Monday, January 24, 2011

Rainy morning musings

I just had another surprise meeting at school.  Not surprised by it, to be honest, because these impromptu meetings seem to crop up at least once a week.  I suppose that once we get into the swing of things, we won’t have as many, and I sincerely hope that is the case.  In the district just down the road from me, where a fellow PCV lives and teaches, school has been cancelled today because President Kagame is visiting the district for some official sort of something.  I guess this is prime example of the “surprise holidays’ we were warned about.  So, the meeting we had today was about the test results of the students who completed primary school at the end of last year.  They are still not at school, because they have been waiting to see who advanced... now that we know, we’ll soon have students in our Senior 1 classes, and I’ll have a bit more work to do.  I was thankful that the meeting this morning was less than an hour long, because the three previous meetings we’ve had all lasted for 3 hours.  That’s 3 hours in uncomfortable wooden desks, listening to Kinyarwanda that I don’t understand, trying not to stare into space too overtly.  I’m lucky, and have awesome co-workers who fill me in on what’s being said when there is important or fun information, so the meetings aren’t entirely unbearable.  We had a meeting last Thursday afternoon with all of the Secondary students and teachers to talk about 2 points: sanitation and discipline.  The headmaster conducted this meeting and he ended up talking about sex (to a room of 14-17 year olds), talking about cleaning, talking about life in general... it was a bit tedious.  But, it was entertaining overall, and because it lasted so long, by the time it was finished, it was time for us to go home.  I am ready to get into actual teaching and not be interrupted everyday when I’m trying to conduct a class.  I’ve been teaching a bit, and while there have been no train wrecks, it’s not going as well as I’d like.  It’s so hard to illicit responses from my students!  This was an issue in model school, and it’s an issue here.  I think a lot of it stems from my students not understanding me.  My accent is strange, my methods are less than conventional, and I think they’re still trying to figure me out.  At least, I hope this is the problem, and it’s not totally due to any lack of ability on my part.  Who knows.... I hope that once we get into a routine here (and stop getting interrupted by meetings) it’ll get better.  Today, in the one class I taught, we went over titles, introductions and formal versus casual conversations.  Easy stuff, perhaps too easy, but a good foundation for the types of speaking exercises we are sure to be doing later in the year.  Last Thursday I taught the song “Wavin’ Flag” to a class of mine, and I think they really liked it!  I need to find more songs that are slow and appropriate... maybe you can make suggestions and increase my musical teaching cannon.  I am dedicating this week to lesson planning and trying to complete my trimester plan.  I think that the best way to feel more accomplished in my lessons is to have them planned well.  This is new-ish for me because I’m not really a big planner... I like to know what’s going on, and have loose ideas in place, but concrete plans are not my forte.  Anyway, no time like the present, right?  Now is the perfect time to try a little harder at making plans, because it could end up being really beneficial (and I’m sure my students will appreciate it at the very least).  
Over the course of this week I am going to make a concerted effort to take more photos... I do want you all to be able to see what I’m seeing, but I’ve not been using my camera because, really, it can’t capture the beauty of my surroundings.  Every time I step outside, I am invigorated by what I see.  On that note, let me finally answer some questions that my dad asked me in an e-mail months ago.  The landscape and agriculture of this country.... In virtually any picture of Rwanda, you can find terraced hills, full of small fields of crops.  Beans, cabbage, potatoes, maize, cassava and tomatoes are just a few of the plants you can find growing all over the country.  They also grow tons of bananas and pineapples and avocados and (in some regions) mangoes.  The availability of fresh, local produce is quite nice, but I think that the methods used are a little outdated.  I only say this because of what I’ve been seeing... Rwanda is the most densely populated country in all of Africa, and I would say it’s also one of the best in terms of food supply.  But, people are literally cultivating every piece of land imaginable.  Some crops are on mountain faces that appear nearly vertical from a distance.  After growing up with my parents, with weekend outings that turned into geology or forestry or general environmental lessons, I see the agriculture practices here and I think of one word: erosion.  And yes, erosion is a problem.  I don’t know to what extent, but it’s inevitable!  This place gets 2 rainy seasons a year... I’m honestly still trying to figure out when these seasons are, because since I’ve been here, the weather has been pretty consistent.  It will rain sometimes, but usually for no more than an hour or two. I wouldn’t consider the current season rainy or dry... maybe we’re in a transition period.  Anyway, point being, it rains quite a bit and it’s got to be washing off topsoil- why else would the river that runs through my town be a bright, muddy, red color?  However, this is the method that’s been in place for years and years, and it gets people fed, so there is little incentive to change practices.  Part of me wishes I was volunteering in the agriculture sector, but I guess education is a good avenue to talk about these issues too.  
So, the title of this blog... a bit on the contrived side? Well, maybe.  It’s a little anecdote I heard when I was still very new to the country and it just kind of stuck.  “Where there are banana leaves, there are no secrets...” As far as I can tell, this is applicable here.  Granted, I stick out around here, but I’ve had people greet me by name when I’m fairly certain that I’ve never seen them before.  And, I think this little tag-line works well in the cyber world, because here I am, writing a blog that ANYONE could be reading.  Also, I’m in Peace Corps- we have a small family in this country (though it’s probably larger than many other countries) and we always joke about the “peace corps rumor mill.”  Yes, it exists. No, it’s not malicious or bad, we just tend to know what’s going on with each other.  So, I guess you can sum it all up with: whether you’re Rwandan or a PCV, you’ve got a slow life and a big part of that life is talking to other people, and news gets carried along in that manner.  No secrets here, plenty of banana leaves.  
Also, I think this is a neat cultural thing to note: whenever there is any sort of celebration (a wedding, The president coming to your district, a birth) people take stalks of banana trees and put them on the side of the roads.  They either attach them to a tree or post, or they plant them so that they remain upright.  Only small fronds are used (maybe 3- 4 feet tall), but they are noticeable.  The first time I saw them (on a main road) I was so confused, and it took me a few weeks to figure out the actual purpose or reasoning.  But, as far as I can tell, they signify celebration.  
Last little shout-out of the post: I want you all to know that I have the most amazing mother.  Amazing family in general, really.  But, mother dearest is looking out for her baby girl over here and I swear it’s keeping me going.  Life isn’t unbearably rough over here, but it’s no cake walk either, and The e-mails and phone calls and impending care packages from my mama are the sorts of little things that make my day.  The rest of you are pretty cool too (and I love reading your e-mails and facebook comments) but mom takes the cake! (that’s twice I’ve used the work “cake”... that would be great right about now. Maybe I’ll figure out how to make one on a charcoal stove).  That’s all for now! xoxo


  1. Your Mom says, “THANK YOU, Ally!” for the kind words. I wish I could do more for you! I'd bake a cake and mail it to you if I could!
    Loved your Blog post, you are a fantastic writer! I now understand the title of your blog “Where there are banana leaves, there are no secrets”. ..We had thought it was because you couldn’t sneak around at night without getting caught because stepping on dried banana leaves makes tons of noise?! Maybe there are some late curfew stories from PC training that you aren’t sharing?!  Anyway – interesting about the banana leafs being used to make celebration banners and signs – good way to use a biodegradable natural resources! The US could learn a thing or two!
    Keep up the hard work with your lesson plans. It takes time to figure out what is going to work. Teaching will get easier and remember what you are doing is very important for these kids!
    Love you!

  2. isn't it great how we say "cultivate" instead of "farm" now?