Thursday, July 29, 2010

Could I BE any CORNier?!?

Since moving into my new house I have discovered many joys. Eric, my buddy who lives in the neighboring house, and I have set up a couple of impromptu football games with the other neighbor kids which has proven to be both a decent workout (those kids have some spunk) and good for integration purposes. In addition to that, there is a plethora of outdoor activities that I engage in, such as: brushing my teeth, cooking, washing my hair, doing laundry and going to the bathroom. But I love it all. Experiencing nature by moonlight and the glow of twinkling stars has been liberating. My favorite part of the day is walking out to the side yard where, if I look to the right, over the brick enclosure, I can see the mountains of Ngororero bathed in the first beams of morning light, standing imperious and grand. There is also a pinch of the medieval mixed in with my new living arrangement. Every once in awhile it becomes clear that I should bathe so I don my mini towel and head to the indoor bathroom that has not yet been touched by the electrical current running through the house. And because I am not one for dumping ice-cold water over my head at 6 in the morning, I resort to bathing by candlelight which is so middle ages.

On July 4th there was so much corn on the cob!! I wasn't sure if I could bring myself to keep eating ear after ear brought to me by roommates but of course, I did. It was fun despite the lack of fireworks. Oh wait, there were some in the form of popcorn. It was everywhere! I had the pot on and the kernels were popping when Eugenie decided to check and see if they’re ready. Bad choice, Eugenie. Using the scraps of used brown paper bag to prevent any skin damage, she reached for the shaking tin pot, aiming for the lid but as she began to slide it off the contents decided to take flight and before any of us knew what was happening, there were specks of puffed corn sprinkling the air. Before we lost all of the food, she managed to gain control over the exploding pot and retrieve it from the fire but amid the shrieks of surprise and cries of dismay I began laughing and realized that this was indeed Fourth of July because we had created our own fireworks right there in the backyard!

A couple of weeks ago I attended a wedding. The groom specifically asked if I would be in it so that he could balance the ratio of blacks to whites. Normally I would be offended by this superficial overture but this time I was thinking purely of clothing. The traditional garb that the women wear to ceremonies and special events is a tight, spaghetti-strap tank top, shrouded by a delicate scarf tied at one shoulder, finished with a skirt made of thicker material and similar pattern. I wore it with grace, or at least I like to think so, despite the dust and cramped space inside the wedding limo (an SUV truck on loan from UNICEF). My msungu partners in this charade, I mean, occasion, were two Americans, one of whom had spent 10 months teaching at C.I.C a couple of years ago. As best man, he was fitted in a white suit, pointed shoes (all the rage in Rwandan men's fashion) and a bright blue, synthetic shirt with ruffles at the sleeve. They were handsome. After the drinks were served and dowry exchanged at the wife’s house we all piled into the SUV and slowly made our way over the bumpy terrain, posing as a path that was only ever created for pedestrians, not motor vehicles stuffed with well-dressed people going to a church. Once inside the church I realized with some embarrassment that, although I was a prized ornament to be showcased to the entire congregation of wedding-goers, I was not one of the wedding party. This was conveyed with subtle clarity as I counted the number of bridal attendants and found that I was the odd woman out. Oh well, the cake was good and the dress was fun!

A few days before the wedding the Americans and I ventured up to the northern town of Musanze where we had the special treat of seeing baby gorillas!! Not only were they adorable but as the one female sinuously glided up the wooden beams of her home and proceeded to lounge with one leg crossed over the other, our guide turned and commented on how human they were. Then, as an afterthought she chuckled and supposed that, “or maybe we’re so gorilla.” It was a moment in which I very much regretted the absence of my camera. Those orphan gorillas would have made such a better picture than me in my ridiculous wedding get-up!

The good thing about being located directly in the middle of nowhere is the easy choice of which big town I want to be my primary place of goods and services. I have switched from Gitarama to Musanze as the spot to go to; it has won my favor by showing off the awesome volcanoes and the pleasantly cool climate. Even the bus ride is better, with most of the road paved and the scenery consisting of hills, rivers and no banana trees. It looks like it could be a magazine ad for Switzerland. Sometimes the beauty can be deceiving though. Behind the rolling hills and streams there is trouble. Now in the dry season, there is difficulty finding a constant or reliable source of water and trees are being felled left and right to make way for more crops or to be used for charcoal. It was a dreary realization as I walking up to the parish to meet up with the fathers and the Americans where team mzungu took on the priests in an epic basketball match! The Americans and I won but only with a slight advantage of having one more person on our team. Father Damasen (have no idea how to spell his name) is 6”4 and a total machine on the court! It’s no wonder they call him “Big D.”

I have made some observations in the past 9 months of living here. There is a difference between the U.S and Rwanda in regards to bodily eruptions in public; Americans don't do it and Rwandans do, in which I now participate. It is hard not to cave in and pick at the substance that has accumulated inside your nose, not when there is such an abundance of dust and dirt filtering the air. The other major display of bodily functions is burping!! In the classroom, during meetings, or while talking with someone, they are filled with little gas bubbles. There have been times where I have pointedly or distractedly paused in a lesson due to some large eruption from one of my students. It occurs while I am conversing with my roommates. And the best part is that I totally do it too! I’ve also adopted the ability to pack away an entire volcano of food (this may be one of the leading causes for that second display). When one of the Americans watched a plate set in front of him he queried whether that was usual to be served such a large quantity and I explained to him that yes, it was and his plate did not even measure up to the heaping mountain that is nomally served up at Canada, the cafeteria where the teachers at my school eat (the place gained the nickname from a foreigner who came to stay with the sisters a while ago and this is a big assumption on my part, but I believe that individual came from…Canada). Anyhow, the American asked me this as I was just about finished with my own plate and he had barely touched his! Man, either my stomach has expanded of its own accord or my eyes are unable to translate to my brain just how much food my intestines can process. It’s a point of mystery to me. However, I do not find myself consuming as much anymore since I began cooking for myself.

As I described before, I am not the best cook the world has ever seen but I have always prided myself on my ability to learn and let me tell you, it has been one lesson after another. The latest note taken includes the discovery that it is much more profitable to cook when and where one can see. This may sound self-explanatory and it may well be, for everybody else, but I realized this one day when I began cooking at 5 p.m, not 6. You see, although we are fully wired with electricity in the house, it is, as my students would explain, “missing” from certain parts, including the kitchen. Once you hit the 6:30 mark, dusk has transformed into dark and you can no longer use your own faculties to see but rely upon the beam of a flashlight. This, if one has been accustomed from an early age, is not such a problem but it is for one (me) who has not had much practice in the culinary arts and whenever there was the off chance I found myself before a stove it was usually accompanied by some artificial light. Ok, back to the idea of learning: my latest attempt at pancakes resulted in some pretty tasty creations and even Eugenie had to agree, admitting that, “somehow… it’s okay.” Hmmm, if only I could say the same thing about her singing. Both of my roommates enjoy singing at a very high pitch tone that begins in the evening and continues well into the night. And our walls are paper thin. Needless to say, I'm becoming really good at zoning everything out.

This past term was a bit of a doozy and the only substantial assessment I can make is that there is work to be done, both on my part as well as the students. I’m still a clueless wonder when it comes to the time when exams roll around, as was indicated by my shock over the announcement that the exams had been pushed forward a week and the confusion I displayed regarding the grading sheets…phew. But it’s over and now I have all this new material and ideas for next term. In addition to gaining a better foothold in the school system and my community, starting up a secondary project, I have also concluded that it is time that my students learn how to develop some creativity. This term I thought I had challenged them more but I only succeeded in making more work for myself since none of them seemed to grasp what I was asking for…grading the exams reminded me of finals season at college all over again. One upswing to the end of term was the sector-wide teachers meeting held at my school. The meeting itself was pretty dull but the music was fantastic: Abba’s “Super Trooper” greeted me when I entered the big hall!

Back in the states you probably have your own political foibles that are occupying your attention. This is quite reasonable as I understand there are several pressing issues happening at the moment. This past weekend was a big production in my village: the president himself came to visit!! Unfortunately, he was not coming as the president but as a potential candidate and due to Peace Corps policy that advises volunteers to refrain from becoming involved in the politics of the host country I skipped town. Before I left I did benefit somewhat from the auspicious event; the path previously covered in rocks and rubble that led from the main road to my school has now been flattened, cushioned with dirt and smoothed over by gigantic water tanks rumbling through. Good news because soon I will be able to get back out on my bike again without fear of puncturing another tire!

Fortunately, there was another highly pressing event that required my presence, the first annual Peace Corps Kickball tournament. Volunteers from every group were in attendance at the two-day long fĂȘte of sports, beer and puppies…wait, what?!?! That’s right, there were pets there too, a puppy who nicked a couple of people with her teething antics but remained lovable anyway and an older one who served as both protector and entertainer for us. She acted as guard for the group of exotic foreigners who, suddenly and in great numbers, seemed to descend upon the peninsular town of Nyamasheke. Kivu (the dog is named after the lake she resides next to, clever, right?) scampered alongside us as we walked to and from town, charging the children standing by the school and then racing off. At one point during an intense inning of the game, she decided to practice a little crowd control and let loose a stream of barking which scattered the bubble of kids hovering around. From the hill above, people who happened to be observing the peculiar action taking place below might have thought it somewhat disquieting that when Kivu began corralling the children, the large gathering of foreigners broke out into uninhibited laughter. It was a sight but it probably did not compare to the dive I took running from home to first base. After lobbing the ball I revved up to go but apparently my legs were not used to such a spurt of energy because three strides in I face-planted right in front of everybody! I was in such a hurry that I did not take into account the fact that the ball had been caught and the entire show was just that, pure entertainment for the crowd.

Alrighty, gotta head over to the airport to pick up my parents who are in town for a couple of weeks!

Adios amigos!

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