Two months ago I took 30+ hour bus drive to Zanzibar and back (that means 60+ all together). That was the longest ride I’ve ever taken on a bus and even though the trip back was horrible it could have been worse: we could have been waiting for 19 hours on the side of the road (which happened to another group of volunteers who went after us). Once the bus finally stopped in humid and hot Dar es Salaam, our band of hooligans descended onto the streets of a city far bigger and dirtier than we are accustomed to here in Rwanda. The streets were lined with stores and restaurants, gas stations and internet cafes. At lunch we all raced (literally, you could not stop our caravan of determined eaters) to the local Subway and for dinner some of us ended up at a Lebanese place that served the absolute best hummus. Full of delicious food and ready for the beach, the next morning we ferried over to Zanzibar Island and immediately commenced to enjoy a vacation much deserved. Here’s a little glimpse of one of the activities we signed up for: they advertised it as “Swimming with the Dolphins” but in real life it was quite a different experience than we expected.
8 foot swells rocked us back and forth for the first hour, as we gripped the sides to keep from spilling over into the water or slipping down off the bench into the swampy interior (which Chris actually did once when she let go for a second and plopped down onto the floor of the boat!! I couldn’t stop the bark of laughter that came out of my mouth.)Amid the nervous laughter and admissions of fear, Kevin yelled, “I’m too stupid to be scared!” so naturally, the declaration became the theme of such a terrifyingly hilarious episode.
Then, from out of nowhere our “guides,” two scruffy adolescents, started to get excited and pointed out at the water. Two sleek, black porpoises were gliding toward us and then a couple more and before we knew it, they were everywhere!! And then, before we knew it, they were gone. The boys driving the boat immediately started urging us out, instructing us to follow after the elusive mammals. Strapping on the goggles and flippers, the 6 of us managed to decipher what the guys were saying: “Jump!! And we tell you where to go” Er, right. So out went Mark in a diver’s back flip dangerously close to the motor, followed by Kevin and Chris belly-flopping in. I didn’t have time to laugh as I was next to fling myself out. When we were all bobbing and swaying in the undulating waves, we heard our fearless guides shouting and motioning at us, but what it all meant, I couldn’t tell you. I managed to get my goggles on straight and when I looked down at the ocean floor lying 16 feet below, I saw nothing but sand and coral. No dolphins. Meanwhile, when I picked my head back up, Chris was beside me, floundering, trying to get her mask on right, sputtering curses and regrets in between attempts. As we were all alone in the murky water without any concrete assistance, Mark suggested that we all stay together and Kevin agreed by accidentally flailing his arm and whapping him in the face. After some feeble attempts at free-style swimming and flapping my flippers, I began to think that this was, by far, the worst possible outing we could have signed ourselves up for. By that point, the other 5 must have telepathically agreed and we all piled into the boat, feeling defeated and worn out from the futility of the 15 minute excursion. To add insult to injury, my suit bottoms slipped off as I clambered up the flimsy latter to get into the boat. The moment of clarity and comprehension hit when we finally made it back to land. On the side of our boat it read in bright white, bold-faced lettering, “The Hard Way,” with a subtitle, “Don’t try this.” Enough said. Too bad none of us noticed it two hours beforehand, when the driver walked by us carrying the engine over his shoulder before promptly screwing it onto the back of the boat. Yeah, so that was a great start to the beach portion of our vacation. Funny, in a retrospective kind of way.
But that hardly summed up the entire vacation! Contrary to all that, it was actually quite relaxing and enjoyable, whether we were lying on the beach or sipping beer by the poolside—word to the wise, try and go to Zanzibar during the off season because hotels will be much more amendable to letting you use their facilities—or wandering through the maze-like streets that wind through Stone Town.
I definitely lost my way one day and arrived back at the hotel sopping wet from accidentally sloshing through the small creek that formed from all the puddles! In April, it was rainy season which was a nice change from the dry season that I experience back in August last year. However, despite the cooling effect, the rain does nothing to deter the perpetual humidity from permeating everything. To soothe ourselves, we indulged in abundant amounts of ice-cream and as luck would have it, the island was all but eager to comply; at every turn you can find an ice cream bicycle staked out, as if waiting for you.
Since the dream life can’t go on forever we hunkered back into the bus for another diverting 30 hours of driving. Once back in the swing of things, I realized that I had my work cut for me in the school library. Although there is a librarian who works there I am now the designated teacher who teaches the actual course of Library. Ok, sounds easy enough but, as I’m quickly discovering, reading from textbooks can be rather exhausting. Additionally there is the structural challenge of creating a program to use for teaching “Library Course.” Sometimes I feel like I’m making some headway but at other times, it’s back to the dust-filled blackboard.
For an hour each week, each level of students tramples into the library where we proceed to conduct, what I have determined is, a very American system of learning: the students read aloud one by one and we discuss all together the meaning of the new vocabulary after which I vainly attempt to elicit ideas or thoughts about the story. (Think back to those formative years in elementary school when you would sit in similar fashion doing your best to pronounce the strange words that the teacher asked you to repeat and not get too red in the face when it was her turn to read, oh wait, that was me!!) The students seem to be interested in learning, somewhat. The younger levels are focusing on how to write a story since I’m still trying to foster a sense of creativity among them. It’s an ongoing battle against several years of instruction that the idea of copying is not simply allowed but encouraged in some cases. However, that struggle doesn’t hold a torch to teaching the older levels. The other day I had a repeated sensation of frustration due to toiling under a regime of futility when one student asked if they could read their physics books next lesson….I gave her my best baleful look. It’s already starting, it’s only the middle of the term and my class is deemed useless and I’m feeling that familiar plume of obsolescence burgeoning. In contrast to last term I am determined not to give in to the pressure and the potential ease that dropping those older levels would afford me. There is more to gain than lose if I stay. It’s about the confidence to believe that you count, that your lessons will assist these students in some small but significant way.
Thus, as part of the plan, I’ve started implementing self-made quizzes to all levels. It sounds pretty self-explanatory but I have yet to administer them so I don’t know how effective it will be (or if the students fully grasped the concept that they need to study for the information that they chose to include on their own quiz). Some of the older students will also put on some plays based on an excerpt from Charlotte’s Web which I am really looking forward to seeing. I don’t know what should prove trickier—trying to convey the idea that a pig can talk or that Avery can also be a boy’s name.
As an outlet or a reminder that there is another group of students, I have really taken to my Media club. It is a haven where the students are enthusiastic and eager to learn; they even suggest ideas to me! Every morning there is an assembly where all 700+ students gather to listen to various items from the headmistress. Now that Media club is up and running the members are eager to practice their English speaking skills; they can take their turn to report some updates to their fellow students. This past week was the debut of such an astounding display of courage and initiative. Argentine stood up and made a small, 2 minute newscast about the game that CIC played in last weekend to some nervous giggling and shuffling feet but ultimately applause. Afterwards the Dean of studies came over to congratulate me on the successful first step. But it wasn’t me, I told him, it was the student’s idea!
In addition to teaching 17 hours and trying to study for the GRE (man, how I hate that test!) I spent most of May preparing for a marathon. This meant dragging myself out of bed around 5 a.m every day and receiving a cold slap of early morning air as I staggered outside into the dark. Not a pleasant way to “train” for a 10K relay, I can say that much. However, I managed to survive and am here now to assure you all it was quite worth the effort.
Peace Corps is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year so in celebration, a group of about 25 PCVs rounded up to represent our organization in a show of camaraderie and sportsmanship. Gathered around the 7 foot banner of a charming Kennedy (just think of an oversized traveling Stanley with the winning grin of the former president which later our last runner picked up and carried in as he made his last lap), we smiled for the requisite photo and the deal was sealed: we were a united bunch of runners out to cheer each other on!
Once the horn blew, or rather the pop music playing something bizarrely similar to “Barbie Girl” blared, I sat down to cheer my teammates on. As I was in the third leg, I had some time to pump myself up. Or psyche myself out as the case turned out to be. As the race meandered on, I watched with anxiety for my teammate to enter the stadium and to release me from the tedious waiting. Then I jumped right into the moisturized heat of the late morning and started to… try ..and ….p..a..c..e… myself. Down the hill, through the streets, back up the hill, and around more streets, and more, and just one more. Until I was about to throw the towel in!! It was such a tease! Although I had been forewarned about the extra loop that was sneakily tacked on to the end, I still had a hard time adjusting to the fact that the race wasn’t over. Instead, I had to cover about 3 more kilometers!! Easy enough for all the Kenyans, Ugandans and Rwandans (and let’s face it, basically everybody else) but not for me. Needless to say, I don’t think long-distance running is for me. And good thing too because I just read in a TIME article that running is good exercise but marathon running is probably not a wise choice for people who are out of shape!! Whoops!! Haha, oh well, at least I survived!!
Now that the race is over I can relax. Sort of. While I was in Kigali, I picked up a present that I have been yearning for some time. Let’s just say that if anybody decided to drop by for a visit, you’d see the most adorable creature you have ever set eyes on! That’s right, I got a puppy!
Before I left to pick him up, I barely mentioned it to the RMs which made me feel somewhat guilty but secretly I did light on the idea that there’d be some payback in the noise department. But overall he’s been received without too much fuss. I wouldn’t say that it’s been a warm welcome from my roommates or colleagues who have chanced to see him; Eugenie backs away in fear from him while Vestine didn’t even acknowledge him for the first couple of days and still doesn’t. Rwandans aren’t as open to dogs as are Americans due to the harsh reminder from the days following the genocide where dogs played a grisly role, as well as a general fear of possibly getting bitten. But people have started asking me where my baby is or how he’s doing which I can’t help but smile at. He is my baby!
Despite attempts to puppy proof my room it does not prevent him from discovering new objects to gnaw on, including my toes! I must say, it’s a real treat waking up at various intervals throughout the night in order to prevent the wailing-- not to mention the tiny puddles and the occasional #2 accident splattered all over my floor--that might ensue if I leave him unattended. In all seriousness, though, the best part of the day is coming home to find him eagerly waiting for me. We go outside into the side yard where he constantly seems to find something of interest in every nook and cranny; my yard is probably 10 by 20 feet but to a munchkin like him, it probably resembles some vastly expansive space of land, just laying there ready to be explored. Cuteness aside, he is a bright little tyke which is going to come in handy when potty training!
Aside from his trip home last week, I have rarely taken him out in public and may keep it that way. In Rwanda, animals are generally used for one purpose: food. And to see an animal that does not typically wind up as your dinner, like a cat or dog, is quite unusual. Sometimes at nights I can hear the distant bellowing from a dog but otherwise no sign of one. Naturally, the sight of such a creature would shock the pants off any one of my neighbors, but seeing the whacko white girl gallivanting around with this squirming oversized rat under her arm would probably send them into peals of confused laughter. So, in the interest of avoiding a few bugged-out eyes and my cheeks from burning with the heat of a thousand suns, I shall keep Remy safely within the walls of my house. Oh, by the way, that’s the little tyke’s name. Having finished A Hundred Years of Solitude, and not knowing the gender of the pup, I decided that regardless, the dog’s name would derive from Remedios the Beauty and since I didn’t really want to be standing outside yelling, “Remedios, come on boy!” I landed on Remy. Shortcut.
And that wraps up another edition of Life in Rwanda with Avery! Join me next time as I take on fire-breathing dragons with only a hairpin!! More like a thousand and one mosquitoes with a mini bottle of Deet and an extreme sense of purpose…