Sunday, January 31, 2010

North by Northwest

Habaye iki? What's happening?

As there has been ample amount of time to do… not much of anything except integrate, which is a pretty broad task if you ask me, I have found myself in the kitchen much of late. In the last couple of weeks the sisters and cooks have had the pleasure or sometimes pain of tasting U.S-style pizza, banana bread, chocolate cake, Spanish tortilla, carrot cake (with two mashed bananas it tasted less like carrot and more like its supplementing ingredient), mashed potatoes which were wonderfully garlicy but after presenting it to my awaiting audience I was informed that my hand had been too heavy on the garlic salt!!! Whoops, but more for me!! Then there was some experimenting with homemade salad dressing, hummus and guacamole. The nearby secondary school has been cultivating 8 hectares/19 acres of land and to my utter delight there is garlic among the many wonderful plants and herbs.

Now, cooking Rwandan is very different than what I am accustomed to in the states. There are no microwaves!!! Haha, I can actually work a stove back home but here they are designed primarily to use wood and fire. Hmmm, ok, not so bad, even when using my little kerosene-powered stove I am able to accomplish some things, see abovementioned culinary treats. But here comes the ikibazo (problem): I have never been and probably will never be on good terms with fire. We just don’t seem to get along too well. But hopefully we will be able to reconcile our differences soon because I think I have stumbled upon something great where I can contribute and be productive and also enjoy the company of the kitchen staff who are very gracious and helpful (especially in regards to said fire problem).

One night I found myself alone in the big kitchen (there are at least 4 that I can count on the compound!) when I realized how medieval the situation had become. There, standing before the wood-burning stove, lightning flashing outside, I could see the fruits of my labor in the faint glow of the oil lamp. And that’s when the singing began. Slowly the sisters’ voices came flowing through this scene and I nearly jumped out of my skin!!! Just a bit eery.

Teachers and students have started arriving and so far I know that I will be teaching English for 16 hours a week. Whew, what to start with? The days of the week, greetings, or maybe I’ll have the girls get up and teach me a thing or two. It would seem that many people already speak English expertly, especially when compared to my poor Kinyarwanda.

I must be fitting into the culture of the convent, for during the very first week at site (I can’t believe I forgot to write about this earlier!!) Father Kolombe said that I looked likeMary!! I was floored, shocked, and completely dumbfounded as to what my reaction should have been. Gratitude? Modesty? Anxiety?

Now, onto something exciting—I finally went to Lake Kivu!! Last week, while on a jaunt down south (which took about 2 days, more on that later..) to visit some PC colleagues, I was able to see how the other half lives. Other half of the country that is. Down in the southwest they do things a lot differently than up here in the northwest, namely they use matatus (small minivans, also referred to as taxis) instead of motorcycles “motos” to travel, and where I can see mountains for miles, their view is of water, a seemingly endless body of blue and sometimes green fluid beauty. Unfortunately I did not jump in. I know, I know, walk 2 hours up and down rocky paths only to look at water? But the fear of shisto (a microorganism that gets into your system and is difficult to remove or remedy) prevented me from taking the plunge.

In order to make it down that way from my site one must jump on a moto or with luck, grab the huge mint green express bus that passes by my town once a day. Then, after 40 minutes you have arrived at the bus station, a plot of space along the side of the road where some vehicles of mass transportation converge. After bumbling your way into one, prepare for some major curves, dips and turns. Whew, what a trip. Oh but wait, that’s only to Kigali, and you’ve only been squeezed against the hips of the woman next to you for a mere 2 hours. Once in the capital you search for a private bus that will carry you the next 6 hours of your life to the desired destination. Or so you had hoped for….along the way you must be conscious in order to yell at the driver to stop and let you out. Then you have made it.

Ok, so here’s how a colleague of mine and I decided to take that long but reasonable journey and make it into an adventure. We chose the path less chosen…First, from her site in a matatu to Gitarama where we managed to procure tickets for a bus to Kibuye. So far so good, we thought, we’re genius because we’re bypassing the necessity to drive all the way to the center of the country only to turn around and drive right back out. Right….we changed our minds rapidly upon arrival in Kibuye where we were pleasantly informed that there are no buses to Kamembe (the ultimate destination) on that day. One will come tomorrow early in the morning. Murg (sound of supreme frustration). Tired and already travel-worn from the most recent bus trip, (my poor friend witnessed a fellow passenger throw up in the seat in front of her..not an uncommon occurrence when traveling in Rwanda) we decided to place a call for help. As luck would have it, we were able to locate the house of two of our PC colleagues where we encountered many more of our colleagues. What a serendipitous happenstance! There was a regular ‘ol get-together of several volunteers at the house which is uncannily reminiscent of a beach bungalow.

The next day we were rattled awake by the announcement that the next bus out of town was soon to arrive and that we needed to get our butts into gear in order to catch it. Scurrying around in a fog, induced by no sleep the night before as a result of the overly abundant mosquitoes and no bug-net, we raced out the door down to the bus stop. And waited for an hour before it arrived but when it did I thought the angels had descended from heaven. I was wrong. For the next 6 hours, my friend and I endured what could safely be described as one of the worst roads in the entire history of roads. I am not kidding. It has been validated by others. Anyway, after surviving the rocky rolling movements of the monstrous vehicle, crammed to the gills with people and their belongings (I was really banking on seeing someone carrying a kitchen sink with them), and not losing my meager breakfast at the sight of the looming cliff, we arrived at our friend’s site. Or at the edge of her town where she told us to stop. Then we walked for 45 minutes. But at that point, I would have run a marathon if it meant no more buses for the next 24 hours!

That’s all for now. Be assured that there are many more adventures down the road (hehe, I tickle myself).

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Where there are bananas there are no secrets...

If anybody has an idea what this saying could possibly mean let me know. It was told to us at one of the sessions during training and upon arriving at my site, where there are over a million such trees, I've begun to wonder if this could have some profound implication...

Anyway, I've been at site three weeks now and it is great. So far I’ve explored a fair amount of the area and it is simply breathtaking. Sometimes I have to remind myself that this is still Africa because one moment the hills are shrouded in mist and it appears to be a tropical rainforest, and at other times I’ll be walking through a forest that feels surprisingly similar to one out in California! It is extremely beautiful. And very hilly—just the other day, after trekking through some bean fields and subsequently losing the trail, I ended up climbing up a 90 degree vertical staircase! Some boy who had decided to follow me, commented on how very tired the Msungu was. He was right, everywhere I go I end up breathing as if I was climbing Mt. Everest!! Taking my camera on these adventures is somewhat tricky though, since the neighborhood children all want to have their picture taken and they love to follow me around! Hopefully these pictures can illustrate my inadequate description.

Two weeks ago a group of Engineers without Borders (EWB) flew in from Wisconsin. Over the past few years they have been working on a couple of different projects, including a pipeline and helping the community cultivate plots of land in order to grow and sell certain crops. Last Sunday we were all introduced to the community at the local church. We attended the second mass which, because it was the first Sunday after the New Year, took 3 and half hours!! But most of the town found out who we are which is good.

It has not only been pleasant but extremely advantageous having EWB around. Due to their well-established presence in the community I have been able to meet new contacts and as a result become a bit more involved in some programs taking place. This past week I helped at a local English club that is an essential part to a larger goal in developing the capacity and knowledge of the people here. Hopefully I will be able to help out at a local school garden that has been recently created as part of a widespread initiative to address the needs of the community, one of which is malnutrition in children. That, or maybe I could start weeding the garden right outside my window at the convent.

Did I not mention the convent yet? I reside in one of the guestrooms that the sisters usually rent to guests. That is where the engineers were staying while they were here. Every day I usually take all my meals with the sisters who are very kind and caring-- it reminds me of living with a host family. At the moment everything is quite comfortable and quiet (well, except for the very irate cow that wakes me up every morning at 6 am!!) but I think the situation will change once the students and teachers arrive at the end of the month for the start of school.

I am beginning to see the impact that my role as an English teacher can and will have on the people in this area. Learning English will not only allow them to come together but also help them gain a better foothold among the rest of the East African Community. Development is happening everywhere around Rwanda. I mentioned in my last blog that the main road has construction going on 24/7 and sometime within the next year there will be electricity in the town!!

Yesterday I attended my first Rwandan wedding! Or should I say, the dowry ceremony. This is the initial scene where the two families of the bride and groom come together and officially meet. There were two rows set up facing each other, in which the elder members of the families sit and chat. There is a Master of Ceremonies figure who facilitates the conversation between the two parties negotiating the marriage.These are usually the grand males of the family. Although I barely understood any of what went on I did gather that there was much merriment and mirth among the crowd. Ripples of chuckles skirted the fringes of the gathering as the the two granddaddies "bargained" the price of the dowry. All the while there sat a rock in the center; this is apparently used to grind sorghum beans into beer!! A wooden statue of a man holding a pot of the traditional brew stands to the front of the stone, enjoying his beverage.