Sunday, November 22, 2009

I think I may soon be involved in my first charitable collaboration with an NGO. I was recently put in contact with a friend of a friend who will be travelling to Rwanda soon. She’s working with some variety of NGO that is focusing on Rwandan youth and the promotion of the living situations of children in orphanages. As I’m sure many of you can imagine, there are many orphans in Rwanda, but the government has done a spectacular job of finding homes for many of these children for at least portions of the year at a time. This way, those who have lost their parents generally don’t have to spend holidays by themselves. I’m not entirely clear on how finding permanent homes works, though. In any event, she seems interested in having the chance to donate to a smaller village outside of Kigali, because Kigali already gets a lot of traffic from aid groups. Tomorrow, I’m going to talk to the Nyanza Orphanage director and see what we can organize. Hopefully this goes over well.

I don’t want to sound overly enthusiastic, but I am beginning to think that I’ve adjusted to the lifestyle of a third world country. Simplicity is intensely underrated. I’m not saying that I’ve become a monk since my departure from the United States, far from it. There are several people in my service group who specifically opted against bringing electronics and things that would provide any semblance of creature comforts from home, in order to enforce the adjustment to life in Africa. I, however, am not so infallible. I feel as though my commitment to serve in Rwanda was enough of a sincere gesture that I am here for the right reasons. When I raise the topic of simplicity, I mean more along the lines of the things we often take for granted in the West. The amount of waste there is absolutely astounding. We use so much all the time and never really bother to replace or replenish our resources because we automatically assume someone, somewhere, will sell more to us. Water, for one, is huge in my opinion, especially being from southern California where we repeatedly purchase water from other areas to suit our needs, without any regard for its scarcity as a resource. Now, I have never maintained even the most fleeting notion that I would take bucket baths for the rest of my life, but I feel as though there must be a way to make people at home more aware of their environment’s limitations. In fear of sounding too preachy, I don’t intend to visit this topic regularly, but I think it is necessary to touch on the differences between the lifestyles here and at home.

Speaking of environment, I can’t get enough of Rwanda from an aesthetic point of view. It is ridiculously gorgeous here; so much so that I often find myself just sitting on my porch at home and looking at the scenery. For those of you who know me well, you know I’m not really the sit and do nothing type, but in Rwanda I could probably spend hours just looking at things. This morning I woke up randomly at 5 am and wandered outside for a minute. I don’t know if we have this back in Orange County, but the sunrise was astounding. The clouds were progressively pink, then orange, then yellow, then white, the sky stayed this really rich dark blue colour for a long time, and I could see the stars all the way until the sun had past above the hillside. It almost felt like I woke up on a different planet than the one I fell asleep on. We’re also so high up here that we regularly get what I have come to call “starry showers”. This is probably the little sister of the “sun shower” in that it’s simultaneously clear enough to see the sky, and raining. During starry showers the power is normally out so we can see the stars better, and they are juxtaposed with thunderstorms that periodically light up the sky. It’s something one ought to see for his or herself.

I’ll be going on a site visit next weekend so hopefully I’ll be able to make another update sometime during the week next week. Maybe one of these days I’ll actually know where MY site is going to be.

I hope you all have a fantastic Thanksgiving!


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

So I have managed to make it through a whole week at training. It’s Sunday, our “free day”, and a lot has happened since my last update. I learned a couple of Rwandan dances that I was made to perform in front of everyone in my staging group. As it turns out, at the end of my last post I had mentioned that there were people outside learning some traditional songs and dances, but there were only LCFs* (Language and Culture Facilitators) practicing for a show that night. When I wandered outside and asked to be shown some of the steps they readily accepted and immediately started helping me with my awkward imitations. Later on I taught them how to waltz, so I suppose Peace Corps goal 2 can be crossed off the list.

That night Mupemba (our training director) had a dance party at his house. When I showed up all of the LCFs grabbed me and started pulling me towards a dressing room. I was understandable confused. “You’re going to dance with us tonight, aren’t you Jinny,” Zilpah asked me with this puppy dog face that bordered on the sinister. “… Of course I am”. I didn’t really want to say no in any event. So, they dressed me up in the traditional garb and we walked out in front of everyone at staging and all of the dances I learned plus a few I didn’t. Eventually other people got pulled into the mix and I felt less like the town “Umuzungu”. Then they just started playing normal hip-hop and we got changed back into normal clothes. Bomb Diggity.

Since then I’ve been doing my best to learn Kinyarwanda, and a little more about the people in my staging group. The Kinyarwanda is going slowly. I’m relying a little too much on my French to communicate with the people around me who are not native English speakers and it is working to my detriment. Not having flash cards has also been a little bit difficult. However, one thing that has been a positive outlet for learning the language is Resource Families!

I met my Resource Family the other day and they are fantastic! I’m supposed to spend at least four hours a week at their house which shouldn’t be difficult because spending time with anyone in Rwanda is usually a multiple hour affair. I learned how Wowe Uri Mama Wanjye, “You are my Mother”, and a few other basic phrases that they didn’t teach us in class. I also had an extensive conversation with my Resource Dad about some of the problems in Rwanda. I’ll admit this was nothing short of discouraging. My initial attitude of “I’m going to Rwanda to listen to what the issues are and provide solutions” seems nigh impossible.

Most people working in Rwanda are still subsistence farmers. My Resource Dad was explaining to me that this method of survival didn’t work because there are 10 million people in Rwanda and not enough space to have that much land for farming. So, in short, people starve. I tried to explain the idea of tertiary work and how it is important to educate the population in order to move citizens up from farmers to professionals so that the land issue is resolved and he just shook his head. “Nobody wants to open a movie theatre because no one has money to buy a movie ticket. No one wants to build a night club because no one can afford to pay for drinks or buy a ticket for entry.” Businesses can’t do business with people who can’t pay for services.

I don’t have a solution. I don’t have any regurgitated educational quip for this one. How do countries actually develop now-a-days? Have any countries developed since the rise of the West? I get tried just thinking about it. Maybe being here longer will help me come to some variety of conclusions about my goals.

The last thing I think I should mention is that we had our first person ET** today. I’m really sad, though in some ways I’m also relieved. I’m not the only one who has had moments of doubt and I’m clearly not the only one who has considered that I may not be able to complete my service here. It’s never easy to set a precedent and it takes a very brave person to do so.

“Whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.” – Desiderata

* Language and Culture Facilitator
** Quit the Peace Corps

Thursday, October 15, 2009

I moved to my training site today. I am in a city called Nyanza, which in ancient times was the capital of Rwanda, later was the city where the King resided and is now just a medium sized village in between Kigali and Butare. I can still see the King’s mansion from the dormitory where I will be spending the next 10 weeks.

I am sharing a room with four people in bunk beds, all of which are Mauritanian transfers. My initial concern with this arrangement is inability to connect with most of the kids who are coming from Mauritania. They are a well established, tightly knit group, and rightfully so based on the stories I’ve been hearing. I suppose this is a natural karmatic challenge to see how well I am able to integrate into a group that is not immediately interested in my company. The much larger step in the same vein will be making the same attachments in my site once training is over.

I feel that the Peace Corps is a much better oiled machine than it appeared at first, now that I am actually in country. Everything I’ve been through thus far seems to occur in steps in order to make adaptation as easy as humanly possible. So far it has been a very organic experience. This new compound has electricity, showers that may or may not work, and squat toilets that need to be flushed by filling up a bucket of water and forcing it down a hole. The toilet situation is the most severe change from the convent we stayed at in Kigali. I am hopeful that at my site I will have some form of electricity and perhaps a viable water source.

The most unusual thing about Rwanda is the feeling that I am in a zoo or “fish bowl syndrome” as some have been calling it. I am not entirely sure how to respond to all the staring. Normally all you have to do is wave and say “Muraho” and they will smile back and give you some sort of greeting, but you can’t stop and say hello to every person on the street, and literally every person on the street stares at you. When we are inside the courtyard of our compound children run up to the gate and watch us. Even if we’re not doing anything in particular they just stay there and watch us for as long as we’re out there. So far no one has been unkind, and in no way do I feel threatened, but it can be a little unnerving at times.

Right now people are outside learning some traditional Rwandan songs and dances, so I ought to stop writing and actually go experience some of this culture I am supposed to be trying to become a part of.