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.