Saturday, February 5, 2011

Back in the Hood


It is something of an accomplishment to look back over the past 17 months and realize that I’m still here. Oil spills, strikes, elections, hurricanes, re-elections, emerging artists, loved ones gone…the world still turns. And I am still here. Every morning, without fail, the birds hum melodiously outside my window and I’m compelled to lean out, raise my finger with the calm expectancy of Mary Poppins and begin tweeting along with them. Meanwhile, doors bang, feet shuffle, the sinuous voice of my roommate filters into my room, reaching effortlessly over the rafters in the ceiling, calling me forth from my slumber to approach the world once again.

It is with tireless grace and unfailing compassion that my roommates have reminded me of the joys of living with others. Theirs is not a quiet nature and dwelling in a building that carries noise like a wistful pigeon, obliviously flying about, I am reminded of that nearly every day. They are unapologetically loud and somehow my sensitivities have been heightened since coming here (or maybe now I’m more aware of everything) so it makes for a trial trying to maintain a semblance of calm and reason in the early morning when my sleep-laden brain cannot process much beyond the clanging noises or in the heavy hours of night with the shouting back and forth over my head; my room is situated right smack dab in the middle of their rooms. In defense of the all pervasive noise I retreat into my own musical world, jamming my earphones into my ears as soon as the first utterance is emitted
As with any living situation, there are external forces that one cannot control and in this case there are several, including my own living companions. There is no successful way to clam up a cow and there is no forceful strategy to shush the neighborhood kids from yelping and whooping out in the yard. Similarly, there is no way to modulate the volume at which my roommates converse. Good, fine, whatever, c’est la vie. That is part of adjusting and overcoming certain challenges that unavoidable in any situation. But just when I thought I had mastered my own sensibilities regarding this particular situation, I walked in one day to blaring static, crackling and screeching. I searched madly for where this cacophonous sound was and there it was: a pocketbook sized radio emitting some terribly sonorous and absurdly loud program in Kinywarwanda. When I thought I couldn’t tolerate anymore, the gospel choir began and that’s when I knew I had a serious problem on my hands. Unfortunately, the radio has only one volume level, that of blaring obnoxiously loud static. It’s possibly the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

As I have undoubtedly mentioned before, this experience is tough and comes with obstacles and hurdles to overcome-- who knew that some of them would take the shape of two dainty Rwandan women residing in the same house as me? Cultural differences are the reason for many misunderstandings and in this case, that would be the main culprit behind the constant strife. Consideration for others is something that always comprised a major part of my comportment and the way I interact with people but that does not seem to hold any large significance in the daily activities of Rwandans. Late into the night I can hear the base from the music playing at the nearby convenience shop and my colleagues who live in the house only a few yards away crank up the volume on their stereos whenever the mood strikes them, aka, 6:30 a.m or 11 p.m. Part of the adjustment process is relinquishing control over things that cannot be controlled by any force I may possess. The mosquitoes will buzz incessantly overhead and the rain will fall mercilessly; I’m finding that it makes life exponentially easier to accept things the way they are and enjoy the minute pleasures. Before I stifle myself with anxious thoughts and paranoid worries, I take a deep breath, answer the tentative knock at my bedroom door and join Vestine, Eugenie and sometimes our colleagues from next door, out in the dining room. As we share a plate of plantains and beans I begin to shake off the biting annoyance and enjoy the easy calm that lazily drifts down to surround our family-style dinner. This can work out after all.

School: This year has taken a turn for the confused, off-course route. Not only has it taken about a month to get rolling since the first official day of school but both Senior 1 and 4 have not arrived yet and I’m still acclimating myself to my new schedule. Back in November I had discussed with my headmistress about the possibility of working in the library teaching all levels, hoping for a bit of a change from last year’s composition of classes. Over the past few weeks of slowly adapting to this new platform of teaching, an undeniable revelation took place: teaching older students is not for me. In contrast to last year when I threw myself unwittingly into my lessons and tried whatever I knew to get them motivated and learning, this year I am using my knowledge and experience to avoid the disillusionment and frustration from happening again. The billowing storm was gathering outside, full force gales swooping in as I entered the classroom of senior 5 last Monday. Their glazed faces, the slack-jawed attention and the apathy oozing from their pores was enough to send me reeling from the room, all but tearing my hair out. In short, I will be replacing those hours by helping with the extra-curricular activities such as Media club, maybe a Film arts appreciation club and some students would like to create a GLOW club with which I would only be too happy to help them. I’m not entirely sure what my superiors had in mind when they requested a PCV but here I am: part-time librarian and after-school club advisor. I think I will don my new position nicely.

Encouraged by the idea to devote my time to projects that I am enthusiastic about and willing to engage in, I am sure that my time will be fully occupied. At home, my garden is growing beautifully—there are baby cucumbers and the flowers are healthy and smiling. Soon I hope to plant some lemon grass. For several months I have resolved to end the pandemic of mosquitoes lurking in the sewage pit so conveniently placed on the sloped hill next to my house. I heard that the little buggers are highly averse to lemon grass so here goes! I’m determined!!

The landscape is more beautiful than ever, still in disbelief at times that this is actually Africa and it is here in Rwanda where I reside. Walking back from a hike the other day a gaggle of kids joined me on the trek back to school. They began kicking a football and it felt so effortless to pass it back to them. There are times that I feel very anti-social and unwilling to interact with people but in that moment I realized how great it felt; I felt like the Grinch who suddenly realized that his heart was expanding.

Well, hope all is well back home!!

and also, please check out my COMMUNITY LIBRARY PROJECT at

1 comment:

  1. I'm sure that you Mom already has earplugs in the mail after reading your post! Hang in there. Love, Aunt Van