Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas Safari

This was my first Christmas in Rwanda. It's an odd time of year, with so many people traveling abroad. I went to the swearing in ceremony for the new PCVs. It really hit me, realizing that we aren't newbies anymore. Watching the new volunteers, sitting in the exact same chairs, repeating the exact same oath we had made 8 months ago really had an effect on me. Their ceremony was a bit different from ours. They had one extra speech and a really nice Intore dance and drum performance. Most of the performers were kids, one of whom looked as young as 3--she was so cute! When the dancers invited the audience to participate I picked that little girl to dance with. The only unfortunate thing was the dismal turnout due to the time of year. So many people are on vacation, and it was on umuganda, the day when everything is closed until noon for people to do their monthly community service.

Christmas is a fun time of year for me, but I don't usually do very much to celebrate, other than get gifts for people. I did, however, make potato latkes twice. They turned out great, and my mamma would be proud. I had planned to make a menorah but that never actually materialized.

I made Christmas the theme with my class this month, giving them new vocabulary such as "sleigh" and "snowman" and teaching them "Jingle Bells". They seemed to get a kick out of it. I asked them to share what they do for Christmas so I could get a better idea of how it is celebrated in Rwanda. From what they told me, and from what I observed, it's not really a major holiday the way it is in the U.S. Businesses are open, and it's more of a family-oriented and religous holiday as opposed to a gift giving holiday. It makes me realize the amount of materialism we're subjected to in the states.

I went to Rwamagana to see some fellow PCV friends, who had taken a big branch and decorated it with funny magazine cut-outs of things like paternity tests, ugly babies and upside down people. We drank and ate candy we rarely get to taste-- candy canes, M&Ms...

I stayed there for a few days before 8 of us went on a safari to Akagera. Akagera doesn't have that great of a reputation, but we saw a fair amount of animals, probably due to the rainy season. We saw zebras, jiraffes, hippos, water buffalo, warthogs, deer, and monkeys. Our guide allowed us to get out of the car at certain points, so could get close to the jiraffes. For most of us, it was our first safari,and we were pleasantly surprised. It's a tourist attraction that's really downplayed, overshadowed by the much pricier Gorilla trek in the north. It was so nice to get out of Kigali for once and see some of the country, and being able to do that with my fellow PCVs made it that much better.

Still don't have New Year's Eve plans...

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!


I realize I've been lagging a bit on the posts- it's been over a month!

The 3 major things that happened in December (after all, the month is almost over) are GLOW (Girls Leading Our World), the new volunteer's swear in, and Christmas of course!

So, I think it's safe to say that GLOW went well. Of course it didn't all go smoothly or according to plan, but that was to be expected. The overall number of girls was about 70, and the camp lasted 5 days.

I ended up bringing 3 of my girls (from the school) to camp. It was so nice to see them having a good time and learning. The camp focused on health, sexual health, and career planning. The girls had several different games. We got creative--one of the PCVS set up "bowling" with water bottles and a small ball, darts on paper, and one even got a carpenter to make the necessary bean bags and wood frames to play bean bag toss (or "cornhole"). Every day, there were different guests to speak or throw an activity our way. Among these were theater, trust activities, a career panel, and health presentations. The girls got to sign up for different field trips around Kigali, including orphanages and computer labs. One of the more contravertial activities was teaching the girls how to put on condoms. We had model penises made of wood, donated to us by PSI along with condoms. Each girl was given one and time to practice. The youngest girls at GLOW were 15, so I personally don't feel like they were too young for this. There's such a stigma that girls with condoms are promiscuous, dirty or untrustworthy. It's going to take a long time to shake that image in Rwanda (hell- it's hard to shake that image in the U.S.), but I can see that it's an issue that is becoming more public. The "No shuga daddi" billboards are now being replaced by pictures of local celebreties advocating condoms. We also gave condoms to the girls to take home with them, if they so chose.

Below, one camper shows another camper how to put on a condom.

I was at GLOW for the majority of the time (4 of the days) and I'm really glad I got to participate in it.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


Thanksgiving was awesome! All of the PCVs got together (minus 4-- still a really good turnout) and made food at the Peace Corps office. There was a turkey (freshly slaughtered thanks to Ahmed) mashed potatoes, grean beans, sweet potatos with marshmallows, mac and cheese, AMAZING stuffing and "cranberry sauce" made from pineapples, orange rinds and lime-and of course, apple pie from scratch and some cakes. Also hummas and pita bread. Ugh, really wish I'd taken the initiative and brought tupperwear to take some home! We also had tons of wine and beer. Anywho, it was the first Thanksgiving I'd spent without my parents, so I was glad to be with my PC family. It really was special.

Afterwards, a bunch of us decided to burn off the mass amounts of calories accumulated from Thanksgiving food by going clubbin'! It was at a club I usually don't like, but it was actually really fun! Since it was a weekday, there were way less people, and there was a really good DJ and some really good dancers bustin moves. There were a bunch of us Peace Corps volunteers, plus friends of ours, and we danced and drank the night away. One of my friend told me that the prostitutes (that are abundant at this club) don't charge money- which launched a debate as to whether or not they're even prostitutes. Apparently a lot of them are looking for sugar daddys. The first hit is free, but afterwards she'll be calling you and showing up at your doorstep to pay for this or for that. Some of them are looking for a green card and a better life. I still don't know if I'd call that prostitution though, I feel like it needs to be tit for tat (money directly for sex) for it to count-- everything else is just slutty behavior and financial dependence. On that note, I gotta get back to work! Happy Thanksgiving everybody! Oh, and thanks Mom for calling me--I love you!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

New Home, New Job!

So I can finally break the silence now that it’s official—I have switched organizations and domiciles. I now work for Never Again, a really awesome organization established in 2002 to promote conflict resolution, specifically among youth. Never Again exists in several countries, but of course, I’m working for Never Again: Rwanda. I’m really excited to be working for them. It’s a new organization but is well established, and officially became an NGO last year. The staff is small but NAR has so many projects. My supervisor told me I’ll be wearing different hats while working for them, but that’s more than fine with me! My official title is theater coordinator and part-time English instructor. I will also help to update the NAR website from time to time, as well as edit the newsletter. The people I work with are incredibly nice and professional—it’s almost like being back in America. On the first day, my colleagues taped a welcome poster above my desk, and have done so many favors for me since. I feel lucky and incredibly grateful. I just hope I don’t disappoint them, I’m definitely a little nervous.

I now live in a more central, urban location. It’s definitely less Peace Corps-ish, but it’s beautiful and comfortable. Can you tell Im happy?
The weekend went relatively well. I unfortunately wasn’t able to see my relative who was in town as he had trouble coming back into the country from the Congo (Visa issues). He’s a doctor who was working on a project in Goma, but flew in and out from Kigali. By the time I got a hold of him, he was already about to board the plane back. Such is life.

I got to talk on the radio! So NAR does a radio show every other Saturday, and my first Saturday working with them was going to be a show day. I decided to come along because I wanted to see what it was all about. I only meant to observe, but they gave me the opportunity to talk on the air which was pretty cool. The theme of their discussion was about human rights, what it means, etc. I was nervous at first but it’s actually pretty easy to talk on the radio because you don’t see your audience, it’s basically just you sitting down and talking into a mic. One thing I learned is that the microphone is heavily magnified, and EVERY little movement you make is heard on the air, which is why the radio announcer was getting irritated when some of the participants shifted papers around or whispered to each other.

I know my contribution to the show was very small, but I walked out of the station on a high. It really feels good to be a part of this.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Pros and Cons

Like I said before, I'm in a transition period right now, which therefore makes my ups and downs here go even more out of wack. I'll explain more about my transition soon (maybe even tomorrow!) Instead of writing a real entry, thought I'd write a list of pros and cons of living here. Sorry if this bores you, but this is more for me than for anyone else. Helps me get a better idea of how I feel about being here. I think I'm happy, but sometimes, I don't know...

1. Living in the main province.Being in a central,
urban location makes my life here
so much easier. Better access to resources.

2. My neighbors. Some of them in
particular anyway. It's nice to
finally be past that "a white person
is here so she must be rich", having
people try to rip me off, but now actually
giving me the real price. It means they
respect me and look at me more as one of
them. I definitely have a good group of
friends here, all ages, religious
backgrounds, and genders, who hang
out outside my house or who buy me a
beer at the local bar. I learn way more
from them about Rwandan history and
culture than I could ever learn from
any book (which are usually written
by foreigners visiting the country)

3. The kids in my hood. They're
just so nice and friendly.
They're always happy to see me
and greet me. All they ask for
is a hug. They brighten my day.
I have also developed a namesake
trend here.

4. Rwandan landscape. The mountains
and trees are beautiful!

5. Laid back culture. I'm from
Cali, so maybe this is more familiar
to me than my fellow PCVs from
the East Coast.

6. My new transition! I'm really happy and
excited about it! I feel very lucky to have this

1. Living in the main province! It's so damn expensive!

2. Ignorance is frustrating. There's a huge
difference between locals who are well educated
versus those who aren't (as is true for well-educated
and poorly educated Americans). I've had it
up to here with being called "umuzungu" everywhere
I go, and having my hair pulled and inspected by strangers.

3. Transportation. I miss having a car! I like having
complete control of where, how, and when I go
somewhere. It slows down my life A LOT
and makes me feel much less free than I'd like to be.
I hate crawling in and out of vans
(buses are in van form here), having people's
asses in my face while others push and shove to get
in the van before people can get out. I'm also tired of
slouching and being squished like a sardine inside
those things. Gotten quite a few bruises.

4. The mountains. While pretty, they're a huge pain
in the ass to walk up and down all the time, especially
when I'm in a hurry. At least I'm burning calories. No
treadmill or gym membership needed!

5. The disorganization. Alright, I moved to Africa.
It has that general reputation, so I guess I'm
not surprised. But it goes without saying that
this slows things down, and is frustrating.

K, that about evens it out. Meant to write the pros and cons parallel to each other but it's hard to do that in this blog format. My next entry will be a lot more fun to read, I promise!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Movement, and Lack of Movement

I recieved some bad news a few hours ago, so I'm not in the best of moods. I won't get into specifics, but I'm in a transition period right now, and it's not going at all the way I'd planned or hoped up until I got that phone call. Sux. However, I just hung out with a friend who accused me of being too negative. She's probably right--so, out of respect for her, I'll fill up the rest of this blank post space to talk about the positive things I've experienced.

I've been doing quite a bit of traveling lately. I'm done grading papers, but when I'm not keeping busy with GLOW, Books for Africa (which everyone reading this should donate to), or working on the draft for the mayor of my district, I've kept busy traveling a bit. I went to the Nrth two weekends ago, and then to the East to visit some friends, then to the South, and I'll be going to the East again for Halloween (probably). I still have a very long list of things to do and places to see before I leave in a year and a half (that's right--I'm a quarter of the way done with service!) Rwanda's a tiny country, but there is A LOT to see here-- in every province.

I went to the site where the new PCVs are having their training. I didn't present as I had expected, but it was really nice to get out of the city, and get to talk more with the new volunteers. I really like them--they're outgoing and friendly.

I didn't stay in the East for very long, just went to a small get together of PCVs to enjoy Malea's homemade Pasta, and other delicious goodies. We didn't really leave the house, but it got me thinking that I really need to get out and discover Rwanda more.

Halloween is tomorrow! So is umuganda (the last saurday of the month where everything is closed until 11, so people can do their community service), and afterwards I'll either go to the East or stay here. Haven't made up my mind yet. Since Halloween isn't celebrated here, finding materials to put together a costume has proved to be much more of a challenge than I would have thought. I really do enjoy going to the market and just looking at the clothes. A lot if it really is nice-- a lot of it is rediculous. It really is filled with what you'd find in a thrift store--basically everything that Americans have thrown out, I'm convinced, gets sent to Africa. It's hard not to chuckle when you see old women wearing shirts that say innapropriate things in English, or styles and trends that were popular in the US a decade ago (I have seen about 100 Eminem shirts). If I had more money, I'd shop more, and get more dresses made from the numerous differnt fabrics they have here just for that purpose. Unlike everything else at the market, that really is authentic and local. Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

New Volunteers

The new volunteers have arrived! I got to meet them briefly at the PC country director's house. There's something comforting in seeing people who were just like us 8 months ago, and being able to answer their questions. From what I hear, they're going to be placed in rural areas, which means, no one will be near me :(. Oh well, I'm already living near 3 other PCVs, which is more than PCVs in most other countries can say (Rwanda is very small). I'll be visiting them at their training site in a few days, I'm assuming to speak a little about my experience in Rwanda and advice on teaching, since the new group consists mainly of education volunteers. I'm told they won't just be teaching English, but Comp sci, bio, and other subjects. Should be iteresting. I think this group has it harder than we did. We were put up in a compound all together, with regular full meals and snacks prepared for us, our laundry could be done for us, and we almost always had electricity and(cold) running water, which meant regular showers. This group is holding their training in a more rural area, which doesn't have regular running water. It's probably a good thing though, they'll be able to get more of the real PC experience right off the bat.

I went to Mutzig fest (One of the two main beers here-- the other one is Primus), which is basically an all you can drink festival. There was live music that was actually really good, as well as food. Although the majority of the people there were ex-pats and ngo employees (which I guess aren't mutually exclusive) there were still quite a few Rwandans, which I was happy about. Even though I'm honestly more comfortable with other Americans and Europeans, I know that I'm not going to truly appreciate or understand Rwanda unless I spend time with Rwandans. And really, discovering new people and learning new things is what the Peace Corps is all about.

Workwise, it's winding down. This week is finals week for senior 1-6, and in two weeks, finals for senior 1-3 only. It basically means I walk around the classroom and make sure no one is cheating. I caught one girl and made her wash her hands (where she'd written the answers). I only have two classes with finals to grade, which means no more than 40, probably less since I'm sure not every single student was present.

Peace Corps is definately a journey of self-discovery, and I'm starting to realize that, unlike most Rwandans I've met, I like being alone. Although I was nervous about living by myself for the first time in my life, I really like it. After work, I like to come home, cook, and just be by myself for a while. Nightime is when I like to hang out. I'm worried I may have offended some of my neighbors by neglecting to visit them on a regular basis, and I don't really invite people to my house that often, but that's due to trust issues, since there aren't that many of my neighbors i'm that close to (2 of my favorites moved away). Still, I think I need to expand my horizons a little and not be so closed off.

Just got a call from my mom a few minutes ago while I was writing this and I feel a little guilty because I think I should have been more friendly and appreciative of her call-- I didn't even ask her how she was doing or what's been going on. I guess that's what Saturday/Sunday is for (right Mom?). Miss you.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Today was a Good Day

Didn't mean to quote Ice Cube, but today was a good day. This morning I, along with 2other PCVs, had a meeting with the mayor of our district. We are planning to have a big festival at the Nyamirambo stadium (date TBD), which will be geared towards young people. The theme of the festival will be teaching health through the arts- specifically music, dance, and painting. We're planning on having art competitions and dance offs with prizes, as well as booths where the youth (14-24 year olds) can get information on health and art, which are both things that I feel need some improvement here. Of course, I understand that there is a huge lack of resources. I'm really excited about this, and can't wait to get the ball rolling. For the month of October, we're just going to work on the project proposal and budget. Then we'll look into sponsors, figure out the logistics, etc.

Next I went back to my umudugudu and walked to my school so I could conduct the essay competition for GLOW camp. We don't have much time to plan the GLOW camp, so as soon as Meredith e-mailed me the flyer, application, and information for heads of schools, I made sure to tell every single student of mine about it yesterday, and decided to hold the essay competition the next day, Wednesday, since it is a half day for them. I arrived a little early and was able to witness some of "church day". Since the school I teach at is officially a private Christian school, every Wednesday they have a service led by different students from the school. Since I don't teach on Wednesdays (and, to be perfectly honest, since I try to steer clear of any religious ANYTHING here) this was my first time to actually attend this, despite the fact that I've been been teaching at the school since April. Even though I don't usually like church type settings, and I didn't understand most of what was said since it was in Kinyarwanda, it was still interesting to get to see my students who are normally so shy leading charismatic sermons and singing songs in harmony. It made me realize how much the language barrier prevents me from really getting to know my students.

A surprising number of students (28) showed up and stayed after school for the essay competition, so I'm really glad I decided to ask my students if they were interested. I'm still a little worried though. The main requirement for the students to be accepted to GLOW camp is how well they speak English, and most of my students don't speak or understand English well enough to follow a 5 day camp that is conducted almost entirely in English. Last I heard, the camp is going to be very small (about 50 students), and I know most of my students won't be picked, but hopefully I can vouch for some of them. I really do feel like I have a few diamonds in the rough who really deserve an opportunity like this.

I decided to host one of the new PC trainees when they come. It'll be really cool to see their reaction to the way us PCVs live and work (which, truth be told, varies SO MUCH here in Rwanda). It's always fun to see newly arriving Americans reacting to things I now find so normal. Peace out.

Monday, September 21, 2009

HIV/AIDS Presentation

Thanks to the help of my fellow PCVs (special thanks to Edison, Chrissie, Rachael and LCF Kassim)I was able to launch my first project last Saturday (2 days ago): A presentation on HIV/AIDS and general health. I think it went relatively well. After I got the funding (I only needed a very small amount), the principal of my school cancelled most of the classes on Saturday in order for us to give the presentation. He couldn't stick around, but to be honest I was relieved. Since he's an authority figure, I think the students would have been really intimidated to talk about a subject so personal.

We did a few activities, demonstrations, and gave info about the biology of AIDS, how it's transmitted, and nutrition. At the end we asked the students to write down any question they had about AIDS, sex, or health and to submit it anonymously to a paper bag I'd brought. We only had time to pick a few questions, but it was really good to see what the students knew and didn't know. Many of the students are quite informed, but a lot of them have been told myths about AIDS, such as you can prevent transmission of AIDS by using a lubricant, or that AIDS is mostly the fault of prostitutes and unmarried women. One of my students, who is smart but also a little rowdy, really made the whole thing feel rewarding when he approached me and told me how appreciative he was of the presentation. He said that at such a small, rural school, they rarely have opportunities for such activities, and this was really a great thing. We also got asked to come back, so maybe we'll do a follow up.

In other news, it's the end of Ramadan! To be perfectly honest, I didn't know very much about Islam until coming here. Rwanda has a very small Muslim population (under 5%, I'm told) but for some reason or another, almost all of the friends I've made here are Muslim. I guess I'm just a little tired of being preached at. I celebrated the end of Ramadan by going to Chocolat, a really nice resteraunt in downtown Kigali, with two friends. It's an outdoor resteraunt with a Moroccan vybe, and I ordered hummus and a smoothie (two things you can't really get anywhere else in Rwanda). Good times.

Oh- and PS, I just got my first pair of glasses EVER. I have near-sightedness in my left eye only, and I'm starting to realize that my right eye was always the one doing all the work, since putting on my glasses really doesn't change anything unless I close my right eye. Maybe I should wear an eyepatch to force my left eye to work, or better yet, get a monicle! All I know is as soon as I get to the US, I'm gonna get A contact lens-- that shit doesn't exist in Rwanda, nor would I want to use it seeing as much dirt there is everywhere. Na ejo.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


One is a picture of a neighborhood boy with a home made toy. I don't see that many toys in Rwanda-- sometimes a ragged doll. What a lot of the kids do is run while turning an old tire with a stick, or make cars out of home supplies. I've seen cars made out of milk cartons and bottle caps for wheels, but more often I see cars similar to that in the photo-- metal rods, broomstick ends, and wire. I've even seen a homemade kite that actually works!

Like I mentioned before, my neighborhood is known as the young, hip hop spot. Therefore, most of the buses in my neighborhood are pimped out with stickers and decorations (they range from rappers names to hip hop phrases like 'krunk' and 'buy you a drank'), while they blast hip hop through their oversized speakers. Even though there are old people who live in my hood, it still seems like it's run by young people who idealize American hip hop culture and commercialism.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Soccer Game and GLOW Camp

This weekend I had the opportunity to go to the Egypt vs. Rwanda soccer game. I don't think I've ever been to a professional soccer game before, and I really enjoyed it. Egypt won of course, 1 to 0 against Rwanda. They played well, but Ahmed (another PCV) told me the team wasn't playing as well as it usually does since the players are fasting for Ramadan. I think it's pretty honorable on their part to respect that tradition. They even got approval to break fast for the occasion, but they decided to stick to their beliefs, which are apparently more important to them than winning a soccer game.
We also had a meeting during the morning amongs PCVs who are interested in GLOW camp. GLOW camp will tentatively take place either in November or December. It's going to be for girls 15 and above. The plan is to have a five day camp at a boarding school, where the girls will do activities and recieve information concerning: life skills, HIV/AIDS, hygeine, reproductive health, resume writing, job opportunities, art, nutrition, and recreation. We're planning on having guest speakers come in too. I signed up for the second to last day, being in charge of health along with 2 other pcvs. I really want to get a few of the girls from the school I teach at to apply. The problem is that we need the "cream of the crop"-- girls who can speak good English so they can follow our sessions. A lot of my students struggle a lot with English, but hopefully it'll work out. I'm hoping the girls are at least interested and apply (we decided that they'll write an in-class essay as their application). Im really looking forward to this--if this actually happens,I think it'll really have a long term impact. I'm starting to realize that it's a lot better when PCVS come together for projects-- doing things on your own is a lot more difficult-- a lot slower. Can't wait!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Cultural Sensitivity: Where do you draw the line?

So, I got off the plane on Sunday evening, and after dealing with a baggage fiasco all of Sunday night and Monday morning, I started up teaching again on Tuesday at 7:30 sharp.

Its both good and bad to be back in the classroom. What I like about teaching is that its social. I get to interact with the youth in the community. I also like the fact that its structured. Theres a set time that people actually abide by (im talking about class time, meetings are another story), so it makes life a lot easier. Now that its been 4 months, i feel like Im getting to know my students as people.

Since I focused on grammar for the first quarter I taught, I planned this quarter around literature. I assigned E.B. White's Charlottes Web and John Steinbeck's The Pearl . I feel that reading a language is a fun and useful way to learn it, but Im dissapointed to see that most of the students dont seem very interested in literature. (I also think I may have made a mistake with Charlotte's Web, there are a lot of expressions in it, and the vocab is above the students level, even though there are pictures included). The students in one of my classes asked me if I was going to teach them "business English". I told them I hadnt planned on it, but if it was very important to them, I would consider it. I'm sencing this echoed sentiment that business and making money are all thats important, and everything else in life, especially the arts and social sciences, are a waste of time. Its such a fallacy and it drives me nuts how many people buy into that crap. I dont know how to open peoples minds to other possibilities, other professions besides banking and administration. Ok, Im done with that rant.

So, the reason for my title. On Friday, while I was teaching a lesson to Senior 4, the principal walked into the classroom with a pair of scissors. He didnt say a word to me as he walked in, just out of nowhere started walking around the room and cutting the students's hair. I was horrified. For one thing, he wasnt sitting down and giving them "haircuts". He was nipping little bald spots into the students hair, both male and female, who were struggling to get away from him. He was most agressive with the students who resisted the most. When they leaned away from him he made it a point to cut bigger bald spots in their hair. I was honestly a little shocked and didnt know what to do; I mean, Im a white female foreigner who is younger and obviously of lower status to a school principal. I finally got up the nerve to approach him and asked him if it was really necessary to waste class time with this, and he told me yes. He continued throughout the classroom, and ushered half of the students out so that they could be given full haircuts. It was very difficult to get back to the lesson after all that drama. Neither I nor the students were really up for it, but I did my best. The students who were taken out did come back in, with their hair shorter but also uneven, i mean, paper scissors arent really made to cut hair. It was also a huge distraction when the students came back in, trying to cover their heads while the other students examined them.

I know I am supposed to be culturally sensitive. I know that there is a rule about hair length in schools in Rwanda (and Kenya, Uganda...) and I had even heard about teachers at other schools cutting students hair. My principal is not a bad person. He works hard and I know he cares. But where do you draw the line? Maybe Im being dramatic, but I really am disgusted with how this went down. Especially due to the fact that these students arent really kids. Some of them are in their early twenties, some are even older than me. What right does one adult have over another adult to do something like this? I also feel a little guilty because I have long hair, and although I tie it back, theres no way im cutting it short like the students and as a teacher, I know I dont have to. I didnt approach the principal to discuss how I felt, because if my previous experience with students cutting grass has taught me anything, its that there is already a system in place, and my Western thoughts or feelings about it conflict with that system. Expressing my thoughts doesnt do much to change a longstanding tradition. I still feel like there could be some middle ground, like giving the students a strict warning that they cannot go to class with their hair long, or have a rule that they must tie it up/ have it covered. I just dont know. Im open to any thoughts, advice, or suggestions my readers have on this. Amahoro (peace)


So, Im back in Rwanda, and I have to say that coming back here after two weeks (well, more like 12 days) in France was a lot easier than I had anticipated. Ive therefore encouraged my fellow PCVs to go see their families this Xmas, if thats an option. It was a really good refresher, since I was starting to feel a little claustraphobic lately.

Being away has actually made me appreciate Rwanda way more than I did before, and I realize that although there are some things here I wont EVER get used to (extremely slow internet, flaky people who dont show up or get back to you, the amount of religion) Ive realized im pretty lucky to have ended up in Rwanda. Its small, beautifal, and most people are very friendly. Ive never been anywhere in Africa besides Rwanda, so I keep comparing Rwanda to Western Europe; the US and even India, but Ive realized from doing some research and talking to people that Rwanda is ahead of a lot of other African countries. First of all they are developing EXTREMELY fast. In just the two weeks I was gone a lot has changed. The bank downtown is totally different, they now have two teller booths dedicated to Western Union alone. A lot of the buildings in Kigali that were covered up with green construction netting are now uncovered and almost finished. One downside to the rapid growth is rapid inflation. Transportation costs more than it used to (all the busses and taxis have uped their prices) and the menu at Bourbon is brand new, and about 500 RWF more for each item. Such is life.
I guess I also need to take into account the fact that I live in Kigali, and Kigali is a bit particular. As far as I can tell, it is growing and changing much more rapidly than the rest of Rwanda. A lot of the rural areas get left behind.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Je suis en France

So im actually writing this entry from a relatives computer.... in France! I cant tell you how good it feels to be here, among family and amidst a culture I am familiar with, with the ability to communicate in a language I can speak fluently! I realize that this may be a bit taboo, but, to be perfectly honest, being in France has made me realize that I feel very constricted in Rwanda, for a number of reasons. I feel like there are so many rules and regulations, cultural taboos, and I dont feel the freedom I feel in France. I miss dressing the way I want, cracking crass jokes that people understand, and just being a 23 year old. I often feel like Im back in middle school, with a bunch of responsibilities but not a whole lot of say.... I dont know, its complicated. I just really like making my own decisions, and im not used to so many restrictions.
Thats depressing-- let me tell you aboutwhat ive been doing in FRANCE! So ive been seeing my family of course. My grandmother held a welcome party at her house, with my aunts, uncle, and three of my first cousins and my parents of course. It was really nice. Ive mostly been partying with my cousins, either going to bars and dancing or going to friends houses for parties. Its a lot of fun. Ive also been stuffing my face silly with food-- clafoutis, crepes, tarte au mirabelles, sushi, middle Eastern food, Thai food, striped bass and salmon, frites moules,.... ooo la la. My mouth is watering. Oh and I also saw the movie Bruno, which I highly recommend.
Leaving here is gonna be really hard. Im happy here.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Focus Newspaper interview

A few weeks ago, I gave an interview for a local English Paper called The Rwanda Focus. Here's the link to the article:


It talks about my job, Peace Corps Rwanda, and the pastor's work. Enjoy!

Funeral and Umuganda

I figured I'd combine two traditional events into one entry, especially since both events happened during the same weekend.

The housemaid for my counterpart's family is a woman who I've never gotten along with, but when I found out that her husband had just died, I knew that I had to got visit her and express my condolonces.

This is not the first funeral I have been to since arriving in Rwanda. I live close to a very large cemetary that was recently built, and it's just a fact that people here in Rwanda die younger than those back home. It's common for people to not make it past their mid 50s.

Still, this event felt a little different since it involved someone I actually knew. When I arrived at the mud hut, there were many people, but mostly women and children. Some were outside, some sat inside in a circle, singing religious songs. My counterpart (the pastor)'s wife was there, and so were his daughter and nephew. They ushered me into another room, and they asked me if I wanted to "see it". I looked down at the bed, and the long, bumpy form that was covered by a thin sheet, and immediately told them that I did not. I have seen bodies of the deceased before, both people I know and people I don't, but it's just not something I like to experience. They seemed weirded out by the fact that I did not want to see the body. Hopefully I didnt offend them. I ended up seeing it anyway, as the put the body in the coffin and then put it in the center of the living room. A pastor (reverend?) led prayers over the coffin, and after staying for an hour I decided to leave. Maybe I'm a wimp, maybe I'm disrespectful, but Im just not comfortable in situations like that. I guess seeing or even touching a dead body is nothing unusual in this culture, even for kids. This was a sad, moving, and eye-opening experience.

On a brighter note, when my friend and fellow PCV Edison came to Kigali for the weekend, we decided that we would participate in Umuganda. Umuganda is a longstanding, country-wide tradition that takes place the last Saturday of every month. Basically, it's 4 hours (from 7 AM until 11 AM) of the community getting together and cutting grass or doing other things for the community. Its also a way for people in the community to get together and become closer with one another.

Since I've always worked Saturdays, I had never participated in it, and wanted to seize the opportunity. I got up early, found out once again that there is absolutely no water in my community, foudn a guy to fetch me water, negotiated a price, and handed him my two jerry cans to fill (it's too heavy and too far for me to carry two jerrycans full of water up and down a mountain, so I pay out the ass everyday to get it). On my way back to my house, I saw a huge group of people coming down the road, clapping and singing. I was told that they were doing it for umuganda, so I assumed they were making noise to wake everyone else up to participate. Edison and I joined the crowd, where we of course stuck out like sore thumbs. People were really nice to us, and even wanted us to be in the front of the line and lead songs and dances. We danced and sang for over 2 hours, all while walking down the path until reaching the cemetery between my house and the school. There were a few police officers among us, and it was quite entertaining to see them doing traditional dance in full uniform.

I began to think that umuganda was more like a party than anything else in my umudugudu (village), what with all the singing, clapping, whistles, and dancing in a circle. However, the woman leading the group (who is a nurse), told me that the umuganda for the month of July is very special, since it is the first umuguanda after the 100 days of the genocide. Across the country, umuganda is led by people hired for the day as sort of "cheerleaders" to motivate people to get together and have fun, to bring solidarity in an effort to never repeat what happened in 94.

After about 2 hours of this, Edison and I were getting very hungry, thirsty, and tired, and decided that since all we were doing was dancing and singing the same songs over and over, we might as well call it a day and go home. We felt a little guilty since right when we left, a truck arrived with machetes and hoes so that people could finally start cutting the grass and cleaning up the cemetery. Oh well, I still think it counts for something! We regretted not bringing our cameras along with us to document the event, but maybe its all for the best because we may have been viewed even more as outsiders.

Egyptian Embassy

So on the 23rd, I had the priveledge, along with a few other PCVS, of going to the Egyptian Embassy for Revolution Day.
The event was starkly different from 4th of July at the American Embassy. While the 4th of July celebration was an afternoon, backyard barbeque event, this was a more formal, indoor night time event. There were less people, and it was really nice.
The Egyptian Ambassador greeted everyone at the door, and later gave a speech in English(deciding not to use the faulty microphone). Even though the food we were given wasn't in abundance, I still preffered it to the food we got on the 4th. Im still thinking about it now and it's making me hungry--especially the dates.
I met some cool people and I look forward to going there again next year.

Saturday, July 25, 2009


So, it's high time I added some visual stimulation.

My House:

View from my house

My Neighborhood is really into American Hip Hop culture



Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Links and References

So, I thought I'd dedicate at least one entry to links and references.

Web Links:

The first is a link to a recent interview between President Kagame and CNN’s GPS talkshow host Fareed Zakaria:


The second is a speech Kagame gave about the new arrival of Peace Corps in Rwanda:



I strongly, STRONGLY recommend the book "A Thousand Hills" by Kinzer. I just finished reading it, and, although it is definately written through Kinzer's point of view, it is an extremely comprehensive book about the history of Rwanda, the events leading up to the genocide, and life in Rwanda afterwards. The book includes interviews with Kagame, quotes from Romeo Dallaire (the UN General who was in Rwanda during the genocide), and many, many others. Some of the people mentioned and interviewed in this book are people I have actually met and spoken with--- Rwanda is a small world.

I also recommend "Land of a Thousand Hills" by Rosamond Halsey Carr. This is less of a historical manuscript and more of an autobiography by Ros Carr, an American who lived most of her life in Rwanda, from the early 50s until her passing a few years ago. At the time, she was Rwanda's oldest living resident. I didnt enjoy this nearly as much as Kinzer's book, but it still offers a different perspective, and it's worth a read.

I've also been told that "We Wish to Inform You" is a good book, but I have not read it yet. Comments to come later.


I have not yet seen that many movies and documentaries, but the ones I've seen and liked were:

Sometimes in April.
Once again, about the genocide, but I feel like it paints a much more realistic picture than most movies. Personally, I'm not a big fan of 100 Days or Hotel Rwanda. They seem contrived and I am told that they are historically innacurate.

Shake Hands With the Devil: The Journey of Romeo Dallaire, is a CBS documentary film about, you guessed it, Romeo Dallaire. I missed the very beginning of this documentary, but I enjoyed it very much. It cronicles Dallaire's return to Rwanda after ten years. It won a Sundance Film Festival Award.

I have yet to see, but plan to see, Ghosts of Rwanda, a PBS Frontline documentary. I have gotten mixed reviews about it.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Ups and Downs

These last three weeks have been full of ups and downs. Ill only mention the pros, since I feel somewhat obligated to keep this blog as upbeat as possible.

I started taking karate/kung fu lessons. I actually like it a lot. It's only 2 days a week, for about 2 hours, and it's really fun. I was so damn sore after the first class, but that actually makes me happy-- it means it's a real workout. I might at some point also take dance lessons here if I can. For know, karate is enough, because it fits perfectly with my schedule. I'm the only female in the class so far, but the teacher doesnt treat me any differently which im very happy about. As a result, im also getting to expand my Kinyarwandan vocabulary.

I had an interview with a small local English paper call Focus, and the girl I interviewed with also wants to interview the pastor i work for, which is good because that means he has an opportunity to get the name of his organization out. He told me he's happy about the publicity. I also set up a meeting with the manager of Cards From Africa to see if our organisation can work with his (we have a group of women who make cards and are trying to find an international market). Hopefully this is a sign that i'm doing at least a halfway decent job.

Im also looking forward to IST (in service training), as well as my 2 week trip to France directly afterwards. Going back to teaching might be a little weird, but im looking forward to doing literature with my students. Hopefully it wont be over their heads.

Monday, July 6, 2009

4th of July and the Pastor's Return

So, this is my first 4th of July in a long time that was spent outside of the U.S. However, I spent it at the American Embassy, which is considered US territory, so I guess technically this is no exception.

My weekend was pretty crappy, mostly due to personal reasons I wont divulge. Lets just say Im not jumping up and down for joy right now.

My original weekend plans were to go to Kibuye and take a boat out to Amahoro Island to camp out for the night with 5 other PCVs. However, when I went out to dinner Friday night, I realized while I was paying the bill that I only had 10,000 RWF, which wouldnt be enough to cover the travel and all the expenses for the weekend. The banks would be closed on Saturday, the next day because 4th of July is also Rwandan Independence Day. Of course, all the banks are also closed on Sunday. I knew that borrowing money from others was a possibility, but I didnt want to take the risk of getting stranded over there, and not being able to return to my house until Monday. Instead, I stayed in Kigali and went to a function that the U.S. embassy was putting on. It wasnt exactly what I had expected, but I got to see a lot of people which was nice. I listened to the Ambassador speak, ate food, and thats pretty much it. THe function was only a short afternoon thing, so there werent any fireworks or anything.

Today, I woke up bright and early, went to the bank, and then took 2 buses to go to the airport to meet the pastor I work for, who has been in America since early May. I hadnt been to the airport since I first arrived in Rwanda, and at that point it was nightime and I was so groggy I really wasnt all that aware of our surroundings. So I got to see the airport in the daytime, and I realized how small it really was for an international airport. Im so used to LAX and CDG airports. While I waited for the pastor and his wife to land, I chatted it up with his family and some members of his congregation who had come to greet him. I realized, waiting there, how emotional it must be for them to return to their home after so long, especially for the pastors wife, who has never been to America. She had tears in her eyes as she hugged her sons and various friends. I think seeing my parents when i arrive at the airport in Paris will be very emotional for me. I left America over 5 months ago. I think thats the longest Ive ever gone without seeing my parents. After the two weeks in Paris are up, I wont see my parents for an entire year, since they plan on coming to Rwanda summer 2010. I seriously cant wait to see them. I think a lot of us PCVs are going through a low period right now. I spoke to an RPVC when I was at the embassy function and she told me that the first few months are the hardest. I hope shes right.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Kwita Izina (the Gorilla Naming Ceremony)

So I got the opportunity to go to Musanze to see the Gorilla naming ceremony, which is a huge event in Rwanda. After all, Rwanda is famous for two things-- the G word (that I don't need to mention), and the mountain gorillas that Diane Fossey studied. It was the 5th annual gorilla naming ceremony (it's the 5th annual everything here-- 5th annual amahoro week, 5th annual film festival, and 5th annual Kwita Izina).

I didn't really know what to expect, but it was pretty fun. We didn't get to see any actual gorillas, but we did get to see people dressed in gorilla costumes, which I promise isn't as lame as it sounds. There were a lot of them, even young children dressed as baby gorillas, and they acted really well, banging on their chests and making gorilla noises as they crawled across the lawn. They interacted pretty well with the people.

So there were A LOT of performances, which I'm happy to say heavily outnumbered speeches, thought the speeches were good. Paul Kagame was not there as I'd hoped he'd be, but the prime minister was.
Some of the performances were exceptionally good, especially the traditional dance groups and a group of middle school aged drummer girls.
So each year, the government picks people who they feel have had a positive influence on the country to name the baby gorillas of Virunga National Park. This year there were 14, so 14 "special guests" got to name them-- one of whom was a former student of Diane Fossey. Another was a musician from South Africa. None were people I'd heard of.
There were definately some big names in attendance, which of course included the prime minister, the American ambassador to Rwanda, Jack Hanna from the Discovery Channel, and a bunch of NGOs.
When the ceremony ended, we waited in line to eat under a large group of tents. I couldn't really see much of inside, due to the fact that we were pretty far back in a long line. However, a person who I assume was working the event spotted us in line and told us to skip the line and come right in, so we did. We not only got our own table, but we got tons of very good food (all the food and drinks there were free for everyone). I felt a little guilty that we didnt' wait in line, but I couldn't help but savor the wine, meet, and delicious rasberry pastires we got to eat.
All in all, it was a really fun event and a really good oppotunity to meet a lot of important people. However, I feel a need to mention a few other things (I'm always critiquing things, I can't help it).

The people attending the ceremony were a certain crowd. Diplomats, ex-pats, rich poeple who'd flown into Rwanda for the event, NGOs, and upper class Rwandans. The people on the other side of the fence, who got to watch the performances but mostly saw the performers and the speakers backs, were the "real" population of Rwanda-- the ones without shoes or in sandals, the ones with old clothing. There were so many of them, and they had to stand the entire time to see anything. I wonder how all that works, exactly. I mean, tickets to the event are free, they can be aquired from a website, but they don't necessarily check tickets at the door. It's kind of like when you go to a club, and the bouncer doesn't necesarilly care if you pay or not, as long as you portray a certain image. On the one hand, I know most people in Rwanda probably don't have access or don't know how to use internet, and therefore didn't have the connections to get tickets, but I can say with some confidence that it's also the guard's way of keeping certain people out of the event, worried that they'll cause a rucus and disturb people of quality. That made me feel a little uncomfortable, like I was turning my nose up at people, which is something I'm sure all of us do when we live in or visit a developing country. I was really happy when one of the people who had been chosen to name a gorilla turned around and faced the crowd of people, and told them "this event is for you". I was also pleased that the prime minister took a significant amount of time as he exited the event to talk to and shake hands with the people on "the other side" of the fence. At some point, the guards must have gotten more relaxed or the crowd went wild, because towards the end of our meal (when I think they were encouraging us to leave), a large part of the crowd behind the fence came in and stormed through the dining area and all around, taking food and collecting empty bottles. They were chased away, btu of course, I was left feeling a little guilty and awkward.

I would still say that Kwita Izina is a great event, and I look forward to attending it next year.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Kay, so im way late on this, but here it is: the marathon.

So this year marks the fifth annual Amahoro week in Rwanda. Amahoro means peace in Kinyarwanda. The entire week is dedicated to ending violence and other injustices. It includes several eents, one of which is a marathon that I along with 5 other PCVs participated in. This event is huge-- UNICEF, USAID, and Women for Women are just a fe of the organisations that sponsor this event.
On Saturday, I attended an avent by the stadium which turned out to be all about saying no to cross generational sex. Apparently, its very common here in Rwanda for economially disadvantaged youn girls to turn to Sugar Daddys to help them out with school fees, phones, clothes, etc. Ive heard this from several sources.
The people in the audience mostly included school children who were their with their classes, as a sort of field trip. There were also some representatives from various organisations who were there to show support or make speeches. They passed out bottles of water (thank god-- its so hot in Kigali and water is a serious problem), as well as orange bracelets that said "not for sale" (in kinyarwanda of course) as well as posters that said Oya Shuga Daddi and Oya Shuga Mami. I like their choice of spelling. The pictures on them were pretty cheezy and contrived, it made me laugh, but I still plan on hanging them somewhere in my house. The same pictures are shown on billboards all over Rwanda.
The event included:

1. Performances by Rwandan singers and rappers whose songs I've grown to become very familiar with (there are only so many famous and successful singers/rappers in Rwanda)

2. Speeches by representatives of various organizations (such as USAID)

3. Two plays about "shuga daddi" and "shuga mami"

Overall, I was happy to have witnessed such an event. At the same time, I couldn't help but wonder if this event was catering to the right audience. Most of the people in the audience were schoolchildren, but from what I could tell, they were schoolchildren from well to do schools (which makes sence, which schools can afford to go on field trips? Not to mention Amahoro Stadium is in a better part of Kigali, far away from a rural place like the school I teach at). The children who go to these schools, are they really the ones who are all that susceptable to turning to sugar daddys and sugar mommas for financial help? I guess that's the problem with organizations that try to change things in general-- the people who are the most vulnerable are the ones who are the least reachable. The kids who need the most help are the least visable-- they're not going to school, or going but with very poor attendance. The schools they go to are far away from NGOs, and the schools they attend don't necesarilly have the money for extra curriculars.
The next day, we woke up early and split a cab ride to Amahoro Stadium for the run. It was a really potitive feeling-- being there with so many different people with so much energy. We really felt like something was happening. There were 6 of us PCVs all together, but only two of us had signed up for the half marathon, the rest of us had signed up for the 5K. However, we missed the 5 K, since when we saw the first group of runners lining up, it was a group of mostly children and senior citizens. We figured it was some kind of "special kid race". I'm actually glad we missed it-- to be perfectly honest running with just kids and a few people who are older than my parents would have hurt my pride a little. So instead, we lined up and ran with the half marathoners-- but only ran half of that, so basically, we ran about 10K. Even though that's not a huge distance, I'm still proud of myself for having been able to run like that, especially since I've barely done any kind of excercise beside walking up and down my mountain (and everywhere else) everyday. Not the same as hard cardio. And hey-- I got a free shirt out of it! Yay

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Dry Season

The dry season has begun in Rwanda, and it is apparently much longer than the rainy season. I was really happy about this at first, but now Im starting to realize that the dry season also comes with its fair share of problems.

The upside of it being the dry season is that theres no rain, so people are more apt to leave their houses and do outdoor activities. Walking from point A to point B is much easier and more pleasant. I dont have to worry about putting my clothes out on the line, because I know that they will dry and I can have clean clothes again. I dont have to wear my huge hiking boots on my walk to school, and its easier to plan my day. However, with the dry season comes dust, draught, and really bad heat. I often feel tired and dehydrated. I have running water even more rarely, not just inside my house, but also in this entire area I live in. I pay extra now to get my water fetched, since now people have to walk up the mountain and go all the way to the stadium, and wait in an even longer line for water. I feel especially guilty complaining when I see little children walking up and down the steep and rocky mountain late at night without a flashlight, balancing a jerrican on their heads. Instead of the roads being muddy, now they are dusty, a fact that is literally thrown in my face whenever the wind picks up or a truck rolls by. It gets on our clothes, in our hair and in our eyes. Not fun.

I know Im stating the obvious, but daily life here in Afria is hard, much harder than in Europe or the US, especially for women and kids. Its hilly, the roads are rocky and uneven, and very few people own their own transportation. Most people (myself included) alternate between walking and squeezing into a crowded taxi van. Its 4 asses to a row, and it doesnt matter how big or small the ass sitting on it is. Ive sat next to kids as well as very large people, with one but cheek on someone lap or my face smooshed against the window. The vans also usually smell of BO, but its easily fixed since most people like keeping the windows open. When its evening time or later, getting into a van from town to home is a tricky task. The taxi buses and vans run less often in the eveinings, but more people need them since they are getting off of work, and going home. To get back, you wait on the street with a huge group of people, and when the van arrives, theres no order or line for who gets in first. Basically its every man for himself; everyone runs and pushes and shoves to be able to grab a seat. Its especially difficult for the people trying to get off the van, since people who are so eager to get on block their way. I used to make fun of this event, since it seemed very childish, disorderly, and rude, but now I find myself shoving and elbowing like everyone else. It can be quite painful. FOrtunately, taxi cars lower their prices and cram three or 4 people in, an option i sometimes take if Im carring a lot of things or I just dont have the energy to fight for a place to sit in the van.

What I first noticed about Rwanda was that people, especially women, carry heavy items on their heads instead of over their shoulders. Ive maybe seen one baby stroller the entire time ive been in this country since its not practical. Women carry babies on their backs, EVERYWHERE, when its crowded, hot, and steep. They tie them with a cloth, and sometimes put a cloth over the baby to shade them from the sun. I cant imagine doing all the things I do on a daily basis with some heavy thing on my head and a crying baby tied to my back. Ive almost never seen a man with a baby, and I have NEVER seen a man with a baby tied to his back.

My neighborhood is unusual in that I see women as well as men in bars drinking late at night. In most areas, you see the bars packed with men, and no women in sight, something that seems ironic to an American like me. In the US, this would not be considered a party, it would be considered a sausage fest and a failed party, since bars and clubs do their best to have as many women customers as possible.

The husbands stay out late at night, having fun and relaxing with their friends while the women are expected to stay home, cook, and take care of the kids. Of course this isnt everyone, many women do have careers and a life outside of the home, in fact, Im told that Rwanda has more women in its government than any other African country. However, from what I have observed, the majority of women are not making much money or spending time relaxing with their friends. Theyre breast feading their kids, going to market to buy food, and cooking and taking care of the house. I wonder what I could do to maybe tighten the gender gap here. I would definatly love to do that if I could. Ill think up a project.

TIA (This is Africa)

So, of course, my life here is full of ups and downs. I knew that thats how it would be before I came here. Today was definately a more down type of day.

I walked to school in the rain and mudwhich took a while and was not fun or easy. I arrive at school to find the class I am supposed to teach in minutes cutting grass with machetes (thats how they cut grass here, since they dont have lawmowers of course). I asked them what the hell was going on, and then I walked into the teachers office to find the principal and a few other teachers there. I asked them why my students were cutting grass instead of sitting in class learning, and I was told that since licensing people were going to come visit the school that day to make sure that the landscaping and whatnot was up to code, and it wasnt, all classes would be canceled so the students could work to clean up the school. I was furious, not only because I had walked for over a half hour in the mud and rain for nothing, but because it goes against my beliefs that children who pay money for school should be doing manual labor during school hours because staff procrastinated on keeping the grass up to code. I asked them why I wasnt informed, and never got a clear answer. I decided to go back home, but talked a little bit with the students. I told them that I did not agree with what was going on, but I quickly realized that this was not the time for me to lead a 1960s rebelious stand up for your rights campaign.

That same day, I ran into a friend of mine who grew up in Africa. When I told him what had gone on that day, he reassured me that asking students to cut grass is very normal here in Africa, and that he did it all the time as a student. Im still not thrilled by this, but I guess its a big lesson for me in terms of cultural differences. I am somewhat relieved to hear that what went on that day wasnt against the rules, and that students expect it. Oh well, I guess i need to open my mind a little more. TIA (This is Africa)

Snapshot of my life

More literal snapshots to come, I promise. So, anywho, this is my daily life:

Four days a week, I teach at the secondary school that the pastor runs, which is a 30 minutes walk from my house. School starts at 7:30, so i have to leave my house at 7 at the latest if I dont want to be late.

Since I dont usually have running water, I fill up a bucket full of water that I have fetched for me, stored in two yellow jerricans. Since its cold, sometimes I boil it, but I usually dont. After that, I make breakfast which usually consists of either hot cereal or an omelet with bread and jam.
Then I walk to school, on the dusty, rocky road. The path is very bumpy and uneven. I walk uphill for part of the way, and dowhill for part of the way. Its a difficult concept to explain if you cant see it. I dont so much mind the turf when its sunny, but the days when it rains suck balls. Because I have to dress appropriately while I teach, my only pair of formal shoes are definately not suitable for the muddy ground. I had one nightmarish walk one time attepting to walk back in that mud. My shoes were caked with mud and long pieces of grass, and even when i did have the opportunity to wipe it off, it would immediately be there again after taking 3 steps. Not to mention I was slipping and sliding everywhere and almost ate it several times. My shoes would also periodically get stuck in the mud and it would take a lot of effort to get them out. I seriously considered just walking barefoot, but that would have been a really bad idea. That treck only had to happen once before I decided to always come armed with hiking boots for the walk to and from school (the weather here is unpredictable, so you never know), and change into my now torn up formal shoes once I get to school. The students and teachers have caught wind of this ritual of mine, and love to tease me about it. Apparently, people here are used to the roads and can wear the same shoes no matter what the turf is like. Im not so sure I believe that, because I have seen many people slipping and sliding in their flat shoes.
Otherwise, the walk to and from school is fairly pleasant. I pass a lot of houses, and all the kids in the neighborhood know me now, along with their parents. Ive trained them to not ask me for "amafaranga" (money), and to call me Sonia instead of "umuzungu" (white person). I constantly hear my name being called, and I sometimes go up to shake their hands, or hug and pick up the kids. No joke, I often get a big group of kids running towards me chanting "Sonia, Sonia", so they can give me hugs one by one. I hate to let that get to my head, but it really does brighten my day and make me feel welcome. I love kids here, theyre really something else since theyre not spoiled brats, and have had to learn to play without toys. I also run into goats on the road, where they graze and occasionally hump each other.
I teach three computer science classes for the lower levels, Senior 1 to Senior 3. I teach Senior 1 in English, and 2 and 3 in French. For these levels, the curriculum and the tests are made up entirely by the district, so its less effort for me, I just follow a general guideline. Although teaching English is more challenging, I enjoy it more because I feel that its a subject I can get more creative with, and it keeps the students animated. I really like my students. They range in age between about 13 to even 23 (not everyone has the opportunity to start school on time in Africa in general). I like teaching, I dont so much like going home and grading papers, making up lesson plans and tests. Oh vey, that takes a long time.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


So... first few weeks at site. Just basic life here is a lot to get used to. At the compound, we were kinda spoiled. I didn't even always do my own laundry, since the cleaning women at the nunnery did some of it for us. I really miss washing machines, refrigerators, running water, reliable electricity, and paved roads. I also miss set prices, because I'm tired of bargaining for everything, knowing that I have to work twice as hard because a white girl like me is always given the "muzungu" price first.
A little about my living situation. So, as I mentioned earlier I work for a pastor, which should be interesting given my personal beliefs. Hopefully there wont be too much conflict. Im really excited about teaching, and I’m really happy that ill be teaching adolescents and young adults instead of children. I have my own house, which is bright turquoise both inside and out, so I can see my house from quite far away-- as you can imagine, it stands out what with the color and all. I’m pretty sure everyone and their mom already knows where I live. I have bars on all my windows, two gates, a guard, and I live right across from the police commander's house, so there’s no need to worry about my safety (ahem, Mom). This is way safer than the rickety apartment I lived in while in college.

I live at the bottom of a hill (well, in my opinion it’s more like a mountain) which I have to hike up using a steep and at times windey and rocky path. There’s another way, which is the way the taxis and SUVs go, but it takes WAY longer and just isn’t worth it. I was worried about getting fat here, but now I’m realizing that I may have the opposite problem. Even though a lot of the food here is starchy and fatty, I don’t eat big portions and this walk up and down the mountain everyday may ensure that I never need to worry about watching my waistline. In fact, I have to pull up my pants every two seconds to avoid giving someone a nice clear view of my gorgeous arse. I’m always worried that I’m doing just that when I hear people hiking up behind me, giggling like crazy. Maybe I'm just self-conscious-- they do seem to giggle a lot here.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Swearing In Ceremony

So, we had our Swearing in Cermony, and I am now officially a PCV! Yay! I knew I filled out that long assed appliaction, got blood drawn, and had all the other medical stuff for a reason. The ceremony was held at the American Ambassador to Rwanda's house, which I have to say is NIIICEE. Wow. We didn't see much of it, mostly just the backyard, but I noticed that the kitchen was about the size of my entire house! The food was sooo good, probably the best samosas Ive had since I got to Rwanda (they're a triangular shaped fried egg-roll type thing filled with meat), hotdogs, and delicious cookies! The cups and even the napkins we used had the US seal on them-- made me feel special.
Of course there were speeches. By the ambassador, by some of our volunteers (in both Kinyarwanda and in English), and by other guest speakers. After we raised our right hand and repeated the oath, making it official, we hugged each other and our Kinyarwanda teachers. I was surprised to see the pastor along with his wife among the audience. They greeted me and we talked a bit. Im really glad they came, because I feel that it means they have a real interest in working with me. That I'm not just some piece of free labor.
Later that night, at a bar, we saw that our swearing in ceremony was on the news! Im sure only people in Rwanda saw it, but it was still pretty cool seeing ourselves on TV and being talked about. We're also featured on www.newtimes.co.rw, the embassy's website, and recently, Paul Kagame made a speech about us. It feels good to know our presence is appreciated and wanted.

15 anniversary of the genocide

Yes, I know its been forevor, but im seriously crazy busy, and blogging just isnt at the top of my priority list, so im about a month behind. Ill do my best to highlight the important events.
The last week of training in Butare before swear in was a little particular. It marked the beginning of the 15 anniversary of the genocide. THe first week, and especially the first day, is a HUGE deal in all of Rwanda (and understandably so, of course). THe first day, all schools and businesses are closed, and for the rest of the week, all stores and businesses have very limited hours. There are also conferences held everywhere all week long. I did not attend any of them, since the ones I knew about were all in Kinyarwanda, and I wouldnt be able to follow anything.
The first day was really something to experience, especially since all of our Kinyarwanda teachers who weve gotten to know quite well were there with us. THe streets of Butare were completely empty, except for the silent march which we joined. I dont remember if there were many (if any) signs being held up by people, save the large purple banner (purple is the color of mourning in Rwanda) with the words "never again the genocide...." in the front of the group (Im parphrasing, since I couldnt comprehend the rest of the kinyarwandan words).We marched all the way to a grave site for the victims of genocide, and as we progressed more and more people joined. It really felt deep and meaningful, walking with a large group of Rwandans where every group seemed represented. We walked with beggar children, nuns, professors, government officials, students... I really felt a strong notion of solidarity. Even though some of us, including myself, were not in Rwanda at the time, and some people were not even born until after 1994, it meant something that we could all participate in this event and support each other.
Once we got to the grave site, we listened to government officials and representatives from different churches give speeches and words of hope. Some people wept, including some of our Kinyarwanda teachers, and I felt guilty somehow. I felt like I couldnt possibly understand what they were going through or how they felt, how many people they had grown up with who were brutally killed or in jail due to involvement.
Since we didnt have class that day, and everything in town was closed, us PCVS, as well as some staff, stayed at the compound to watch sevearl movies about hte genocide. I highly recommend the movie Sometimes in April, it seems really accurate and real to me having lived in Rwanda for a few months now. the movie 100 days on the other hand is complete crap and i dont recommend it to anyone, since it was made by people who didnt even take 5 minutes to research the genocide.

Monday, April 13, 2009


So I wrote a very long and detailed entry here, but, since internet here moves at the speed of a diseased snail, and cuts in and out all the time, everything was completely lost and i'm so bummed. TIA (This is Africa). Basically, I gave several presentations in Kinyarwanda to an orphanage in Nyanza along with about 6 other PCVs. It went really well. We went over basic hygiene and hydration with the kindergartners, and came back the next week to do a presentation on sexual health to the teen orphans. I really liked Nyanza and the orphanage there. We got really positive feedback from the teachers and the students, and it felt genuine. For the first time since I've been here, I really felt like I could make a difference in Rwanda.

I got a dress made for my swearing in ceremony. It's not very African looking but I think it's really beautiful. It's gold with sequins, and poofs out at the bottom. Kay, I realize this information may be very boring for some...

I passed all my tests and I'll be swearing in as a PCV on Weds. I signed the papers and everything so now it's official. We got super fancy invitations to the ceremony, which will be held at an undisclosed location ( I can't say on the blog). Anywho, I gotta finish up packing. I'll miss Butare but I'm sooo excited!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Music and News from Home

So at this point, I have recieved two packages from my mom, and I have a third on the way that I'm very excited about! I miss all the delicious food from home, so much that I dream about food almost every night. It's pretty rediculous. Just last night I had a dream that I had a plate full of delicious shrimp, and just when I had dipped it in sauce and was about to eat it, someone knocked on the door and woke me up. I was pretty pissed off. I can't even enjoy pretend food :(. Anywho, on to sunnier things.
Mom- thanks soooo much for sending me comfort items. Just seeing your handwriting on the box was such a huge relief, I actually kept the labeling for a while, much as a crazy obsessive stalker freak would. I also want to say congrats to my cousin Kevin for the job in Seattle. Mom told me a little about the job, it sounds cool. I know that you weren't planning on staying in San Fran for long, and now I have a place to crash in Seattle (I'm jumping to conclusions on this of course).
Since I dedicated a blog entry to food, I thought I'd also dedicate a blog entry to music. I have had the luxury of going to two concerts since I've been here. Well, one was a reggae concert at the stadium by the compound which was pretty cool. The other was an awards show with various performances. The musical performances at the awards show were very obviously influenced by American music videos. I didn't so much enjoy the long acceptance speeches in Kinyarwanda since I could only pick up a word here or there. The music was ok, a little too comercial/generic for my taste. It mostly included rap and R&B. What I enjoyed most was the dancing. There were some really good hip hop dancers, so even though pretty much every performer was obviously lip synching, i didn't mind. Since Rwanda is a relatively conservative country (well, outside of Kigali), it was surprising and, in a way, refreshingly familiar to see girls shake their asses in super tight outfits. What I found a bit odd was that this was supposedly a relatively fancy affair; there was actually a red carpet out front, and the artists are supposedly very well known (in Rwanda), but anyone could get tickets to this awards ceremony, and the artists who performed sat in the same seats as regular ticket buyers. There was definate cheering and jeering, but none of the locals seemed star struck the way people get in LA. I also found it odd that people would walk on and off the stage in the middle of a singer's performance.
I've also seen quite a few Rwandan music videos at this point. There are the more traditional videos that feature women or girls dancing Rwandan dances to drums while wearing conservative clothing. By contrast, the rap videos consist of quick camera shots, and often, girls shaking their ass in tight, revealing outfits. Rap culture is interesting. I feel like, generally, it used to be more about what life was like in the ghetto-- the violence, the drugs, the struggle. Today, commercial rap is all about bragging, especially showing off material posessions. It's interesting to compare American rap videos to Rwandan rap videos. While a Jay-Z or Lil Wayne video would show off an Escalade or a Benz, Rwandan rap videos show a bunch of guys hanging out by a 5 year old Honda. They're still showing off, but they're showing off what they can. I can't watch an R&B video without laughing. They're so rediculously corny, I don't understand how these people are taken seriously. This is not to say that there are not good music videos. Overall, I find them entertaining.


First and foremost, thank you for the comments, they're greatly appreciated! It feels good to have "followers" to my blog, makes me feel less cut off from the world. Thanks for toasting me Sondra, and thanks Diane and Lisa!

So i decided to dedicate one blog entry to food, since that has been a subject many people have asked questions about. Rwanda is a beautiful country with a lot of greenery. It seems like good soil for a large variety of vegetables, but for some reason, there is very little variance. If we want to go out to eat without spending a lot of money or waiting 3 hours for food (yes, it sometimes takes that long)then we go out to resteraunts and use the buffet. Most resteraunts in Rwanda have buffets, and every place I have been to in and out of Butare has had the exact same items for the buffet: French fries, plantain, rice, kassava leaves, spaghetti, kassava bread, goat meat, beans, and tomato sauce. The price varies from about 800 to 2,000 RWF (Rwandan Fracs).

The food is not spicy, but people sometimes add some "pili" ( yellow pepper sauce) which is quite strong. I've had it a few times, but i usually just mix food items together then add salt. The food we are given at the compound is fairly good by comparison to what I have had elsewhere in Rwanda, so I feel lucky. One of my favorite days here, however, was the night the kitchen staff allowed some PCVs to cook dinner! I helped shop for some items, but I stayed out of the kitchen. We had delicious pizza (that actually tasted like pizza!), and one volunteer made mass amounts of guacamole. By far the best meal I've had since I've been here, and I really want to thank all the PCVs who've helped make food here-- your efforts are greatly appreciated.

Only a few days later, we had a "Rwandan cooking" day. We were split up into groups and assigned two trainers to accompany us to the market and bargain for food. It was fun, and I learned some new vocabulary. It was also a little depressing, seeing some very sick babies next to their mothers who were selling fruit.

When I say we cooked Rwandan style, I mean we really cooked Rwandan style. We got 4 live chickens which we had to slaughter. I didn't partake in the killing of the chickens, but I watched and took pictures. It bothered quite a few of the volunteers- both the ones who partook and the ones who watched. Maybe I'm just heartless, but watching the chickens get decapitated didn't bother me. I'd never seen anything like it. First they would step on the chicken to hold it still, pluck its feathers around the neck, then cut the neck as quickly as possible. There is quite a bit of blood, and like I thought, the chicken still moves around for quite a while after its head is cut off. The knife we were given to cut the chicken's neck was dull, so it took longer than it should to perform "the duty". What happened that day would have made PETA declare world war. When a volunteer was killing the last chicken, she said "i can't do this", then suddenly let go in the middle of the act. The chicken's neck was halfway cutoff at that point, and it went flying all over the place with it's head half on. It was a pretty terrible (but entertaining) scene. People freaked out and ran when the chicken came near them-- I mean, that thing looked like one bloody airborne ball. Even one of the male teachers freaked out and ran behind the wall. After about 30 seconds or so of this, one predictable male teacher grabbed the flying chicken, took it back to the grass, and swiftly cut off the neck without flinching. Needless to say, it was an intersting day! Hopefully I haven't made my vegetarian friends throw up with this story.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Back to Butare

So ive been back in Butare for almost a week now. God it feels good to be back. This last week has been so much fun, and the compound really feels like my home. The pastor I worked with was nice but I do have some issues with how that week went. Dont get me wrong, I'm happy that he's my counterpart. He has traveled quite a bit, and he is going on his second trip to the U.S. soon. I think he is fairly well known. I tried to speak as much kinyarwanda as I could muster but it was difficult to say anything of any significance, and even more difficult to understand what people said to me-- i felt somewhat like a toddler who's first learning how to speak and cant form complete sentences, just selects nouns and verbs. I have trouble conjugating, especially when it comes to the noun classes (there are 16 noun classes in Kinyarwanda-- the ajdective conjugates to the noun.)

I am so happy that I will have my own house-- living with a resource family would drive me crazy! I am soooo happy that our PCT is at the compound instead of with individual host families like most Peace Corps groups. I greatly value my privacy, and I already feel like i'm constantly under a microscope, so living with a family only increased this. Let me explain, so I dont sound like a whiny little brat.

I had a little bit of a sniffle while I was at my site that week. It's not a big deal, its usually allergies and it goes away. However, ANY TIME I sniffled even a little bit, whoever I was around would act like I was dying! They'd ask me a million questions-- was I ok? Did I need to go to the hospital? What did I have? They'd readily offer to go to the store to get me medication, and I'd have to almost yell at them so that they wouldn't. I explained over and over again (often to the same people) that it's just allergies, I get sniffles all the time and its not serious, plus I had decongestant meds already. Its like I had to say the same thing 20 times in order to get through to anyone. This sort of concern was not limited to the family I was staying with, but with ANYONE I even so much as said hi to. It happened while I was walking to school to teach, I was even talked to by a man who looked MUCH sicker than me, it felt kind of offensive.I wonder if it has to do with the fact that i'm white or a foreinger, or if Rwandans behave this way towards other Rwandans. I also had quite a few mosquito bites, and anytime I scrathed one I would again be bombarded with questions and looks of concern. To top it off, I cut myself while shaving my legs, and the skirt I wore didnt cover up the cut. I tried to hide it, but sure enough word spread that I was injured and needed medical help. Pretty frustrating.

Another incident which was both strange and entertaining happened one of the last days I was there. I hadn't locked the door to my room, and I was changing my shirt. Not naked, just changing shirts. The Pastor's daughter walked in while I was still in my bra, and she caught sight of my belly button piercing. She looked concerned and, thinking that something had gotten stuck in me, started pulling on it to take it out. I tried to explain to her (she speaks very good English) that i was not injured, that the metal bar was SUPPOSED to be there. There really is a big difference between Rwandans in terms of this. I was originally told that no one in Rwanda has tattoos/piercings or has even heard of them, but I have seen local women who have both, so I know that's not true.

One aspect of Rwandan culture that makes me feel very uneasy is that there is a heavy religous influence, specifically a Christian influence. Of course I know that I have to adapt, but I feel like there is a lot of conflict to come in terms of this. I remember that, many years ago, my cousin Cloe told me that when she lived in Senegal, she told people she was Jewish, because it is better to have some kind of religion than to have no religion at all in Africa. Even though I'm sure Senegal is vastly different from Rwanda, I took her advice, and I've been telling people I'm Jewish whenever I'm asked a question about religion. I have often been asked what church I go to, if i'm a Christian, etc. Asking someone if they are Christian is along the same lines as asking someone their name or what they do for a living. There are different branches of Christianity here, and there are Muslims as well, but as far as I've been told, there are no Syagogues. I guess there are very few Jews in Rwanda, if there are any at all. When I told the pastor that I was Jewish, he appeared to be somewhat familiar with Judaism, but I think the majority of the people here do not know what it is, and it's difficult for me to explain to people. I'm still going to stick to telling people I'm Jewish, it's too late to change now, and since i'm not lying (i'm cutlurally and ethnically Jewish, but not religous), I figured it would be the best thing to say. I thought that telling people this would stop them from pushing me to go to church all the time, but i'm not so sure that's true. The principle of my school was familiar with the holocaust, but then he went on to ask me if this meant I was rich, and if i'm orginally from Israel. Oh well.

I just really need to learn how to deal with these sorts of situations better. Right now I still feel uncomforatble when it comes to this. The pastor had some guests over to the house, a very nice couple who spoke fairly good English, and then out of nowhere the woman asked me if I was saved. I felt caught off guard, so I just said yes (I don't even really know what being saved means), and then she asked me if my family was saved. In hindsight, I should have answered differently, but I still don't know what I should have said exactly.

I did however, agree to go to church with the pastor's daughter one time. I really don't mind going to church once in a while, in fact, I feel like I should out of respect since I'm working primarily with a pastor and with all the people who attend his church. However, I don't want to go every week for hours at a time, and I don't want anyone to try to convert me. I respect their beliefs, so they should respect mine. I don't go around telling people God sucks or is fabrication just because I'm athiest-- I honestly don't care what people believe in as long as they let me be.

Anywho, going to the church was quite an experience. I walked in expecting the typical scene, but the pews were all backed up in a corner. Instead, there was a large circle consisting mostly of women sitting on the floor, with one woman in the center on her hands and knees. The man who I'm assuming was one of the pastors was standing above her with a microphone connected to two huge speakers. As the only caucasian walking into church in the middle of a service, I definately brought a lot of attention upon myself. I just followed the girl's lead, walking past people and then eventually sitting down. We watched as the pastor put his hand on the woman's head, then scream things I could not understand. This took some time, and he rubbed her back and shoulders as well. The woman was moved to tears, it was obviously very emotional for her. After he was done, they played recorded music while a bunch of people got up and danced around the woman. I watched as he and other pastor did this over and over again with different people, mostly women, but one man. The pastor would ask who was sick, or had a problem, or knew someone who was in trouble and needed help. A volunteer would come forward, and the pastor would then "cure" the problem by touching the person in a certain way and screaming for an unspecified period of time. Each "healing session" (i don't know what else to call it) would end with music and dancing. It reminded me of the church scenes in the movie "There Will be Blood". I really hoped that the pastor would not ask me to volunteer. At one point, I was given an interpreter. I woman got up and sat next to me, then suddenly started speaking to me in English. I was grateful for this, because it made me feel more included. It made me feel welcome there. The stories people had for needing healing were interesting. At one point, the pastor fixated his eyes on me and told me my fortune. My interpreter told me that he was saying I,("umuzungu", as they call white people) had come to Rwanda for a good purpose. I was going to help improve Rwanda, and then I would be going to the Congo to improve conditions there. This was fun and I was flattered, but was also a bit difficult for me to hold back laughter-- as a PCV, I'm not even allowed to go into the Congo. I managed to keep a calm composure, and shrotly afterward, the daughter led the way out, as I guess the service went on all day. It was an interesting experience, but I don't know how many times I'd be able to go in there. I don't know if the church has several different styles of serivce, or if it is always like that. I found myself craving the comforts of being surrounded by people who understand me, so I was relieved once I got back to Butare.

I guess this entry hasn't been the most upbeat. I want to stress that I still really like Rwanda and am proud to serve here. I guess I just feel like I have to tell it like it is while still censuring myself (trust me i'm leaving out a lot). I don't want to lie about stuff because years later, when I read these blogs, I want to remember what really happened and how things really went down. That's all.