Friday, January 29, 2010

It's been 1 year!

First and foremost, I want to assure anyone reading this that I got an e-mail from Felix and he is alive and well. Huge relief. My condolonces to anyone who has lost someone they loved in this horrible earthquake.

Now on to more selfish things. Today marks exactly one year since 34 of us wide-eyed Americans stepped off a plane to start a 2 years+ adventure. Safe to say none of us had any idea what we were getting into. I remember how exciting it was to go to DC for staging, only a few days since Obama was sworn in. On the plane rides to Rwanda, I was so nervous. I remember opening up my plane window on an almost constant basis wondering if I could handle being a PCV.

Of course there have been ups and downs, and, like everyone i'm sure, times where I just wanted to throw in the towel. I don't blame those of us who have left, I feel like they all had legit reason. Our original group of 34 has shrunk slightly to 28, but we have another group of 35 in country now, and the new groups keep on coming.

Since it's the one year anniversary, it's inevitable that I begin to reflect. I've definitely learned a lot in the last year. I don't feel like I've changed drastically, I just feel like I have a better understanding of my limits, my capabilities, and the ways of the world. I learned that living amongst people with a completely different culture than myself is very challenging, but not impossible. We're all human beings after all. I have definitely made sincere friendships with the locals, even those who don't speak a word of English or French. (Thanks Peace Corps for the language training!). I've learned when to be agressive and when to just go with the flow. I've also realized there are many problems I'm not able to solve, and the the definiton of a "problem" is fluid.

I don't miss America necessarily, I miss the people in it who I was close to. For my friends and fam who I haven't seen in quite some time, I hope you understand that this was something I had to do. I needed to prove to myself that I could live in a developing country for 2 years, and that I could evoke some kind of positive change no matter how small. I know that what I'm doing is nothing extraordinary-- plenty of people live abroad and work towards positive change. Still, this experience has incluenced my thinking, my attitude, and will stay with me for the rest of my life. I hope that some of the Rwandans I've known feel the same.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Tragedy in Haiti

As many of you are aware, there was a magnitude 7.0 earthquake on Tuesday that greatly damadged Haiti. 60% of the buildings in Haiti were unstable for even normal conditions, so there was severe damadge especially in the capital of Port-au-Prince, causing huge numbers of casualties.

Hearing about this event is especially alarming to me because I know someone who is living in Haiti right now. He's a Rwandan police cheif in the North who's worked for UN peacekeeping missions for more than 15 years. He served in Darfur in 2004. He called me 3 weeks ago, telling me he wanted to hang out because he was leaving shortly for a UN job in Haiti, and wouldn't be back until 2012. We never did get together before he left, and now I regret it. I know that the UN building collapsed and there are many people trapped underneath the rubble. They're currently trying to free people who are trapped, but many people are missing. According to the latest New York Times, "The United Nations said it had confirmed that 36 of its workers had been killed in the earthquake, 73 had been injured, and an additional 160 were still missing. The United Nations began an effort to send teams around to the homes of its more than 1,200 local staff members to see if they were still alive and what help they needed."

I'm scowering the internet trying to find some information to see if he's ok, but I can't find his name anywhere. I'm not sure what the media regulations are about the release of names of casualties and survivors, but his first name is Felix, and I can't remember his last name. He has a wife and a daughter so if somehow you've recognized that name in any news media, please let me know.

The more I travel, the more I care about international issues. I know it sounds selfish, but, like most people, when I used to hear about natural disasters or civil war, I really wasn't all that concerned if I didn't personally know anyone involved or affected by it. I just took it as information that I could turn on and off with the click of a remote or mouse. One of the results traveling and living abroado is that I've become personally invested in more and more places. Hearing about a crisis in a country I've been to or a country where people I know live is so personal.

I think I really started realizing this after visiting Israel in December of 2007. Even though my aunt, uncle and cousins lived there a long time ago, I would just gloss over the headlines about Israel, especially anything related to border conflicts. It just all meshed together for me. Once I went there, walked in the streets, and met the people, it became more personal. I realized that in the news, I recognized the names of streets I had walked on or stores I had been to. I also realized that people I had talked to while I was there could be directly affected by the events I was reading about from my computer.

Now that I'm in Rwanda, the '94 genocide isn't just some tragedy amongst many that occurred far away. I've met many people who were not only witnesses to the genocide but whose names I recognized in interviews with PBS and in historical books. It makes such a world of difference when I've met these people and had conversations with them--they become so much more real instead of just images on the screen or subjects to read about.

As my international contacts expand, my level of concern with international issues, especially crisies, rises. I don't know if I'm echoing a common feeling felt my by fellow PCVs, but I'm much more affected now by the recent tragedy in Haiti than I would have been 1 year ago. I recognize those killed as people with personalities an active lives, not just statistics in a news story.

Monday, January 11, 2010


Now that it's 2010, I can officially say that I spent all of 2009 (minus 4 weeks) living in Rwanda. I still don't plan to go back to the U.S. til I'm done. January
29th will make it one year since I left America, but I won't be halfway done with service until April 15th. It's still crazy to think how long I've been here. In the beginning, time went by so slowly, and now it's moving a little faster, probably because I'm crazy busy at work with the job I love.

NYE was good. I went to the Happy People Party, which was mighty expensive but still worth it. It was incredibly crowded and pretty much everyone I knew in Kigali was there, and then some. Drank, danced, talked to some people, it was cool.

A new intern recently joined the NGO I work for and will also be my roommate for the 4 months she's here. It's nice having someone my own age living and working in the same space as me. I like getting her perspective on things and compare them to mine. So far, we've gone to the genocide memorial museum (yeah, it only took me 1 year to finally go) and I've taken her to a party as well as other local events so she can get aquainted with the community. It's her first time overseas but she's pretty open to meeting all kinds of people, not just the ones who are well educated and speak English.

Below: Genocide Memorial Museum in Kigali

Other than that, work has been getting back into full swing. I gave a presentation in French to the One Family theater group on Saturday. They seem like a dynamic, creative group of people, which is to be expected from anyone in the dramatic arts. Even though my job with them won't involve any role-playing for myself, it's still nice to have some kind of involvement with drama. I was heavily into it for a long time, but didn't get involved with it at all during my 4 years of college. It'll be interesting to compare the styles of Rwandan theater to the other styles I know. I'm sure it's drastically different from Beckett, Simon, Shepard, Shakespeare, or Mamet or anyother playwright I'm familiar with.