Saturday, January 28, 2012


I woke up this morning at 5:30 to go running with a group of students. I wish I had brought my video camera! About 100 students ran down the street towards the sunrise, singing and chanting different songs as they ran. And run we did! My legs are sore.

When we returned from our jog, I went to the mess hall where the students shared some porridge with me. Porridge is more of a beverage than a meal. As I sipped it from a mug I imagined that I was drinking a liquid corn tortilla.

After breakfast was Umuganda, the required community service that takes place the last Saturday of every month in Rwanda. But on the way to Umuganda, I noticed a group of students going into a compound. I entered to see what they were doing.

As I stepped through the gate, I saw a field leading up to a large ramshackle house with a fireplace on its exterior. Two small cows grazed the property, which was bounded by a brick wall at its perimeter. In one corner stood a water tank; in another, stables for cows. I joined my students in exploring the area.

It was apparent that the house had been first-rate at one time. Someone important had once lived here. As we wandered through the stables, the courtyard, and the house, one of my students explained to me that the property was once owned by the man who founded our school. But now he is in prison in a neighboring country for crimes which he committed during the genocide.

Exploring the compound brought back memories of the disc golf course in Washington that I visited with my dad and brother-in-law just before coming to Rwanda. The course was built on the grounds of an abandoned insane asylum. The old buildings there had become legendary and a place for teenagers to explore and to scare each other in. This compound in Rwanda has its own legend. According to my students, the former owner buried a large sum of money somewhere on the premises before he was taken away to face trial, but it has never been found.

My community is littered with abandoned buildings like this. In my mind, it is a physical manifestation of a society trying to rebuild itself. I get a sense that, much like these buildings, many people here feel torn down. We are here to help them build themselves back up.

Some people call the subject of the genocide “the ghost in the room.” You might go about your entire day without noticing it. And most days you won’t. People do not talk about it often, but it is on everyone’s mind. Yet, I am so impressed with the ability of the Rwandan people to move on and take such strides forward in development after such a terrible event.

Walking through that old, run-down house reminded me of something my headmaster told me one night over dinner: “People were killed in this school during the genocide.” Great dinner conversation! And now I know not only that people were killed here, but also that they were killed by the very man who ran the school. What an abominable man! I noticed that the closets in that man’s house were the same style as the one in my room. It brings these questions floating back up into my head: Was anyone killed in this room I sleep in? Did anyone try hiding in that closet? But the fact that I still have to wonder is an indication of Rwanda’s ability to pull together the pieces that remain and rebuild them into something that only vaguely resembles the split society it once was. Turi kumwe. We are together.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Money, Family, and Fried Food

“Money makes a good servant, but not a good master.”

“A person cannot improve the standard of living of their family without money.”

“Man makes money, but money does not make a man.”

“A poor family has no respect.”

Saturday night, Club Speak had their first debate. The topic was “Money is more important than family.” I acted as Corrector, which meant that I sat between the two sides and listened to their arguments while taking notes on any mistakes that they made in pronunciation, sentence structure, or the clarity of their messages. At the end of the debate, I shared these mistakes with those participating and gave them tips on how to improve their English. I had a lot of fun participating in this event and I’m looking forward to future debates.

Even though they were speaking English, sometimes it seemed as if the debaters were speaking a foreign language. It is strange how people learning a language together can make sense to each other, and yet, even as a native English speaker, I was sometimes unable to determine what was being said. They use sentence structures and accents that make sense to each other, but not to a native English speaker. It’s almost as if they are speaking a third language, somewhere in between English and their native language. But that is why I am here: to expose my students to American English so that they can one day communicate with others outside of their country.

I was going to go to church Sunday morning (I swear!) but I had no water to bathe with, so I stayed home and cooked beans. Cooking beans can take half a day. I also read three books.

And I made tortillas and assembled some bean burritos! These babies are 100% hand-made. No measurements, no rolling pin. Now I’m cooking like my granny used to. She didn’t have recipes to tell her how much of what to use. She only had her own experience. Food is art!

Yesterday I was told that I will be teaching a class today. I didn’t have a lesson planned, so I just marched into the classroom and started talking to the students. I introduced myself and had them make nametags so that I could call on them by name when they asked me questions. I wasn’t planning to stay long since I didn’t have a lesson, but the hour was up before I knew it. By the last five minutes of class I found myself giving a crash lecture on marketing. I guess I’m more ready to teach than I thought I was! I just hope my students are this attentive for the whole term.

As usual, I have some photos for your viewing pleasure. Mostly of food, but you know where my priorities are. But my camera does not get out much because it is very conspicuous. But I promise one of these days I will sneak it out and get some more photos outside. Anyways, enjoy!

My electric water kettle, preparing some hot water for hot chocolate. I’ve got the perfect ratio down: 4 scoops Ovaltine, 1 scoop powdered milk, 1 scoop sugar.

Ramen noodles and orange juice. They say the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. I see no problem here.

A teaching aid I put together for teaching on giving speeches.

I was at the field one day playing football and one of the village boys came up to me and gave me a light bulb as a gift. The most worthless items become invaluable with a little sentiment.

Grease! My taste buds thank me, but my arteries hate me. We’ll see how my stomach feels tomorrow. The string beans reminded me of eating fried okra back home.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Welcome to the Jungle

Here is a video showcasing the beautiful road up to where I live. Enjoy the view!

I'm hoping to capture some video of other modes of transportation as well, such as the moto and the squeeze bus.


So this is another boring post about cleaning again, but that seems to be what my life is about right now besides going to the market and cooking. But there are pictures!

The other day I spent three hours finishing scrubbing the walls. But this time I was smart. I bought a deck brush in town to make things go much more quickly than just wiping the walls down with an old sock.




And above the closet you can actually see the paint now! So many spider corpses...

This is what it looked like before.

And this is where I poop. I need a break from cleaning for a while before I try to tackle this beast. There's no running water, so the shower is completely useless and the toilet is flushed by dumping water into it. Notice there is no seat. I prefer the latrine. And I'm pretty sure that crack in the floor is a sink hole forming under the foundation. The hole in the shower basin is where I saw a mouse and a roach crawl out from (yes, at the same time).

Other than cleaning, I have actually been enjoying going to the different markets and exploring what is available for me to buy. It is intimidating at first to shop in the market, especially when dealing in a foreign language, but once you get the hang of it, it is a lot of fun. I get a kick out of playing the game of walking away or forcing the merchants next to each other to compete on price.

I am working on clipping some video together now so that you all can see more of the actual country and not just my room. Hopefully it doesn't take too long to upload!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

A Note on Cooking

Part of experiencing a new culture is tasting the food of the country you are staying in. I love to try food from different parts of the world and to see the unique ways that people prepare the same simple ingredients. Unfortunately, Rwanda is not known for fine cuisine.

Food in Rwanda tends to be bland and overcooked. Rwandans prefer quantity over quality. I believe that the food is cooked to a mush because Rwandans do not like to chew. The goal is to cram down as much food as possible before your stomach tells you to stop. Chewing only slows this process down.

Even worse, the umukozi who works for my headmaster uses about five times as much salt as normal. Thank God I'm able to cook for myself now! The gas stove that I bought is the best investment ever!

Here is what the umukozi cooked last night.

And here is what I cooked (reheated from the night before).

Now, granted, they don't look too much different. They are the same ingredients, after all. But the difference is in the texture. And the seasoning. Even though the soup I made was brothy, the vegetables were still more crisp and tasted like more than just salt.

I have a desire to teach people about nutrition while I am here. There is an availability of good, fresh food and spices and it is all fairly affordable. And when food is not overcooked, it retains its nutrients, which means that more money can be spent on flavorful spices rather than on more bland food. And when you don't overcook your food, you spend less time cooking. This means that you can eat at a reasonable hour, as opposed to eating right before going to bed, which is terrible for digestion and metabolism.

Here is an example. I cooked this for dinner tonight. It took me less than 30 minutes.

Spicy penne and vegetables

And I know that most Rwandans don't have the luxury of a gas stove, but cooking over fire shouldn't add more than 15-30 minutes to the cooking time. I have seen cooking go on for 2-3 hours!

Here's to hoping that I can teach some Rwandans how to cook.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Umwaka Mwiza!

Happy New Year, everyone! I had a busy weekend celebrating, but I've still managed to get a lot done around the "house" (my room at the school). I'm probably not going to get a house of my own, so I've been settling into this place the best I can. I have been accumulating things little by little to make myself more independent.

I had a guy come over and build shelves for my closet. It has really helped me to get organized. It was interesting haggling with the carpenter to agree on a price. He asked for 3,000 FRW. I offered 1,000 FRW. He refused and left. I called him a few minutes later and offered him 2,000 FRW. He gladly accepted. It's strange that 1,000 FRW seems like so much to me. It's equivalent to less than $2.00.


I think I have as many hangers here as I did in the States! Thanks, Peace Corps, for a decent move-in allowance.

Welcome to my office. The baskets alone are probably worth a tenth of my monthly allowance, but worth it for the organization. I hate seeing my things randomly dispersed throughout the room.

My next step will be finishing cleaning the walls and above the closet. Then, I will move on to the bathroom. The bathroom is a place where I hear the music from the shower scene in the movie Psycho whenever I open the door. It will be interesting trying to clean it up.

Well, I hope you all had a great New Year's celebration. See you in two years, America.