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) :))