Yearly Archives: 2018

Holidays, Exams, and Talent Shows

It’s been a busy week out here in training-land.  3 holidays in one week, and only one day off. July 1 is Rwandan Independence Day [but it’s not celebrated].  July 4 is both American Independence Day and Rwandan Liberation Day, and for us, our only day off.  My fellow trainees and I went to the local hotel,  had pizza, fajitas, cinnamon rolls, and Fanta [or beverage of  your choice].  For me it was a welcome day off from the onslaught of language classes that the week brought.

On Saturday, we had our a mid-training language exam.  The target at this stage is Novice-high, but I have a plan.  My plan is to score Novice-Mid, get put in remedial Kinyarwanda class, get extra speaking practice, and then WOW everyone at the final exam with my Kinyarwanda prowess. But here’s the real deal, I have performance anxiety, and I have had it for years.  I almost didn’t graduate from college with my Spanish degree because I had such anxiety for my final  oral exam.  And this was with my professor who I had known for three years, and was very familiar talking to him.  So while yes, I am older and wiser, but I still have so much anxiety concerning ‘public speaking.’


On Friday, I picked up my first tailor-made shirt.  It needed a few minor adjustments so I snapped this photo of my [15 year old] tailor making the adjustments.

On Saturday, after our mid-training language exam, I went to the talent show at my host sister’s school. There was singing. And traditional dancing.  And Drumming. There was a skit [in Kinyarwanda–I didn’t understand any of it], and some kid read the news.  And then there was ‘fashion’.  Fashion consists of about 10 couples of modelling different African fashions.  And these kids are stylish.  And they have real talent… unlike most of the talent shows I have been to  in the past.

We’re fancy. We met the US Ambassador to Rwanda.
Every so often, I see beautiful tropical flowers in unexpected places.

Wait, you’re still not a volunteer?

Wait, you’re still not a volunteer?

Ahhhhh, PST…Pre-Service Training.  I refer to it as Boot Camp, and our instructors take every opportunity to re-enforce that yes, as of now, we are just trainees.  Yes, the Peace Corps is about as far from the Army [or other military branch] as imaginable, but this 10 week period of training is very much the same. The preparation was even a little bit similar.  I cut off 10 inches of hair, paired down my wardrobe, started doing a lot more walking, and evaluated and re-evaluated each item that made it in to the suitcase[s] .  OK, not exactly the same as the Army….

6 days a week, we are in training nearly every daylight hour. We spend between 2 and 6 hours, depending on the day, learning [and practicing] Kinyarwanda; the remaining class time is learning about the Peace Corps’ mission, health and safety sessions, practical things [like mopping with a squeegee, cleaning shoes, sweeping the grass, and chopping the grass with something reminiscent of a metal hockey stick], the Rwandan Health System, and the government’s initiative to improve children’s health, focusing on the first 1000 days [essentially from conception until age 2—also the reason we are here].  It’s exhausting and I’m in bed nearly every night by 9p [unless there is a soccer match on—then I sacrifice for the greater good].

I’ve recently started doing Yoga again, every morning at 6:30am.  My last few months in America, I got sedentary, first sidelined by illness, then a lack of motivation.  A few of the other trainees go running; the last time I ran, I broke two bones so I’m starting with Yoga. I don’t want to have to be med-evac’ed before evening becoming an official volunteer.  The Kigali marathon is in May each year, and some of the trainees are training for that.  I’m focusing on the 10k that is also being held at the same time, and maybe next year, the half marathon [Small goals].

Previous and even current volunteers will tell you that PST is the worst.  The 6:30pm curfew. The 6 days a week of classes.  The language learning.  All of it, combined with the unfamiliar diet, the decrease in calories [especially protein], unfamiliarity of the culture, the inability to do simple things that we’ve all previously done before, having to rely on others for nearly everything, will produce some of the highest highs and lowest lows imaginable.  [I spent part of one afternoon crying in a latrine mostly due to lack of food but also being frustrated by the language, and despite several attempts, I. COULD. NOT STOP. Hopefully, this was a one-time meltdown.] And even now, with only four weeks complete, most of our group will say, ‘I cannot wait to be at site [wherever that may be]’.  However, we still have six weeks of training remaining until we can take the oath of service, hang out with the ambassador, pretend to be fancy, and be on our own.

I am one of those who anxiously await trading in the (T) for a (V) and finally becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer.


Helpful Peace Corps Acronyms

Like many government organizations, the Peace Corps loves it’s acronyms, so in an attempt to clear things up here is a list of a few of them and their meanings  (also I try not to use them exclusively). I’ll update as I learn more:

 

COS: Close of Service / Completion of Service

ET: Early Termination (Leaving service early,  I.E. deciding to terminate service anytime sooner than the COS conference)

HNC: Host Country National

ICT: In-Country Training

IST: In-Service Training

Medevac: Medical Evacuation

NGO: Non-Governmental Organization

OMS: Office of Medical Services

PCMO: Peace Corps Medical Officer/Office

PDO: Pre-Departure Orientation

PCT: Peace Corps Trainee (PCV’s prior to Swearing In)–> what I am currently

PCV: Peace Corps Volunteer

PST: Pre-Service Training

RPCV: Returned Peace Corps Volunteer

VATs: Volunteer Assistant Trainers (Volunteers who help train new volunteers/PCT’s during PST)

Other helpful non-acronyms terms

The HUB:  Where most of the PCT classes are held.  Additionally, we have language class in small groups at our instructors house.

Staging: When all the new PCT’s meet and receive their pre-departure orientation before flying out to their country of service. Typically lasts 24 to 48 hours.

Swearing in: This is when PCT’s become PCV’s! Happens at the very end of Pre-Service Training, this is when PCT’s agree to uphold the goals and standards of the Peace Corps.

Site: A PCV’s official community where they live and work for their 2 years of service.

 

World Cup and Making Friends

I described the process of being matched up with host families as being puppies at the pound.

Imagine this:  You are placed in a room with about 50 people who you do not know, where everyone is speaking a language you do not know.  All you can do is listen for your name.  And when it is called, you meet up with the representative of the family who will raise you for the next 10 weeks.

I met my Mama, and her first words to me were ‘Parle vous francais’.  Sadly I answered ‘un peu’ and thus began the quiet weekend.

You see, this pairing up happened, for us, on Friday, after just two days in Rwanda, and a fledgling vocabulary consisting of ‘Hello, my name is… I am from America’  ‘Good Morning [evening]’ ‘Good Night’ ‘What is your name?’  I’ll admit to being terrified and saying, to myself, ‘what fresh hell have I engaged in now?’

As much as I want to be settled, I selected a few outfits, 5 days’ worth of underwear, two pairs of shoes, all my electronics, and my pillow. I left a lot of my things at the training center and was grateful that I did.  My Rwandan family’s house is small, and my room is much smaller than I am accustomed to, and even with my two small bags [think carry-on sized] of clothes and electronics, I have more material things than they do.  The Peace Corps’ gave us a 20L jerry-can, a 5L can of water, and rather large water filter.  Additionally, we received a bucket, a small cup, and a bottle of bleach. My goods were loaded in a Peace Corps’ truck, I climbed in after Mama, and then we left.  Approximately three minutes later, we arrived at my new house for the next 10 weeks.

Obviously not my house, but an actual view of the palm trees I can see from inside my house

The quiet weekend began as soon as I set foot in the house.  Having  exhausted my fledgling Kinyarwanadan vocabulary and not knowing any English, Mama and I didn’t talk.  I went about setting up my room, ripping the plastic off my brand new Peace Corps’ provided [twin] mattress, setting up my Peace Corps’ provided water filter, and trying to make my Spartan accommodations as homey as possible [it didn’t work].

After about an hour, I hear a knock on the door, and in accented English, I hear “Michelle, do you eat lice?”  Appreciating the English, but not the sentence, I remained silent. Another knock, “Michelle?”  I reluctantly opened the door.  Greeting me enthusiastically with ‘I am Deborah, your host sister.  Mama wants to know if you eat lice?’

It took a few seconds for me to reach back into the dark areas of my brain and remember that sometimes, English as a Second Language learners sometimes mix up Ls and Rs.  After remembering that, I replied, “Yes, I eat rice.”

With Deborah’s help, I learned that in Rwanda, I have a 25 year-old brother who live in Kigali [we’ve never met] and that she is Level 2 at the local school [I’m not sure what that means although there are six levels].  There is not Papa, and I know enough to ask, that when someone says someone is not here, don’t ask questions. [Although seeing as how Deborah is 14, it’s impossible that he died in the genocide that occurred in 1994].


The past two weeks of living with my host family has been challenging. Kinyarwanda is a difficult language with a lot of letter combination that my mouth isn’t used to making. While I can memorize words and may even know what someone is asking me, I lack the vocabulary to make a reply. I also lack the grammar skills to formulate my own questions so I rely on using the infinitive form of every verb along with helpers such as I like, I want, I need.  It makes me sound [and feel] like a somewhat illiterate 2 year old child.

The family eats foods much different than what I am used to eating, and I don’t think I’ve ever eaten as many vegetables in a two week period in my life.  [Although my new strategy of heavily complimenting any food that is remotely ‘American’ seems to be working; I’ve had spaghetti with tomato sauce twice] As a result and with the additional task of walking everywhere, I’ve lost about 10 pounds.  This is not a bad thing, and I have more pounds [kilograms?] to go, but it has resulted in none of my pants fitting me anymore.

I expressed my love for tomatoes and sauce on top of spaghetti noodles, and my prayers were answered

Chores are done differently.  I wash my clothes by hand with a bar of soap, and hang them on a clothesline to dry.  Cooking is done on a charcoal stove. Grocery shopping is done daily or at minimum every other day, and with a lack of refrigeration, left-overs are just re-boiled the next day.

Integration has been slow for me partly because of my introverted nature, partly because of my acute awareness of my fledgling Kinyarwanda, and partly because of the compactness of my host family.  I was thinking I have absolutely nothing in common with these people, and nothing to talk about, but last Wednesday when I inquired about maybe, possibly [ pretty plesase] watching the opening match of the world cup, I was greeted with an enthusiastic  ‘YEGO’.  You see, Mama is an avid soccer [football] fan, and she was worried that I, being American, wouldn’t be interested.  Sitting there in the small living room on Thursday night, huddled around the 13” old-school style TV, watching Russia vs Saudi Arabia with my Rwandan mama, I finally felt at home.

Mama engrossed in the latest soccer match. She even makes an exception to the ‘eat at the table’ rule during World Cup play.

Being Lost

I’ve been trying to finish this post for a few months now. I don’t think I’ve ever struggled so much trying to put in my words how I feel about fear. But I’m going to try, let’s do this…

Does anyone else have an annoying voice in the back of their head that only appears when it wants to cause you doubt, discomfort, or most importantly, fear? Nope, just me then?Fabulous. Hearing voices [just one voice ya’ll, I promise] at an age where things shouldn’t bother me,  and publicly admitting it?

Even better.

You want to climb Mt. Kilaminjaro?

Voice in my head – you definitely can’t. You’re not strong enough and you’ll probably fall off it.

Want to go to the Middle East or visit Stan?

Voice in my head – who do you think you are? You’ll probably be murdered.

Think you’ll be a good Peace Corps Volunteer?

Voice in my head- You’ll be the first to leave

Dream of becoming a nurse practitioner?

Voice in my headyou’re a horrible nurse.  Why do you think someone would choose you to be their healthcare person? Why bother trying? GAH.

Thanks so much, voice in my head. I really appreciate the support.


I don’t really know how this happened, but somehow over the past few years, fear and doubt have crept into my life in a way that I have never experienced before. And you know what? It absolutely sucks.

I used to jump into everything life offered me with complete abandon. Now? not so much.

I’ve hiked trails that are 6 inches wide, climbed really sketchy mountain, and traveled even when I had literally no money to my name, knowing deep down that things always sorted themselves out in the end.And for the most part, they did.  And while I had plenty of terrible travel screw-ups over the years, things always worked out. I have always believed that fate smiles on those who take chances.

But what happens when you start to worry more and take less chances?

Oh crap.

But somewhere down the line, I started to become more afraid of things that never scared me before. Whether it was something physical that I now considered dangerous or going after a dream that seemed too impossible, fear has set up its own little pup tent in the back of my head and made itself at home.

 

Age, I imagine, is a key factor. Isn’t that what people are always saying? You grow more cautious as you grow older? Well, I reckon the journey to becoming fearful doesn’t matter as much as what the hell am I supposed to do now?

Seriously, WHAT?

Do I just warmly embrace my newly found caution and fear, or try and get over it? Or attempt to strike a healthy balance between the two. I like to think I’ve always been a curious person. I always want to see what’s around the corner, want to know why things are the way they are, and am eager to try new things. For the most part.

However, fear has decided to join the party and often now gets in the way of my bigger curiosities. I want to see what’s at the top of that mountain but I’m afraid I can’t get there so I don’t try. Or sometimes I’ll compromise and climb a smaller mountain.

Confession – I’ve become a bit of a wuss. I’m afraid every time I try something new. I find that I really have to force myself now to try new things.

Oh how many times have I beat myself up for not fitting in. For being off beat and goofy. I’ve known that I was a little bit different from an early age. I’ve always skirted the norms of polite society and cultural standards.  It’s even harder adapting to a culture that is not your own.

As I sitting here, reflecting on fear and how it plays a part in life, thoughts such as I’m not smart enough, brave enough, talented enough, experienced enough, skinny enough, young enough, ect. Enough is enough.

What I am is a creative, passionate, loyal, loving, empathetic person. A person intrigued by life, fascinated by philosophies, and curious enough about the world to go explore it. I am so much more than the color of my skin, the texture of my hair, and the size of my ass.

Fear is complicated. Obviously. And even more so when it brings along its friend self-doubt.

Fear will always be there. A healthy amount of fear keeps up from petting the black mamba. It’s not a question of becoming fearless but learning to accept that fear is there, it’s part of your life and it’s not going anywhere, but it should NEVER be in charge or have a say in making creative decisions.

It’s time to be brave, y’all.

At the same, I’d like to think that travel has helped me deal with fear. For example, there are some things that never occur to me could be scary that I do all the time because I’ve gotten so used to them traveling.

The obvious example to this is the fact that I travel the world alone. As a woman.

In fact, I think that’s something that truly surprises people and when I share that little tidbit to folks I meet on the road, I am often met with skepticism and the usual “wow aren’t you afraid?”

But I digress.


Every trip I took taught me something. Every screw up I have had has taught me a lesson. I suppose in a weird way it taught me confidence, not something I have in abundance, that’s for sure. But I am confident with my ability to travel.

I learned to deal with travel fears early on, and now I need to learn to deal with my other fears, mainly the fear that I am not physically capable of doing something I want, like a hard hike or rafting the Nile. But also how to deal with my fear that I won’t be able to go after my big creative dreams.

I think people who travel are inherently brave at heart. You pretty much have to be to step out into the unknown, right?

And if I were truly a wuss, would I have joined the Peace Corps?  Would I have gotten on the plane to Kigali? Would I have left behind everything I know for an extended period of time.  Probably not.

So perhaps, I’m just being hard on myself.

Language Learning and Settling In

Days 2 and 3 involved getting ourselves safely to Kigali–an adventure by itself. Our bus was about an hour late getting to Philadelphia. Then the driver wasn’t really sure where he was going so he was on his phone both as a GPS and texting.  There were a couple of close calls where he tried to occupy a currently occupied lane, but we made to JFK airport without incident.

Imagine this X 23 others checking in for our flight to Kigali via Brussels

While yes, we are all legally adults, and have a fair amount of life experience, I thought there’d be a little more assistance in the getting from Philadelphia to Kigali, but nope, once we waved good-bye to the desk officers, we were on our on.  We departed the US with 24 Peace Corps Trainees and arrived in Kigali with 24 Peace Corps Trainees so I call that a success despite sitting in the last row of seats on the trans-Atlantic flight [they don’t recline… at all].  Nearly 24 in-transit hours later, we were reunited with out bags, successfully passed customs, and were whisked away to the convent.

You may think I’m kidding when I say convent, but no, out first two nights in Kigali were spent in a Catholic convent/ Jesuit priest retreat [thanks US budget cuts].  The nuns were nice, the food was basic, but entirely edible, and there were flushing toilets.  I call that a win.

We spent most of the time in Kigali being herded around like cats, interviewing with several people about several things, setting up Rwandan bank accounts, getting an intro into the Kinyarwanda language [it’s hard], and getting up-to-date on shots.  Then just as we’re getting comfortable at the convent, we are whisked away again–this time to our training site which will be our home for the next three months.

These three months consist of a lot of language training and some basic ‘how-to survive in Rwanda on your own classes in health and sanitation.

Friday ended with us being placed in our host families which I lovingly call –being dropped off at the pound.

Alive and Well

Yes, I am in fact, alive and well.  I’ve been in Rwanda for about a couple of days now, and I have lots to say. Unfortunately, a lack of Internet and computer/electricity access has made it difficult to communicate with those of you back home.  When I get the chance, I’ll actually post some updates about what I’ve all been doing so far, but for now, rest assured that I’m alive and healthy, and have yet to injure myself.

Feel free to call/text me!  Or write me or mail a package full of goodies, if you really want to spoil me!

 

I’d suggest going through Google or What’s App. I need wi-fi access for Facebook messenger and that’s a hot commodity.  All incoming calls/texts are free for me!!!  But for me to call you, well, it costs a lot…

Packing for Peace Corps | Rwanda

If you are reading this post, I have at least gotten on the plane to Philadelphia which will lead to Kigali by way of Brussels… Which also means I have gotten through the check-in process at least once.  So there’s that…


Let’s begin with:  I HATE PACKING. AND SHOPPING. And I’ve already done this once when I thought I’d be heading to Madagascar [Read Every.Single.Thing.I packed for Madagascar.] When I thought I’d be heading to Madagascar, there was an above average chance that I’d be living in hot, humid coastal environment where casual clothing rules the day.  So what I had packed for Madagascar was not necessarily appropriate for a mountainous, land-locked, sometimes chilly, appearance conscious Rwanda.

Much like any future PCV, I googled ‘Peace Corps’| Rwanda packing list, and found next to nothing. Very few Peace Corps’ blogs detailing an entire 2 years of service.  Maybe a lot of volunteers got tired of blogging?  Maybe a lot of volunteers didn’t complete their service?  Who knows–it still remains there are very few Rwanda-specific packing lists.

With that in mind, I’ve tried to create a comprehensive packing list. Keep in mind that this is a  Pre-Departure List, and I plan to update it once I’m fully installed at my future site.  The format essentially reads like this:

Item:

Rationale:

Verdict:

Obviously I can’t fill in the verdict part until later…


Let’s begin with:  I HATE PACKING. AND SHOPPING. And I’ve already done this once when I thought I’d be heading to Madagascar [Read Every.Single.Thing.I packed for Madagascar.] When I thought I’d be heading to Madagascar, there was an above average chance that I’d be living in hot, humid coastal environment where casual clothing rules the day.  So what I had packed for Madagascar was not necessarily appropriate for a mountainous, land-locked, sometimes chilly, appearance conscious Rwanda.

Much like any future PCV, I googled ‘Peace Corps’| Rwanda packing list, and found next to nothing. Very few Peace Corps’ blogs detailing an entire 2 years of service.  Maybe a lot of volunteers got tired of blogging?  Maybe a lot of volunteers didn’t complete their service?  Who knows–it still remains there are very few Rwanda-specific packing lists.

With that in mind, I’ve tried to create a comprehensive packing list. Keep in mind that this is a  Pre-Departure List, and I plan to update it once I’m fully installed at my future site.


It has come to my attention that every blog I have read mention that Rwandans essentially have a shoe fetish.  Not in a creepy, sexual fetish way, but more in a ‘fastidious about cleanliness’ way.  Of all the articles of clothing for a country to obsess about, I get stuck with the country who obsesses about shoes. I hate shoes.  I mean I like wearing them, but hiking shoes and Danskos for work are about as fancy as I get.  So when I’m reading blogs about how people are packing 6! pairs of shoes, internally I am saying ‘Kill.Me.Now.‘.  I’d planned on taking two pairs plus shower shoes to Madagascar.

Shoes:

  • Rain boots.  These are mostly not necessary, but the only other time I’ve lived in a ‘wet’ environment [which was the Amazon Rain forest], I had a pair, and I loved being able to splash about, walk through mud puddles with reckless abandon, and generally not give a flip about my feet when it’s raining.  At home in SC, it rarely rains long enough or hard enough to warrant spending  that kind of money on shoes, but I found a cheap pair on Amazon so we’ll see how that works out.
  • Trail-running shoes.  I wear these as my every day shoes [Shoe stylish I am not].
  • Athletic shoes.  Who knows, I might take up running [Laughs uncontrollably at that statement].
  • Casual shoes. For me, these are my brown leather slide-ons [treated with Scotchgard prior to leaving].
  • Keen Sandals I’ve had a pair of these since they first came out and I practically live in them in the summer months in South Carolina.
  • Teva dress sandals This model but in black
  • Flip-flops–generic, slide-ons that I got from Target.

Clothes:

From previous experience, anywhere where clothes have to be hand washed over a long period of time will inevitably not make it back. I thought I was pretty minimalist when it came to outer clothing.  Also, it depresses me to no end that Rwanda puts a huge emphasis on clothing and appearance.  At home I wear scrubs, jeans and a t-shirt or sweatshirt, or during the summer–khaki shorts and t-shirts.  Nothing fancy.  Nothing stylish. I’m probably going to disappoint a lot of Rwandan mamas.

  • one pair jeans, darker wash
  • one pair hiking pants [gray, Patagonia]
  • one pair brown pants
  • one pair khakis
  • one pair scrub pants–for those days I can’t be bothered with real pants
  • three button-up shirts [one  long sleeved, one 3/4 sleeved, and one short sleeved]. The thing with button up shirts is they never quite look like they are supposed to if you are female with above average sized breasts.  Hence when I do wear button-up shirts, they always have another layer under them and I usually wear them more to keep the chill off during the evening than for actual shirts.
  • six colored t-shirts
  • one long sleeved t-shirt
  • one flannel shirt
  • one hoodie
  • three skirts [all knee length or longer]
  • one pair knee length athletic shorts
  • one pair yoga pants
  • about 42 pair of underwear [not all at once though]
  • about 20 pair of socks [5 wool, 5 casual dress, 10 athletic–or there abouts–also not all at once]
  • bras [3 sport, 2 regular]

Sleep:

  • Down blanket
  • Sheets–I brought a twin set and an extra full fitted sheet
  • Sleeping bag–something similar to this one, but I bought mine in 2010 and it’s orange.
  • Pillow–just one of the many [so many] pillows I have at home.  Last item in the suitcase.

Shower:

  • Quick-drying Towel 
  • 2-1 shampoo/conditioner–either of these are my favorites
  • Dry shampoo–for in between washes.
  • Bar[s] of soap
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste [I have brand favorites so I brought them]

Tech:

  • Kindle — for books, music, movies, photos, ect.
  • External Hard Drive – for movies, music, TV shows, podcasts, actual work documents
  • Laptop–yes it’s heavy and huge, but watching movies on it is awesome.
  • Camera– what can I say–I love my camera, and will physically hurt anyone who tries to take it

Kitchen:

  • Spices – whatever you like, but definitely salt and pepper.  I also brought cinnamon. And taco seasoning mix.
  • Drink Mixes–as many as you can find
  • Knives, vegetable peeler, cutting board, measuring spoons/cups
  • Can opener
  • Ziploc bags/storage containers--Illegal in Rwanda so I’ve got Quart, Sandwich, and Snack + sandwich sized plastic containers [stuffed with goodies on the plane ride over. Technically, they could get confiscated]
  • Enamel mug/Stainless steel mug
  • Water bottle 

All ‘kitchen’ things I won’t need until I am actually on my own so I packed a box and mailed it to myself.

A Good Backpack – When you are traveling somewhere and you plan to stay overnight, it is unlikely that you are going to want to bring one of your suitcases along. Bring a backpack that is comfortable to wear and big enough to hold essential items for staying somewhere overnight (extra clothes, toothbrush, laptop, towel, etc.). If you can attach your sleeping bag to it, even better.

Swiss Army Knife – Or a good old fashioned pocket knife.

Headlamp – It comes in handy when you need both of your hands at night.

Multi Vitamins – These might be your only source of nutrients when you are eating rice, beans, and potatoes.

Music – It is the only thing that keeps me sane some days. Sometimes you need to shut the door, put in your ear buds, close your eyes and listen to music. I also brought a speaker that is great for when I want extra volume or don’t want to be constricted by my ear buds.

Nail Clippers and polish–self explanatory


Everything else is non-essential.

Money

If you’re planning on bringing some money for vacations, bring hundred dollar bills that are 2006 or more current. Large bills, which most places define as hundreds only, get the best exchange rate. Money changers and banks will sometimes refuse bills older than 2006 and will often give you a bad exchange rate if they do accept them. Peace Corps recommends $300-500 and I think that’s a pretty good number, considering you can save some of your living allowance every month.

A credit card is a good idea if you think you’ll want to buy plane tickets.

Technology

My take on technology in Peace Corps is that 2 years is almost long enough for your gadgets to become obsolete, so if you’ve already got something useful, bring it. Having something like a laptop is great because it allows you to communicate with friends and family easily. You probably won’t be able to skype on a portable connection, but just to be able to send and receive e-mails is really nice. Electricity is widely available throughout Rwanda and even if you don’t have it in your home, you can usually charge up somewhere in town.

Other than a laptop and camera, I am bringing:

  • An external hard drive – To share music and movies with other volunteers.
  • A portable USB flash drive – makes swapping files a lot easier
  • Antivirus software for the laptop

The Peace Corps packing list recommends a transformer or voltage converter. Unless you are bringing small appliances, such as a blow dryer, you probably don’t need a voltage converter. Many camera and laptop cords have a black box on them which regulates voltage and says the range that they are capable of handling. Rwanda is 230V. Check your electronics and appliances to see if they’ll be compatible and if you don’t need a converter, don’t get one.

What not to bring

Peace Corps will also provide a mosquito net and a water filter. For those who are not going to Rwanda with Peace Corps, you’ll want to look into these things based on the length of your stay and where you’re going. Pharmacies in most countries carry a lot of medicines; all hotels have mosquito nets, and bottled water, soft drinks, and beer are available pretty much anywhere.


Luggage:  I need containers to get my stuff from here to there

  • Items:
    • 1 obnoxiously large, sturdily-constructed rolling duffel bag [ebags mother lode 29″].  If you bring a bag this big, just know that it’s easy to go overweight quickly. My first attempt had this bag weighing in at 75#… ooops
    • 8 year old 65L hiking backpack that has already seen half the world.
    • School-sized backpack that will serve as a carry-on:  I’ll carry my camera, laptop, kindle, chargers, one change of clothes, sleeping on the plane kit, ect
    • A tote bag–also a carry-on–In it, I’ll carry a book and assorted small odds and ends.
  • Rationale:  I need a way to get stuff from here to there.
  • Verdict:  I’m glad I have all the bags.  I hate all the bags while in transit, but I love having all the bags.

Clothing:

  • Item:  Fleece pull-over x1.  
  • Rationale:  Some areas get cool; some not so much. I won’t know until a few weeks in if I’m going to be in one of those areas
  • Verdict:  haven’t needed it yet, but if I head to the north, it will come in handy
  • Item:  Lightweight rain coat
    Rationale: It rains. I won’t have a car so I’ll be walking in the rain.  Being dry is preferable to being wet
    Verdict: I’m glad I have it.  I have already used it once [and it’s technically the dry season]
  • Item:  Cardigan x2.  One black; one colorful
  • Rationale:  It can get cool. These can spiffy up t-shirts and make me look more professional
  • Verdict:  I haven’t used them yet, but I suspect I will when I need to be fancy.
  • Item:  Blouses x3.  I never wear these at home.  Button-up shirts and bustiness don’t mix
  • Rationale:  I may need something nicer than T-shirts
  • Verdict:  I’ve only worn one of these
  • Item:  T-shirts x7.  Plain, colorful
  • Rationale:  I wear these all the time.  Even to work.
  • Verdict:  I love that I have these
  • Item: Long-sleeve T-shirt X2
  • Rationale:  Sometimes my elbows get cold
  • Verdict:  I usually sleep in these so  I’m glad I have them
  • Item: Pants x4.  Dark brown, dark grey, khaki, and black.  Also known as hiking pants.  Also scrub pants x2.
  • Rationale:  I need something to cover my butt
  • Verdict:  I’m glad I have the scrubs, and I’ve already sent for more.
  • Item: Skirts  x2–one mid-calf brown skirt and one slightly below the knee blue.
  • Rationale:  Sometimes skirts are more comfortable than pants
  • Verdict:
  • Item:  Scarves X3.  One teal, one burgundy, and one gray with owls on it
  • Rationale:  They can spiff up an outfit nicely
  • Verdict:  I ended up leaving these at home, and I wish I had at least one
  • Item:  Socks and underwear x a lot
  • Rationale:  The amount of socks and underwear I take on any given adventure is directly proportional to the amount of time I have until I need to do laundry.  I also have at least 10 pairs of each reserved for use starting at the midway point of service.
  • Verdict:  I have 6 pairs for training and the rest for the rest of my service
  • Item:  Shoes—OMG, shoes.  Apparently shoes are a big deal in Rwanda so I’m trying to go with shoes that are easy to clean and durable.  To that end, I have one pair of Keen leather shoes, Salamon trail running shoes [I plan on running exactly zero trails], Keen sandals, [which are technically ‘hiking sandals’], Teva dress sandals, rubber flip flops to use in shower, and my Salamon hiking boots.
  • Rationale:  While I could be happy rotating two pairs in and out, I don’t really care about cleanliness.  But Rwandas do. And I’m trying to be culturally appropriate.
  • Verdict:  I still hate shoes, but I’m glad I have all the ones I have
  • Item: Pajamas X1
  • Rationale:  I’m not picky, but I brought a T-shirt I was gifted and a pair of fuzzy pajama pants.
  • Verdict: These didn’t make the cut
  • Item: Additional clothing:  Yoga pants x1, mesh basketball shorts x1
  • Rationale: It may get hot. I may not feel like leaving the house. I want to be comfortable
  • Verdict:  I sleep in the shorts and wear the yoga pants when I do yoga.
  • Item:  Swimsuit
  • Rationale:  I may get to go to a large body of water at some point.  Or a fancy hotel with a swimming pool.
  • Verdict:  I haven’t used it yet

Kitchen/household:

  • Item:  Knives/cutting board
  • Rationale:  Apparently good kitchen knives are hard to come by in Rwanda. I’m bringing a knife set, one small, a small plastic cutting board, measuring spoons, 2 measuring cups [1/2c and 1/3c]
  • Verdict:
  • Item:  Grater
  • Rationale:  I can’t tell you the last time I grated anything but apparently I will want this; it’s a light, flat, handheld one that doesn’t take up much space
    Verdict: 
  • Item:  Can opener
  • Rationale:  Opening cans without it is super hard
  • Verdict:
  • Item:  Vegetable peeler
  • Rationale:  While I rarely peel vegetables at home, the water here must be treated, filtered, boiled, and you must prepare a sacrifice in order to use it.  I’ll just peel the damn vegetables.
  • Verdict
  • Item:  Spices
  • Rationale:  Rwandan food is bland.  I’m no iron chef or anything, but I did bring salt/pepper, cinnamon, Greek seasoning, Italian seasoning, and taco seasoning.
  • Verdict
  • Item: Zip-lok bags
  • Rationale:  They are illegal in Rwanda and I’m a rebel.  Also I use these nearly everyday
  • Verdict
  • Item:  Seeds
  • Rationale:  I need food.  Hopefully the climate is conducive to growing them. They don’t take up much space
  • Verdict

All these items are in my box that is currently in transit.


  • Item:  Sheets
  • Rationale:  Why such an essential item is not provided by PC is beyond me, but nonetheless, no sheets provided.  I brought a gray pair that Christopher the Cat put a shred mark in.  I’ll send for more when I know what size bed I’m going to get in my house.  Options include a full sized bed or two singles.  I guess if you are tiny [not me], one single would suffice.
  • Verdict
  • Item:  Towels
  • Rationale:  I brought a beach towel and a quick dry towel and an absorbent head wrap for wet hair.  I threw in a couple of wash clothes because they are small and lightweight.
  • Verdict: I ended up leaving the towel at home, but bought one when I got here
  • Item:  Swiss Army Knife
  • Rationale: When is this not a good idea?
  • Verdict
  • Item:  Sleeping bag
  • Rationale:  It may solve the sheet problem.  I may need to visit others.
  • Verdict: I also left this at home
  • Item:  Down blanket
  • Rationale:  It gets cold and this one packs up small
  • Verdict:  I haven’t used it yet, but i plan to when I get to my own space

Office/school supplies:

  • Item:  Notebook [composition book x2], travel journal x2, and planner
  • Rationale:  I like to write things and the illusion of being organized makes me happy
  • Verdict
  • Item:  Pens
  • Rationale:  I am a pen-whore and needed to downsize.  Also I like to color code things.
  • Verdict
  • Item: Zip-lok bags
  • Rationale:  They are illegal in Rwanda and I’m a rebel.  Also I use these nearly everyday
  • Verdict
  • Item:  Medical equipment–pulse ox, stethoscope, blood pressure cuff
  • Rationale:  These are probably mostly unnecessary, but if I’m going to be in a health center, I’d like to have my own tools.
  • Verdict:

Electronics:

  • Item:  laptop
  • Rationale:  I use it everyday at home
  • Verdict:  I’m glad I have it even though I only use it on weekends
  • Item: external  hard drive x2. One is a 1TB drive, and the other is a 2 TB.
  • Rationale:  I take a lot of pictures and watch a lot of movies.  Also there’s no such thing as ‘too much storage’
  • Verdict:
  • Item: Kindle
    Rationale: E-reading is not my favorite thing, but weight restrictions prevent me from bringing an entire physical library.
    Verdict:

  • Item:  Camera 
  • Rationale:  I rarely go anywhere without it so of course, it was coming with me.
  • Verdict:
  • Items:  Flash drives x2 16GB each
  • Rationale: I’ve been told I’ll need them.
    Verdict:
  • Item: iphone
  • Rationale:  It doesn’t work as a phone but with 64G of songs/podcast and the ability to face-time certain people, it’s a no-brainer.
  • Item:  External speaker
  • Rationale: My laptop speakers are wretched. REchargeable speakers are the solution
  • Verdict:
  • Item:  Headphones
  • Rationale:  Sometime you just need to chill
  • Verdict:
  • Item: USB charger
  • Rationale:  Electronics need to charge
  • Verdict:
  • Item:  Flashlight and headlamp
  • Rationale  Electricity is sporadic at times
  • Verdict: Late night walks home and electricity outages have already made these practical. The headlamp is especially useful if I have to cook in the dark when the electricity is out.
  • Item: Rechargeable batteries
  • Rationale:  Apparently there’s no great way to dispose of batteries in Rwanda, so I have rechargeable ones for my headlamp and flashlight.
    Verdict: I haven’t needed to replace any batteries yet, but I expect to.
  • Item: Outlet adapters
    Rationale: For my items that have to plug into the wall, I’ve got a handful of light, simple adapters.
    Verditct:

Toiletries:

  • Makeup
    I’m not hugely into make-up, but I have an eye shadow palette, plus 1 lipstick, seemed like a good idea for any dressy events
  • Deodorant
    Apparently stick deodorant is not a thing I can get here.
  • Shampoo/conditioner I’m sure I can find shampoo here if I look, but I won’t have to for a while because I have a giant bottle of coconut-scented-shampoo, and it makes cold bucket baths nicer.
  • Soap 
    Nice bar soap has been wonderful. I’m not a fan of bucket baths still, but I’m a fan of my soap

  • Chapstick
    My lips are always dry. Burt’s Bees is magical.
  • Travel bottles
    At the suggestion of a current PCV who was surviving trips with shampoo in baggies, I packed a set of empty travel-size bottles.

Personal/miscellaneous:

  • 6 passport photos
    The Peace Corps said to, so I did
  • Journals
  • Purse and wallet
    Necessitites, of course. I picked up a small wallet (which I haven’t carried yet because I’ve been keeping my lunch money in my backpack, but which has been nice for storing the bulk of my cash so I’m not walking around with all my money) and a cross-body purse that folds over, snaps, and zips before you can get it open. Hopefully this minimizes the chances of anyone reaching into it, although I guess they could still slice it… but there’s not much I can do about that. 
  • Playing cards
    Because when does a deck of cards not come in handy?
  • Tide-to-go pens
    I’ll be honest; I’ve never used these. However, they’ve been highly recommended and seem like a good option. They’re cheap, they’re light, I doubt I’ll regret it. This has saved my life (or at least my shirt) multiple times.

There it is, my complete packing list for Rwanda.  I am also creating a list of things I didn’t bring that I want to get when I go back home in February/March.

 

Setting the stage

Staging is what the Peace Corps calls orientation. I imagine they are all essentially the same. All the members fly to a central location and sign-in hereby becoming Peace Corps’ trainees. Then it is meeting and greeting, learning Peace Corps policy, and bonding with fellow trainees.

For Africa and Europe we meet in Philadelphia. Peace Corps pays for that flight, the stay at the Marriott, and gives us $134 to eat 4 meals as well as get from the airport to the hotel. I think I spent about $100 including the taxi from the airport.

Overall staging is a quick orientation to Peace Corps’ life reminding me that even if there is a target right next door, I will still forget something as important as a USB power bank and a water bottle.

Last Night at the Hideaway

It’s Saturday night.  I’ve just work my last shift, and for now, I am alone. Blissfully alone.  I love my friends, I do, but as an introvert, being around people is exhausting, and tonight, tonight, I am blissfully alone.  Tomorrow, I say good-bye to even more friends.  And to my kitty cats. But tonight, tonight I am alone.  Just me, Lucy, and Molly in the hideaway.On my last night at the hideaway, I watched the series finale of  The Americans, my favorite TV show over the last six years.  How fitting that the series ended just prior to my departure.  Lucy, Molly and I curled up on the couch watching my favorite Russian spies.  So many things are going to change in the next week, the next month, the next year.  In the words of my favorite characters, “I’ll adjust.'”I worry if I’ll ever learn Kinyarwandan.  If I’ll ever learn to cook without the use of a microwave. If I’ll learn to ‘live’ without the luxuries I’ve become accustomed to having. If I’ll make friends.  If the people in the village I get assigned to will  accept me.  If I will do any good.  People say to write down your expectations of what your Peace Corps’ Service will be like, then crumple up that sheet of paper and throw it away.

I have never regretted my decision to serve in the Peace Corps. I first heard of it in high school. I met a middle aged man who’s name I’ve forgotten. He was unemployed, staying in a homeless shelter, and lived with disabilities. He confessed that if he could play his cards all over again, he’d absolutely do this one thing: Peace Corps. The idea stuck with me, as well as the concept that I had more privileges than others, and the idea that I had a moral obligation to use my privilege to lessen the suffering of others.  And at this stage of life, I have the skills to do so.

Two years is a long time, but yet, it’s not. Life will go on in America; just as it will in Rwanda whether I am there or not. I applied to the Peace Corps in September 2016. I was invited to serve in July 2017, and I  depart for Rwanda in  2018.  Nearly two years have already passed.  The relationships we make in life is all that we have.

Saying my good-byes

Fact: good-byes are the worst.

For more months than I care to remember, I’ve been preparing for departure. Preparing to say my good-byes to a life I’ve spent the last few years carefully crafting. All the government required paperwork, the new purchases that are a *must-have* [like a nifty head lamp], and setting up Lucy and Molly for their own little adventure. I have had a suitcase partially packed for 6 months. Who does that? A neurotic person who has prepared for not one but two different Peace Corps service stations, that’s who. Add to that the time I’ve spent researching Peace Corps | Rwanda and attempting to teach myself some vocab in the local language, and I have basically been making myself *slightly crazy*.

Ice cream is always a good idea

But I have not forgotten some important advice given to me from my Madagascar stage-mates: spend as much time with friends and family as possible before leaving. I’m looking at these extra three months as a gift.  I got spend Spring Break with my favorite little people. I’m continuing to work to save up money for adventures [maybe I’ll get to Madagascar after all]. I get to spend one last Spring/early Summer in South Carolina which is much preferable to the constant heat and humidity of July and August.  I’m going hiking and doing short trips with friends. Taking ALL THE PHOTOS for the memories and also for the house decorations.

I went hiking on the Cumberland Trail in Tennessee in May.  It was an awesome spur-of-the-moment hike.
Concerts on the lawn with friends
Took the little people to the zoo
Went hiking in the cold with the little people… they were troopers
We had much nicer weather on Spring Break
And then I hiked the Foothills Trail all by myself
And I got to see an amazing sunrise on top of Jellico Mountain, Tennessee

Basically, these last three months have been a gift wrapped up in a neat little package.  The little people and I have spent more time together.  I found out there’s going to be another little person come November.  I got a few more house projects done.

Enjoyed some picture perfect days
Made a Lucy-approved walkway out of patio pavers
Planted some flowers–hopefully they will establish roots and still be thriving when I return

This is the week of good-byes.   Good-byes to co-workers. Good-byes to friends. Good-byes to Best Friends. Good-bye to kitty cats. Over all, I feel a lot more prepared to leave than I did when I was scheduled to depart for Madagascar… Let’s all hope I can still say that next Monday.