Thursday, February 26, 2009

In country!

Hey all! I realize I’ve been procrastinating when it comes to writing this blog. Due to the speed of internet here, I usually just check my e-mail and Facebook and neglect everything else. Therefore, I’ll do my best to squeeze in 3 weeks worth of information in one entry. Just the highlights, no boring stuff.

As a Peace Corps volunteer, there are certain regulations I have to abide by concerning what I post online. I can’t state my exact location or the exact location of other volunteers for safety reasons. I also can’t express my political views. I’m not very good at censuring myself, but I’ll do my best.

First off, I’m so happy to be here in Rwanda. More and more, I feel like this is the place I need to be right now. The country is so picturesque—hills galore and lots of greenery. I have pretty much only seen Kigali and Butare and not much else, so maybe I’m jumping the gun. The weather is really nice (at least it has been for the last month). I’m told that we’re in the dry season until March, but it still rains fairly often. I actually really like the rain, and even though it rains very hard here, it never rains for very long. The heat hasn’t been unbearable, certainly nothing like Southern India last summer!

Right now, I’m in the middle of week 4 of training, so my training is almost halfway over. In a week and a half, we’ll get to know where our sites will be for the next 2 years! I’m so excited, I keep wondering where I’ll be, if I’ll be in a very rural area or somewhere like Kigali, and what kind of job I’ll have. So far, all I know is that I will be doing something health related, and it will include HIV/AIDS education and prevention. Our living situation during training is much more comfortable than I anticipated. While most Peace Corps volunteers stay with local families, we are all together (all 34 of us) in a nunnery. Most of us have individual rooms. Our teachers have rooms here too. I’ll admit that initially, I wasn’t jumping for joy at the idea of living at a nunnery, but it’s nothing like I expected. The rules aren’t too strict, we have a curfew and we can’t have guests, which really isn’t a big deal at all. I’m also really happy that we have electricity, internet at a price, and toilets that (usually) work. I was anticipating latrines, which I don’t like but can learn to get used to. After all, that might be what I have once I get to my permanent site.

Basically the focus of training is language, language, language. Monday through Saturday, we have at least 2 hours straight of language class, and we can have up to 6 hours. Our classes are divided into groups of 3-4, and we’re taught in these cute little huts spread outside throughout the nunnery. Sometimes looking at the gardens and the colorful birds can be distracting, and we have had to relocate a few times due to the rain, but I like having class outside, it makes me feel more at ease. We have 12 teachers that constantly rotate. We’ve gotten to know our teachers fairly well, since we pretty much spend all day with them. We eat with them, play volleyball, and even go to their family birthdays. They’re basically our friends/teachers, they’re here to help us in all aspects of learning Rwandan culture. I’m definitely having trouble learning Kinyarwanda—it’s not a romance language so I pretty much have to memorize each word individually instead of relating it to Latin roots.

We’re given three meals a day here, as well as a snack in the morning which usually consists of coffee, tea, and some kind of sweet cake-like substance. We really are spoiled here. On top of language, we also have “tech training”, which focuses on our roles here in Rwanda. We often have guest speakers. We have had people from the embassy to talk about security, professors lecture about Rwandan history, and doctors to talk about the medical situation and the government’s role in health. I’ve met some really amazing people, and learned so much. When people hear about Rwanda, it seems like all they think about is the genocide of 1994. Of course it’s important and relevant to know about it, especially since it happened so recently. In just one month I’ve seen how it has affected so many aspects of people’s lives here. On top of two discussions we had with survivors of the genocide, I’ve also seen how the genocide or “war” as many of them call it—sneaks its way into conversations. Someone will talk about a picture or a book or something they once owned, but got lost during the genocide. I’m wary to ask about people’s families, because I know that most people have lost family members. An event of such magnitude simply can’t be ignored, and it does distinguish Rwanda from other countries, but I feel like I have a responsibility to show my friends and family that there is so much more to Rwanda than the violence which took place. That’s one of the main reasons for my maintaining this blog, on top of the fact that I need to write for my own personal sanity, and of course, to let the people I care about know what I’m up to. I’ll do my best to call on birthdays, but international calls are very expensive. Unlike the U.S., there are no cell phone plans, you buy a card that has a pin number, and by dialing that pin number on my cell, I get a certain amount of minutes. They come in groups of 1,500 RWF (Rwandan Franks) and 2,500, and they never seem to last more than maybe 15 minutes. Like I said, internet is slower than death here, so it takes time and money that I don’t always have to use it. I figure by writing this, I can let everyone know what’s going on so I don’t have to always send individual e-mails. As another volunteer here says, “such is life”. Feel free to leave a comment, I’d love to know what you guys think! Love you, hugs and kisses to you all!