Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Swearing Good Time

Hi Folks!

As the title of this blog suggests, my Peace Corps colleagues and I were officially sworn in last Saturday afternoon at the U.S ambassador's house in Kigali. The ceremony was held outside on the lawn, under the cover of a large tent. It was a regular old garden party; there was an array of buffet-style of food, socializing with former PC volunteers who came to welcome us as the newest members of the Corps, being treated to traditional dancing by a local troupe of young dancers, and of course, awesome cake!!

Afterward, we all dispersed into the city and boy, was it system overload. I have not been back to the capital city in 10 weeks so I was not prepared for the culture shock I experienced upon returning to the bustling metropolis. Cars zooming past, up and down the hills, nearly clipping me on the heels, supermarkets and shopping malls, ice-cream, pizza, Chinese, Indian, construction work on soon-to-be skyscrapers, and most disorienting of all was seeing other Msungus whom I didn't recognize!! However, despite the fish-out-of-pond feeling, I had a fabulous time. After having spent 2 and half months in a relatively small town I definitely learned to appreciate what Kigali has to offer!! If anyone is interested in visiting me (and you really should think about it ;) I highly suggest staying in this great city.

The following day I traveled out to my permanent site which I finally found out about last week. When looking at a map of Rwanda the distance appears to be only a couple short, stumpy kilometers from Kigali but in reality, the actual time it takes to arrive in my small, isolated mountain town is somewhat different than anticipated. One hour bus ride to Gitarama, then another hour to Ngororero, the district in which I live, and finally another 30-45 minute motorcycle ride out to a very picturesque scene. That last portion of the trip was only slightly terrifying when huge dump trucks veered out of nowhere with their loads of sand, dirt and whatever else they're using to build the road. When I arrived at my future work site, a Catholic school, the head sister asked how I liked the roads, to which I responded by making an expression of disbelief over the uneasy state of the windy path I had just taken. She nodded, explaining in her nearly flawless English, that it used to be a lot worse...

That only serves to illustrate the speedy pace at which Rwanda is working to develop itself. I'm looking forward to witnessing the progress that both my school and the surrounding region will make in the coming months.

Internet is intermittent and slow but it does exist up in the mountains since I bought an internet modem, however there is no electricity at my site so blog entries will be less frequent in the coming months. Hope you all enjoy the pics; the first is of Mupemba, our Training Director and then the whole group of Education Volunteers. The last couple of shots are of my site- the first one is a view from outside of my little apartment, the last is of the Director of Discipline and Sister Victoire who is on the right--she's great :) Don't worry there will be more to follow as my mountain town is tremendously beautiful and I want nothing more than to show it off!!

Over and out!

PS and this is a little x-mas cheer from Kigali

Saturday, December 5, 2009

It's Menshi Time!!

Bite sha!?!

Hello all, just got back from a run where I was joined by several neighborhood children. Although Model school is over and we have been here a considerable amount of time, the Msungus are still a bit of a novelty, apparently. Anyway, I enjoyed the challenge that the kids presented; at one point I even raced them down the road. I bet I looked like I was about to collapse but I have to say that they were pretty impressive running alongside me, barefoot!

A couple of weeks ago I went to visit a current Peace Corps volunteer over in the western region of the country. It was amazingly beautiful and when we went on a hike I took a billion pictures. I just can’t seem to get enough of the landscape of this country!! En route, my friend, Chris and I witnessed the Wooden Bike Classic race--see pics above. Within our group there are about 20 former volunteers who served in Mauritania so it is completely different setting for them. How vast and diverse Africa can be!!! Personally, I find it a treat to have them on board with the rest of us, “newbies” since we can learn to appreciate all that Rwanda has to offer while also learning the ins and outs of Peace Corps policies and procedures from veteran volunteers.

Last week we celebrated Thanksgiving the traditional way, well, as traditional as possible using a hole dug in the ground and outdoor fire pits. In other words, there was turkey for those who eat meat, one of which the U.S ambassador brought as a gift. Aside from that there was macaroni and cheese, some kind of sacatash-like guacamole mixture, (so good! we barely ever eat corn here so that was a tremendous surprise to find corn among our

food choices!!) green bean casserole, stuffing, a quiche for the veggies, and tons of dessert options such as mango pie, pineapple pie, crepes with chocolate sauce, banana bread, and pumpkin pie which the ambassador also brought, and was absolutely heavenly. I helped make mashed potatoes and no-bake cookies which turned out really well. The potatoes could have used more salt but I’ve never had to cook for 40 people before so that was a learning experience.

A few days after Thanksgiving some of the other trainees celebrated a Muslim holiday which revolves around the slaughtering of a goat (or two in this case). Needless to say, I did not partake in the festivities. I was told that the significance behind the celebration evolved from a biblical story about God swooping down to save a son from being murdered by his father.

Excellent bit of news!! There is a cheese factory here and we have finally sniffed it out!! We tracked it down the other day and managed to bring together the ingredients necessary to make grilled cheese which is exactly what some of us did the other night and it was delicious. If it seems as if all I can write about is food it may be because that’s all I can think about! We tend to torture ourselves by discussing which culinary delights we miss the most from home. Taco bell is a prominent character, along with anything cheese-related. Me, I miss potato chips, ice cream, and for some reason, lately I’ve been craving some authentic Chinese take-out!!

I know that I wrote at length about the difficulties of learning Kinyarwanda in the last blog but after having finished Model school we have been tossed back into language class every day so naturally it’s on my mind. Never before have I so frequently been on the verge of tears, granted it’s usually combined with laughter but it’s a close call as to whether those are tears of joy of hysteria. However, whenever I visit my host family they praise my language skills so I must be doing something right. I guess we’ll see when the final exam rolls takes place next week!!

My host family is great, I really enjoy spending time with them. Now that the kids have been back awhile it is slightly easier to hold a conversation with them since they know near-to-perfect English. Last week I was able to spend some quality time with them while I got my hair done. Correction: while my head was pulled and tugged at from all possible angles, a small portion of the community came over to view the crazy Msungu getting menshi (braids) in her hair!! At one point, my host mom said something which made everybody giggle. It turns out there is a proverb in Kinyarwanda that says (loosely translated) “a girl will go a long way for what she wants.” Evidently the veins were popping in my head as the hairdresser yanked at my hair. But my host mom was right because after 8+ hours of sitting on the living room floor it definitely paid off and I love my menshi!! They are more like kinky twists than braids which makes them even greater in my book. I don’t know

how but they magically seem to stay twisted within my own hair!! The overall reception to them has been very pleasing too, from the women who work at the internet cafĂ© to local shopkeepers and random strangers on the street as I pass by: “your hair are wonderful!” yay!!

Next week is the last week before we are officially sworn in to become Peace Corps volunteers. We still have not been told the location of our permanent sites but probably we will be informed of that vital information by Monday or Tuesday of next week.

Hope all is well back in the states!!

Every (oh whoops, guess I’m just used to seeing my name spelled like that now)

Oh, and I've included a pic of my house at the beginning of this blog--nothing like waiting until the 9th week I'm here to post a picture of my home!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Beautiful Cows and Toilette Tea

Mirirwe bose!! (Good afternoon, all)

Amakuro yanyu (how are you all)? Life is still swimming along merrily over here in Rwanda.

Last week the group traveled west to Nyungwe National Park to see some monkeys and of course, because it's Rwanda, some more spectacular mountains. The monkeys were a real riot show. Some jumped from tree to tree while others sat idly chewing on leaves. We learned that this particular brand of monkey was vegetarian and that chimps are their number 1 predator. Sadness, since they're so cute. While the pictures don't do the scenery justice they really don't capture the lovely odor that permeated the atmosphere as we were walking through the tea fields. Gah, it reminded me of the scent that eminates from our house bathroom--plumbing is a bit faulty and it is quite evident!!

This past weekend there was some epic dancing that took place at a birthday party held for one of the trainers. There I tried (for the second time) banana wine which is a very sweet, thick, somewhat tangy concoction of fermented banana. For those of you interested in food, I shall describe here in detail the delicious variety that comprised the meal at this festive event. There were two pots of guacamole, at least 3 vats of homemade fries, a large metal container of bread to dip into another huge pot of fondu or salsa and of course, onion rings. Plus, there was cake....that's all I have to say. Normally we're served pineapple, bananas or something called tree tomatoes which you bite open and spoon out the filling, personally not my favorite but it's sweet and it serves as dessert. After our relatively sparce meals of rice, pasta, potatoes, cabbage, beans, eggs, sauce, rabbit, fish, goat, beef, green beans and carrots, cassava (kind of like sweet potato) and this wonderful little eye-drop bottle full of hot sauce (rusenda), a little artificial sweetness goes a long way. Or, in this case, it takes the cake!!

Alright, enough food talk. Let's get down to business! Teaching. Whew, what a concept, what a challenge. I commend anybody who is a teacher and respect anybody even more for remaining one!! It's such a kick to think that I may be making a difference in some of these children's lives but then there are moments, sometimes more often than not, when I forget that and can only concentrate on how to keep a group of 70 kids in line. Yup, the classes in Model school can run up to roughly that amount of rambunctious little Rwandans. Needless to say, there is much to learn. One day I am the ornery school marm staring daggers at the kids and the next I'm the pushover cheerleader jumping around, making silly motions that the students giggle at and even try to mimic! I’m aiming for that happy medium though. Practice makes perfect, trial and error, and lots of experimentation going on right now. Tomorrow is the last day of teaching and I want to go out with a band so I’m trying to perfect my approach on how to teach the Hokey Pokey. That’s right, would you expect any less of me if I weren’t teaching the national dance of the U.S.A!?! Ha, wish me luck!

Last Wednesday, Mafubo and Mimi returned from school after they finished their national exams. I went over to visit with them and surprise, surprise, they held a Kwita Izina for me. That is a naming ceremony in Kinyarwanda and oh, what naming ceremony it was!! I invited a housemate of mine to join me and we ate dinner of rice and greens in the family living room before the official ceremony commenced. There was a group of about 15-20 neighbors, friends and family gathered and each one of them stood up to suggest a name they thought would be fitting for me. At the end, Mama wanje (my host mom) nodded and left the room to decide privately which she preferred the best. My housemate stood up and suggested, “Boom-shaka-lacka” but alas, that was not chosen. After a minute Mama returned and announced that my Kinyarwanda name would be: Nyampinga. Now, you don't pronounce the p, it's more like a soft "h" sound. They explained that it meant, beautiful, hard-working girl. Ok, so that sounds good, right? Well, I met up with some friends and a handful of the other trainers afterwards and told them my new name. Never have I heard so much laughter or earned so many astonished looks! The instant I told one of the trainers the news, he raised his eyebrows and said, "ohhh." It gets better. He began explaining that Nyampinga is a woman who is very well-respected in Rwanda, one who women aspire to. Then he said, "In Rwandan culture, cows are valued very much," and this is when my friends lost it. Over their cackles, I could hear him say something else about how this type of woman maintains a certain "decent" lifestyle, particularly how she walks, talks, and puts herself together, in other words, an organized, presentable woman. But, it basically means, "beautiful cow." So go ahead, take a break and laugh your heads off, I do sometimes when I don't think about the pressure that accompanies such a well-prized name.

Kinyarwanda: here’s the deal. Think about the hardest language, or rather the hardest thing you’ve ever had to undertake and that is this language x1000. Forget gender-oriented articles or mismatched noun-verb agreement, this is some ultimate craziness. There are 19 different noun classes!! Enough said. Well, not really, because then you have to conjugate any kind of words that match up with those nouns, such as adjectives AND verbs!!! Insane. Plus, there are several words that look the same on paper but when you want to vocalize any of them you had better brush up on your pronunciation because you just might be saying that you have a door instead of a family (umuryango) or that you need a ball versus a jacket (umupira) or the best: that you’d rather fart on your family than visit them (gusura)!! Just a slight upward slant on that last word and boom you’re saying something that will have people laughing for days (like they don’t already!!) So not only does all of the vocabulary look similar but every time I want to say something it comes out all jumbled. To take some advice from the penguins in "Madagascar," I think I’m just going to “smile and wave, smile and wave,” from here on out.

As I sit here and write this I am being eaten alive—the bugs here are absurdly abundant and they find me particularly juicy apparently!! It is the rainy season after all but the thing to remember is that it’s only the mild rainy season. The best is yet to come!! I can’t wait for more flying termites—these things are huge, flying, and dumb. They bump into the walls like it’s their business and that’s what you’d think they lived to do until you wake up one morning to find your bedroom floor covered in tiny, flaky wings…that have been shed by billions of termites, wandering aimlessly outside in the yard. And don’t even get me started on the mosquitoes…everywhere, buzzing around, I woke up one night and thought I was going insane because one was trapped inside our room but really it sounded as if it were whirling around in my brain!! I wake up looking as though I’ve just endured a bout of chicken pox!

But those are just the “perks” of living in Africa. I have to say, sometimes I have to remind myself that I’m actually on this vast continent and that this is real life. This weekend I will be going to visit another PC volunteer in order to get a feel for the terrain outside of Training life and prepare for what I should expect at my permanent site. I’ll be traveling over into the western part of the country so more pictures!!

As for goodies that you can send this way: I’m pretty sure Rwandans do not have the word deodorant in their vocabulary because it is just not used here!! So if you want to send some nice smelling anti-perspirant my way it would be much appreciated!! And maybe school supplies such as markers, crayons, pencils, pens etc.

Alright gang, hope all is well stateside!!

Amahoro (peace)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Teaching, Umuganda, and HALLOWEEN Rwanda Style


Here's a quick update of what's been going on lately. Last week I began teaching!! The children are on their holiday now so we have ample amounts of kids coming by to be taught by the crazy Americans. To sum up, I was terrified to fall flat on my face the first day and the one time I went over time because I forgot to factor in time for teaching the game of Bingo, I did actually spaz out a little bit...but all's well. On Friday I taught "We're going on a Trip" which was a lot of fun. Well, at least I had fun pretending that the class and I were going on a vacation and taking various items with us. Not sure if anything of the information sank into their brains but that's going to be the case probably more often than not. I've definitely come to realize that my future will be one huge roller coaster ride.

My language skills have been put to the wayside in all this teaching action so in addition to picking up the necessary skills to conduct a decent lesson to Rwandan kids I need to improve my language proficiency to at least a point where I can ask people why they want to swing a chicken at my face!! Haha, still laughing at that one. Glad that ya'll got a kick out of it! But seriously, I spent all day Sunday with my host family which meant that at 9 am, three minutes after waking up (the latest I've ever slept here btw) I got a call from some man who said that, "Mama wants you home." That was it. I stared at the phone for 2.3 seconds before realizing that I was supposed to race up the street to meet my host mother in order to travel to Butare to meet my host sisters. So I booked it, naturally. I'm not averse to looking strange on the streets here anymore, kind of forced to overcome it. My host mother and I traveled the half an hour by bus to the boarding school where Mimi and Mafubo (nickname for Beatrice) go to school. It was lovely meeting them. I was thrilled that they spoke a little English and even more excited when I learned that they will be coming home for their school break in a week!! Yay, family. Mimi was adorable when she said (in her flawless English of course) I'm so excited!! And when I looked at her quizzically she explained that she was happy to finally meet me. Me too!!

So what's umuganda, you ask?? Well, it's what 35 Peace Corps Trainees do on Halloween. Ok, not enough information, it's community work that takes place at the end of every month and is basically awesome. We got out there and there wasn't much going on except for the spectacle that appeared on the horizon as the parade of Msungus came into view. And then the real fun began. We were instructed to transport dirt from a huge, gaping hole in the ground to where a new part of the local school is being built. It was an amazing experience. I loved the physical work, as well as getting out and meeting some of the locals. Apparently the Mayor liked us too, he said that we were hard workers and that the women were especially appealing! eek! haha

Speaking of eek, Halloween definitely happened here in Rwanda last weekend!! I went as an umucuraguzi or a night dancer. NOT the American interpretation of that but the Rwandan version: it really means a maniacal witchdoctor who dances outside of people's windows during the middle of the night. This I found out the day that we received our Kinyarwanda dictionaries (which are of no use except if you want to talk about beekeeping or dirty secrets..) and a friend flipped to the page that said night dancer. And then there was the talent show where my house did an episode from "It's always Sunny in Philadelphia"...very hilarious for those who know and love the show and very odd for those who don't know it all. All in all, a very pleasant holiday had by all.

I'm going to go finish up my lesson plan for tomorrow's class--the kids are going to take surveys of each other's favorite things. woo hoo, getting pumped for 50 minutes in front of 20-75 kids (the numbers vary, as do the grade levels)

Love you all!!

Ijoro ryiza (Good night) :))

Saturday, October 24, 2009


Hey all!!

Hope everybody is doing well. I'm loving it over here in Rwanda--the climate, the people, and sigh, the views are breathtaking. Lots and lots of hills for miles around are highlighted by amazing sunsets.

Ok, so down to details: I've been at training now for about 2 weeks and for the most part am really enjoying it. Ikinyarwanda is definitely the most unique language I have ever had the privilege and difficulty of learning. It seems to be a mixture of Italian, French, a little Portugese and some Japanese all meshed together in one beautifully constructed challenge of the mind. In addition, there's technical training which consists of learning how to design and present a good lesson plan to our future students. And that future is not too far away since I begin micro-teaching classes on Monday!! I'm nervous but excited to jump in and start doing some real work!

Today our group went to visit a national museum where we saw artifacts like handwoven baskets and learned how banana beer (urwagwa) is made. Afterward we took another harrowing look at the consequences of this country's sorrowful past. We visited a genocide memorial where some 50,000 victims had been murdered and subsequently buried. The memorial displays the exhumed bodies. It was a very somber experience for all.

Fortunately (or unfortunately) the bus driver decided to bring us back to reality by blaring music throughout the entire bus and only the most popular tunes played today!! This is only one example of how music is appreciated around here. Walking toward the town center one can hear the radio being blasted, whether it's talk shows or music. In fact, there is an unoccupied computer lounging in the corner of the internet cafe at this very moment, blaring one of the 3 most beloved songs (which naturally I cannot understand.)

Speaking of words: the word for "no" is "oya" pronounced like "oh yeah" basically. You can probably tell how much fun/trouble that presents for native English speakers. I have a host family, a mom who has 4 kids all in school studying. So far I've been able to hold down some dialogue with them concerning new vocabulary and whatever grammar questions pop into my head. Yeah, it's a trip every time I head over to the house--lots of charades and miming takes place which usually results in peals of laughter from them. I do my fair share of laughing too, don't get me wrong, but it is definitely a brain-drain-system-overload type of encounter each time.

Dorm house living: Our power goes out on a pretty standard basis, as of a couple of days ago I have been using the outdoor pit latrine in our back courtyard and I wash my clothes (when there's running water) in a bucket with some powder soap. Every time I leave my house there are at least one pair of eyes watching the exotic white alien creature scamper outside of her dwelling. On the way to school one day I had one woman howling with laughter at my (what I had thought) subtle dance moves to some music being blared (again: pretty normal even at 7 a.m) along the roadside. I'm really trying to put things in perspective of how different we must seem to the town locals here but it is tough, especially when I am flanked by a gaggle of children who have just found their newest plaything moving up the street: me. Sometimes it's cute but when all I want to do is walk somewhere and/or maybe hold a conversation with somebody it can be a bit of a trial.

Ok, so you may be wondering what the meaning behind the title of this entry is and I shall tell you gladly. One day last week I was walking with some friends into town during our lunch break when a woman came ambling by. As she was nearing us I noticed something in her hand that resembled an umbrella and before I knew it she had launched the object at me. Luckily, acting on matrix-like reflexes, I dodged it only to look back and see my friends huddled on the ground, tears streaming down their faces over the fact that I had just been swung at with a chicken!!

Ahh, the life of a Peace Corps Trainee in Rwanda summed up by a chicken in the face.

Peace out ya'll (yes, I do say that now)


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

First Few Days

Hey all! or should I say: Muraho!

I've not even been in Rwanda for a week but it already feels as if a month has gone by. So much has happened since I arrived last Thursday evening. The 36 other volunteers and I went and stayed at a nunnery for a couple of nights after flying into Kigali. As we came in there was a major storm brewing and we managed to fly over volcanoes too! Nice introduction to the country! We visited the Genocide Memorial (extremely heart-wrenching but incredibly valuable experience) and went to a charity soccer game where the players did a little dance every time they shot a goal: tres cute :)

After Kigali we drove 2 hours south to our training facility. Classes started yesterday and let me tell you--my brain hurts from overload of information. So far we've learned introductory phrases and a little technical training about TEFL etc.

I have to say that I feel like a total hotshot celebrity here--the kids follow you around yelling Msungu (white person) or some people address us in french (this used to be a francophone country but part of the reason we're here is to switch to English) or my favorite is when they say "Good Morning" at 8:30 at night! We are completely alien to these people and I've never been so blatantly stared at before in my life, I guess I'll overcome any remnant of shyness I may have!

Volunteers live in 4 houses, all divided up randomly. Every morning I've woken up at 5:45 to the sounds of goats, people talking, and a mixture of birds tweeting. Needless to say, the days are full of learning...a lot about a lot. Sorry this is so sporadic and pretty bland, I had a better one but the document could not be opened on the computers at the internet cafe.

Talk some more soon! Hope all is well back in US of A!!


Address is:
Avery Miles
Peace Corps Trainee/Rwanda
BP 5657
Kigali, Rwanda

Monday, October 5, 2009

Sup from the Jerz

Hey hey hey!!

This is a shout out from...New Jersey! Ha, so I'm still sitting here on my couch in my house but tomorrow I will be on my way out of here, heading over to the vast continent of Africa. There is orientation in Philadelphia (4 hours of cultural awareness and Peace Corps heads-up type info) after which we go straight to sleep in order to be up by 7 am the next morning for our vaccinations!! ugh... and then it's on to JFK airport from whence we fly to Brussels where we wait for our connecting flight tooooo Kigali, Rwanda!!

Ok, more later when there's actually something more to write about. :)