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.

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