Wednesday, March 23, 2011

I put up a few more pictures on my Picassa. Take a look!

beginning of 2011 in Rwanda

An actual blog post is in the works... We're in the middle of exam week here, then a week dedicated to marking, then 3 weeks of vacation.  Hope you all are well!


Thursday, March 10, 2011

packing packing packing (a retrospective of sorts)

I’ve never been a light packer.  I’d like to think that I’m not entirely high maintenance and instead chalk this up to my indecisiveness.  I just want to be prepared for any and all potential circumstance, even the most unlikely.  That being said, you could maybe imagine that packing to move myself to Rwanda for 2 years was no easy feat (thank you mom for your assistance).  I think that not that I’ve done it, I’ll be much better about packing for big trips in the future, but who knows.  So far, my packing ability has not improved.  In fact, fellow PCV Katie has said that it is one of her personal missions to make it so that I know how to pack by the time we return to America.  
So, let me take you back a few months, to long evenings at my parent’s house spent playing tetris with my luggage and belongings.  Since we are the sort of family that doesn’t own a scale, I used the Wii to weigh the bags.  That, in and of itself, was pretty hilarious.  We used the Wii fit program under the pet setting and weighed the bags like you would weigh your dog... though my parents certainly don’t use that to weigh the dog.  Or do they? Maybe the cats? Ok, that’s beside the point.  We had strict weight restrictions that Peace Corps wanted us to adhere to, along with dimensions for our combined luggage.  Of course, once we got to the airport it seemed a bit less serious, but when I was still in Gainesville, Fl I was really trying to stay within the given perimeters.  Turns out that after what PC refers to as “staging” in Philly (after having to go into the bags and repack and change clothes and get ready for the plane trip from NY to Rwanda) I did some poorly planned rearranging that made my bags too heavy.  Thank god for fellow PCV Matthew Teal.  His bag was extremely under weight, and he let me transfer my yoga mat and some books into his bag so I could avoid excess baggage fees.  So, we made it to Rwanda, avoided extra fees and everyone was happy.  
In a few months Rwanda will be receiving new volunteers.  And Peace Corps sends volunteers out all over the world throughout the year.  If any of those prospective volunteers are reading, I want to share with you a few things I learned during the packing and transportation process.  
  1. My yoga mat is the one thing I am perpetually thankful for having brought.  If there’s something you love, that will help keep you you, I suggest you bring it because it will certainly make you happy.
  2. An easily compact-able sleeping bag is pretty valuable here, and will be really nice to have while I’m traveling.  I have a North Face down mummy bag that belonged to my mother when she traveled the world when she was my age.  It’s probably not as warm as it used to be, but it still works really well.
  3. Hiking boots.  This may just be my personal preference, but I absolutely love my gortex boots.  I found a cheap pair on e-bay right before leaving the states and they work really well here (although they do earn me more funny looks).  
  4. Shampoo and conditioner.  You can find acceptable stuff here (or so I’ve heard) but it’s expensive to get stuff that’ll keep your hair nice.
  5. Pants. Plain and normal pants.  Skirts and dresses are really easy to find here, but I find that many of my female colleagues wear pants to work and good pants are more difficult to obtain over here.  I’m SURE this varies based on your village- for me, pants are a-ok! (I even wear slightly skinny jeans (watch out!))
  6. Reading material.  If you like to read I suggest you find a way to bring reading stuffs with ya.  Many of the PCVs in my group had Kindles (in fact I am going to be receiving one myself in the next couple of months) and those seem to work really well.  I brought some books... they definitely added weight to my bags, but they are really nice to have.
  7. Camp towel.  I got an XL one and I use it ALL the time.  You can find regular towels here easily and for little money, but they’re just not as good.  Plus, camp towels are really great for traveling... and for the rainy season when nothing seems to stay dry.
  8. Sharp kitchen knife.  I brought 2 and they are very nice to have.  I also brought a swiss army knife.  You can (of course) find knives here, but they aren’t very good and they are expensive.
  9. Rain gear.  Could be that the rain beating down on my roof is making me think this is super important, could actually be important.  Umbrellas are easy to find here but I suggest bringing a good rain jacket.  
  10. Daypack/ Backpack.  Something to use when you have to go into the next town, if you go out to a park, for short overnight trips... again, you can find them here, it just may be easier to bring one from home.
  11. “Appropriate” work-out/ lounging attire.  I found out the hard way that shorts and leggings are both pretty inappropriate (even for sport).  I suggest track pants or looser yoga pants or long shorts.  Nearly anything goes here, but they draw the line at skin-tight lycra pants and short shorts... I guess I can understand that.
Fellow PCV Danny made some comment via facebook before we set off to start this crazy adventure that I actually found to be really helpful.  He said that you should just put everything you think you’ll need into a bag and then take out one of each thing.  Subtract one shirt, do away with one pair of socks, throw out one dress etc etc and it makes a pretty big difference.  I would say, stick with you intuition.  If you think you’re going to (for example) long for your yoga mat and regret not taking it, find a way to make it work!  Anyway, this post is a bit out of the blue, but I’m putting off writing my end of term exam and enjoying the rain and catching up on some typing.  Next on my agenda: e-mail responses. Miss and love ya.  

imvura igihe kurwa. it's going to rain.

Yes indeed, it is another rainy day here.  So, naturally I am using up almost all of my internet time by reading articles online and scoping out new blogs to follow.  It gets SO cold here when it rains.  In fact, it's pretty common for people to go home and get in bed in an effort to stay warm.  I think that pair with a cup of tea and a book (and the internet) is my plan for the day.  Yeah, yeah, at some point I'll do some work for school.  Anyway, check out this nice little article on chocolate.  This is mostly stuff you might already know, but the article contains some links to what sound like really delicious chocolate confectioners.

vegnews article on chocolate


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

ndi umutetsi. muri amerika kandi mu'rwanda!

(I am a cook, in American and in Rwanda) 

I was asked recently about what food I’ve been eating over here.  First, thank you Jill for the question.  Sorry I haven’t mentioned the food yet, I guess it’s not something I really think about including in these rambling posts of mine.  Well, it’s not all that exciting to be honest.  Let me first tell you what composes the common Rwandan diet: Rice, beans (various varieties), potatoes, sweet potatoes (not yams like in America, but real sweet potatoes), cassava (both the roots and the greens- prepared separately; also in the form of a traditional type of “bread” called ubugali), plantains (big, savory type), local eggplant (they are small and green), tomatoes, carrots, cabbage, avocado, corn (cooked directly on charcoal (on the cob)), onions, green beans, pineapple (the best in the world, I promise you), passion fruit, bananas, eggs, pasta, tea, milk, fanta and beer.  
The above are usually prepared in a few ways... potatoes will be fried- either in the form of fries (frites) or whole; sweet potatoes are also fried; cassava root is boiled; plantains are boiled and made into a sort of mushy, saucy mash; beans are cooked exactly how you would expect; all types of vegetables are cooked until they turn to mush, and most of the flavors are similar.  Overall, the food is not at all exciting, but it’s not bad either.  Oh! for the meat-eaters, you can find meat on a stick (called brushettes) or different types of meat stews.  
Getting food in a restaurant is best done in a big city.  There is a restaurant that I go to occasionally that’s in the same town I go to to buy bread.  The food there is only ok, but the folks who work there are really nice!  They all know me and like to ask about how I’m doing, which is always nice.  At this establishment you can get the buffet (full of rice, chips, beans, plantains, some nearly unrecognizable greens, a type of sauce to pour on your now full plate-o-food and a genuinely COLD beverage.  Since refrigeration is expensive and highly uncommon, getting a really cold drink every once and a while has turned to a big treat!  In Kigali you can even get smoothies!  Perfect for the occasional lavish city snack.  
I do most of my cooking alone, but sometimes Jane and I collaborate or we’ll take turns.  Every time I cook she enjoys what I make, but she lets me know that according to Rwandans, I didn’t cook the food long enough.  Well yeah, she’s right, I like to have my vegetables remain in some sort of recognizable format.  I like my meals to have some semblance of texture, and varied texture at that!  This is going to be a never-ending debate between me and Rwandan cooking styles.  
Overall, though, the produce is really tasty.  Since everything is fresh and natural, this food is the perfect blank canvas.  And, thanks to my awesome parents, I have spices and hot sauces to help me create some really savory meals.  But at times I am actually surprised by just how good the food does taste.  The other week we made some Irish potatoes and they tasted so good!  I know, it’s crazy that I am praising a potato, but really, they were perfect.  Just like in any sort of farming community, you’ve just gotta know where to find the good stuff.  As far as seasonal produce goes, I know there is some inevitable variance in harvest times, but overall, finding what you want is usually possible.  Although, yesterday when I went to the market there were no avocados to be found.  If I can make me way into Musanze (about 1 hour north by van taxi), I can go to the best market and get tasty, fresh produce of any sort.  They even have apples there!  
So, as long as I do the cooking, the food here is pretty good.  I am able to remain completely vegetarian and feel healthy about the decision.  Hell, I’m remaining mostly vegan, which is awesome!  From time to time I will indulge in some fresh, local cheese, and I think the bread I get uses some sort of butter, but when I cook, it’s entirely vegan. 
Actually, I have a quick little story about drinking milk.  The other afternoon one of my fellow teachers popped into my house for a visit.  He brought with him a small jerry can full of fresh milk from his mother’s cow.  It was still warm... We then had to cook the milk.  I’m glad my Rwandan friends here agree with me on that- we need to cook it to make sure that if the cow has any sort of illness it won’t get passed on to us.  So, we cooked the milk then poured it into a few thermoses.  I then boldly went where I had yet to previously go- I drank honest to god, fresh milk.  It wasn’t half bad, though I will be contributing my recent stuffy nose and excess mucus to the milk drinking.  But, it didn’t hurt my stomach and it tasted ok.  We added some sugar (in true Rwandan fashion) and Jane and I sat drinking our hot, sweet milk.  I mentioned to her that I liked it and she said “well, if you like it we can get Juvenal to bring us milk every week.”  Nope, I told her that I liked it as a special thing that we indulged in every so often.  I didn’t share this with her, but I’d be happy to keep the milk drinking to a twice a year minimum.  It was ok, I’m glad I tried it, but I’m not trying to turn milk into a major dietary staple.  (Warning- vegan ideology to follow).  I am able to get good food most times, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy for me to maintain a super healthy diet.  Logistics just make it a whole lot more difficult to remain as healthy here as I could be in America.  I still firmly believe that I don’t want to depend on another living create for my health, and I think that I honestly don’t need to.  But, I do eat the occasional egg (less now than I did during training) and I indulge in the every-so-often cheese product and bread made with milk or butter.  And, like I just mentioned, I will share a glass of warm milk when the occasion requires.  And I’m ok with making these small diet changes.  I know the cow who’s milk I’m drinking, the chickens who produce the eggs we consume are always clucking around our school grounds and the dairy products used here are manufactured at local establishments using local ingredients.  Also, I would feel like a total prude if I didn’t try some new things here.  This is not changing my ideology, just allowing me to experience some new things (like fresh milk).  Some of you may think that I should try any and every food that I’m offered, but I am going to draw the line at meat.  No thank you.  I don’t think I’ll ever eat that stuff again if I can avoid it.  And fish?  This country is land-locked baby... and being from Florida makes you a potential fish/ seafood snob.  If it’s not super fresh, count me out.    On the other hand, some of you may scoff at my lax food consumption practices.  To that I say whatever, I feel good about the choices I’m making.  I feel like I am remaining fairly healthy while simultaneously experiencing new things and acting in ways that allow me to assimilate.  I don’t mean to jump to the defense, just trying to explain my thoughts a bit.
Anyway, that’s my take on the food here.  Perhaps a little inconsistent, but that’s how I like it.  But, please be aware, that my soon to come wish list consists of mostly vegan snack food items.  I love getting granola bars, chocolate and cookies from my parents- they really do sweeten my day (har har).  One thing I really miss? Vegan ice cream and popsicles... upon my return to America I am going to devote an entire day to eating vegan ice cream.  Who’s with me? :)

Hey! Teacher! Leave them kids alone

While I’m sure it’s interesting to read my thoughts and feelings about this African life;  get some good ol compare/ contrast courtesy of your’s truly, I would like to step away from my perceptions and emotions for a bit.  I don’t want to tell you about how I passed the time on my rainy day painting my toe-nails and watching Indiana Jones (which may or may not have actually happened)... not now.  Now I want to talk a bit about my job.  My primary assignment as a Peace Corps volunteer is to teach English to Secondary School students.  I am attempting to do exactly that.  I’ve written a few e-mails recently that explore the theory that I will be the one learning in this situation; I will be the one experiencing new things everyday, adapting my habits and experiencing growth throughout my time in this country.  I think this is absolutely true and relevant.  But, I am also here to be a teacher, to try and facilitate some sort of exchange.  Already, I have been shocked into realizing just how different my learning experience was from those of my students.  In the states we get taught at an early age to think for ourselves, to develop our own thoughts and opinions and to express ourselves in the ways we desire.  Now, as we all know, the education system in the states isn’t perfect, but it does lead to the students producing varied responses.  A prime example of this: the other day, PCV Keira (my closest volunteer neighbor) was over, and we were opening packages from our families after she retrieved our mail.  Her mother teaches 3rd grade in Washington, and she had her students write letters to Keira.  Not only were these adorable, they were varied and individualized.  Some kids wrote about cakes, some wrote about stars, some wrote about Keira’s family, some about Africa... and even the ones that were extremely run of the mill were at the very least worded differently from the others.  Over here, when we assign homework that is meant to be creative, meant to try and push the kids to create individualized response, we get the same thing written on 50 different papers.  These kids grow up on bland note copying and rote memorization, and while they are great, intelligent kids, getting them to produce creative responses is like pulling teeth.  Every once and a while a student will surprise me with some elaborate tale that shocks even the other students, but for the most part, these kids are on auto-pilot, writing what they know to be acceptable text book answers.  
The kids I teach are smart, and many of them are quite motivated, but they are reluctant to step outside the box.  Well, that may not be true... it’s probably not reluctance keeping them confined to the box, but rather fear and lack of training.  If these kids were told that they must do things a certain way, then they are going to continue on in that manner until something (or someone) forces them to change.  Enter Allison, their zany American English teacher, with her crazy ideas, difficult to understand accent and rule-bending propensity.  I’m not saying that I’m going to totally rock these kids worlds, but I am already asking them to change their classroom manners.  I want them to SPEAK LOUD and I request this is a LOUD voice so they get the idea.  I start class with a stretch session and a request to “get ready for English class.”  We do lots of group and pair work, and the notes I give them aren’t perfectly copied from a text book.  I don’t want to derail them and go to extremes to make class hard to follow, but I do want to help expand their horizons.  
I am running into my fair share of challenges over here, and as you may expect, I’m no were near perfect at this job.  Once again, dear ol’ mum recently told me exactly what I needed to hear; this time via e-mail. “Hope the week continues to go well for you. It really takes a while to adjust to the dynamics of your classes and to adapt your teaching methods. Every class is different and what works for one might not work for another. Continue to work hard -(it will pay off)- you are making a difference in your kids lives and they are counting on you! You make me proud no matter what!!”  Thanks mama!  And, while this may be the same thing I’ve been told countless times since coming here, it’s always nice to hear.  As much as I don’t want to claim to be making an impact on the lives of my students I’m sure that in some ways, for some students I am.  In the very least, since I’m the first American that these kids have really interacted with, they will remember me for that.  And if I can leave them with one small piece of wisdom or helpful information, I’ll be happy.  I have many grad goals for my teaching practice, but hey are still in a fragile sort of developmental stage; not yet ready to be shared with the internet.  
I mentioned in the previous post that we avoided a surprise holiday yesterday.  These crop up all over the place, and if it’s not a surprise holiday keeping us from class, it’s an impromptu meeting or some administrative task that needs to be completed.  Today I walked into my Senior 1 class to find no students.  They were all outside harvesting the corn that we grow on the school’s property.  Being friendly with the Secretary has it’s advantages... I went to her and said “Jane, do I get students today or will they be harvesting for the rest of the afternoon?”  We laughed about it for a moment then she went to light a fire under their butts to get their share of the task finished so they could come back in for a stimulating English lesson.  
Songs are a good class activity for these kids; and I remember that when I was in High School, learning songs was my favorite part of Spanish class (in fact, I still remember a few of them).  Notes written on the board will get copied and homework will occasionally get done.  Overall they are good at group work and pair work.  The main problems lie in our communication barriers.  It is hard for me to keep my diction and syntax in check and my accent just ices the cake... they really do have a hard time understanding me.  I am working on this but overall there is not much I can do.  Speak slowly, write many things on the board, keep a slow pace in class... It’s not ideal, but it works.  Gone are my visions of conducting classes full of stimulating discussion, conducting innovative and exciting class projects and  eliciting work from my students that is ground-breaking and inspired.  As with everything here, the old African saying applies: slowly by slowly.  The fact that these kids CAN understand 50% of what I say is pretty good.  Their ability to complete work and spend hours studying is impressive.  And the ones who are extra motivated to work hard make my day every time I talk to them outside of class.
In my Senior 3 class we are in the midst of doing a debate segment for their English Listening and Speaking hours with me.  We had a class debate on Monday; topic: no money, no life.  This was a topic that the students chose (next Monday we get to do: birth control; should it be obligatory?).  We had 4 groups of students: support, opposition, judges and spectators.  The spectators from this week will be the participants next week- the only way I could think of logically breaking up the class in to manageable groups.  I never did debate in school, nor do I know ANY of the rules or protocol that accompany “professional” debate... but I can wing just about anything over here.  And, it worked out really well.  These kids have had some sort of debate training (I think they had a small debate club last year) and they needed little guidance from me.  This is proof that all the blood sweat and tears I’m having to put into my Senior 1 classes will one day pay off.  The judges kept track of the arguments and evaluated which side had stronger points, used better English and debated more effectively, and I sat in the back of the class and monitored from there.  
Like I said, I’m not changing the lives of my students, not really.  And I’m not forging new pathways in the realm of English education.  But I am learning a hell of a lot, I am enjoying this (most days) and I am helping my students (at least somewhat).  Now I just need to find the best ways to ACTUALLY help them, and I’ll feel pretty good about this whole teaching thing.  I am certain that this is not going to be an overnight success, and I am quite certain that the only way I’m going to improve my teaching is by allowing myself to make mistakes, to try something new and to hopefully learn from whatever ensues.  I don’t want to think of this as any sort of trial run, because I want my students to benefit, but I think that if I do this correctly, this will be one of the craziest periods of time of my teaching career (which itself may be very short).  
Also, even though it’s far too early in the game to make this sort of decision, I think I am cut out for some sort of less traditional teaching.  Call it informal if that makes you happy... I really like to teach, I do, but teaching in a formal primary or secondary school setting is not my favorite medium.  Can I just go ahead and jump the ranks to professor?  Or maybe I can go back to education via museum programs... OR I can get a job at a fancy private school that has a 10 student maximum class size?  Or, I can turn entirely benevolent and continue to help the students that need it most.  Those that don’t get to go to fancy private schools or universities; those who may never step foot in a museum, yet are still motivated to try and gain a higher level of education than their socio-economic situations predestine.  Who knows... all I can do is keep on trying over here.  Trying and hopefully not failing too miserably.  
All of that being said, if you (like my mother) have any words of wisdom, great class activities, advice or coping strategies you’d like to share, please do so.  

Oh! I am in charge of the newly completed school library.  I will be brainstorming on how to turn this into a functioning resource that will remain purposeful after I leave this place.  This will probably be a bigger focus of mine towards the middle of the school year, but if you have any ideas/ hear anything about how to run an extremely low-budget and resource stripped library, let me know?


Why my headmaster may be the best in all of Rwanda

Today is one of those sorts of days when I want to share everything with you!  I want you to know the intricate details of my life here, and tell you all my stories.  Unfortunately, my fingers can’t keep speed with my mind, and even if they could, I doubt you would really want to read whatever encyclopedia resulted.
It has been a while since my last post, though I do have a few in the works.  Soon to come: Food (Rwanda Edition), Teaching (an attempt to hit the tip of the iceberg) and an on-going Wish List.  Being the selfish individual that I am, the wish list is likely to be first.  Only kidding... I’m not entirely selfish (please note: I first wrote “shellfish” then had to go back and edit) but I find it easier to be able to quickly throw together a wish list than to sit and ponder my teaching experience, methodology and student receptiveness.
On to the fun stuff.  Things at site have been going pretty well.  I was in a bit of a slump this past week- blame it on the Mefloquin, blame it on the rain, blame it on teaching troubles, blame it on whatever you’d like.  Really, I guess I’m just reaching the expected emotional period where I begin to question my effectiveness, question my methods, question my reasons for being here, and when the excitement of beginning something new starts to fade.  Nothing a good week of laying low, and a phone call from your mother can’t fix.  Oh, I suppose the moderately successful week of teaching and contact from some key fellow PCV’s didn’t hurt.  Yesterday was International Women’s Day, and the 100th year anniversary at that!  We were expecting to not have classes, but no official gave the go-ahead for this to become an official (albeit impromptu) holiday.  So, I began my day with a holiday mindset, thinking I would take a hike and make some delicious food... not so fast Ally, instead you get to go up to school and throw together some lessons for your favorite English classes.  That last part was true- the classes I had yesterday are my favorites.  Hell, you’ve caught me in a good mood- I favor them all at the moment.  Watch out, next week they may be little brats again... My mother offered me some great words of wisdom based on her days as a middle(?) and high school science teacher.  She said that everyday is different, every class is different, the same class will be different at different times of the week and year and that you can never really know what to expect.  Sorry for the inaccuracies of this quote, mommy, you said it more eloquently but I don’t remember the exact words.  Anyway, she’s absolutely right!  And I think that being able to acknowledge this truth is the first step to being able to use it to your advantage.  At the very least, I’m learning- a fact that I will keep returning to again and again (especially when I’m feeling low).
I want to walk you through a few wonderful moments of my day.  Let’s see... I’ll do this in a sort of bullet format in an attempt to have less dense text on this damn blog.
  • In the wee hours of the morning I wake up to the unpleasant discovery that my bladder is uncomfortably full, and I have to make my way to the latrine (outside and around the corner of the house).  I must have been having some sort of crazy dream because I remember that during that “restroom” trip I was conjugating the verbs to have and to want... in Spanish.  Yo tengo, tu tienes, tu quieres, ellas quieren...  The only good part about having to go outside to pee in the middle of the night is that it’s the middle of the night.  The village centered is silent (whereas at dusk you can hear it bustling in the distance) and the stars are out in full force.  It’s quite chilly, but the promise of a warm bed to return to makes it ok to stop and stare at the stars for a few minutes.  
  • Speaking of dreams, I’ve always been a vivid dreamer... but I think it’s true what they say about Mefloquin.  That drug gives you some pretty crazy dreams.  I think it’s a win-win honestly.  I get some good night time entertainment and I protect myself from Malaria. 
  • A few hours later (well, some amount of time later) I am woken up by some sort of noise in my house.  I hold my breath, anticipating the audial discovery of a rodent in my “living” room, but instead discover that it’s just an exceptionally noisy moth.  My mosquito net affords me a safe sleeping haven, so I decided to put on some music and go back to sleep.  I don’t know if other folks in Rwanda are experiencing this, but lately my house has had a plethora of moths in and around it.  And they are quite varied in color, size and shape.  I also had a huge praying mantis on my wall last night.  If my house bugs remain so friendly, I will have little to worry about (these are SO much better than the ubiquitous Floridian cockroach).
  • In class today, I taught my Senior 1 class “All you need is Love.”  I know many PCV’s here have done this song in their classes, and it was actually surprisingly successful.  Also, it’s a great way to shut your class up. :)
  • Yesterday in my Senior 3 class (the oldest and my personal favorites), in honor of International Women’s Day, we talked about the advancement in equality in Rwanda.  In response to my question about what life in Rwanda will be like for women in the future, one student said “They will be pilot.”  Not the most outlandish answers to one of my questions, but amusing nonetheless (not to mention true?).  
  • Today I discovered the real reason that my Headmaster won an award for sciences- I think it was something along the lines of head teacher of sciences in the country- and was sent to Switzerland for a conference.  He created this device that cooks food.  And it is able to do so b/c it’s wired to a telephone and you call this phone to send it a command to start the device and begin the cooking process.  Apparently there is a pan on the cooking apparatus (where you place the uncooked food), a separate container with water, the phone to act as a regulator (or whatever you would call it), a cord connecting it to a power supply (in this case, an electrical outlet in your home) and some sort of wooden frame keeping the thing together.  You call or text the phone, thee is some way to command exactly how much water gets added to the pan, and the device gets hot and begins cooking.  To someone who grew up tinkering with technology, this may seem like child’s play, but to me (and my fellow teachers) this seems like magic!  Well, if not magic, it at least seems like pretty advanced stuff.  All of the teachers are so proud of our headmaster.  Best part?  He totally fits the part.  He’s kind of like the quiet, goofy, crazy and unexpected inventor/ tinkerer character we see so often in kid’s movies.  I can’t wait to see his continued progress.  And since he’s always tinkering with something, I’m sure there is more to come!
  • As I was walking to the market today, Vincent and Mary (two Primary Teachers from my school and two awesome people) joined me for the second part of the walk.  As we passed the butcher, right outside of the town center, Vincent asked me if I liked ham.  “Well no,” I reminded him, “I don’t like ANY meat.”  After I explained that not only do I not like it, I don’t like the idea of killing another creature.  He didn’t skip a beat- his immediate response was “but God created these animals so that we could eat them... also, someday they will eat us.”  I think that last part was a little nod to the carbon cycle and circle of life, but the first part surprised me.  Yes, I realize that is a somewhat common take on meat-eating, but I was surprised that one of the top science teachers at school is such a subscriber to this sort of biblical ideology.  I just smiled and said “maybe,” which is my favored response to almost any question or statement here.  What’s better is that in Kinyarwanda, the word for maybe is “wenda.”
  • This morning I was not yet finished with my tea before heading off to school so I transferred it to my steel water bottle and brought it with me.  Every single teacher asked me if I was drinking beer.  It was 7:30am.  I got to get some humor out of this though, because after I explained that it was only tea, I added “with no sugar, and no milk.”  They were predictably aghast, and I was amused, and they were amused, and it’s always a fun time in the teacher’s room.
  • Everyone greets each other out here, so saying good afternoon "Mwiriwe" to countless villagers is just another part of the day.  But, the number of people (including complete strangers) who greet me by name is growing daily.  "Yes, good afternoon Allison!" echoes through the tiny village center as I walk past.  Call me crazy, but that will never get old to me.  
  • Everyone in my village knows I like pineapple and avocados.  It could be that I incessantly look for these easy to eat, delicious food items, it could be that when I'm asking for these things is when my Kinyarwanda is at it's finest.  
I think there is more I want to tell you.  I KNOW there is more, but for now I will leave you with only this.  Stay tuned for my next couple installments in order to get a more complete view of some of my life logistics over here.  As always, I welcome your questions and comments, and I miss and love you dearly. xoxo
PS: A big shout-out to all the wonderful ladies in my life.  You are wonderful, and though I say this in honor of IWD, it’s true all days.  Also, isn’t there a little song that goes something like “I enjoy being a girl”?  Well, it’s true, and being surrounded by other awesome girls (if not in body at least in mind) makes it even more enjoyable.  

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Happy 50th anniversary Peace Corps

March 1st, 2011 marks the 50th year anniversary of the United States Peace Corps.  I don't wish to give you a run-down of the history of the organization, but I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge this day. I think it's pretty amazing that this organization was not only able to come into being, but it has been able to thrive and, at 50, is still goin strong!  So, thank you American tax payers!  And thank you to congress (I guess) for not slashing the funding too much.  I tend to try and distant myself from organizations, from bureaucracy,  from all the rules... but I can't deny that I am now part of something rather organized and bureaucratic.

Our awesome country director (no sarcasm intended... she really is pretty awesome) sent out an e-mail in honor of the anniversary, and she included some quotes from JFK when he signed the executive order that created Peace Corps.  Here are my favorites:

“Life in the Peace Corps will not be easy. There will be no salary and allowances will be at a level sufficient only to maintain health and meet basic needs. Men and women will be expected to work and live alongside the nationals of the country in which they are stationed—doing the same work, eating the same food, talking the same language.

“But if the life will not be easy, it will be rich and satisfying. For every young American who participates in the Peace Corps—who works in a foreign land—will know that he or she is sharing in the great common task of bringing to man that decent way of life which is the foundation of freedom and a condition of peace.”

Yes, the times they have a' changed, but the basis of this organization remains the same, or at least tries to.   No, I'm not allowed to pilot my own moto (a damn shame if you ask me); yes, it's because when Peace Corps discovered that moto accidents were the leading cause of volunteer deaths, they forbid moto ownership.  I have internet use readily available (I am literally sitting in bed writing this right now), and I can instantly communicate with folks anywhere in the world.  Gone are the days when you have to walk to the nearest post office, an hour away, to get access to a telephone (true story told to me by a woman who volunteered in the 80's).  But, the students still have a hard time understanding me, and the old mamas still look at me with awe, admiration and outright confusion.  And, I'm sure that some things I'm experiencing over here are experienced by volunteers in many countries; experiences spanning many years (in fact, some may be out-right timeless).  

Like it or not, I have gotten myself into an organization.  And, being part of this organization means that I have a common thread tying me to other crazy (or generous) Americans who sign up to serve abroad for two years, and who are all the better because of it.  Hooray for a solid 50 years!

*This just added* 

I want to share with you some “classic” Peace Corps moments, in honor of the 50th year anniversary of the organization.  I label these as “classic” because I’m sure that many volunteers have the same stories, the same sorts of interactions, and the same kinds of reactions.  But, I guess for all of us, the entire experience is somewhat unique.
  • On Sunday I sought shelter from a rain storm.  In the carpenter’s “warehouse,” amidst new furniture and wood shavings, with a handful of Rwandans.  In broken Kinyarwanda I explained to them how life is in America.  I tried to convey that there are poor people in America, but I don’t think they really bought it.  Then, when I said I didn’t want a husband and maybe I would get married when I’m 30, the old woman in the group laughed in utter disbelief.  Also, I learned how to say “hail” in Kinyarwanda (hail on a tin roof is LOUD).
  • Today, I walked out of class early because I wanted to spare my students (and myself) any further torture.  Having 60 blank stares when you’re explaining the simplest things doesn’t exactly raise your morale.  Alas, we will try again tomorrow!
  • A few students came to visit me.  We nearly exhausted their English abilities and in the process one of them said something absolutely amazing.  His name is Richard, one of my best students, and when I teased him (though teasing is lost on these students...) about him knowing my name he said “I will always remember your name.”  And I knew that to be the whole truth, and nothin’ but.
  • When I went to Kigali (the capital city) I spent almost my entire salary.  I need to remember that I’m living the vida village these days, and I need a budget to match.  We had a great time though!
  • After retrieving packages from the post office in Musanze, I walked into town with a few to leave them for a fellow PCV (one of the ladies sharing our PO box).  A man offered his help and conversation... upon accepting I discovered that he was a teacher at the National Police Academy, and a very courteous gentleman.  He filled me on on the Police academy and I told him all about Peace Corps.
  • I tend to stand out in this country.  Everyone notices my whiteness immediately (and to be honest, when you’re in a country where ever person has very dark skin, you notice your whiteness immediately as well).  This is certainly true even when I’m crammed in the back of a twegerane, one arm hanging out the window in order to facilitate more shoulder room.  But, it’s fun to talk to a taxi full of people (about 16) and try to explain to them (in broken Kinyarwanda) that even though I’m white, I’m a poor teacher and I live in a village.  Cue hearty laughter, followed by modest acceptance.  Also, when the traffic police stop your van to do the typical routine checks, the fellow passengers feel it is imperative that they yell that THIS van has a muzungu.  Thanks guys...