the fact that food and transport are more expensive, so I’ll have to be extra careful in the spending department. Oh, also, Peace Corps is giving us a car to use to go visit volunteers – like a car that I get to drive :) We still have to go through some sort of training and pass a driving test (I have to relearn how to drive stick) and then hopefully we will be good to go.

Though there’s lots of exciting stuff going on, I’m still really looking forward to coming home. Peace Corps is kind enough to send 3rd year volunteers home for a month between their 2nd and 3rd years and give us a per diem. They will buy my ticket and give me a whopping $12 a day (does that even buy dinner anymore?), but I guess something is better than nothing. I have put my request in to come home from Dec. 12 – Jan. 17, so I’ll keep you all posted on the approval process. I told my mom last night on the phone that when I get off the plane, she is to have a chocolate chip cookie from the Cookware Shop in Chatham and on the way home we are stopping at the Cheesecake Factory. Oh boy, how I miss America…

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Family Takes on Elephants, Gorillas, and Ruhuha

On August 17th, 2012, history was made – Mom and Abby touched down in Africa. After being delayed in Boston and New York, and dashing through the Brussels airport, they landed and a whirlwind week and a half adventure in Uganda and Rwanda began.

We started our journey in Uganda at Lake Bunyoni – a beautiful lake surrounded by terraced fields. We stayed at a hotel on one of the islands in a geodome – an open thatched hut with a porch overlooking the lake. We spent 3 days there so Mom and Abby could recover from their journey. One day we decided it would be fun to rent a dug-out canoe and paddle around the lake for a bit. Well, fun may not be the sentiment we all had during the first hour of spinning in circles, but we got it together and made it around a neighboring island and back. I don’t think any of us will jump at the chance to go canoeing together again anytime soon. After a few days of rest and good food, we headed off to Queen Elizabeth National Park for a safari.

Upon arriving at the park, we were greeted by the sight of elephants off in the distance. We got to the Safari Bush Lodge where we could unpack and clean up from a morning of travelling. The lodge was beautiful. It was a cluster of individual safari tents raised on a platform overlooking a lake. There was an outdoor shower with the nozzle attached to a tree branch and the floor made out of loose soft stones. We could sit on the porch and listen to the hippos and elephants down a the lake. From there we went on an evening cruise in the Kinazi channel, where we saw hippos, elephants, buffaloes, water buck, impala, alligators, and a million types of birds. You always know when you’re doing doing something right on vacation – Abby starts taking a million pictures. With her going crazy with her new fancy camera, Mom enjoyed the view through her antique binoculars which she took down off the display shelf at home, attached a Canon SLR strap to them, and called it good. Anywho, there is a still a functioning fishing village (a little more rustic than Chatham) in the park and they do their fishing at night, so we were lucky enough to see them launching their boats and paddling off into the lake at sunset. It was beautiful. From the boat launch we headed back towards the lodge, taking a slight detour to see if we could find any animals roaming about late in the day. We found A LOT of elephants, which our driver was more afraid of than I thought possible. He kept hiding the car behind bushes so the elephants couldn’t see us and at one point he thought one was going to charge (not sure how bathing in the mud signaled a stampede), but he floored it and the Mama elephant reared up, blew her trunk, and ran into the dust cloud in the road behind our accelerating car.That night we had amazing hot showers under the stars and then headed off to an amazing 4 course meal under a large safari tent lit by lanterns.

The next morning we went chimp trekking in a gorge – this was rough. You basically descend down over a cliff via some steep, slippery, not-made-for-short-people steps. Once we made it to the bottom we started looking for chimps. It had been raining so they were still sleeping up in the trees, but after an hour or so started to play and jump around in the trees. One was kind enough to start throwing his breakfast at us. Thinking we would return the same way we came, I mentally prepared to climb up the cliff via the same awful steps we took down. Well, it was just our luck that we went a different direction out that was a million times more grueling. It required us to scale the side of the gorge by holding onto vines and sticks and pulling ourselves up a mud faced wall without any real support. At some points the walking path was less then a foot wide, where one false move and you were falling down the side of the gorge into the river. There was also this lovely huge true that had fallen across the path – you couldn’t go under it, you had to go over it. Unfortunately for me, the tree trunk went up to about my chest, so getting over it wasn’t pretty and at one point I started falling back and screamed, “Mommy, help,” thinking I was going to fall backwards to my death, in a gorge, in Uganda.Well all 3 of us made it over the trunk, our quads starting to burn from the serious off-roading we were doing. Every time we thought we were getting to the final ascent, we were proven wrong. Eventually, by the grace of something powerful, we all made it to the top and the guide was kind enough to point out how nice it was that we made it out with no broken bones. The steep, slippery, not-made-for-short-people steps would have been so much better.

The rest of the safari was without any major catastrophes. We saw lions, elephants, cob, hippos, buffaloes, and more. We saw one lion that had been caught in a snare, which was sad. Because the park still has people living in it who want to protect their crops and villages, they set up these snares, which prove to be a big problem in the realm of conservation and animal protection. After the safari, our driver took us back over the border to Rwanda, where we met up with Gordon and prepared for an early morning gorilla trekking adventure.

We arrived at the Volcanoes National Park office at 7 AM, where we watched traditional dances performed by a local group and were split up into our trekking groups. They assign the groups by fitness level – there is always one group full of grey haired old men and women who have an easy 30 min walk on flat land. We felt better about ourselves when we saw that group and knew we weren’t a part of it. We were assigned the Titus family, which was an hour and a half steep hike up Karisimbi volcano. I was lucky enough to trip a million times and step in buffalo poop en route. When we were 100 yards away, we left our walking sticks and bags. It’s hard to describe the feeling of seeing gorillas for the first time. They are huge, fluffy, big black eyes, and could totally rip you to pieces if they so pleased. The silverback was HUGE and walked right in front of us a few times – Abby was not a fan. you get such an adrenaline rush when this beast of an animal walks so close you can nearly feel its fur. There was a 7 month old baby gorilla, whose mother was very protective. Every time we got a sight of the little fur ball, the mother would take her farther into the bush. At one point we could actually sit down a mere 5 feet from a lunching gorilla. The official rule is that you are supposed to stay like 8 meters away, but the terrain we were working with didn’t allow for that. We were never more than 3 or 4 feet away from them. After an hour, we began our descent down the mountain. Honestly, being able to do such an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime thing with my family was awesome. I won’t forget my sister’s face when the silverback walked right next to her or the look on my mom’s face when she saw the baby gorilla.

From the gorillas we made our way to Kigali where everyone’s exhaustion finally caught up with them. Gordon and I went to get burritos for everyone while they washed the bud and jungle grime off and climbed into bed with their respective kindles. After a night’s rest in a guesthouse, we made it to Ruhuha – my home in Rwanda. To say Abby and Mom were champs would be an understatement. They rolled with the punches, bounced along the road in an over-packed minibus, visited all of my close friends and the school, went to the market, drank local beer, squatted over a hole, took cold showers, and cooked outside – almost all of which was done with a smile.

After nearly two years in Ruhuha, it was really nice to show them how I live and how different it is from the U.S. It is easy to talk about Rwanda on the phone and explain how I live, but before they came I often felt like they didn’t completely grasp how challenging my life here is. Sometimes I would get a “suck it up” sentiment when I talked about how I was frustrated or something didn’t go well. With their visit here, I think they get it now, which is great. When I return to America and people ask “How was Peace Corps?” I can’t really say anything more than “great and rewarding” because they’ll lose interest. Now I know that at least the people I love know what I did, where I did it, and how difficult it was to survive the two years, despite how “great and rewarding” it all is.

To say the good-bye was difficult would be an understatement. I love my family dearly and miss seeing them and doing things with them on a regular basis. Bringing them to the airport, knowing they were going back to the comforts of America, while I had to return to the village was tough. I love them for taking the time to visit me on the “dark continent” and living to tell the tales. The support and love they showed me while they were here really gave me the energy to make it through the last 3 months in the village. I sincerely look forward to getting off the plane in 2 months and seeing them again.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Life Update–Term 1 and Uganda

So it’s been a solid three months since I’ve written a blog – whooops. Things were pretty crazy at the start of the year and really didn’t wind down until about a week ago. After Camp GLOW, I fled Rwanda for the first time in over a year to go spend 3 weeks in South Africa. To say the least, it was AMAZING. We went on a safari in Kruger National Park and had lions walking right past the passenger door, elephants blocking the road for half an hour and walking almost up to the hood of the car, and a leopard running out of the marsh and under a bridge. We then went to Cape Town and travelled the coast to Durban before meeting up with G’s family in the Drakensberg the day after Christmas. We spent a few days there and then went to Jo’burg for New Years before coming back to Rwanda. Immediately upon landing we had about 6 hours to rest before jumping on a bus to our Mid-Service Conference in Musanze.

MSC was really nice because we got to catch up with all of the PCVs in our ED2 group, many of which I hadn’t seen since our AIDS conference in August. MSC allowed us to reflect on our first year and our plans for our final year. This lasted about 3 days and then we all went back to site the day before the first term started.

So, Term 1….it flew by. January started off a little slow, but once all of the students arrived at the start of February things really got going. This year I am only teaching 10 hours a week, but I also have a GLOW club and English club, I’m working on some administrative organization and planning at the school, plus I’m the Program Development Co-Chair for the Gender and Development committee of PC-Rwanda, teaching at the Supreme Court once a month, and organizing this year’s Camp GLOW. They say Peace Corps is the hardest job you’ll ever love and honestly, they are right. I feel like I am always working and when I am not working I still have to put on a front in the community and speak a foreign language and be friends with everyone. It’s only too nice when I can go home and curl up in bed and watch a movie.

This year I feel like I have struck a good balance though. Last year I was so stressed out with integrating and visiting people, while this year I feel like I’ve become close with all of the people I am going to be close with and I don’t feel the pressure to visit them all the time. If they call, I go over or I spend a few hours visiting them in their shops, but the community knows me now and they know why I’m here and that’s enough for me. Because you can’t be yourself in the village and share all your perspectives on things, it is sometimes easier just to go home or hang out with the one or two people you know you can be semi-normal with.

This year I also define my community slightly differently; last year I was trying to know everyone at school and in the village, which was too much, while this year my community is my school. I am here all the time and would rather have great relationships with the staff, teachers, and students, than know some random people in the village who I would have to go out of my way to know and make time to visit. I am really happy with the relationships I’ve made with the students this year, they come to ask for help or advice more frequently than last year and I honestly feel like they trust me more than some other teachers, which is nice. It’s good to feel needed :)

So first term has come and gone. The start of April marked the 18th anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide. We had a community meeting and people told their stories and reflected on how far Rwanda has come since 1994 and then listened to President Kagame’s speech on the radio. I can’t really comment on it here, but if you get the chance and are interested, look up his speech from April 7 to hear what he has to say about the West.

The day after the community meeting, I left for Uganda, where I spent two weeks playing tourist. I started by taking the GREs (I had been preparing since December) and after successfully completing that in a stuffy room full of baby ants, I met up with some PCV friends and we went white water rafting on the Nile and bungee jumping before spending a few days sitting on an island enjoying days of swimming and relaxing in hammocks.

I got back to Rwanda last Thursday, taught at the Supreme Court on Saturday and started up with Term 2 yesterday. So, here we go, Term 2. It ends July 14, just in time for our Close of Service Conference where we will begin to plan for post-Peace Corps life. Then it’s time for Camp GLOW and then my mom and sister come to visit. The next few months should fly by and soon enough I will be landing in Boston for my first winter in 2 years.

A few pictures for your viewing pleasure:

Rafting Photo 6


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Camp GLOW–The Greatest Experience of my Service

As I sit hear knawing on corn just off the fire (literally just off the coals), I thought it was about time to write about the Kigali-Bugesera Camp GLOW (girls leading our world) which took place from November 28-December 2. This was a 5-day camp for 48 girls from seven schools in Kigali and Bugesera District. They spent everyday learning about HIV/AIDS, gender based violence (GBV), and life skills. We hosted the camp at my school, G.S. Rango, which made the week even more special and stressful for myself.

As the title says, this was the greatest experience I have had during my service here in Rwanda and I am finding it hard to express the overall pride and sense of purpose I felt during the planning and implementation of this project.Working with ten other PCVs, it was amazing to see the camp grow from just some ideas on a piece of paper to a full blown camp, full of campy songs, campfires, s’mores, arts and crafts, team-building activities, and more. The greatest challenge was trying to organize an American-style camp in a Rwandan environment where things don’t happen on time and leadership hierarchy must be respected. We tackled the issue of a major bed bug infestation in the dorm (they were in the bedframes, not our brand new mattresses which was good) we were sleeping in and ended up sleeping in our office on top of tables for the week. We overcame exhaustion and stomach bugs and battled through. It was so worth it.

I won’t go through the daily schedule, but basically the girls got up every morning and went to life skills lessons in small groups for a few hours. There were six groups of eight students facilitated by Rwandans and PCVs. Each group was named after a female leader (Oprah, Wangari Mathaai, Mother Teresa, Zora Neale Hurston, Michelle Obama, and Jeannette Kagame) and came up with a group chant. Some days we had guest speakers in the morning, which were probably the girls’ favorite part. They were strong local leaders and women who came to talk about how they achieved their goals and touched upon GBV. In the afternoon the girls got to sign-up for campy activities like sports, crafts, yoga, Zumba, salsa dancing, and more. Every night after dinner we had an activity for everyone: dance, talent show, s’mores and campfire, and t-shirt signing. Every day was packed and by 10 PM (way past our usual Rwandan bedtimes) we were exhausted, but it was so worth it.

The best part of camp was watching the girls grow from Monday to Friday. So many showed up in their school cliques and were very quiet, but by the end of the week they had made new friends and were not shy about asking questions, sharing ideas, or screaming their chants. I had 9 girls from my school attend (7 campers and 2 jr. facilitators) and I have been so happy to see them come back to school this year ready to start a GLOW club and teach others about what they learned. They are ready to go to other schools and teach the girls there and also do sessions in the village to teach older women about what they learned. I could not be more proud of their motivation and drive to touch as many people as possible with the GLOW message. This Friday we will be presenting to the whole school to recruit other girls for the club and to teach the students and teachers about what they learned. Their presentation is great and I am so excited to watch.

As for Camp GLOW 2012 – I’m not sure if I will still be in Rwanda when it comes time for camp. This year the schools have a 6 week vacation in July and August, so we might have camp then. If we keep the same schedule as last year, I will be on my out of Rwanda and may not be around. I think it would be a good way to end my service with such a powerful camp, but we’ll see what we are offered in terms of COS (close of service) dates. I might just have to hang around for a couple extra weeks to see this through :)


Check out my Picasa Web Albums – I have some great pictures from Camp GLOW

Thursday, October 27, 2011

One Year Reflections…has it really been that long?

Well, a year has come and gone in Rwanda, which means we have just over a year left in this amazing country. I figured that now would be an excellent time to reflect on what has happened and what I hope to accomplish in the coming year.

When we arrived in Rwanda, everyone was quick to say that the days would be long, but the weeks would be short, which no one believed as we were struggling through the packed schedule of PST (pre-service training), but boy were they right. Some days it feels like I’ve been at school for ten hours when it’s only been 3 or 4, while other days I have actually been there for 10 hours, though it feels like 3, and I’m begging myself to go home to my bed. The latter usually means I’ll be asleep by 7:30 without eating dinner and often with my door unlocked (luckily I usually wake up a few hours later to lock the doors and turn off the lights), while the former means I’ll be taking an afternoon nap or watching some Glee or How I Met Your Mother. But as Monday ends, Tuesday brings a morning mental struggle to get up and go to school, Wednesday is a little easier because I’m excited for evening aerobic with the local shopkeepers, and then suddenly the weekend is over and it’s Monday again.

So what have I accomplished? What do I wish I had accomplished? What went well? What was a major failure? What do I love about my life and what continues to be a challenge? For the most part, things have gone as planned (minus the little incident in February when all my valuables were stolen). All of the inefficiencies, long waits (“African time”), lack of information, and general un-organization have been as expected. Something that is supposed to start at 9 usually starts at 11 and often you don’t know about it until you’re sitting at home and get a call asking where you are.

What has been surprising has been people’s lack of trust towards others; the other person is always assumed to be lying or misleading you, which I hate. I like to think the best of everyone until proven otherwise, while Rwandans seem to assume the worst until proven otherwise. They are so reserved and it really takes some time to break them down and form really meaningful relationships with them. I can count a handful of people who I have accomplished this with and really wish it wasn’t so difficult. Even today, a shopkeeper said, “Sarah, you really like to smile. You are always smiling and laughing.” And I responded, “Yes, I love to smile/laugh. It is good for you.” Sadly there are not many opportunities to have a good laugh in daily life. I try to get my smiling and laughing in at school with my kids. Walking around town you might smile and wave at someone or greet them with a smile, but a good ab-exhausting, tear-rendering laugh is hard to come by.

The first year of PC has been about settling in, building relationships, and really getting comfortable with my primary assignment – teaching. Just as I was settling in in February, I was uprooted and moved to a different community, which really was a challenge. In the village I had gotten to know people, had a routine, and was generally comfortable. But when I moved, I was really busy at school and didn’t have the time to devote to meeting a lot of new people, which was really stressful. It took about 3 months for things to really feel comfortable. I now know a lot of the shopkeepers that work around my house; the children know my name; and though I don’t go into the village as much as I’d like, people know me and will approach me and greet me as I walk by.

For the most part I’ve been happy with my school; they have given me a lot of freedom to do what I’d like and to propose ideas for projects/programs to the administration. I really wish I had more help from teachers and administrators, but they always want money or food as compensation for “volunteering”, which isn’t realistic or feasible. I was really upset one day when another NGO came to ask about our ideas for school feeding and after we shared our ideas they gave every person 2500 RWF (what I spend at the market in a week), which just inflates their expectations of always receiving a handout. Rwanda has received a lot of handouts since the Genocide, which has really stalled the development of social responsibility/mobilization and volunteerism because people expect (a) to have things done for them, or (b) to be given money or food. But there are some people who are willing to help just because they think something is a good idea, but unfortunately there are only a few teachers at my school who fit that description.

Things that have gone well this year: English Club for students and primary teachers; a school feeding program with shared investment from the school and parents; a leadership and responsibility workshop for student leaders and administrators; and of course teaching and seeing an improvement in both English and critical thinking from my students.

My biggest failure, if you will, has been the lack of English club for secondary school teachers. I’m not all that sad about it because, to be honest, I’m kinda tired of teaching English; I teach all day and then have 2 English clubs, so not having one for secondary isn’t all that disheartening. Furthermore, I feel like I have a whole lot more to offer than just my English skills, so I’d rather spend my time doing other projects that not only help the school, but also challenge me a little.

So what do I think about this past year? I genuinely feel like I am doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing right now. This last year has allowed me to observe a lot of concepts and ideas I studied at Hopkins and worked on for both of my theses. I have realized I don’t want to be a teacher forever, but I still love education policy, especially why it is structured the way it is, and how it is implemented at the local level. I am surrounded by adults and children who surprise me each and every day and really make the best of what they have.

At the start of university, my friends and family probably couldn’t picture me running off to Africa with the Peace Corps. The thought hadn’t even crossed my mind at that point. But, here I am loving the good and bad of living in Rwanda. As I started to travel more, I began to think of myself having two personalities. First, there’s the Sarah who went to a private high school and then to a private university; is materialistic; doesn’t like to get dirty; and despite her best efforts to help people, sometimes finds herself thinking that she’s better than those she is working to help. Then there’s the “Africa Sarah” who loves everything about African cultures and lifestyles; wants to live and work with the locals; doesn’t wear makeup and often wears the same pants multiple days in a row; washes her hair once a week-ish; is more patient; is always ready to get dirty and work with the community to clean or build classrooms; and most importantly, really has no interest in the material things that often seemed to define who she was.

I’m really happy with how I have changed, adapted, and really evolved (I know it’s cheesy) over the last year. Though I’m sure some changes have been the result of the environment, but I hope some of them stick (like being patient…I’d like to wash my hair more than once a week). I’m sure in a year I’ll return home and shop at J.Crew and Vineyard Vines and assume my New Englander identity, but I really hope I come home with an unshakable desire to work with people and genuinely understand who they are and how they live and remember that I have lived in a difficult environment and can relate to them in one way or another. Going to a good school, you begin to think that you know all, and though I feel like a lot of the time I can help find solutions to simple problems, I have realized that I have a long way to go before I have any right to step in and say, “This is what you need to do…” At this point, I am happy with who I have become, what I have accomplished, and the relationships I have formed and that’s enough. I know when I get home I will want to go back to school and know more about everything I saw in Rwanda and how some things can be changed, but for right now, I am OK with just “being” and living this life.

What will the future bring? The one year mark is a time to not only look back, but also look forward. In a month I will be co-directing a 5-day leadership camp for girls, which I am really excited about. Come January, I’ll be back to teaching, clubs, soccer, and who knows what other random projects will pop up. It’s crazy to think that come January, we will only have 11 months left in Rwanda. So of course I have started thinking about my return, and to be honest, I’m terrified. I have already woken up once having a panic attack about technology (got a new cell phone that had internet and apps which scared me). I’m afraid of supermarkets and spending money; having a choice of food (was dreaming about jelly beans and woke up chewing an ear plug :/ ); driving and going on a highway; answering the question “how was it?”; relating with people who were at home while I was in Africa; and most of all, people not showing interest or caring in what I have experienced. I know I have a long way to go before any of these things become a reality, but considering how quick this first year went and how fast everyone says the second year goes in comparison, it’ll be time to COS (close of service) soon enough.

Sorry this post was ridiculously long; it is mostly for me to recap everything that has happened since I have been horrible about keeping a journal.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Questions I’ve been Asking Myself

On a daily basis I find myself questioning what is happening at school and in the community, so I thought I’d share some of these questions with you all.

So here you go…

Is it going to rain today? Please say yes because I really need to shower and filter some drinking water!

Is my hair that interesting? (there is much debate about whether my hair is natural or whether I have a weave)

Neighbors, can you please not blast the music and bass at 5 AM? Please and thank you!

Am I hearing a lizard, a mouse, cockroaches, or a bat in my ceiling? How about behind my trunk?

Why don’t chickens really cross the road in an efficient fashion like all the ’why’d the chicken cross the road’ jokes suggest? (this came after I almost hit a chicken while I was riding my bike to school)

Is there really a goat in my classroom right now?

Did my student just ask me if I knew how to do circumcisions?

Why does a woman have to look so miserable at her wedding? (it’s tradition for the woman to not look happy with what is happening and her future with her husband)

Shouldn’t all the teachers be here with me and the rest of the community helping to build new classrooms for umuganda?

Why aren’t secondary teachers as motivated to learn English as the Primary teachers?

Do some adults really think that if they have sex with a child they will be cured of HIV/AIDS? (this is supposedly something that traditional doctors tell people to do)

To wash my clothes or not to wash my clothes today?


Why is customer service so awful here? (if you go to a shop or restaurant they always seem utterly miserable to help or serve you)

Why can’t drinking one Primus (beer) be enough? Why is it considered rude if you don’t drink two?

What part of the goat am I eating right now? Intestine? Liver?

Remember the days when you could get food in under an hour and it would be hot when it came?

Why would a bus company let a bus run if it can’t switch into the correct gear to get up the big hills? Do I really have to walk up the hill while the driver tries to get an empty bus up the hill?

Is that blood in the shattered windshield on the bus? Shouldn’t that be replaced and not just covered with plastic?

How many boards on the bridge will be broken today?

How did my name go from Sarah to Sandrine?

Why can’t there be a warning that the power is going to go out so I can get my lantern and everything ready?! I’m tired of tripping and falling around whenever the power goes out!

Is that a flat rat? (dead of course)

Can you please say excuse me instead of shoving me out of the way? (manners don’t seem to come naturally here)

Do I really want to go out on market day when the population quadruples and I’m called muzungu every 2 seconds? Not so much…I’ll continue to read.

So that’s a little insight into my daily interactions and questions/thoughts about what’s going on around me. In general, things are going good. The third term has started off a little slow, but I’ve made myself busy starting up a GLOW (girls leading our world) club at school and organizing Camp GLOW with fellow PCVs, which will take place in December and teach 40 girls about life skills. This term is really short and soon it will be the long vacation, which means I need to find another project to work on during the three month vacation so I don’t go crazy.

I’ll be posting another blog soon, but for now, know that I am healthy and happy and really feel like I’m falling into a good rhythm with Rwandan life as the norm (I find myself comparing my life here to my life in the US a whole lot less, which I’d argue is keeping me sane).

Friday, July 22, 2011

Day in the Life

So I realize that I have written about what I do every day, but I haven’t really told you how I go about doing it, which is by far one of the most unique parts of living here. It is not really what I do, but how I go about doing it that makes my experience here in Rwanda what it is. So now I am going to do my best to give you the general feel for life in Ruhuha, Rwanda.
                So my typical day starts around 6 AM with me being woken by the rooster and the cow next door. On Tuesdays and Fridays, the start is a little earlier with the chanting and drumming from a local church waking me. If I try hard enough and don’t have to get to school I can usually go back to sleep until about 7:30 at the latest, but the birds chasing lizards on my tin roof make it difficult. If it’s a school day, I roll out from under my mosquito net and head outside to use the bathroom (or latrine if someone has already beaten me to the nice bathroom) and shower. I’m lucky enough to have water in my compound and a real cold water shower, but it’s the dry season so I often wake up in the morning to no water coming from anywhere, which then leads to a shower-less morning. If I’m not lucky enough to get into the good bathroom, I brush my teeth and wash my face outside with a jug of water and spit the toothpaste on the ground. Then I head inside and if I have time, heat up some water to make oatmeal with brown sugar or bread and peanut butter. I shove all of my school stuff in a bag (notebooks, papers, pens, laptop, book, lots of water, and a snack) into my backpack and drag my bicycle outside, which sounds a whole lot easier than it is. I have to bring it down stairs, then up stairs, out a very narrow gate, back downstairs and up an alley to the dirt road. Out on the road I great the usual shopkeepers who are starting to open up shop for the day. It’s now about 6:50 (7:05 on a really slow morning). I jump on my bike as the masses start to accumulate to watch the muzungu ride a bicycle and then it’s a 10 minute ride to school.
                So I have never been much of a bike rider. I like my spinning classes and the summer bike rides on the Cape Cod Bike Trail, but I am in no way a pro at mountain/off-road biking and Rwanda hasn’t made it easy for me. The road is shared by buses, cars, motos, and bicycles and there is little concern for the little man out there on his bicycle riding up the dirt road. So as I ride up the first hill, trucks go flying past me throwing huge amounts of dust and dirt in my face and all over my clothes – so much for not turning orange today. As I ride I have people yelling my name and greeting me good morning, which I do my best to reciprocate as I huff and puff up the hill. Once at the top I regain my breath, but things only get more difficult. There are sharp rocks coming out of the dirt that I have to avoid, which wouldn’t be so bad if there weren’t so many or so close together. The lane for bikes has also been worn down so that there is a tire-wide space to ride and then the road goes up a few inches on either side, so you have to stay in line or you’re going over. Then of course there’s the slow or the aggressive riders that are blocking your way or riding right up on your tail and you want to yell, but well, that’s not acceptable, so I just ring my bell like crazy (yes, I have a bell on my bicycle). I keep saying my mwaramutses and bites and after another gradual climb, I’m at school – sweaty, dusty, thirsty, and usually hungry. I bring my bike down the hill as morning meeting is going on, which then leads to the kids whispering about my fancy bike or about how sweaty I am. Lovely.
                Teaching is nothing too special or unique. It’s just me, the students, chalk, some paper, and a lot of really really slow and enunciated English. After teaching I usually eat lunch at school (kawunga, which is corn flour mixed with hot water, and beans) and continue my day there until clubs or teaching teachers or I head home. The bicycle ride home is no more enjoyable then at 7 am. It is hotter, it is up hill all the way going home until the last 2 minutes, and there are a lot more people out in the afternoon than first thing in the morning, which leads to a lot of talking, waving, and near-accidents as a child runs in front of me or someone screams my name and I look around. When I get home I usually lay down for a bit and then cook if I’m feeling up to it or I ask my house girl to do it.
                So food and water are not immediately rewarding; they require preparation, which takes a whole lot longer here than in the U.S. If I want drinking water, I have to go fetch water from the tap outside; fill the bucket; dump the bucket into the filter inside; add a few drops of bleach; and wait for the water to filter to the bottom tap. If I want hot water, I have to fill an electric tea kettle and wait for the water to boil for a hot bucket bath or tea. Since all the food here is so fresh and manure is a very common fertilizer, all the fruit and vegetables need to be washed, bleached, peeled, cut, and then finally eaten, which is a long process. You fill a basin with water and wash and peel the vegetables then put it in another bucket of bleach water for about 20 minutes before you can eat it raw. If you are going to cook them then you can skip the bleaching. All of the food scraps get added together and then at the end of the night they are thrown in the garbage pit behind my house. I usually cook on a kerosene stove, but sometimes I use the charcoal stove, which takes a while to heat up so I only like to use it if I’ll be cooking a lot of things (kerosene is expensive) or baking (I am perfecting cakes, brownies, and cookies from scratch).
                After cooking it’s time to clean the dishes then myself up before eating. The dishes are washed similarly to the vegetables-a basin of water, soap, a sponge, and a final rinse. Then the dirty water gets tossed outside. A cold evening shower or warm bucket bath is nice. You feel accomplished as you watch the water turn from brown, to orange, to foggy, to clean clear water as all the dust and grime from the day is scrubbed off.
                Other random things that are a big change: washing clothes in a bucket then rinsing them multiple times to get all the soap out before hanging them on the line; ironing sheets before putting them on my bed to kill any bugs that got in there; having to walk to the local bar if I want cold water or soda; using students’ homework when there is no more toilet paper; a growing love for the radio and Voice of America (much better than sitting in silence); killing cockroaches without flinching; dumping a bucket of water on the floor and squeegeeing to clean the floors; and finally learning how to wait...and wait…and wait until things happen or start hours late.
                In the U.S., I eat, wash clothes, do dishes (though my mother will say otherwise), make my bed, go to work, but what truly sets this experience apart from home is how I do everything. Everything is more labor intensive and takes a whole lot longer. I’m lucky enough to be able to pay someone to do a lot of the work and I only do it on occasion (washing and cooking dinner mostly), but even the daily chores of getting drinking water or going to work are so totally different. It is hard to remember what it was like using modern technology and amenities and I’m sure I’ll be confused when I get home and have to use a washing machine or have the luxury of cooking frozen vegetables, but for right now, this is the norm and I’m not hating it – yet.