Swearing In to Settling In

Since my last post, my life has changed pretty drastically…  Last time I wrote, I was living in a major town with a host family and a packed schedule that enabled seeing fellow Americans on a daily basis. Now, I live in a remote mountaintop village where the most exciting thing that has happened (besides my sudden and strange arrival, I suppose) was the birth of a baby cow. But let me back up a bit. The last week of training was a blur—lots of goodbye parties, dancing, celebrating, eating, and speeches. Once we arrived in Kigali, I had one slightly manic afternoon to go shopping for items for my house at site, and then the next morning was swear-in! The ceremony was at the U.S. Ambassador’s residence in Kigali, and it drew quite a crowd. Our headmasters, host families, language teachers, training staff, and current volunteers were all in attendance, laughing appreciatively during the speeches (in English, French, and Kinyarwanda) and clapping along to our attempt at Rwandan dance. We all wore igitenge (African print fabric), took tons of pictures, and indulged in mini pizzas and brownies to celebrate. During the oath I must admit that I got a little misty-eyed. I feel so unbelievably honored to be a part of Peace Corps’s work in Rwanda and can’t wait to discover what the next two years bring for me and all of my fellow PCVs. The celebration continued until late in the evening, and then I left at 8am the very next morning to move to my site. The school year doesn’t begin until the end of January, so for the first eight weeks in our villages, we have one solitary task: integration. This is a classic Peace Corps buzzword that’s thrown around an awful lot during training. It’s supposed to indicate the process by which a PCV gradually becomes a part of his or her host community. In practice, however, I’ve found that this idea of “integration” is much more abstract. Integration means channeling that borderline aggressively friendly and outgoing part of myself that probably hasn’t surfaced since the first week of Freshman year at college. It means taking a deep breath and entering the village market with the full knowledge that, within seconds, I will accumulate a shadow of 30-50 children who will follow my every move. It’s the satisfied grin that I can’t quite contain every time that someone in my community mutters, completely astounded, “Azi Kinyarwanda!” (She knows Kinyarwanda!). It’s forcing myself to politely decline requests for money and maintaining a smile even when I think I will combust if I hear another person yell “muzungu” (white person) instead of my name. It’s all of this and more, and so incredibly exhausting and challenging and lonely… but equally rewarding. The other day, an old man I haven’t met before approached me to tell me (in a mix of Kinyarwanda and French) that he has noticed that I try very hard to speak Kinyarwanda, dress nicely, and be friendly and kind to everyone, and that he is very happy that I am here. Even after the toughest days, moments like that make it all worth it. Already, during these first few weeks at site, I’ve learned a lot. I can now—finally, after three and a half months of feeble attempts—successfully light a charcoal stove (and, therefore, feed myself). I’ve discovered that priests, in addition to having excellent English, can also empathize very closely with what I’m going through, as many of them had to flee Rwanda after the genocide to complete their seminary abroad. They know what it’s like to be thrown into an unfamiliar culture and the effort it takes to gain one’s footing in a strange new place. I also now know that being in a more remote site has its perks. In order to access the main road, I have to take an hour and a half motorcycle taxi ride through the mountains. Although kind of tedious and expensive, I really cannot over-exaggerate how breathtaking the scenery is during these rides. One day I even spotted a rainbow arching over the volcanoes in the distance. As I’ve just returned from visiting some of my best friends here for Christmas, I am also full of a renewed appreciation for my fellow PCVs. I’m increasingly realizing that the life of a Peace Corps Volunteer is pretty unique and wacky and somewhat bizarre, so it is so incredibly helpful to have people here who can say, “YES, I completely understand, I’ve been there.” But still, it’s only been a few weeks here in Janja and there is still a lot to figure out. For example, I am still on the lookout for a “mama,” a Rwandan woman to kind of take me in and act as my host mama here in Janja. I am also working on deciphering Rwandan visiting culture. Almost everyone I meet asks when I will visit them, but never gives me a specific time or day or even explains the location of their house… I’m also working on bridging the transition from housemates to real friends with the two girls I’m living with. Furthermore, what’s the best way to conserve battery on electronics when I only have electricity for a few hours a night? How can I stream the new season of The Mindy Project when my internet can’t even load photos on Facebook? How do I get rid of the giant preying mantis/grasshopper hybrids that have infiltrated my house? Oh, and also… how does one even begin to plan a year’s worth of English curriculum? The answers to these thrilling questions and more,

coming up next time… IMG_0112

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