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!