Stressing the Gear

>> Wednesday, December 29, 2010

"I have a question for our American teacher..."

I stand up, hands clasped together in my small African classroom setting of 8 students and Rwandan translator.

"Do Americans ever sit down and think... about the people of Africa.... and what they're doing to us..."

A puzzled expression crosses my face and I say, " I'm not sure I understand. Can you explain?"

"Of course," says the boy with the best English in the whole camp. "I mean, do Americans ever sit down and think about how they're hurting us?"

"I'm sorry?"

"Because, as Rwandans, we see things on TV that Americans are doing, like oral sex, and we want to imitate it! We want to be like Americans. But this practice, it will kill us!"

[This, sprung from a discussion of the comparably MINOR risk of HIV infection through oral sex, and the fact that Rwanda, as a culture does not traditionally practice, or know of, oral sex.]

Ignoring the desire to ask him what it is he's watching on TV [and the internal desire to kick him in the face], I start to explain that: first off, Americans probably don't realize that oral sex isn't a common place sexual activity. And second-

"But you are KILLING us!"

-------


This December I attended Camp Glow [Girls Leading Our World] and Camp BE [Boys Excelling] for 2 weeks as a facilitator teaching empowerment, life skills and health. CG is a program originally designed by Peace Corps Volunteers in Romania in 1995, and is now the gold star of PC Rwanda, who, still in it's infancy, has no other established program. This year, CG invited about 100 girls and 65 boys to come for a week each to learn about being the future leaders of their country.

http://campglowrwanda.wordpress.com/2010/01/20/welcome/

While CG and CBE was a learning experience for the kids, it was also a learning experience for me. There are a lot of taboo topics that are simply not discussed in the villages, or topics that cannot be explained due to our limited knowledge of esoteric kinyarwanda terms. Teaching and working with these small groups of students, whose English is good enough to actually discuss such topics, was really enlightening, really encouraging and sometimes really discouraging at the same time; but overall, totally worth the experience.

I spent most of the afternoons going on runs through the valley, trying to work out some of the convictions and beliefs in Rwandan culture. I found that some things can be changed painlessly through simply explanation and discussion [such as: while drinking your friend's blood IS a traditional practice of bonding and brotherhood, it should be discouraged, because yes, you can get sick] while others are just so heavily and stubbornly believed, how can we even BEGIN to make sense of it? [example: Semen makes a girl fat. "No! That's absurd for about 5 reasons. (list all reasons)" "No, no, it's true! It's true! She gets fat! She'll always get fat! It's true!"... A camp-wide irrational argument that lasted a half hour before I threw in the towel]. And aside from that, some of it is just downright shocking [see above mentioned conversation with the "smartest" boy in camp]. I'm not sure yet if there's a point to this blog, other than voicing the notes I scribbled into my margins in between topics and coyly asked questions, just so I wouldn't forget a particularly interesting point one of the students made.

The curriculum

So, let's talk about critical thinking. I'll say it straight out: it doesn't exist here. It just doesn't. You're probably thinking, what? That's silly. Of course it does, you just: think. Critically.

But nope, it doesn't. An example is a game we tried to play that was similar to 20 Questions. Someone has a paper on their back with a way of transmitting HIV. The person has to ask you questions to figure out what their paper says. Doing this with Rwandans was impossible. Because they just couldn't grasp the concept. My partner kept saying, I don't understand. How can I say what it is when I can't see it? It's on my back, I don't know what it says.

It would be super frustrating if it weren't so interesting to witness. It just. doesn't exist. And it's so natural for us. We don't know any other means of thinking. Try teaching an adult or a schooled teenager how to critically think when it's not a natural process for them. They can't. They won't just guess [guessing is silly] because you don't know, how CAN you guess?
Super interesting!

Another interesting belief that I found both with my girls and my boys: We did a game to test the kids knowledge about HIV/Sexual Education. I would read a statement and if they thought it was true, they walked to the True side of the class. If false, to the False side. If undecided, in the middle. Both the boys and girls struggled with the following statements:

Traditional healers/religious leaders in our country have cured AIDS

If a man uses condoms for more than 2 years, he can become infertile.

What's interesting is that the first statement was prefaced with the following statement:

There is no cure for AIDS

and all kids agreed that this was true. When presented with the above mentioned statement about traditional/religious healers curing AIDS, some thought it was definitely true, and others were undecided. Simple deduction would have told us that no cure means no one has cured AIDS, but like I said, critical thinking is nonexistent. The point being that some kids tried to say that Jesus cures AIDS and that they have a friend who has a friend who had AIDS and he prayed a lot and got better. Others believe traditional healers/witchdoctors are rumored to cure AIDS and if you go to them, they'll perform some magick to make it go away.

And let me tell you, it's difficult to sensitively tell an almost completely christian culture that jesus does not heal your HIV/AIDS, but we all did agree that this was a poor form of prevention.

I'm not sure what the logic behind condoms causing infertility was, but perhaps it's just a scary thought of something you don't know enough to trust. Like people who used to think seat belts were deathtraps.

The boys were by far, more curious in their questions. I've heard more about female circumcision [does NOT reduce the risk of HIV transmission, FYI. It actually increases it, while male circumcision reduces the risk by 60%] and "dry sex" than I ever needed [dry sex= drying the woman's vaginal area out with drying agents such as bleach in order to cause more friction for the man. This is a big problem for prostitutes in some parts of Africa. It hugely increases the risk of transmission for a woman.

Some of the interesting standards that I think will take a long time to change are in the gender roles.

When role playing, I asked the boys, what if you are married, and you find your wife is HIV+?

"I will leave her"

What if you are married, and you find out that you are HIV+? What will your wife do?
"We will support each other"

I tried to encourage some debate with this, about why the wife should have to stay with him if he would leave her in the same situation but their answers didn't waver much. Too soon maybe.

I also heard some scary stories, such as: A man and woman are about to be married, and as is suggested in Rwanda, they go to get tested for HIV together. The man is HIV+ but does not tell his wife. He begs the doctor to give him a negative result. The doctor then tests them and comes back, and says that the man is not positive, but his WIFE is.

They also say [they... those village gossips who herald myths and nonsense through the generations] that if you drink fanta [specifically, coke] or milk, it will help you have a negative test result.

My Rwandan facilitator/translator brought up an interesting point about STDs. HIV testing is at least fairly common knowledge for people who will be married, but STDs are still creeping along in the shadows, I think. We were looking at Syphilis, I think, and one of the symptoms if untreated is death. Especially since a lot of people don't exhibit any symptoms at all until it's too late, we discussed how this might correlate to so-called "poisoning" in the villages. To this day, when you order a fanta or a drink at a shop or restaurant, they won't open it until it's placed in front of you, so that they cannot be accused of poisoning it. It is a rampant belief that people are regularly poisoned. Even well-educated missionaries I know believe that this exists everywhere. I'm a little more skeptical. I don't think you're going to get poisoned for shaming the village old lady. But it's so common for people to drop dead that they all claim poisoning! Maybe all this poisoning business is actually a late-stage case of untreated Syphilis. Think about that, Rwanda.

Moving out of health,
Gender roles fell into our Decision Making session as well. The boys were giving situations on slips of paper and they had to go through the decision making process step by step and then make a decision. This is to encourage ACTUAL thought processes while making important decisions. Sometimes, the most basic decisions are based on someone just telling you to do it. If you're waiting at a bus stop and a bus pulls up, a man will continually yell it's destination to the SAME GROUP OF PEOPLE. and you'd think these people are standing at a bus stop with their OWN destination in mind, but I swear, if he stands there for only 30 seconds yelling REMERA REMERA REMERA! someone will up and decide, sure, I'll go to Remera instead. Like your travels and schedules are based on the whims of a lively or convincing bus man. It drives me nuts [although I'd be lying if I haven't done the same thing one or twice myself].

People tend to do what they're told, especially women, which is a hard habit to break. In a hypothetical situation, the girls were told "A man who has given you gifts to help feed your family is now asking you to meet him at a hotel" and their first reaction wasn't 'hotel=he wants to get some.' It was, "Well, I should go to the hotel to see what he wants." And in that situation, they've put themselves into a position to be compromised. It's how a lot of prostitutes get started in this country. They need to feed their family// get money for secondary school. They turn to a "sugar daddy" and find help and a lot more.

In an even more alarming realization, the boys addressed the following situation:
"You are a girl in a relationship with a boy you plan to marry. He's been suggesting lately that you have sex now instead of waiting to be married."

The boy response: First, you refuse. Then, if he insists, you use a condom.

Me and the other PCV in the room at the time just looked at each other. Is this what boys think of a girl's values? Push a little and they cave? And it is. Maybe it's not how they deduce it, but boys in this culture believe a girl always says no at first, but she means yes. She has to play coy, but wants it as much as he does. I had hoped that after our life skills and leadership and lessons on being assertive, that I wouldn't have to address that, but even these boys, these enlightened, equal-rights, boys of the future still think a woman is subject to mold.

There's a saying in kinyarwanda that you hear if you trip, or drop something, or do anything of the spaz nature.

Urashyaka umugabo! You need a husband!

Because a husband makes you complete. You can't be a fully functioning adult without him.

It wasn't all like this, though. Aside from the strange cultural beliefs or practices, the boys were really sweet. Boys who speak good English and have gone through most of their schooling know how to sweet talk the ladies [which is why we do a condom demonstration]. In one class, while discussing what love is, one boy stood up and declared it was money and giving iPhones to the girl, and one of my boys stood up and said it must involve kissing "because love without kissing is like tea without sugar."

So anyway, I would go running, sometimes on my own, sometimes with other like minded PCVs, and sometimes with PCVs and the male campers. We set out into the valley at a smooth pace but as soon as the boys got comfortably warmed up, they sprinted ahead at a pace suitable for a well-fed African boy that I am seriously not accustomed to. When the kids run with me in the village, I know it's only a matter of time until their styrofoam shoes and weary physique demand them to stop, and I continue on, in my Nike shoes, Target running spandex, meticulously thought-out sports bra and two running-only tank tops, running off years of Western diet stored in the depths of my body. But here, in the open space of Gitarama and the winding dirt road of the valley, these boys are flooring it, nothin' but bones.

Runners everywhere in the western world always talk about the gear. I used to be so particular about what I ate before I ran, cant be less than a half hour before, can't be wearing low-rising socks. Can't have shorts with lining on the inside, can't have a really baggy Tshirt. Need a headband. But you know what, I was like that because at that point I still sucked at it and needed an excuse. Now, I can run 8 miles on the drop of a dime. I remember the first week of pre-season training of field hockey in high school, and Coach Hack had just gotten out of her car eating a bagel and drinking a large coffee. And she put it down and got on the track and just went. 8 minute mile. And I thought, I would SO throw up if I had to do that. But now, especially after seeing these kids who have NOTHING. Literally nothing. Styrofoam shoes. No shoes. Dress pants. No shirt. They just get up and go. Or they hear from a half a mile away that the Abazungu [white people] are coming, and they get up and get ready for it. But for us, we're too privileged. I can't run because my good sports bra is in the dryer [DRYERS! remember those?] or my socks aren't clean. Or the weather is too hot.

Move to Mali, lose the shoes, and go. Little malnourished African children run a mile with me just for the fun of it, and these boys, these well-fed, 3-meals a day, 2 tea breaks with a snack every day, they can finally move to the level they're capable of, without worrying whether they'll have a next meal to recover with.

And that's the point, I guess. They don't stress the gear. They don't stress anything. They'll walk 5 miles to school every day as long as they can sit in a classroom and take notes and learn. There are so many people in the states who would rather fail a class than get up in the early morning and walk 5 minutes [let alone 5 miles] to "learn" something.
Just having the opportunity to be at this Camp, to know where your meals are coming from for at least one whole week, to be allowed to express yourself, artistically or athletically. To be allowed to study. To develop oneself, as they say here. Just to be allowed to know, what Americans know, and take for granted. What a privilege. To be allowed to do anything.

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Where the Sidewalk Ends

>> Friday, November 05, 2010

Today, you'll be reading the self-composed interview of one, Jen Olsen, atop her mountain in Busanza, Rwanda, answering some of those juicy questions all you Westerners out there are asking!


JO: Am I lonely? I don't suppose so. I'm definitely alone, but not lonely.

I mean, I have my thoughts, and they keep me pretty busy. And with them, the thoughts of everyone I've ever read. I listen to Whitman almost daily, and Emerson everytime I find myself talking to the chickens. As of recent I've added Jane Austen, Chaim Potok, David Sedaris, Paul Farmer, and Ray Bradbury to the crew and every week the party gets bigger [a commonality between all PCVs, I imagine].

And you know what, it's not that I enjoy living in my head, but I can't help it. I'm either walking down the road with a running kinyarwanda dialogue in my head, practicing and planning for probable interactions, or sitting with my kids during art club, while they banter to themselves and eventually my kinyarwanda runs out, and I'm left staring off into the sky, thinking of synonyms and similes Walt would have given to the setting mountaintop sun. Comprable to that, Emerson would have regarded the brazen simplicity and the solace my home gives, and to turn nature itself into a juxtaposed chaos, Bradbury just stands in the corner, contemplating the way the light strikes through threads of banana fiber. Honestly, it's actually quite crowded in my yard. I mean my head.

I'll keep sitting here on my shoddy twig stool held together with three strips of old tire, quietly considering all their observations, questioning these things and people and places and their opinions on life [and my life, specifically] and suddenly, how can you ever feel alone?

Some of the best minds, the best people [not mutually exclusive, fyi] i've ever known are the ones who take off on their own. who hole up in their room with their thoughts, drive north until the land is no longer familiar, or take off across the country on foot, just to dive deeper into themselves.

If these people all hold a facet for observation, and I'm turning it around also, saying, hmm, yes, very interesting, let's look at it from over here... we're all peering into the same crystal ball looking for insight. And everytime it changes hands it's scuffed, cloudy, dirty or scratched, whether war or time or place has changed, we all keep peering into the same core.

Our thoughts may vary slightly, based on these superficial inflictions, but no one's ever lonely. I'm tied to these people as much as I've ever been. I can't help but see familiar faces in all that I do. I'm not a pioneer. I've just joined a club of great minds and finally got my own facet. Let us hope others will seek solace in me and them and never lose faith in our anonymous, faceless comradery. I'll always be here, and if the sharp plains of a diamond last forever, then so will we. Right?



JO: Daily routine? That's pretty hard to nail down but let's go with yesterday. Yesterday I woke up at 5:56am to the sound of the tiny little bird that used to tap dance on my roof, now taking inspiration from the Broadway hit, STOMP and using what must have been a bird-sized sledgehammer with his already thunderous routine. In my morning delirium I reached out from my mosquito net and threw my flip flips at the underside of the roof. Not much accomplished but I laid in bed until 7 or so when I finally got up, flipped my net up, and fed the chickens [who, since laying eggs, have started to fly up to the windows and whimper if I'm not speedy with their food ((BTW, did I mention the first egg laid was from Gaju flying to my window, climbing through the bars, and laying the egg on my windowsill?))]. On a complete sidenote, Gaju means brown cow and WHY is it Rwandans never seem to think it's funny when I tell them I named my brown chicken brown cow? But they think Shyimbo [little bean] is hysterical..

Anyway, after that, I start filling up my water boilers, boil water, make tea, sweep out the house with my awesome Rwandan broom that requires you to bend your back parallel to the floor, and do a general routine of tidiness.

Yesterday was Thursday which is Art Club day, so the kids came over to draw and play. Usually I try to sneak something educational into the event, but since we've been covering only health topics and I have a dozen or so drawings of me as a stick figure brushing my teeth, the kids and I looked at my world map and drew pictures of our flags and talked about how many countries there were and whatnot. One of the girls had never seen a world map before, so I think the World Map Project is in my future for the primary school in Busanza. I'll be able to paint a mural of the world on or in the school with the kids, so that they always have a map to learn from [a novelty almost all schools can't afford]. [sidenote: since writing the first draft of this, I now have 3 more schools interested in me running the world map project, all of which will commence in the new year, as well as my being an art teacher for a few months so the art program doesn't shut down for lack of teacher. WOOHOO!]

After that, I started boiling some rice, and did my Jillian Michaels workout video [honestly, it should mention in the PC handbook that 80% of volunteers gain weight in Africa]. In between monsoons and drizzles, I read a bit, cleaned a bit, chopped down some reeds in my yard and brought them to my neighbors who feed them to their cow. I visited them for a bit, sat outside with the kids and mom who were laying on a mat next to the cow pen. The dad is really sick; he always tells me he has pain in his stomach and his daughter, who I teach english, always tells me that he is going to die. I hadn't seen him since he went to the hospital two weeks ago but Sunshine [the name I've given to his daughter] brought me inside to his bed to say hello. In the last two weeks he's gone from a sick, old, malnourished man, to a bedridden man who is so wasted he resembles a Holocaust survivor. It's a really hard reality to stomach, to watch a man slowly die. I didn't stay long, for the smell and sight of the room, but he greeted me just as he had when he was more alive. That's something to say about the culture.

After that an old man who saw me with the reeds, begged me to come see his cows and chickens, so I visited his family, played with a cow, wowed some old women with my kinyarwanda, and went home. I made some pseudo rice veggie and egg stir-fry for dinner, watched the Season 3 finale of Lost and cried a little over it, and cleaned up. Thus is a typical day in the village. It's not going to move any mountains, but I don't mind it!



JO: What do I miss the most?

Excluding the most obvious family and friends:
Target, tubs of movie theatre popcorn, Binghamton University Nature Preserve, running without being followed, talking without being self-conscious, fencing, wearing shorts without being confused for a prostitute, using a debit card, ordering pizza, eating pizza, smelling and seeing pizza. drinking water out of the tap, ice cubes, tracks, fields, not being stared at all the time, university classes, lip gloss, and shaving my legs. AND feeling human. That may sound like a grand statement, but when you're always wearing a funny suit, it's hard to remember what you were wearing before. The job is 24/7 so the suit never really comes off and you're always on stage, always on the record.


JO: Unexpected gains from this experience? Well, with the one-year-in-country anniversary coming up, I've made a short list of
Things I never expected to gain from this:
Honing my shakira-dancing skills [one of the few music videos I've acquired is She-Wolf]
Encouraging sanity through personal dance parties and concerts during monsoons when I can't even hear myself sing, shadow puppets when the power's out and befriending chickens.
Perpetuating my hopeless attraction to color and artistic enthralment by finding endless means of expression, whether art club, children's photo perspective, or chalk-on-mud wall-murals
A sailor's tongue
A new understanding of/ respect for my digestive system



JO:Best thing I've seen this week?
So I was walking home in the dark the other night [I was running late, don't yell at me!] and nearing the end of the paved road. From that point I can look left, and see the 60 foot twin pine trees that mark my village on the sky line, or I can look right, and see the edge of Kigali city petering off into the hills. I'm rarely down the mountain this late at night because it's still a 40 minute walk from where the sidewalk ends to get home. But looking right, I see the edge of the city, a thicket of lights all the way to my right and behind me. I pan left slowly and the lights fall into smaller groups, patterns and dimplings of stars on the mountain, evidence of the random assortment of electricity-bearing villages. I keep paning until the lights go out and the mountain fades into wilderness and I'm back on the edge of the road. I look left at my own mountain, and I see not thousands of the city, not hundreds from an up-and-coming town, but 7. Just 7 lights. And mine would soon make 8. There were a few flickering lights, dictating fires outside and it reminded me so much of the traditional practices of Halloween, of lighting a bonfire on every mountaintop, to be seen and acknowledged by other firey minds. And I was reminded of what a rare beauty this was, to see where the lights stop, to know that some places are nothing but light, but I'm luckily in this beautiful world where sharing a bonfire can still acknowledge some likeminded living, one that's simple and hopeful and modest.

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Peace Corps: Desperation Leads to Creativity

>> Tuesday, September 28, 2010

FYI. New photos on picasaweb.google.com/jolsen87. Also, new care package request list on the side bar :D


IST; September 2010. I want to preface the preface with the fact that the following blog was written over the course of a 5 day conference, during breaks, during lectures, and during general moments of either elation or despair. The thoughts are a little broken up and as is the flow but to save the reality of it, we're going to just let it be.

Preface.

A few years ago while working at Camp Shane, someone sent me a gift. It was a box, colourful, curious, with no return address. It was painted bright orange, yellow, and pink; absolutely coated in vivaciousness and stamped with the label: CAUTION: CONTAINS CREATIVITY. It was so light I couldn't begin to imagine where it came from and what it meant. I sat down, tore through the layers of paint, and opened the flaps to find a big empty box. I thought about this today, after I contemplated hurling my phone and bag into the Lake for the sake of starting over.

Every day I wake up in a whirlwind of difficult situations and vague-alities [not a real word but go with it]. This swirl engulfs me so that the day moves in muted color and softened sound. I feel like I'm watching it from inside myself sometimes, and it's really hard. Good morning to my neighbours, good morning to the nuns. Children walk me down the mountain. Swirling through my vision are notable moments: the happy little boy with gaping wounds and bug infestations in his scalp. Every day he hugs me and looks up with a smile as I look down at his poor infected head. I see the broken water pump, the hundreds of jerricans in line. A baby's wooden coffin is unattended and balanced on a sewer pipe. No one seems to notice it but me. I see textbook diseases come to life: Polio, elephantiasis, rickets, TB. I see a man with one leg, half an arm, no limbs at all. A stump of a body rolled to the street corner for the day to hopefully collect change, and then taken home with the coins gathered in his shirt pocket. I've gone for a run and watched from the street as a house burned to the ground in 2 minutes flat. Seen a little boy run over by a car and the driver doesn't move. Moments like this are so hard to forget. And I'm not trying to remember, they just hover around my mind effortlessly, ever present in the world-of-things-I-never-hoped-to-witness filing cabinet of memories. This fog follows me everywhere, making it even more difficult to find a project, get support, fill the hours. And these feelings are at least validated amongst my fellow volunteers, most of which follow similar daily patterns.

The problem with being in Peace Corps is that once you're actually in it all the magic is gone. The mystery no longer intrigues you and the hardships are never in the way you expected. If the only problems I ever had were no water, sketchy electricity, and a mud house, my life would be a golden cakewalk. Even if I had to have chiggers taken out weekly what a wonderful life that would be! But the problems aren't what we prepared for, no. They're infrastructure, helplessness, and struggling with a newborn program [as one staffer said, if the health program were a person, it would be a medical emergency]. We're not Kennedy's PC. We're not your parent's PC. We are 50 years of an evolving system that now has different expectations, aims, and beliefs. And that's difficult, when we never signed up to be the guinea pigs. But then again, we did sign up to go anywhere and do anything. Stupid us. I guess we are Kennedy's children still. The newest generation of give-all's who are willing to do whatever it takes to get whatever we can.

Introduction.

So we're here, in Kibuye on Lake Kivu at our IST [In- Service Training] Conference, strategizing, commiserating, discussing the various reasons half of us are losing our hair [stress response: at this rate I will quite literally be bald by Christmas]. As I've said before the highs and lows of PC are frequently rolling over us. For most, it's been a low for almost 8 weeks.

Somewhere on the grounds, boy is smashing things in his hotel room. A girl sobs to the PC medical staff. A group of smokers huddle at night on the rock-slab stairs [a memory from PST: "Smoking is not allowed publically in Rwanda, but if you're a smoker, now is NOT the time to quit. If it's your crutch, you're going to need it..."]. And me, I stood in the lake this morning, phone in one hand, bag in the other, and weighed the urge to purge these useless things one acquires when serving others, alone.
People are breaking down! No work no support no time no structure and as a result, no motivation. How do you get started on the problems of a whole country when your office has no work but expects you there 8-5? Writing their English homework for them? Inputing the HIV status of orphans for 6 hours? To sit still and simply be a pretty office plant in the corner for observation and not much else? It's demoralizing, to say the least, and unfortunately, the norm for us supposed health and community development volunteers.

And we've been told a lot of things this week.

You're Pioneers!

Trailblazers!

Ihangane! [Be patient!]

But the truest motivations come in disguise, in genuine life stories, or rather, in genuine comradery and misery.
I listened one night to the stories of one of our newest PC-RW staff members, who in his youth served in Zaire. And I for the first time since being here rediscovered the mystery and intrigue and excitement of being a part of something so big. Hearing what he did, how he lived, how he still speaks the local language with his wife [something I also hope to do. I asked if when they fight, they can slip into this secret language, something I always tell Jay I'm going to do when I get mad at him. (FYI, he confirmed they do)] and I love the memories, even those that aren't mine, but I know will be some day. Listening to him I knew what I wanted and how badly I still wanted to get there.

A fellow PCV told me in his infinite depth of personal misery, that a hero has a thousand faces.
Desperation is one of a thousand of my faces [Call it a metaphorical breaking point].

Drumroll.


 

Which brings me back to the Lake.

The idea came in a way that suggested it'd always been there. Like he'd been in front of me but was so close, I couldn't focus. And when I stepped back out of the sandstorm for a moment to breath [or yell at the Lake], he was there all along, waiting like the empty creativity box. Or maybe I simply hit my breaking point. Frustration and angst doesn't become me, after all. I was exhausted, and truly desperate. And then, the box. I was experiencing what I'd call a Dorothy-entering-Munchkin Land- moment. I hastened to get my ideas and thoughts down before I got too close and lost sight again.


 

Moral.


 

Here, in Peace Corps, in Rwanda specifically maybe, sometimes we fall so far we suddenly find we're actually climbing again. Not that living an MC Escher drawing is entirely poetic. It's actually quite nauseating, at times completely aggravating, and full of chiggers, boredom, and too many carbs.

And while I found my clarity for at least the next week or so, that's not to say we've all reached it together. But, I hope that like the chiggers, it spreads with time.


 

Epilogue.

So since IST 2 weeks ago I'm still in the bottom of the pit trying to fight my way out [in terms of my organization at least]. But I have a lot of project ideas due to the conference and reaching my own breaking point that day. Quite literally, desperation took me to a beautiful place where I finally saw all the things I already knew but couldn't acknowledge. What is this place doing to me? Here is a list of some of these projects and ways you can help!

I'm starting an art club with the kids who live near me, just to have them get together and draw and I'm going to turn it into a community health- project and have them draw their own health slogans and signs and teach them about preventive health issues from the grassroots level. A similar but probably better-grasped project will commence with the secondary school kids who have good enough English to be able to grasp the concept of drawing comics [it's called Grassroots Comics; they have a website!] and using them as a community development tool, since its created at the local level, requires minimal supplies and is written in the local language.

Aside from that I'm going to help out at the English club at the secondary school that's only about a mile or so from my house in the village. We're also looking into a long term project of some kind of community youth center or library, but that's going to take a much longer time frame.

Going on right now, we're starting Books for Africa in Rwanda and they also have a website [booksforafrica.org] and we'll be designing events and raising money to send books over probably for the next year [books are absurdly expensive here].

If anyone wants to send me anything awesome to help out, right now I really just need paper and pencils and some thin tracing markers. The grassroots comics is going to be a great project, and one that I fully believe can be really influential in a community. I am super excited about this! So at least while this organization issue gets worked out, I'm thankfully in the village full time and working there [as it should be].

I know the above post sounds maybe pessimistic or at least gloomy, but I swear it was simply epiphanic. Also, there are a lot of smaller victories happening every day that would be better to focus on. Here is a short list from these past 2 weeks:

-Teaching English every weekend to a teenage boy in my village who is really motivated to learn. We sit and discuss what adjectives are, what pronouns are, and have small group conversations in English to help him get over the fear of speaking what he already knows [practice practice practice. It's the only way we learned Kinyarwanda]. To be honest I have no idea how to teach English, especially when he can only speak basic sentences and I have such limited language myself. But we have a lot of fun and his motivation is truly encouraging.

-going for an accidental 8 mile run where I got lost but discovered the marshlands on the other side of my mountain. I was directed home by the wrinkliest, most adorable old lady in the bush who sent her 12 kids to walk with me to the road that led to the main dirt road that would get me home.

-having my kids come over for an umunsi mukuru [party!] they set up, and they sung, danced, and taught me to drum Rwandan style, and then performed a traditional dance of giving gifts and presented me and Anna [a pcv who came up the mountain for the event] with gifts which were shoeboxes filled with fruit. I almost cried because i know most of them don't have money for health insurance, which costs less than $2 a year, but they went through the trouble of doing this for us.

-teaching the kids how to do the hokey pokey and the chicken dance [it was only a matter of time]

-learning the actual lyrics to Medy [who's now in AMERICA! Touring or something. Google that man, he's an awesome artist] and singing them with the neighbour while the kids did a breakdance.

-and on that note, finally being comfortable enough to visit with neighbours, sing and learn from them, without it being the forced awkward visits I'm accustomed to. Actually enjoying my time there. Finally!

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Push

>> Friday, August 06, 2010





Dear Avid Readers,

I have no cultural insight for you this time, only a change in address and phone number [sorry!]. My phone is now [+25]0722404653 and the new mailing address is listed on the sidebar. As many people may know, the hubby came to visit for 2 wonderful and unfortunately brief weeks, and I've asked him to ponder that time over and write an unbiased outside perspective of whatever he took from his time here.
Sometimes I think I'm [not just me actually; we're] too close to the lives here that many alarmingly foreign things are now taken as the familiar, the rarities of life are actually my every day. For example, I haven't had enough water to shower for 5 days and I'm not phased by that, but I know someone out there reading this is probably shocked at my lack of hygiene [I smell lovely, for the record]. Anyway, I hope both you [avid readers] and I, can take something out of that perspective. Keep an eye open for it sometime soon.

Maramuke, n' Ijoro rwiza

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To all the Talking Blue Horses Out There

>> Sunday, July 11, 2010

This one’s for you

To volunteers all over the world
To circus freaks, science experiments, and zoo exhibits
To anyone in the closet, under the rug, and on the radar
This one’s for you

To every person living the life of the minority; struggling to speak; struggling to blend
To all the people who wish they could walk without being judged, shop without being watched, jog without being followed,
To Michael Jackson and Brittney Spears
This one’s for you

If you’ve ever been pet, poked, pinched, touched, prodded by complete strangers,
If you’ve ever remained silent, hungry, thirsty, sick, diligent for the sake of fitting in,
If you’ve ever made an infant cry and run in terror at the color of your skin,
This one’s for you.

Volunteers, in mud huts all over the world, in sky-clad markets all over the world, in jungles, tundra and deserts all over the world, have no fear. Someday, the talking-blue-horse phenomenon will fade and no longer will our skin be pulled just to see if it’s real. No longer will children run screaming from you, or screaming towards you [the magickal powers from touching the talking blue horse]. Normal reactions may occur, yes! Someday, the big bad wolf of globalization will make your color fade, make your hoofs seem more natural, make it appear that you are in fact, almost human.

For now, perhaps we should take delight in the fact that there are still untouched depths of the world, unknown regions so close at hand that a child has never even heard RUMOR of a talking blue horse [making its presence ever the more surprising]. Perhaps it would be better to take advantage of being a specimen to society. Think of what you’re contributing! Think of the influence and opportunities to teach. Sure, the PC spends 10 weeks trying to dull the effects of an inevitable culture shock once dropped in your village by training you on culture and language. But let’s be honest. Our PST drunk goggles are making us think we’re being smooth and suave, but on their side of the glass we’re just as blue as ever, wearing a silly human mask over our faces. This is why we rock mood swings like a diabetic’s blood sugar. We walk with a bag full of tricks, lingo, clothes, and we feel pretty damn good sometimes. But all it takes is a dose of reality, of one person, or several, reminding you that behind that mask is a big talking blue horse, and of course they can see you through it.

But it’s OK! Talking blue horses will unite someday, and when we’re all out at our blue horse convention, talking about hard times in Village Funnyname, of Obscure Country #12, we’ll miss that specialness, that sense of being something spectacular, of making simple tasks look incredible. Washing your clothes will never again hold the same gumption and defiance. Your families will not be riveted by your ability to bargain for tomatoes or hoe your back garden. And even on your soapbox, calling out to the world with a megaphone on your metropolitan street corner, you will not be heard amongst the familiar sea of blue, oh no. Your voice will rise and fall in a familiar flow of noise and comfortable congestion, feebly growing more hoarse [ba-dum-cha] each time.

Revel in it, brothers and sisters, that mask that gives you an opportunity, that tongue that lets you into their lives. Revel in the chance to have a say! To teach 17 children [actual count] English as they follow your jog, to bond as you carry water together, to be someone who tried so hard to hide blue beneath a thin mask of foreign vocabulary. Just to be someone who tried. It’ll never be this hard again, no. But let’s face it. It’ll never be this easy.

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Asceticism

>> Monday, June 21, 2010

The week of the Rwandan

Partly because I have a guilt-sensitive gag reflex, and partly because my priorities lie more in research than personal satiation, this past week has been the culmination of many moments of culturally-induced understandings and curiosities; of needs and wants merging to one, and, of my limited tolerance for detachment from my community.

Thus began my week as a Rwandan.

Peace Corps preaches that we live at the level of the local community, and on some points, we really do. But even by the minimal living allowance PC gives us monthly, it’s still a far cry from what the typical Rwandan lives off. [probably because they’re accounting also for our letters home, phone credit, toilet paper and the occasional relapse into western life by splurging on an egg sandwich and coffee at a cafĂ© once a month. Mmmm...]

But my neighbors don’t have such luxury, and the girls in my village don’t take the bus, go to town, or contemplate buying tree tomatoes even though they’re out of season. Every day I walk the 4 miles to town out of the mountain with my neighbors. They’re mostly heading to the markets, but doing so with baskets of maize balanced on their heads.

This means of carrying things had lost its shock value until I saw a woman walking down our mountain carrying a full-sized school bench, a chair, a market bag, and a basket of produce, all balanced on the bench on her head. There was also a baby on her back. She also had the fore thought to cover the baby with a shawl to protect him from the sun. And it’s not a small decline by any means. I still feel like I’m in Bridget’s boot camp every time I go up it. And I almost fall once a day going down. These women are malnourished, usually pregnant, usually with a baby already strapped to them, and they move jugs of water, vegetables, or benches, apparently, up and down the mountains like mules. No complaints, no hesitance.

And I walk with their kids, and they’re excited, to play with their friends at the water pump in the valley; to kick a football made out of banana leaves wound-together like the cultural extension of a rubber band ball; to tell the muzungu they’re going to look for food. And I feel guilt at the empty water bottle in my bag, at the prospect of bread, eggs, maybe even juice and other luxuries of having more than 500rwf a week to spend.
And small children chew on sugar cane or unripe tree fruits, and stumble their chubby legs over to me, arms stretched out for minutes waiting to get close enough to touch the mysteriously white-skinned, fine-haired girl who lives god-knows-why in their village.

Being confronted by these images moment by moment, acknowledging the women who carry one jerican strapped to their head, the other to their waist, and I wonder how they aren’t still scoffing at me. They definitely think I can’t do anything. One woman tried to carry my hoe for me, amongst all the other crap she had on her. I told her I had strength and could carry it, and she laughed. The children gossip about me. A little girl I walk down the mountain with sometimes told me how other children tell her rumors about me, and she refutes or confirms them [since she has ACTUAL CONTACT with the muzungu]. And this one girl, she said that you never take lifts from passing cars, and you always walk, always! Even though you could have a ride [true. My rigorous walking dedication is paying off because people notice, thank goodness. Plus my legs look awesome] and the other kids, they tell me that you have a fiancĂ©! And that you won’t take a Rwandan husband! [also true. I don’t think that requires an explanation]...

We are both quite the paradox, I think. I look absurd to them and they boggle my mind on a regular basis. Movements, facial expressions, emotional expressions, dress, work, contemplation, everything. We blink at each other and sometimes I’m not sure who the zoo exhibit is. Ok that’s not true. I know it’s me. I actively try not to stare while they actively embrace the impulse.

But they’ve started to accept me. They’ve let me in to their lives for, I don’t know what reason.
We pulled out in 1994. Not only did we pull out but we pulled every other white person out, too. We left them to burn themselves out, to smolder until all the flames were out and a million people had died. And now they welcome me into their village? I walk home with friends, neighbors, marveling that everyone knows my name, that the mothers bid me hello, that the older boys and girls cast casual remarks as I pass, and the children ambush me with hugs as we approach my house. Even the girl whose presence I dread like the town drunk was waiting at my gate, just to say, bites? [semblance to, what’s up?] and no longer mocked me with incessant muzungu chanting. I’m feeling a little like a rockstar; exhausted, but riding a high on the cycle of adjustment; I've just hit the gold star or bullet on rainbow road and can now just sit back and enjoy the ride. I don’t feel like I deserve this. But I’m grateful. So grateful.

So I spent a week like a Rwandan. I’ve had one meal a day; beans, rice, cooked bananas, so on and as much water as I can afford to boil and carry with me during the day. The beans I cooked came from my own garden, and the 2000 rwf I budgeted for the week was spent only in the markets on produce from the people I call my neighbors.

It’s just an experiment, really. To get in touch with them, to understand their mannerisms and motions and dialect. To quiet my curiosity at things I see but don’t have an explanation for [which is everything]. They’ll still think I’m a muzungu, that I’m hiding my baby-pool of money and riches in the closed door of my bedroom. But at least I’ll understand more. Maybe I’ll have the answers to the millions of unfamiliar moments I experience each day. Or just one. Just one answer would be enough for now.

It took until day 5 of this lifestyle for me to have a delusional urge for bagels, day 7 to dream about pizza, but only day 3 or 4 to start to feel the effects on my body. My lips shriveled and my skin broke out in a still unfamiliar dryness. My motions were slow, deliberate, which I only realized while I tried to swish my head around in a bucket to wash my hair and became instantly disoriented and nauseated. I also realized that a mannerism I’d noted, particularly in the men, of walking [moseying, almost] slowly, with the arms lingering out to touch things, meandering side to side, in what had appeared to be a very random and erratically slow movement, had an underlining malnutrition to it. I found myself reaching my arms out unintentionally to touch passing objects, and then realized it’s because I was so dehydrated, I couldn’t be sure where my feet would be landing. I had reached my fingertips out to graze the surface of an electrical pole, a plant, anything, because it gave me a sense of depth, grounding me to my current location and giving an awareness to my surroundings that maybe I wasn’t able to comprehend anymore on my own. It’s so interesting.

Anyhow, I made it to day 6 before I bought eggs and some bread to make an obscene amount of French toast [a compromise with myself, for not going looking irrationally for expensive Kigali-city bagels for no good reason other than delirium]. I feel like Hermann Hesse while researching Siddhartha but with much less clarity. That also might just be the hunger talking.
How do you even begin to even the score? Not only are they hungry, but they’ve accepted it as a standard of living. Not only are they orphaned, but still living in the house their parents were killed in. Not only is it difficult, but it’s a matter of fact. It’s life. End of story.

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A village, a husband, and hyperventilation

>> Friday, June 11, 2010

I posted some new photos of my adorable little home and some other moving-in stuff.

www.picasaweb.google.com/jolsen87

I know when I was stalking PCV journals when I was waiting to ship out, this was something I really wanted to see myself. so please, take a look! but remember that there is a huge spectrum of site placements there could possibly be, and I am super thankful and appreciative of my lil village and wonderful neighbors. except for the ones that ask me to buy their house or marry them.

Actual conversation from earlier this week.
ok wait, backstory: my creepy single buff neighbor who speaks english as well as i speak kinyarwanda kept trying to get me to visit him and I kept finding ways out of it, because visiting a single man is a no-no for the single white girl living alone. I run into him his full military camo, because apparently, he's a soldier, and we stop to talk in the middle of the dirt path of my village. three or four kids congregate to watch. he speaks english to me, and I respond in kinyarwanda to him.

Ok, actual conversation:

Mr.Soldier Neighbor: I waited for you last week
me: yes i was there. i did not see you.
him: we shall go have a fanta now then
me: no, i cannot, it's night time. I must go home.
him: you will visit me next week.
me: yes but I cannot come to your home, we must meet outside
him: but my home is right here, you will come visit at my home
me: No, I cannot come to your home, it is not appropriate to visit in the home of a man.
him: But you will come to visit my home.

this continues as I explain I cannot visit a man in his home and he tries to understand why and just when I start to think maybe I was too presumptuous to be avoiding a person I'm clearly just miss-communicating with, he says

him: you will visit and soon i will be your husband

if you've seen abbot and costello, insert reference into this next bit that lasts an exhausting 10 minutes

me: no no, I have a fiance
him: oh. you have a fiance? he is rwandan?
me: no, british. and he will be visiting soon.
him: yes, and then soon I will be your fiance
me: no, I HAVE a fiance.
him: yes, me
me: no, I already have one
him: you will have me
me: no, I have one. I only want one. I do not want another
him: yes, you will take me.
me:

[feebly repeating myself as a woman and the baby on her back walking by pause to watch the humor]

no, I have one already. I only want one. I do not want two.
him: but I need you

I'm assuming this actually translates to I'm looking for a muzungu wife, partly because its logical based on their vocabulary, and partly because it's less creepy
me: uhhhh NO, no no. You are my neighbor and a friend only. No... no no... no.

this is all in light humor too, not scary or threatening. just matter-of-fact. blunt. he wants a muzungu wife. I want him to understand that in America, we don't take two husbands. Or trade them out like poker. So we leave on just as vague of an understanding and I go home thankful for my muzungu fiance's impending visit.

The night after this occurred, I was contemplating another pan of popcorn [off my kerosene stove. Maize kernels and milk powder simulate white cheddar popcorn enough to satisfy my general hunger], when I saw, out of the corner of my eye, a massive black object on my wall next to my water boiler. Now, I know most people compare the fight or flight response when faced with bigger opposition like a mountain lion or bear, but seriously, and with NO EXAGGERATION, the beast that had claimed my living room as it's own was THE SIZE OF MY HAND. I didn't HAVE any hard cover books big enough to kill it, and he would simply laugh at a magazine swat. To be honest I couldn't imagine getting close enough to actually hit it with a book without him eating my hand and my body had legitimately started sweating, shaking, and hyperventilating. yea. THAT'S HOW BIG IT WAS. Anyway, when I realized I couldn't hide in a corner and wait for it to go away, I grabbed the squeegee and opened the back door [because if I missed, I would need an escape route and I'd just give him the house]. I whimpered for a while but eventually fought him down with the squeegee. I stopped hyperventilating about a half hour later when I intoxicated myself with bug spray and dismantled my clothes line to hang my mosquito net off the crumbling walls.
In that hour Africa seriously lost some brownie points.. but if the relatives of the spider that starred in Arachnophobia stay outside from now on, I guess I'll forgive him.

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Peace Corps: The closest you'll ever be to bipolar

>> Friday, June 04, 2010

For the sake of a potentially well-sculpted glance at the first few weeks at site, I’m going to include a few different works. One is a journal entry from the first night at site, one is an excerpt from a letter home to the hubby, and another is a series of photographs, hopefully able to narrate my village and surrounding area. I’m trying really hard to break the muzungu-stereotype so taking photos has become a covert-operation. Hopefully you get a nicely-played, full-faceted perspective of my homecoming.

I’m also including an update with a miraculous tale of stupidity, frustration, and amazement that I call: Peace Corps: Remember, you signed up for this [for my amusement and sanity, I’ve come to making up new advertising slogans. They’ll catch on eventually.]

Also, photos may be delayed a few days. My laptop had a meltdown and I was sans-communication for a month. While I luckily had all my photos backed up, my back-up of adobe photoshop application is tormenting me and not loading so we’ll see how long it takes to upload photos of my perfect little home and village.

Journal Entry Excerpt, first night
10th May 2010, Busanza: A Homecoming

So the Puck of Africa took a swing at me, and I fell, mostly out of fear, into the clutches of first-night-chaos. Besides my nonexistent laptop and suddenly temperamental ipod, the terrifying village kids won’t stop banging on my gate!! I appreciate the enthusiasm but they probably don’t realize I’m terrified at every sound. So here I am, in the dark, sleeping on the floor of my new perfect little village home, without a mosquito net because I have no ceiling to hang it from [malaria prevalence: an infrastructure problem?] and huddled under a blanket listening to this saving grace of a crank radio that picks up VoA [Voice of America]. My 3-foot housewarming drum is guarding a dark corner, and I am literally begging, BEGGING that these kids realize it’s the middle of the night and they really need to get home and stop scaring the muzungu.
Maybe there’s a natural anxiety to forging out on your own. Maybe the mefloquine hasn’t finished its course through my system. Or maybe the first night in the middle of nowhere, down a dirt road, up one of a thousand hills, through a grove of mud houses and banana trees, past some nuns and behind a shaky metal gate, is suppose to feel as macabre as it feels in my head. Seriously my yard looks like the opening to Children of the Corn right now [but I have a yard!!! And lots of banana, avocado, and mango trees!!]
I may be a panicked recluse, but at least I have avocados.


Excerpt from a letter home 17th May 2010


There were a million things I wanted to tell you yesterday, but since skype hates us I’m going to ramble here. I wanted to tell you that after my 5-year-old tantrum over not getting your package, I decided to wander into the market near my office, thinking I would get the avocado and onion I needed for guacamole and that would help my mood. The banter with the market ladies is what really made me happy and I was only slightly ripped off [250 rwf for 2 avoka and 100 for ubutunguru] and I felt so much better; the highs and lows aren’t day to day or week to week, it’s minute to minute, which is wonderful and absurdly frustrating. When I got home I harvested my beans [ibishyimbo] and they’re beautiful green, pink, dark blue, speckled white, it’s amazing that so much variation comes from the same plant. To be honest I have no idea how to harvest them. Do I let them dry out? In the sun or in my house? Does it matter? Can I just eat them? If I don’t dry them do they still have to be boiled for 3 hours? I’m too confused that I may just bring them to my neighbor as a gift [the one that asked me to buy his house when I met him]. So I’m sitting outside my office at a discarded desk that was left in the grass, which is actually perfect for me since I hate offices and my tan is starting to go. In front of me is this wild looking bush with red flowers protruding out that look like skinny monotone irises and there are these birds, tiny with long skinny beaks that twitter about inside it. These birds are so beautiful; their chest and beak is a naturally amazing iridescent blue that shimmers and shines when they move and they’re so tiny. I can watch them move for hours. To the left of my randomly placed desk are 4 banana trees, underneath which is a large compost pile [this is where all trash goes in Rwanda- under the banana trees]. And every time the wind blows their big leaves flop around on the wind like elephant ears [I don’t know where I acquired that association but every time I hear them move I think of elephants]. Next to that is a lime tree. I don’t know how countries apparently so rich in food sources can be so malnourished. Things grow everywhere. Someone told me during training that Rwandans don’t believe these easily accessible things are good for them. Like avocados. They really just don’t eat them. It’s not part of their culture which is why you can pull them off the trees yourself and kick ‘em around like a football. But for the impoverished and malnourished, they could be a gold mine. Instead, they sell them to muzungu like me for the equivalent of 20 cents [I’m pretty sure Wegman’s sells them at $4 each]. It’s sad but it raises the question of how much you sacrifice culture for what is apparently health, or development. Rwandans talk about desperately wanting to be developed, but to do that, how much of their identity is going to be sacrificed? I hate imagining Rwanda like America or any other Western country. How much is going to change when it develops enough that McDonalds infiltrates the capital? The effects it’ll have on food, on daily life, on health. Please don’t ruin another culture, they’re better off without you. I hope it never makes it here. I hope they ride the fine line between 2nd and 1st world forever, because I don’t think the 1st world is worth the baggage; the dissatisfaction, restlessness, heart disease, industry, and general unease that comes with it.
Whenever I think about what development means, I go off on similar tangents and then after, inevitably, I have to ask myself, so… what are you doing here? And I struggle with the answers. It reminds me of camp in a way. Sometimes there’s so much you don’t agree with but if there weren’t people like you, me, any nutritionist ever, any solid counselor, camp would be as industrial as the western world. There’s one form and everyone thinks this is what they should be formed into. But there’s more to what developed could mean. They don’t have to follow our suite. They don’t have to become only what’s been formed before. But they only see America and want to be it. These kids and these people have a fighting chance if they’re given the information and education they need. Without it, there’s one direction. Countries like Rwanda don’t have to be us, they can be better, a similar strain of developed but maybe learn from our faults, not follow like lemmings [because it didn’t work out for them, did it].



Standing at the base of the valley that I walk through to climb the mountain to my village. If you look to the far right of that massive storm settling over my village, that's where my house is <3 .





An update on the health of a health volunteer. 26th May 2010

PC: You signed up for this. You signed up for this?

Really, it’s my own fault. I shouldn’t have slept with my contacts in. I shouldn’t have. But it was dark, I was due in town to watch the marathon at 8am, and I wasn’t about to go trekking up the mountain at night only to come back down at 6am Sunday morning. So I slept on another volunteer’s floor in town and woke up on Sunday in excruciating pain. A combination of getting old and the climate/dirt of Africa had literally blinded me over night. I don’t honestly know how I made it the 4 miles home that morning. Once I did get home though, I laid in the dark with my eyes closed hoping it would sort itself out. When it didn’t, the amazing PC staff picked me up, guided me into a vehicle, took me to the capital hospital and found out I had severely scratched corneas. Then, guided me home and I’d been laying in the dark with a washcloth over my eyes ever since.
To be honest it’s the best medical care I’ll ever have. Serious props to the Rwandan PCMO that took care of me.
Anyway, not being about to see is probably one of the most debilitating ailments because I couldn’t distract myself with books or the beautiful environment. Moving hurt and so did sunlight. I literally could not bathe or eat for 3 days. Try and imagine waking up with the roosters at 5:30 and then laying perfectly still in the dark for 15 hours only to rewet a washcloth from the basin next to my bed that I fixed before the anesthetic from the hospital wore off. I was at the point of peeing in a bucket because I couldn’t find the latrine 15 feet away without wanting to gouge my eyes out.
I’d used my emergency phone card to call the PCMO to begin with, so I was sans communication, sans electricity, sans food, running low on water and about 98% blind. [side note: did I mention I accidentally drank kerosene the 1st week? I’ll get back to that]
So it’s day 3 or 4 and I am so frustrated that I can’t go outside long enough to fill a bucket of water to take a shower without my eyes melting from acid, that I’m just absolutely losing my mind. I throw a small [huge] tantrum and lay in bed.
Miraculously, a few hours later my vision clears a bit and I can move enough to take a bucket bath in the darkness of my house. Then the storm of a century rolls through and my house starts flooding. And I’m so happy I can see that I enjoy moving my little belongings out of the storm path and watch the rain destroy most of my maize [not an issue for me, but an issue to think about when most of my neighbors subsist entirely on their own crops]. With the rain comes my electricity. So after almost a week of absolute hell, I wash my dirty dishes, take a bath, squeegie the flood out of my house, eat some food and boil some water, and once again, all is right in the world.
No really, I love a good adventure.

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Nyiramwiza

>> Friday, April 30, 2010

so it's May 1st [Happy May Day!!!] and we're officially done with training. We've taken our language proficiency interview, we've passed, and we've moved on to partying, Rwandan names, and shipping off to Kigali. I'm actually really proud of myself and my language capabilities after kinyarwanda boot camp for ten weeks. The fact that the majority of my group swung advanced level language skills is really fantastic and at the same time hardly means anything until we get to site and try to actually apply them regularly to our neighbors and coworkers. Yesterday I was sitting and staring [not thinking, because it's hard to think when you look at the views here] at the mountain silhouettes on the horizon, and three boys who looked like the Rwandan equivalent of the lollipop kids from the Wizard of Oz, walked by. The were clowning by me until they saw the muzungu sitting on the hill and we had the following exchange:
Mwaramutse
Mwaramutse
Uvuye he?
Mirugo
Ahh yego. Komeza.

And while that really is basic, we understood each other, they respected my understanding and seamless speaking abilities, and moved on. It was really great. Kinyarwanda is such a throaty language that you might understand the words but if you can't be comprehended while speaking them, what use is it? It's also really interesting to try to communicate with minimal mutual language between you, and it's impressive what you can get across without actually saying anything. Real time charades.

I was at the market yesterday since it was the last market day we'd have in Nyanza and discovered some interesting things about Retail, USA. Imagination: the spring lines come out and mass consumerism commences. A few weeks later, whatever doesn't sell is either A: Shredded [because you can't give new clothes to the poor in America, apparently, because they try to return it for money at the original store. Or B: the clothes go into donation boxes and get shipped to 3rd world countries such as Rwanda. They're then given to local NGOs/other organizations, and then given to local business owners, who then sell it in the outdoor markets in heaps and piles to the average Rwandan for 200 franc per piece. The American Eagle shirt that was selling for $24.95 in Oakdale Male, NY just sold to me for the equivalent of 35 cents, tags still on, shirt never worn. What's the production value of this stuff?

My group will be heading to Kigali on Tuesday for our official PC swearing-in ceremony, for those of us that are left. In the past 10 weeks of training, 3 potential volunteers have gone home, which was statistically probable anyway, but it's still sad every time to lose some of the family.

Swearing in should be amazing; it'll be on Wednesday at the ambassador's house in Kigali, and will be shown on national television. If anyone knows a fancy western way to view it, like you can hear Rwandan radio on iTunes podcast, please try to! Lots of good food, Rwandan tailored dresses, and some tan faced children ready to be thrown into the bush. Each of us were given a Rwandan name by our LCFs [Language and Cultural Facilitators], the ones who lives with us and have taught us for the last 2 months. It's kind of a rite of passage and it's a name we can use at our sites since our silly American names are mostly unpronounceable. I was given the name Nyiramwiza, which means the beautiful one; I was so excited I almost cried when my LCFs told me.

I'm drawing a blank on what I should be writing about. Training is over, and the 24 months are about to start but it's so vague and daunting and mysterious that I really have no thoughts or tangible concerns yet to talk about. Or maybe my brain's just fried from too much kinyarwanda.
Kigali in a few days, Swear-in on Wednesday, and departure for my permanent site in a week. Happy/anxious/excited/terrified updates to come!

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Measuring Time in Tubes of Chapstick

>> Saturday, April 17, 2010

Days left of language training: 13 days
Days left until swear-in: 18 days
Carmex chapstick used: 3 tubes

Infinitive: Gushaka Translation: To need/want
Ndashaka kwiga kinyarwanda I need/want to learn kinyarwanda
Urashaka kwiga kinyarwanda You need/want to learn kinyarwanda
Arashaka kwiga kinyarwanda S/he needs/wants to learn kinyarwanda

It's a comforting cultural acknowledgment to know that in one of the most complex languages in the world there's one word to describe both need and want, with no need for distinction between them.

Learning kinyarwanda is like walking before you know you have legs, motor function, or balance.
You flounder for a while because you're trying to move [there's no point in staying still when the world around you is moving]. Eventually you're told you have a leg but one leg sans balance and motor function is minimally useful, and you continue to struggle linguistically; deaf, dumb, and blind.
You slowly gain footing and learn the basic abilities of movement, but we may as well be drunk for all of our stumbles.
Despite the difficulties of learning one of the hardest-ranked languages in the world [true story. Google it.] we do it happily, eagerly, and insatiably. It's the key to integration and acceptance, and to be honest it's an honor to do what no other foreigners in Rwanda set out to do. And when these 24 months have passed, and many more years after that, we'll take solace in this secret knowledge and bare our understanding to very few. We'll save it's strength for when our children have nightmares and be confident when we tell them komera [be strong] and quiet those fears because those same words helped mommy some years ago when she was alone in a small, landlocked jungle.
This language is a treasure, a jewel we'll carry home, and maybe not apply like you'd apply a romantic language, with a gold star on your resume, but it carries a different purpose, a kind of poetry that pops up in dreams and personal solace and lives if only for that.



Awesome happenings of week 7:
1. To practice our community assessment skills, our group visited different organizations and learned about their varying jobs and needs. By a stroke of fate, the cooperative I went to was a soy bean processing organization that makes soymilk and tofu. Long story, lots of excitement, and many photos later, I'm going to be making my own tofu. Never did I think this day would come living in Africa with the Peace Corps, but I'm not about to argue with fate. If anyone has any great seasoning/marinating ideas, forward them my way!

2. I don't have a definite for my housing situation yet, but my amazing future boss confirmed that they located a house in a village outside the city so I will be living the dream in hopefully a hut/house with no running water, banana trees, and garden/chicken potential. WOOOOOOOOOH!

3.Chances are high that i'll have a traditional rwandan charcoal “stove” to cook with and some CPCVs have said how awesome it is to roast marshmallows over the embers after you cook dinner [and since it takes forever to heat the embers up anyway, you might as well get the full course out of them]. So if anyone wants to mail me some smores ingredients, feel free!

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Siddhartha Part I, II, and III

>> Saturday, April 03, 2010

OK, this is going to be a LONG post, so get yourself some tea before settling down for it.
So, this whole past week all of us trainees went to Kigali, the capital, to have a conference with our future organizations, and then we were shipped off to visit our future work/living sites. This is easily the most exciting and emotionally overwhelming part of our ten weeks of training. The site you are given is more or less like shuffling monopoly cards and dealing them out, except there is no trading. I'd like to say that our experience and preferences are taken into account, but since the organizations didn't receive our resumes, aspiration statements, or even a biography, I don't think it is the case. This is why most people at this point reach a level of stress/anxiety that is unparalleled to any other situation. No but it's been a good week. It started out really stressful and anxious but has since calmed into an upscale of enthusiasm and ecstatic hopefulness. I'm going to break the week down into emotions and incidents [incidents being: stupid or interesting cultural things I accidentally stumble into].
Actually let's start with a preface. We received our site organization, location, and job description last week. Mine said I'd be placed in Kigali [bummer, when a country is this beautiful, who wants to be in the capital? But it's a big region so I was hopeful for some rural life still], and my organization seemed to work with vulnerable groups, such as OVCs [orphans/vulnerable children] and PLWHA [people living with HIV/AIDS] which is awesome. My job description, however, said 'micro enterprise development' and I don't even know what the crap that is. And the fuller descriptions following that looked just as daunting and not at all related to health. SO, when this caused an uproar among other people with similar descriptions, we were assured that we would be doing health, under a program called Higo Beho, that focuses in work related to HIV/AIDS. So, everyone tries to breathe, and we wait for our conference in Kigali.

Tuesday:
Mood: hopeful, optimistic, a little apprehensive.
Me and a few other volunteers meet our organization, whose name I won't put since I don't want to be liable for any potential ranting that may be coming in future paragraphs or prose. It is a faith based organization, which I wasn't opposed to having since the FBOs tend to be better established and have much more and consistent funding. At the end of the talk with them we weren't quite sure what the organization did. We knew it was good [awesome] and did good things [still awesome] but specifically we weren't sure beyond the fact that they affiliate with groups related to OVCs and PLWHA [the PC loves abbreviations]. Later we had individual talks with our bosses and I learned that ours still thought we were volunteers who would be doing micro finance for his branch. We quickly told him we were health volunteers and when Anna and I described our experience, he was very receptive and agreed he would be happy to find work that would suite our skill sets. So we were happy but a little nervous as to whether this would actually happen, or if he was just yessing us, since we have heard that many currentPCVs are still doing a bit of micro finance with this organization.
We left with our community guide/boss/the people we'll be working with and went into Kigali to the office. It's probably relevant to any potential PCVs to mention my emotional downswing around this time. Between tuesday night and wednesday afternoon I felt like an absolute panic attack waiting to happen. I was so worked up about not being immediately happy with my site and afraid it was going to be terrible and afraid I was going to be unhappy and useless for 2 years that I was aaaa nutcase.

Wednesday:
Mood: about to pass out from internal hyperventilating.
7am-8am every morning: daily prayer with all the staff. The PC emphasizes that volunteers are not required to attend religious ceremonies, but it is by no means optional to the organization. It's interactive, excessive, and a little overwhelming. I don't mind people doing their religious thing. And if I have to be there for it, I don't mind as long as I can sit through it and dream of a sandy honeymoon beach. But being pulled into it, asked to give the prayers at dinner, lunch, tea, or over a fanta, is a little much for me. After this we had a few hours of down time so I took the opportunity to make a pro-con list [don't mock it!] and it significantly reduced my anxiety to a minimum. I guess just knowing what was making me anxious really helped. The problem was that I consider myself a fairly optimistic person and I think I can find a silver lining in just about anything, but I couldn't find anything definite to put on my pro list. I had two things that were potential, like, 'potential health work' and 'potential electricity' but nothing definite. And a con list that was hitting double digits. This in itself is not very optimistic but it helped clear my head a bit and we continued on our visit, dreary, but sane.
Later we visited a cooperative that the organization works with and saw how they held a SLG [savings and loans group] that helped generate income for the people involved, a group of PLWHA. The actual meeting of SLGs is incredibly boring and exactly the work I don't want to be involved in, but the people in the meeting told us that they would love to be trained about HIV, and that one woman worked with children living with HIV and found it difficult to advise them on good nutrition, which is important when you're already immunocompromised. And all I could think is, this is stupid, I need to live in a community like this. I could do this all the time and love it and love the people why am I not living in a community like this?
The problems I was feeling with my organization is based around what they had set up for us. The boss said that he wanted to put us near the office, in the city, so we didn't have to walk far [to make it to prayer every day] and since we were muzungu [my words, not his] he was going to put us in muzungu housing, which is fancy, western housing. And that's not what we want and not want the PC preaches. If I were living in the city, I wouldn't have a community because the capital in Rwanda is like a city anywhere else. Cars, exhausted, paved roads and stores and lots of people moving in and out. There's no community and no comradery and no sense of belonging. The PC preaches living and working at the community level, within the community, in order to be trusted and integrated into a foreign society. And that's a justified approach. If I were any of these people I wouldn't listen to the white American girl driving into the village in an SUV once every few weeks to tell me how to eat or live. It's absurd. But that's the way this organization works. The approach is probably easier for the Rwandan staff but it's not what we do and it's not the way PC works. We're volunteers. We're here to help the community, to become integrated and to be an example to those around us in order to facilitate our skills. I can't do that without a community. After this epiphany, came scheming...
Thursday: mood: determined, focused, unstoppable.
So, I changed speed and decided I would fix this living situation and met with my boss and drove a hard bargain as to why it was necessary to place me in a village. He seemed more confused by this than anything else, because most Rwandans that live in villages spend their whole lives trying to get to the city, and I was doing the opposite. He also didn't realize that this was how the PC really worked. I feel like between the job confusion and the actual program itself, there needs to be some better communication. Anyhow, I looked back on my pro-con list, and if I were placed in the village, 8 of my cons switched to the pro list. A community to connect with, opportunities for secondary projects in case the organization forgets that I'm a health volunteer, personal space and sanity, less prayer obligations [the village will hopefully be too far to get to the office every morning]. And a real feel for Rwanda, not the melting-pot of a tourist trap that all big cities can be. I don't want to be just another face floating in and out. I can really help and I will be the most useful to the peace corps and to my organization if I can live with the people, like the people.
Anyway, after my cheerleading session on village life, my boss happily, albeit, very confused, offered to have us driven around the villages to look at potential areas. For the first half hour they tried to scare me out of the concept by showing me really obscure, really remote mudhuts, and when I enthusiastically said, Yego! Ni byiza cyane! [yes! It's very beautiful. Very good!] they were like, uhmmmm what??
Seriously, can't a white girl enjoy nature anymore?
But after they heard my reasoning we actually made some progress and I found an area with modest houses, lots of children, and a great community not too far from the actual city. I'm going to be riding my fancy PC bike EVERYWHERE for the next 2 years I think, but I'll have some great biker's legs from it. I'm super excited and hope my boss really takes me up on the idea [huts are significantly cheaper than a muzungu house in the city, so he better]. Since then, it's been smoooooth sailing and I'm hopeful to actually get there in 5 weeks, assess the situation, buy an African drum, and call it a day.

End of the week mood: optimistic, super excited, and hopeful! Yaaaay!


Ahh in my rantings I forgot to mention the best parts! Me doing/learning awkward social encounters!
I'm not sure if anyone can rate these but I definitely can't choose.
-the wife of my colleague was showing me their wedding photos and since she doesn'tt speak english, I was working on my kinyarwanda and pointing to people in photos and asking if they were her sister, her cousin, whatnot. And there's a photo of her with what appeared to be an older woman, and I asked, mama wowe? [Your mom?]
Oya, umugabo wanjye. Traditional. [No, my husband, in traditional dress]
turns out I called her husband a woman because the traditional dress is this crazy lookin headband with a lot of hair sticking out of it and I deeeefinitely thought it was a woman. Awesome.

-African tea is growing on me. It grossed me out at first because its mostly hot milk, but after being fed it 3 times a day all week, I really miss it. It's boiled milk mixed with boiled water, with some kind of african tea/ginger thrown in, and then about 3 or 4 tablespoons of raw sugar, and it's delicious. It almost resembles a chai latte but is waaay better. And on that note, I tried to describe that to my colleague, and I asked him if he knew of starbucks, and not even the faintest fluttering of recognition floated across his eyes and I felt a curious sense of joy at that..

-My host family for the week insisted on stuffing me with food. I wasn't allowed to leave the table if I only ate one serving. So, I started taking smaller servings in order to make the second one less daunting, but he noticed or was simply gearing up for it, so he just started piling scoops of rice, never ending, onto my plate, after the second serving, and insisted that I eat everything. If you can imagine 4 cartons of white rice from any chinese restaurant in america, that is literally, no exaggeration, the amount I had to eat at that one meal. I've never eaten so much rice in my life. And it is white rice, which drives me nuts because it's so counter intuitive, that a third world country with all produce coming straight out of the ground only has white, refined, rice.
-Not entertaining like the others, but interesting. A person I met who was about 20 years old and still a student, was helping with my kinyarwanda [he also pleaded with me to let him clean my muddy shoes. Rwandans like clean shoes] and talking to me in english. He asked first if I had parents and said I was very lucky to have them. Later, he told me how he used to have 14 siblings but now he only has 7 because of the war. This was said in between two very casual statements in a group of Rwandan people, so we kind of just seamlessly continued the conversation after it. He later explained to me that there are many things he would like to tell me about the war, many difficulties in his life, but that his english was not good enough to do them justice, but that someday he hopes he can portray his story. And it was really interesting and sobering to know that a young man who was only 4 years old at the time, wants to desperately share the story of his life. I haven't decided what it means yet, but it was really interesting.

-I couldn't figure out the hygiene situation at this house because toilet always means different things in Rwanda. Sometimes, it's a working inside toilet. Sometimes it's a working toilet that you can't put anything other than water in, sometimes it's a hole in the ground. It took me a day and a half to realize that their toilet was a hole in the ground, but had a toilet bowl over the hole to give the impression of functionality. The 'douche' was also a lot of guesswork because the shower room they showed me was a shack with no light and a hole in the floor. So for a while I thought 'douche' meant latrine [don't worry I didn't try to use it] and I still didn't know where to shower. Eventually my grunginess took over and I asked how I could bathe, and they put a small basin of water in the shower shack and that was that. Not very conducive to washing hair, but enough to get the job done.

-According to Rwandan folklore, all Americans are good singers, and they go to college at the age of 10 and graduate with a masters at 18. True story. They asked me to sing for them and the only thing I could think of was “empire state of mind” and the scene in Madagascar where he sings the new york song.

-When my host told me I would be giving the prayer at dinner, and I stumbled through the explanation that I didn't know any prayers because in American culture, we only pray in church, he laughed at me and told me I was special.

Since I'm already rambling, I'm going to throw some lists out there to answer some questions I've been asked:
Awesome Rwandan Things:
1. the African tea I mentioned above. Google it!
2. tree tomatoes. So amazing but no I don't think I can mail any home
3. passionfruit <3
4. Medy, a musician on all the Rwandan radios. Look up his song, Amayobera, it's aaawesome
5. red clay roads and endless greenery.
6. little chubby babies who do the 'yay muzungu!' dance in the road when they see you coming from 100 yards away.
7. the art district of Kigali, where they sell awesome African jewelry and some awesome-looking drums I'm going to become an expert on.

Random things I miss:
1. the smell of the inside of the subway freezer after all the vegetables have been prepared [seriously, it's worth working at subway for]
2. the smell of car air conditioning [I really don't like air conditioning, but the smell of it... faaaantastic]
3. Target
4. eating snow. Leaving mid-winter, I got jipped on my consumption

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Not for the meek, weak, or weary

>> Wednesday, March 24, 2010

I want to preface this blog entry with a warning that the content will not be particularly pleasant to hear and with any help of reality, will be downright upsetting. Two weekends ago we visited the Genocide memorial outside of Butare and I wanted to give myself a week or so to process what I saw so that the emotions wouldn't override the factual truth of it, but even now, I'm not sure what this is going to sound like. First off, wipe the visualization of a memorial out of mind, because I want the image to be perfectly clear and often times I feel like we have a detached idea of what memorials are, seeing only the statues or flowers that have been made in memory of what happened there. This is not that type of memorial.

We arrived at this site and were given the following background information: this building used to be a secondary school. There is the main building and then there were strips of classrooms in separate structures scattered along the property. During the months of the genocide as it was getting increasingly hostile and life-threatening all across Rwanda, Tutsis [the targeted group] in all the nearby towns were told that they would be safe if they headed towards the school. They were told this by the Hutus in their villages.
So, 50,000 Tutsis gathered at the school and lived there for two weeks with no food or water but felt they were being protected. After two weeks, the hutu extremists/armies surrounded the school and killed them all. They had been denied food and water over the 2 weeks in order to weaken their resistance. The Tutsis tried to fight back with bricks and stones, but the Hutus had guns, and were stronger. But they weren't just killed with guns. They surrounded them with guns. They killed with machetes, garden tools, guns, and physical torture. Children, women, adults, everyone. They were all thrown in mass graves built on the grounds. The Hutu extremists also took the valuable clothing off the Tutsis before and after killing them.
While this phase of the killing of 50,000 people took place, the French army came in, and took up camp at the school in some of the empty buildings. Their mission was to protect the Hutu genocidaires [attackers] when they made their escape to the Congo border. The mass graves were covered with a volleyball pit built by the French for their amusement while they stayed there. After this phase, after I'm not sure what length of time, the bodies were dug up, preserved in lime, and put on display, as a testament to the atrocities that occurred.
This part we weren't told. We didn't know the bodies were on display until we walked up to a strip of classrooms that overlooked the beautiful, juxtaposed Rwandan landscape, and waited to see where they were leading us. I walked up to the first strip and when I got close to the first door, oh god, the smell. It's the most horrible thing I've ever smelled. And you walk into the room and you're surrounded by bodies. Human bodies. Baby bodies, still with skin, some still in clothing, broken limbs, skulls smashed in, tufts of hair still on their heads. It makes me physically sick to remember it. And every room, 6 classrooms next to each other and we went in one by one. And then we moved to the next strip and one by one they led us into them. And I was so sick so disgusted so ill at something I can't begin to put into words. I don't think there's an emotion for the feeling that overwhelms you in that situation.
The problem is that as humans, I think we form a natural detachment from things that we can't personally relate to. The holocaust, 9-11, any war, unless we have been personally touched by it it's near impossible to gauge the right level of horror to understand what people went through. And often, the events are far enough back in history that we're not expected to understand them well enough to empathize. But these people we see everyday, the people who train us, who live with us, who greet us in the street, who beg for money, every person in this country over the age of 16 has been effected by it and in turn, we see those effects. When someone we now know personally tries to fight a breakdown, it's impossible to ignore. When our host families confess how many siblings they had before 'the war' or how they simply live knowing their neighbors and friends who killed are being rehabilitated and eventually released back into society. How do they live. In the same place, the same house. How can they stomach to see those bodies, and the bodies of babies, of a head crushed in by machete, of limbs hacked off. I don't mean to be graphic or maybe I do, because it's too easy to displace the absolute horror that took place 16 years ago. If I had grown up in this country, if any of us had, we would remember how we lost our families. How do they live when it was their sister, their parents. How did anyone survive? As someone completely unattached to the event, it makes me sick. The court system, Gacaca, is a system that deals with the attackers and rehabilitates them through community work. We see them walking down the street in light pink prison uniforms, heading to the hillside to till the land. And they don't look any different, they're not hardened by the prison like people are in America. They don't look like criminals. They look like men who 15 years ago, were fathers and sons and neighbors and bankers and shop owners. I may have said this before, but I marvel at it and I don't trust it at the same time. I want to respect and understand it and at the same time I want to throw up. A whirlwind of emotions. And I feel like 90% of them are still inaudible.
There's no way to avoid it and no way to talk about it. So, people go about their day and their life like they do. Because they have to. So we will too. Because it has been 16 years, and life has to go on and it has. It doesn't change anything and at the same time, it does. Because the children are still happy and still eager to talk to you and the woman in the village are still well-dressed and friendly, and you can forget for a little while the despair that used to plague this country, but when a beggar with one arm asks you for money, it's difficult to displace that knowledge of where he's coming from.



**I want to add that normally I would have kept that experience locked up in my mind, but it was the request of the manager at the memorial that we share our experience with others. That's the reason for putting 50,000 bodies on display, isn't it? People say we learn history so that history doesn't repeat itself. But it always has. Genocide is not a rare or isolated concept. As an eternal optimist, it's difficult to acknowledge that it's prevalence is almost indicative of a quality of humanity. And if that doesn't scare you, I don't know what will.

More optimistic blogs coming in the very near future.

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>> Thursday, March 11, 2010

Come, my tan faced children
Follow well in order, get your weapons ready,
Have you your pistols? Have you your sharp-edged axes?
Pioneers! O pioneers!

For we cannot tarry here,
We must march my darlings, we must bear the brunt of danger
We the youthful sinewy races, all the rest on us depend,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

O you youths, western youths,
So impatient, full of action, full of manly pride and friendship,
Plain I see you western youths, see you tramping with the foremost,
Pioneers, O pioneers
[Whitman]


Surreal. Word of the day. It's 3 pm and we're sitting out on our porch, with soft jazz playing on a laptop, with the sun hazing through thin clouds, and the below view in front of us.
One of the other volunteers just said that lately, her dreams feel more real than her life [probably from the malaria meds].

Seriously, it's never been such a new and beautiful life. Don't get me wrong, though, training is hard and tiring, when your house is only the place you sleep and do your laundry. And I miss my friends and family and the love of my life, but it's not an adjustment just yet. So many of us have such similar backgrounds and passions that when you put us together 16-24 hours a day, it's not difficult to love what you do.

Things you would expect to be an adjustment but aren't:

aiming well while using the latrine [think about that]
washing your clothes in a bucket with a bar of soap
taking bucket showers [pocahontas style]
walking 1.5 miles to class every morning
not having running water
greeting EVERY person you pass on the street [average: 35 on the way to class]
having children follow you everywhere, even when you're running
only having boiled and filtered water for drinking/ brushing your teeth
not being allowed to put toilet paper in the toilet [true story]
eating goat at least once a day
almost always not understanding an attempt at communication [the go-to phrase being, simbizi! I don't understand!]

This being said, some current volunteers came in to give us a talk on the cycle of adjustment during PC service. And according to their chart, us trainees are still in the 'honeymoon' period of service, and I can anticipate a shock/breakdown in 2-3 weeks! Things to look forward to!

Exciting happenings of this week:
I successfully haggled in the market, the most intimidating place I've seen yet. It took until my 4th trip to feel comfortable enough with my kinyarwanda and my muzungu self to do it. As a basis for pricing, the PC handbook says to take whatever number they propose to you [the muzungu price], and haggle it to about 50-60%, and that's the fair price. I got my own glass tea mug for the equivalent of a little less than $2 :).
I learned a bit of Rwandan dance at National Women's Day on monday, when about 100 rhythmically gifted high school students pulled us all out of the stands to dance. Lots of singing by one guy, then responses from the rest, and feet stamping, clapping, and low hip movement. It's awesome to see these people, so free and unabashed. Shame must be a western emotion.

On Saturday we head to Butare to go to a museum and another genocide memorial, this one rumored to be a lot more intense than the last [preserved bodies]. I'm excited to see more of the country and get closer to being comfortable in Rwandan culture. More is unfolding every day and I feel more and more familiar here. Yay :)

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