Two Months Down, Two to Go!

Crazy as it sounds, in one month, I will be in Kigali for the official Peace Corps Swear-In Ceremony! The training days have started to meld together, which is why this post is so belated. Recently, we’ve had a lot of sessions on the methodology of teaching English as a foreign language to prepare us for our “model school” practicum coming up next week. We had our midpoint language evaluation a week and a half ago, which is basically a 30 minute oral exam. Things turned out shockingly well, and I surprised myself by placing into Intermediate Low, which is the minimum level we’re expected to get by the end of training. Not bad for a language that has 16 different ways to say good! I’ve also started getting a lot closer with the other trainees in my group. We’ve had great discussions on everything from theories of foreign aid and Rwandan history to bodily functions…

As much as I’ve enjoyed many parts of training, sometimes it gets a little claustrophobic, so I am really looking forward to gaining some independence once I move to my site. Speaking of which, let’s rewind a bit to my site visit three weeks ago…

The journey to my site way up in the amajyaruguru (north) with my headmaster was quite an adventure. Not long after I remarked to Father Alphonse that I was really impressed Rwanda’s highway infrastructure, we abruptly turned off the main road onto a narrow dirt pathway just barely clinging to the side of a mountain. The remaining two-thirds of the journey passed in this manner, with Father Alphonse’s loyal steed of a RAV-4 sputturing in fits and starts up and down mountains, the rosary on the rearview window swinging violently, with the breathtakingly beautiful and serene vistas in the backdrop.

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Finally we arrived to the village of Janja and headed to the top of the mountain, where my school is perched. The first stop on my whirlwind tour was my future home, a charming brick house with five bedrooms, three tenants (including me), a common room, a kitchen, and—perhaps most importantly—a flushing toilet (!!!!). I will share this house with two Rwandan inhumi (adult but unmarried females) who also work at the school, Laetitia and Florence.

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During my tour of the school grounds, I quickly realized that my school is pretty much a complete anomaly for rural Rwanda. In fact, it’s almost as if a wealthy benefactor made an error in accidentally depositing this school with wifi, satellite dishes, a computer lab, and science labs in this remote and isolated location. One of the most hilarious parts of my site visit came after the tour, when I was instructed to change into “sporting clothes” (which I definitely did not bring) and prepare for “common sports.” As usual in Rwanda, when I have no idea what’s going on, I pretend that I do and follow along as best as I can…It turns out that “common sports” refers to St. Jerome’s weekly tradition of a 3-4 mile run… up and down a mountain… with the entire school. Just as I began to wrap my head around this fact, the school gates slowly opened and the 700 person stampede up and down the mountain began, with me thrown somewhere in the middle alternating between wheezing and laughing up at the ridiculousness of it all. Members of the village appeared to be eagerly awaiting this weekly spectacle and were lined up on the sides of the dirt road yelling encouragement—“Komera, umuzungu!” (stay strong, white person!)—at every turn.

the computer lab at my school

the computer lab at my school

Compared to that instance, the rest of my visit was pretty uneventful. I played a game of volleyball with the teachers, ironed out my schedule for next year (I’ll be teaching English Language Communication Skills to Senior 4 and Senior 5, the equivalent of 10th and 11th grade), helped proctor a few exams, and took a walk down into the teeny village of Janja. “Janja center” includes a vocational school, a primary school, a Catholic church, one small shop, and a genocide memorial. That’s it. I’ll have to travel an hour on a mototaxi to my regional town just to buy food at the market or stop at the post office. However, I can say with full certainty that the all-around stunning beauty that is Janja makes up for its remoteness. Don’t ya think?

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Afterward, I went to Musanze, my regional town to meet up with the other volunteers in the Northern province. It’s a nice little town surrounded by the Virunga mountains and volcanoes and has an Italian restaurant, a French bakery, and the most delicious pizza in Rwanda (so I’ve heard).

Other than my site visit, there have been a few other big events, including a visit to the Kigali Genocide Memorial, a Peace Corps Halloween party, and a trip to the National Museum in Butare… But I think I’ll leave those for the next post. Thanks for reading!

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