Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Umuganda is a Rwandan tradition of community service performed on the last Saturday of every month. Theoretically all Rwandan’s would participate – although we learned this week that that is not the case – and projects occur at all levels of government. So that the Muzungus could be seen by  a larger group of people we participated in the District level of Umuganda where we helped clear a road of weeds and grasses and such to stop the forest from reclaiming  it essentially. So yes, I used a traditional Rwandan ho to clear weeds and grass for around 4 hours and my hands are torn to shreds. Since we are still quite the spectacle we occasionally had to move to different locations on the road so that people working near us would start working again because they would just stop and stare at the Muzungu. Additionally the head of the District level police and Army commander wanted to be seen working with the Volunteers – to their credit I’ve been told they are at Umuganda every month – and thus I was working next to the chief of the police for awhile getting a personal language lesson.
            After the road was built with the police/army representatives taking the ceremonious last ho with us volunteers, we entered an amphitheatre to celebrate the accomplishment. When we got to the outskirts of the clearing the 20 or so volunteers there were made to wait with the police and army staff until everyone else had assembled and then music was turned on and we entered into the front of the area  as honored guests. The whole thing would’ve felt a little awkward except that it immediately turned into a dance party at the front of the crowd. I got some lessons in traditional Rwandan dance from a woman who I don’t know but recognize and several of the soldiers. Sidenote: I received multiple marriage proposals during this dance party and since I have a feeling its rude to say no to anyone carrying an AK-47 I may have an African fiancĂ©, we shall see I’m unclear on the Rwandan sense of humor on these things… Anyway 

A day in the life...

After all the tedious lesson planning and language lessons were over (and fairly uneventful) today, I went home with sue to play with her little host siblings and neighbors. It’s common knowledge among the trainees that having small children to play with is an enviable situation. They are better language teachers because really their skills are pretty on par with ours, they’re more forgiving and they’re just so darn cute. Today we busted out the bubbles, fun fact bubbles are probably the coolest thing in the entire world. These kids go nuts and  hunt down every last bubble. The bubble party obviously turned into a dance party when the music turned on and I taught 9 rwandan children how to do the “Superman that ho” dance, hopefully they didn’t understand the lyrics, and now they start doing it whenever they see me. Victory. The chicken dance was far less popular, clearly these kids are too hip for me, and the duggie proved to be too difficult. One of the munchkins must have seen a few Jackie Chan movies because the whole affair ended with me fake kung fu fighting a large group of 9 year olds with the occasional cartwheel and roll mixed in. There was also, naturally, a chicken involved in the fray and a large audience laughing at the Muzungus antics. All in all I considered it a success except that my host sisters saw me and now my excuse of “ I don’t dance” has had to be modified to “I don’t dance with anyone over the age of 12” far less convincing I’m afraid.

Random Rwanda Thoughts

-       Life without electricity, in a place where the sun goes down at 6pm is VERY different. I know this sounds self-explanatory and I hate to be that person but until you’ve experienced it you have no idea.
-       Eating in public is considered rude in Rwanda.
-       There are 16 noun classes in Kinyarwanda, the language I’m supposed to be learning, lord help us all.
-       A lot of the other girls have had problems with people touching their hair but not a single person has touched mine.
-       Men hold hands in the street quite frequently.
-       The condoms in my Peace Corps medical kit are called Camo-x Premium Protection and have an army camoflauge pattern on the packaging which I find hysterical. I’m not exactly sure why.
-       Mosquito nets, despite looking like a princess canopy, are considerably  less regal and more annoying
-       Headlamps never fail to make you feel like  a nerd.
-       Everyone here loves Justin Beiber, he is inescapable
-       When every small adorable toddler wants to be your friend you can’t help but feel like a boss.
-       Despite people’s warnings about children asking me for money it has only happened to me once so far and my host sister who was there told him, “she is Rwandan now you do not ask her that”
-       My host sister’s love Chuck Norris and think he is a big celebrity in America. They’re also obsessed with the movie Prison Break which I’ve never seen.
-       Barack Obama is used to advertise everything, the favorite that I have seen so far is a flashlight with an American flag pattern and obama’s face on it.


We’ve all seen a food pyramid right? Broken down into how many servings of each main food group we should eat on a  daily basis? Well in Rwanda that pyramid would be a straight line, or maybe a potato, because all we eat here are carbs. Carbs with a side of carbs and a dessert carb for emphasis all accompanied by the starchiest of vegetables (a potato) topped with some sauce. You think I’m kidding? This is my normal meal days consumption:
Breakfast: 1 slice white bread and butter, Tea, orange
Lunch: large bowl rice, steak cut french-fries, beans, mashed green bananas (sometimes) avocado. Occassionally there will be beans or banana chips. All covered in a light red sauce.
Dinner: large bowl rice, beans, sauce sometimes containing carrots, steak cuts fries, mashed green bananas avocado.

Also the “tea” is usually not tea but instead boiled sorghum wheat which means it is essentially oatmeal and could be eaten as a meal in and of itself.  Moral of the story is my intestines might explode and this “Africa diet” I thought I was going on, despite being far less processed than my American one may in fact still cause me to gain weight. Also, anyone who sends me hot sauce of any kind will immediately be deemed my favorite human in existence. 

Interesting sidenote: there is no snacking in Rwanda, hence why it isn’t mentioned in my daily consumption. It is considered very rude to eat in public and thus people don’t eat unless it is for a sit down meal or you are inside our Peace Corps training center where the other Americans couldn’t care less if you dig into a power bar. Since I won’t be able to snack at my permanent site, I have been trying not to let myself slip during training sessions, but no one is perfect. (Don’t let this discourage you from sending snacks of any kind thought J

Benefits of a small town

A small town:

In these past few days I have learned both the up and downsides of living in a small town, and by small town I actually mean tiny village. It’s hard to be anonymous in a small town, but harder still to be in a small village when you are one of 6 white people (muzungus) and the only one with red hair. My notice here is somewhere between the sideshow’s bearded lady and Paris Hilton. I am sure that if camera phones were more popular my picture would be snapped and passed around just as quickly as the latest gossip rag. There are weird moments to be sure. People carry screaming babies up to me in the street to touch their hands (hopefully the babies aren’t crying because they are afraid of me but most likely they are), bikes almost hit me as their driver’s crane their necks for a longer look and almost all children under the age of 9 follow me as I walk past. The children I love though and they are innocent enough usually only wanting to hold my hand or walk with me. Sometimes they try to imitate the way I walk (Muzungu’s walk very purposefully I’ve been told) so when they do this I begin to dance or skip and the whole situation dissolves into a lot of silliness. The unwanted attention comes from all age groups however. Old women approach me to try and talk, young boys cat-call, old men stop by to introduce themselves and invite me to tea at their homes and a certain subset of teenage girls are clearly jealous.
            Despite the increasing difficulty of getting used to this extreme amount of attention it has surely had its upsides. For one I got lost on my very first night in Kabande (the village I live in) after dark – and dark here is DARK.  I was beginning to panic when a boy of about 9 ran up to me shouting you belong to ** (my host family)** grabbed my hand and escorted me home. Apparently the search party had been alerted to my absence and all the playing children had been told to look for the redhaired Muzungu, small town the rescue.
            Additionally, my key task during Pre-service Training of integrating with the community and reaching out to as many people as possible has been considerably eased by the attention of the children. By introducing myself to whoever is following me at any given time I seem to extended my reach considerably. Only 3 days in and almost every child I run into already knows my name (and I definitely haven’t met them all), which immediately makes it easier for me to meet and gain the trust of their parents.
            Lastly, this small town vibe saved me from a serious taboo with my host mother this week. After 3 days in Africa I was feeling quite ill, I’ll spare you the gory details but lets say sicker than you’d want to be in a place with only mud floored latrines. When I informed my host mother of this and the fact that I did not want to eat I set off a whole host of cultural taboos and prays to Jesus for my speedy recovery. I later learned it’s a bad omen for a guest in your house to refuse your food but feeling as awful as I did at the time I put my foot down and would not eat. Even the next morning my host mother was furious, yelling at me in Kinyarwanda and telling me she didn’t sleep all night because of it. Clearly this was bad. Luckily for me she was at the house of another volunteer the next afternoon who had heard my side of the story and was able, through a host parent who spoke English, to better explain my predicament and all was forgiven. Who said gossip was always bad? All in all the attention is overwhelming but I have to say I am starting to enjoy the feeling that a whole village of people is concerned for my well-being cause we all know I probably need it. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Life of a Ginger is Never Easy.

So, since my life is perpetually a joke it only makes sense that my flight to Rwanda would be delayed. As it stands now we arrived in Brussels a full 6 hours late as my calculations stand now ( I could be a little off with the jetlag and time difference). The fun began when our gate was changed 4 times before check-in even started, that should've been an indication that something was amiss. Then we were delayed at  our final gate for 2 hours because they brought out the WRONG PLANE and then had to switch it. I mean really? Don't they have a system for identifying which plane they need? To make matters worse once we boarded the plane we were informed that a strap somewhere on some door was broken, hence 3 hours on the Tarmac. Luckily we amused ourselves by playing 20 questions and other games which became increasingly silly in our state of sleepiness and frustration.
Nick: So at what point does this become your own personal hell?
Me: Probably 2 hours...

Monday, September 12, 2011

Final Thoughts

So here it is, I'm really leaving!! My staging begins in Philadelphia tomorrow! So I am heading out from here in an hour or so. As I sit here I am trying to think of all the things I will miss in America and all those that I wont, seems like an appropriate time for that. So here it is...

Things I will Miss:
- Family and friends
- Fast food
- My cats
- Trashy TV
- My bed
- Easy communication
- My syracuse loves
- Netflix
- The gym
- Pizza

Things I won't Miss:
- Trashy TV
- Ignorant people
- Always running into people you don't wanna see
- Driving a car
- The politics of texting
- Clubs
- Most Americans
- The Kardashian's and how they suck me in to their nonsense
- Pre-cut vegetables in the supermarket (huge pet peeve)
- BBM and all the nonsense that ensues

I'm sure there are more but so far that's what comes to mind. My bags are packed, 2 duffle pounds full of 70 lbs of essentials. Looks like this is really happening! Wish me luck! Stay in touch!

xo Ginger