Culture Clash

>> Sunday, March 07, 2010

1. So I'm posting photos as of now to this web address:

My photos are usually better than my prose, so take a gander!

2. Soooo I may have accidentally made a proposal to a rwandan friend. I didnt mean to, but this is a textbook definition of a culture clash. I walked back from town with a rwandan, who is male, and was asking innocent questions about rwandan life, where he's from, if he farms, whatnot. And when he said he farmed, I asked if he had a cow, solely because I like farm animals [no shock there] and he said yes, and I asked [with a hint of childish whimsy, I might add] “how many cows do you have??” again, because I love cows! But he responded in such a way that I immediately knew I was treading on veeeeery different terrain than I had intended! Either way he kind of laughed the question off and I immediately started inquiring about chickens [which I know have no wealthy significance] but it was sooo awkward haha. Apparently, in rwanda, cows are considered dowry. Such as, a man is a better mate the more cows he has. He would approach a woman's parents and ask for permission and present the number of cows he had, indicating wealth. This is a very traditional idea and its my understanding that since the genocide, the amount of cows someone is actually allowed to have is now limited [if you had over a certain amount of cows, it meant you were in a certain ethnic group. Discussing or labeling ethnicity is illegal in rwanda since the genocide of 1994, therefore some of the bases for its separation are also dissolved.] Anyway, now its more like, asking someone how many cows they have is like asking them how much money they make, with the assumption that you're inquiring as an interested partner. Coooool.

On a sidenote, I was just assaulted by a jumping spider and almost threw my laptop in the process of escaping [don't worry Joe, I'm taking care of it]. The spiders aren't as big as everyone else made them out to be, but they're still not exactly pleasant. So it's sunday morning and we all slept in to a whopping 7am, before crawling out of bed and eating out boulangerie-bought muffins with rwandan bananas that look more like plantains, and boiling/filtering our water. Kitty and I went for an exploratory run and after 15 minutes found a few kids who followed walking behind us for a ways. I asked them in ikinyarwanda if they like jogging and they nodded and started jogging with us. By the time we got back to our house there were 10 kids and a few adults, waiting to see what we did next. And in a true likeness of Forrest Gump, we shrugged and decided to go for round two. We motioned the kids and they started jogging with us again. We were probably out for another mile or so and we had two dedicated kids [ages? 7/10ish] who stayed with us the whole way. It was pretty wonderful. For undernourished kids they can really outdo us. I think because of camp, running with kids is so natural, that I think I may have found a secondary project, for developing some kind of youth outreach program. I also have a year before I have to worry about that, but its nice to remember how useful I actually am.
Training is a little ridiculous but fun and wonderful at the same time. But seriously, the language workload is really intense; if we all didn't laugh so much we'd lose our minds. I already know more kinyarwanda than i've ever known french or italian. To help add to our immersion in rwandan culture, we each have a 'resource family' that we dont live with, but spend a few hours a week with in order to learn and whatnot. In general, this is an awkward situation, because we know 5-days worth of kinyarwanda, and they mostly know little to no english. Some families know a bit if french but a little of all the wrong languages still leaves most everyone just staring at each other for 3 hours, which is funny in retrospect, but incredibly awkward and self-humbling at the time. It's interesting trying to bond with someone with absolutely no communication skills to compile. This in itself is bareable, because I hear that it does get better as your kinyarwanda does, but yesterday, my host mom pulled out the big guns. My first visit she asked me if I liked amata [milk] and I said yego [yes] and she poured me a glass of steaming hot milk. And that was fine actually, because it wasn't sour, it was just hot, and tasted like western milk, and I was really relieved! Because i've heard horror stories of chunky milk you get served and are expected to drink. But this second visit, she asked me if I've ever had [insert word for chunky old milk here] and I didn't know the word but I could sense something coming and let her know I had class in 15 minutes and had to leave. But she insisted that I try it first. And I swear by this statement, but I would have rathered to slaughter my own goat and eaten it for her, than drank that huge glass of chunky, yellow, old milk. But I had to try it, because she was waiting, so I tried it and she watched me so excitedly, and I tried to not die, and said, ohhhh! That's lovely. This isn't like american milk. How do you make it? And she told me you take regular milk, leave it in the sun for 2 days, and then you get this.
I spent the next 5 minutes stressing that I had to leave while she urged me to drink more [I almost feel like she had to know how horrible it was and was just amusing herself] I got out of there with 3 real drinks and then spent the walk back trying not to throw up. I'm still deciding how to be able to go back there and get out of it.
Quite often its easy to forget you're a world away, until you need to be home with your family. Get better big brother :(
If anyone has specific questions about rwandan life or the PC, shoot me an e-mail. I forget how much i've already adjusted to, like using a latrine, having small children follow me everywhere, or red clay roads lined with banana trees. It's pretty amazing what you don't know about the world, until you get there.
So it seems pretty easy to keep in touch while I'm here in Nyanza for training. For the next 9 weeks, if you want to contact me, please do, by email or mobile. My cell number is [0]782162181. you have to put the rwandan country code in front of that, and the code of the country you call from. It's something like 011+250+782162181. good luck :) it's free for me to receive calls, but i'm pretty sure itll destroy your phone bill if you talk for too long! I'll find out my actual site placement in 3 weeks, so when I know that i'll have a better idea of my location and communication skills beyond May 8. Maramuke!


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