Friday, February 18, 2011

tortillas, treks and tea

Via my facebook, I claimed that yesterday was the best day ever.  Well, perhaps it was not the singular “best” day, but it was damn good.  I had the day off, so I took the liberty of sleeping in (until nearly 7 instead of being up at 5), watched the second half of Shakespeare in Love while drinking tea in my bed, and had a slow, lazy morning.  Eventually I got up and did about an hour of yoga in my bedroom.  This was actually interrupted by a visit from my friend Clementine.  We have a new time table at school so now Clem and I only share one work day, so we are trying to see each other as much as possible outside of work.  She returned to school, I returned to my yoga, finished that, took a quick, cold bucket bath, and made my way up to school to visit everyone during break.  I’m really glad I did this, because I was able to talk with some of my favorite Secondary teachers and ended up hanging with the Primary teachers for about 30 minutes, talking about the differences between America and Rwanda.  I love that no matter who I’m talking with, my comment that there are poor people in America is met with shock or disbelief.  Now, I’m not saying that Rwanda and America are on par with wealth distribution, and I have been trying to explain that most Americans are middle-class, but we also talked about the homeless in America, and I answered questions about beggars in America, and tried to explain that yes, there are poor people in America too.  I am glad to talk about this, because as much as I recognize the privilege that comes with an American lifestyle, I think it’s important that people know that not everyone in America is rich and privileged.  I actually met a woman from Australia when I was on the bus yesterday, and we talked for the entire hour from Musanze back to my village.  She is a VSO volunteer, working with schools for the deaf here and she was a great conversationalist.  She mentioned something that someone once said to her about the discrepancy between being from a wealthy nation and being from a poor or developing nation.  The major differences lie in choice.  We, as Westerners, are able to make choices- and many choices at that.  We may have debt, we may not be wealthy ourselves, but we have been able to make a myriad of choices (and will make more as our lives and “careers” continue).  Just something to think about... I know this isn’t an Earth-shattering revelation, but it’s interesting.  
Back to my awesome day!  After chatting with the teachers, I went back home and began cooking.  I have been fairly lazy about cooking here b/c it’s such a process.  And the clean-up can be a bit daunting (again, my undying contempt towards doing dishes plays a role here).  But, I decided that I’ve got all the time in the world, so I may as well start experimenting with my culinary skills.  So, the result of a few hours of cooking yesterday was: flour tortillas, beans (fresh beans that were delicious), a cauliflower/ carrot/ onion stir-fry and pico de gallo.  Simple and delicious.  Clem came during another break at school and ate with me, and I was so thankful for her company!  Directly after eating, I went off to climb a mountain.  Really.  I went with two boys who live in the village.  These guys just completed their Secondary School studies and are waiting for their exam results.  The way it works around here is that when you complete Secondary, you take the national exams, wait for your results, then (hopefully) go to university the following year.  This means that these kids get a year of being at home between Secondary and university, and it makes them the perfect tour guides!  They know the area and the people here, they speak English and since they aren’t working or in school, they have lots of time.  We actually have plans to go on a long bike ride together next week sometime... if this keeps up, I’m going to have a new adventure every week!  So, when we began our trek, I honestly wasn’t expecting to climb so high, or to be hiking for so long.  The only regret I have is that I didn’t bring any water with me!  I got really thirsty really quick and there wasn’t much I could do about it.  I didn’t bring my camera yesterday b/c it was a little hazy out and I figure that I can take pictures next time I go out when it’s a little nicer out (sorry mom).  We were traveling up footpaths: some were wide, some were barely wide enough for your foot, some were nearly vertical, and some stretches of road were flat (a nice little reprise).  We passed many houses and a few people.  The houses were all small, typical Rwandan houses made of mud bricks and tiled roofs, and surrounded by plants.  Trees, bushes, flowers and various crops make it so the houses are tucked away.  Tucked under banana tress, behind tall bushes, flanked by flowers- they are lovely.  Every so often we would stop and look out over the villages below, through the valley and over the other hills that surround my house.  Once we reached the very top we could see for miles!  We met a man along the way who ended up turing around to walk back up the mountain with us and show us the cow cooperative that sits on top of this “hill.”  When we finally reached the top (again, a lot higher than I anticipated) it was a clear, flat sort of plateau.  From the center you could see in every direction, and into the valleys below on either side.  It was wonderful!  Apparently when it’s clear out, you are even able to see the volcanoes in the north from this mountain top.  The cow cooperative was a great thing to see!  We can use the term “cooperative” in it’s most basic sense here.  All of the cows were living together (maybe 10 total) and each one belongs to a different family.  Hence, the cooperative aspect.  They all work together to keep the cows, and the system seems to work really well for them.  From the first cow pens to the next, we wound through fields on tiny paths, through grass, through fields with freshly planted crops, through fallowing fields, and even through a few small groves of trees.  After walking through a small field of freshly planted potatoes, we saw the cows that belong to the man who was showing us the sights.  He had one bull and one (what’s the word for a female cow... heifer?) cow that were in their own individual pens, made of sturdy branches that were tied or nailed together.  I don’t think the bull was very happy to see me.  He had huge horns and I was a bit intimidated by the sounds he made as I passed him at an arm’s length.  But, the cows were completely harmless (of course... but pardon me for not really being a country girl... I was always scared of cows when I was young).  We greeted some of the folks who live up there, then slowly began our descent.  We decided to go back a different way, and chose some paths that were pretty steep, narrow and difficult.  Now, they aren’t really that hard, but I had to make the mental choice to be absolutely fearless.  I think I mentioned this in my post about the wedding... walking down a mountain like this is really not that bad, but I can get a little squeamish at times, and I have to remember to release my fear and just go for it!  These walks are far more enjoyable when I do that anyway.  Jumping down rocks, allowing myself to slide when the mud is slick, balancing and walking on two logs as a “bridge,” and remembering to look up from time to time to see the surrounding beauty.  We wound down the hill (mountain... whatever) following the water, so we passed a small creek a few times and saw many pipes and pumps where people come to get their water.  We passed through some forests with big trees, some with small tress, groves of sugar cane, and we saw great expanses of banana plants on the opposing hillsides.  Once we were finally down from the mountain one of the boys invited me to see his home and his family.  Since we were to pass his home regardless, I decided it would be nice to pay them a short visit.  I was covered in sweat, I was starting to get tired and I was THIRSTY, but we had a really nice visit.  And, because many of the banana groves we saw belong to this family, we sat down and ate fresh bananas and pineapple.  What a great end to any hike!  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- the bananas here are the best I’ve ever tasted, and I’m pretty sure I could survive here on pineapple alone!  We ate fruit, I met the family and then I went on my way.  I arrived back to my home about 10 or 15 minutes before it started to get dark, and took a nice cold bucket bath.  Jane was back last night so we heated up the beans again, ate a bit of food, made some tea and sat and talked for a while.  Just to end the night on an even higher note, I got on to the internet for a quick minute and got to chat a bit with some great Americans and had a successful “conversation” completely in Kinyarwanda with one of my Rwandan friends (thank you facebook chat).  So, this is an example of a perfect Rwandan day.  I plan on having many more in the future, and I plan on not writing as extensively about them.  I’ll try my best to keep you posted and fill you in on some of the highlights, but sitting down and typing for an hour can be a bit of a bore (aka takes away from my much needed yoga time).  Miss you all, hope you are well!  If you come to visit me I’ll cook you tortillas and take you on a hike up this mountain.  I promise. xoxo!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day

Part One: Learning about Rwandan Valentine’s day
Before I begin relaying to you what I’m expecting to observe on Valentine’s Day, I should talk a bit about the way Rwandans date.  Because they don’t really date; not the way that most Westerners do.  This is a result of the traditional Rwandan culture: a culture in which dating was virtually nonexistent.  It’s becoming increasingly common to hear talk of “boyfriends” and “girlfriends” in the younger generations, but there is a definite divide between the older and younger generations here.  Anyway, most people my age refer to “friends.”  That’s not a broad term or anything, right?  So, you can have friends (ex: me and Clementine) and you can have a “friend” (ex: the person you’re dating), and the only thing to really allow an outsider to distinguish the relationship is context.  It’s a little tricky but I think this is due to the fact that the society here is generally discrete.  While your business ends up being widely known (especially in a village) everyone remains rather discrete, and rarely do folks talk about their own personal business.  However, the teenagers are certainly growing up in a different world.  I think this is probably true no matter where you are- the youth today are experiencing a new sort of high-speed, highly connected, small world.  This is the information age after all (is that right?... I’m gonna go with it).  For me, this means that I have students that are modern and open-minded, and while they still have whatever sorts of societal norms and a certain Rwandan world-view, they are pretty “with it.”  They know about what’s going on in the world (to some extent), they keep up with current music and they really want to learn (which is something I love!).  So, how does this relate to Valentine’s day?  Well, I have been charged with the task of teaching “creative performance” to the Senior 3 class at my school.  What is creative performance?  Well, I’m sure I’ve already mentioned it here, but really it’s turning into a “do whatever Allison wants” class.  And it’s a lot of fun!  This past week, in honor of the upcoming holiday, we talked about poetry and Valentine’s day and music... again, basically whatever I felt like sharing with the students.  I absolutely love this class, and we always have a good time together.  I taught them “Roses are red, Violets are blue, Sugar is sweet, And so are you” and they loved it.  Then, I asked them to make their own version of the poem... what a great idea (because I got instant entertainment).  They came up with a few really good versions, and a few that were absolutely hilarious!  Some of my favorites included lines like: “chalk is white and so are you,” and “our teacher is white like silver.”  Ok, race discussions aside, we all got a few good laughs out of those ones.  The important part is that they were trying!  So, they kept working on poems and I played some fun music for them (imagine head-bobbing with your students to some classic Outkast songs... so good) and I left them with a goal.  I reminded them that Valentine’s day was right around the corner (“please teacher, it is on Monday”) and that they should make poems or cards and give them to their Valentines.  “Maybe you’ll get a girlfriend... maybe you’ll find a boyfriend... maybe you can let your teachers know that you think they’re special..”  Just a little shameless self-promotion.  I’m excited to see if they write any sort of poems to each other!  I will certainly be on the look-out.  Also, I was told by Clem and K that here everyone wears red and black on V-day, and I plan to conform to that tradition for sure!  I always loved making Valentines in the states, and I plan on adapting my crafting skills and continuing to make them here.  There will be no glitter or foam or lace or doilies, and I don’t even have glue, but I have paper and magazines and markers and colored pencils and I am prepared to give it my best effort.  
Part 2: February 15th:
Valentine’s day passed in a flash.  If I didn’t have a calendar, I would’ve never known that yesterday was at all special.  To be fair, I wasn’t in the most festive of moods.  It was rainy and cold, I had a frustrating class to start my day (more details to follow) and I was tired!  I didn’t see much card exchanging happening around school, and since the kids all wear uniforms, there was no visible display of holiday spirit.  I indulged in some cake that a purchased over the weekend (yep, made with corn flour), ate some great fresh fruits along with it, and watched romantic comedies while the rain poured down outside for the better part of the afternoon.  I did get an awesome valentine from my friend Clementine!  She totally outdid me on the craftiness- definitely took me by surprise!  Apparently in the bigger cities, you can see the type of holiday commercialism that we all know goes hand and hand with St.Valentine, but out in the village, February 14th is just another day.  
PS: big shout-out to my #1 Valentine! Robin Talley gets to celebrate her 23rd birthday tomorrow... wish I was back in Tallahassee.  I’ll be with ya in spirit, babygirl  

Saturday, February 12, 2011

It's a nice day for a Rwandan wedding, It's a nice day to start again!

Ok, so it wasn’t really a nice day for a Rwandan wedding.  The weather sucked, to be quite honest, but we were able to make the day special regardless.  I went to my first Rwandan wedding yesterday- my first wedding as an adult actually- and had a blast!  I want to give you all the details, so bear with me (or you may choose to stop reading now).  The day started as they usually do around here.  It was foggy outside and I took my time getting up and getting ready to greet the day.  I had a nice, warm bucket bath then came inside to listen to dance music and do a bit of yoga.  My PCV neighbor, Keira stopped in to say hi on her way to Kigali, so I got to chat a bit with her, and our friend Kay (who was visiting from her site in the West) was there as well, so that was a nice little morning visit.  They went on their way to the big city and I hung out at home.  Did a bit of cleaning, did a bit of dancing around, enjoyed my slow and quiet Saturday morning.  Clementine called me and we made plans to go to the wedding.  The wedding was due to start at 1pm, and was being held at a church “not too far from here.”  Well, this being Rwanda, I didn’t expect anything to be easy or to really go as planned, but I knew that it would all be taken care of and everything would work out wonderfully.  The initial plan was for Clementine and myself to go with some of the bride’s family members in a car.  Before I continue, I don’t know if I’ve written much about Clem... She’s another teacher at my school, teaching sciences and ICT to the Secondary students.  She’s also my closest friend out here.  I guess I’ve become really close to a few of my colleagues- Jane, Clementine and Kizito- and I’m at least friendly with the rest of them.  I thank the stars almost daily that I have been fortunate enough to end up working with these teachers.  We can talk about anything and hang out and have fun, and we can also work really well together and get things done.  Back to the event at hand... So, as I “prepared myself,” getting on the closest thing I have to a party dress, putting on some makeup, making my hair big and messy and fun and listening to more dance music, I also made a make-shift wedding gift for the new spouses.  I made them a card that was pretty simple (though I wish I had taken a photo of it). It included a little note of congratulations and a photo of a waterfall that I brought with me from America.  That last addition to the card felt a little cheesy, but I think it was a good thing to include.  I was searching my house for something to give them, and the only things in any condition fit for a gift were photos, so I chose the prettiest one and that was that.  I also put a little bit of money into the card and I think it turned into a fine “gift.”  I couldn’t really get a straight answer on what an appropriate gift is for a wedding, but as far as I can tell, it’s similar to America.  You give household items and the like, or you slip some money into a card.  So, I put the card into an envelope, put on my fancy sandals and hit the road.  What followed was probably the most awkward walk through my village that I will ever have.  Saturday is the big market day, so there were lots of people on the roads and milling about the towns, and here I was, walking the half hour walk into town to meet Clem, in a dress, with silver shoes on my feet and makeup on my face... I just felt a bit out of my element.  But, it wasn’t that bad, because (of course) I ran into a student and talked with him and his friends for the duration of the walk.  Thank god! The 1/2 hour walk feels like 5 minutes when you have company, and it made me feel better about looking all fancy-like.  
I should’ve known that I couldn’t attend this sort of thing and really blend into the crowd, but at least I was met with hugs and smiles and excitement... Upon arriving to town, we walked around, stood around, and waited for the car situation to get figured out.  Well, what got figured is that Clem and I would go to the wedding by moto.  And it was a fantastic moto ride!  By this time, it was full-on overcast outside, and it actually began to sprinkle during our ride.  Our destination was a church that sat on top of one of the surrounding hills, about a 30 to 40 minute moto ride from the town center (aka, the market).  We rode through the tea fields, through a few small villages, a small forest or two, curving through the valley, then climbed up the final big hill and stopped right at the church entrance.  I wish it had been sunny out, but the ride was still amazing nonetheless.  This was a Catholic church, and therefore a Catholic ceremony.  I didn’t understand any of it because it was all in Kinyarwanda, but I was able to notice a few things.  First, the formality of the whole process seemed a bit lax by American standards.  The bride and groom arrived in the same car and there was no procession in the church: everyone just kind of came in together and sat where they wanted.  The ceremony was led by the priest, but it really felt like more of a sermon than a marriage.  I have not attended a Catholic wedding ceremony in the states, so it may very well be the same there, I don’t know.  There was a lot of intermittent singing and clapping, and many readings from the bible, and the whole ceremony was about 1 hour.  About 2/3 of the way into the ceremony, another wedding party entered the church and sat on the empty benches behind us.  I thought this was slightly reminiscent of a Vegas wedding chapel- couples lined up to go through the motion- but apparently it’s quite common to have one ceremony for many couples (up to 10 at times) and that these folks were just late to the party.  I guess I was supposed to have seen two couples be wed at once, but I was glad it was only my friends up at the alter.  Also, this church was not decorated.  Not a single special decoration or rearrangement of chairs- it looked exactly as it would for any other church service.  After the ceremony, we all congratulated the newly-weds and took photos and hiked down the the reception.  
The bride was the person who invited me.  Her name is Elyse and she is a Primary School teacher at my school.  Her new husband is the head teacher at a school in the village where the wedding was held.  Apparently Elyse will go and join him at his school, so I won’t be seeing her around school anymore.  That made me kind of sad, because she was really nice!  But, it’s good that she was able to request to be moved to a school closer to her new house.  You see, the district office is in charge of placing teachers at schools, and they make all of the staffing decisions- you go work where they tell you- so it’s nice to know that sometimes personal requests are taken into consideration.  The groom’s name is Alexis, and while I hadn’t met him until the wedding, he was super nice and happy and welcoming.  Another awkward moment in my day was when Clem and I went to look at the pictures being taken of the families and friends and as soon as I walked into view, the whole process stopped.  Then they told me to come and get a photo with them.  I tried to resist for a split second, but there was no way for me to say “no, this is special for your families! carry on...” so I went along with what they wanted and got a photo with the bride and groom.  I was more than happy to do so, but I didn’t like feeling that I was a special guest just because I was the muzungu at the wedding.  I suppose it is something “special” in the sense that most folks don’t have foreigners come to their weddings, but being treated as a straight up VIP all day and night was strange.  
There were many ways to reach this church at the top of the hill.  When I arrived by moto, I took the long way, on the road that winds through the valley and up the hill.  When we went by foot, we just walked straight down the mountain.  And I swear, living in this country is going to make me fearless.  Moto rides? Well, no need to be scared of those, they can be exhilarating and are a great way to see the sights.  Walking down a mountain on a steep foot path in fancy sandals? No problem, you just gotta go for it, and it’s a much more efficient way to travel.  But, there was a moment during the walk: I was faced with the prospect of walking down a virtually vertical section of the path, when I stopped and laughed and said “you do know that where I come from there are no mountains!!!”  Ok, not entirely true.  Well, I have plenty of experience climbing around hills and mountains, but I was a little intimidated by this path.  I decided to just go for it and hope for the best, and after making that decision, we had a pleasant walk.  I like to think of myself as adventurous, but I know I’m also very cautious, so sometimes I have to throw that caution to the wind and do as the locals do.  Don’t worry, my judgement is pretty good, and I won’t be haphazardly saying “fuck it, let’s go!” in every situation, but sometimes it’s for my own good. 
We arrived at the reception, met up with more friends and found seats inside the make-shift party tent.  It began to rain right as we entered the sheltered area, and it continued to rain on and off for the rest of the night.  I was actually impressed that everyone carried on and enjoyed themselves, because it is a very rare thing to find Rwandans outside in the rain.  Usually when it rains around here, people seek shelter inside (even if it means hiding out in the house of a complete stranger).  The “party tent” was made out of wood with various tarps on the top, and it worked really well.  Some household furniture was taken into the tent for the wedding party and there were wooden benches for the rest of us.  The ceremonial stuff continued during the reception and everyone seemed to have a blast!  After the fathers exchanged words and drinks, after the couple said a few words and drank some traditional banana beer, after the champagne was popped (which made me laugh...), after the cake was cut, everyone joined in on the party!  The cake was passed around and drinks were dolled out.  Kizito was helping run the show, so he made sure I got a beer, and the rest of the evening was spent talking and drinking and celebrating!  I gave the new couple my wedding gift, hugging both of them and singing praises and congratulations, and I talked to a few new, friendly faces.  Right when I was about to go (in the rain, as it was getting dark), Kizito told me that my presence was requested inside the house.  And so I made it to the VIP after party... More beers, more talking done by the fathers, more dancing, more talking... it was wonderful!  This was done in the living room of the house next to where the reception was held, and inside were the closest friends and family, who had gathered together to send off the newly-weds and have one last hurrah before the night was through.  Clem and I finally made our way out to the road to find a way home.  The moto driver we were going to use had disappeared, but we were able to get seats in the taxi-van and made it back home safe and happy.  One of the highlights of the van ride: I was seated right next to the door and we had to stop at some point, and open the door and do some rearranging or something, and when we were ready to go again, I slammed to door.  And everyone loved it!  They all said that I was a star... haha, I guess it’s the little things.  I proved to them that muzungus are able to hang out and be social and act like Rwandans, and properly operate car doors and take care of themselves.  In all, this was a really great experience.  I got invited to come visit many of the families that I met, and I fully intend to do so!  I also hope I’m able to attend many more Rwandan weddings.  
Rwandan celebrations, the cliff notes:
  • drinking together means sharing beers-  passing them around and everyone getting included in the fun
  • it is possible to fit a dozen people AND party goods (food and the like) in the smallest pick-up truck ever made
  • the folks at the church still ask for money for the church during a wedding ceremony
  • people don’t really smile... not during the more official parts of the ceremony at least. it had me wondering if these folks wanted to get married in the first place.
  • ALL cake is made with corn flour.  why? 
  • the most important thing is celebration- having a good time and sharing the fun with everyone around you (some of these folks may not have much, but they know how to have a good time)
  • everyone sings and claps and dances (I need to learn these songs!)
  • you WILL find a way home, or a place to stay... it’s the welcoming, supportive sort of culture here... there’s always room for one more person in the car.  
Thanks for sticking with me- I’m sure this isn’t my best writing (more of a stream of consciousness mess).  It’s early on Sunday morning, but I wanted to give you a full recap before I forgot all the fun details.  Also, be glad, I’m sure I left out many things... Today I fully intend to make Valentines for my favorite fellow teachers... I’ll surely end up having a fun Valentine’s Day story for you, so stay posted.  Happy Sunday. xoxoxo

Thursday, February 10, 2011

On to month 2 as a volunteer!

As I’m waiting for my beans to cook (I swear that spending 4 hours cooking is rarely worth it...) I think I will sit down and finally update my blog.  I have so much I want to share with you!  I hope you’ve looked at the photos I posted the other day, they give you an idea of what my everyday looks like.  I took most of them last Sunday, and it was really sunny here so I think that the result is pictures that make this place look hotter than it actually is.  I’d like to give you a run-down of what a typical week here looks like for me, so allow me to fill you in on what is turning into my routine.  I teach for a few hours for four days, then I get a 3 day weekend.  Sunday is usually my fun day... rather my sit around and do nothing day.  I try to get some cleaning done and get prepared for the week.  I also like to cook on Sundays, so usually I eat good food then.  One of my students comes to help with the laundry and cleaning every other weekend, and she’s really helpful.  So, after a lazy Sunday, I’m ready for work on Monday morning.  Mondays tend to never be predictable.  Sometimes they’re quiet, but this past Monday was a little hectic because we got our final wave of students.  The Senior 1 students finally arrived and we had to get their classrooms in order, which we actually did by the end of the school day Monday!  These students just finished Primary School, so they were waiting for their national exam results, hence the delay.  They are here now!  And they have a really diffucult time understanding me.  Go figure.... Tuesdays are maybe the quietest day of the week and this Tuesday was no different.  Teaching in the morning then a lot of “relaxing” at home (because it’s not like all I do is relax...).  Wednesdays are one of my favorites because not only do I have a full morning of teaching, but it’s also market day.  So, I teach, then I walk down the road to the market (30 minute walk each way).  I always end up finding someone to talk to- whether I know them or not- and I get to be out in the afternoon... it’s just always really nice.  Thursdays mark the end of my work week, and I get to spend some quality time with my favorite class, so I’m having a good day today.  Friday is my day off and I almost always end up doing something fun.  Occasionally end up leaving town and getting a jump start on my weekend, but I really enjoy hanging around here and walking into town, or down the road to a really delicious bakery.  Saturdays are really fun! And this Saturday will certainly be no exception.  I’m going to my first Rwandan wedding on Saturday and I am very excited.  One of the Primary teachers from my school is getting married in a village not far from here and I will be there along with many of the other teachers.  I am excited!  Then I plan to relax on Sunday, then start this crazy routine all over again.  Yeah, I know, my life is really hard over here isn’t it?  My challenges include adjusting to the diet and general lifestyle over here, using my time effectively and finding a way to actually teach these kids.  Not to belittle my challenges, but I just end up thinking about how little I have to worry over here and it’s kind of amazing. 
Last Saturday was spent in Musanze (Ruhengeri), attending a family party of a Rwandan friend/ colleague.  Her name is Jane, and she’s the wonderful woman I share my living space with.  Really, she’s a riot and we have tons of fun together.  She’s the secretary at our school, single mother, weekend student, intelligent, modern.... overall, I am really lucky to have her here.  This party was at her family’s house, in the big town about an hour North of here and it was in honor of her mother (who passed away at the beginning of this year).  I guess it’s pretty customary around here to have a big, happy celebration when the mourning period is complete.  And this party was just that.  They were tons of people, everyone was having a really good time- talking, drinking, dancing, cooking, eating... it was really nice.  Being welcomed into this intimate celebration of family and friends was really quite amazing and I had a great time.  I got to practice my Kinyarwanda, I got to go out on a walk and stare at the volcanoes that litter the skyline, and I had an adventurous ride home with two other teachers (Clementine and Mama D)... it was really nice.  And then, on my lazy Sunday, after cleaning was finished, I was visited by two boys from the village center here.  They are young guys who just graduated from Secondary school (maybe early twenties...) and they came to chat and practice English and just hang out with me.  It was fun!  I showed them my photo album of family pictures (that span many years) and they were a really receptive audience.  After telling me that my pictures are proof that all Americans are “bosses” (rich people), they offered to take me on a walk to the top of one of the surrounding hills to show me “how the poor men live.”  Those were their words, but I don’t know if I would phrase it much differently.  I tried to convey to them the idea of the American middle class, and I think they understood, but they made a really good point.  I see the world through an American lens, despite trying to remain with out preconceived notions or prejudice, and the American lens is rather privileged.  So, these new friends of mine reminded me that even when I say my family is not rich, that compared to how some people live, I’ve gown up like a total princess.  I’m excited to go hiking with them and I feel that if my seemingly purposeless meandering is done with a Rwandan by my side, it won’t appear so strange.  But, even as I say that, I don’t know if I fully believe it... I am resuming this blog post after eating (maybe it was worth the 4 hour process... dinner was good!) and after going out for an evening walk.  I am going to have to do this everyday! It was fantastic.  Not only is the weather perfect at this hour (between 5 and 6), but everyone I meet in the road is so friendly and it puts me in a really great mood.  Since I am met with smiles and salutations, I think that maybe I’m not giving people enough credit.  I’ve been under the impression that if I venture outside of my home to exercise, I’ll be met with glares and confusion... I’ll have to test this hypothesis more, but I’m thinking that exactly the opposite is likely to occur.  Maybe it’s just my community, maybe it’s Rwanda in general, but the folks around here are really accepting and enthusiastic and friendly.  
I don’t know if I have much more to update you on... ask me questions if you’d like to know more about anything particular and I’ll try to be a little more frequent with my updates.  Time to go make some tea and try to find some way to rigg the radio so we can get a signal to listen to some special Rwandan skit that happens on Tuesday and Thursday.  So much cultural exchange happens in this house! Thank god for Jane.  Sending you hugs from Africa! xoxo
ps: we’ve successfully passed the one month mark! I’m not going to say how many more there are b/c I feel that may be counterproductive.... but, this is still good!  If the following months are as crazy as January, I’m surely going to have tons of stories to torture my grandchildren with.