Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A Very Long Repose

Whew, long time no write!

Exams were a bit more chaotic than I had expected. Having always played the student role during the time of testing, I was not prepared for my new position as teacher. It was both an action-packed and informative couple of days. I had chosen to make a day trip to Kigali in order to pick up mail and do some errands. Fortunately I decided to return that evening because I happened to notice that my name was on the list of those scheduled to proctor the following day! After learning what that technically meant, I have to say that I became a master at it. Yup, there is no doubt that I excelled at standing in one spot for several minutes, scanning the crowd to see if a student needed an additional sheet of paper, and scurrying over to one when I spotted a raised hand. I felt more like a server in a restaurant! One that served over 300 customers! At one point, as they all begun to conjure up physics theories and compute all of those convoluted chemical calculations, looking out over a sea of bowed heads, I was reminded of that time not long ago when I was in their position. Admittedly at first, I felt grateful to just stand there and soak in the moment, until that moment became a series of drawn out moments over the course of a 5 hour period!! When they had finished and handed in their exams, I realized with no trace of anticipation, that the stack of papers sitting on the table was now my responsibility to correct and grade!! And all 320 of my students were present for their English exam.

Aside from deciphering the grading system, which I unwittingly stumbled upon through a series of unrelated events, there were also a few mathematical errors during the actual grading phase. More than once I resorted to the rather lame excuse that, “hey, I’m an English teacher…not a Math teacher.” Finally, once all the marks (they do not say grade) were added, divided, multiplied, re-added and written down on the formal roster, I had to go in search of the class Titulaire. This is a teacher who is in charge of a particular class of students who focus on a combination of subjects, such as, PCM=physics, chemistry, mathematics. Not having managed to memorize all of my colleagues’ names and matching them to the faces that I see every day, I ended up doing some impromptu investigatory work, followed by some last minute dashing back and forth in a semi-frenzied state.

The perfect antidote to such hectic confusion was two weeks of holiday. At least that’s what I had in mind when I defiantly, naively and in hindsight, unwisely chose to leave the day on which all of my students also departed for home. Speeding away on the moto at 5:30 in the morning, I could make out the shadowy shapes of the girls clambering up the hill. When I arrived to Ngororero town center I met up with some more on the bus.

As I pulled into Gitarama, it was crowded beyond reason, resembling the day before Thanksgiving in the states. In other words—pure pandemonium!! Everybody and their brother was out, or this case, everybody and their classmate. I’m not sure how but through sheer will and determination I made it to my final destination down in Cyangugua area. There I met up with some fellow PCVs (that’s our nifty little nickname for one another, ha, or maybe what I like to say since I’m lazy!)- the same fortunate bunch who witnessed me after the last crazy adventure I had down that way. Anyway, onto the food, which is usually the most interesting tidbit in any story. To start, there was fruit salad with maracuja, pineapple, oranges, apples, and banana, next to an array of fresh vegetables accompanied by deliciously homemade dip. Next, there were some hash browns, scrambled eggs, both cheesy and baconized, carrot and regular pancakes and monkey bread, not to mention the guacamole with tortilla chips and all the little chocolate goodies sent from people’s families. It was a feast of epic proportions and everybody had their fill.

Here’s a little show of the colossal meal we had. Who knew you could serve up a gourmet, 5 course meal in a remote African village?! But props to my Peace Corps colleagues who managed to achieve such a feat using one kerosene-powered stove in a tiny, 5x5 side room with all of us stuffed in there, lured by the wonderful aroma. It was fantastic.

Ok, enough gushing, onto the rest of the holiday. As we were staying at my colleague’s home we got together and brought a little Easter cheer to her nuns. That was the first time I took an egg and emptied the contents into a bowl by blowing into a pin-pricked hole at the top. After all the eggs were hollow we took some crayons and markers to design them, cut up some paper grass and stuffed it into baskets fashioned out of recycled exam papers.

Alongside the eggs we placed some little candies and in the end I think the sisters were very pleased with their makeshift Easter presents. Following the festive event I made my way up north to see another angle of Lake Kivu.

Up in Gisenyi, where the volcano towers over the town and the hustle bustle of traffic can catch one off easily off guard, I found a pleasantly vibrant blend of activity. Although I only spent a short 2 days in one of the most tourist-visited areas in Rwanda, I managed to get a sense of the area. Walking along the beach, waves quietly lapping against my rolled up jeans, I realized with a start that this was the first time in Rwanda where I felt almost inconspicuous. I still stood out but since there were other whities I was no longer the only sore thumb. Despite the relatively dreary weather (it rained 50 % of the time I was there) I really enjoyed myself in the “seaside” town. But it was back to work shortly thereafter. Or so I thought…

One week into school I received a call from my former training director asking me to come present for the new set of health volunteers entering Rwanda. Thus I found myself returning to Nyanza, home to my early days in Rwanda. This was where I got off the bus and knew I wasn’t in Jersey anymore and my newfound friends and I were going to have a good time exploring the sandy yellow road in front of us (sorry, just finished reading Wicked so the Wizard of Oz is on the brain). It certainly was nostalgic, going back and walking along the same path to town or out to the small pond I usually jogged by. The house that was being built along my road had been finished and mirrors put on where there should be windows and the apartment building at the edge of the roundabout had been given an archway for an entrance. When I leave a place for too long progress seems to take over and change the way things look. When I return to my village I know there will be some things I don’t quite recognize from before.

Oh right, I should probably explain that I am not at my site at the moment.

In fact, I am several hundred kilometers from it! I am writing this from the guesthouse I’m staying at in Pretoria, South Africa! For the past week, I have been frequenting cinemas, restaurants and malls, eating pizza and ice cream, going on safaris and seeing giraffes and zebras. It has been utterly amazing and just a little surreal. As we pulled up to the palace of a guesthouse, I looked around at the neighborhood and was hit with the sense that I had reentered suburbia. And I was right. There are concrete curbs lining the manicured lawns and house dogs calling out to one another from behind gated driveways. More surprising than seeing all of this again for the first time in 7 months has been my reaction. I never realized how stressful crossing a street could be!! I have been the source of much entertainment around here because every time I venture out into the road there is some motor vehicle rambling straight towards me and my reaction is to naturally jump a mile high, emitting some kind of warrior cry until I barely reach the other side of the road. Where’s that chicken when I need it?

Staying in Pretoria has been a bit over-stimulating, to say the least. The robots (what they call street lights) never seem to indicate when the cars are supposed to stop and I’m allowed to go, turning into a tussle between the two of us. Guess who has the better odds of winning? And the shopping malls, how they extend for miles, in all different kinds of directions, with elevators and lifts carrying people from clothes to food and back again. When I walked into one of the shopping centers I nearly swooned from the overly familiar scent of central air, fresh produce and packaged bread. The powerful aroma mixed with the low buzzing from the overhead lights and refrigerators threw me for a major loop and I had to quickly pick up my toothpaste and dash out of there.

Jogging past high school football fields and tennis courts where little 6 year olds are perfecting their backswing, I’m transported back to the land of western culture. A cross between Europe and the U.S, Pretoria reflects a modern metropolitan city, complete with multiple-story buildings, double-decker buses and a variety of stores, shops and restaurants. Did I not mention the food before? It’s absolutely fabulous….at first. Hitting the seventh month mark should have alerted me to the fact that I have been in Africa, living in a village for a pretty lengthy amount of time but it didn’t. My bowels did. After piling the shredded cheddar cheese onto my omelet, scooping the rum raisin soft serve, and dishing the yogurt in with my muesli, I’ve realized my error in calculating what my digestive system can handle anymore. Not dairy products!

On this unintended and unexpected vacation, I’ve developed some belief and sense of direction. Now, as I’m making my way back to site, I’m filled with a renewed passion and rekindled energy. I can’t wait to jump back into the classroom and shake things up, do some hands-on activities while also participating in extra-curricular gigs. The coach of the basketball team unofficially named me supervisor (I guess that is kind of like assistant coach?) and I hope to start helping out with the school’s dance club. They want me to teach them “modern” dance! This should be a lively event.

Till we write again!!