Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Horizon

Much has changed in the past few months. In order to avoid boring you, I will refrain from going into detail about last term. It was busy and long and in the end, I was glad to have a break. You all might recall that I wrote about having a puppy in my last entry. Well, sadly, Remy has gone to fellow a colleague and I’ve moved out of the misery house and back up to the guest apartment that I inhabited last year (before rashly moving down to teacher housing). Despite the difficult decision to let Remy go, I have since visited him at his new home and while he did remember who I was, he seems very well adjusted to his new habitat. As for me, I’m enjoying a quiet ambiance that is beautifully devoid of roommates.

Fortunately my 3 week holiday was not so quiet. During the first week I employed myself in the neighboring village of Gatega where the new internet café’s walls turned into a teaching tool for the community. With the help of a group of my colleagues, I successfully completed a world map project on my own!! Remember the first time I mentioned participating in making a world map? Yeah, so not like this time. On the Friday that all my students went home, I hiked up the 60 degree hill into Gatega, past the market and through the woods, etc, to get to the diminutive building with the green and white picket fence in the front. (don’t ask me how or why that’s there--I thought it strange since it’s the only picket fence in all of Rwanda that I’ve seen..) With an air of anticipation, I began my work. Unrolling the masking tape with a rugged snap sound, pouring the big bucket of white into the basin so clean and ready to be used, turning on my music player to drown out the thumping music from next door’s barber shop, I settled into my role of painter the extraordinaire with enthusiasm. 10 minutes later I was wishing for a new imaginary profession. After taking a few swipes at the wall with the roller I noticed that the consistency was pretty sticky and my anxiety was aggravated when Jean Paul visited and asked if I had any water to mix into the paint to which I replied, mystified, no. Then he looked at my paint and shook his head—turns out, you can’t mix water very well with oil based paint. Huh, go figure that I went out and bought the kind of paint that required a mineral-based material to mix with it. Since there is no turpentine to be found out in the boondocks I resorted to picking up petrol the following day and proceeded to combine that with my already pungent paint. You can imagine that over the course of the project, I became inured to the odor until the last day when I realized that my delirious state was in fact due to the noxious petrol fumes and not my own craziness (it was difficult to make the distinction though).

Having solved that issue I was then stumped by another: the wall itself kept peeling off as I rolled over it. Hmmm… Then, as I stepped back to take in all the patches of missing wall, I noticed something else quite alarming. The building had been built on a slant, thus creating an uneven wall. The right side was at least 8 inches shorter than the left! In addition to that, I had initially measured the bottom of the map very haphazardly which created an even greater disparity in the opposing lengths. Cursing and mumbling, I went back in with my scotch tape and re-measured all four sides so that they (as much as possible) matched one another. Accounting for the additional space in the right-hand corner, I sloshed some more paint on the newly uncovered 6 inches and finally set about to doing the real hard work. Gridding. Without the use of a meter stick I was stuck relying on a short 50 cm ruler to draw lines from top to bottom and from left to right. Not only did this eat up a good 6 hours of time for both directions (aka two days) but I was unimaginably sore for the next couple of days due to the squats and overhead stretching required to cover the lengths (I gained a better appreciation for ballerinas’ diligence). Fortunately the next day my fellow PCVs showed up to help draw the countries in and after that we colored them all in, from Brazil to Indonesia, only failing to spot El Salvador and Israel, whoops.

After that seemingly easy endeavor, the only remaining task was to check any dripping activity (i.e Somalia melting into Tanzania) and paint over the gridlines that I so painstakingly drew in. Easy enough, right? Not. Three fourths of the way across the map I glanced down into the white paint bucket at a remarkable absence of liquid paint. The white paint had apparently not taken very well to the atmosphere and dried up, leaving nothing but chalk behind. Not believing that I still had to cover up the rest of the grid off the coast of California down to Ecuador and stunned that there was no more paint with which to carry that out, I made a drastic choice. With an overly generous helping of blue, a couple of pieces of chalk, and a resulting gunk covering my hands, I reached up and began to smear the residual paint across the wall. It was a mess. Grimy bits rubbed off my hands and rolled onto the ground and what actually stuck was a greasy film. I stepped back and saw a massive tidal wave of dark blue all across the northern Pacific. The next moment was not one of my finest but eventually I managed to crush the wave and after erasing some of the more prominent grid lines I created a decent effect that if the high school character, Cher was looking at it, she would declare it a “faux Monet.”

Alas, the drudgery was not over. There was still a matter of identifying the countries. I couldn’t very well leave the countries floating in obscurity for people to see and wonder what they were. Using my own world map as a reference since the one provided in the project materials is two decades outdated, I went down the line and numbered every country. Naming them seemed too messy and after creating a corresponding key, I deemed it a better idea to offer people a chance to look up the countries according to the numbers on the map (and hopefully provoke their curiosity a bit). After 9 whole days, the tumultuous adventure of undertaking such a project came to a close. If asked to do it again I would have stoutly confirmed my resolution to never enter into such an endeavor another time and that’s exactly what I said to myself as I entered the office of my headmistress on the first day of classes. One half hour later I was silently berating myself for succumbing to her subtly persuasive ways and my own guilty conscience. Since then I have begun another map project in my school’s main hall and with the aid of some geography students, by the end of this month it will be a sparkling reminder of my presence.

As I have undoubtedly stated before, my primary assignment is teaching but what I have not explained fully is that, as far as my time here at CIC goes, it would have been more adequately employed elsewhere. In other words, I have felt mostly useless and unneeded. And this notion was confirmed last term when I met with my headmistress about a possible replacement after I leave. Aside from mentioning that Peace Corps told her not to count me as a regular teacher, she also couldn’t fully elucidate what my current role in the library was. “(the librarian) and you, you both work—it is two jobs.” Er, um, ok, Victoire. But that doesn’t help me understand why I am here. That misunderstanding and misinterpretation, coupled with her desire for a teacher of math or science, have yielded the undeniable forecast that there will be no replacement after me. This may defeat the goal of PC to create a sustainable presence but that should not be a problem given that my site mate lives right down the road from me and has comfortably integrated into the community. After deliberating on how I could spend my last few months in service, I think I may have hit upon the most ideal course of action. To enjoy. Whether I teach, paint, show films in media club, play basketball, or tutor the nuns in English, I want to smile.

There is a good chance that I may do just that. Recalling my journeys this past holiday, I can fondly remember the laughs shared among friends and experiences had by all. Hiking up Bisoke volcano and sliding most of the whole way down, emitting sounds akin to Grecian wedding revelers or sleeping outside in a tent among the leopards and vicious chimpanzees who roam the night in Nyungwe forest are among a few precious memories. Being left stranded by the Sotra bus company along the side of the road in the middle of the miserably cold and damp forest was something I’ll never forget either. More affectionately I remember spending my birthday in the typical Rwandan celebratory style of drinking Primus in a bar and then chomping down on roasted corn afterwards. Nostalgia aside though, there are happy prospects in the near future to content myself with too.

Recently my site mate came to me with the idea to develop a grassroots camp for the students at our schools. They are both all-girls’ boarding and could benefit from some out-doors learning for a change. They are smart, driven girls but the lack of any previous opportunity for creativity has inhibited them from branching out (hence the grassroots, hehe). Among the usual camp-like activities consisting of tie-dye shirts and making a piñata, we hope to set up dance workshops with the students’ favorite hip-hop and possibly teaching them how to do-si-do in the traditional square dancing style. At other stations they can work on some hands-on experiments like an egg-drop and games like mission impossible that will require critical thinking skills. In light of the disappointment that I shall not be participating in this year’s GLOW camp, I am glad to have the chance to plan something for these students. Who knows, maybe they will go out and share the knowledge they gain from this little camp with their family and friends--not just the steps to “Single Ladies” but also how to resolve problems in their daily lives.

As the months and weeks dwindle I am reminded of my time here. Although I am aware of how hasty I sound by thinking that, lately my mind is occupied by the idea of what kind of impression I will be leaving behind. Two weeks ago I attended my COS (close of service) conference where my cohorts and I discussed … a lot of things, but among them was saying good-bye. It calls to mind the reality that I will soon depart Muramba which has been my home for nearly two years, without knowing if I will ever return. But if I did come back I know that I would find a wall sized world map in the center of town and a community library. After a looooooooong time, my colleagues and I have finally raised enough money for the library project, yay!! This is astounding news after having waited so long for it to happen. Of course, there are a couple more months before the books arrive and it is fully stocked but I am looking forward to tacking up national geographic maps and the “I love Reading” posters my mom sent last year and stacking the shelves full of TIME and ELLE magazines. I can’t wait for the moment that my village will open their eyes to the first Muramba Community Library.

Now it begins to drizzle softly. The students start racing back to their dormitories shouting and squealing. The rain falls steadily harder, filling the outside world and surrounding my home. I think of the verdant hillsides and the lush fields that will grow. When the rain comes the haze clears and the horizon appears. Now, I think, very reminiscent of Captain Jack Sparrow with his hapless confidence, show me that volcano.

1 comment:

  1. when you get back, i would like to commission you to paint a map of the world in my guestroom!

    haha just kidding, unless you want to...