>> 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:
Uvuye he?
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!


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!


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.

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.

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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