Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Don't you worry, I'm still alive

Not even I thought that my blog posts would be so erratic.  I’m sorry.  A new and exciting update is long overdue, and slowly on it’s way, I assure you.  For the moment, I’d like to post a few things from the prior week.  I began a little blog post last week, right after we received packages, and I never finished it.  So, here it is, in some semblance of coherence... 
Christmas came early
Just when I was starting to plummet into a foul mood/ get a little jaded about this whole training process and my life in general, we were given our packages.  Exactly as my mother predicted, there was a huge mound of packages awaiting the trainees, and it finally made its way from Kigali to our training center in Nyanza.  Let me recap a little before I continue with recent information.  Today is Monday, December 13th.  Exactly 2 weeks ago, half of the trainees began teaching “model school.”  This is nearly self-explanatory: model school is what we call the practice teaching we’re doing.  Since students are on holiday right now, we have a school at our disposal and kids who would rather be sitting in classrooms with us than doing chores at home.  Most of us are teaching English, the others teach Chemistry, Biology or Math, and all of us are teaching lower secondary students.  Translation: 11 to 18 year olds... for the most part.  I’m sure that once I’m at my site, teaching my students, at my school, I’ll be able to make more accurate comparisons between American students and Rwandan students, so I’ll save my speculations til then, but rest assured, the two cultures produce very different students.  One of the things I’m having the hardest time adjusting to is the general lack of student participation.  Kids here are really quiet.  I have to ask them to speak up every time they answer in class.  Many of these students are quite bright, and many of them know English (to some extent), it’s getting them to speak and participate that’s the challenging part.  It’s an exciting challenge, and I love teaching even when it’s “practice,” but man does this practice add a whole new level of stress to our training here.  It’s great to get into a Rwandan classroom and have a bit of trial and inevitable error before going to site, but it’s making for some really long days.  I started teaching last week, and therefore am a third of the way through model school, and I’m learning a lot. So in addition to language class, technical training, cultural sessions and the like, we’ve added model school to the mix.  Long days became longer, homework multiplied and I’m ready for training to be over.  I say that with fondness and excitement, not out of frustration or fatigue.  Being out on my own at site is sure to be a very different experience from training, and I feel completely ready for it now.  
A med session that was conducted last week gave us trainees a great bit of advice: courtesy of Dr. Elite: 
don’t get hit
don’t get bit
don’t do “it”
don’t get lit
don’t eat shit
Wise words, and always a good time in our medical sessions.  Today is Tuesday, December 21st, I’m currently sitting in the back of the classroom, observing another trainee teach model school.  We are nearly done with the whole training shebang, and if I thought I was ready to be done last week, I was wrong.  I’m ready to be done now! :) But I’m still enjoying every minute of this long and tiresome training.  I’ve received some specific questions from my daddy dearest, and I intend to answer them in the form of my next blog post.  Other good peeps and family members have asked equally awesome questions, so hopefully I’ll be able to provide some good answers and further explanations.  Keep the questions coming! They keep me on my feet, they keep me thinking, and I love to try and see from your point of view.  Merry Christmas, happy solstice, and expect to hear from me soon. 
PS: Christmas/ New Year’s skype dates... get em while you can! (e-mail me and we can figure out a good time)
Love, Ally

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Happy December

It seems like quite some time has passed since my last blog post.  Well, we all knew that was going to happen... but I do want to fill you all in on what’s been going on over here.  I’m still chuggin along through training; a tedious and fun process. A little over a week ago (the week of November 15th- 19th) we all went out on site visits.  If you are my mom (or a similar breed of cyber-stalker) you’ll have read other trainee’s blogs and already know about site visits, but for the rest of you, let me explain what that means.  So “site” is the word Peace Corps uses to refer to the places volunteers live and work.  In my case, my site is in a small village called Kiruri, near a town called Base, in the Rulindo District, in the Northern Province of Rwanda.  Maps of this country are fairly hard to come by, but if you care to try and pinpoint my location, that information should lead you in the right direction (pun intended).  My actual house is surrounded by tea.  Yes, a real live tea plantation.  This means that I’ll be in an area that remains lush and green year round, which’ll likely be really nice during the dry season.  There are many other types of farms in the area, and the land is sectioned off so that nearly every inch is cultivated to produce something.  The agricultural variety around here is really quite nice, and the cultivation tactics and techniques are nothing short of antiquated.  I mean that to be an observational statement rather than a judgement.  Coming from America: land of machines and industry, it’s different to see such small scale farming, and farming that implores traditional methods. Seeing people work so hard and devote such time and energy to survival is something I’m not used to, and the effect? Well I can’t yet say... I will admit that the nerd in me wants to know all about farming techniques, and the soil, and erosion, and nutrients, and secret Rwandan farmer knowledge.  Hopefully since I’ll be living in such an agriculturally rich area I’ll be able to learn at least a few things.  My living accommodations at site are as such: I’ll be living in a housing complex type thing with a Rwandan family living in the front house, and myself and another teacher sharing the back living quarters.  I’ll have two rooms all to myself, and perhaps a bit more private living space, and I’ll be sharing a kitchen house, bath house and courtyard area.  The house is still in the process of being built, and I’ve been assured that it’ll be finished by January, when I’m scheduled to move in.  I’ve been told that I’ll have both electricity and water, which is more than I expected, and will be wonderful.  I’ll be such a lucky PCV!  Now, how soon I’ll have these commodities is totally up for interpretation, but at least electricity seems very common in the area.  I’m pretty excited about that because as much as I’d like to rough it and experience life with out electricity, it gets dark here before 7 every night, and I’d like to be able to be productive after that hour if possible.  
Changing gears.... my current life in Nyanza as a trainee.  So I’m really enjoying training thus far.  I’ve found many fellow trainees that I get along with quite well, I’m used to the routine here, I’m learning Kinyarwanda, I’m absorbing information in our technical training sessions and I’m getting better at leading a Rwandan life in general.  I’m getting really good at washing laundry by hand, I’m gaining experience with the charcoal stove and I am a bucket bath pro.  Not that I really anticipated having difficulties with any of the above tasks, it’s just that all of the above are new types of “chores” and are time consuming (and are more interesting to talk about than my language classes).  Last night our house made a family dinner, which has quickly become our Sunday tradition.  This week the menu was: breakfast for dinner.  We made scrambled eggs with veggies, pancakes with chocolate and bananas, fruit salad, avocado slices and toast.  It was excellent!  Each week our cooking skills seem to have improved tremendously.  We try and take advantage of being in charge of our own meals on these occasions and make them as “American” as possible, and we also take time to cater to our cravings. I’m excited about going to site and really getting the hang of cooking over here because there are some fabulous ingredients at my disposal and I’ll be able to make some awesome meals!  Thanksgiving was this past Thursday and I think I’m absolutely accurate in saying that we did the holiday justice over here.  The trainees cooked a good ol’ traditional American Thanksgiving feast, Rwandan style.  We dug a hold in the backyard of the kitchen house, which is where the 10 turkeys were cooked.  I guess I should say “a few of the guys here” dug the hole, because I was not involved in that process at all.  I was on “team drink”  (as in make the drinks for dinner) with my friend Mason.  We made African tea and apple cider to the best of our ability over here.  The tea consisted of water, fresh milk, tea, sugar, masala spices and ginger, all boiled on the charcoal stove in a huge pot; the cider consisted of concentrated apple “juice drink,” water, sugar, masala spices and ginger, and both turned out to be surprisingly good.  There were heaps of mashed potatoes made, and equally large amount of mashed sweet potatoes made, green bean casserole (with beer battered fried onions to top), stuffing, gravy, apple crisp, pineapple/ mango cobbler, pineapple “chutney” to top the sweet potatoes and a ginger/lime syrup glaze that ended up on all of my food because it was so tasty.  Our Rwandan teachers and colleagues loved the food, and so did we.  I think many of us overate that evening, in true Thanksgiving spirit.  After dinner a dance party ensued (surprise, surprise), then many of us went out for a Thanksgiving drink.  In all, it was a wonderful way to spend the holiday and though I missed being at home, I enjoyed every minute of the day here.  

PS: when did it become December? Before I know it, I'll be off on my own at site.  I can't wait!

Monday, November 29, 2010

photos are.... UP!

Check em out! http://picasaweb.google.com/allison.l.snyder

and a new blog post is forthcoming, I promise.  I have many things I want to tell you about. In the meantime, enjoy the pictures.

also, check out this website I found: http://kigaliwire.com/category/photos/

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Nibyiza cyane!

Posting pictures is an American luxury.  Well, it’s a luxury I was used to in America, I’m quite certain you can post pictures to the internet from many places, but the living room of our house in Nyanza is not of them.  I did just buy more credit for my internet modem though, so the least I can do is give you a little written update.  I’ve been slacking on my communication, and for that I’m sorry.  Aside from general lack of time and ability, I’ve felt like I either have too much to say or not enough.  At this exact moment, I’m near the “too much” end of that spectrum.  I suppose I can do this in a chronological fashion and fill you in on my past week.  So the walk I took last Sunday was completely amazing!  The whole day was nice, really, but walking for hours in the Rwandan countryside (for the most part) was rejuvenating.  It was like the bus ride from Kigali to Nyanza that we took a few weeks ago... being able to see this country and interact with different people is really wonderful.  I think that I can most suitably describe my experience with this walk as inspirational.  I went with a fellow trainee, and he and I were able to get off the paved road, and into a rural farming community that’s situated about an hour out of the center of Nyanza.  Our interactions with the people who lived there were pretty limited due to our lack of finesse with the local language, but the dialogue we were able to have was really good.  However, it was pretty strange for two muzungus to waltz into a neighborhood in the middle of the day with smiles on their faces and backpacks on their backs, so the experience overall was pretty awkward and new for all parties involved.  I’m glad I was able to go with Alex because he was great company AND male.  Not to value him only due to his gender (sorry Alex, if you ever have to read this). But this is relevant!  I can’t go walking an hour outside of town with no phone and limited knowledge of Kinyarwanda as a foreign female.  This is a reality I knew going into this lifestyle, but one I’m going to have to take some time to adjust to.  If I were in Tallahassee (or anywhere in the US) I would have no qualms with walking around alone in the middle of the day.  I guess being here is making me think a little differently about culture appropriateness and safety (particularly the point at which those two factors intersect).  Speaking of which, on that same Sunday, I ended up joining a sizable group of other trainees out at a bar in order to have a few Halloween beers.  That was a pretty interesting experience.  The beer was pretty standard and relatively cheap, the bar we went to was fairly large and the number of Americans there was really disproportionate.  For many of us, this was the first night we decided to venture out for a drink, so there were more foreigners there than had been on previous nights.  It was a fun experience overall, but not one that I’m trying to adapt as routine.  Since I’m American I am afforded some leeway when it comes to cultural expectations, but it’s still not looked favorably upon for women to be out at bars around here.  In fact, when I get to site I’ll almost certainly never go out drinking (even for one drink).  I’m a-ok with that being the reality, but it is something that’s certainly different from my life in Florida.  
So, as far as this week goes, I’m certainly getting into somewhat of a routine over here.  It’s always early to bed, early to rise, bucket baths, classes, more classes, sessions, time with my RF etc.  It’s going well, although I spent Monday and Tuesday with a suspect stomach ache.  Due to my ability to sleep well for long periods of time, I think I was able to successfully ward off any potential illness, and I’ve felt great the past couple of days.  I’m trying to do at least a little yoga every morning- a habit I intend to keep, and I’m eating as healthy as possible.  This is super boring to read, and I’m sorry for doing that to you, but these are the thoughts that end up ruling my mind and therefore become the subject of my writings.  On Wednesday (yesterday) we went to Butare as a group to a national culture museum.  That was a really nice experience because, once again, we got to ride through the Rwandan countryside.  I say countryside, but it’s all pretty much a healthy mixture of land and people and crops and houses.  I was able to snag a window seat this time around, and put on my headphones for the entire 45 minute ride.  Let’s just say I was beaming by the time I got off the bus (van).  I don’t know how I can emphasize the beauty of the country, but it really is breathtakingly beautiful.  By this point I’ve made it into my mosquito net, on my bed and am ready to hit the hay (or foam I should say, since that’s all my mattress consists of).  Hope all is well with you!! I’ll try to have another enjoyable and proactive Sunday to share with you in a few days. Until then <3

Also, Nibyiza cyane means very good (essentially). you pronounce it like" Neeebgeeza chaanay

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Greetings From Nyanza

It’s about time I posted something on the internet for all you good folks.  I’ve been in Rwanda for over a week now and I am in love with this country already.  The people are overwhelmingly friendly, the terrain is absolutely beautiful and the climate is nothing short of perfect.  Yes, I miss the US, I may even miss you, but Rwanda makes a nicer home than Florida.  Tomorrow I plan on walking around my current town of Nyanza to see some Rwanda landscape.  I’m living in the wake of heavily scheduled days, and these days will continue again starting Monday, so in the free 24hours of my weekend, I’m going to enjoy myself!  I suppose you’re a tad curious about Peace Corps stuff... well, we’re in training. Full-fledged training mode.  I’m learning Kinyarwanda, I’m learning about health concerns and how to remain healthy as a Rwandan, I’m sitting for long technical training sessions (to be taught how to teach) and I’m spending a good amount of time with my host family.  I actually just returned to my house from dinner at my host family’s house.  Well, let me be proper and refer to them as my resource family (RF).  Since we don’t live with our RF’s, they are NOT referred to as our host families.  But, I do go to their house for dinner twice a week, and they help me with my Kinyarwanda.  I’ve been able to teach them about America as well, which is always fun.  I love the cultural exchange that takes place when I’m spending time with my family.  They feed me too much food though.  I was sorely mistaken when I was in the states, thinking that I’d be starving once I got to Rwanda.  Quite the opposite!  Even though I do eat eggs over here, I’ve been able to keep a pretty static diet.  And by that I mean, I’m eating primarily vegan food.  It’s great!  We’ve all been advised against milk due to pasteurization concerns, so I was already a step ahead of the group on that issue, and meat is really easy to avoid around here.  So, I’m happy and as long as I’m able to have access to clean drinking water, I think this will be a pleasant couple of years. I guess here’s a good place to note cooking methods though... around here there are no stoves or ovens.  Women cook on fires, in outdoor stoves.  It’s seemingly simple but in reality is nowhere close.  Since you have to rely on a small charcoal-powered fire, cooking takes a LONG time.  We actually cooked food at our house last night and it was quite a production.  I was able to skip out on most of the initial food-prep (I laid down with a headache... don’t worry mom, it was only due to me not drinking enough h20 yesterday)  but even with 7 or 8 “cooks,” our meal took a while to prepare.  In fact, the Rwandans that live with us (Geraldine and Louise) said that next time we cook, we’d start early in the day so that we can have the luxury of taking time with our food preparations.  I like this way of living, but it’s hard work. 
I’m perpetually impressed by the Rwandan people.  I think that this is one of the more respectable societies I have ever had the pleasure of visiting.  I’m honored to have the opportunity to live here.  I know that sounds cheesy, but it’s the honest truth.  I do want to warn you now though that my blog posts are going to be erratic and infrequent at best.  I have an internet modem, and I have a small allowance to pay for time on my sim card, but this is me... and I’m not about to get on a regimented blogging schedule.  On that note, and with some limited descriptions of Rwanda, I will bid you adieu.  Hopefully my attempt at uploading pictures will work (cross your fingers).  Love from Africa. 

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Yesterday I received an e-mail telling me all about staging. What is "staging," you may ask.... Well staging is what happens before we get on the plane destined for Rwanda. This takes place in Philadelphia, so all of the volunteers who are leaving in this wave (that would be 70 heading to Rwanda this time... big group!) meet and get a few last minute things done. I'm looking forward to this, it'll be one of my last US experiences for the next 27 months (provided all goes well). I'm really excited and I'm ready to go! But this isn't happening for another 4 weeks. Until then, I have to be content with hanging out state-side. Shouldn't be too much of a problem, honestly. At the end of this week I'm heading North to NC and Va to visit some friends and family. Upon returning to Fl, I'll be going to Tallahassee to spend some final beautiful moments there with the people I love. Then it's back to Gainesville. Pack. Re-pack (because I'm sure these size/ weight restrictions are going to take some maneuvering). Get a few quality family dinners in. And leave!... On october 19th. I've purchased/ gathered everything I think I'll need to take with me. Now I'm just waiting on a few packages to get here. Fedex is a complete waste of time and money. ALWAYS use UPS or the USPS. That being said, if you'd like to send me anything while I'm in Rwanda (an address is forthcoming) you should certainly use the USPS. Apparently the rates are better than UPS. I've received advice regarding mail: number the pages of your letters/ if sending a package put a content list inside just in case, putting jesus friendly quotes and stickers on the outside of packages apparently helps, be vague with what you put in the customs form. All the mail I am to receive is destined for a developing foreign country. The culture and customs are different there, and mail takes it tie arriving. I'll be surprised if I don't end up with at least one crazy story involving the postal service in Rwanda. Currently, in good ol' Gainesville Fl, I'm awaiting 3 packages. Package 1 was shipped first, via Fedex, and will probably arrive last. Packages 2 should be here today and package 3 was just shipped yesterday but will probably STILL beat package 1. I'm not frustrated by this at all.... right? I guess I've grown accustomed to the e-mail lifestyle where you can get what you need with little to no delay. In a way, waiting for this post is an exercise in getting used to a slower pace of life. Learning how to wait. After all, when you have to wait for something you start to anticipate it's arrival, so when it does arrive, it's that much more exciting. Time to scrounge up some breakfast. (Another thing I'm enjoying while it lasts- a fully stocked pantry and refrigerator capabilities)