Sunday, December 5, 2010


So it had been more than 14 months since I had flown anywhere by myself. Incidentally, it had also been more than 14 months since I had left the African continent. I can say things are pretty much the way I remember it, but my perception of all of those things has changed. Being back in major international airports again was this weird juxtaposition of familiar images with foreign implications. It was like watching one of my favorite movies of all times in Chinese with some bad subtitles. I knew how it all worked but it all seemed incredibly awkward.

There was the initial culture shock of seeing all the different kinds of people in one place. It was bizarre to walk by hundreds of travelers and not have them even glance in my general direction. I was invisible again. No one touched me or shoved me… Especially in lines--which was another social oddity. It was weird to have people line up to buy a croissant and coffee, but have that oppressive sense that everyone was incredibly annoyed to have to be waiting for their turn to pay. As if they needed to rush past the cashier in order to make it in time to wait three hours for their flight to board. Everyone is in a hurry here. Sometimes legitimately, but also when there is legitimately no reason to feel pressed for time at all.

There were also just my own issues with accepting how functional things are above the Sahara. I spent a good 20 minutes walking around the mall inside the airport trying to work up the courage to buy a bottle of water with a credit card. I thought for sure they’d turn me down. Who spends 3 euros and charges it to a card? Well, evidently everyone in the Northern Hemisphere. And I remember it being like that too. I used to go to Starbucks all the time, buy a water, or a four dollar coffee and put it on my credit card. Nonetheless, I was seriously anxious about using the card after so long of it being an ordeal to bring plastic into the transaction equation. I felt like an idiot when I handed over the card and she printed me out the receipt without anything more than a “have a nice day ma’am”.

In short, I think this re-adjustment is going to be less of a total cinch than I initially anticipated.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

November Update

Well, a lot has happened since I last updated. The most pressing thing on my mind is my prodigal return to the States in a week. I’m leaving next Saturday. That’s so weird. I’ve been on this continent for 14 months now and I’m not sure how I’m going to feel being back in the land of the Free and home of the Sane. A couple of people said I would no longer have a basis to recognize oddities anymore.

Friend: You’re going to see some guy yelling at a parked bus and think it’s totally normal.
Me: Well, maybe the bus door is broken and he can’t get in. I think you’re being judgmental.

Friend: You’re going to go the one restaurant that accidentally puts a rock in your food and just toss it aside when you could be suing, or at the very least getting free meals for a month.
Me: Only one rock? Dude, that’s sounds like an awesome place to eat! We should go.

So, hopefully I won’t actually be that bad, but I know there are things that are going to appear really strange to me. I know I’m going to miss the Rwandan way to make exceptions for things on a case by case basis. I remember what it was like being in the States and having regulations standardize everything to the point of ignoring extraordinary circumstances. I like being able to state my case. I like being able to say, “I was hoping you would understand and could help me…” and then actually have some professional representative give me the nod. At home, the fact is, codes come before people. That’s going to be hard to readjust to.

In other news, I’m making my site change to Gashora. I’ll be joining up with a Seattle NGO called the Rwanda Girls Initiative to build a special girls school that focuses on training girls in Math and Science disciplines. I really like the headmaster and I’m already feeling productive in the some of the projects I’ve started for the team. Yes, this means I’ll be working while I’m home. Africa has changed me a lot, but I’m still that girl who takes her homework on vacation with her.

The school will open in February, but hopefully I’ll move in a little before that. The ordeal that has arisen over where to keep my things while the housing is being constructed turned out to me more of a headache than I expected. I talked to my APCD a little more than a week before I wanted to move out and he said I could choose my move date, under the condition that I worked out a place for my things to go with my new Director. So I did. We decided I would move out on a Friday and I spent a week packing up my things.

The Sunday before moving day I got a call informing me that a trainee was coming to my site for an orientation visit. “Please help him with a general understanding of the village,” they told me. Okay. Simple enough. But on Monday I got a knock on my door at 9am and this kid was standing on my doorstep with one of the senior teachers. “I think he will stay with you and that is okay,” said Professor T with some questionable glances at my PJs. I scowled on the inside, feeling slightly spurned that no one decided to inform me that I was going to have a visitor during the week I was trying to move out. We put his things in the guest room and I tried to help him get to know the town as much as possible. Technically that job belonged to my old Headmaster but he was completely M.I.A. for the entire week.

On Wednesday I had to leave for a Peer Support meeting in Kigali so it was another chunk cut out of my packing time, but at least we got a lot of important ideas hammered out for the weekend presentation at Stage. When I returned that evening I started cleaning out my trunk and sent the trainee into town to buy me some new locks. On Thursday in the midst of my fierce cleaning and packing Frenzy I got a call from my APCDs assistant.
Him: Hello. I am calling to confirm your move from site.
Me: Yeah. Thanks. I’ll see you tomorrow.
Him: We are going to send the car on Tuesday.
Me: … … … What?
Him: We are sending the car to pick you up on Tuesday.
Me: No, my move is on Friday. I already worked it out with my Program Director.
Him: Well, he is sick today and not in the office.
Me: … Listen. I know this isn’t your fault, but I’m not going to be here after Friday. I need the car to come then. We already agreed on it.
Him: There are no cars available for Friday.
Him: We can come pick you up on Tuesday.
Me: I won’t be here! What am I supposed to do?! Just leave and lock my stuff in the house?!
Him: I guess so.

I hung up the phone and considered the odds of my spontaneously turning into Ghost Rider. After a few minutes of my head not bursting into flames, I sat down for an hour and designed a different packing plan that would allow me to carry essentials with me for just the right amount of time before my vacation in only two backpacks—Because I am freakin’ a genius.

The moral of the story is that my things did get safely moved, mainly because my old sitemate took my keys and kept an eye on everything after I left. It’s good to know that even when you can’t depend on your superiors, your co-workers totally have your back (thanks times a million Devin).
I presented at stage, and moved onto National Exam grading which was not even remotely what I expected. After a meeting with the Director of the exam council and asking him about lodging I started getting nervous. He told us we were being housed in school dormitories. Now, that might not seem bad upon first glance, but Rwandan school dorms are often buildings that ought to be condemned by most standards. When we arrived at the site we were told to pick rooms. The rooms were medium concrete rooms with broken bunk beds stacked one next to the other, no sheets or blankets, and no mosquito nets. Each room had about 40 – 50 people in it. The doors didn’t lock much less have handles and the bathrooms… Well, I’ll spare you that much. I panicked and called my APCD.
Me: You need to get here. The housing is unacceptable, even by Peace Corps standards.
Him: So, is it just you that has a problem with the housing, or is it everyone.
Me: You need to get here.

And to his credit, he did show up on a Sunday night before even stopping home to see his family. He took one look at the lodgings, apologized, and then found us an awesome place close by to stay in for the remainder of the exam correction.

Unfortunately, because nothing ever works out as smoothly as one would hope, correcting National Exams was a complete and total crap shoot. Leaving all improvements to make grading effective aside, we were not welcomed there. Teachers were incredibly dismissive of us. At first I thought it was a sexism issue. The male teachers didn’t want to hear what the young white girls had to say because they were too busy imagining us in indecent situations. After all, it’s hard to respect sexual objects. (I wish I was making this up but I heard people saying terribly unprofessional things about all of us every day I attended marking). But as it turned out, they didn’t have any intention of listening to what the boys had to say either. I chalked it up to being an intimidating force, seeing as they probably never had an authority on the subject matter come in and explain how it actually worked. I guess it doesn’t really matter. I never showed up because I thought I could affect the students who took this year’s exam. I showed up because they said that was the only way I could have any involvement in the creation of the next year’s exam. Next year I won’t have to argue with any of them about answers. I’ll have written the test myself and had 8 of my friends edit it or one of my friends will write and I will be one of the 8 people editing. It won’t have structural, spelling, or grammar errors, and these kids will have an actual chance at succeeding.

It is definitely time for a vay-kay.
See you dudes soon.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

September finished out with some unfortunately causalities to the Peace Corps family, but also some awesome parties. I was tragically unable to see one of my R2 health chicas off because her flight left in the middle of the week, but I think I can safely say she knows she’ll be missed. We also said goodbye to two of the embassy marines. During this event, I discovered that knowing your friends means knowing when your friends are going to try to be lame. Charissa and I were invited out to a going away dinner and dance fest, so I called her the day before to confirm she’d actually be going out.

Me: So, when should I be there?
Charissa: Well, the dinner is at 6.
Me: That’s cool. Do we know where we’re going dancing yet?
C: I don’t know if I’m going dancing.
Me: What? You’re totally going dancing.
C: I didn’t bring anything to wear.
Me: Ah-ha! I figured as much, so I brought something for you.
C: … You… You brought me a club outfit?
Me: Yeah, it’s super adorable. You’ve played this card before. You’re going to have to come up with some better tricks if you want to keep hating fun.

Her better trick turned out to be passing out by 11 and making me feel guilty for telling her to come out. Luckily, the Marines weren’t as forgiving as me and she ended up at Cadillac in spite of her protests. All in all, it was probably my best night in Rwanda so far.

The school semester is almost over, and I feel like it went by to quickly. This term was so short and I had some of my lessons stolen from be due to illness, and abrupt changes in curriculum. For example, one day during a lesson on how to approach the reading comprehension portion of the National Exam the Dean of Discipline walked into my classroom and told me I was needed in the teachers lounge.
“But, I’m in the middle of a class.” I said.
“The Director needs to see all teachers now.” He replied.
So, I left the students to work on some of the problems in groups and begrudgingly walked to the teacher’s lounge where everyone awaited whatever important news the Headmaster was about to announce. This news was actually that it was “International Peace Day” and we had a specific lesson to teach to all of our students because of it. I glanced through the lesson and was less than thrilled that I was going to postpone my instruction on the National Exam for an incredibly inane lesson about the consequences and merits of War and Peace respectively. The design of the lesson was to show how, in effect, Peace was good and War was bad. Sure, okay. But could we go into a little more depth than that? I mean, if we have to do this in any event, can we make it a lesson on personal empowerment? At least that’s what I intended to do.
One of the exercises asked the students to draw what they thought the world would look like if Rwanda, Africa, and the Planet were at peace. I walked up to the board and drew a large box, and inside largely wrote the words:
“War is over!!!”
And in a much smaller text below I scribbled:
“[If you want it…] Merry Christmas from John and Yoko.”

A student raised there hand. “Teacher, what is John and Yoko?”
Me: They were musicians. Several years before you were born, they put up big posters around the world that looked exactly like this. Why do you think they did that?
Student: Because there was no war then.
Me: No. There was war. In fact, there was a lot of war.
Student: Then why?
Me: To remind people that bad things end when you want them to. You have the power to stop things you don’t like. So, they were saying, war ends when you decide you want it to end.

The Headmaster walked in during this discussion and asked to see the progress of their art project. I told him we were in the middle of a discussion about War and he tersely explained to me that a discussion about War was not part of the lesson plan, waited for me to assign the next section and then left the room. It’s always a pleasure to have intellectual progress with my students interrupted in favor of promoting the lowest common denominator of education. You want your kids to learn something? Stay out of my classroom and let me teach them.

A little before my one year anniversary in Rwanda was “National Teacher Appreciation Day”, which involved us all making the several kilometer hike to the sector office of Kaniga. I thought I lived at the top of my mountain but evidently I don’t, because if they were true I would live in Kaniga. So, if you back into the hills a little ways and travel up you eventually arrive in Uganda, or the sector office. Same thing, really.
I spent a good portion of the afternoon waiting for something to happen. I considered calling up a moto and going home to sleep my day off away, but some friendly advice from another PCV kept stopping me from dialing. “Sometimes you just have to be bored with them,” she said. “That’s how you actually get to know them and that’s how you actually become friends.” So, I waited on a bench and watched clouds with Jo, the Secretary and the Animatrice for a solid three hours. Eventually the ceremony started and I was glad I stayed. Some of it was just speeches given by sector, cell and district officials in order to thank teachers for their hard work, but a lot of it was also performances from students in from the surrounding area. This meant dancing, freestyle rapping, acrobatics, and skits. I got pulled up to dance with some of the students when they were doing a Rukiga dance I had never seen before. Luckily, it was incredibly similar to industrial stomping minus any of the arm motions, so I managed. Shortly thereafter, the cell executive walked up to me and privately asked if I would “tell how I see Rwandan education”. That was all I got. How do I see Rwanda education? I don’t know. I’m not even entirely sure what that means, but I managed to talk about it for about ten minutes. Had this been the first time an African had put me on the spot to say something of interest about an incredibly vague topic, I might have declined saying anything at all, but no. This was probably about the eighth time something like that had happened, and I like to think because of it I’m getting rather good at spontaneous monologues.
The ceremony ended when it started to downpour, and we all went inside for drinks and a relatively late lunch.

The middle portion of this month was a pretty major slump for me. A series of unfortunate events caused me to revisit my second term philosophy of giving up on trying to improve life in Rwanda. I had a friend ask me what the problem was and I frankly told him that living here is equivalent to seeing the very worst in humanity everyday and trying to convince yourself that there’s something redeemable in that.
“I used to get mad about things. Like all time. There is so much injustice here. The kinds of things that people just ignore, are the things we make jokes about at home because it’s so far out of our ability to comprehend,” I said.
“You’re expecting too much of them,” he told me. “They lived through a genocide. Everything ‘bad’ that happens from here on is going to be compared to that-- and by that comparison things are going to seem ‘okay’. They’re not ignoring problems because they really think it’s all right. They’re ignoring it because they want the nightmare to be over.”
“It’s not good enough,” I said. “This country is destroying my soul. I used to be motivated to do things. I had the desire to fight all the things that were wrong and tear them down, but today, I just didn’t want to do it anymore. Sometimes things just seem so ridiculously criminal and I have to wonder what it would be like if we just let this continent eat itself. Or the world for that matter. Just let things happen like their going to. I could remove myself from assisting entirely. I mean, are people really worth it? Are we really worth helping?”
“Jeez, Jenn. What’s got you so intent on being upset?”
I told him. And he listened. And then he told me a story.

“Once upon a time, there was a girl who was good at a lot of things.
She thought that meant she was probably good at everything.
And maybe she was.
Then she saw some stuff that is impossible to be good at.
But then she was okay.”

[It’s not worth it to give up now.]

Maybe you’re right.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

September update

Well, there’s only a little bit of September left, so I can safely say I’ve survived it. In just a few weeks I will have been in Rwanda for an entire year. How weird is that? I don’t feel like I’ve been here a year. A long time sure, but not an entire year. I’m counting down my weeks until December, when I’ll be back in the United States.
As I walked up the mountain with Jo today she asked me why I seemed to be so down recently.
“I miss my home.” I replied. I wasn’t going to get into the details of my defeatist attitude. Trying to explain what I had given up to be in Rwanda, only to experience a complete lack of return on my attempts to impact the village would have been like trying to describe a color that no one had ever seen before.
“But you are on the computer all the time. You talk to people at home everyday.” She said.
“It’s more than that. I miss being a human.”
She didn’t immediately understand. “I think you miss the things you can’t touch in America.” She said.
“No. I miss being a person. In Rwanda I’m a lot of things. I’m a spectacle, or an exotic animal, but I’m not a person. I miss being a human being.” I explained.
“A human being? Jenny! You aren’t a person in Rwanda? What a thing to say.” She laughed. “I see you miss your country. It is understandable.”

It’s not a feeling any volunteer can properly explain to their counterparts in Rwanda. The total alienation that I experience in the village can be all consuming. Not five minutes before my attempt to define my loneliness, she noted that a primary aged girl walked up to me and held my hand for a moment. This seemed particularly extraordinary to her because in her own words, “The girl was not afraid to touch you or come near you!” But somehow, the idea that I’m not treated like a human being in Rwanda was too much of a stretch for her. It’s funny what host country nationals are willing to accept as logical and what they aren’t.

In that vein, I had another interesting conversation with her while walking to school one morning. We met a groundskeeper on the road who told us that her daughter was sick and that she had to go home to take of her.
“Ihangane,” we both said. And I went on to advise that if her daughter was showing symptoms of malaria, she should visit the health center for medicine. The response I received was a mélange of incomprehensible Kinyarwanda and Urukiga, then a flat “No.”
Needless to say I was a little shocked by how seriously she rejected the idea of getting her sick child medical attention, and when we said goodbye and went back to walking toward school Jose kindly began to explain to me what had been said.
“Her daughter is sick with sorcery.”
“Sorcery? Like, she’s under a spell?”
Jose was delighted that I understood. “Jenny! You know sorcery? Yes, it is very dangerous. She must pray to make the illness go away.”
“… But, you know that here is no such thing as sorcery, right Jo?” I asked thinking I already knew her answer, but was totally caught off guard when she began to protest.
“Jenny! Sorcery is real! She cannot take her daughter to the doctor or she will die the moment they try to give her an injection!” She explained.
“Uh huh… And how often to people die of sorcery?” I asked.
“All the time!” She replied enthusiastically.
“Don’t you see the logical flaw in that way of thinking?” I attempted to explain how any illness could be considered sorcery if the general public believed seeking medical attention would kill them. It would take very little, especially given how terribly paranoid Rwandan society already is. If someone in the village doesn’t like you and one of your loved ones gets sick all they would have to do is claim it is a magical sickness in order to punish you, because you’d already believe seeing a doctor would only exacerbate the situation. Then their point would only be proved when your loved one’s health continued to fail and you continued to deny them the medicine that would normally cure them. The cycle perpetuates itself.
“But Jenny,” she protested, “there are lots of diseases that doctors cannot cure. It is because of sorcery.”
“Like what? HIV/AIDS? There is no cure, but doctors can help prolong your life or make you more comfortable while they research a cure.” I replied.
“Well of course. That’s the exception.” She told me, and I promptly gave up on trying to put my logic up against her years of village propagated fear mongering.

So many people are afraid to open their eyes--not because they know they will see a world that is drastically different from the one they’ve been imagining, but because they’re afraid that that world won’t have a place for them. In a lot of ways I think Africa knows it’s been left behind, and it is terrified by the idea of trying to play catch up. Then again, I suppose there are people everywhere that prefer not to try things because they’re afraid of failing. Accepting, or even considering a new idea is much more difficult than my American heritage always made it seem.

Lastly, I suppose I can let the news out. I’m attempting a site change. The idea has been bouncing around in my head ever since my family visited and I got my sea legs back, so to speak. This village is nubbing me, and I am not helping them the way someone else probably could. My efforts are better directed elsewhere; ideally at an all girls math and science school that is opening in the South-East this next year. I’ll post more on that when the details are hammered out. Hopefully we’ll be discussing some of the terms this week.

Friday, September 10, 2010


Before I get too far away from when the event actually happened, I figure I should probably write a little bit about Tanzania. After the tour of Rwanda I hopped a plane with Mom and Tam and landed in… Well… Bujumbura, Burundi. It wasn’t well communicated to us that we did not actually have a direct flight to Tanzania. In fact, there are signs plastered all around Rwanda which promote Rwanda Air’s new direct flights to Dar-es-Salaam 3 times a week. So, I suppose all that is African for “just kidding”. In Rwanda’s defense, it may have just been the airline company, but to say that I was disappointed with RwandAir would still be a gross understatement.
I reserved the tickets to Tanzania for my family and I months in advance, and offered to pay at that moment but they wouldn’t let me. Evidently the tickets weren’t concrete enough to purchase when I reserved them. I realized later it was because they intended to change the time of the flight 3 times. It was nice of them to tell us that was happening a week before we left Rwanda. ‘Cos, you know, we didn’t have to notify the tour agencies or hotels or anything. In any case, when my Mom got to Rwanda we took a day to bounce around Kigali and stop by the RwandAir ticket office where I had the most unprofessional experience of my life.
Customer Service Rep: May I have your reservation receipt?
Me: Of course.
CSR: Okay, this flight time has been changed from 2pm to 6 o’clock am. I think there are no problems.
Me: Um… Well, there’s certainly nothing we can do about this development. The prices are still the same, yes?
CSR: Of course.
Me: Well, then it’s fine.

So my mom handed over her credit card for the purchase of 3 international plane tickets. We’re talking multiple hundreds of dollars. And this is when RwandAir so kindly reminded me that I was in a third world country.

CSR: Oh… You want to pay with a credit card…
Me: Well, yeah. I’m buying plane tickets.
CSR: I don’t think the machine is working. Let me check.
[After a few seconds]
CSR: Yes, our machine has been broken for a few days. We cannot take credit cards right now.
Me: You’re joking. So how am I supposed to pay for this?
CSR: Well, I think you can go to the bank and bring back cash. We accept dollars and Rwanda Francs.
Me: You want me to pay for three plane tickets in Cash?
CSR: Yes, I think there is no problem.

Yes, I think you’re a horrible, racist, imbecile. Between the lines you should be able to read what she was actually saying, which was: “Well, you’re a Muzungu. Obviously you have hundreds of dollars in cash, on hand, to dole out whenever you need it.”
I was furious, but Mom took the news with an incredibly even temper. If an airline in any other part of the world had a broken credit card machine for more than a day they would have a serious problem on their hands, because a grand total of 0 clients would pay them in cash. RwandAir gets away with it because they have people who have reserved tours and safaris in advance and basically have no competition when it comes to flying out of Rwanda.

Dear Worldwide Investors,
If you are looking to a place to make a buck, start by building a friendly and effective airline service that flies regularly out of all the East African Community countries.

Once we actually made it to Dar-es-Salaam, I rapidly fell in love with the country. It was a breath of fresh air to see how cosmopolitan the city was. I had forgotten that diversity existed in Africa, and I had forgotten that the world is a much larger place than Rwanda made it seem. Our hotel was called the Movenpick and it was huge, served cocktails, and run by the Swiss, so it was about as Western as it got. The reception handed me a little 3 X 5 leaflet and I opened it to discover a key card inside. I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited to have a key that opened a door electronically. It’s too bad that it didn’t stop the housekeeping staff from stealing my cell phone.

I spent most of my time in or under water. The pool was really nice, but I was also romantically attached to the idea of spending a good portion of my stay in the Indian Ocean. We spent an entire day in the sand on a small island right off the coast of Dar, where I finally felt that click of readjustment to being myself again (it only took two and a half weeks). Looking back on the experience, I wish I had been more social and engaged with local population, but I was overwhelmed. In that respect I missed out on getting clearer insight as to how everything managed to run so smoothly in Tanzania. Despite what anyone wants to believe, in America we have taken a social stand to vilify Islam. It’s a result of our civilizations clashing. The West doesn’t understand Islamic cultures, and even if Islamic cultures can understand Western mentalities, they certainly aren’t willing to accept them. Except that I’m evidently wrong in this assessment of our world. I saw it in Tanzania. I saw these two opposing view points co-existing, and even being friends. It made me think, if it can work there it should be able to work on a larger scale too. It just needs the right planning and coaxing.
However, I did get to have an interesting conversation with my driver in Zanzibar about his feelings on the likelihood of an East African Community ever getting off the ground. His concerns were surprisingly identical to the concerns the European Union had and still grapples with today. He seemed to think it was never going to happen just because of the inherent self-interest of individual countries, but I walked away thinking, “Hey, I can work with that”.
To top off my stay we had sushi on the slipway. It was good sushi too. I could have dumped all of my spending money just on that. The next few days included a sort of whirlwind tour through Zanzibar, Arusha, and Ngorongoro Crater. The Safaris were nothing short of breathtaking. I wanted to see an elephant and I got to see a hundred. They would come so close to the care you could almost touch them. I also was able to do my fair share of people watching because being on safari in Tanzania is evidently the new international tourism hotspot. I didn’t catch so many Americans, but the Brits were everywhere, Germans too, a few Japanese, Koreans, Chileans and one particularly memorable Mexican couple. We were stopped above a waterhole where there were at least fifteen elephants drinking and bathing when one urinated and then walked away from the water, presumably to find some shade or food. Moments later another elephant walked up to the same spot and began drinking.

From the Land Rover next to me I heard a shrill voice begin to explain:
“In Mehico City, Eherybody drink pe-pe.”
My sister and I dropped our cameras and slowly turned out heads to look and verify that this was actually happening.
“Yes. It happens all tha time. It’z ohkay.”
Yeah. This was really happening. I wasn’t sure what to make of it though. Should I think she’s trying to compare people in Mexico to elephants? Should I conclude that she’s saying elephant hygiene is equivalent to human hygiene in Mexico City? Should I get mad and tell her to stop being a horrible harpy wench? Luckily, someone in her car settled my dilemma.
“I don’t believe a damn word you’re saying. Freakin’ crazy lady.”
An appropriately blunt African American man cut her off from making any more blanket remarks about Latinos. My sister and I just sort of shared an awkward smile with him and shrugged the event off.

I also got to see lions. And not just any lions. I got to see cuddling lions. They were absolutely adorable in that slightly creepy way, where you know that even the smaller ones would end your life if there wasn’t a sheet of reinforced steel between you and them. But forgetting that fact, they seemed incredibly docile. They would stroll past the cars or nap nearby in the sun as if we weren’t even there gawking over them.

By the end of the tour we were all exhausted and poor Mom and Tam had to turn around and get on a plane back to California in just two days. I hear that didn’t go so smoothly, but the point is they got home. Saying goodbye at the airport was a lot harder than it should have been. When I told my friends about it the general reaction was: “You went with them to the airport?! Are you crazy?! What were you thinking?!”
Evidently, everyone else says goodbye to their family via taxi cab, or outside the gate because the separation can be a bit too hard for volunteers in Africa and their families. I guess I didn’t get the memo. But I never do things by the book anyway. Plus, I’ll be seeing them in no time. I’m already almost halfway through September.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The end of vacation

My last weekend of vacation was exactly what I needed. On Thursday I went into Kigali to talk to the psychologist who was sent from Washington. In the process of doing so, I had the opportunity to get know Laurent (our new PCMO) who is nothing short of incredible. After only five minutes of conversation it was clear that this guy had his ducks in a row.
I was coming in to get advice on how to deal with trauma victims and individuals who suffer from severe post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He told me he was planning to put together a peer support group for volunteers who dealt with people suffering from PTSD, and asked me if I would be available for a training session before the next stage began.
“I’d like to get a small group to present the topic of PTSD in Rwanda, but I would need you guys to attend a training first.” He said.
A training? What? You mean… Someone is actually going to organize, prepare and present pertinent information for the new trainees? Via the current volunteers who deal with the subject matter everyday? It seemed so logical, I forgot I was talking to someone who worked for Peace Corps, but then again I’ve become horribly jaded to our administrative process. The idea of having someone who truly intended to assist in the lives of and facilitate the purpose of the volunteer was tragically foreign to me. My only thought after our interaction was: “He. Is. So. Cool. I hope to god he doesn’t bail like the last two PCMOs.”
Talking to the psychologist helped me recollect myself in regards to my ongoing struggles with Jo. We came up with several good activities to try to pull Jo out of her head, and discussed the prospect of introducing her to some PTSD literature in French. We also focused on my need to be able to let go of things and accept that just because I see something as a problem, it does not mean it’s my problem to fix. I can’t be Jo’s counselor, babysitter, or mother. Anything I try to do to fix her will be like putting a band-aid on a gaping flesh wound. In the long run, she’s the only one who can change her mental state.

A group of us stayed a day at St. Pauls and the moved over to the Procure because it’s about 2000 francs less expensive. After we bought the rooms in the morning, ran some errands and came back, the man working the front desk informed us that there was a slight problem and he needed our help.

Procure Attendant: There is a man coming who is sick and he needs a room with a double bed.
Me: Okay?
PA: There aren’t anymore rooms with double beds.
Me: If he’s one guy why does he need two beds?
PA: Because he’s sick.
Me: So what?
PA: He has someone coming with him to attend to him. I need one of you two move into a single room.
Me: … Well, if you’re going to move one of the pairs of us into a single room for this guy, I want an upgrade. So, you should give me one of the singles with a private bathroom.
PA: … What? No.
Charissa: Whatever, I’ll just sleep on the floor. Let’s just exchange.

A few hours later an R1 Health Volunteer showed up asking for a room. ‘Elle immediately jumped on the chance to split a room with her if there were doubles available.
“There aren’t.” I said. “We had to move because they’re sold out.” But they went to verify in any event.
Five minutes later the health volunteer was in the process of buying a double room. I got up to see what was going on.

Me: What are you vacancies?
PA: What vacancies? There are none.
Me: You’re joking right? You just sold this girl a double room. Why did my friends have to move into a single room, where someone is going to sleep on the floor, if you still have double rooms available? Just give us on of those.
PA: There are no double rooms.
Me: You JUST sold one to her.
PA: Well… The sick man…
Me: Whatever! Where even is this guy?!
PA: Well, he’s left now. He is not staying.
Me: So you have rooms.
PA: No.
Me: But you’re selling her one.
PA: No. We haven’t exchanged money.
Me: That’s totally beside the point!
PA: There are no rooms here. All of you can just go to St. Paul.

He got up to leave and I walked away from the room to stop exacerbating the situation. It was clear to me that there was never any “sick man” and that the reception clerk was just trying to con us from the start. It’s not as easy to sell single rooms, so if he was able to push two people into single rooms he could fill them all and still sell all his doubles to different clients. He’d be making more money overall. I was about ready to break something when all was said and done. Given my karmatic history (R.I.P MS Sea Diamond), maybe his office will legitimately get hit by a meteor or something. Moral of the story? If you’re traveling in Rwanda, your money is probably better spent at a hostel that ISN’T the St. Famille Procure in Kigali. Because those guys are ready, willing, and prepared to screw you over with a smile.

Later on that day the Ed PCVs plus Liz made a mass exodus to Hot Racks. It’s a pretty stylish restaurant which serves cocktails, a full roast pig, and has a solid menu. On Saturday they have a dating show for locals and ex pats. Contestants get to eat for free. It’s the old 90s dating show type, where you can’t see the bachelor or bachelorette who is quizzing three potential dates. I was a contestant and decided in advance I didn’t want to win, so I tried to come up with the worst answers possible.
“Contestant number 2—I might kiss you tonight. If I tried, where would it be?”
“… Um, probably the side of my head as I turn it away from you, creepshow.”

“Contestant number 2—If I were to take you on a long romantic get-away, where would you want me to take you?”
“The Seychelles.”
“… The… Sea Shells?”
“Dear god man, get map.”

“Contestant number 2—If you could have any super power, what would it be?”
“Because then I could spy on you when you inevitably try to cheat on me.”

I was one up’ed an hour later when ‘Elle was interviewing her potential bachelors as “Maria, the Mexican in Rwanda looking for her mother”. Most of the bachelors (being PCVs) also adopted personas like “The Situation”—the ‘roid raged Guido from Jersey Shore.

After a few drinks and a few dances, I left Hot Racks with my friend Steve to attempt the now failed: Operation Kitten Rescue. I had mentioned earlier that I was interested in getting a kitten, and he said he had a lead for me via a friend. However, when we got to her house and I saw the kitten, I wasn’t entirely convinced the poor thing would last the night even if I had the money to rush it to an animal hospital at that instant. I decided to leave the kitten, but before I had a chance to give directions back to Hot Racks, Charissa called me to inform me she was going to hang out with the Marines at Top Tower Casino.
“Sweet! I was going to go there after I dropped you off! You can just save me the trip.” Said Steve.
So I went to my first Rwandan Casino. It was like a teeny tiny Vegas that didn’t have slots and didn’t provide free drinks to gamblers. We sat at the Black Jack table for about an hour and Steve fronted me five dollars so I could play too. After the hour was up I had gone from five to thirty five dollars (not including the chips I spent on drinks), but there was still no sign of Charissa. We ended up going back to the hostel because Janelle needed the room key and it was about 1:30am. Charissa was still missing. She reappeared at the Procure the next morning, however, porting an unusually sunny disposition. I’d speculate on the events of her evening, but I’m afraid she might try to “refocus me” if she ever reads this.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

July Update Pt. 2

When my family got off the plane it was relatively late. The flight had been delayed about 40 minutes and they had to fight their way though about 300 other Muzungus before they could exit the baggage claim. We stayed at the hotel for a day and let them recover from then time change and excruciatingly long flight, which they tell me, was exacerbated by a screaming Rwandan child the entire 8 hour leg from Brussels to Kigali.
“I thought I was going to kill that kid. Like seriously. I really considered it.” Tam told me.
“Don’t kill the kid; just strangle the mother. You’re automatically eliminating all the other mistakes she would have inevitably made, and promoting an end to bad parenting.” I replied.
My mother stared at me in horror for about thirty seconds before I assured her I was joking. Mostly.

I started their tour of Rwanda by taking them to my site. Many of the locals kept asking how long I would be staying, and the answer of “Oh, we are only going to be here for the afternoon,” seemed nothing short of shocking. My housemate threw a minor tantrum when she supposedly discovered that I wasn’t going to be there with my family for the entire week, despite the fact that we had repeatedly discussed my schedule for my family vacation. On the part of my family, they seemed to handle my site fairly well. I was very impressed to see them make it up and down my mountain with very little trouble. They saw the campus, met some of my students, took some photos and then walked back to the house without as much as a comment on the temperature. I guess the months of hiking preparation paid off.

After visiting my site, our Rwandan tour began. We met our driver, Bizimana, right after our return from Mulindi. Our first stop was to the Akagera game park which was fabulous. The lodge itself was beautiful and relatively vacant so we had a lot of space to move around. There were also animals that would just walk onto the lodge grounds. Baboons would hop down from the roof and hang out on the dinning room balcony, which was nicely juxtaposed with sunsets over the Lake Ihema. Driving through the National Park, we were assigned a personal park ranger who could explain just about any fact about any animal we saw. Akagera has several families of zebra and giraffes, and the ranger insisted that we drive off road on multiple occasions in order to get the closest (and therefore best) photos possible. It was a perfect introduction for my family to Rwandan hospitality.
“Wait, are we allowed to do this?” My family asked as the ranger encouraged them to exit the Range Rover for a better view of the wildlife.
“I dunno. But, they want you to have the best experience possible, so I’d just roll with it.” I replied.

After Akagera we returned to Kigali for an exceptionally short night, due to our 3am wake up call. If you want to see the rare Rwandan Mountain Gorillas and you plan on staying in Kigali, don’t stay up late the night before. However, since the Larrs never listen to rational advice like that, that night we went out for a fabulous dinner and drinks with several of my best PCV friends at Heaven. Heaven is the only restaurant in Rwanda where one can get a cocktail. Even at the nicest hotels, when you order the most basic drink (say, a screw driver) the bar tender will bring out a glass or orange juice and a shot of vodka and allow you to do the honors of mixing the drink yourself. So this was a rare treat for all of us.
I smiled at our waiter and ordered a Vodka Martini--extra dry, with extra olives. And ten minutes later I had one! I may or may not have gotten a little misty eyed after the first sip. So, what? Shut up.

In any event, the outing brought us back to the hotel around midnight. I slept most of the way to Ruhengeri in the car, which worked out better than I could have hoped because for the majority of the drive the sun was still down. We stayed at a lodge next to the trekking center, grabbed a bite of breakfast, and then rushed over to the briefing—which really wasn’t much of a briefing at all. The walk to the Gorillas site was only about 35 minutes so our guide, Papa Francois, gave us tid-bits of information while we hiked. The group only had about 9 tourists, but including porters, and armed guards (which I inaccurately thought were meant to protect us from wild animal attacks) we had about 15 people hiking towards the site. The guards and the porters stopped just outside the glen where the Gorillas were hanging out and Papa Francois gave us a few last bits of advice for dealing with gorillas.
“So, if a gorilla comes up to you and grabs you and pulls you somewhere, just go with him. Sometimes they like to play.” He said.
My mother and sister laughed until it became clear that Papa Francois was being perfectly serious.
“…But I don’t want to get grabbed by a gorilla.” My mom stated with deep concern.
“… Well, it’ll be a unique life experience!” I encouraged.
To my disappointment, no one was kidnapped by gorillas. For the most part they seemed perfectly happy to peacefully co-exist with us sitting a few feet away and snapping no-flash photos. The experience was relatively reminiscent of my daily life with Rwandans villagers. We would stand a few feet away and gawk at the gigantic furry creatures as if they were from another planet, and they would occasionally send us an exasperated glance or grunt in return.
“Don’t worry Mr. Gorilla.” I thought. “I know exactly how you feel.”
A few of the younger ones approached us on a few occasions, but the guides helped diffuse the situation before anyone came within touching distance. Kwita Izina (the baby gorilla naming ceremony) happened just about a month earlier, so there were baby Gorillas on the site as well. I got video of one playing with his older brother and doing somersaults in the grass. So. Cute.
We rejoined the porters and guards about an hour after meeting the gorillas. Papa Francois began telling anecdotes about the dangerous geographic make up of the Virguna area. It was at about this moment it occurred to me that the armed escorts weren’t for protecting us from potential animal threats, but rather to shoot any straying, foreign militants. Ouch.

When we returned to the Lodge Bizimana had arranged a surprise birthday celebration for my mom, complete with cake, songs, and a card from the hotel. It was pretty adorable. The following days were non-stop treks around the Virunga area (where I met a kid I am determined to sponsor), and took part in Golden Monkey trekking. Eventually, the tour ended with a down tempo day in Gisenyi beside Lake Kivu. The proprietor and I had some interesting conversations, not the least strange of which went about like this:
“So, you live in the Mulindi of Heroes?”
“Yes. It is a great honor.” I replied.
“Have you gone to see Kagame’s house yet? I mean, where he stayed during the war?”
“No, but I have seen Kabuga’s house. I drive past it when I go to Rushaki.”
“Ah yes. He is a bad man. He is very old and will probably die soon,” he said with nonchalance I normally don’t hear used when discussing Kabuga.
“I have heard a lot about him. Like he just got mixed up in the wrong affairs.”
“Oh well, all rich people are like that.” He stated.
I raised my eyebrows. “Like what?”
“You know. Sponsors of massacres and things like that.”
“… Are they, really?” I smiled awkwardly. I had no idea how to respond to his statement and luckily Tam arrived at that exact moment and dragged me onto the veranda for a picture of some weird species of lizard. Saved by the sister.
To balance out the crazy, I also met, Betty, who quickly became one of my favorite Rwandans of all time and solidified my desire to work in Gisenyi if I do a third year in Africa.
After Gisenyi we retuned to Kigali for a night and then had another obnoxiously early wake up call so we could make our 7am flight to Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania. More on that trip later.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

July Update Pt. 1

This month was marked by rediscovering myself. Getting out of country helped me realize how much of me I had recently lost. Somewhere between being burnt out on the long semester, Stockholm syndrome perpetuated by my living situation, and Rwanda’s relative cultural isolation, I forgot who I was. Tanzania has such a wealth of human diversity; it helped me remember that the world continues to move, even when I’m not looking directly at it. Dar-es-Salaam was a particularly intriguing city, being so heavily inundated by Islam, but still peacefully co-existing with Western mentalities. For example, women walk down the street completely covered in a burkah next to their friend who is wearing a spaghetti strap shirt and chatting on a cell phone. They take meals together. They don’t HATE each other. It was as if individuals could readily be themselves without incurring the judgment of anyone else. “Just be yourself,” says Tanzania, and then the people are. It was mind boggling, but it also gave me hope for the future of my own country. If Tanzania can reconcile the vastly different cultures which inhabit its boarders, then at some point in time the world should also be able to grow to live by the same example.

So, as most of you know, my family made the thirty some odd hour trek to visit me in Rwanda. Charissa came with me to the airport and was my designated photographer. I think there are a couple of pictures of me shedding a tear or two, and there are definitely a grip of Mom bawling her eyes out.
"Oh my god," she'd gawk. "You are so skinny. What on earth have THEY done to you?"
"Aw, it's not so bad, Mom. The food situation has actually been really good ever since admin paid me back all that money they owed me."

Yes, they don't tell you this in the brochures, but adventures in Peace Corps are usually things like adventures in eating and not dying from some sort of severe temperature. Because I don't have to suffer from the latter, I suffer from the former. The market in Mulindi is really limited and my calorie intake does not match what I burn walking up and down a mountain twice a day. To make matters worse, for several months money had become extremely tight due to several trips I made to Kigali at the request of either the PCMO or my APCD. On paper, Peace Corps does not make the volunteer pay for these trips, but in practice the volunteer pays out of pocket, fills out a form and then is supposedly "paid back" at a later date. In the case of Peace Corps Rwanda, that means we are all paid back about 5 months later with an accrued debt that could range anywhere from 50,000 francs to 120,000 francs. I could survive two weeks at site on about 50,000 francs, so the fact that I was missing more than that much money for months at a time was a bit detrimental to my eating habits. By the time IST rolled around I was awaiting my stipend and three free prepared meals a day with bated breath. "Well," I would think, "I have 5,000 francs to get me through this last week before training. I should be able to buy enough food if I eat rice and tomato sauce for dinner and peanut butter bread for lunch and breakfast." But life in Peace Corps is never so straight-forward. I'm also essentially funding the life of my Rwandan housemate, which I seem to forget every time I try to plan what funds I will need to set aside for things like food and phone credit. 5,000 for a week for two people doesn’t suffice, even eating the bare minimum at the village. When my PCMO told me one of my blood tests showed that I was anemic I nearly gave into sarcasm and shouted, "Surprise!"
So in short, thank you Peace Corps for your attention to my basic human needs. I appreciate your concerted effort to make sure I don't die. Even if your concern has a tendency to come a few months later than my health would prefer.

"I'm writing a letter," my sister fumed, "I'm writing a MILLION letters!"
"All right. Maybe your tax-payer rage will get someone to do something about how volunteers are treated in Rwanda. Maybe."

My mom treated the majority of my friends to huge dinners and drinks at some of the more expensive restaurants in Kigali and didn't even blink. "You guys deserve a break," she'd continue to tell me even when I protested about how much she was spending. These events were often later followed by quiet conversations which subtly encouraged me to come home, if I felt like I wanted to even a little bit. "So, should I plan to buy the Christmas tickets separately? I mean, should I wait to buy your return ticket to Rwanda?"
It took me longer than it should have to say, "No". It's probably going to take even longer when she asks me once I'm actually in California for the holidays.

After a few days of eating good meals three times a day, I started to feel like myself again. It's amazing what hot showers and 3,000 calories a day can do to make one feel like a human being. I slept whole nights through. I wasn't tired during the day. I wasn't depressed. I just felt normal again.

"Are you happy?" They'd ask me.
"Sometimes." I'd reply. "You're not really supposed to be happy though. They tell you that up front. During training they show you a chart of your emotional health as a sine curve and a line which represents feeling ‘okay’. Your emotional curve only touches the line twice in two years and passes above like... Once."
"Yeah, but is that okay with you?" They'd reply.
"I don't know..." I'd admit. "Sometimes there's enough good to outweigh the bad. A lot of times there isn't. I'm never too sure about anything I do here. I try to take it one day at a time and hope for the best."
Hearing myself say it made me want to buy a ticket home then and there. If I'm really not doing anything here and I'm so utterly miserable, why am I here?

The tour started and I internalized a lot more. I met a lot of new people during our tour de Rwanda with whom I become absolutely enamored, and also discovered a few side projects I really wanted to take on. I had more conversations with my mom and sister about the problems in Rwanda and it helped me create a clearer picture of the things I really wanted to focus on. I used to get furious about injustice, but life in Rwanda had nubbed me. I never accept anything. That’s not who I am. I see problems and find solutions, but I never just accept things as they are. Rwandan culture is a culture of always accepting things as they are, so my motivational fire inside was slowly dwindling. The vacation allowed me to reignite that fire inside that usually shouted, "Get mad! Get really mad and then do something about it."

There’s a lot to be angry about when it comes to Africa. I thought about women in country and actually felt mad again. I thought about sexism and the way that people had treated my housemate and even to some degree the way I had been treated, and I got mad. Mad and motivated. It’s clear that I can’t achieve the things I want to achieve if I’m going to be Rwandan, so I’ll be American. I need to work harder at the things I start and I need to readopt the attitude of getting the things I want. This means really learning Kinyarwanda so I can properly communicate with people when they tell me, “Ihangane” (be patient) and I want to convey “No. I will not be patient unless you actively show me you want to change this situation, and since you aren’t doing that, I will not sit by with you and allow things to remain as they are”. This means working on my secondary projects with tenacity and the same undivided attention I used to give to Africa before I joined Peace Corps. I am here to work, so I won’t just accept that things will never change. I am never going to accept that things will never be better than they are right now. I am going to do, and build, and create, and be proud of myself at least once this year.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Jennifer and Charissa Confront the Psychotic Wall of Culture

You know what? We’re really different. All of us. For all the efforts of the anti-individualism campaigns of the last ten years, we are all, in fact, beautiful and unique snowflakes. Well, at the very least, we’re unique. Anyone who tries to say we’re all the same clearly hasn’t spent much time anywhere other than where they’ve always been. On that note, I would like to share some of my more recent experiences with conflicting cultural sensibilities.

The Fighting Irish

I’ve always held a warm place in my heart for the Irish. The time I spent I Ireland was fabulous. I felt that, as an American, I was exceptionally well received. Just about everyone I met went out of their way to be kind, had a wonderful sense of humor, and was eager to share a little bit of their lifestyle with me. Now, there are always bad apples in the bunch, but the woman I am about to tell you about was strictly poisonous.
Charissa and I took a day trip into Kigali in order to run some errands. We ended the day with a coffee at Bourbon (Muzungu Heaven), essentially just looking at e-mails and minding our own business. Shortly into our repose a rather unfortunate looking white woman wandered over to us and asked if our internet was working. When we acknowledged that it was and commiserated over the speed being less than what we had hoped for, she asked where we were from Stateside.
“Chicago,” answered Charissa.
“California.” I said.
“And how long are you going to be touring Rwanda?” She asked politely.
“Oh, we’re not tourists. We’re Peace Corps Volunteers. So we’ll be living here for the next two years.” Charissa said.
The woman’s oddly accented tone instantly transformed into utter disdain and hostility. “Puh’leeease tell me you are TRYING to learn Kinyarwanda.”
We both just stared at her.
“Bohoro, bohoro,” I finally said.
She ignored me. “I just HATE it when American’s come here and all they speak is English. They think everyone should speak English and don’t even try.”
At this point I disengaged. If I had never met anyone like her in my life I probably would have risen to the fight. “Now, do you always start off conversations with this much bile and hostility? Or just with perfect strangers?” But lucky for me, my year in France had dulled my temper a bit. It didn’t really matter what I said. She already knew everything about me, and probably every other American on the planet. What more could I do? Charissa wasn’t quite as willing to give up.
“You know, we are English Teachers. The government invited us here to teach English. And most people I meet really want to learn English. They’re trying really hard.”
“Not the elderly! The elderly don’t want to learn!” The woman contested.
Now, I know a few people over the age of 65 in my village that would have a thing or two to say about that sweeping generalization, but again, this lady already knew everything about everything. What could I say?
“…And in Jenn’s village they actually don’t even speak Kinyarwanda. They all speak a regional dialect that comes from Uganda.” Charissa tried to temper the conversation again.
The woman completely disregarded the point. “I love using my Kinyarwanda.”
She proceeded to call over a waitress and order in poorly accented and executed Kinyarwanda, claiming that she was using complex vocabulary and grammar when really she was just failing to grasp that Rwandans are culturally different from the Irish. The waitress’s confusion was more than enough to satisfy my ego. The Irish woman had insisted on using a conjugated form of the word “to beg” as a substitute for where “Please” would commonly go in English. Except for the fact that Rwandan’s don’t have a word for please. They don’t have it, because they don’t use it. Polite and formal speech by Western standards aren’t a part of Kinyarwanda. This is normal and culturally acceptable for the Rwandans, so when a strange Irish woman orders a coffee and follows the order up with “I beg of you” the waitress naturally stopped and turned around again thinking perhaps the woman wanted something else. After about five minutes of trying to explain in broken Kinyarwanda and English that she just liked using the word because it essentially made her feel special, the waitress just walked away. I couldn’t really blame her. I had more than half a mind to just tell the lady to make the world a better place and shut her mouth for twenty seconds.
Unfortunately, none of us were that lucky. She turned her attention to us once more, and went on to laud the Rwandan education system; going to far as to say that: “American teachers have a thing or two to learn from the teachers in Rwanda.”
“Yes, there are many really good teachers in Kigali,” replied Charissa politely. One day, I will be as patient as Charissa and maybe then I’ll understand how she manages to deal with the most insufferable people with a smile on her face.
“Not just in Kigali,” snapped the woman looking more irritated than before. “I mean in the villages. There are teachers in the villages here who are better than the ones at the best schools in Kigali.”
Here we go again.
“Really? What villages for example?” Charissa was still keeping an even tone.
“In Byumba there are some really amazing teachers. And in Rwamagana.”
I wanted to slam my head into the table. Villages? Those towns are what we commonly call District Capitals and they all have electricity, running water, and markets the size of Costco. It’s probably not this woman’s fault. Chauffeurs don’t usually like to drive on dirt roads which is probably why she’s never seen a real village, and you can be certain this lady has never seen the inside of a Mini-Bus.
There was even more after this, but I’ll spare you.

Rwandans and Food

Generally speaking I eat the same thing every night. It is rice, spaghetti, or boiled potatoes with the same mixture of tomato and peanut sauce over it. But evidently that doesn’t mean the Rwandan’s don’t have other options.
One night, when Jose and I were setting up the charcoal burner, I saw her snag something off the wall. I took a closer look and saw that she was pinching a grasshopper between her fingers. I imagined she was planning to throw it into the bushes or something, so I went back to trying to light the fire when I noticed she had actually leaned in and pretended to bite its head off.
“Jose!” I gasped.
She looked up at me quizzically.
“You’re not actually going to eat that are you?”
“This? Jenny, you know we can eat things like this.” She replied casually.
“Josephine, if you eat the bug right now it is going to ruin my night.” I said flatly, but then stopped to consider the situation. She was at home in all senses of the word. She was not only at her own house, but she was in her own country. Why was I telling her what was okay to eat or not eat?
“No no. I will not eat it. It is joke. Entre paranthese.” She tossed the grasshopper at the cliffside.
“ Right. Well, I mean. We are going to eat dinner in a little while.” I tried to backtrack, but it just sounded strange, so I changed the subject.

On Saturday I was walking back to my hotel with Charissa in Kibuye. It was a really beautiful stroll on a road that ran parallel to the lake, and was mostly deserted. We passed one or two people every few minutes, but only one really stuck out in my mind. A fisherwoman was standing on the side of the street looking like she wasn’t actually doing much of anything until we passed her. Instantly, her hands shot out in front of our faces and she started saying, “Amafi, amafi, amafi” (fish, fish fish)! Sure enough in her cupped hands were maybe ten or fifteen sardines she had likely caught a few minutes before, and she was trying to sell them to us. Genuinely. They may or may not have still been moving. Out of instinct I almost recoiled, but again I had to remind myself that she had to think this was normal. She had to think this kind of thing was so normal that there was no way anyone from anywhere else would think it wasn’t.”
We politely declined and kept walking.
“… Weird.” I said.
“Seriously,” replied Charissa.

The Land of the Free and the Home of the Strange

One of the reasons for my presence in Kibuye was to celebrate Mark’s birthday, but the other was the fact that the World Cup had started and the USA was playing the UK. A group of us crowded into a bar to drink, watch the game, and be generally slanderous towards anyone from Britain. This managed to work out fairly well because there ended up being a couple of people form the UK who made the unfortunate mistake of wandering into our bar. At the opening of each game they bring out each country’s flag and the teams sings their national anthem. Throughout the entire salute to the English flag the bar was silent. Not even the Brits stood up. Then it was the State’s turn and the bar was filled with the sound of sliding chairs as about 14 of us shot up, put our hands over our hearts and started belting “the Star Spangled Banner”. At the end of the anthem we all burst into successive cheers and applause. Shortly after a few high fives and fist bumps, it occurred to me that every Rwandan in the room was staring at us like we had completely lost our minds. And I suppose we really must have looked a bit odd, but I know at home no one would have bat an eye. Culture, man. It’s a strange thing.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Wednesday morning I woke up to a knock on the hotel room door. Charissa answered it, which was good because I had no intention of moving in any event. “Yeah, she’s fine I think,” I heard her say. “She’s still sleeping. I’m just going to let her sleep until lunch. She’s gotta eat something eventually.”
I went back to sleep only to be roused what seemed to be minutes later by a much louder knock. “B-F-F”. “B-F-F, AR’HE YOU SLEEPEEN?”
“Not anymore… Good Morning.”
“It is Noon.”
“B-F-F, I think you are sick.” He said.
“No, I’m not sick. I’m just very tired.”
He lumbered over and laid horizontally across the foot of my bed.
I was still half asleep and it took a moment to register whether or not I was actually conscious. Am I dreaming, or is there really a large black man laying on my bed? No, no. I’m awake. Felicien is trying to talk to me.
“B-F-F, I think you are very sad”.
“Yes, I am very sad.” I replied.
“I think someone at home has told you a bad story.”
“Well… It wasn’t great.”
“Yes, someone at home told me something sad.”
He picked up my hand and squeezed it. “Komera”.
Be strong. I always feel bad when Rwandans tell me to be strong. Yeah, like I need to be strong. You survived a holocaust and go through each day like nothing was ever wrong, and here I am acting like the world is ending because of a relationship.
Charissa walked in shortly afterwards and shoo’ed him out of the room. Saved by the Peace Corps Mom. I went back to sleep until dinner.

IST passed pretty uneventfully. I had some emotional ups and downs but I went to the rest of the sessions and tried to be as attentive as possible. We passed through Kigali for a day to recollect before going back to site. I thought it was going to be a deal breaker. How am I going to commute back to the Dark Ages while I’m dealing with all of this? The answer? It’s not what I thought it would be. I asked my doctor for some anti-anxiety medication to help me through the week, but it turned out that the best Xanax was just being back at my site. Coming home was more cathartic than I could have imagined. Everyone was asking about me and wondering when the next classes at the factory would begin, and my kids… Wow. I never thought it would be such an ordeal to come back to the school.
I walked into my Senior 2 class to have a 5 minute standing ovation complete with cheers.
“I told you I would be back today. Why are you all so surprised?”
“We are just very happy to see you, teacher.”
+10 life points right there.
In my Senior 1 class one of my favorite students actually began to cry when I walked in and demanded where I had been.
“I told you. I had a conference I had to attend in Gisenyi and I was going to be back today, so here I am. Honey, why are you so upset?”
“Someone told her a bad story.” An older student explained.
Ouch. The memory of my conversation with Felicien was triggered for a minute but I shook it off.
“What kind of bad story?” I hugged the girl and tried to console her a bit.
“Well, a student in upper levels said that when Muzungus say they go on vacation it means they are not come back.”
Double Ouch. Is this about the genocide? Is this because all of the white people left before? Is that what they really expect me to do?
“Well, I am not a Muzungu. I am Umuyarwandan and I will not ever go on ‘vacation’ and never come back. When I leave, I will tell you and you will always have a way to contact me if you need me. Rahira.”
[Insert victory music here] Umutoni, Jennifer has leveled up.
The immediate rush of determination that completely flooded my soul was more than enough to force all doubts from my mind. I’m not leaving you. I’m never going to abandon you. I’ll always be here for you whenever you need me.

Take THAT crappy month of May.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

These last few weeks have been a doozey. Well, let’s not play it down. These last few weeks have constituted as some of the worst days of my life. The kind of bad days you never forget. The kind of bad days that has your friends nicknaming you “slim” when they see you at In Service Training, and keep your eyes accessorized with some ever fashionable dark rings.

I should probably explain for those of you who didn’t catch it, that I got published in a Rwandan propaganda article. The reporter took many of the words I had posted in my blog and used them out of context to support whatever it was he was trying to say at the time. I had to delete my blog and ran into some trouble with administration. The good news is they didn't fire me. When I thought all of it was over and I had pulled through all of the worst parts of the month, I got sick. Really sick. I rolled up to Gisenyi with a fever that topped out at 102 degrees. Thank god I was staying at a really nice hotel with all the normal Western amenities one could ask for.

We kept the fever down with Tylenol and I got better for the most part… But then things at home started to fall apart. “It’s hard to invest your emotions in a Ghost,” he told me. Maybe if I were the cool crime-fighting, gun-slinging variety he wouldn’t have left me. But that’s neither here nor there, because the fact of the matter is all of these things happened, and for a while I couldn’t breathe, and for a while it felt like I might drown. Eventually it occurred to me that regardless of how I felt, minutes, hours, and whole days were still passing. My environment was still the same. My friends were still the same. This country was still the same. The only thing that had changed was the way I felt at that very moment. The only thing that had stopped moving was me.

I still don’t think I’ve started moving again. I feel like I’ve been hit by a mac truck after all of this and I’m more like twitching road kill than something that moves with the ebb and flow of the world. But I’ll get there. I’m still resolved not to leave Rwanda. After everything I’ve seen and everything I’ve done, it’s going to take the end of the world to take me away from here. While I’ll admit, sometimes it feels like the end of the world, I know better. I just have to give it time. One day not too far away all of this is going to make sense to me.

Friday, May 21, 2010

So... I have a new blog. Hopefully I can keep this one as far away from things like Peace Corps Journals and the Administration as humanly possible. More on all of that later. My site is still wonderful and I am preparing to depart to In Service Training in just a few days. This totally works for me because I am due for a bit of a vacation. I think a little tanning by the lake is just what the doctor ordered.


Monday, April 12, 2010

At 4:45am the day after Easter I woke up at St. Pauls to prepare for my 5:30 bus departure and subsequent 9 hour trek to Kampala. It seemed disturbingly quiet after the celebration the night before. Rwandans strike me as incredible peculiar people in the way which they celebrate holidays. In American we jump at any chance to have a party and drink. New Years Eve, Halloween, Birthdays, 4th of July, President’s Day, it really doesn’t matter what the occasion actually is, we just like getting together with friends and cutting lose. Except for Easter. Easter is like this unspoken sacred cow. You never see anyone inviting you to their “Insane Easter Bash” on facebook because we, as Americans, don’t find it to be appropriate. Easter is a day Christians who haven’t be particularly faithful church goers to go to church, spend time with their families, and share a quiet day thinking about Jesus, or gigantic bunnies breaking into their homes and leaving candy eggs around the house. Rwandans, on the other hand, completely shed their composure on Easter. Right after midnight they start the party, complete with drinking, singing, dancing and music. The entire process was reminiscent of frat kids getting behind their favorite university team but instead of screaming “ROLL TIDE” they were shouting the Kinyarwandan equivalent of “WOOOO!! JESUS CAME BACK DUDE!” Like I said; peculiar.

When we got to the bus station I discovered that the administration at Kampala Coach has failed to write down my reservation. They also failed to recall the reservations of Marta and Colleen. It seemed that one cannot actually call in to make a reservation with Kampala Coach (despite what you may read on the internet and their own website), but instead must show up the day before to buy your ticket if you desire a seat. I threw a veritable American conniption fit right in the center of their ticket office.
“What do you MEAN you’ve LOST my reservation?”
“No, I don’t want to take your 12:30 bus. I have things to do.”
“How could YOU let this happen? This is not how you do business.”
Eventually one of the owners came out and told me he would walk me to another bus line and find me a seat. Then he offered me a free breakfast. I was moderately consoled. We were still on a bus to Kampala at approximately the same time and the man seemed to understand that his employees had jerked us around. However, this new bus did not have reclining seats, we were crammed into the back, forced to sit next to this woman who only paid for one seat, but had an additional two little puke factories (or children as the case may be) half shoved on her lap as if they were hand bags as opposed to people who required their own space, and seemed to have the driver from hell who enjoyed hitting speed bumps and pot holes at 90 miles an hour. Frankly, I’m surprised we’re alive. But, I suppose the point is we are, and Kampala was well worth the ridiculous trip up and then some.

First of all, we stayed at a place called the Red Chilli Hideaway. This is supposed to be set up like a hostel but they’ve got some options that remind me more of a hotel. You can get single, twin, and double rooms in addition to a dorm and a camp ground where you can pitch your own tent (the cheapest option by far). Though financially advisable, we’ve got some interesting wildlife on the premises, including monkeys, so I’m not sure if I, personally, would choose that option. The café here is completely legit and better than most of the upper range hotels I’ve seen in Kigali. You can get a BLT here. A for reals BLT. With bacon that doesn’t have the consistency of rubber or the taste of sawdust. In effect, the place gets my recommendation even if it is located a little ways outside of the centreville. The cost from the center of town by regular taxi is approximately 15,000 shillings. The exchange rate to dollars is about 2,000 shillings to 1 US dollar. This makes shopping exceptionally feasible. It’s a nice change of pace from Kigali where everything is double the amount you would anticipate paying in an African country.

It’s also incredibly easy to just use dollars in Uganda. I went on a rafting trip and they had all of their prices listed in dollars and charged my credit cards in dollars as well. That means I wasn’t hit with a conversion fee by my bank and made me all the more enthusiastic to be giving this rafting company my money. From what I can gather, there are two main companies for rafting in Uganda. There was my company (Adrift) and some other company (Raft the Nile… Or something like that?) and they are appropriate color coded blue and red respectively. This spawned a nearly constant flow of red vs. blue jokes. I really enjoyed my trip with Adrift and I didn’t find it to be expensive for everything that was provided. I went Bungee Jumping, White Water Rafting for 5 hours, had a free lunch which consisted of sandwiches, potato salad, a ton of beer, a BBQ provided at the end of the trip, and a free shuttle to and from my hotel. The guides were all very experienced, funny and considerate. I was the least lobster colored of my group by my guide continually forced sunscreen upon us throughout the rafting trip. The trip was also incredibly Veg friendly and never failed to provide vegetarian options each time there was a pause for food.

The day started with Bungee Jumping. It’s not required, and if you opt out of it you can simply watch all of the people who have clearly lost their minds throw themselves from a 185 foot platform from the safety and comfort of the lodge’s riverside bar. Nevertheless, I recommend being one of the crazy people that jumps. I believe the jump master is American (and way cute) and he makes the entire process seamless. As with most things like this, the hardest part isn’t the jumping, or the falling, but rather just the standing at the top of the platform. It’s hard not to have shakey legs while you’re standing over the Nile waiting to potentially throw yourself to your death. They count you down with 3,2,1,BUNGEE! And then you jump out away from the platform with your arms wide and fall for about 4 seconds. When the cord pulls you up you barely feel it. For an instant I forgot I was even connected to a cord. All of the tension connects in the rope instead of your back or knees and you lightly float up and down a few times before a boat comes out to collect you. I’m making it sound more relaxing than it actually is, but the point I’m trying to convey is that the experience is far from life threatening. People look at Bungee Jumping as this X-treme sport that only X-treme people sign up for, but I think it has the potential to be far more accessible to a variety of demographics. In short, you ought to give it a shot before you completely write it off.

Between the two, White Water Rafting was infinitely more terrifying than Bungee Jumping. The way Adrift introduces you to rafting is pretty much a “learn as you go” methodology. They gently brief you before each rapid but there were several times at the beginning where they intentionally flipped the boat or hit a rapid so you would pop you just do you would know what it felt like. I kind of liked it that way. It made the experience much more natural and properly prepared you for what falling of the boat was actually going to be like. Talking about it doesn’t cut it. I remember the guide quoting that you could be under the water for about 8 seconds and that it happened a lot so you shouldn’t panic. I looked to my left and saw my friend Colleen counting.
“One one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand…”
By the time she got to eight I wanted to throw myself out of the boat and swim to shore. Eight seconds seemed like and really is an ungodly amount of time to spend underwater by force. Luckily, we were able to keep the boat upright all the way until the last rapid, which is aptly named “the Bad Place”. The last rapid is a level 5 rapid and the meanest thing I have ever seen in the form of water. We practiced flipping the boat over and floating below it at the beginning of the trip.
“Don’t panic,” the guide told us. “Panicking will only make it worse. As you can see, you can breathe under here. So, just relax.”
When we went down “the Bad Place” the raft flipped and I went under. At first I practiced taking the guides advice. Don’t panic. I relaxed a bit and tried to let the water take me through the rapids.

Has it been 8 seconds yet?
I need air.
Get me out of here.

I started to struggle against the current and popped up under the over turned raft. “Perfect! We can breathe under here.” I remembered.
Except that I couldn’t. Either I was spending too much effort trying to keep my head above water to catch my breath, or there really wasn’t an air bubble under the raft anymore.

I’m going to die.
How did this even happen?

I tried to pop out to the side of the boat, but when you’re underwater you lose your inner compass. Left, right, up and down completely disappear. I ended up under the boat again. I tried again in a different direction and found air. It was hard to breathe in, but I found it, and then my guide found me. He was trying to grab me and laughing at me. I probably looked fairly hilarious.
“It’s okay. I’m fine. Just let me float.” (I needed the space.) We had passed The Bad Place and I could easily stick my feet forward and float down the river. I stayed in the water for a really long time. Even after we had flipped the boat right side up again and were promised all the beer we could drink, I stayed in the water for a few minutes longer.

When we got to shore we hiked up a small hill and were served really delicious kebabs, tortillas, water and beer. We hung out at the top with everyone else and talked about how insane the experience was and after a few minutes we all pilled back on to our respective busses and were taxied home.

Today I’m rather sore, but feel practically invincible. Like, I might be able to stop a bullet with my face. I just threw myself off a platform attached to a rubber cord and managed to survive a class 5 rapid that I am convinced was particularly out to get me. I’ve never felt like more of a superhero and that’s pretty fabulous.

Happy Birthday to me!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

“This is going to hurt,” he told me. Despite that sad reality, I appreciated his frankness. I always hate it when doctors or authority figures try to play down something bad. I would rather know I’m about to experience something unpleasant than be horribly surprised halfway through. So, I should probably start this story from the beginning. Two weeks ago I came home from a shopping trip in Kigali and burned my leg on the tailpipe of a moto. I will never again forget to note which side of the motorcycle the tailpipe is on. At first I thought it would just go away. It just seemed a little red. Then a few days later a blister about the size of a silver dollar formed inside of the red patch and it started to hurt. My medical officer just told me to cover it, watch it, and make sure not to pop the blister. However, the burn on my leg was a little too big for any of the band aids in our med-kit, so I covered it with gauze one night and left it there until morning. It never occurred to me that doing that would severely impede my ability to function for the following few weeks. When I took off the gauze in the morning, the top layer of my burnt skin came with it. Ouch. I’m sure you can imagine how that one felt.

A week later the pain wasn’t going away and there was a silver dollar sized mushy yellowish spot on the burn. I sent pictures to my med officer and she told me I had to come to Kigali to get it checked out. It ended up not being infected, but I had this weird thing where the skin from the blister was never fully cleared away and was making it impossible for the burn to heal up. So we had to clear out all of this dead skin… With sponges, tweezers, and scissors. The first round of scrubbing got us to the exposed nerves of my leg, which would explain why it had been hurting for so long. That was when I was told the rest of the procedure was going to be fairly disagreeable. After the first five minutes of scrubbing I noticed the noises in the room were getting muffled and my vision was going a little spotty. “Huh,” I said. “I think I’m going to pass out.” My tone was so blasé that the staff didn’t initially react. Then they had me bent over with my head between my knees until the world stopped spinning, and found a place for me to lay down for the rest of the procedure. I apologized for not being able to keep it together, but the doctor assured me that the reaction was entirely natural, and proposed that had I been a boy, I probably would have crumpled after the first 30 seconds. It was nice of him to try and make me feel a little tougher than I felt. So, I have to go back in for a check up again tomorrow but hopefully it won’t be quite as bad.

In better news, I’ve begun teaching. It’s been a bit of a learning experience for me oddly enough. The practices of the Rwandan classrooms are diametrically opposed to those to which I am accustomed in many ways. First of all, I am expected to be 3 – 5 minutes late to class everyday. This means I don’t get any immediate prep time, but it allows the students to enter the classroom, clean the blackboard, take their seats, and most importantly it ensures that they are all present to stand and greet me in unison when I enter the room. This was startling at first, especially because they remain standing until I return their greeting and tell them to be seated. I am also expected to write the name of the class I am teaching in the corner of the blackboard where teachers in the United States normally write the date. I have now come to the understanding that students are not privy to their own schedule, as my S2 English class was lead to believe that I was teaching them geography when I did not indicate the subject on the board. Professors routinely come in and out of classrooms, teach whatever subject they are prepared to teach, and the students follow the lesson without question.

This would not bother me if not for the fact that they never ask questions. At all. About anything. Students here take orders very well, but always fail to visit the intentions of the directions given. I’m about to institute a policy that adds extra points to the weekly quiz if a student asks “why” when I tell her to do something. The problem is, many other teachers would be less than enthused with my student’s new found audacity in the classroom. I want my kids to think more critically, but I don’t want them to be disrespectful because of it. Walking that line can be a bit precarious.

Additionally, I start clubs next week. We had a meeting with the Headmaster and he agreed to let me have the American Culture club and a Test Prep club, but he also told everyone he wanted me to have an English club for the teachers. My initial and standing impression of this request is that it has not been very well accepted. Most of the professors are men and in their 40s or older. Culturally speaking, having me (a 23 year old girl) as an authority figure in a class which is primarily comprised of men in their 40s is a bit insulting. But, my ever visionary Headmaster quashed most of the complaints stating that “No one is too old to learn”. No one argues with the Headmaster, so we’re moving forward with it. It should be fun to see what kind of social backlash I get from this. I think I’ll be fine as long as I just try to think of this period of time as a social experiment instead of a social engagement.

Lastly, I would like to issue a blanket request to all of you that you STOP GETTING MARRIED. Seriously, guys. I’ve got about 23 months of service left. If you love each other enough to get married, you will still love each other in 23 months when I am home and able to attend your wedding. Yes, I am talking about YOU, Meghan Fitz—Wehe…
Another alternative could be a late November or December wedding. I’ll be home for Thanksgiving and Christmas this year because school is out in October, and I’ve got lots of time off. Can we all agree to that?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

January was marked by “difficulty”. I noticed that my problems lessened in some ways but grew in others since staging. It was nice to have some space again; to have a place I could retreat to when I wanted to be alone and think. However, at staging I had the luxury of living without expectations. This is not just to say that I had any to begin with, but also that no one had any of me. A major obstacle this January has been reconciling my abilities with the expectations my village has of me. I’m not so concerned about teaching. I am more concerned with the cultural expectations, the need to speak Urchiga, sensitivity to habitual norms, knowing what is polite and impolite by Rwandan standards, and homesickness.

I had a particularly difficult day when I accepted the offer of my counterpart to visit her church. She is a Pentecost and I had heard from my friends that their services were modeled after some of the more standard southern gospel parishes. “Yes,” I thought. “What a fun and unique experience”. However, unique would be a more accurate description than fun. After the 6 hour mass and rather peculiar private prayer session that followed, it occurred to me that some denominations of Christianity are just too different for me to identify with. I spent half my bus ride home staring at two numbers on my cell phone. One read “Figgy” and the other read “PC Medical Duty”. One could have me home in a day and every struggle I have had here would be behind me, and one would tell me that my struggles are the most intrinsic part of me, and that I have to embrace them thoroughly. I called Bob. I asked him to remind me why I shouldn’t ET and he responded with such casual confidence, “You’re not going to ET, Jenn”, that I believed him almost immediately. I woke him up. It must have been near midnight in Mongolia, but he took the call anyway, talked me out of my head, reminded me that I was here for all the right reasons, and pointed out how funny my story was going to seem in a few days time. “Rwanda can’t send you home, Jenn”. He didn’t mean that they were trying to, but rather, that my country, and all of its challenges weren’t so massive that I couldn’t take it. So I got my strength back, and I’ve been all right for the past few days.

My homesickness comes and goes. My memories of the United States are much more vivid then I remember them being in France. For the first time, when I think about home I get slight pangs in my chest. Just thinking about sleeping in my own bed, and seeing my old friends, and being able to go out to a bar and have a cosmo makes me a little nostalgic for my old life. There’s a lot to appreciate when it comes to an American lifestyle and it’s not just how convenient everything is. Hopefully I will be able to share some of that with my village and make some sort of incremental impact.

In other news, the comic drive has really taken off. My partner here has sort of fallen off the face of Rwanda so I’m assuming the project as my own. I probably shouldn’t say “my own”, because my spectacular wifey, Julia, has compiled a team of people who intend to help made this project happen. We now have a website! Can you believe it? My secondary project has a website! If you want to check it out it’s I am so grateful for all the support this drive has received and I know it never would have happened without Julia and all of her hard work. Love, you are amazing.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Today is the first day I’ve done absolutely nothing in a very long time. Yesterday, I went on a two hour hike across the mountains that create the Rwanda-Uganda boarder (Ugwanda) with my headmaster to delivering a book to another volunteer in my district. Initially, when I inquired about how far Rushaki was from Mulindi I got some variety of vague hand gestures to the series of hills opposite my school. “It’s over that hill,” they would tell me, but what they failed to mention was that there were several other “hills” behind the hill we could plainly see. I honestly shouldn’t be surprised. I live in the land of a thousand hills after all. I did not plan on having my Headmaster follow my all the way to Rushaki, but he has been incredibly protective of me ever since I arrived. Generally speaking, I have ample amounts of time alone when I am in his house in my room, but if I am walking anywhere he usually insists upon someone being with me. I ended up taking a moto taxi back to Mulindi because it started to rain. The way the road curves through the valleys, it is actually about twice as far to take a moto than it is to make the bee-line hike over the mountains. Good to note.

I asked if I could help at my school at all today, but my headmaster told me no. He mused that there would probably be something for me to do with the computer lab on Monday, but that I should just relax as much as possible today. However, for those of you who know me well, I don’t relax easily. I have so many ideas and I know I can do so much for my village, but I’m constantly hindered by the “slowly but surely” attitude of my superiors. I’ve been told on many occasions that I am a very “eager” and “tenacious” person. Maybe I’m suffering from leftover Western ideologies, forcing me to feel like my inactivity will somehow be construed as laziness. I ought to understand that pushing the envelope and attempting to force my way isn’t going to win me any friends. If they want to take things one step at a time then who am I to argue? I’m here for them after all, and I can only figure they will use me when they feel it is necessary. Still, I’m concerned about being a burden. I feel, and have felt, so taken care of since I arrived in Rwanda. I’m trying to convince myself that this is just part of the cultural differences that exist in Africa. If I were to ruminate on this for a moment I would realize it was like this in France too. I feel disheartened sometimes at the American mentality with which we’ve been raised—this perpetual “can’t stop, must work, must produce, must do” something, anything, so that we might procure some semblance of inner quiet. I’m beginning to have a hard time believing that everyone else in the world is wrong when they tell me that I work too hard; Americans work too hard. Why are we the only ones who refuse to recognize that it’s okay to take a break and just not worry about things for a minute? It’s our culture, sure, but maybe it’s about time to apply a modicum of adjustment to said culture.

Today, I’m just going to try to integrate into my society. It is one of the goals I’m supposed to meet by Peace Corps standards. On a walk back from town the other day, I asked my headmaster whether or not everyone in my village spoke Kinyarwanda. He told me everyone spoke a regional dialect that, when described, sounds absolutely nothing like Kinyarwanda. Supposedly, most people still understand Kinyarwanda so I shouldn’t have too much of a problem speaking to people in the community. This suddenly explained why whenever I stop to say “Amakuru ki” (How are you) to anyone on the road they simply responded with “Yego” (Yes). I learned the traditional greeting in the dialect, “Agandi”, to which one would typically respond, “Ni’ge”, but I’ve heard some four other variations to it, so I’ve got a ways to go. I still want to learn to use it. I like the reactions I generally get when I try to use the dialect. Sometimes my headmaster will laugh and translate things like “they are shocked and saying it is impossible”, “they are saying you are only a foreigner on the skin”. I would love to be a foreigner only in appearance. If learning the local dialect is all it takes then sign me up. I’ll start classes today.