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.