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.