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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