Thursday, December 29, 2011


** This ones a little out of order - I had forgotten about it **

The medium of the internet is a new and slightly disconcerting way for PCV’s to communicate across international borders. It appears that over the course of training I have had one of the more active blogs as far as updates are concerned and several other trainees have informed that various members of their families follow me. This didn’t strike me as odd until today, when I was told (through the grapevine)  that another trainees father had been reading my blog and called me  a “tough lady,” causing me to review all my posts looking for evidence of that trait. Toughness. In my gut reaction to the word I told a few other trainees that I didn’t think it described me and got a result I wasn’t expecting. It seemed the only one shocked, was me. Over the course of the time that we’ve been here many trainees have become privy to the fact that my family suffered several deaths in the time frame  immediately leading up to my departure for Africa, and that I was actually at a funeral a few days before staging in Philadelphia. It seems that reality has earned me a reputation for being “tough” or at the very least people weren’t surprised when the word was applied to me. I suppose I chose to take it as a compliment. However,  I have had more than my fair share of mental breakdowns in just these 3 months. The whole thing got me thinking about the word “tough” because I’m not sure anyone whose ever met me would use it to describe my personality. So maybe tough isn’t the attribute in question, maybe its trust or stoicism or stupidity. Maybe we all came here to run away, or prove a point, or work for what we believed in and most likely all of us stay and survive and succeed due to the inherent stubbornness or perseverance or stupidity inherent in our personalities. Maybe you have to be crazy to fly off to Africa while your family is dealing with so much loss, but maybe you have to be “tough” to stay. There have certainly been moments in this whole thing where I have felt anything but tough. There were moments when I cried because I couldn’t eat dinner before 9, or go to sleep at a reasonable hour or wash when I wanted, or because the boy I liked was no longer interested in me. These low moments would have been reprehensible in America, but maybe in context they were just a side effect of life in Rwanda. There were also times when I cried because a lot of people I care about died this year and I’m not there, or because this whole country suffered a similar tragedy and no one talks about. I’ve cried because life isn’t fair, and nowhere reminds you of that quite like Africa or a year like my family has had, and lastly I’ve cried because I’m tired and overworked and overstressed. Like a small child I’ve cried simply because in that moment there is nothing I need more than a nap and a juice box. Today, however, on our last day of training – an emotionally charged and trying day by any standards -  I got a gift I didn’t expect. Through the magic of the internet I learned that a man I’ve never met, and probably never will meet, thinks that I am tough simply from the words I release to the world wide web. This misplaced adjective did more for my reflections on the world today than I can truly convey. So maybe, its true, after all we are our own worst critics. Maybe I am a tough lady. And Maybe I am not.  Either way, tomorrow I leave this place ready to face Rwanda on my own. Truthfully, I am sure there will be more tears in my future, but maybe that doesn’t change the status of my “toughness” as much as I think. 

Noheri Nziza (Merry Christmas)

After my night in Kigali for my medical reasons, myself and a few other trainees headed out to a friend’s site further North to celebrate the Christmas holiday. We left Kigali early because we knew that public transport on the day before Christmas, in any catholic country, was bound to be a nightmare. Nybogogo (the main bus station) was a lot like what I imagine hell to be like. Luckily, however, Rwandan transport is known for being much better organized than its surrounding neighbors – which isn’t saying much – and our reservations were held and respected. We grabbed our tickets and hopped on our bus moments before it was set to depart.
We spent the two days of our visit cooking good American food, drinking beer and generally being merry. Some of the highlights:
-The two Santa hats I bought in Kigali which were present throughout and passed around between everyone,  until one got stolen by one of the Rwandan guests.
-Cooking Tacos and Spanish rice because we could even though they are not the most Christmas-y of foods
-The constant blue skies, 80 degree weather and banana trees
-When one of the nice female neighbors and about 20 children came into the compound to help us cook and laughed at how we peeled potatoes
-Giving the kids glow sticks after it got dark one night – they went absolutely nuts but were very sad when they stopped glowing in the morning.
-The 2 adorable children who we let stay and eat our tacos with us
-Some rousing games of Trivial pursuit
-Everyone sleeping on the hard concrete floor and thus being very overtired
-The constant chorus of “eat this you need the calories” leveled at me after I revealed that I was malnourished.

In general it was just incredibly nice to all be together, doing things in the most American way we could to celebrate the holiday. And it was nice to hear that everyone has been struggling at site in their own way, despite their personalities, language abilities, living situations etc. Every site is hard. Every site has challenges and realistically we will all get through them together. And every now and then we  will congregate in our own little  Muzungu world and eat Tacos and pretend we are not in Rwanda.
The volunteer we were visiting lives in a much more urban area than myself and upon arriving I was pretty shocked by the surroundings. I would not have been able to live there. Props to this volunteer because after two days there our official diagnosis was that he lived in a village full of assholes. People stared far more openly and in much closer proximity to us than anyone in my village, I was asked for money more, and I just felt downright unwelcome. Children banged at his gate and peered in his windows almost the entire time we were there (and apparently they do this even when just one muzungu is present) and his neighbors let themselves in constantly and invited themselves to stay for food. Luckily this volunteer is one of the more laid-back and kindhearted of our group and thus handles the situation beautifully, but I personally don’t think I could do it. It was a bit of a relief to see someone else’s site and realize that the particular challenges of my site are well within my limits as a person because clearly there are some things which would not be.
So despite missing family, friends and tradition it was a wonderful holiday. A big thank you to everyone who came and made it special and to our host for allowing so many of us to crash at his house despite having no furniture and very few days to prepare. You probably won’t read this but you’re a champ. I hope everyone back home’s Christmas’s were equally enjoyable. Noheri Nziza. Merry Christmas. And a happy new year. 


Let me start this story by saying, “Do not be alarmed” I am posting this because it is amusing to me and clearly the whole thing worked out fine because I am able to post this story comfortably from an internet café in my market town. That being said, here is the story:

When we first arrived at training the horror story started circulating that every female volunteer in Peace Corps gains weight and every male loses it. This story was confirmed by our doctors, RPCVs on staff, and the current PCVs who came to assist with training. And once I saw a traditional Rwandan meal I was no longer all that shocked. The case was settled when we asked one female volunteer what she did about the fact that Rwandan meals were all starch and she said, “I just got chubby.” So I was resigned to my fat, I would gain some weight here, which in the service of the greater good really isn’t all that serious a crisis. Additionally, being white has the main perk that I could look like [insert any hideous celebrity] and still be considered beautiful, such is life as an oddity.  I decided I would accept the weight gain until I got my own house and could cook for myself – aka 1 starch/carb per meal.
            However,   this is not how things played out. A few weeks into training I realized my pants had gotten noticeably larger despite my Rwandan diet but I reasoned that it was because they were being manhandled every time they were washed and then dried on a line instead of by machine. This trend progressed, however, throughout the training period. Additionally, I was getting awful stomach illnesses roughly bi-weekly which landed me in the infirmary and definitely added to my weight loss. (Yay for bucking trends).
            This situation got serious once I got to site and was able to cook for myself and realized I was still constantly getting sick – meaning I couldn’t blame it on my host families cooking anymore. Either I was an unhygienic cook as well or Africa simply wasn’t agreeing with me. Finally, one week after being at site I was washing my dishes when I collapsed inside my house. Naturally, it is a scary feeling to wake up on your floor and realize you’ve fainted and don’t know how long you’ve been out for. I tend to faint a lot, however, so I was going to chug some water and take a nap without thinking much of it but another volunteer happened to call me in that moment. She was upset about a piece of news we had received that day but I was completely out of it and finally had to admit my current situation and ask to call her back. This didn’t go well and she demanded that I call the doctors or she would. The doctors naturally had me come to Kigali the next day escorted by my closest volunteer – incase I should pass out again on public transport.
            Upon weighing me in Kigali it was discovered I have lost 20-25 lbs and am technically malnourished. It looks like I took integrating into the community a little too far; I even have the distended abdomen which would explain why I didn’t notice the dramatic weight loss but you can wrap your fingers around my upper arm – not a good sign – which I probably should have noticed. This is obviously and ikibazo (problem) and I had to agree to gain back a certain amount of the weight to remain a PCV. The bigger problem is that I have been eating and while living with a host family I was eating like a Rwandan, so clearly something was wrong. After several tests it was determined that I have an amoeba which is living in my stomach and stealing all my nutrients causing me to take almost no nourishment from the food I consume. What an odd world we live in. Luckily I have since been given something kill the little devils and I feasted in Kigali. A big thanks to my fellow PCVs for a. making me call the doctors b. accompanying my to Kigali and c. spending most of our Christmas celebrations saying things like “eat this you need the calories.”

Umuzungu Hehe?

Since I am now the only white person in my village, and for that matter in quite a wide radius around my village, I am now on a personal crusade to get people to call me by my name. I am the only white person, thus they should be able to remember to call me Michele or Teacher. For the most part it is working, after I meet people once or twice and explain to them who I am, Why I’m here, and why I don’t like being called Umuzungu they tend to understand and remember for next time. My biggest tool in this crusade are the children, because they have a tendency to be clustered in large groups and to run after, up to me, etc whenever they see me shouting umuzungu. My new tactic for this situation goes like this:

*Chorus of children screaming “umuzungu” *
Me: Umuzungu?? Hehe? (where?) Do you see an Umuzungu? I don’t see an umunuzungu? While looking around confused
 This confuses the children immensely and usually they start laughing and looking at eachother like I’m crazy until one of them gets brave enough to point at me and inform me that I am the Umuzungu. At which point I laugh and say “no I am a Rwandan.” This generally sends everyone watching into fits of laughter until I explain my whole Peace Corps deal and then ask them very nicely not to call me Umuzungu because it makes me very sad. Generally children I do this too remember my name the next time and I usually instruct them to also tell their parents my name so that the message spreads further through the community. So far, its working. Buhoro Buhoro (step by step) they will know my name.  

Daily Routine

I’ve been at site a little over two weeks now trying to adjust to my village and living on my home. It’s a weird time of year for teacher’s, however, as school is not in session and I can’t really lesson plan yet since I don’t know what level I am teaching. But incase you’re interested this is roughly what I have been up to these two weeks:

-Waking up at 7! Aka Sleeping in!
-Making myself a cup of coffee and reading a book
-Washing my dishes and cleaning my house.
-Washing some clothes (somedays)
-Going out into the community to buy whatever random household items I need and socializing with people aka explaining who I am and what I’m doing for several hours on end (its exhausting)
-Coming home and reading a book/napping
-Working out usually a deck, an hour of yoga, and some sprints on the soccer field
-cooking myself dinner
-Heating up a pot of water and showering while listening to Voice of America (I wonder what they would think of that)
-reading by candlelight until I pass out.

During these two weeks I’ve managed to read all of the twilight series, reread Chelsea handler, read Wuthering Heights, and start War and Peace. I’ve also started a mural out of chalk on my wall. Cooking wise I’ve made several pasta sauces, figured out how to cook rice at altitude, made amazing mango chutney and no bake oatmeal cookies. So I believe its safe to say that once you add in teaching during the school year, my occasional social visits, weekly trips to the market and occasional trips to my banking town, this is pretty much how I’ll be spending my life for the next to years. It’s quite boring considering I’m somehow on the biggest adventure of my life, but everyday brings its own little triumphs and surprises and I can only imagine it will get better when school starts.

Oh and my electricity has been out since I moved in because the students are not in school so that should add a significant amount of joy to my life when it turns back on! Hope your days are much more interesting J

Site Installation

I live in Rwanda. I live in Africa. Alone. I realize that I have lived in Rwanda for 3 months now but something didn’t feel real about it until I arrived at my site this week. Now I  LIVE in Africa. I cook my own food, over a petrol stove, I have my own house, I have to decorate and find places to buy silver wear and plates and mugs and there are no other Muzungus for miles. It’s a weird thought and an even weirder feeling. I woke up this morning overwhelmed at the thought of it, I had to venture to the market and bargain for food for the week and because the market closer to my site isn’t until Monday I had to take a 30min moto to a place where there was a market. Needless to say there was a lot of procrastination in my bed before I decided to get up and get moving. Hell I hadn’t slept past 6am in months, and just because I couldn’t sleep didn’t mean I couldn’t lay there and pretend.
            I first went to the center of my village hoping to find some of the items I needed a little closer to home. There is a small hill leading down into the city center and thus as I walked I could see the shops unfolding before me and slowly but surely I could see the town see me. Have you ever walked up to a place and had literally everyone stop? Fifty plus people just stop their conversations, stop whatever they are doing and watch you? Well that’s what happened. Naturally I was a bit overwhelmed.  By the time I made it down the hill into the center of the road all activity had ceased and everyone had gravitated in on me. The school I work at is a little off-set from the village so I wasn’t sure if these people had already heard there was a white woman coming, or what their expectation of me in that moment was. I froze. I was panicking. I mean really what do you do in that situation? Let me tell you that the natural response in to run, but that clearly wasn’t what I should do here. So I caught my breath, slowed my heartbeat and gave my speech.
            “Ndi umwarimu icongereza, ndi umunyamerikakazi. Ndi umukorerabushake wa Peace Corps. Ntuye hano, na Ecole Secondaire Ngara. Nzatuye hano umutwe babiri. Nitwa Michele. Sinitwa Umuzungu, Michele Kyangwa Teacher gousa. Ndishimye Kubamenya.”
            For those of you  who don’t speak Kinyarwanda it says, “ I am an English teacher, I am an American woman. I am a Peace Corps volunteer. I live here at Ecole Secondaire Nagara. I will live here for two years. My name is Michele. It is not Muzungu. Call me Michele or Teacher only. It is nice to meet you.”
            And then all hell broke loose. Every old mama hugged me and kissed my cheeks. Every old man shook my hand and every small child hugged my legs. All symphony of names were screamed at me that I will never manage to remember all of and I was welcomed as a member of the community. I don’t know if they had heard I was coming, but clearly my declaration that I had to come to teach their children English was enough to ingratiate me into their community.
            Quickly afterwards  I was asked what I was looking for and a younger woman who went to University and spoke good English became my guide to helping me find cups and plates and the like. Children were sent running through the streets to ask every shop owner if he had these items and amaceruzi (shopkeepers) were brought from their houses to open stores which were not open. Ultimately, however, the quest fell short when we could not locate forks or knives or spoons. After the town apologized profusely I hopped on a moto to the closest big city to acquire these items because clearly eating without these things would be difficult to say the least.            
            While in town I also found an internet café, and although the internet wasn’t working today, I was able to use the electricity to charge my computer, which is nice because the electricity in my home will not be turned on until the children are back in school. Because the electricity runs on a generator we use it only when there are students who need it to study in the dorms at night, meaning that I’ve still got another 3 weeks of living without electricity. Disappointing, yes, but hardly something that I’m not used to. There are, anyways, many solutions to this problem. I can charge my phone by dropping it off with a boutique owner and paying 100 RWF to charge it there, or by taking it to a man in the village who uses a car battery to charge electronics. However, since I didn’t buy the car charger with my phone that sometimes becomes more problematic. Where the computer is concerned it gets a little harder because naturally it is a more expensive commodity. No one would steal my phone because its not even as nice as the ones that most Rwandans use, and they wouldn’t want to break my trust over something so small. A computer, however, is a big ticket item and thus to charge it somewhere I also have to stay with it, which is a long process. In Kamonyi I knew a few tea shop owners who were happy to charge me a little extra for Icayi (tea) with a side of electricity but I have yet to find that in my village. So for now I have to go into the big city where this kind of thing is more normal. But eventually, buhoro buhoro (step by step) I will integrate into my new community and know where the hot spots are. 


Here it is, I’ve lived in Rwanda for 3 months. Three whole months a very white girl has managed to survive here in Africa. It hasn’t been easy, or pretty, or well-organized and it hasn’t always been fun.  But damn has it been an adventure. Already in 3 months I have done things I never thought I would do, seen things that I never contemplated, and been confronted with realities of third world life and the stark contrast it poses to the existence that we Americans have come to enjoy. I’ve learned a lot too, as one could imagine, in my time here in Kamonyi. So before I move on to the next stage, move to Nyamagabe and start re-establishing myself as a member of my community here are the things that I’ve learned:

-Check your mosquito net for holes before sleeping under it, because it will do you no good if the mosquitos can get in.
-Even after you know the language, sometimes feigning ignorance is the easiest way to deal with Rwandans.
-Always bring your own toilet paper.
-Some people will never stop calling you Muzungu, will never stop staring, will never stop laughing when you speak Kinyarwanda and will never accept you as a member of your community. They are completely not worth your time.
-Despite having to be culturally sensitive, it is ok to say that  you do not eat things for religious reasons. I use this excuse frequently with tongue, liver, heart, and intestine. I’m not sure what religion bars the eating of these things but I don’t feel all that bad about lying.
-There are some things that you just have to grit your teeth and do, regardless of how much you don’t want to, or it doesn’t make sense, or its absolutely batshit crazy. Its just easier to do it than to explain why you won’t.
-The people you meet in the Peace Corps are the some of the kindest, quirkiest, most interesting, more accomplished people I have ever met. And after 3 months I would already trust them with my life and have realized that my training group is 36 people that will never be far from my heart.
-Cleanliness is relative.
-Mice, not as scary as many Americans make them out to be.
-In all the fundamental ways that make us human, people are the same. At the end of the day the basics always translate, emotions are universal, and tears or a smile seem to elicite the same response regardless of culture.
-Children will play and dance with you, always, and it will make your day.
-This is a big daunting job, and you can’t approach it like you’re going to change the world. Each day you just have to be your best self, which is hard, but that will make the most lasting impact.
-Mud is a creation of the devil that was created only to punish humans.
-I have something to do for Peace Corps, is the most effective excuse to get out of absolutely anything you don’t want to do.
-Having an adequate supply of water and power bars is a life saver.
-People in stressful situations are capable of bonding much quicker than is normal.
-Certain cultural norms are just going to have to be ignored. For example on those days when you really need a beer; have one.
-People are resilient, and even if you don’t agree with it they are capable of ignoring great tragedies.
-You can,  in fact, live on almost essentially on unflavored carbs, but you won’t like it.
-Sometimes a hug or mac and cheese or a cup of coffee fixes everything.
-It really is the small things in life.
-Having a sense of humor, and a rather dark one at that, might be the best preparation I ever had to survive this country and this job for two years.
-Your hair and skin is fascinating and will be touched by all manor of strangers.

At the end of the day, this isn’t a glamorous job. There are days where you will ball like a child, or be deathly ill, or scream at a kid. But ultimately it is always worth it. At least that’s what I keep telling myself.

Mood Swings

            The life of a Peace Corps Volunteer is an emotional rollercoaster. The highs are high and the lows are devastatingly low. Unlike normal life these ups and downs are much more frequent. Instead of having a good month or week or day, my mood can noticeably change 4 or 5 times over the course of the day.  And these changes can be triggered by the most insignificant of occurrences. You know the saying wearing your heart on your sleeve? Well I wear all my emotions there. This country, this job, this life are just too tiring to wear the masks first world societies prize so highly and as a result everything is slightly realer, slightly rawer, and a whole lot more emotional.  Let me give you an example breakdown of a typical day:

-       My host family wakes up at 5am and starts blaring Christian radio and I can’t get back to sleep (-)
-       I take a freezing cold bucket bath in a dirty mud room full of spiders (-)
-       I make coffee at the hub that someone sent me in a care package and feel caffeinated and loved (+)
-       I check my blog and see that I have 3,000 page views! (+)
-       I spend 20 minutes and 5 dollars to check my facebook and email and realize that no one has sent me anything (-)
-       The little kids we pass everyday give us flowers (+)
-       An old woman in the street follows me for 5 minutes screaming Muzungu, or a small child runs after me demanding money (-)
-       I run into some of my little boys in the street who know who call me Michele and dance with me (+)
-       My host mother laughs mercilously at all of my attempts to speak Kinyarwanda. I mean honestly its been three months it can’t be that funny anymore (-)
-       We have tech training which is a miserable incessant pool of idiocracy. (-)
-       Some of the other volunteers and I go to the bar after class and grab a beer. (+)
-       The bar owner tries to charge us extra on our beer even though we have been coming there for months and she knows us. (-)
-       I curl up in my bed and read a good book until dinner. I’m currently working my way through War and Peace (+)
-       Dinner isn’t served until 10 o’clock at which point I am exhausted, not hungry, and grumpy because I already fell asleep and woke up. Dinner is also awful. (-)

Not all of these things happen everyday obviously, but enough of them do to make a day sufficiently frustrating and to alter my mood several dozen times. Honestly, there are days where I imagine that this is exactly what an emotionally unbalanced person feels like. Luckily I know that these feelings are not unique to me and that if I am going crazy, it is all in pursuit of a just cause. 

Friday, December 23, 2011

Swear In

So it finally happened, after three long months of training we became Peace Corps Volunteers in a beautiful ceremony at the American Ambassador’s house in Kigali. It was ironic, to say the least, that the whole thing happened in a little slice of America. The Ambassador’s home is a  towering gated mansion in the nicest part of Kigali. When you get past the security screening, you are confronted with a home that somehow looks both like it could belong in the hills of northern California or a more mountainous Midwestern locale. Of course, we were not actually allowed in the house other than to use the spacious bathroom – which we took full advantage of – but it looked nice. We were especially intrigued by the Christmas tree we could see through the bay windows.
            The ceremony, being coordination for and by Americans, was much shorter than most Rwandan affairs. There were speeches from our director, the minister of education, ourselves and the ambassador himself. The whole thing took place under a white tent on the sprawling lawns of the home. I could imagine swanky affairs, ala The Great Gatsby, happening on the lawn as it was lined with huge flower bushes and studded every few feet with white lampposts which wouldn’t be out of place in either Charleston or Disney land.
            Finally the moment came to take our official oath, lead by the Ambassador. We take the same oath sworn by all state employees and thus it is not all that interesting or Peace Corps specific. I can post a full copy of it later but essentially we pledge to, ‘uphold the constitution,’ ‘defend it and America,’ and to always be loyal. There are some big words in there, however, and at some point we definitely all got lost. There was an awkward moment when the Ambassador clearly read off more than we could repeat and the group got lost, dissolving into giggles and awkward mumbling until we could compose ourselves and begin again. I think that next time trainees will be provided cards to read off of.
            Then it was done. In the same slipshod fashion that we spent most of our training, mumbling and bumbling and laughing our way through it so, also, we became volunteers. Yes, we embarrassed ourselves on national television (granted Rwandan television so who really sees that?) but really it was the perfect ending to our particular experience.
            After all the hugging was over we volunteers were released to the lawn to take some press photos for the newspapers and offered drinks and American style appetizers. The Rwandan food went untouched as pizza, chocolate chip cookies, veggie dip, lays potato chips and meatballs disappeared from the premise. Sorry to any of the higher ranking officials we didn’t get as much food but really, I don’t feel that bad, they can afford to pay for it and they live in Kigali.
            Precisely 45 minutes after we became volunteers the Ambassador left his home and the catering staff magically disappeared all lose plates. It was our cue to leave. Apparently, the ambassador doesn’t like to ask his guests to leave so this is how most functions at his home come to a conclusion. We were driven back to the Peace Corps hostel and set free on the city. After buying a few necessary kitchen items that were easier to find in Kigali, the celebrations began. Nothing too crazy really went down, we had some beers and food and talked about how crazy it was to be done. Then came back to the hostel and bonded some more before everyone passed out from exhaustion and relief. 

Swearing In

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The End of Training

Today is the last day of training, the last day of 3 grueling months of 10 hour work days filled with teaching, language, teaching theory, medical, safety training and a lot of paperwork. There were tears, there were laughs, there was diarrhea. Friendships were formed that will get us through these two years and last us a lifetime. Training was boot camp, it was a test of our wills and our minds and our patience. It was a way to ensure that we liked and could live in the Rwandan culture. It was a crash course in evasive answers, handling awkward silences, sign language, passive aggressiveness and drinking more chai than any human being could ever need. We did our best to become Rwandans here. We learned to wash our clothes in a bucket, to tuck a mosquito net, to skip work when it rains, to cook over open flames, to avoid the umusazis, to sweep with a bundle of sticks and keep our minds occupied during endless tedious Rwandan meetings. Training was an introduction to the absurdities and inefficiencies of the Rwandan system (and for that matter lifestyle) which we will have to endure for the next two years. It was a lesson in patience and acceptance; BIR.
The next step will be scary, this weekend we move-in to our permanent sites, and finally officially we will be Peace Corps Volunteers. Alone. In Africa. We’ve got all the preparation we could need, or handle for that matter. Despite how nice it would be to stay with each other in our Muzungu caccoon, we are ready to emerge as butterflys. Quite frankly,  we are pretty sick of training, and Kamonyi. Its time to sink or swim. We can speak the language, or at least we can shop in the market, comment on the weather, cry for help, and describe why we are here. You know, the essentials.
Although having control of our schedules and diets will be phenomenol there are downsides as well. I am looking forward to cooking my own food, showering at night (with hot water!), not eating if I don’t feel like it, sleeping to a reasonable hour, locking myself in my house and not talking to any Rwandans on those days when you just don’t wanna be here, getting started on the several hundred books I’ve acquired on my kindle, and finally establishing a routine again. But there will be challenges too. I have to find new children to play with, new people who won’t gawk at the Muzungu, a new place to buy food and clothes and chai. I’ll need to set up a whole house, buying all the furniture and other things necessary to make a house a home, in Kinyarwanda  in a country without supermarkets and transport them back to my site either through a 30 min moto ride or a 2 hour walk. But on the upside there will be electricity and running water! And lesson plans to write. Hopefully I’ll be so busy that by the time I’m finished three months will have passed and my no travel ban will have lifted.
All the preparations are done, we have the skills, we have the means, we have the determination, the only the thing left is to do the damn thing. It’s time to get out there and see if we can hack it. There’s nothing left to say. The fat lady has sung. We are swearing in on Thursday in front of the United States Ambassador to Rwandan on Rwandan national television. And then we’re finally, officially, and theoretically on our own. Except that we’re not. We’ve formed a family to get us through this crazy thing we all came here to do, and this will be the first big test of that. So we’re loading up on the phone minutes and shipping out. Wish us luck! 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Second Imbeba Saga

The Second Imbeba Saga

Last night I came home and was sitting in my bed watching “Anchor Man” when I noticed a strange object chilling in the bed with my. As you can imagine it is difficult to see things by Kerosene lamp alone so I had to get rather close to the mysterious object to determine what it was. To my horror, I realized upon further inspection that it was a bone. Yes a bone. Not a large one but not a tiny one either. Naturally, I was horrified and after my initial first 5 minutes of silently shuttering and screaming (so as not to alert my host family because quite honestly their involvement would have made the whole thing 100% more stressful), I calmed down and tried to reason out why there would be a bone in my bed and what exactly I should do about it. I don’t know a lot about bones but it is  my generally understanding that they do not move of their own accord, so I decided something had to have put it there. My first assumption was obviously that my host family was messing with me, but once my paranoia subsided I remembered that I had all three keys to the door and that was not possible. Assumption number was that one of the mice who live in my ceiling (yes there are mice that live in my ceiling it is not the best of situations) had died and its bone had fallen out into my bed. However, after intensive inspection I realized there were no holes in my ceiling and that the bone was too large to be a mouse or a rat’s bone. Finally, I settled on the fact that a mouse had taken the bone and brought it into my bed to nest – after taking a text survey of other volunteers I was told mice do this – gross. I know. After ripping apart my room to make sure there wasn’t a snake because even though everyone told me it was not possible I was partially convinced a snake had eaten a mouse in my room and left a bone. (turns out that is not how snakes consume mice but whatever).
            After taking some sleeping pills so I could convince myself to actually crawl into my bed and throwing the bone in my trash box, I finally crawled into bed. Problem solved. Nope. Not quite.
            I came home the next day to find the bone IN THE SAME EXACT PLACE IN MY BED. Naturally the paranoia that someone was messing with me resurfaced but soon I calmed down and realized that the mouse had crawled into my trash box, rescued its toy and placed it back in my bed. Feeling a little bit like a crazy person at this point, I built a trap to stop the mouse from getting back in to my room, put the bone in a ziplock bag and taped it to my wall so that I would know without a shadow of a doubt if it moved again. Yea, this is the type of thing I revert to in this country. In the morning I woke up to realize that the bag had fallen off the wall and the mouse had chewed a hole in the bag and stolen the bone and it was nowhere to be found. This was getting ridiculous. (Also yes I realize that the real solution to all of this was to throw away the bone, but I had no other way to track if the mouse was still in my room.)
            When I returned from class that day the bone was on top of my pile of clothes because I had made a barracade to keep the mouse off my bed. This was the last straw and promptly threw the bone out the window. Moments later I heard scuttling behind my trunk and when I went to investigate came face to face with the culprit himself. IT was one of those rare nights where I get to have a beer in this country so I was in a charitable mood and decided to level with the mouse. The conversation (yes I said this outloud) went something like this:

Me: Game over buddy. The bone is gone. I really don’t wanna have to catch you, I know you came in right there. If you leave peacefully no one will get hurt.

The mouse stared at me for a second and then seemed to think this was a reasonable offer because he scampered right out the hole in my door.

*This was the most exciting and dramatic interaction of my week. A battle of wills with a creature whose brain is the size of a pea. Riddiculous. But in the end I was victorious so I guess it could have been a lot worse. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

AIDs Training Day

Yesterday we had a whole day seminar about AIDs prevention and education in Rwanda. As with most things that Peace Corps does the whole event felt a lot like a bad convention. We spent an hour writing our goals for the seminar and presenting them to each other and then deciding at what later event we would actually discuss them. Additionally, 10 local children were present to learn about AIDs as well, despite the fact that the level of English all day was well above their level. I am told that they were required to be there because the event was funded by PEPFAR money (the President’s Emergency Action Plan for AIDs Relief). After we wasted another hour introducing all 50 Peace Corps trainees and staff in the room to the ten students who would never remember all our names the educational portion of the day finally started – after a 20 minute break that is.
            A Rwandan doctor from a local AIDs clinic gave a typical Rwandan speech on that matter – and by typical I mean exceedingly long. And tedious. However, he did do a good job of breaking down the topic into English simple enough for the students to understand. But as always, most of the benefit was lost because he chose to focus on completely useless and obscure details of the disease instead of useful preventative or treatment measures.
            Sometimes its incredibly difficult to sit through sessions led by Rwandan locals because I feel like nothing is accomplished. So much time is spent in the formalities of hierarchy that a lot of time simply goes to waste. After which the person speaking usually is ill-prepared or chooses to talk about things which are related but not exactly relevant to the discussion. For example, the AIDs day speaker had a long list of acronyms used in relation to AIDs and HIV which he spent an hour systematically going through and explaining instead of talking about how the disease actually functioned.
            The day finally got productive when 8 volunteers led short sessions on the transmission, cycle, stigma, and myths concerning AIDS and HIV. Although the students were clearly uncomfortable participating in the discussions while 50 or so foreigners looked on, I hope they took something useful away from the lessons. There was one amusing moment when were talking about what is the difference between a good and bad relationships and someone said a good relationship is one which “smells good.” Senses are often confusing to Rwandans because the verb “Kumva” means to smell, to listen, to feel, to hear, to look, and to pay attention. Thus when converting to English there is often confusion about which sense to choose.

Pizza in Kamonyi, aka the Meanest Trick Anyone has Ever Played on Me

Anyone who knows me understands my obsession with pizza. I could eat it all day everyday and not get bored. Ask the fellow inhabitants of 319 Euclid how much pizza I would consume if left to my own devices. There was delivery, there was Dijorno, there was flatbread pizza and pizza bagels and even the occasional spaghetti pizza (where I poured cheese and pepperoni over spaghetti so it would taste more like pizza) and on days where I needed a change, there were calzones. I don’t pretend this behavior is normal or healthy but I’m just saying that adding tomato sauce and cheese to ANYTHING makes it better; eggs, bread, crackers, salad, soup, anything. This background is needed to understand the seriousness of the situation presented below.
Since we have come to town there have been some definite adjustments to what the shops and restaurants carry in an attempt to attract the Muzungu’s business. We take our lunch at one of two local restaurants most days which caused some of the other local businesses to change their menus to get in on the action. The most recent example was a shop in Mu mujyi (town center) near our center starting to make crepes. Obviously Crepe lady immediately became our new best friend because crepes are awesome and anything new and different is immediately better.  On Sunday we went into crepe lady’s and she greeted us with some amazing news, on Monday she would start making pizza. Now we should have been skeptical but the news was so good we just couldn’t resist getting excited. After hugging her profusely we promised that we would all be back Monday for some pizza.  Chipati, similar to Indian Naan, is a staple here in Rwanda and crepe lady sells that also so our logical assumption was that she was going to put sauce and cheese on that and cook it. Which would have been fine, and quite frankly absolutely amazing.
            Come Monday 20 trainees crammed into the small back room of the crepe shop and waited the typical 45 minutes of trying to accomplish anything in Rwanda (despite the fact that we had told her what time we would be there and that we only get an hour for lunch). After much anticipation the pizzas came out and the dissapointment set in. The pizzas were about the size of bagel bites and cost 300 RWFs each (yes I know that 300 francs is 50 cents American but it’s a lot out of our budget to waste). Once they were consumed the pizzas did , in fact, taste vaguely reminiscent of the type of pizza you would find at  a 711 somewhere on the Jersey Turnpike. One volunteer put it perfectly, “If I was drunk this would taste like Pizza.”
            Reasonably, I should have been prepared for this outcome, but I will never forgive crepe lady for getting my hopes up and certainly will not be frequenting her shop again. Even in Kigali what they sell at the best pizza restaurants is a sad and overly healthy imitation of my favorite food. There is never enough sauce (and I say that about American pizza sometimes so you can imagine the sauce is really lacking), the pies are small, and the bills are large. So I have to decided to forgo any further attempts to find a substitute here for my beloved pizza. Until I get to site and decide to attempt to make it myself, which lets face it will still probably be disappointing, I’ll just have to live without. Mark your calendars friends, family, and Papa Johns alike when I return to America all bets are off I will be pizza crazed and picky.