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 www.heroeswithoutborders.org. 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.