As you might guess, a lot has happened in the past two weeks since my Peace Corps Staging in Philadelphia. I, along with a ragtag group of 35 other TEFL & Teacher Support Volunteers have since undergone the introduction to Peace Corps service, made the lengthy trek to Kigali, met our program staff, received our malaria medications and other assorted necessities (mosquito net, water filter, medical kit, jerry can, etc.), traveled to our training site, and immediately moved in with our host families.
We live in Rwamagana, which is the capital of the Eastern province, so a pretty large town by Rwandan standards. This creates an interesting mix of relative wealth—indicated by some larger houses, paved main roads, plenty of shops, and pretty widespread access to electricity—as well as other reminders that Rwanda is very much a developing country. For instance, we are slowly adjusting to living with a vastly different standard of hygiene (think pit latrines + no soap), a lack of running water, and charcoal stoves as pretty much the only cooking method. We are only the second group of PCVs that Rwamagana has hosted, so we are quite the novelty to the locals, to say the very least.Volunteers are scattered throughout the area and come together for training sessions from 8am-5pm pretty much every day except Sundays at either the central PC “hub” site or in small groups of three for Kinyarwanda classes. So far, these have covered topics from personal security to the Rwandan education system to the role of Peace Corps in International Development.
I live with my host mom (“Mama Shema”), two host brothers (Shema is 4 and Shyaka is 1), and two umukozis named Nsenga and Denyse. (A common practice for Rwandans of middle class and higher income is having umukozis, or live-in staff, to help clean the house and watch the children.) I have not yet met Papa Shema, who is on a business trip in Tanzania for an unspecified amount of time… I am fortunate in that my host mom is not only more outgoing than the average Rwandan, but also speaks pretty decent English, which has enabled daily hilarious exchanges between us. Here is an abbreviated list of some of the things that I’ve done or said thus far that have caused Mama Shema the most amusement…
- The fact that I’m an only child. Family planning is a new concept in Rwanda, and the average woman in Rwamagana has about five children.
- Watching me jump on my bed for a good 20 minutes attempting to hang my mosquito net from the ceiling.
- That I only put one spoonful of sugar in my tea, instead of her usual 4-5 heaping scoops. Tea, or icayi, is huge in Rwanda, and is served with just about every meal. Most Rwandans seem to prefer their tea heavy on the sugar and milk, with minimum actual tea.
- My freckles. This conversation started with my host brother attempting to rub them off of me because he thought they were specks of dirt, and ended with me trying to explain to Mama Shema that, no, I am not suffering from a horrible skin disease.
- Exchanging words that might be outside the normal classroom vocabulary for both of us. As a result of these conversations, I now know the Kinyarwanda terms for both “to fart” and “sugar daddy.” Here’s hoping I don’t need to recall either of those anytime soon…
My schedule will remain pretty much the same in the near future. The next exciting event that I’m sure will merit a blog post will be next Friday, when our future site placements are announced! This is a HUGE deal in Peace Corps, as until then we will have absolutely no idea which school or even which part of the country we will spend our two years of service. The next week, I will have the opportunity to visit my future site, meet with my supervisors and fellow teachers, and see my school and living arrangements.
Until then… thanks infinitely for all of your encouraging words and support. I am finally figuring out my internet situation, so please send any and all updates my way! Miss you all!