Sunday, April 3, 2011

April showers

Relishing in the scent of lazy Saturdays.  Fresh rain that is lackadaisically beginning to fall outside.  The small, sweet bananas on the table next to my computer, and the pineapple that is inviting me to cut into it and enjoy its sweet, tangy flesh.  The tea that has turned cold in the mug inches away from my right hand- cold, but sweet and potent and refreshing.  Recounting the sweet moments I had this week... the countless hours spent speaking Kinyarwanda; new friends, old friends, friendships that seem to be blossoming and providing countless moments of fun; journeys to visit friends; and moments at school that make me love my colleagues.  As you could guess, I’m in a great mood today... and I have been for a long time.  I’m really loving nearly every moment of my life here and I’m starting to see the value of this experience.  The above writing may be reminiscent of a cheesy teen romance novel, off the paperback section at your nearest books-a-million, but this is the best way for me to convey how I’m feeling.  And while I’m not aspiring to climb the ranks to seasoned writer, my father mentioned something to me in a recent e-mail that I’m reluctantly allowing to sink in.  He challenged me to be more poetic with my writing, in so many words.  At first I dismissed this as dad being dad, but, like most things I’ve learned from him over the years, once I allowed myself to think about what he’s told me or what he’s trying to encourage me to do, I realized that he makes a damn good point.  So I am resuming this little session of musing through my keyboard after finishing a delicious Sunday breakfast.  It’s dreary and rainy outside, more gray and white than the rest of the mornings we were lucky to experience this week, and it’s affording me a quiet, relaxing morning at home.  We’re on holiday now, and while (since I teach at a day school and not a boarding school) I didn’t get to see a mass exodus of students, all bright-eyed and excited, heading home for the holidays, I did get to see my students gear up for a break in a similar manner as myself.  If you’ve taken a look at my Picassa photo page recently, you’ll know what I’m talking about.  Yes, we teachers were just as excited and ready for a break as the students, and we were able to get in a little celebrating at school accordingly.  Check out the album titled “End of Term 1” if you want details, because, as we all know, a picture is worth a thousand words.  And in this album there are 40 pictures... you do the math.  
My spirits have been incredibly high and consistently so, as of late, and I can’t foresee this trend changing drastically any time soon.  I awoke this morning with the necessary amount of motivation to undertake the task of single-handedly cooking a massive breakfast spread for myself and Jane.  Yes, I do feel that I have to muster a certain amount of gusto and energy before stepping into the kitchen here.  Light the stove, prepare the vegetables (while squatting over the kitchen floor of dirt with a dull knife and a small jerry can of water), orchestrate the cooking line-up so that food is ready in an appropriate sequence and so that when the fire is hottest you’re cooking the items that like hot fire, and make a lot of food with little ingredients.  No, this is not rocket science, but it is an art; an art that I’d like to think I’m beginning to master.  This meal was possibly the best I’ve cooked to date.  We were able to enjoy potatoes with onion and rosemary, chickpeas with a thick tomatoey/ nutritional yeast/ turmeric and rosemary sauce, banana pancakes and homemade pineapple/ ginger syrup.  All vegan, all fresh, all delicious.  The best compliment a chef can ever hope to receive is in the form of a serious recipe inquiry.  “This is good, what did you use to make it?” is always a nice gesture, but what I prefer is “tell me exactly what you did, and when I try to make this at my home and I succeed, I’ll let you know.”  And that last statement, coming from a Rwandan, is enough to make you proud for the day.  I’ve mentioned the food that we consume here to some extent, but since it comprises so much of our lives, I am nearly constantly surrounded by food, talk of food, food preferences and different food preparation styles.  Rwandans like to really cook their food- make it nice and mushy- and they are often not excited to try new food.  That is a gross generalization, I know, but I’m sticking to it.  However, I’ve been lucky enough to make Rwandan friends who like to try the food I make, and who tend to enjoy it.  Spices folks, it’s all about spices.  And variety, and experimentation.  These are things that tend to be absent from Rwandan kitchens and Rwandan sentiments toward food.  But, Jane is very open-minded when it comes to food, and is a pretty great cook herself... again, I’m so lucky that I share my living space with her.  So now she is going to be making banana pancakes and homemade syrup at home for her kids this holiday, and I consider that inspiration to be my good deed for the day.  
The end of the term was nice, but grading was on-par with a task as daunting as transcribing hieroglyphics.  I made a fairly futile attempt to do my grades on the computer.  Spreadsheet are theoretically a great way to organize data and keep yourself on track, but when you’re computer skills are limited and lazy at best, they can make your life more difficult and can be more hindering than helping.  I ended up calling PCV AJ to try to elicit his tech-savvy skills the morning that grades were due.  He was helpful, but I didn’t actually end up fixing the problems that plagued my measly spreadsheets.  In the end, what was supposed to make grading quicker and more organized, made it longer and sloppier.  Oh well, better luck next time.  And maybe next time I won’t wait till the very end of the semester to start plugging my grades into the computer.  
A little funny end of term anecdote:  We have a lovely system here for the doling out of school reports.  It’s called class rank, and it’s a pretty big deal around here.  As I sat on the sidelines, watching my headmaster stand on a desk and address all the students of secondary, I thought back to my days at high school.  At Eastside High School, and other public high schools across America, we got our report cards in homeroom, took a quick discrete look at our marks (which was usually quickly followed with panic or at least a mild dissatisfaction) and hid these little cards in our backpacks.  Friends would talk and compare grades from time to time, or you could see the occasional student approach the teachers to quibble about the point that took them from an A- down to a B+.  Point being, American high schoolers would freak if they had to endure the momentary humiliation that my lovely students are blessed with on mark proclamation day.  Here, the teacher in charge of your class (each class has a head teacher) stands at the front of class and calls off names in order of class rank.  The students walk to the front of class, retrieve their paper, and return to their seats.  This happens after the headmaster calls the top ten (in order) of every class to come stand before the rest of the secondary students.  For the first in the class, I’m sure this is a really proud moment, and it’s nice to be able to honor the students who succeed, but for these students to put up with this every semester- it’s a lot!  
I am trying to brainstorm a way to help my students build their self-esteem and help them maintain a high sense of self-worth.  While many of the teachers at my school are kind and caring and want the students to succeed, they don’t do much to help these kids develop as strong, proud, confident teenagers.  One of my goals for the rest of this school year is to find a way to found a club or group that is geared towards helping my students develop confidence and to help them feel empowered and motivated.  This is not a task that has a quick fix, nor is it something that will produce results that I will necessarily be able to see, but this is something that I feel strongly about, and that I hope to be able to do.  All of the PCVs in my group (Education 2) have a big conference/ training in a few weeks called IST (in service training), so hopefully I’ll be able to get in some brainstorming there, and will return to site with ideas on how to make this little goal turn into reality.
I know this blog post is a little spastic and disjointed (wouldn’t be me if the case were anything but) so I apologize.  I’ve just a few more things to add.  Last weekend I began to make a little list of happenings...  So, here you go!  Now you’ll be able to get a bit of a better idea of what I’ve been up to:  
Good things:
  • visit from PCV Katie (girlfriend weekend!) and subsequent visit to PCVs Andy and Carina.  
  • girly nail painting.  with Americans K and C and also with Rwandans Clem and Jane
  • attempted regional meeting... turned into 3 awesome lady PCVs hanging out for the better part of a Saturday
  • walking home Saturday night... after dark! scandalous! we walked only a short distance then got a ride, but still, it’s not often that I’m able to be out and about in the evening
  • improving culinary skills on the imbabura (charcoal stove)
  • “spring cleaning” of my house and an inspiring rearranging of furniture
  • HOLIDAY for almost all of April!
  • completion of grades and a celebratory beer drinking with all the teachers and staff from school
  • holiday travel plans
  • increasing popularity in my village (always nice when people know your name...)
  • visits to fellow PCVs (especially those which include my favorite Rwandan colleagues)
  • visits to Rwandan friends
  • final piece of desired furniture ordered! (pictures soon to follow)
  • I’ve been speaking Kinyarwanda more regularly... and while I’m not exactly fluent (no where close) I think I’m slowly improving
Bad things:
  • general lack of exercise lately.... thank you rain and laziness
  • hardly any students passed my exam/ class
  • grading was not the best experience in general
  • I don’t think I’m ever going to get used to how Rwandans LOVE to tell me I’m fat... I can laugh at it, but it’s still not my favorite topic of conversation  
  • I just did some laundry... and I need to do some dishes.  I think chores are pretty much not so much fun no matter where you live
  • I would like a bottle of wine to go with dinner tonight but that’s just not going to happen
  • sore throat... I hope I’m not getting a cold!
As you can see, life is good, and this probably explains my good mood and generally favorable outlook on life.  I’m hoping to have some great holiday adventures over the next couple weeks, so I’ll be posting stories and photos again sometime soon.  I hope you all are well. Love from the village. 

here's the link to my online photos: picassa photos!



  1. Great Blog Post - as always!! I love your musings and random thoughts! Your writing is always poetic to me! Glad life is going well - have a great vacation!! Love you and miss you!

  2. Hi Ally - I'm glad things are good. We love hearing the details. And the moth photos are really cool. Don't get sick! Emergen-C is on the way. Love you!

  3. i want to get you everything on your wish list, but i'm sure mommy has already beat me to it! haven't been keeping up with the blog, however is on my to-do list for the summer!