Saturday, September 25, 2010

Pursuit of Happiness

Hey Folks!!

Just got back from a trek up to the school where there is a full house up at the main hall tonight. There are students overflowing down the stairwell and when I arrived a little too fashionably late, I met with some of my own girls who had just finished dancing. Shoot, I thought, I missed seeing the competition in action. See, for the past few weeks I have been heading a fledging dance troupe and we have made some moderate progress but there is still work to be done. And as it turns out, there is another group at the school that boasts the title of Modern Dance Club. This information was haphazardly thrown at me one day when I looked across the hall during one of our “rehearsals” to see the other group peeking from behind the curtain at our antics below. I’m not sure how long they have been organized but they sure do have a solid presence, complete with a loyal following and even performance slots!

That’s all about to change now that I’m here!! Haha, not exactly but I must admit that, as I walked away tonight I couldn’t help but conjure up a playful image in my head: the girls gathered outside in their little Cheerios outfits, excitedly chatting about their latest successful performance in front of an adoring public while the members of my group scuttle around in their mismatched outfits and hesitant movements. It’s not a complete imitation of the show because I have not yet run into a Sue Sylvester character, but I think my excessive viewing of the series, Glee, has sifted into my daily life here. Now, my students ask for “Gree,” (l’s and r’s are interchangeable in Kinyarwanda which creates for interesting and occasionally risque pronunciations—think: election) oohing over the awesome vocal capacities of Rachel and Mercedes and ahhing over the variety of dance numbers in each episode. How did this come about?? All I did was bring my computer to the first meeting of dance club and poof: a personality was born. We would be the first Glee club at C.I.C Muramba and it would be fantastic. So far, that wishful forecast has not completely come to fruition but step by step we’ll get there; we’ve had a few practices and they have the basic steps down to Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” and a select few have caught the words to “Keep Holding On” by Avril Lavigne, both ideas inspired from the show. Then, last week, after requesting to learn lyrical/jazz moves, the students and I began free-flow dancing when I did something astounding: I spun in a circle.

You may be wondering what kind of relevant educational content this could have for the students . It’s a valid question. I wonder that at times too, especially when the other teachers are grading math tests and preparing chemistry notes but I realized that similar to learning English, students learn best when they are motivated to learn and in this case the girls in my troupe have shown the initiative and interest to participate and learn which could not make me any happier. In my very short career as a teacher, I have awkwardly realized that I dislike feeling as though I am forcing people to learn something they neither want nor care to learn. So, for now my attention is directed at my little underdog dance group because they are excited to learn a subject I know about and I am equally excited to share these particular skills with them. Next on the agenda is either “Te Amo” or “Bleeding Love,” to which they will perfect the spin that I instructed them to practice. I’ll let you know how it goes!

With all of that being said, I must confess that I am feeling somewhat sluggish when it comes to teaching. Sure, the dancing and singing, the prancing around and playing basketball is quite enjoyable and in a way can lead to some informal English lessons but when it comes down to it, my primary function here is to teach English to secondary students. On paper that looks easy enough and before I came to Rwanda, I thought, rather arrogantly and ignorantly, that I could do that without breaking a sweat. Unfortunately that job description has led me to question my daily activities in the face of the real situation; waking up and going to the classroom where 40 to 50 teenage girls stare at me slack-jawed and dazed, if their heads are up at all. In recent weeks I’ve noticed an even more acute change in some of the girls’ behavior: they just don’t care. Biology, chemistry, physics and math come first—understandably important and valuable to pursuing a career in the future—but it makes my job that much harder to inspire enthusiasm or incite creativity. It’s just not that necessary for them. In the effort to do something fun and engaging with my Senior 6 level students, (the oldest and in a couple of weeks gone from the school after taking the national exam) I decided to take the song, “One Step at a Time,” by Jordan Sparks and splice up the lyrics onto several mini note cards. After the students received a verse or a line they would discuss it, translate if need be, and try to follow along the next time I played the song. Well, they enjoyed the song and even sang along to the words they knew but when I asked them to come forward and organize themselves into a line according to the order in which they heard the words, I don’t think I’ve seen a more lackluster response. That was in the one class, the other Senior 6 class has totally checked out—just last week they requested to drop one hour of English in favor of studying more Physics. Aside from the slight bruise that made to my ego, I had no problem with that because, as I mentioned before, I’m finding that it is vastly easier to teach those who are interested and willing but very hard to interest those who are unwilling.

On other fronts:

As some of you may know about already, I have been involved in a project to set up a library in my community. I do apologize to those of you who have shown interest (and even contributed already) for any confusion that has arisen surrounding the details. To be honest, I have been a little shaky about them but I think we’ve got it somewhat honed now. The idea is pretty self-explanatory but if anybody has any questions I’d be more than happy to answer them. I’m very excited about this project, not only for the impact it will make on the community in terms of introducing literature appreciation and improving education opportunities but also for the fact that I am involving myself in the community.

Finally, after spending 9 months at site, I am beginning to carve out a space to call my own. First, I should preface that, in light of my earlier behavior at site which consisted of pealing out of town at the soonest and most frequent opportunities, I made the conscientious (aka guilty) decision to stay put for a bit during this term. Plus, I’ve recently discovered that my distaste for traveling in this country has morphed into a lazy loathing and that, along with the desire to save some francs for an upcoming holiday trip (more on that later) caused me to stick around these parts. And what a great decision that was! I’ve discovered so much about the area in such a short time. It’s as if I came back from the summer holiday and opened my window to see a lone boy shuffling outside, unwittingly about to confirm that today is, in fact, still Christmas Day. Yes, I haven’t missed it!! I can still go out and make everything right again. I can still go make peace with everyone.

So that’s what I have done. The first week back I began to fully take advantage of all that my village has to offer, most particularly, the bright, intelligent and progressive thinkers that are interested in making a difference in their community. First, I sat down with Jean Paul, a man who has been working with the Engineers without Borders for the past 6 years, and we hashed out a proposal for a workshop to help solve malnutrition problems. Then, I met with Jean du Dieu, a man who has been actively working for the improvement of the area by creating an English club and heading a local fuel briquette project. Together we have been working to create a substantial proposal for an agricultural and environment project. To create and implement this type of project, I have been discovering, is somewhat complicated and involved and will require much concentrated input from all parties involved. I am quite enjoying the process of collaboration and the planning for future events. In addition to those two proposals, I have the seedlings for an ICT project and creating an after school kids program that would focus on offering the children (specifically primary aged) a place to unleash all of their energy after their lessons finish. So many children do not have anything to do after school gets out so they fool around, goofing off and perpetuating the cycle of indifference and lack of motivation. After talking with one of the headmasters of a local primary school, I felt assured that I was on the right track with this idea of a creating a youth center.

As always, this is a learning experience, ever ebbing and flowing with the events that take place but I can safely say that it is becoming more like home here. I have reached a point where I’ve finally become comfortable to walk outside my door and not feel like some freak-outcast (although people do still stare unabashedly I just smile and wave). I have finally found some level ground on which to plant my feet which causes me to pause and wonder: why haven’t I been doing this all along? But then I look at my watch and remember I have to meet with my counterpart to discuss plans for a project or my garden needs attending to or there is movie night with the Congolese teachers or my girls are waiting for me to show up and teach them the latest steps to the thriller video—I have somewhere to be and I’m going.


  1. Im a Peace Corps Volunteer in Namibia. Im about to finish my service here and we wanna do some traveling. We plan to be in Rwanda some time after mid January. Were wondering if you could answer a few questions for us.

    We dont have many leads.

    What are the best things to do in Rwanda?

    How much are Visas? Is there any special process we need to know about when buying them?

    Generally how much do food and travel cost?

    Can you free hike, or is that too dangerous? If not what are the general forms of travel, combi, bus, trains, something else?

    Where are the best places to stay?

    What else should we know?

    How many volunteers are there?

    We would appreciate any help you could give us. Please write me back at if you have time.


  2. Hello, Niece of mine. I guess teaching will not be your vocation of choice stateside.... remember "It's a Wonderful Life." Touching one life can cause massive ripples. It's good to hear of your involvement in the local community.