Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Horizon

Much has changed in the past few months. In order to avoid boring you, I will refrain from going into detail about last term. It was busy and long and in the end, I was glad to have a break. You all might recall that I wrote about having a puppy in my last entry. Well, sadly, Remy has gone to fellow a colleague and I’ve moved out of the misery house and back up to the guest apartment that I inhabited last year (before rashly moving down to teacher housing). Despite the difficult decision to let Remy go, I have since visited him at his new home and while he did remember who I was, he seems very well adjusted to his new habitat. As for me, I’m enjoying a quiet ambiance that is beautifully devoid of roommates.

Fortunately my 3 week holiday was not so quiet. During the first week I employed myself in the neighboring village of Gatega where the new internet café’s walls turned into a teaching tool for the community. With the help of a group of my colleagues, I successfully completed a world map project on my own!! Remember the first time I mentioned participating in making a world map? Yeah, so not like this time. On the Friday that all my students went home, I hiked up the 60 degree hill into Gatega, past the market and through the woods, etc, to get to the diminutive building with the green and white picket fence in the front. (don’t ask me how or why that’s there--I thought it strange since it’s the only picket fence in all of Rwanda that I’ve seen..) With an air of anticipation, I began my work. Unrolling the masking tape with a rugged snap sound, pouring the big bucket of white into the basin so clean and ready to be used, turning on my music player to drown out the thumping music from next door’s barber shop, I settled into my role of painter the extraordinaire with enthusiasm. 10 minutes later I was wishing for a new imaginary profession. After taking a few swipes at the wall with the roller I noticed that the consistency was pretty sticky and my anxiety was aggravated when Jean Paul visited and asked if I had any water to mix into the paint to which I replied, mystified, no. Then he looked at my paint and shook his head—turns out, you can’t mix water very well with oil based paint. Huh, go figure that I went out and bought the kind of paint that required a mineral-based material to mix with it. Since there is no turpentine to be found out in the boondocks I resorted to picking up petrol the following day and proceeded to combine that with my already pungent paint. You can imagine that over the course of the project, I became inured to the odor until the last day when I realized that my delirious state was in fact due to the noxious petrol fumes and not my own craziness (it was difficult to make the distinction though).

Having solved that issue I was then stumped by another: the wall itself kept peeling off as I rolled over it. Hmmm… Then, as I stepped back to take in all the patches of missing wall, I noticed something else quite alarming. The building had been built on a slant, thus creating an uneven wall. The right side was at least 8 inches shorter than the left! In addition to that, I had initially measured the bottom of the map very haphazardly which created an even greater disparity in the opposing lengths. Cursing and mumbling, I went back in with my scotch tape and re-measured all four sides so that they (as much as possible) matched one another. Accounting for the additional space in the right-hand corner, I sloshed some more paint on the newly uncovered 6 inches and finally set about to doing the real hard work. Gridding. Without the use of a meter stick I was stuck relying on a short 50 cm ruler to draw lines from top to bottom and from left to right. Not only did this eat up a good 6 hours of time for both directions (aka two days) but I was unimaginably sore for the next couple of days due to the squats and overhead stretching required to cover the lengths (I gained a better appreciation for ballerinas’ diligence). Fortunately the next day my fellow PCVs showed up to help draw the countries in and after that we colored them all in, from Brazil to Indonesia, only failing to spot El Salvador and Israel, whoops.

After that seemingly easy endeavor, the only remaining task was to check any dripping activity (i.e Somalia melting into Tanzania) and paint over the gridlines that I so painstakingly drew in. Easy enough, right? Not. Three fourths of the way across the map I glanced down into the white paint bucket at a remarkable absence of liquid paint. The white paint had apparently not taken very well to the atmosphere and dried up, leaving nothing but chalk behind. Not believing that I still had to cover up the rest of the grid off the coast of California down to Ecuador and stunned that there was no more paint with which to carry that out, I made a drastic choice. With an overly generous helping of blue, a couple of pieces of chalk, and a resulting gunk covering my hands, I reached up and began to smear the residual paint across the wall. It was a mess. Grimy bits rubbed off my hands and rolled onto the ground and what actually stuck was a greasy film. I stepped back and saw a massive tidal wave of dark blue all across the northern Pacific. The next moment was not one of my finest but eventually I managed to crush the wave and after erasing some of the more prominent grid lines I created a decent effect that if the high school character, Cher was looking at it, she would declare it a “faux Monet.”

Alas, the drudgery was not over. There was still a matter of identifying the countries. I couldn’t very well leave the countries floating in obscurity for people to see and wonder what they were. Using my own world map as a reference since the one provided in the project materials is two decades outdated, I went down the line and numbered every country. Naming them seemed too messy and after creating a corresponding key, I deemed it a better idea to offer people a chance to look up the countries according to the numbers on the map (and hopefully provoke their curiosity a bit). After 9 whole days, the tumultuous adventure of undertaking such a project came to a close. If asked to do it again I would have stoutly confirmed my resolution to never enter into such an endeavor another time and that’s exactly what I said to myself as I entered the office of my headmistress on the first day of classes. One half hour later I was silently berating myself for succumbing to her subtly persuasive ways and my own guilty conscience. Since then I have begun another map project in my school’s main hall and with the aid of some geography students, by the end of this month it will be a sparkling reminder of my presence.

As I have undoubtedly stated before, my primary assignment is teaching but what I have not explained fully is that, as far as my time here at CIC goes, it would have been more adequately employed elsewhere. In other words, I have felt mostly useless and unneeded. And this notion was confirmed last term when I met with my headmistress about a possible replacement after I leave. Aside from mentioning that Peace Corps told her not to count me as a regular teacher, she also couldn’t fully elucidate what my current role in the library was. “(the librarian) and you, you both work—it is two jobs.” Er, um, ok, Victoire. But that doesn’t help me understand why I am here. That misunderstanding and misinterpretation, coupled with her desire for a teacher of math or science, have yielded the undeniable forecast that there will be no replacement after me. This may defeat the goal of PC to create a sustainable presence but that should not be a problem given that my site mate lives right down the road from me and has comfortably integrated into the community. After deliberating on how I could spend my last few months in service, I think I may have hit upon the most ideal course of action. To enjoy. Whether I teach, paint, show films in media club, play basketball, or tutor the nuns in English, I want to smile.

There is a good chance that I may do just that. Recalling my journeys this past holiday, I can fondly remember the laughs shared among friends and experiences had by all. Hiking up Bisoke volcano and sliding most of the whole way down, emitting sounds akin to Grecian wedding revelers or sleeping outside in a tent among the leopards and vicious chimpanzees who roam the night in Nyungwe forest are among a few precious memories. Being left stranded by the Sotra bus company along the side of the road in the middle of the miserably cold and damp forest was something I’ll never forget either. More affectionately I remember spending my birthday in the typical Rwandan celebratory style of drinking Primus in a bar and then chomping down on roasted corn afterwards. Nostalgia aside though, there are happy prospects in the near future to content myself with too.

Recently my site mate came to me with the idea to develop a grassroots camp for the students at our schools. They are both all-girls’ boarding and could benefit from some out-doors learning for a change. They are smart, driven girls but the lack of any previous opportunity for creativity has inhibited them from branching out (hence the grassroots, hehe). Among the usual camp-like activities consisting of tie-dye shirts and making a piñata, we hope to set up dance workshops with the students’ favorite hip-hop and possibly teaching them how to do-si-do in the traditional square dancing style. At other stations they can work on some hands-on experiments like an egg-drop and games like mission impossible that will require critical thinking skills. In light of the disappointment that I shall not be participating in this year’s GLOW camp, I am glad to have the chance to plan something for these students. Who knows, maybe they will go out and share the knowledge they gain from this little camp with their family and friends--not just the steps to “Single Ladies” but also how to resolve problems in their daily lives.

As the months and weeks dwindle I am reminded of my time here. Although I am aware of how hasty I sound by thinking that, lately my mind is occupied by the idea of what kind of impression I will be leaving behind. Two weeks ago I attended my COS (close of service) conference where my cohorts and I discussed … a lot of things, but among them was saying good-bye. It calls to mind the reality that I will soon depart Muramba which has been my home for nearly two years, without knowing if I will ever return. But if I did come back I know that I would find a wall sized world map in the center of town and a community library. After a looooooooong time, my colleagues and I have finally raised enough money for the library project, yay!! This is astounding news after having waited so long for it to happen. Of course, there are a couple more months before the books arrive and it is fully stocked but I am looking forward to tacking up national geographic maps and the “I love Reading” posters my mom sent last year and stacking the shelves full of TIME and ELLE magazines. I can’t wait for the moment that my village will open their eyes to the first Muramba Community Library.

Now it begins to drizzle softly. The students start racing back to their dormitories shouting and squealing. The rain falls steadily harder, filling the outside world and surrounding my home. I think of the verdant hillsides and the lush fields that will grow. When the rain comes the haze clears and the horizon appears. Now, I think, very reminiscent of Captain Jack Sparrow with his hapless confidence, show me that volcano.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

waking up with Baby

Two months ago I took 30+ hour bus drive to Zanzibar and back (that means 60+ all together). That was the longest ride I’ve ever taken on a bus and even though the trip back was horrible it could have been worse: we could have been waiting for 19 hours on the side of the road (which happened to another group of volunteers who went after us). Once the bus finally stopped in humid and hot Dar es Salaam, our band of hooligans descended onto the streets of a city far bigger and dirtier than we are accustomed to here in Rwanda. The streets were lined with stores and restaurants, gas stations and internet cafes. At lunch we all raced (literally, you could not stop our caravan of determined eaters) to the local Subway and for dinner some of us ended up at a Lebanese place that served the absolute best hummus. Full of delicious food and ready for the beach, the next morning we ferried over to Zanzibar Island and immediately commenced to enjoy a vacation much deserved. Here’s a little glimpse of one of the activities we signed up for: they advertised it as “Swimming with the Dolphins” but in real life it was quite a different experience than we expected.

8 foot swells rocked us back and forth for the first hour, as we gripped the sides to keep from spilling over into the water or slipping down off the bench into the swampy interior (which Chris actually did once when she let go for a second and plopped down onto the floor of the boat!! I couldn’t stop the bark of laughter that came out of my mouth.)Amid the nervous laughter and admissions of fear, Kevin yelled, “I’m too stupid to be scared!” so naturally, the declaration became the theme of such a terrifyingly hilarious episode.

Then, from out of nowhere our “guides,” two scruffy adolescents, started to get excited and pointed out at the water. Two sleek, black porpoises were gliding toward us and then a couple more and before we knew it, they were everywhere!! And then, before we knew it, they were gone. The boys driving the boat immediately started urging us out, instructing us to follow after the elusive mammals. Strapping on the goggles and flippers, the 6 of us managed to decipher what the guys were saying: “Jump!! And we tell you where to go” Er, right. So out went Mark in a diver’s back flip dangerously close to the motor, followed by Kevin and Chris belly-flopping in. I didn’t have time to laugh as I was next to fling myself out. When we were all bobbing and swaying in the undulating waves, we heard our fearless guides shouting and motioning at us, but what it all meant, I couldn’t tell you. I managed to get my goggles on straight and when I looked down at the ocean floor lying 16 feet below, I saw nothing but sand and coral. No dolphins. Meanwhile, when I picked my head back up, Chris was beside me, floundering, trying to get her mask on right, sputtering curses and regrets in between attempts. As we were all alone in the murky water without any concrete assistance, Mark suggested that we all stay together and Kevin agreed by accidentally flailing his arm and whapping him in the face. After some feeble attempts at free-style swimming and flapping my flippers, I began to think that this was, by far, the worst possible outing we could have signed ourselves up for. By that point, the other 5 must have telepathically agreed and we all piled into the boat, feeling defeated and worn out from the futility of the 15 minute excursion. To add insult to injury, my suit bottoms slipped off as I clambered up the flimsy latter to get into the boat. The moment of clarity and comprehension hit when we finally made it back to land. On the side of our boat it read in bright white, bold-faced lettering, “The Hard Way,” with a subtitle, “Don’t try this.” Enough said. Too bad none of us noticed it two hours beforehand, when the driver walked by us carrying the engine over his shoulder before promptly screwing it onto the back of the boat. Yeah, so that was a great start to the beach portion of our vacation. Funny, in a retrospective kind of way.

But that hardly summed up the entire vacation! Contrary to all that, it was actually quite relaxing and enjoyable, whether we were lying on the beach or sipping beer by the poolside—word to the wise, try and go to Zanzibar during the off season because hotels will be much more amendable to letting you use their facilities—or wandering through the maze-like streets that wind through Stone Town.

I definitely lost my way one day and arrived back at the hotel sopping wet from accidentally sloshing through the small creek that formed from all the puddles! In April, it was rainy season which was a nice change from the dry season that I experience back in August last year. However, despite the cooling effect, the rain does nothing to deter the perpetual humidity from permeating everything. To soothe ourselves, we indulged in abundant amounts of ice-cream and as luck would have it, the island was all but eager to comply; at every turn you can find an ice cream bicycle staked out, as if waiting for you.

Since the dream life can’t go on forever we hunkered back into the bus for another diverting 30 hours of driving. Once back in the swing of things, I realized that I had my work cut for me in the school library. Although there is a librarian who works there I am now the designated teacher who teaches the actual course of Library. Ok, sounds easy enough but, as I’m quickly discovering, reading from textbooks can be rather exhausting. Additionally there is the structural challenge of creating a program to use for teaching “Library Course.” Sometimes I feel like I’m making some headway but at other times, it’s back to the dust-filled blackboard.

For an hour each week, each level of students tramples into the library where we proceed to conduct, what I have determined is, a very American system of learning: the students read aloud one by one and we discuss all together the meaning of the new vocabulary after which I vainly attempt to elicit ideas or thoughts about the story. (Think back to those formative years in elementary school when you would sit in similar fashion doing your best to pronounce the strange words that the teacher asked you to repeat and not get too red in the face when it was her turn to read, oh wait, that was me!!) The students seem to be interested in learning, somewhat. The younger levels are focusing on how to write a story since I’m still trying to foster a sense of creativity among them. It’s an ongoing battle against several years of instruction that the idea of copying is not simply allowed but encouraged in some cases. However, that struggle doesn’t hold a torch to teaching the older levels. The other day I had a repeated sensation of frustration due to toiling under a regime of futility when one student asked if they could read their physics books next lesson….I gave her my best baleful look. It’s already starting, it’s only the middle of the term and my class is deemed useless and I’m feeling that familiar plume of obsolescence burgeoning. In contrast to last term I am determined not to give in to the pressure and the potential ease that dropping those older levels would afford me. There is more to gain than lose if I stay. It’s about the confidence to believe that you count, that your lessons will assist these students in some small but significant way.

Thus, as part of the plan, I’ve started implementing self-made quizzes to all levels. It sounds pretty self-explanatory but I have yet to administer them so I don’t know how effective it will be (or if the students fully grasped the concept that they need to study for the information that they chose to include on their own quiz). Some of the older students will also put on some plays based on an excerpt from Charlotte’s Web which I am really looking forward to seeing. I don’t know what should prove trickier—trying to convey the idea that a pig can talk or that Avery can also be a boy’s name.

As an outlet or a reminder that there is another group of students, I have really taken to my Media club. It is a haven where the students are enthusiastic and eager to learn; they even suggest ideas to me! Every morning there is an assembly where all 700+ students gather to listen to various items from the headmistress. Now that Media club is up and running the members are eager to practice their English speaking skills; they can take their turn to report some updates to their fellow students. This past week was the debut of such an astounding display of courage and initiative. Argentine stood up and made a small, 2 minute newscast about the game that CIC played in last weekend to some nervous giggling and shuffling feet but ultimately applause. Afterwards the Dean of studies came over to congratulate me on the successful first step. But it wasn’t me, I told him, it was the student’s idea!

In addition to teaching 17 hours and trying to study for the GRE (man, how I hate that test!) I spent most of May preparing for a marathon. This meant dragging myself out of bed around 5 a.m every day and receiving a cold slap of early morning air as I staggered outside into the dark. Not a pleasant way to “train” for a 10K relay, I can say that much. However, I managed to survive and am here now to assure you all it was quite worth the effort.

Peace Corps is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year so in celebration, a group of about 25 PCVs rounded up to represent our organization in a show of camaraderie and sportsmanship. Gathered around the 7 foot banner of a charming Kennedy (just think of an oversized traveling Stanley with the winning grin of the former president which later our last runner picked up and carried in as he made his last lap), we smiled for the requisite photo and the deal was sealed: we were a united bunch of runners out to cheer each other on!

Once the horn blew, or rather the pop music playing something bizarrely similar to “Barbie Girl” blared, I sat down to cheer my teammates on. As I was in the third leg, I had some time to pump myself up. Or psyche myself out as the case turned out to be. As the race meandered on, I watched with anxiety for my teammate to enter the stadium and to release me from the tedious waiting. Then I jumped right into the moisturized heat of the late morning and started to… try ..and ….p..a..c..e… myself. Down the hill, through the streets, back up the hill, and around more streets, and more, and just one more. Until I was about to throw the towel in!! It was such a tease! Although I had been forewarned about the extra loop that was sneakily tacked on to the end, I still had a hard time adjusting to the fact that the race wasn’t over. Instead, I had to cover about 3 more kilometers!! Easy enough for all the Kenyans, Ugandans and Rwandans (and let’s face it, basically everybody else) but not for me. Needless to say, I don’t think long-distance running is for me. And good thing too because I just read in a TIME article that running is good exercise but marathon running is probably not a wise choice for people who are out of shape!! Whoops!! Haha, oh well, at least I survived!!

Now that the race is over I can relax. Sort of. While I was in Kigali, I picked up a present that I have been yearning for some time. Let’s just say that if anybody decided to drop by for a visit, you’d see the most adorable creature you have ever set eyes on! That’s right, I got a puppy!

Before I left to pick him up, I barely mentioned it to the RMs which made me feel somewhat guilty but secretly I did light on the idea that there’d be some payback in the noise department. But overall he’s been received without too much fuss. I wouldn’t say that it’s been a warm welcome from my roommates or colleagues who have chanced to see him; Eugenie backs away in fear from him while Vestine didn’t even acknowledge him for the first couple of days and still doesn’t. Rwandans aren’t as open to dogs as are Americans due to the harsh reminder from the days following the genocide where dogs played a grisly role, as well as a general fear of possibly getting bitten. But people have started asking me where my baby is or how he’s doing which I can’t help but smile at. He is my baby!

Despite attempts to puppy proof my room it does not prevent him from discovering new objects to gnaw on, including my toes! I must say, it’s a real treat waking up at various intervals throughout the night in order to prevent the wailing-- not to mention the tiny puddles and the occasional #2 accident splattered all over my floor--that might ensue if I leave him unattended. In all seriousness, though, the best part of the day is coming home to find him eagerly waiting for me. We go outside into the side yard where he constantly seems to find something of interest in every nook and cranny; my yard is probably 10 by 20 feet but to a munchkin like him, it probably resembles some vastly expansive space of land, just laying there ready to be explored. Cuteness aside, he is a bright little tyke which is going to come in handy when potty training!

Aside from his trip home last week, I have rarely taken him out in public and may keep it that way. In Rwanda, animals are generally used for one purpose: food. And to see an animal that does not typically wind up as your dinner, like a cat or dog, is quite unusual. Sometimes at nights I can hear the distant bellowing from a dog but otherwise no sign of one. Naturally, the sight of such a creature would shock the pants off any one of my neighbors, but seeing the whacko white girl gallivanting around with this squirming oversized rat under her arm would probably send them into peals of confused laughter. So, in the interest of avoiding a few bugged-out eyes and my cheeks from burning with the heat of a thousand suns, I shall keep Remy safely within the walls of my house. Oh, by the way, that’s the little tyke’s name. Having finished A Hundred Years of Solitude, and not knowing the gender of the pup, I decided that regardless, the dog’s name would derive from Remedios the Beauty and since I didn’t really want to be standing outside yelling, “Remedios, come on boy!” I landed on Remy. Shortcut.

And that wraps up another edition of Life in Rwanda with Avery! Join me next time as I take on fire-breathing dragons with only a hairpin!! More like a thousand and one mosquitoes with a mini bottle of Deet and an extreme sense of purpose…

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sloppy Start to a Messy March

Welcome, welcome!!

Come in out of the cold, wet rain! Oh wait, it’s dry season, why would it be raining--pouring in fact-- when it’s supposed to be dry?!? After nearly 18 months here I have only successfully concluded that: Dry season is only a slightly modified rainy season. There is no consistency except for the perpetual awareness that must accompany you wherever you go, lest you want to trap yourself in a monsoon. It’s funny how I still don’t own an umbrella; for five hot minutes I had my hands on one but it slipped through my grip and I haven’t felt the need to replace it.

Does my surprise, surprise you? It may seem odd that I would still exclaim over my inability to know the weather by now but then again, I’m still surprised at the arrival of exams--stressed even. By taking myself out of the game, I did myself a disservice, and let my students down. It was a rash decision and one that I wish I had seen through. However, it is done and there is no sense in whining and pining. Instead, I am planning on undertaking my duties next term to the fullest: 17 hours, 700+ students and my mind on the matter. Regardless of their status as first in the district, my school does need assistance in English. The students are bright and dedicated and after much reflection, I feel lucky to have been placed in such a motivated school. It comes as a reassurance to me to realize this because, after 4 terms, I think I may have finally reached a point of recognition; if my students need to gain confidence in speaking English I should muster up the confidence in teaching English.

Who would’ve thought I’d come clear across the ocean to listen to stories about the babysitters’ club and Scooby doo? As I sat listening to the oral summaries (about books the students chose from the school library which ironically were books I used to read as a kid) that Senior 5 and 6 were assigned to give for their final marks, it was incredible how clear the solution was: I need to implement more exercises that emphasize public speaking! If I were 10 years younger and back in high school I would have hated myself for forcing my students to do this; it’s so unfair to pressure people into speaking in front of a crowd. Heart racing, heat rising to my face, hands fluttering and eyes whipping back and forth in the futile effort to transport myself from this spot. Yeah, I know the feeling all too well. As a former shy person, I understand that fear and agony exceptionally well BUT I am 99% certain that it would be the smartest approach to start the girls practicing this awful but necessary skill. The plan is to set up a calm atmosphere in which they can gain confidence while speaking in front of a group of people IN ENGLISH!! In addition to the public speaking element, I am quite aware of how daunting it can be to communicate in a foreign language when you can barely string a sentence together.

A couple of weeks ago I began to explore the interwoven intricacies of one of the most beautiful (not to mention, practical) languages in the world. Ever since arriving to this country I have felt that it would be wise and useful to pick up French, as everyone already assumes that is what I speak as the white foreigner and it also happens to be a major lingua franca. Felix Masemo (awesome name) has been a very helpful and friendly colleague of mine and just last autumn he married his lovely wife, Solange, bringing her from their native home in Rubavu, DRC to reside in Muramba. As happy as they seem together, joking and smiling at one another, that time spent together is limited to the hours he is not teaching, which are about 30. So, after much talk and promises, I finally hauled myself out of my cozy dwelling and stopped over to say bon jour. She was very pleased to see me and instantly we began conversing (well, me bumbling and mumbling phrases she would have me recite) and I could feel that familiar sensation that comes when I’m learning a language. Unfortunately and uncharacteristically I never managed to pick up Kinyarwanda; whether due to the lack of opportunity to practice or a general unwillingness to speak since it conflicts with my primary assignment here, I have not improved in any way since training so many months ago. It has deteriorated to the point that I stare slack-jawed and blinking when Vestine asks me a question or when Claude the cook answers me in his rapid-fire parlance. I would like to state for the record that Kinyarwanda is a very difficult language to grasp, maybe not to the degree of Korean or Chinese but it is terribly complicated with its 19 different noun classes and 500 million verbs! However, I should not try to acquit myself so easily—there is a certain level of voluntary activity that comes with the price of trying to learn a foreign language. And that brings us back to French. This is something that I can apply myself to and gain something valuable in the process; not only will I be able to take the PC LPI at the end of year but now I can easily empathize with my poor students as they sit there staring at me slack-jawed and struggling to gurgle up a phrase or two so I won’t lash out in yet another rant about how they don’t try and understand me. It’s definitely a clue into the labyrinth of teaching ESL!!

And the teaching does not end once I step outside of the library. Every Monday is club day at my school. Last year I mentioned how difficult it was to mark a steady pace for meeting with the students but that was nothing compared to this year’s scramble to create a media club. From dawn until dusk, the students are herded from dormitory to cafeteria to classroom to church and then back again. It’s amazing that they even have time to study in between all their rigorous activities. But study they do. And pray. And play (remember to distinguish between the l and the r). And eat. And study some more. Needless to say, there is some difficulty in trying to coordinate a time and place to meet for a club—forget about your multiple and diverse interests, the school’s structure only allows for one day to hold club meetings. In theory, I am part of the English club, basketball team, Media/Drama club, as well as the GLOW club. But I can only meet for one of them so I chose Media/Drama (some of the girls want to turn it into a drama club, while others want to learn the real art of journalism…I got my work cut out for me!!) I’m thinking: one half will be dedicated to reviewing news articles while the other will be allocated strictly for Glee time! This past term was disturbingly devoid of any Glee, thus, next term I will be devoting myself wholeheartedly to the Glee Project, catchphrase: glee, it’s the way to be.

In other news: Compared to the lighthearted diatribe in last blog entry, I would like to report that the situation with my roommates has much improved. Or maybe it’s just my attitude towards them. In any event, I can safely say that I am becoming more and more at ease with my domestic life. I think it began to change when I got sick one night and they unquestioningly and without hesitation, took care of me. Then my appreciation for them was sealed last week while I was marking some exams in my room, shrouded by my mosquito net, listening to Harry Potter and the gang save the wizarding world. I heard a knock at the door and a hand extended holding a plate of steaming rice and beans. Before I could disentangle myself from the shelves of paper around me, Eugenie calmly ambled over and lifted the net to deliver me food!! I must admit, it feels very comforting, as if I am part of a family. However, I do spend money on the electro-gas which I deem as an equal match to all the food they share with me, seeing as I haven’t shown any inclination to repay the favor in the form of any of my famous culinary delicacies (mashed-up cocoa flour patties or cheese-smeared popcorn balls, anyone?)

For some reason I have not cooked much this past term. That, and the profound stage of laziness I seem to find myself in has led me to sign up for the annual marathon that will take place in May. In Kigali. Up steep hills, at the beginning of the dry season. And I have not run in 2 weeks! Ha, I won’t be surprised if I pass out before finishing one K of the 10 that comprises the relay I registered for. While my intentions may be pure (bikini season) I’m not sure they are realistic. Unfortunately, the weather has not been cooperating in the least bit. I swear it probably got down to 15 degrees on some nights!! Needless to say, rolling out of bed at 5 a.m to stumble onto the soggy, rock-ridden road, breathing in the frosty air and trying to make out the vague shadows looming in front of me is not as easy as it seems in those moments of ultimate resolution. By the time the alarm buzzes near my head, I weigh the options and choose health over being healthy. It doesn’t seem worth it to kill myself over a couple of pounds gained. While I may live in the mountains, I have not successfully stayed in shape while I’ve been living here. It’s so easy to complacently lounge back and enjoy the soft cushion of my bed. However, I do manage to get out for some things.

Over the past few months, I’ve been heavily involved in putting together a community library in my village. Along with several other colleagues and in partnership with Books for Africa, I have been working to collect funds to bring books over from the U.S to Rwanda. This is a major project that requires a load of money in order to ship the books. Once here, my counterpart and I will pick them up and bring them back to the white-faced building in the center of town where we will establish the first Muramba Community Library!! I hope it will provide the village with an invaluable tool to educate and engage all members of the community. Students, teachers, and school directors alike will benefit from the resources provided by the library and everyone will enjoy the opportunity to learn about the world around them. They will be able to improve their proficiency in English, enhance their knowledge of math and science as well as engage in the rewarding experience of reading. Ok, and that’s my plug for the library project I’ve been painstakingly working on for the past several months and will continue to do so for as long as it takes to happen!! When I’m not scampering around trying to make this library a reality I’m in Kigali teaching English to judges. It’s lucky for my adult students that I am fully capable of using legal jargon in everyday life, “I object!” Elle Woods would be so proud of me. I joke but in all seriousness, it does feel great to be a part of a new program between Peace Corps and the Rwandan Judicial System. Compared to the 15 and 16 year olds I’m accustomed to teaching, the adults provide a distinct range of interest and motivation. Maybe that’s due in part to the fact that they are mature and not still in the development stages of their life; they’ve already been molded and are aware of what they want. Regardless of that somewhat obvious observation, I still notice a mixture of voiced intent to improve their speaking and a relative hesitancy to actually do so….guess we’ll see next lesson when I have them huddle around my mini speakers to listen to some VOA special English. Oh well, every little bit counts for something and it’s keeping me active during my service.

Speaking of service, I’m going on18 months now!! At the beginning of Peace Corps I was one of the first of about 70 volunteers to serve in Rwanda after 15 years. Now, we have nearly 140 and are rapidly expanding. While it is exciting to be a part of an incipient program, it can also be very taxing and challenging. Well, duh, Avery, did you expect to receive a detailed instruction manual that led you through this step by step? No, but at times you do wonder what you’re doing…alone out in the vast countryside of a developing country: naïve, uncertain and constantly questioning your place and your role. And on top of all that, you are the first to exist in your village, strange in everything you do, unaware of how to proceed or fulfill your responsibilities. But that is all changing! Well, at least the part about increasing our numbers and the opportunities for working together on projects. We are now in the process of creating a more peer-based network of volunteers in this country; by setting up monthly regional meetings where volunteers from different training classes can come together to meet one another. Last weekend was the debut meeting in my region and it was a total success! It will be even better when the new volunteers become more acclimated and are able to engage in secondary projects.

Another addition is my site mate. She moved to Muramba a couple of months back and I think it’s funny that she specifically requested not to be placed near another volunteer and they put her right down the street from me...whoops!! But it has been pleasant getting to know somebody new and fresh to Rwanda. I enjoy listening to her ingenuously sophisticated insights as we meet for tea at the local café-resto --it’s tres charmont.

After months of patience and hope, my cucumber plants managed to sprout through the soggy soil. As I’ve retired my chef-no-tell cap, I maintained a strict regimen of eating the vegetables raw and a good thing too. Not too many people can brag that their cucumbers are the best in the district but I think if I had gone into business, “I coulda been a true contenda!” Alas, the planting window is gone, not to mention, all of the cucumbers, so I will just have to find another outlet. And fortunately enough, one just bounced into my lap recently. In place of a glowing green thumb, I am now a proud pet owner of 4 lovable bunnies! A fellow PCV has finished her service and not wanting to leave her beloved rabbits behind, she bestowed them onto me! Soft, fluffy, doe-eyed, with twitching noses, they love munching on biscuits and MY FLOWERS!! Can’t seem to stop them from bee-lining it for my precious daisies but that’s the price you pay for healthy rabbits. They are a handful trying to watch and prevent from springing through the gaps in the fence. I really do feel like a proud mama and I’m going to be really anxious when I leave them for two and a half weeks. In T-3 days I shall find myself scrunched up on a bus seat heading for the border of Tanzania. And for the following 30+ hours my friends and I will take in the passing landscape as it zooms by our windows, hopefully not leading to any bout of motion sickness.

I’ll take loads of pictures! Have fun in the approaching spring!