Rwanda

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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Alive & Well

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…

  1. 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.
  2. Watching me jump on my bed for a good 20 minutes attempting to hang my mosquito net from the ceiling.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

This is the road that our Peace Corps hub site is on

This is the road that our Peace Corps hub site is on

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!

A Leap of Faith

When I inform friends, family, and acquaintances of my somewhat non-traditional postgraduate plans, I am undoubtedly met with a series of questions. (If you’re wondering where exactly Rwanda is, you’re not alone. See this page for the answer to this question and much, much more.) Many of you have also been curious about the specifics of what my life in Rwanda will be like–where I’ll teach, what exactly my living situation will be like, etc. Unfortunately, my knowledge at this point is still fairly limited, as is the nature of the Peace Corps, and I will have to wait until orientation–or later–to discover the answers to many of these questions. So for now, this being my first post and all, let’s stick with what I DO know (It’s much more reassuring for everyone that way).

Here goes:

From September 2014 until December 2016, I will serve as a English Education Peace Corps volunteer in Rwanda.

On Tuesday the 9th, I will meet my fellow trainees and Peace Corps staff in Philadelphia for Staging, which is basically a series of orientation sessions, paperwork, icebreakers, etc. Then, the next morning, we’ll drive to New York and take off for Kigali!

During my first twelve weeks in-country, I will undergo an intensive training with a group of about 35-40 other Education volunteers. I will spend the first two days in the capital city, Kigali, for orientation. From there, we will travel to Rwamagana district, a region about an hour east of the capital city, Kigali. During our 12 weeks in Rwamagana, we will be living with host families, an aspect of training I’m especially looking forward to.

My fellow trainees and I will be scattered throughout the region in groups of two to three volunteers per village. Much of my training will be conducted in these small groups of three for language and cultural training, which is designed to give us a solid foundation in Kinyarwanda and Rwandan culture. For the rest of the time, I will take part in technical training with my entire training class to learn how exactly one goes about teaching English in a rural Rwandan village, as well as other sessions on health, safety, etc.

About halfway through training, I will receive my site placement. I will be able to spend several days in the community I will teach in so that I can meet with administrators, see my living arrangements, and get a feel for my long-term site. Then I will return to Rwamagana to finish training, the second half of which will include a “model school” practicum to get us actually in the classroom teaching. Then, on December 5th, I will (hopefully) travel to Kigali to swear in as an official Peace Corps Volunteer.

My primary role will be as an English teacher in a Rwandan secondary school. The rest of my time will be spent in designing and implementing secondary projects which could cover anything from a camp designed to empower girls to a a series of workshops on HIV/AIDS. Most Education posts in Rwanda are very rural, so I may or may not have electricity or running water.

There you go–that’s about everything. So for now, wish me luck in appeasing my compulsive need to plan by reminding myself that the best adventures usually involve a healthy dose of uncertainty, surprise, serendipity, spontaneity, and a leap of faith into the unknown.