Monthly Archives: September 2011

my umuzingo (‘white person’ / ‘foreigner’) life: first week of training in Rwanda

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It’s just past 4 o’clock in Rwanda and today I have already managed to fetch water (and carry it on my head), wash my clothes (except really my “house boy” (he helps us around the house that I live at with my family) did them for me), participate in umuganda (a tradition of community service that happens once a month in Rwanda where everyone gets together to work on a project for the benefit of the community), and find internet access. Of course, it only worked for a good 10 minutes, but I’ll take what I can get at this point. Oh, and I’ve also had to work on filtering my water. My filter seems to be leaking? Good, good. I should note that in Rwanda, it’s culturally inappropriate to eat or drink in public. Even water. If you know me, you can imagine how difficult this might be for me.

I’ve been in Rwanda for over a week now. I am telling you. It feels like it has been like 5 months. Time just moves really really slow here. It’s not bad necessarily, I suppose it’s just a matter of my schedule: I wake up around 5ish each morning, train all day, spend time with my family, and go to bed around 10. I haven’t been journaling as much as I would have liked at this point, but there is just so much to take in that it’s hard to be able to get so much into words. I suppose this is the challenge (and the beauty) of trying to capture life experiences. Things have been really good. In my best moments, my real good moments, I believe in this process and I believe that teaching in Rwanda is something that I can do. I am invigorated by the opportunity ahead, and feel confident as I work through learning an entirely new language and immersing myself fully in a new culture. In my worst moments, I get sick and tired of being a spectacle and getting laughed at (apparently anything a white person does here is hilarious) and I can’t stand the thought of doing an hour more of training. This will certainly be the hardest thing I have ever done. In those moments, I long for my family, my friends, my comforts. I want to be able to curl up and watch a good movie; I want to be able to eat a burrito and chat with my friends; I want to live the life I have led up to now. In those moments, I want to go home. However, this experience is a test of strength, commitment, and faith. I have to remind myself every single day why I want to be here. That’s a new thing for me, and I am trying to adjust as best as I can. Don’t get me wrong. There are some awesome things happening here. I am making friends with Peace Corps volunteers, meeting amazing Rwandan people (they are so great), and I’m putting myself in as different of a place as I could be. I guess this is what I signed up for, right?

Below is what I wrote the first night I moved in with my host family. I wanted to share my initial experience with moving to the Kamonyi district (in the village of Taba) because I just know I’m going to be learning a lot over the next few months here. I don’t think anything I say will do this place justice. Just know that I feel very safe, I am living with a wonderful family, and I am learning a lot of new things. I suppose I am in just the beginning of becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer.

Muraho!

(that means “welcome!” in Kinyarwanda, the language I will studying and learning during the 3 months of pre service training).

I have yelled “Muraho!” today more times than I ever thought was possible.

I remember how in Ghana people would yell and point “Obruni!” whenever myself or my friends walked by. The same happens here in Rwanda, only this time it is “Muzingo” (white person/foreigner) and this time, it feels all the more intense knowing that I am going to be living here for the next 2+ years. My group leader hit it on the head today when she told me that people are going to say “muzingo” because I am different. It’s something new. But she reassured me that as time goes by and the community gets to know me, I will become much more than just a white girl walking around the neighborhood.

I am currently writing this into a word document to post later online when I have access to electricity or some kind of access to wi-fi . We made the move today from what the insiders of Peace Corps Rwanda call the “House of Passage” in Kigali to our official training site in the district of Kamyoni. It is about an hour outside of Kigali and the drive was astoundingly beautiful. I can’t really describe it; the closest thing I could say it looked like was the Volta Region in Ghana; green lush everywhere, rolling hills as far as the eye can see, and more tree types than you could imagine. Not to mention that the streets and roads of Kigali are incredibly incredibly clean. Ghana is continually my point of reference when it comes to Africa and so I am by no means an expert; however, I saw no trash alongside the road. Littering is illegal here in Rwanda and Rwandans take the environment seriously–plastic bags are even outlawed. Anyway, we made the big move today so we could begin our intense (not kidding…Peace Corps means business) language and cross cultural training.

We arrived and were greeted by our language-culture facilitators and we got a briefing about the logisitics of the next 12 weeks and the basic introduction to what our homestays would be like. That’s right, we are living with a Rwandan family the entire time we are in the Kamyoni district for training. We were divided into many small groups (implementing what Peace Corps calls Community Based Training) with about 3 other Peace Corps trainees. Our entire group of 37 will all be living in the district, but the three other trainees and I will all be living closer together and will be doing our language training together (being taught by our facilitator, Liliosa). We meet up with the entire group for core sessions about things like safety and security, but most of the time I will be in my community with three other trainees (Sarah, Saraa, and Alyssa) learning Kinyarwanda and figuring out how to teach in the Rwandan education system and what I can offer, give, learn, and expect during my service.

My community assignment is north of our hub site, and is off one of the main roads in the area. My village is called Taba. The word village conjours up remote, desolate images, and believe me, this is pretty remote. However, in all reality, we are only an hour away from the biggest city in Rwanda, and Taba is a part of a bunch of other “cells” and villages that comprise the district. My house has a concrete floor, a brick and stucco-ish exterior, with an entirely complete roof. My room is modest but more than adequate. I have a bed, a mosquito net, a trunk to hold belongings, and a stool. It doesn’t sound like much, but I assure you, it really is all that I need. Better than my house or my room and certainly much more important is my host family.

Before I write about them, I think it’s important to know what the last 24 hours for me have been like. I am on methloquin (a medicine to prevent malaria) and even though I only take it once a week, the side effects are awful. I haven’t been sleeping very much at all and I’ve been WAY OVERLY anxious, I have been shaking uncontrollaby when I’ve been trying to sleep, and it’s just been a strange experience. On top of that, you have the whole issue of being away from my family and friends, adjusting to Rwanda culture, and trying to learn a new language. I am going to request this week to switch to Doxycyclin to get rid of these side effects. I cried myself to sleep last night and I don’t think I can go through that on a consistent basis. If it keeps happening, I can’t imagine making this experience last. There were several moments last night (Saturday) that I thought I might be all ready to call it quits. That freaked me out. All that to say, I prayed a lot last night that God would show himself (again…and again…) and that He would bring me comfort for this difficult time of adjusting and sticking through the difficulties of this change. I think my host family may well just be His answer.

Emmanuel and Bernadette greeted me as Liliosa dropped me off and immediately welcomed me to their family. Emmanuel hugged me with a huge grin on his face and pulled me to greet his wife right away. You know that feeling when you meet someone and they radiate warmth and compassion? This was it! They were so excited! They introduced me to their children: Danielle, Simon Pierre, and Grace. I got a tour of their home as well: the latrine (a place to use the bathroom, it isn’t comprised of a toliet that flushes, instead it is a hole in the ground), the place that I can wash, the kitchen (which is outside in a separate structure and all of our food is cooked from a charcoal/wood fire that fills the kitchen with light), my room, and the living room. Oh, and of course out back. Where I can now officially say that I have three new pets…ALL OF THEM BEING COWS. !!!! I was so excited.

I showed some pictures of family and friends and in exchange, Emmanuel showed me their family album. The album included pictures from their wedding, their family gatherings, and many baptisms. My host family are Presbyterians and Emmanuel is even a pastor! As all of this was going on I was surrounded by any child that lived within the vicinity of 50 yards. It was awesome. I had them help me count to 10 in Kinyarwanda and we played with a small football that I brought as a gift for the host family. Later, Bernadette and Emmanuel fed me AMAZING Rwanda food after praying heavily over the meal and Grace sang us some songs before I finally headed back to my room. In between all of this, there was a point that Emmanuel helped me with everything: working on making my kerosene lamp work, showing me how to wash my feet, lighting matches…you name it. He is so kind and wonderful I wish there was a way to adequately describe him. Bernadette is equally delightful; she is kind of a firecracker but seems very intent on protecting me. I told her that I wanted to use the latrine before bed and I could tell this alarmed her. Rwandans don’t stay out after dark and I could tell she really didn’t want me out there. Instead, she allowed me to go, but went with me and waited until I was finished. I have literally known this woman for 6 hours. How is this possible?

On top of all of that, get this, Emmanuel and Bernadette don’t even speak English!!! Everything we did today was a mix between hand signs, me referencing my Kinyarwanda book, and repeating words that the family said multiple times. It’s not like they are able to meet me in the middle or anything when it comes to English, literally they do not know the language. Talk about cultural immersion! So far, so good though. I am just grateful that this is my situation right now.

Training is going to be exhausting. I can already feel it. We have 8 hours a day of training and then obligations with our host families. To this point, I am really enjoying my time here, and even in the very very difficult moments, I am confident that I can keep going. I miss you all so much. More than I can say. I am just going to keep pushing through, because anything worthwhile usually means having to fight hard for it.

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“Make it Work” – Brussels, Belgium…? A Peace Corps Mini Vacation

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So the journey has begun!

I will keep this brief as we are leaving TOMORROW morning for Kigali, Rwanda (finally).  And I haven’t really slept…so I’m loopy, exhausted, and giddy.  An interesting combination.

I met my fellow Peace Corps trainees a couple days back (I think? the days are starting to run together…) in Philadelphia and we had our first orientation at the Hampton Inn in downtown Philly. We talked a lot about the Peace Corps mission, the goals of the Peace Corps, our anxieties, our aspirations, safety and security, and the logistics of getting us to Philly. It was a good session, and I got to meet a lot of the people I will be training with for the first three months. They are all really nice people and motivated to good work in Rwanda. We are all kind of weird and quirky so I’m sure we are going to be fast friends in no time.

After Philly we made the trek to JFK in NYC and waited for our plane. and waited. and waited. And in true African fashion, it was very late and so we knew we would miss our connection to Kigali. When we finally did make it to Belgium (around 11am or so), the Peace Corps had arranged for us to stay at the Sheraton right across the street. We came over, cleaned up, ate a late lunch, and left to tour the city! We walked around the cobble streets of Brussels, taking pictures of the old, beautiful architecture. We toured the cathederal, got some Belgian chocolate, and of course…I had to have a Belgian waffle. Even it was for dinner (…it also came with chocolate and whipped cream. YUMMY). Afterwards, we had a few drinks at a nearby bar located near the Mannekin Pis (I laughed at the name too…) and came back to the hotel to get ready for traveling tomorrow.

We are a day behind schedule and so it felt weird today to be enjoying so many unexpected luxuries and comforts…but I certainly welcomed the short mini vacation to get to know some of the trainess better, and to even see a piece of Europe. I’m so so excited to get to Rwanda tomorrow. I’m also still very much nervous, but something I have learnt the last couple of days is that the other men and women teaching in Rwanda with me are going through the exact same thing. It’s nice to know I’ll have a support network here…because that is something so important to me, and already I am missing my loved ones back home. Who knows when I will be updating next (it could be awhile) but just know that I am happy, safe, and in good hands. It’s weird that I’m writing this from Belgium…it’s weird that I’m going to Rwanda…but this whole thing is kind of out of this world and surreal and so all I can really say is that I’m grateful for the opportunity. I truly am.

I love you all so much and the next time I will be writing will be from the land of a thousand hills…RWANDA. Here we go!