Saturday, August 21, 2010


Once again the weeks have slipped by and it’s been over a month since I last posted. (Sorry Dad, I know Amy has probably posted dozens of times since I last did.) Part of this is that things have become fairly routine at site, so it seems as though there is not much to say about it. I’ve started volunteering at the health center in my village on Mondays, which has been pretty fantastic. Even though I haven’t done much there, even just being in the clinic makes me fantastically happy. Although there was one moment that was fairly disastrous. A few weeks ago when I went to the clinic to help with the under-five nutrition program, Mediatrice (the nurse I work with), asked me if I would be willing to come help her with the VCT clinic (voluntary counseling and testing for HIV). On Mondays the clinic is open to pregnant women who can come with their husbands to be tested. Mediatrice drew blood to be tested ansd had me do the patient interviews. Yes, they were in Kinyarwanda, and yes, of course it was a mess. Most of the questions were pretty basic, like name and age, and so went fine. But then we get to the slightly more complicated questions of how many children do you have including the one you are currently pregnant with, which in Kinyarwanda can be asked by saying “inda ya?”. Now, to have a good kinya accent, you should always smash your words together like they’re one word. Well, unfortunately for me, when you say this with “inda ya” and especially when you say it with your muzungu accent you end up saying “indaya”, which of course of all things means prostitute. So here I am, thinking that I’m asking this woman how many children she has, when really I’m asking her “prostitute?” Yikes. At least she and Mediatrice have a good sense of humor and just sat there cracking up, until Mediatrice catches her breath enough to explain it to me, and I just sit there horrified and trying to apologize. Oh, adventures in kinya.

And speaking of adventures, the last two weeks have been full of them. First we had a house-warming party for Emily, who has finally been able to move into her new house. Which is crazy amazing. I thought I had a ridiculous muzungu house with so many rooms, but hers is a legit muzungu house. She has tiled floors and two indoor bathrooms with working showers and hot water and a kitchen with counters and a sink! I didn’t realize such nice houses even existed in the east. Jenny and I had gone to Kigali for the day for some meetings with Peace Corps, and so picked up what turned out to be amazingly delicious mozzarella cheese and made some fantastic baked ziti. Then Friday we went back to Kigali, then up to Musanze to stay with Amy for a long weekend. There was market shopping and good food eating and movie watching and all kinds of goodness.

Wednesday it was back to Kigali for more meetings and then Thursday Nrupa and her friend Jess came in from Uganda. Nrups and I went to GW together and she’d been in Uganda working with TASO for her practicum. Thursday we wandered around Kigali, including the obligatory trip to Bourbon Café, and I took them to the market at Kimironko, where I dazzled them with my kinya skills (um…right). Then Friday morning we got up and took the bus to Gisenyi, which is right on lake Kivu. It was beautiful and even had sand like a real beach (as opposed to Jambo beach by me, which has some dirt, a cliff, and then the lake with the highest schisto concentration in the country). We laid out, attracted a huge group of Rwandans kids, chased them off, and then hung out with some other PCVs that came by. That night we went back to Musanze to stay with Amy. Saturday morning it was back to Kigali so we could go to the genocide memorial. That night I took Nrupa and Jess on a long, wandering walk around most of the city, but eventually managed to find the Chinese restaurant I knew existed…somewhere… thank goodness the girls are so easy going. Sunday morning we slept in, then went to get their tickets so they could leave early the next morning to go back to Uganda. There was a small disaster when we tried to get me tickets for Nyanza, then found out that there were no tickets until 7 that night (which is problematic as I needed to be in Nyanza at 5 for our language in-service training), but somehow Nrupa managed to sweet-talk them into a ticket for 1:30. As it was already 1:15, this meant I had to run with all my stuff to catch the bus, give them a quick hug goodbye, get on the bus, and hope that they would be ok for the rest of the day and finding their bus the next day. Of course I realize that they are both extremely intelligent, capable people and would be perfectly fine, but I worried about them just the same (my gosh, I am my mother’s daughter). So girls, if you’re reading this, give me a shout so I know you made it back to America.

From Sunday night to Tuesday afternoon we had language IST in Nyanza. It was great to see some of the volunteers from my group that I hadn’t seen since May. Monday night I went with Jenny, Sonya and Trude to Jenny’s host family to make dinner. Our first thought was to make them pizza, as Jenny has mastered the art of making pizza without an oven, but though an unfortunate twist of fate the entire town of Nyanza seemed to be out of flour. So we went for egg and cheese sandwiches on baguettes- delicious! Jenny’s family had recently gotten chickens, so they also wanted to cook us some chicken for dinner. Which meant chasing down one of the chickens, killing and plucking it, and all kinds of other things that I try not to think about when eating meat. How much nicer it is in America, where meat comes packaged and doesn’t look a thing like the animal it came from. Almost enough to make me want to be a vegetarian. Almost. Then her family decides that we also need beans and ubugali (a dough made with cassava flour), so even though we went to their house at 5 and started cooking soon afterwords, it was after 10 by the time we started eating, and nearly 11 by the time we got back. Although, we did get to watch an interesting mix of music videos while we waited for the food to be finished, so there was that.

Tuesday our IST finished up, and Jenny, Sonya and I decided to take an afternoon trip down to Butare for bagels and ice cream. I tell you what, it is amazing what you can get in this country. Wednesday morning Arielle and I caught the morning bus back to Kigali and I enjoyed my bagel on the bus. Wednesday was full of more Peace Corps meetings and then back to Kiramuruzi after two weeks away. So on one hand, it’s good to be back in my village, in my house, and on the other hand, we still have no food and no water. But at least today is a market day, so we can fix the food situation. And it’s getting to the end of August, so the rains should come back soonish, yes? Please?

So that’s been my last couple weeks. Pretty amazing, and full of friends, food and fun. Not so full of work, but I’m working on it. I’ve also decided that I need to be spending much more time working on my kinya, so wish me luck on that one. Oh, which reminds me. Yesterday Janvier came over to help us with our botched furniture delivery and we had a great conversation about how kinyarwanda is an impossible language. Even for Rwandans the language doesn’t make any sense and he can sometimes listen to a conversation between two Rwandans and have no idea what they’re talking about. So this naturally gives me lots of hope for my own language skills. Maybe I’ll just tell people that I speak perfect kinya, and they’re the ones that don’t speak the language.

Anyways, that’s it for now. As always, I love you and miss you like crazy!

Friday, July 9, 2010

life in kiramuruzi

I was wrong- apparently the East really is flat and hot. At least when compared to the North- which is beautiful, by the way. A couple weeks ago I went to Musanze to stay with Amy and it was wonderful! It’s been great to see different parts of the country too. The North where Amy lives is much cooler and very hilly. From outside her house you can see the three volcanoes in Rwanda- gorgeous! Musanze is also full of NGOs so it’s like Americaland. There are tall buildings and restaurants, and hotels that cater to westerners, and stores that carry everything!

Clearly, I live in a much smaller town. There are a couple of stores in “town”, but they all sell the same things, and just the basics. We have two restaurants (I thought we only had one, but just recently found out about a second one), which both only have Rwandan foods. This means rice, beans, French fries, greens, ubugari (cassava dough), plantain mash and meat in sauce. Our market is only open twice a week, on Saturday and Mondays. Now, you might think that it would make more sense to have the market days more spaced out, and I would agree with you, but apparently not. The market has fabric and tailors inside the market building, shoes right outside, and vegetables on an open area on the other side of the road. Now, it also makes sense to buy the bulk of your food on Monday, since the market won’t be open again until Saturday, so of course that is the slow day. Saturday is the big day when there are tons of vendors and lots of fresh vegetables. These veggies then sit out in the sun until Monday, when, like a silly muzungu, I come buy them. However, buying the veggies on Saturday is no good either because I either use them up before the next Saturday so I have none, or they go bad so I have none. Clearly, the system needs work.

But regardless of the vegetable/market situation, Arielle and I eat incredibly well. Much better than I did in the US. I even cook here. From scratch! I’m getting really good at making tomato and soy sauce stir-fries, and the other night we had a delicious spicy peanut sauce (unfortunately, I was responsible for the veggies, not the sauce, so I’m not entirely sure I can recreate that one). I am now also capable of cooking beans, lentils and garbanzo beans (for making homemade hummus, obviously). Probably the most impressive would have to be when Jenny, Sonya and I made homemade pirogues. Yes, we even made the pasta ourselves. I was voted best pasta roller (I know you’re proud). They were delicious! Funnily enough, the biggest hit of the night was the tomato sauce we made to go with the pirogues, but then botched, and then fixed by throwing a bunch of beer in the pot. Who knew? Jenny, apparently. We’ve taken to calling it disaster sauce, and it’s pretty fantastic.

We made the sauce again with some pasta salad to bring to Tom’s house for the 4th. Tom and his wife Malea live in Kibungo and for the last two 4th of July’s he’s roasted a goat at his place. Since we were cooking in the morning we didn’t make it there for the actual roasting, but it was delicious when we got there early afternoon. Tom’s house is amazing! His organization already had the house set up, which means it’s furnished with actual furniture, and there’s even a kitchen with a sink, a fridge, a fully functional and a (mostly) working pizza oven in the back yard!

As far as everything else goes, life at site is pretty much the same most weeks. I go to work in the morning around 8, sometimes there are site visits in the morning, sometimes not, sometimes there is data entry for me to do, sometimes not. I leave for lunch sometime between 12 and 1, and then have an hour or two to go home, make some lunch, hang out, and come back. The afternoons are usually pretty quiet, but sometimes there is a meeting. Recently we’ve started doing training sessions for the unity and reconciliation clubs, which are done through the churches, and training sessions for establishing internal saving and lending groups. Of course, these trainings are done all in Kinyarwanda so there is little that I can add, but my organization reassures me that it’s important for me to be there so everyone can get used to me so that when I start doing health and nutrition talks in August or September they might actually listen and not look at me like some crazy muzungu. Also, I visited the health center by my house a couple weeks ago and am hopefully going to start working on a nutrition program for under-five malnourished children. I go back next week, so wish me luck!

Monday, May 17, 2010

it's official: i'm a volunteer

My gosh it’s been a long time since I wrote anything. And so much has happened since then it’s crazy. First things first, I am now officially a Peace Corps Volunteer! Hooray me! We spent an awesome week in Kigali for swear-in and buying all the things we would need for our house- or at least all the things we thought we would need for our house. Turns out (much like packing for Peace Corps the first time) I may have misjudged slightly. Although, whereas when packing for PC I mostly just brought the wrong things, this time I just didn’t buy enough of anything. And forgot some things entirely. Like jerry cans- whoops. Good thing I’ll be going to Nyanza for some training next week and should be able to stop in Kigali to pick up the stuff I forgot.

But back to our week in Kigali. Or actually, back up. So before we even left Kigali, we had a end-of-training/going-away party for us and our LCFs. This was organized by some of the trainees and we had wonderful food and played a bunch of games. Or at least, some of us did. (dun, dun, dun (that was me singing ominously)) The games were organized into a competition, divided by house. I was competing in the first event (yea, that’s right, I’m calling it an event- like it’s all official, we even had house t-shirts, because we’re the best), which was the three-legged race. Naturally, me and Sihya dominated and won the event. Unfortunately, we took a bit of a spill at the end of the race and I decided to catch myself using my face. Nicely done. So, I ended up missing the rest of the party so that I could go get myself stitched up. But no worries, it healed fairly nicely. Although I did have a nasty black eye for swear-in. Which brings us back to Kigali.

We drove to Kigali Tuesday morning (the 4th), had a little bit of time to get settled in, then took off for meetings at the PC office, but not before stopping at Bourbon café for hamburgers and French fries (AMAZING!). Wednesday morning was swear-in and I discovered, much to my delight, that St. Paul’s has hot water, and so was even able to take a hot shower (I know, I’m so spoiled)! Swear-in was actually fairly unremarkable, except that we got the chance to dress up and eat yummy food and hang out at the ambassador’s house. The ceremony didn’t take very long, and we were shuffled out of there pretty soon after it was over, but it was still nice.

Thursday all the people working under CHF had a meeting most of the day, so we didn’t have too much time to shop around for stuff. However, if my memory serves me correctly, Thursday was the day we discovered Indian food. Oh my goodness, I cannot even describe how delicious this place is. And even better is that you get so much food that you cannot possibly eat it all, which means leftovers! Friday we discovered Shokola (kind of the French/Kinyarwanda version of chocolate), which is a fantastically glorious café/restaurant that has delicious Moroccan/Mediterranean food and is adorable. Naturally, we went there a couple days in a row. Unfortunately, these places are crazy expensive, which means I probably won’t be able to go back very much, but it was wonderful while it lasted.

Friday we also did most of our shopping for site. There were three main stores we visited, each of them was kind of like Walmart, selling everything from food to kitchen supplies to beds. I’ve only been in Rwanda for three months, but already I was pretty overwhelmed by so much stuff. Especially the electronics. I wash all of my clothes by hand in buckets and can only cook as much food as won’t go bad if it sits out, and now here is a store that sells washing machines and refrigerators- imagine the convenience! But alas, they are much too expensive, and even if we could get them, paying for the electricity to run them would also be much too expensive. So bucket washing it is. We did, however, decide to splurge on a blender, since there is so much fresh fruit, and have had smoothies almost every morning for breakfast (pretty rockstar). And actually, that reminds me of something…yesterday I was washing my clothes and hanging them up on my newly fashioned clothesline and I thought to myself, wow, look at this set-up; pretty rockstar. But then I had to laugh at myself. I just scrubbed my clothes by hand, using buckets, and hung them up to dry on a rope that I tied to a tree, and was thinking it was rockstar. I would say that is probably the opposite, but is probably pretty Africa rockstar. So there you go, Africa rockstar.

Saturday morning Sonya and I took the bus from the town center out to the large market. This place is great- you can buy a lot of the same stuff as in the stores, but for much cheaper. We found some baskets to use for clothes and storage, and I bought a rug for my room. We met up with some of the other girls for lunch and had some pretty great hamburgers and milkshakes. I think this was probably the closest to milkshakes that I’ll ever get in Rwanda. They definitely tasted like milkshakes, and were at least slightly thicker than milk, but definitely not as much as you would get back home. Still delicious though. By the way, yes, I do realize how often I talk about food in my blogs, especially western food. And it’s probably going to stay that way, so I hope you all enjoy listening to descriptions of things that you can eat every day, because for me it’s always exciting and different. Carmen told me that food and cooking would become a huge part of my Peace Corps experience, but I don’t think that I fully believed her until I got here. Saturday we also went and visited the co-op that’s located right by the town center. They have great crafts there, and I wanted to buy everything, but settled for a pair of shoes since everything was pretty expensive. They’re adorable, and y’all are gonna be jealous when I come home wearing them.

Sunday was a pretty lazy day, which is always nice, and then Monday Arielle and I spent running around Kigali trying to buy all the last minute things for our site. Like I said before, we still forgot a bunch of stuff and so will have to pick it up when we make it back to Kigali. Monday was also pretty sad because the first group of volunteers were moved to their site. After seeing the same people every day for three months, it was hard to see them go, but hopefully they’re all loving their site placements. Monday night we went back to the expensive Indian restaurant for our last meal in Kigali, it was fantastic and I had a great time hanging out with the volunteers. Monday night was of course spent frantically trying to pack all the things that I had scattered across my room during the course of the week in Kigali, as well as all of the things that I had bought for my house.

Tuesday, Arielle and I were driven to Gatsibo, our home for the next two years, and dropped off. And what the Peace Corps drop-off it was. We arrived at our house with all our stuff, they helped us bring it into the front room and then said “ok, well, bye”, and left. Oof. It turned out ok, since I went into the office in the afternoon and Emile took me around town to buy some things, including some food, electricity and new locks for the door.

A little bit about our site. Gatsibo is one of the districts in the Eastern Province. I’m still not totally clear on what my Umudugudu is called, but it’s right next to Kiziguru (I think). It turns out that Arielle and I have one of the most rural sites of our group (excluding the couple placed in the middle of Nungywe forest). Of course, because Rwanda is so small, this means that we are still only 40 minutes out of Rwamagana, which is a pretty big city. My house is huge and has 6 bedrooms, plus two front rooms. My room is absurdly large and has a bathroom attached. Unfortunately, there’s no running water in the bathroom, so we only use it to shower in, using buckets. For the toilet, we’re still stuck using the latrine out back (but we were so close to having an actual shower and toilet!). There is also apparently a water shortage currently, so except for yesterday from 6 to 7 am, there has been no water at all. However, I find this pretty strange considering it’s rainy season and it has also rained every day since we moved here. Emile has been great helping us get jerry cans and water. He told me that sometimes there are problems getting water during the rainy season, but couldn’t explain why. It’s counterintuitive, but I noticed when we were in Nyanza that the water would slow considerably when it was raining or had just rained. Maybe something with the pipes…? Who knows. At any rate, water looks like it’s going to be a challenge. But you can always pay one of the local kids 100 Rwf (20 cents) per jerry can to go get you water. Hopefully the water comes back soon, and until then, I guess I’ll just be a little dirty and a little smelly. On the up side, my house is surrounded on two sides by banana tree groves, and it’s gorgeous. Especially at night when the sun is setting over the grove. And, because the site is so rural, there is no light pollution and you can see tons of stars if it’s not cloudy. Hopefully this is enticing you to come visit! And don’t worry, by the time you get here, we’ll probably have some furniture. Right now it’s kind of sad. We cook on our front porch and eat on the floor. We also don’t have bed frames, so the mattress is also on the floor. But I gave Janvier some money today for the down payment on two bed frames, a table and four chairs. After that we’ll work on getting some shelves and maybe a couch type thing. What makes it slightly more challenging is that everyone here assumes that because we’re white, Arielle and I have tons of money, so they charge us 2 – 3 times the price, hence why Janvier has been helping. (and just in case I didn’t explain earlier, Emile and Janvier two of the people I work with at AEE in Gatsibo).

So far work at AEE has been slow, but I’ve gone in every day since I got here on Tuesday. AEE is still waiting on the budget and workplan from CHF, so they are slowly getting activities started. By June they should have it and get things moving. Yesterday I had a meeting with Charlotte, the go-between for AEE and CHF do discuss my primary and secondary activities. She knows that I am much more interested in health than small business enterprise, and so came to Gatsibo to help me figure out how I can do more in health. It sounds like I’ll be working with Fred, the new employee who just came to Gatsibo today, and will be in charge of the economic development aspect of the AEE/CHF Higa Ubeho program. When he goes to visit co-ops and associations to talk about economic development, I will work with them and community health workers to talk about health, including nutrition, family planning, issues around HIV, building kitchen gardens, etc. AEE also does a lot of work with OVC in primary and secondary schools, so I’ll also be doing sessions with them. I’m not totally sure how this will all work, but I’m hopeful.

Well, I suppose that’s the extremely short version of my last couple weeks. I hope everyone is doing well and I love you and miss you all!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Pizza, ice cream and amoebas, oh my!

Training is coming to an end, and can’t believe we’re already here. Monday starts our last week before we go to Kigali on Sunday, and then we swear in as Peace Corps volunteers on May 5th. We have about a week in Kigali to chill out and buy things for our houses, then we’ll be moving out our sites after that. I found out that I’ll be living with Arielle, which is exciting. My house is pretty big to be living in alone and she’ll be fun to live with (plus she’s a really good cook, so bonus for me! Maybe I’ll return to the states with some cooking skills…).

As excited as I am for the move to site, I have to say, thinking about the end of training and moving has made me kind of home sick. Something about leaving what I know and am comfortable with is making me really wish I could see and talk to everyone at home. But I have gotten a couple letters from people, which has been fantastic! Thanks so much!!! Training has become a pretty predictable routine, and as such seems to have flown by. (Which is also kind of irritating how closely your feeling mirror exactly what the Peace Corps told you would be feeling…stupid training manual predicting everything correctly…). Plus the fact that I was out for a week with amoebas made training seem even shorter. But let me explain that story.

A couple weeks ago a few of us decided to go to Butare for the day on Sunday so we could get out of Nyanza, go to the Muzungu super-market and have some good western food. Amy and I both decided on pizza, and then later on some vanilla ice-cream with hot fudge (delicious, I know!). Well, after almost getting stuck in Butare since it was memorial week and there weren’t many busses going back in the afternoon, we made it back and I went to go visit my host family. I wasn’t feeling great, but I felt bad that I hadn’t seen Mama Queen in ages so I went anyways. I had planned on leaving in time to go to dinner, but then as I was leaving, I felt terrible and so decided to go home and skip dinner. Once I got back, I started puking and didn’t stop until sometime mid-afternoon the next day when the PCMO (medical officer- aka, our doctor) gave me anti-nausea meds. I thought it was just me that got sick, but then later found out that Amy had started puking that night too. Our first thought was food poisoning, but the PCMO put us on Cipro for bacterial dysentery just in case. I won’t go into the details, but it was pretty awful and became clear pretty quickly that the meds weren’t helping. By Thursday when we still weren’t better, it was decided that we should go to Kigali to get checked out. Turns out that I definitely have amoebas, and Amy probably does (hers never showed up in the tests, apparently they’re fickle) so we were given another type of meds to wipe out our amoebas. By mid-week this past week we were feeling much better and now I’m pretty much back to normal (thank goodness). Amy’s doing just fine too- so no worries. Saturday night we even had a celebratory drink with dinner.

Now I don’t want this post to be all negative, because training overall has been wonderful, and I’m going to miss seeing all the wonderful people here everyday, and I am also really excited to move to site and get started working with my organization and meet the community.

Also, I realized that even though I’ve only been here a couple months, I’ve already missed tons of birthdays, so I’m sorry for that and to Hannah, Katie, Laura and Al (and anyone else I might be forgetting now) Happy Birthday! I hope that your birthdays were wonderful! I’m so glad you were born and that you’re my friends!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Roller coasters and cowboy pants

Sorry this blog has taken me so long to write and post. We received our site placements last Thursday night and it’s been a whirlwind since then. Everyone thought that we were going to get our placements on Friday, but then we a got a call saying that as soon as everyone got to the center, we would receive our placement. We all got there as fast as we could. A couple of the PCTs (Peace Corps Trainees – us) had drawn a huge map of Rwanda in chalk in front of the center and put the names of the organizations we would be working with on the map. We were each called forward to receive our site and organization. I was placed with African Evangelical Enterprise (AEE) in Gatsibo, in the east. However, I wasn’t really sure what the organization did, and we weren’t given our job descriptions until the next morning, so it was kind of a nerve-wracking night.

The next morning, Friday, we got our job descriptions. My job description includes supporting co-operatives and associations, building the capacity of those organizations, writing reports and doing management training courses. Not exactly what I had hoped for as a health volunteer, but I have been assured that I’ll be able to find and work on health projects.

Sunday we drove to Kigali for a health resource fair where we would meet our partner organizations. The resource fair and conference was interesting and it was good to hear about the work that AEE does, as well as about some of the other organizations that other volunteers will be working with. AEE in Rwanda receives a significant amount of funding from CHF, which is a large international NGO which provides many health services and economic strengthening activities in Rwanda. AEE in Gatsibo has two projects; the first of which falls under CHF and the second is a literacy and reconciliation project among OVCs (orphans and vulnerable children). Presumably, most of my responsibilities will be to work with AEE on the first project. AEE has not yet received the budget from CHF and so doesn’t have a clear idea of what activities they’ll be doing, or what I’ll be doing. They’re hoping to receive the budget in the next week or so, but we’ll see- things always take longer in Africa time. However, AEE anticipates that at least 80% of their activities will be related to economic strengthening, mostly through supporting Co-operatives and Associations in the region.

Tuesday afternoon we left with our counterparts to visit the site where we’ll be working for the next two years. My counterpart was Emile, and I stayed with him and his wife Lilian at their house in Rwamagana. Gatsibo and Rwamagana are gorgeous! I was concerned earlier, because the east is known for being hot and flat, but it was not much warmer than Kigali and “flat” was extremely relative. It’s like living in the Rockies and being told it’s flat compared to Everest. So there were still gorgeous rolling hills everywhere. There’s also a lake between Rwamagana and my site, and I’m told that the president has his summer home there, although I managed to miss it every time on our daily trips between the two cities.

AEE Gatsibo is a very small and young branch; there are only three employees right now, and I’ll be the fourth. However, they were all extremely warm and welcoming. Emile and Janvier both speak English farely well, although they encouraged me to work on my Kinyarwanda. Kristine, the accountant, doesn’t speak any English, but she’s really friendly and we do just fine together. during my site visit, I met with the Executive Secretary for the area, and visited a couple health centers to meet with co-ops, and met the head of the police station. I also visited the house were I’ll be living, and it’s gorgeous! It’s also gigantic- there are 5 or 6 rooms, including an indoor bathroom (a big deal in Rwanda), a kitchen and latrine in the back, and (best part) a mango tree and an avocado tree! So I’m really excited about the people I’ll be working with, my house, and the town I’m living in. The town is pretty rural, but it has market two or three times a week and it’s a short bus ride to Rwamagana, which is much bigger and has stores where I can buy everything else.

Also, I found out that another volunteer, Arielle, is living in the same town and working across the street from me! It was kind of funny how this was discovered. The whole time I was at the AEE office, I kept hearing about this other volunteer that worked “over there” (Rwandans like to be extremely vague about locations), so I was unclear if we were talking about the building across the street or the hill in the distance. I kept asking if I could go see this other volunteer, but was always told that she wasn’t there. So I had no idea what they were talking about. Well, the last afternoon of the site visit, Arielle walks into my office and tells me that one of the people in her organization told her that they had seen another muzungo walking around town and that she worked in the building across the street. So that’ll be good, and even if we don’t end up living that close to each other, we’ll still be able to get together to cook and maybe plan events in the community. She and I also took the bus back from our site to Nyanza together, which was good. The bus system can be somewhat complicated. And that was my site visit.

Oh, almost forgot. The entire site visit I was trying to dress up by wearing skirts and nice shoes. The last day Emile told me that when I come back I should bring more close-toed shoes and cowboy pants. It took a while to figure this one out, but eventually I realized he was talking about jeans. The people who work for AEE in bigger cities- like Rwamagana- are extremely well dressed, but because my site is so much more rural, and we travel around a lot, jeans are better. Which reminds me of another funny story. During the site visit I got permission to ride a moto to some of the more remote health centers to visit co-ops. Because I was wearing a skirt, I always had to ride side saddle, which was pretty interesting. Well, the last day we went out to visit a site that was over an hour away, and while we were there, it started to pour. Emile told me that I would need to sit like him (meaning with one leg on each side of the moto), which meant that I needed to hike the skirt up by my knees (scandalous in Rwanda- you should never show your knees) and because this was a new skirt that I had just gotten made, it bled blue dye all over my legs and turned Emile’s pants blue. Oops! But I’m sure we looked hilarious riding around in the rain. Also, in order to be able to ride on a moto, Peace Corps has to give you a PC-approved helmet. The helmets are those huge, intense looking ones that BMX racers use. And mine is bright yellow. In case I don’t look crazy enough already, lets add a huge yellow helmet. But I’m sure I made someone’s day with my strange muzungo self.

In other news, the Saturday before last we got up really early so that we could drive the nearly four hours to Nungye national park where we were going to go for a hike and see animals and monkeys and wonderfulness. Unfortunately, when we got there we found out that even through the park had previously told us it was going to cost a discounted $35 since we were volunteers, we had no proof that the park had agreed to this, so we now need to pay $70 a person. Almost no one brought that much money, so we got back in the bus and drove back. Kind of disappointing. I’m hoping that they get the cost issue resolved so we can go back another Saturday, but it doesn’t sound particularly hopeful. Bummer.

That night was great though. A number of trainees got together to host a March birthday / St. Patty’s day party. They made salsa and guacamole and we had rice, beans, and cheese which we put into a chapatti to eat like a burrito. Delicious! I ate way more than I should have, and it was glorious. After dinner we went to Boomerang, a bar restaurant, for a drink and to hang out. Unfortunately, my stomach decided it was not happy with all the delicious food I gave it and it would much rather go home and go to bed early than hang out with everyone else. At least Sonya was nice enough to walk home early with me, and it gave me the chance to talk to the LCFs for a bit on the walk home.

Speaking of which, our LCFs are a riot. Last Monday night we were studying in the main room and one of the magazines (Star, I think) was out and they were paging through it. Mostly I think they were horrified / amused with the magazine, but their reactions were priceless. Here is what I learned: Gilbert thinks Jessica Simpson is beautiful but doesn’t really like Beyonce. Stiletto heels and bleached/torn jeans are ridiculous, but it’s ok because it’s all about style. Reggie Bush looks like a big Usher. And finally, describing the show The Bachelor makes it sound like the worst polygamist idea on the planet. Way to stay classy America.

Friday night we had a talent show, which I thought would be campy and dumb, but was hilarious. Laundry house got together and put on a skit where they mocked a Kinyarwanda class, complete with impersonations of some of the LCFs. Another group of girls sang a Mylie Cyrus song that they changed the words to be about PC Rwanda. Kerry said that she wanted to do a skit, so she and I threw one together where we looked like idiots, but everyone laughed, so it went over pretty well.

Saturday was Umuganda, which is where, on the last Saturday of the month, everyone does community service work. We walked a few miles out to a field that they were cultivating to get it ready to plant cassava. I think it was a community plot for poor families, so if they don’t have food, they can take it from that plot, which is a great. None of us had tools, so we all took turns borrowing hoes from Rwandans. They got a huge kick out of watching us hoe, and I was really glad for the chance to participate in Umuganda. Also on Saturday mornings all the high school kids have mandatory physical exercise where the run around the city in huge groups for hours singing. It’s crazy to watch them go by, especially when you have groups of 50 people staring at you and waving. And then a minute later another group runs by. And then another. On the other hand, if you ever wanted to feel famous and had tons of paparazzi following your around, I guess that’s a good opportunity… And it also makes me feel better that even they don’t run up all the hills- they walk them, just like me.

That night my house got together to cook some American food, and it was glorious!! We made cheeseburgers with tomato, sautéed onion, avocado, and hot peppers. And we mixed the hamburger meat with onion and pepper and oregano. We also made French fries, that were double fried and mixed with onion, hot pepper, and oregano. Soooo good! And the LCFs loved it! Especially the French fries- they ate a whopping plate full of them and then came back for more. So that was a lot of fun, and delicious, and it gave me lots of hope for cooking at site over the next two years. It’s amazing what you can do with a big pot and a charcoal stove.

So that’s basically what I’ve been up to for the last couple weeks- not particularly chronological, but oh well. There were lots of ups and downs, but overall, pretty fantastic!

Love you and miss you all!

Thursday, March 18, 2010


Rwandans love their verbs, and seem to have a verb for everything, but one of my personal favorites is kwishima, which is the verb for “to be happy”. None, ndishimye chanye. (Today, I am very happy)

Happy (belated) St. Patty’s Day! It’s kind of amazing to think where I’ve been the last few St. Patrick’s days. This year I spent the holiday in Nyanza and Butare, enjoying a milkshake that was actually just cold milk (but still exciting and delicious) and pizza which miraculously tasted like pizza. Last year I was in Delhi with Sam, trying to explain why the holiday is so exciting and why you need to wear green. The year before that, I was in New Orleans drinking margaritas on Bourbon Street, even though I had strep throat and tonsillitis. All three have been fantastically amazing experiences, and I’m so lucky to be able to share it with such great friends. And now that I think of it, there are really a hundred little things every day make me so happy. Here are just a few of them;

  1. The hundreds of butterflies that like to fly around Nyanza en masse
  2. Waking up to the sound of the rain hitting our tin roof
  3. The sun tattoo that AJ drew on my foot
  4. The genuine smiles that the old women here give you when you’re trying to speak Kinyarwanda
  5. The gorgeous view of the countryside that you get when you walk up into the hills
  6. How clear the sky is after it rains
  7. The millions of stars that come out every night
  8. Hearing “good morning” from the neighborhood kids every night as we walk back from dinner
  9. Reading on our front porch
  10. Sunday afternoon yoga

And a hundred other things that make me so glad to be here.

A couple days ago, my housemates and I went to Blue Bar to get away from everyone for a while, and decided we should give everyone a superlative, just like in high school. I was voted most likely to fall down all 1000 hills in Rwanda. Kind of depressing, but it’s probably true. So far I’ve fallen down one major hill and the steep bank leading into the market, and tripped over almost everything else, but aside from the scraped toe, there are no major injuries. Good job me. Saturday, however, we are visiting a national park to hike around and see the animals, so there is lots of potential for falling. (wish me luck) This is not to say that all my moments have been clumsy. Yesterday Jenny and I were talking about handstands and headstands and she said that she can sometimes do a pretty good yoga headstand. I was a bit skeptical about my ability to do it, especially when she said that if you’re doing it right, your feet just float up; well, imagine my surprise when I did a marvelous headstand! Score!

Yesterday we went to an ISLG (internal saving and lending group) meeting, which some people hated, but I thought was pretty interesting. A number of community members will get together every week or two and give some set amount of money that they put into a communal savings box. This type of community saving usually only takes place in very poor and rural areas, where people don’t have access to banking or other social services. The group we visited put 200 Rwf per person every two weeks (not quite 50 cents) in the savings fund and 50 Rwf in the social fund. Those community members can then borrow that money for whatever purpose (medical expenses, school supplies, buying a goat, etc.) and then must repay it three months later with 5% interest. The group also grows carrots, beans and onions that they sell in the market and put the money into savings. At the end of the year, the group either decides to divide up the money between all the members, or to keep it in their account to continue building on the next year.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

International Women’s Day and Butare

Last Monday was International Women’s Day, a holiday that goes largely unnoticed in the States, but that Rwandans apparently celebrate. In the morning we were invited to the soccer stadium for a women’s day presentation. We got there sometime around 9, which of course was hours too early. There was a (high school?) group there that sang and danced the entire time while we waited to start. Eventually they pulled all of us down onto the field to dance with them- it was a riot! None of us knew the songs or the dances, but we danced along just the same. One of the things they do is sing a song and form a chain bridge where you clap hands with the person across from you while other people run under. Between their group and ours it took a while to run through the whole thing. I’m sure we looked hilarious, but everyone had a good time with it.

When the presentations finally started there were a number of Rwandan dance groups. No one has actually explained the dance to me here, but before I left one of the fellows told me that in Rwanda they do cow dances where you are supposed to dance like a cow. Having never seen that before, I imagined sometime like lumbering around like a slow cow, which turns out to not be even remotely correct. Your arms are supposed to be the horns but they move them more like a slow hula dance. I have no idea what’s going on with the feet, but both the men and women wear bells around their ankles that jingle while they dance. The men jump around much more while they dance, but it looks much more graceful than how I’m describing it. I’m not sure yet, but it seems like the men and women always dance separately, and least while doing traditional dance.

There were also a number of presenters that talked about women in Rwanda, but it was all in Kinyarwanda so none of us had any idea what was going on. It was later explained that one of the women who was presenting was an elected leader of her umudugudu (neighborhood) explaining her experiences as one of the first women in politics. She told us that when she was first elected, her husband didn’t want her to have that position of power, so he would beat her and her children, especially on International Women’s Day, so she couldn’t participate in community activities. Eventually she took the children and left him, which is very uncommon in Rwanda, but she struggled to support her children. Later she got help so she could divorce her husband so she could get assistance from the government in raising her children. She talked to the girls watching about how women can work hard and be equal with men, and how they have the same power that men do. Even hearing the story secondhand was inspiring, and I was glad to have been there.

That night Amy, Arielle, Trude and I did another International Women’s Day presentation/celebration for our group, which was nearly a disaster to put together. Arielle and I went at lunch to get some statistics of women around the world, but the internet was barely functional and it took our whole lunch period to find something passable. I ended up finding an editorial on International Women’s Day in Rwanda and pulled statistics from DHS. I was still nervous that the event would be a flop, but it turned out to be great. I read the editorial, Trude and Amy read stats and Arielle facilitated a short discussion of women around the world. Then we got the LCFs (language and cultural facilitators- kind of our counselors at camp peace corps) to do some Rwandan dancing with us. Mup, the trainee coordinator, had arranged for there to be beer and drinks for everyone, which was a good thing. We danced together until curfew (yes I have a curfew, and it’s 10 pm). The dancing was hilarious, especially Felicien who can dance like I’ve never seen anyone dance. He moves his legs slowly with no discernable rhythm, and definitely not with the music, but then his whole top half does a completely different dance, kind of like a slow matrix looking thing but one that’s in no way coordinated with the legs. Amy seems to have mastered the Felicien dance, which was great.

I woke up early Tuesday morning with some wicked bowel action and made no less than 8 trips back to the squatty potty throughout the morning. I meant skip breakfast and be just a bit late to class (hoping that I would be able to control myself by then), but then when I was leaving found out that my gate key doesn’t work and I was locked in our house. I tried to decide if I should jump the fence to the side (the front wall is much too high) but was worried I would end up being locked into the neighbor’s yard, which would be even worse. I ended up deciding to text Amy and Sally, hoping that one of them could come get me during their break. This of course, took up the rest of my phone minutes, so if they didn’t get the message I would have no way to get a hold of anyone and would need to sit there until someone came home. Fortunately Sally answered the phone and said she would come get me. While I was hanging out, Mup came over to check on me and bring me some hot water for tea and bread, honey and peanut butter (oh Mupy Mup is so good to us!). He told me that I should just stay at home and drink tea and had me call Andrea (our medical officer) who told me I would be fine and just stay hydrated.

I had mostly recovered by that afternoon and went back to class- although apparently I missed the attractive CDC doctor explaining HIV in the Rwandan context, which probably would have been useful. I also missed session one of family relationships explanation. Talk about complicated. Your aunts and uncles are called different things on each side but the sister of your mother is your mother and the brother of your father is your father. So their kids are not your cousins, but your siblings. Your older sister is your mukuru, your younger sister is your marumuna and your brother is your masaza, but only if you’re a girl. If you’re a boy, then your sister is your mushiki and your older brother is your mukuru and your younger brother is your masaza. The children of one of your siblings of the same gender (brother if you’re a boy or sister if you’re a girl) are your children and the words for “niece” and “nephew” only refer to whether the children belong to your sister or your brother, not their gender. And just to make things a little more complicated, most of these name change if you’re not talking about your own family, but someone else’s family. It took me most of the rest of the week to figure that one out.

Saturday morning we had our first language “test”. We went around to three stations where we 1) bargained for objects found in the market 2) identified common objects and 3) introduced ourselves and our family. It went pretty well and I think everyone generally did fine. But you don’t get a grade here, so it was more of a chance for you and your teachers to see how you’re doing. Later that morning we went to Butare to one of the historical museums, which was interesting, and then into town for lunch. We asked our LCF Gilbert where we should go eat that would have good food and be cheap; he suggested a place that had a Rwandan buffet, but it’s the same food that we eat every day, so we opted for Chinese food. It was mostly a disaster. It usually takes a long time for us to get food, but there weren’t many people in the restaurant and the LCFs explained that we only had an hour. So we waited, and waited, and waited. We had to meet back up with the group at 1, so at 12:30 we started asking where our food was. At 12:45 they brought out the bill for the food we hadn’t received yet, but it was much higher and for different food that we had ordered. We brought this up to the waitress who said oh, I’ll go get your food started then. Well crap. We had no time, so we said no, don’t bring any food, we’ll pay for the one plate that was brought out (which was the wrong thing) and the plate of french fries we got. Me, Sonya and Amy all shared the plate of fried noodles with veggies and beef and Gilbert gave us some of his french fries. When we were finally leaving, they brought out all the food for the other table, which had been there even longer than us. We ended up leaving, and they mowed down whatever food they could eat in 10 minutes and caught up later. What a mess.

That afternoon we went to the genocide memorial, which was extremely difficult to see and will need to be saved for another post.

Saturday night we went to one of the local restaurants for dinner where I ordered umureti and chapatti, which is kind of like French toast made with chapatti. Only by the time they got to my order, they had run out of chapatti, so I just got eggs. Basically, my eating yesterday was a huge fail, but at least I didn’t spend very much money.

This morning I went for another run with Amy and this time instead of going around the lake we kept going up the huge hill. The hill was crazy steep and it was hard to even walk up, but the scenery was gorgeous. There was one point where you can see the whole valley below you, and can see all the way back into town. It’s hard to judge distances, especially when you’re just walking up, but we had gone out at least a few miles so you could see really far. It was glorious! I’ll need to go back sometime and take pictures so you can see.

I suppose that’s it for now, I hope everyone is doing well and I love you all!!