Thursday, December 29, 2011

Happy Holidays from Rwanda!

Since I don't have a house at my site, I spent the holidays with my headmaster. He has a house in the city, which is at least as big as my parents' house in America and has electricity. It was frustrating at first to be in a house full of people again when I was looking so forward to having my own space, but I made the best of it and enjoyed my time in the city. Now I know my way around Rwamagana and have been able to meet some neat people.

We went to church on Christmas morning. If I didn't know that it was Christmas, I would not be able to tell that it was. I don't think the sermon was even about the Nativity. But boy do Africans know how to do church! There is so much passion in their singing and dancing. The men were wiping sweat from their brows and the women tears from their eyes. I think that it was mostly for show, but fake it 'til you make it, right?

That evening I met my headmaster at a bar. He was already there with a few of his friends. It was an interesting mix of people. There was a man with a Master's degree, one who was a doctor, one was the pastor of the church we went to, another also worked in education, and the last one... well, I don't know, but he had about six beers. We had beers and brochettes, and I even got to try fish for the first time in Rwanda. I think it was tilapia. It had spikes on its back. It tasted good.

The day after Christmas I moved into my room at the school. Still no house for me - and I doubt they will find me one, so I'm making myself at home here. Since I was installed by Peace Corps at my headmaster's house, I had to hire a taxi to take all of my belongings to the school. My headmaster and his nephew were trying to convince me to save some money by taking all of my bags on a squeeze bus and just pay for the extra seats that the bags would occupy rather than hire a taxi. I gladly paid the extra for the private taxi. Sometimes saving a buck is not worth the extra hassle. I was proud that I got the price for the taxi down from 20,000 to 12,000 franks.

As soon as I got to my room in the school, I started scrubbing the walls down. The place is filthy and cleaning it up should keep me busy for awhile. I'm getting settled in here buhoro buhoro (slowly by slowly). I might even paint the walls some day if my headmaster lets me.

Mbere (before)

I don't know what the yellow stuff is that I scrubbed off the walls. I don't want to know.

I started near the bed and worked my way towards the closet.

Above the closet. I haven't even touched this area yet. It's become a place for me to throw trash for now.

Nyuma (after)

Not perfect, but much better! I sacrificed a pair of stretched out socks and scrubbed the walls with some bleach.

I stretched my mosquito net around the bed frame, which is for a bunk bed but it doesn't have the top bunk.

I only have a few random things in the closet right now until I get organized: water filter, gifts for my host family in Kamonyi, and some bubbly for celebrating New Year's.

And the other side of the closet, filled with items from a shopping spree in Kigali and the Kabunga market. Be jealous of my gas stove!

I must have hiked at least twenty kilometers today through the hills. It felt great on the way down. Coming back up was a different story! Especially since I was carrying a bag full of groceries from the market. And yet I still have energy right now because I have enabled myself to cook my own food! Hooray for fresh vegetables!

I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas and I wish you a Happy New Year!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Lost and Found

Just as I was returning from my morning jog today, I found 20 franks on the ground (enough to buy one box of 40 matches). I'm not ashamed to pick up loose change off the ground, so I pocketed it. When I put the coin in my pocket I realized that my room key had fallen out of my pocket during my jog!

I retraced my steps and followed the route I had just run. Why do I insist on increasing my jogging distance every day? Along the way I asked people if they had seen my key. I found a young man who was very helpful and came along with me to help me look and ask people if they had seen it. Unfortunately, we never found the key.

When I got home, my headmaster's family tried every other key that they own on the door. The key that I lost turned out to be the only key to the door. So, we had a locksmith come and replace the lock. I found 20 franks this morning, but had to pay 2,000 to get my lock replaced. And of course the 20 I found fell out of my pocket while waiting for the locksmith to come. I'm not going to wear those shorts anymore; the pockets are worthless!

I think I had an asthma attack yesterday. I'm not sure, because I've never had one before. I was jogging between the corn fields and the corn stalks had aromatic blossoms on them. My throat started to close up and I was wheezing uncontrollably. I have always had seasonal allergies, but this has never happened to me before. I stopped running and walked until I caught my breath. Once my breath came back, I returned to a jogging pace and it didn't happen again. And today, despite running a longer distance (twice, because I was looking for a key!) it didn't happen. Weird.

I got my hair cut today. I was thinking about letting it grow out for the next two years because I have never had long hair and I wanted to see what it would be like. But short hair is so easy to take care of and much cooler. It can get hot here in the East. Plus, I am so used to being clean cut that I feel dirty when my hair gets so long.

Can you see the tan line on my forehead from when my hair was long?

Last night I had a beer with my new friend, Pilate. He works for the department of education and he loves to speak English. He is also somehow related to my headmaster. We had a great conversation about development in Rwanda. Pilate explained that Rwandans learn everything in theory. There is not much application of the curriculum that is learned. For example, even though Rwanda is switching over from Francophone to an Anglophone system, Rwandans do not speak day to day in English. Pilate suggested that the reason Rwandans do not speak English is because they are already united under a single language, Kinyarwanda. In other nearby countries, like Congo and Burundi, there are hundreds of languages. Many people speak the European languages in these countries because they are languages that people can unite under. Rwandans don't need to unite under a European language because they already all speak the same language.

Pilate also hypothesized that Francophone countries in Africa are the ones that have political instability. He is happy that Rwanda is switching to Anglophone because the countries that speak English generally have peace. He said that France and Belgium caused more division than England did when the European countries imperialized Africa. I don't know how true this is. There may be some bad blood for France and Belgium after their roles in the war. Nevertheless, I am happy that there are people here who are excited to learn English so that they can further their academics.

Rwamagana has a new governor. I went to a rally with my headmaster to welcome her into her new position. It was sort of like a city council meeting, where the officials gave speeches and people could ask them questions. It was different from any meeting in America, though. Everyone stood up and began clapping in unison. Then the singing began. We sang and clapped like we were in church. It was a lot of fun.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Every New Day

Today is a new day. I decided to stop moping. I got up early this morning and went jogging. The burn in my lungs felt great! I also bought a bunch of fresh fruit for snacking on between meals. Tomorrow I will probably do some other exercises after jogging. I was already thin in America, but now my arms are like sticks! I gotta gain those inches back!

I think I may have broken every rule in the travel handbook except one. I won't go into details, because who knows who reads this?

I finally got the package my parents sent once upon a time long ago. Just in time for Christmas! I was filled with overwhelming joy to see the pictures of my family.

From 2011-12-21

Dad, this photo is for you. It's a giant ant! We have them here out East.

From 2011-12-18

Yesterday I saw a man with his face burned off. Today I saw a girl dragging her limp legs across the sidewalk at the bus station. A mentally-impaired lady begged me for money. I can't assume, but it is hard not to infer that these things are a result of war. And being a "Muzungu" gives me a taste of what life is like for someone who gets stared at and called names. Yet, I cannot compare my life to theirs because my struggles are nowhere near the same level as theirs.

Sometimes my heart completely breaks when I recognize all the problems in the world. In fact, I recently had a conversation with someone about my tendency to want to always be the hero. I have to stop myself from becoming overwhelmed by it all when I realize that I can't fix everything myself. And though there are big problems in the world, my God is bigger. The best thing I can do for the world is to live with sacrificial love for others.

Apparently Rwandans don't have the same standards of censorship for their children as Americans do. My headmaster's children were watching a film last night, and they had it on again this morning. It was a horror film which included bodily dismemberment, impalement, nudity, and lots of blood. Oh, and cannibalism. The film was originally in English, but was dubbed over with a Kinyarwanda narrative. That's right, a narrative; not a direct translation. Basically, it's a guy explaining in Kinyarwada everything that is happening in the movie. Sometimes the movie will pause while he takes the time to explain what is going on. Sometimes it will even rewind and play a scene over again. The end scene, where the cannibal is killed by taking a hook to the face, replayed literally five times! I might have laughed more if the movie weren't so disturbing.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Mindlessness and Dead Dictators

I drank entirely too much Fanta today. And updated my FB status too many times. TIA

I also saw an albino. I thought he was Caucasian at first. I wonder what his life is like?

Every time I sleep in this school a dictator dies. Leaders of the world beware.

My own patience surprises even me sometimes. Everything here takes entirely too long. We left the house this morning at 10:30. We got to the school at 2:00. It's normally a twenty minute ride between the city and the school, but my headmaster gets continually sidetracked with talking to people.

I wake up every morning naturally at 5:30. I ate breakfast today at 9:00. Lunch was at 2:00. Dinner at 9:00. With my meals so spread out (and lacking nutrients because they are all cooked out, along with any fiber) it's no wonder I feel drained. Not only that, but my day consisted of sitting for hours listening to my headmaster talk to different people throughout the day. I know very minimal kinyarwanda so I cannot follow along with native speakers. With no calories to burn and nothing to keep my mind busy, I start to shut down. Whenever I start to yawn or turn glassy-eyed, my headmaster asks me if I am tired. I haven't decided yet if it would be rude to tell him that I am more bored than tired. The two probably mean the same in kinyarwanda.

I just want my own space and my own food to cook!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

I am a PCV

On Thursday I swore in as a Peace Corps Volunteer. The day was much like having a birthday in that when you have one, you don't suddenly feel any older afterward. I don't feel any different now than I did prior to swearing in. It was merely an affirmation of a three month process of intensive training.

The ceremony, at the US Ambassador's house, made national news. Here's the story. We were on TV! In fact, I met a man today who recognized me from TV as one of the volunteers who swore in. I feel like such a celebrity!

The thirty-six of us spent the last few days in Kigali. It was both hectic and fun. We were given our move-in allowances and set loose to shop and paint the town. I had Chinese food, sushi, a smoothie, hookah,, real coffee and a chicken crepe within the span of a few days. It was blissful.

But the enjoyment has ended with the weekend. I headed off for my site today, but I am homeless. I am writing now from a room in my headmaster's house. I am staying with him until he and the Peace Corps staff find me a home. Which means indefinitely. I was really looking forward to having my own space, and now I feel like my homestay experience has just been extended. In Peace Corps, the highs are really high and the lows are really low. After such a great week, I am frustrated at my housing situation and already missing all of my friends and colleagues who I spent the last three months with.

I am trying to let the situation ground me and remind me of why I am here. It makes me think of the title of my blog. I didn't set out to make residence here. I am an exile, a sojourner. My citizenship is heavenly, and I must remember that my purpose here is to live in eternity, not just for the moment.

I'm done for now, so have some pictures.

This is the T-shirt we had designed for our group. It has a gorilla holding an English book and keyboard, volcanoes, a woman carrying a basket on her head, and a Komera ("Be Strong") logo made to look like a Primus (the most popular beer brand here) logo.

And here I am now with one of my headmaster's children.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Umuryango Wanjye

I finally got a photo of my whole family together. My favorite part is that my brothers and I all wore our matching custom-tailored shiny outfits. Enjoy!

On a more serious note, I will be swearing in as a volunteer next week. I have some tests this weekend, the hardest of which is the language test. So, if you'll excuse me now, I have some studying to do.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Shiny Shirt!

Remember the game Slug Bug? Some people called it Punch Buggy, and I'm sure it went by other names as well, but the premise was always the same. As kids, whenever we would see a Volkswagen Beetle we would punch someone in the arm and yell "Slug Bug!" Here in Rwanda, we have started a similar game. We punch each other in the arms whenever we see someone wearing shiny clothes.

Rwandans love shiny synthetic fabrics. One of my most memorable moments with my host family was when we went out to eat and my brothers dressed up in their shiny yellow shirts. There is a photo of them floating around somewhere on my blog. When I saw them, I told my family that I liked them and that I wanted one for myself.

One day an umudozi (tailor) showed up at our house and took my measurements, as well as those of my brothers. A little more than a week later, my very own shiny red shirt and shiny grey pants appeared, custom made for the equivalent of 20 USD - paid for by the American tax payers, of course. The best part about it is that my two brothers got the same exact outfit. Now that's integration! Hopefully I will get a photo soon so that the world can see how ridiculous I look.

Apparently my shiny shirt was supposed to come with a breast pocket on it, so my family told me to give it to them this morning so that they could take it back to the umudozi and have it sewn on. Now, I have noticed that young Rwandan men tend to wear their clothes baggy. I like my clothes to fit, especially if I am paying for them to be custom tailored. So since my shirt was going back anyway, I informed my family that my pants also needed to be altered because they were way too big on me - by at least a couple of inches around the waist. But my pants did not get altered...

In Rwanda, it is a compliment to tell a girl that she is big. Men strive to grow a pot belly. The size of one's waist line is evidence of their wealth. My family told me that my pants are baggy so that I can grow into them. "One day you will be fat," they said. In a way, I can see how a young man wearing baggy clothes is like wishing to become fat, which is essentially wishing for wealth in this country.

Now I just need to figure out the reasoning behind my pants being so long, too. I don't think I'm going to be growing two inches taller, although it would be nice!