Monthly Archives: January 2012

pass it on

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I rode into my village this afternoon, returning from my weekly jaunt into my biggest regional city to check and respond to email, charge my computer, soaking up the glory of a cold Coke, and corresponding back home via facebook. On the ride, gliding past the steep hills and low valleys of the East, I could feel myself just moving and not really thinking much at all. For a moment, just taking in how beautiful Rwanda is. I’m convinced it is the best kept secret in Africa; the country still continues to face the challenges of moving past the genocide (yes, even 17 years later) but, wow, are the moving and developing with every intention of putting Rwanda on the map. And why shouldn’t they?

As I inched closer to the road that leads home, I began to see a heavy stream of blue collared shirts and navy blue pants and skirts. Aha. My students! It was just around 2:00pm and they were beginning their trek home—sometimes maybe 15 minutes and sometimes well over an hour. My students (yes! I can actually say that!) are hard workers and I can barely put together what their lives must be like—both good and bad—and I’m right here living alongside with them. I’m continually amazed by what they do, in and out of school. At school, they write in excruciatingly perfect lines as to keep their notebooks neat. They don’t have textbooks they use on a regular basis and so these notebooks they have comprise the purpose that a textbook would normally have. If I erase the chalkboard too soon, mayhem breaks lose. They like seriously, a bagillion subjects. Math (called ‘Mats’ which makes me feel like I’m a 3 year old with a bad lisp when I say it), Chemistry, Biology, Physics, English, Swahili, French, Kinyarwanda, Business Entrepreneurship, and Creative Performance. As far as I can tell, that’s just the beginning.

Outside of the classroom, as I noted, students can walk extensive distances on the long unpaved reddish brown dirt road just to come to school, which begins nearly at the crack of dawn—7:00am! However, I, in some strange adaptation, have grown to love the road. Except in the rain. Oh no. That’s bad. Just the other afternoon, I saw the sun hiding a bit and thought I’d go on a quick run as I waited for my water to boil for my bucket bath. Maybe 20 minutes into the run, the rain came. And hard. The reddish brown road turned to a seemingly dark brown abyss, and I don’t know what would have happened if a kind woman did not let me wait it out inside the safety of her home. Her family then of course laughed for a solid 10 minutes at me when I said ‘ibirayi’ (the word for potato) wrong. And so, I can happily (and dryly) say that that wasn’t a shining Peace Corps moment for me.

The people here always tell me the road is bad. It’s grooved in surprising places and goes further in the ground when you wouldn’t expect it. Yes, a smooth black asphalt ground would be nicer. And, when it comes to riding in a much squished small bus next to someone with questionable body odor across the country, well then yes, absolutely! Bring on the asphalt! But, I find myself appreciating the natural road as I walk past homes and people moving about. Maybe I like it because it’s so unexpecting? You really never know what you will get.

I see women, returning from fetching water. Their muscles long worn seep through their clothes and water drips on their faces as they somehow, almost magically, carry a 5 gallon water jerry can on their head. I am in awe of them. Many times, I’ll pass a boutique or two (essentially a small shop—Rwanda is littered with them, even out here in the rural countryside) and men will be drinking banana beer out of a yellowish jug with a straw. I always refuse their offers for a taste; the smell itself could drive a herd of cattle away. Children always line the streets. Today, it might be hopscotch, tomorrow it might be football. Yet, they all know when I’m coming, even from substantial amounts of feet away. “Umuzungo! Umuzungo!” And then, like clockwork, children storm the road from houses, from grassy fields, and once, I kid you not, a large tree. The kids, they come from everywhere.

People are always moving, going somewhere. Rwanda is mobile like that. But it’s not like the movement of America, where so many people are glued to their Starbucks coffee cups and checking appointments on the ubiquitous Blackberry. Whoever you see on the road, you greet. This could be a simple “Mwiriwe” but I’m learning that a handshake along with these words—even a hug—is much preferred. Greetings are extremely important in Rwandan culture. And it all starts on the road.

People also are often on the road to visit people. Much like greetings, visiting is also quite significant. When you visit, you usually take tea (or at my house—coffee) and sit to ‘Tuganira’ (to have dialogue). I live across the street from the pastor and his family, and it’s becoming our tradition to visit each other. They always offer me the most delicious chai tea, so good that I don’t even bother asking the number of tablespoons of sugar that went into this delicious creation. When their kids come to see me, I offer some candy, water, and maybe even a game of cards—American style (which means we play ‘War’). They like the simplicity of it, and I do too. The Rwandan card game (which, by the way, there is only one, true to Rwandan culture in there being one way to do things) is a little more complicated and I’m still getting the hang of it.

Last week, I visited an old woman I met on a run. Believe me, she’s old. I came upon her house when I saw her cultivating in her front yard. She led me inside her home. She lives in a muddish-dirt home with a handful of rooms. The rooms had few things, and the room I sat at had a bench, a table, a bike, and some jerry cans on the side. Moments like this are some of the most meaningful, but also some of the hardest. Like I told my mom, I may be roughing it out here, but my home here is royalty compared to many others.

I sat with her daughter and her daughter’s husband. After nibbling on some plantains and beans, her daughter brought out their brand new newborn baby, Kari. I held Kari for at least 30 minutes, watching her look at me with her wide and big beautiful eyes (one of the highest compliments in Rwanda). She didn’t fuss or scream like some children do. She was all smiles and I couldn’t believe how precious she was. This family sent me home with some corn—a lovely gesture considering what little they had to give.

I walked home a little lighter that day. I passed women dressed in full African garb with a seemingly endless amount of fabric patterns. Some used this very fabric to hold their babies upright on their backs. Sometimes while simultaneously carrying large bags of food to sell at market. When I’m in a really good mood, like I was this particular day, after holding such an adorable child, I’ve been known to greet the goats. Sometimes the cows, but always always the goats. It’s weird, I know. Even for an American, talking to farm animals might cause a question regarding mental sanity. But, I mean, usually it’s just a small utterance of “hello ihene” (ihene meaning goat in Kinyarwanda) and to be fair, it was a habit I developed with friends during training; for whatever reason, we just loved the goats. Often, we would make practice dialogues in Kinyarwanda class with the concept involving a talking goat, or a mother goat, or something to that effect. Our teachers for sure thought we were crazy. The ridiculousness of it just seems normal, representative of this Peace Corps experience entirely. One day in training, I went to go get one of the goats for my host grandmother. They hung out in a green pasture nearby, and so it was relatively easy bringing the goat back home. Upon arriving back, I delivered the grayish black goat to Marita, and then rushed to text my friend Sara. “I walked a goat! You won’t believe it. I WALKED a goat!!” Rwandans think I’m nuts. But it probably fits right into their common theory about Americans and their pets: all Americans love their dogs and cats more than people. I’ve tried qualming such hearsay, but like I said, greeting the goats takes any authority I have and mushes it right up.

My weeks and days are full of teaching now: making lessons, making nametags, and grading homework and quizzes. I love it. But also, my days are still full of walking the road, running the road, greeting friends and community members, visiting families old and young, and yes, even talking to the goats.

With my days in the classroom and being busy establishing relationships with my students, I continually find myself coming back to the reason I started this journey in the first place. I want to help bring hope to a community that may need it, but more so, I want these young, bright, capable students to believe in themselves; I want them to embrace an opportunity to take down boundaries of a painful history, a life of poverty, and the limitations that growing up in a developing country can present. I want to pay it forward because that kind of support and belief works in such a way. We learn. And then we pass it on.

I can feel my grandmother’s arms around me with her sweet Chanel perfume lining her shirt, jacket, and pretty much everything else she had on. We were at the park we walked to nearly every week, to feed the ducks, play in the leaves, or just exert the extra energy Lance and I carried back from a full day at school. Whenever she put her arms around me, I could feel her smiling. Many times she would tell me that I could do anything I wanted. Not in the sense of eating all of the grilled cheese sandwiches she would make later, but in the sense of finding whatever made me happy and satisfied in the world. I could do it.

I can see my parents cheering at soccer games that would become field hockey games—they missed very few. They were (and are) always my biggest supporters, fans, cheering section, counselors…you name it. They do it. They never discouraged me to try something new—I am not afraid of failure because of them.

Even when we were just little kids, I can still hear my brother’s soft but vibrant words of praise. After our dozens of football sessions (I would be quarterback, Lance the receiver), he was always so good about encouraging me, even telling me that I threw the ball better than most of the boys. Lance rooted me; always reminding me of where I come from and to give thanks that we somehow got to be together. He was my best friend growing up, and he inspired me to be a good role model and a good big sister.

I think about the hugs, the words of motivation, the attitudes shared with me about never giving up and believing in the life you lead. I’m only 23 but the support systems I have had in my young life are bountiful, and when I really think about it, unbelievable. Grandparents, extended family, my dear friends from every stage of growing up, family friends, coaches, teachers, teammates…so many people have been integral in shaping the woman I am becoming. How could I ever say ‘thank you’ enough? 

I think to say thank you, you become an action. You live out your gratitude; you pass it on.

I say all of this, not as a digression to my life as a PC volunteer in Rwanda, but because I am here, teaching, and trying to maneuver my way around a life that is still very new for me. Without the support and love I grew up with, from countless people, from countless walks of life, encouraging a life of no boundaries, I wouldn’t be here. It’s that simple.

My strength is in living this kind of life, and my goal is to encourage in the very same way. In moments of struggle, when I ask, “is this worth it?” I always come back to this. If the people in my life can share and embolden the beauty of setting goals and achieving them, well certainly, I can not just stick this out, but thrive and pass on the life lessons given to me.

Thanks, everyone.

 

homecoming

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Crying in public fits somewhere between a social oddity and the first sign of weakness in Rwandan culture. I have only seen a Rwandan cry on a couple of occasions; once, in a deeply emotional moment, as my dear friend and teacher Franciose comforted me when I tried to convey between sobs to Peace Corps that Grandma Jenny had passed away. Another time as my family and I sat together in our small living room amidst the light of the blue kerosene lamp on one of our last nights together, the realization of me leaving for site finally striking reality. I saw tears glitter the eyes of Papa and Mama, and I was moved by the revelation of emotion; I realized too, that there was so much behind the tears, and suddenly holding back my own became rather difficult.

And so, as I silently cried in the middle of packed bus leaving my host family, I could feel the stares. I saw by way of  the rear view mirror that the woman behind me was confused, and the man next to her was arching his neck in such a way to see if I was in fact, crying. I didn’t dignify these bewildered glances, I just sat there, coaching myself to keep the tears inside. I didn’t even take out tissues. I just wiped my face hastily, surely making my already red sun kissed face even more red. After all, I didn’t want to freak my bus mates out any more than I already could have. Being a white woman in the middle of the Rwandan countryside kind of does enough in terms of standing out.

I pulled it together after hearing Celine Dion come on the radio. For whatever reason, whenever I hear her songs, I can only smile. They take me back home. I can see my family and I listening to her old hits, sometimes even at Christmas, and loving them, because HELLO. It’s Celine Dion. They take me back to Hendrix, watching one dramatic Celine music video after another with Jordana, laughing and reviling in the melodrama that is Celine Dion. And of course, admittably, I have a good 20 or so Celine songs in my Itunes, so as much as I give her a hard time for being dramatic and overemotional when it comes to love, well. I love her. So, hearing her voice come on the scratchy sound of the Rwandan radio on a random Sunday afternoon, I felt my lips curl upwards and the tears were gone. The only thing left was gratitude; after all, I think that’s why I was crying in the first place.

I arrived to see my family the previous day, around 2:00. I had visited Suzi and her family briefly (she was also in town for a visit) and chose to walk towards my village instead of taking the bus all the way into town. The walk was…well, it was weird. It was kind of like visiting high school for the first time after graduating. I couldn’t help but remember just how much time we spent there…and it felt weird to be back, only this time as a Peace Corps Volunteer, not merely a trainee, drifting from a cultural session, to a language session, back to another cultural session, every day of the week, around 8 hours per day. I felt strangely uncomfortable, which actually surprised me. I thought I would come back, take our community by storm, and revel in the glory of being the prodigal volunteer, so to speak. Instead, I felt timid and out of place, and walked briskly, only wanting to turn the corner down the road, to finally come back. To finally come back to my Rwandan home. I can’t go back to America right now, so really, this is as good as it gets. And believe me, it was oh so good.

I inched closer and closer, and soon, as I passed old neigbors yelling “Impano” (not umuzungo to my relief), I found myself glowing. I was so close. My host brother, Simon, found me on his bicycle, and nonchalantly yelled my name. I let out a scream that only a 23 year old American woman could, and grabbed him as fast as I could. In the same way that crying is strange to do in public, so is showing an overbundance of really any emotion. Whatever. In this moment I really didn’t care.

He took me to see my host father, Emmanuel, who was leading a meeting at a property he owns near my house. He is the leader of the milk cooperative in my village, and so he’s constantly busy with work. I checked with Simon to make sure it would be okay for me to interrupt and he gave me the clear. I entered a room full of women and men, maybe 20 of them strong, seemingly tired from a full day of work with the cows, the land, and the crops, but still looking rather dignified in beautiful Rwandan fabric. I saw my dad instantly–he’s hard to miss. He has such a breathtaking smile; he smiles from cheek to cheek, showing all the well-kept white teeth he has, and he often squeals a little bit with joy when he is really happy. He did all of this, and took me into a big embrace, even for a man barely taller than myself. I was home.

He had to continue the meeting, but I didn’t mind. I wanted to see my host mom and the rest of the family. I opened the big blue gate that leads to their compound and even before seeing my mother, Bernadette, I saw the huge tarp on the ground, covered in beans. My mother had been farming, and farming hard, at that. She was there standing, waiting, along with some of the children who I have aptly named “the children of the compound” and she started laughing and cheering. That’s just so her. I forgot all about the Rwandan greeting hug, and instead just wrapped my arms around her, telling her how happy I was. It was true. Her leopard scarf that covered her hair made me grin. It was a good reminder that even when time passes and things change, not everything changes. We go on, existing as we are, and I loved just being in her presence again. How was it, I wondered, possible that I had been gone for only a month? I felt like I had been gone for so long.

I saw the goats, I gleefully greeted Marita (my host grandmother), I held hands with Grace, I smelt the scent of burning wood from the kitchen, I played football with the kids, and I just sat there. I just took it all in. I told them about my life in my village and my school. They listened. When I told them of my difficulties, especially with instances where I have felt uncomfortable, they looked on as concerned family members would anywhere. In this way, it was like returning home from college. That feeling where you know you are back, and you are with people who support you unconditionally.

Granted, my short and sweet visit wasn’t without some of those moments where you realize that indeed, you are back home. Upon preparing for church, and wearing a skirt that passed my knees but did not cover my ankles, my father looked on disapprovingly. Oops? My mom had to wash my black shoes because the cleanliness (or lack thereof) didn’t measure up to par. And in true fashion of my family, my father put the sugar into my chai for me. 5 whole spoonfuls. And at church, after being placed in the VIP seating, I could feel the stares and awe…again, I found myself just wanting to blend in like everyone else. It made me distracted and anxious during service; would this preferential treatment ever end? Ever?

However, overall, it was a wonderfully humbling experience. Again, my family was opening their home for me and again, I found myself overwhelmed by the hospitality of this beautiful family. We ate dinner that evening, of course around the mere hour of 8:30, and afterwards I showed a little bit of “A League of Their Own.” They loved it, probably mostly due to the scenes on the farm, of the two young, but strong women milking the cows. Cows are extremely important here, and so my family found it intriguing to see farming and cows in an American context. I nodded in an emphatic I told you so sort of way; yes, like I told you, there is farming in America. It’s vastly different, but it does exist.

After the movie, I crawled into a bed (one they had set up just for me) with pink flowery sheets. I was back in my old room, sleeping by the same window I had slept near for three months. I heard my father praying as I drifted to sleep, and realized, that you can always come home. What better gift could you ask for?

I don’t know all that he said (my Kinyarwanda still is a work in progress), but I heard my name a couple of times. I love that my family calls me Heather. It’s one of the seemingly endless things I love about this group of people.

And so, when my mom walked me up the endless, long dirt road, with the sun grazing my skin, I could already feel the cries in my throat. When we finally found a bus that would take me where I needed to go, she gave a quick hug, and merely said (in Kinyarwanda), “April.” That’s when I am coming to visit next. Rwandans, like I said, aren’t big fans of public displays of emotion, and so she stuck right to the handbook for our brief goodbye. I couldn’t blame her. A solid fifty people were staring at us. I too, held it together for her sake. But, after I clumsily settled on the bus with my large and overstuffed black backpack, the tears came, and I really couldn’t stop them. I suppose it was a lot of things. I was so grateful for again being so kindly welcomed. I was sad to leave. I was missing my own family, back in America. And I once again just found myself alone. Sometimes I fear that. Admittably, it’s one of the harder things about this experience. Being alone. And I felt more alone than ever after spending 24 hours straight with a large family probing me, hugging me, feeding me, and just being around me.

However, there is a silver lining to everything.

A) I get to come back. I mean, hello, it’s not like I don’t have time.

and B.

B) I am learning to embrace the time alone. It gives me time to think, to write, to read, to run…to be. And so, it’s always hard to go back to. But once I find my rhythm, once I get back into my routine, I know I’ll be fine. Plus, I always know that I’m never truly alone. Life is kind of incredible in that way.

a piece of home on a lazy Saturday

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My country director, Mary, asked me in our interviews during training how I would know my Peace Corps service was successful when I finish and look back on it years from now. I thought hard for a few uninterrupted moments and replied steadily that my time (and service) in Rwanda would indeed be a success when the place I live, the school I teach at, and my entire community would be home for me.

On the surface, the sentiment sounds easy enough, and even rather fluffy. But, I knew what I was up against (well, mostly anyway) and I am perfectly aware that a place, a people, and a community doesn’t just happen one day. It’s hard work, it takes investment; but it feels good to know that I’m on that path now. It will take most, if not all of my service to really feel at home at my site, but after being officially here out East for one month, I’m happy to say that I’m feeling comfortable, safe, and dare I say—happy? Yes, here I am, living in the middle of nowhere with no electricity or running water…but as I’ve believed most of my adult life (our should I say young adult? …Yeah, we’ll go with that…), establishing a ‘home’ in every sense of that word is a lot more than the structures, amenities, or things that you might have (although, instant Starbucks coffee sure does help). Certainly, these things are a part of making a home, but I think having a belief in the life you are living, connecting with the people you are with and have relationships with runs so much deeper. These are the strands that make a whole; for me, it’s always been about the people, my faith in God, and a belief in myself that has always created a course to “feel at home.” So far here out East in Rwanda, so good.

Today I took the fine opportunity to have a lazy Saturday—very cognisant of many of my Sundays in college after church—full of my friends, sleep, and essentially doing absolutely nothing. I woke up around 8:00am (probably the latest I have slept since being in Rwanda) and called Rachel to wish her a happy birthday. Time zones still blow my mind—I can call at 8:00am on Saturday morning and it is still Friday night back in the states! We chatted and after mustering the strength to get out of bed, I began to prep for cooking lunch. I start early—it takes quite awhile when using a charcoal stove. You have to gather the coals, create some semblance of a charcoal mountain, maybe touch up the charcoals with some petrol to make it go just a wee bit faster, gather leaves to give the fire juice and light her up. That’s when the battle begins. I’m getting better at making them, but admittedly I am currently suffering from what I call being “charcoal shy” because my roommate, Rosette, is now here (yay!) and has her own helper that lives with us too, Annunciate, who cooks for her and makes the most bad ass charcoal creations around. Speaking of Rosette, her, her 2-year old son, Lackey, and her helper arrived last week. I wasn’t anticipating so many people to be staying in our house, but it’s working out great. I still do my own cooking, Lackey now endearingly calls me “Auntie”, and I feel a lot safer with more people around. I like the feeling of having people around, even if we’re not constantly interacting. It feels familiar, and I like that. Even when Lackey walks in on me changing, I can’t help but laugh. He could really care less; he’s more memorized by some flashlight device, a piece of candy, or my keys all strung together. I do love living with a 2 year old. We get along beautifully.

After eating another variation of vegetable stir fry (today was peppers, tomatoes, hot peppers, plantains, onion, garlic, with some hot pepper flakes seasoning) I started to clean. I have Alphonsine who helps me with the odds and ends of housework (especially with fetching water and washing my clothes) but it feels better and more rewarding to take pride and ownership in keeping my upkeep here. I did some sweeping and organizing, especially since today I got a desk from the school which fills up my room much better!

Following a bit of chores leading into Saturday afternoon, a solid 30 neighborhood kids showed up to “visit”. Really, they wanted their nails painted. Not kidding. And so, given my deep love of painted nails, I had them line up outside the blue door of my turquoise green house and I proceeded to paint all of the children’s nails, clean, dirty, short, or long. All of them. This was fascinating for them, and I was glad I could share a little of myself with them. Yes, even if it is nail polish.   

I waited for the sun to calm a bit before my daily run and read my book for a little while to busy myself. It was pure bliss. As always, I absolutely love a good book, on a sunny day, with no rush or commitments to attend to. I just finished a book called ‘The Geography of Bliss’ which was an extraordinary read particularly considering my current situation. His book explores the meaning of happiness, how much our environment affects that, and particularly, what happiness looks like and means in different cultures around the world. I’ve thought a lot about this in the context of Rwanda, and so it was captivating to read his work and research as I feel like I’m living and exploring these same topics myself.

I came back from my run utterly exhausted. But with that, I came back completely satisfied and refreshed to clear my mind with the sound of 15 children’s feet pattering behind me. It’s these things, you see, that make this place more and more comfortable. I came up to my house breathing heavy and glanced up, feeling totally relieved. Partially because my legs ached all over, but also because it’s nice to have a place—a little piece of the world to come home to.

Tonight bodes to be equally relaxing. By 8:00pm I hope to be in bed, watching Friends or Modern Family, and so to fill the time between, maybe I’ll meet up with some friends and play cards—a popular pastime here in Rwanda. I’ve traded baseball and football for cards, it’s true. Of course, by friends, I mean the handful of guys I spend my free time with—Emmanuel (Emi), Fidele, Claude, and Silas. It’s a bit different from the typical posse of girls that I have seemed to carry with me all of my life. I had a close group of girlfriends in the 1st grade, in 7th grade, in high school, and at Hendrix too. Maybe even more so at Hendrix; some people even would call us the “hey girl HEY girls” because of our incessant exclamation of “hey girl!”…which by the way, I am trying to spread to my friends here in Rwanda as well. I think it might be working. Anyway, I think my group of guy friends are fascinated and perplexed by me—one who does sport every day, reads like nobody’s business, and has a tendency to say “y’all” a little too much for a place such as this.

Oh well. You are who are, right?

Anyway, here’s to more relaxing days to come as I prep for another week of teaching. It’s going fantastic so far, and I can’t wait to write more and share stories. I am also looking forward to being with my own students permanently (I’m still waiting for a solid schedule, looks like it might be a couple of weeks). As for this week, I’m just mostly excited about doing my lesson with the topic of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Yeah, I’m kind of a loser. But, I like being a dork in the classroom, trying to relate to my students, and showing them that learning English is equally important as it is possible. They can do it. If I can teach my students to believe in themselves, well, then I can surely say that I have done my job, but that also found a metaphorical home in the classroom. Because really, this is what it’s all about. 

village soccer

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I had come running toward the soccer field later in the afternoon yesterday after I finished a brief jog. I had rung in the new year in Kigali and celebrated my birthday at Suzi’s site (a nun covent, no less), and so you can imagine that I was rather tired. I had decided for a brief and easy run when I left my house and soon found myself perusing one of my favorite back roads, past the bean fields and banana trees, en route to the soccer field. I had remembered that it was Tuesday, and every Tuesday there is a soccer scrimmage or game and so I figured watching the soccer game would be a great way to spend the evening. Last week, I went for the first time and just felt completely comfortable. For once, I wasn’t the ‘umuzungo’ but instead, I was just another one of the soccer fans.

Anyway, I ran through the trees and arrived to find 20+ boys and men warming up to play. Perfect! …and then as quickly as I had arrived, they were calling me over in Kinyarwanda. They wanted me to PLAY. Yes, P-L-A-Y. Me, a white strangely enthusiastic American girl who is often found in the village running around with small children? I hesitated for all of three seconds. This was my chance! Scenes from cheesy and inspirational sports movies filled my mind—girl shows boys that she can play, underdog surprises everybody, etc. etc.—and I imagined their reactions if I could pull off a few good touches and keep up with their pace. Maybe I would be an undiscovered soccer star…a new sensation in this small African village…how hard could it be?

Okay. I sucked.

Granted, I tried pretty hard and could read the field fairly well; I could sense where they were moving the ball, and I could even see some holes in the defense. However,  I was playing football with men who play this game on the daily. I could blame my lack of skill on the field—with some holes and overgrown grass—but let’s be real. These guys are just that good! They were great teammates , passing me the ball and giving me opportunities to be involved with the game and help the team keep possession of the ball. They would say “Sawa” (‘good’ in Swahili) when I passed and it goes without saying that it felt amazing to be a part of a team, something I have been missing in my life since my field hockey days at Hendrix. I’ve missed it. We shared some laughs but overall kept it pretty serious—this is football, after all. I kind of loitered around the field in the left forwardish position, but kept thinking incredibly defensively when the ball came close ( I suppose old habits die hard!). I had played a good 45 minutes when I clumsily stumbled upon a rough patch of grass and dirt, fell, and proceeded to sprain my ankle. So much for my big debut.

I’m fine, but having to take it easy for a few days which means no running for me! I’m definitely not thrilled about that. However, I’m still happy I played, and to be perfectly honest, I can’t wait to go back and play again.

They key to surviving Peace Corps, I’m learning, is to know what makes you feel at home and happy, and then to somehow find this wherever you may be. I wholeheartedly believe that exercising and finding my place on a team is what will help me feel at home here. I am hoping to integrate this into all facets of my life here—personally, of course, but also by teaching physical education at my school (so excited!) and by working on projects in my community that encourage participation of women and girls in sports. It is an uphill battle to climb here. My friends here in my village have dutily noted that my community is happy to have me, but are frequently mystified by my continual habit of running and jogging on the rugged terrain of our dirt roads. Right now, I see my role as a seed planter; now they see me running around, but if what I hope to happen in this community comes to fruition, maybe one day a whole lot of women and girls will be running around too, doing sport, and having fun.

Here’s to New Year’s resolutions and goals but also to dreams and hopes for the future.

Even with a hurt ankle, to know that nothing is holding me back is about as free as you could be (except that school starts on MONDAY…so I need to make sure I’m all ready to go!)

PS:

Here’s a look at my “kitchen” and cooking adventures from this past week. I cook with charcoal and cook a lot of veggies, potatoes, plantains…and on special occasions….CHEESE. :)

my little charcoal stove

MY CHEESE SAUCE I MADE (VICTORY!)

veggies and macncheese: the good life

a typical day of cooking

peas and "dodo" (spinach)