Articles by "Michelle, Author at Adventure Adikt"
Jun 2, 2019 - Wanderlust    No Comments

Women traveling alone-A different point of view

Women are in the news yet again.  These days it has to do with the current US president’s views on women (and other marginalized populations), but honestly, it’s always something. A few years ago, it was the media giving women traveling along a hard time.  This post is from my previous travel blog [A woman hiking the Camino de Santiago has had her body found months after she went missing along with the woman who was killed while CouchSurfing in India] so it seems like an appropriate time to revive this post from my previous travel blog. and seems like a good time to keep in mind that for women every -day life boils down to one thing–personal safety.  It doesn’t matter if it is the president of the US talking about ‘grabbing the by the pussy’ or female genital mutilation [a subject I wrote a paper on in college], daily life for women is all about personal safety.

It seems like every few months or so something happens and all the news outlets rush to make up stories about why women shouldn’t travel alone. I am referring to the latest story to attempt to scare people [especially females] away from traveling alone.  Almost every news outlet has an opinion on the subject.  [comments from the NBC  site–““A woman has no business traveling alone,” FOX news’ take, another FOX gem, CBS has an opinion too, let’s not leave out ABC] The current theory is that the victim was ‘hanging out with criminal element‘ and therefore, it shouldn’t be surprising that she got her skull bashed in. Several travel bloggers [who travel much more frequently than I do] have already weighed in on this issue, [see the posts here, here, here, here, and here,] but I am more inclined to go with this viewpoint.  It is the violence directed at women, not necessarily the traveling abroad, that is the real issue.  For whatever reason, women are a target when it comes to violent crime–not just abroad, but at home too.  As for me, I would not be the same person I am if I hadn’t traveled solo at various points in my life.  Truth be told, I’ve experienced violence directed at me at home, and I’ve experience less subtle attempts at violence  while traveling. At home sometimes we let it slide because it’s someone we know; while traveling, we usually have out guard up–at least to some degree.

Traveling solo has helped me to:

  • not feel guilty that I majored in foreign languages in  college and didn’t add a teaching degree with it
  • end a relationship that was seriously bad news
  • meet new people that I wouldn’t have ever had the opportunity to meet before [people that are definitely different that the crowd I normally meet in South Carolina]
  • develop a quiet independence
  • come out of my shell [It’s hard NOT to talk to someone, anyone when you are traveling alone]
  • make decisions about where I want my career to go
  • be confident in making decisions
  • explore my photography passion
  • go where I want and do what I want
  • be a better citizen of the world
  • build self-esteem
  • develop an inner voice

Traveling alone isn’t rocket science. Use common sense.  Let someone know where you will be.  Trust your instincts.  Don’t advertise that you are alone. Don’t be a idiot.  Don’t flash around jewelry, electronics, or cash.  Know where you are going, or at least act like you do.  Research your destination ahead of time.  Just be smart about being out there by yourself.  These tips apply whether I am traveling in Charleston, SC, Cape Town, South Africa, or even my hometown.

Apr 7, 2019 - Peace Corps    No Comments

Things I won’t miss about the village: Muzungu

This may not be the most politically correct post I’ve written. If you are easily offended, you’ve been warned.

Back when I worked in the hospitals, occasionally some misguided soul would yell out ‘hey, respiratory,’ as I walked by, and I’d continue to walk on by.  And then the misguided soul would continue ‘hey, I’m talking to you’, and I’d feigned innocence, and say ‘oh you’re talking to me? I had no idea.’ and the conversation would continue with ‘I called your name’ and here’s where I’d get all passive-aggressive aggressive and say  ‘No, you yelled ‘respiratory.’  That’ not my name; it’s my job title.  You want me, you yell my name.  It’s Michelle, in case you don’t know. I don’t answer to respiratory.’ Most people only did that once, and the ones who did it more than once were assholes.

Something similar happens in Rwanda [and Uganda. And Tanzania. And Madagascar. And I imagine every other African country where foreigners aren’t common] every.damn.day and it irks me to no end.

Don’t worry, my friend got called Muzungu too

In Rwanda, especially Rwandan villages, white people are not common.  And should you happen to be white, it’s assumed that you are French [or Belgium] both because Belgium was the motherland–the former colonial power, and most foreigners in fact speak French.  When I lived in Mexico, people though I was from Spain. And when I lived in Moscow, people thought I was English.   And when I traveled throughout South America, it was back to being from Spain.  And let’s be honest, even in America no one ever really thinks I’m from South Carolina upon first meeting me.  So, it’s not that people not knowing where I’m from that’s bothersome, it’s not that someone is essentially calling me ‘white foreigner’ bothers me, it’s the fact that no one calls me by my name or even a local version of my name that bothers me.

In Rwanda, it’s ‘hey look at what that muzungu is doing‘ and it’s essentially like saying ‘hey, look at that nigger [or wetback or chinc or whatever other ethnic derogatory term one can come up with].’ It’s not as if they don’t know that calling someone ‘muzungu’ is being offensive because Every.Single.Volunteer.Ever has told them some form of ‘hey, that’s not nice’.

So, the greeting that most people give a white person is “bonjour muzungu”. Or, they call out to you “ Muzungu!”  And I just keep on walking. Some PCVs think the term “muzungu” is insulting, and to some it is–because it means that everyone is being grouped together with all other white foreigners simply based on our skin color.  I really don’t care that they are calling me white, pink, or purple.  For  me, it’s the simple thing that if I take the time and effort to learn their name, they should do the same.  After all, there are many, many more Rwandan people in town for me to learn their names; and I am the only white person in town so learning Michelle or Mischa or even a Rwandan version of Michelle should not be that hard.

PCVs work hard to integrate in the local communities, and so being called ‘muzungu’ means that people don’t understand what I’m doing here and why I’m different. I am always reminding people that I’m not a tourist and I’m here to help. After all, if I were a ‘muzungu’ like they usually see, why would I be studying Kinyarwanda? I wouldn’t be; I’d be paying someone to fetch my water, do my laundry, and shop for and cook for me.  Yet, I do all these things, often alongside of my neighbors.

The thing is, I know that for kids here, it’s hard to wrap their heads around the fact that there could even be a foreigner who isn’t French. To many of them, it’s ingrained in their heads from an early age that any time you see a white person, they are a muzungu, and you say to them “bonjour muzungu”. [As a side note they also seem to pick up the phrase “Donne-moi de l’argent” or ‘Give me money’ fairly young, too, because I get that a lot. Did someone tell them that demanding money impolitely in French or English and holding out their hand actually works? And sometimes, just to fuck with them because I’m wired like that, I’ll speak to them in Spanish or German or Spanish-Russian and they stare at me like I have three heads, and I go on about my business ignoring them because as I’ve mentioned before, I’m not French nor do I speak it.]

I’ve seen, on multiple occasions, mothers teaching their babies the word “muzungu” by pointing at me. Depending on my mood that day, I’ll kindly inform them that no, my name is not “muzungu”, it’s Michelle, or I’ll roll my eyes and walk away.  These days I get especially frustrated by it because even though I live in a larger village, you’d think word would have spread somewhat that the white woman who walks around carrying a funny looking helmet, who shops in the market, and fetches her own water is American and in fact does not speak a lick of French.

As much as it bothers me to be called ‘muzungu’, I’d be remiss if I didn’t comment on what life is like here for Asian- and African-American volunteers. To start, for many Rwandan village people it’s unfathomable that someone could be American but not look white. African-Americans often get the assumption that they’re Rwandan (which can be a good thing), but when they say they’re American, people still ask “no, but where are you from?” The fact that you could be dark-skinned but be from America is hard for a lot of people to wrap their head around here. It’s also similar for Asian-American volunteers, who are unfortunately subject to the type of comments [you have slant-y eyes] that would be considered horribly rude and offensive back at home, but here are just simple commentary– not meant as an insult, just an observation. So volunteers who are American but not Caucasian have a different set of challenges to overcome.

So, the ‘muzungu’ issue is something that will continue to be a challenge for me much like ignorant co-workers calling me ‘hey, respiratory’. I always hoped that I wound cease to be a novelty, but I know that I’ll never stop getting called ‘muzungu’. Some days it affects me more than others; Somedays I can  turn these situations into ‘teaching opportunities’– opportunities to teach people about what I am doing here, why health matters, why washing hands is important, why checking babies’ weight is a big deal, and how I’m different.

And, that my name is Michelle, not ‘muzungu’.

Muzungu…Muzungu… that’s most likely what these kids are saying

Things I Won’t Miss About the Village: Lack of Anonymity

I have lived most of my life in South Carolina [other states include North Carolina, Virginia, and Tennessee] — a state with roughly 5 million people in it, and just prior to departure, I moved back to the area I grew up in.  The town I currently reside in has approximately 800 people in it, and yet I still have my anonymity.

I blend in mostly due to my race [it’s all either black or white] or my speech [I do have quite the southern accent when I let my guard down]. I’ve been putting purple streaks in my hair for a few years, but it’s so subtle that no one hardly notices until I am in the sun or under a light.  I enjoy my peace and quiet–I have three sets of neighbors within a mile radius and a hay field across the street.  It’s a quiet, somewhat predictable life.

Living in a small town creates lots of privacy, but little anonymity. If you’re not careful, everyone will know your business.  You can’t cry in public or curse at anyone because chances are, you’ll see these people again. Even if you don’t want to.

There’s no clubs for dancing or bars for drinking in my little town, and only two of what we call restaurants. Being seen at one of these becomes fodder for gossip especially if anything untoward happens.

Despite all that, I blended in. Mostly.

I’ve spent the past year living in a village even smaller than my town, speaking a language that I’ll never speak again once I leave the country.  Despite knowing about small town life, it this village, I am the other.  I’m different because of my skin tone, much, much lighter than anyone else’s. I’m different because of my accent–my tendency to speak Spanish not French when I can’t think of a word in Kinyarwanda. I’m different because I’m well traveled–partly due to my American passport.  I’m different because I’m unmarried and childless at an age where most of my village peers are both married and are mothers.   I’m different because I have no real desire ever have kids. I’m different because I have short, soft hair in a shade other than black.

Even among my fellow Peace Corps volunteers, I’m different because I’m a little bit older than most, but not yet at that “I’m retired; I think I’ll go join the Peace Corps stage.”  I’m at an age where friends are having babies left and right. Some are getting divorced and some are getting married. Again.

Any of these would have set me apart. In combination, they ensured I would never be completely able to blend in… never enjoy the anonymity I love. It’s not the first time I’ve been a visible minority, but it was the first time I’d been one for such an extended period [and it gave me newfound respect for people who are “The Other” for their entire lives].

Even before I landed in Rwanda, I suspected that would have to change something, but I don’t think I fully anticipated the degree to which it would. I went from a mostly anonymous local to instant celebrity in a matter of days. It was strange, and I hated it. I’ve spent most of my adult life trying to blend in with the crowd, and here I was–on display for everyone to see.  I felt eyes on me all of the time, had to carefully consider every word that dropped from my mouth lest it be heard and reported.

I learned that in Rwanda people will frankly comment on your physical appearance as a matter of course, and for me, that was a constant reminder of my paleness, my size, the strangeness of my straight, short [mostly] brown hair, my lack of makeup, my choice of dress.

To integrate into my community, I had to hide certain parts of myself, especially at first. I had to hide the me that sometimes liked to dye my hair strange colors; and the me that could be a bit brazen. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, I was always myself, just a different version of myself from before. In my village, I will always be Misha.  Misha never wore anything cut higher than her knees, and most often wore pants… which was chalked up to being American. Every woman wears skirts in the village.  Misha never, not once, drank alcohol, despite being pressed… despite the fact the previous volunteer did often.  Misha always waved, smiled, and greeted appropriately according to the time of day.  Misha never flirted with men. Rejected those who flirted with her, never cursed, and never went out after dark.  

I might be making this sound like playacting, and it was and it wasn’t. We all play roles over the course of our lives. Mine was true to myself and consciously chosen, as I realized that one of the deepest impacts I could potentially make in my community was to be a role model to young people who in some cases needed one desperately. At times it felt exhausting and overwhelming, a weight of watchfulness and potential gossip I shouldered daily.

I am back in the USA for now, most likely for good.  I am back to blending in when I want to , and being notice when I want as well.  It’s one of the odd parts of service that people do not talk about too much–the readjustment period, and to be honest, it hasn’t been that difficult.  I have adjusted quite nicely to flushing toilets, comfortable beds, running, potable water, driving myself around to wherever I need to be.  I’ve adjusted well to having indoor kitty cats again.  I’ve adjusted well to not haggling over every little thing I want to buy.  The grocery store is still a bit intimidating, but in all fairness, it was intimidating before I moved to rural Rwanda.

Even though I walk these streets weekly, there’s still no anonymity when I come to Butare.
Nov 25, 2018 - Peace Corps    No Comments

On being thankful and having gratitude

What I am thankful for–Peace Corps year one edition

Once upon a time a friend and I used to send each other our daily gratitude lists.  A list that would have anywhere from 3-7 items on it that we were truly thankful for, and would sometimes be as basic as clean water and air or as complex as a peaceful resolution to a serious problem. It was a good way to start the day… being in a state of gratitude before leaving the house.  Because sometimes life happens, and life can be a bitch.

This week contained the American Holiday of  Thanksgiving, and for the second time in a decade I find myself outside the US for this distinctly American holiday. I find myself feeling more grateful than I have in quite some time, thanks to the last few months living in Rwanda and its inevitable way it shifted the way in which I experience the world.

Why am I so full of gratitude lately?

I am thankful for my education. 

Lord knows I have enough of it and sometimes it was a struggle to get and pay for, but never, not even once, did not think that I couldn’t finish high school or go to college.  I may have been/be on the most circuitous path ever, but dropping out of school because I’m female has never crossed my mind.

I was a latchkey kid, got myself up and fixed my own breakfast from about 8 years onward, and caught the school bus until I could drive, but these struggles are nothing compared to what many students in Rwanda face. Many students walk up to six kilometers every morning to get to school, some without shoes over the hilly and rocky terrain. Some struggle to concentrate, because their growling stomachs compete for their mental attention. They sit snug as bug next to their classmates — three, sometimes four to a wooden desk — in the hot or cold classroom of up to 60 students. They rely one notebook and one pen with zero additional educational materials. Kids return home, make dinner for their families, sell food at the market, and take care of their younger siblings. And repeat it all, the next day.

Living in a place where so many students stop attending school after primary school… primary school! reminds me how much of a gift my education is. I am lucky for the teachers that challenged me and the resources made available to me, and while I can’t name every teacher I’ve ever had, I do remember some of the more special ones and am thankful for them on a regular basis.

I am thankful for the kindness in my life.

Rwanda is not an easy place to be a foreigner, and I’d guess it’s probably not that easy to move to a different area within the country.  My guess for that is due to the genocide that occurred almost 25 years ago. Depending on their age, most adults in Rwanda were alive during that period either as babies, children, or young adults themselves.  It doesn’t come easy or natural for Rwandans to trust outsiders. That being said, I have experienced kindness while I’m here.  The people I work with who help me learn Kinyarwanda on a daily basis. The people who have helped me find my way when I’ve gotten turned around. Kindness comes in many forms here, but one usually has to prove his or her worthiness in order to receive it so it’s nice to experience true kindness with no strings attached.

I am thankful for life’s challenges and the values instilled by overcoming them.

It’s the hurdles I had to jump in the past that make me the driven, independent person that I am happy to be today. If it weren’t for the bumps along the way, I would not have had the opportunity to grow in ways that I did and continue to do.

As much as I have dealt with and overcome in my life,  people in my community face an entirely different set of challenges than challenges I have faced and ever will face. Their resilience, perseverance, and unwavering hospitality in these times of difficulty, is admirable.  Going through tough times in America, while still challenging, is not the same as going through tough times in Rwanda.

I am thankful for learning more about myself.

As noble as “saving the world” sounds, a majority of my Peace Corps experience thus far has been a heroic adventure of self-discovery. I have found the beauty in stepping outside of my comfort zone and saying “yes” to self-growth opportunities. I have practiced patience, continued to learn the value of making mistakes, and appreciate the importance of perseverance. I am becoming more sensitive to what makes me happy or sad, and making decisions based on those observations. Self-respect starts with making decisions with your happiness [among other things, of course] in mind.

I am so grateful that my time here has allowed me to grow in these ways.

I am thankful for my friends and family.

Though there are few places on Earth I could be where I would be physically farther from my peeps, my time away has made us closer in many ways. In order to join the Peace Corps, I had to quit a job, ‘alter’ a relationship, and give up my kitty cats to the care of another person. The support from my friends and family allowed me to  start a new chapter of life in Rwanda.

Separation often acts as a test, whether it intentional or unintentional, and to my delight, I have a small little team of supporters cheering me on this adventure of mine. While I probably could have survived [ definitely not thrived]  without them, it makes it a whole lot easier knowing that someone I know is watching Lucy and Molly, people are sending me little notes and gifts, letters and postcards, and people are generally interested in what I am doing.

I am thankful for a gained perspective on the world and its people.

I’ve traveled a fair amount prior to joining the Peace Corps. I’ve even been outside the country for an extended period of time before.  I always try to be a temporary local rather than a tourist whenever I go some place new.  But staying in a neighborhood for a week or even a month  at a time is not the same as staying in one place for a year [or two if I make it that long].  Being in the Peace Corps gives one the opportunity to truly immerse oneself in  a community, and if that person is lucky, have the community accept them as one of their very own.

I often think to myself how lucky I am to be experiencing the world through a different lens while I spend each day immersed in a community on the other side of the world. With each culture brings unique values and it has been enlightening and refreshing to experience Rwandan values, and see how they take precedence over things that are often obsessed over in the American world, such as technology, material items, money and work. Life here has changed my perspective on my personal values and I am grateful for the lifelong lesson my neighbors has taught me.

I am thankful for my cohort.

We are now a group of 22 unique and individual souls having lost a member just a few weeks ago. [She went home; she didn’t die]. To be honest I would have never even crossed paths with a lot of my cohort, let alone entertained friendship. But at almost 6 months in, I now have a ‘brother’, and a handful of close friends in the cohort which makes sticking out through the tough times a little easier. Being together [however brief] during this last week has made me realize how much I miss those who don’t live so close to me.

Nov 18, 2018 - Blogging, Peace Corps    No Comments

Where there is no wi-fi: blogging

My house is a two room brick structure surrounded by concrete with with a tin roof. It has intermittent electricity, and there’s no wi-fi to be found. So how do I manage to blog from my rural Rwandan village?

Here’s what I have in the way of technology:

  • a simple laptop, case, and charger
  • SIM card for buying mobile data bundles
  • a smartphone I bought in Rwanda
  • a USB to micro-USB cord

Gone are the days of firing up the laptop, connecting wireless-ly to the cloud, and writing while also uploading and editing photos.  Gone are the days of having 10 tabs open at once. After some months of trial and error, these are the steps I now take to produce one blog post:

  1. Charge the laptop fully either while having electricity or at the health center.
  2. Draft and edit blog posts at night in a Word doc.
  3. Plug phone or storage drive into laptop and grab images for said blog post.
  4. Walk 4 miles (uphill both ways –no snow–) with laptop, cell phone, and USB drive into Huye, go to the nicest Catholic boarding house around [or second option a coffee shop with spotty wi-fi], buy a Fanta or milkshake depending on my location, add mobile data to my phone, and take a seat.
  5. Set up a hotspot
  6. Copy and paste posts onto WordPress, upload photos and add tags. I usually upload a month of posts at a time and set the to auto post every Sunday.

I can, and have, written and published many posts entirely through my phone. I prefer to type on a computer for quantity and quality writing.

This set up works OK… Not great…Not perfect but it gets the job done.  I for one will be glad to returning to the land of Starbucks and free wi-fi sooner rather than later.

Oct 7, 2018 - Peace Corps    No Comments

How I spend my days

When I was preparing to go into Peace Corps|Madagascar, I read a lot of PC blogs from a lot of countries and I found that there are a plethora of “Day in the Life of a PCV” posts out there.  At first, I read them with fascination, completely hooked on every activity.

Example:

5:30am – Wake up.
My thoughts: Wow! They get up so early!  They must be so productive! I’d also like to point out that this was my usual bedtime for non-working days in the US.  I am the epitome of a night owl.
6:00am – Start cooking breakfast.
My thoughts: Wow! I wonder what they’re eating? How do they cook? How long does it take? I’ve never really been one to eat breakfast… mostly because that’s my bedtime.

7:00am – Fetch water.
My thoughts: Wow! Fetching water! Just like Little House on the Prairie!

I know. I am a Peace Corps nerd.

Truth be told, my day-to-day life in the Peace Corps is, not unsurprisingly, much like day-to-day life in America.  We get up, we do what it takes to eat,, and clean up. We work, we sweat, we come home, we bathe, eat again, and we relax. We have days off, we travel, we come home and panic about how much work we have to catch up on.  See?  Just like at home.

Well, almost. Peace Corps life, while much like life at home in some ways, also has its dramatic differences.  I think a lot of people really wonder: just what are you doing over there aside from your assigned job?  Today, instead of the hour-by-hour breakdown of my daily routine, I want to give you a glimpse of what fills my days.

I’ve never been one for routine, but in rural Rwanda  it’s all about the routine.  Here, I rarely use an alarm clock. Instead, the roosters go off around 4:30am, and continue pretty steadily and increasing incremental volume until around 5:30am when I am awake and just procrastinating getting out of bed. I usually get up around 7 or so depsite the roosters cockle-doodle-ing for hours[In Ecuador, it was the monkeys howling, here roosters.  At least the monkeys are cute. I threaten the roosters with my soup pot]

First order of the day: eating.  Like many volunteers, I try to organize meals around what will involve the least amount of dish washing and water consumption.  For me, this is generally a piece of bread and a fruit, usually a banana or sometimes an apple. I don’t drink coffee or tea so it’s usually just 500ml of water to go with it.  On the mornings when I have a wild hair to do something crazy and have extra time or Saturday or Sunday, I may whip up a batch of pancakes complete with hot chocolate. [<—–This does not happen often].

After eating, it’s usually time to haul water. I use about 80-90 liters of water a week, all of which must be hauled by hand or head from about 150m away. I usually haul water 2x/week. 50L at a time. [of course during the frequent water shortages, this chore become infinitely easier as there is no water to haul] Then, I have to treat and filter my drinking water. Next, I may glance around and find dead insects or any number of other deceased night invaders. Sometimes I find a dead mouse head if SadieMae [the friendly compound cat] has been a good cat instead of a lazy cat. 

Finally, it’s time to dress myself for work and head out to the clinic. Or maybe someone has given birth overnight and I’m doing baby measurements. Or maybe I’m going to the market to buy some vegetables. Maybe I have a meeting, and everyone is likely to be two hours late.  Either way, these work related activities can take up a good chunk of the day, and as a rule it’s always longer than I expected it to take.

By mid-afternoon, if it’s not raining, the sun is hot and it’s time to ‘rest’ or in my case get some chores done and cook my big meal of the day.  This means dishes, laundry if I’m getting desperate for underwear, taking a bath if I’m feeling extra ambitious, and hauling the water to go with those activities. Laundry must be hung to dry, and it can take a few hours to hand scrub sweat stains out of T-shirt sleeves. 

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As the sun creeps lower in the sky, I might fire up my the stove. I’m still wary of cooking with gas.  I have a somewhat not-so-irrational fear of blowing myself up.  Then, cooking. I never know what I want so often I boil water and cook vegetables or something easy. Finally, just as the mosquitoes are coming out, I’m headed under the bed net. I use this time to edit pictures, blog, write letters,talk to my US peeps, or read.  Sometimes I read for fun; other times I’ve got my nose stuck in medical books.  I’m usually in bed no later than 9pm, but often don’t actually try for sleep until 11p or 12a.  (Once a  night owl, always a night owl).

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So there’s a day in the life of a Peace Corps volunteer in rural Rwanda.  And this is just a village day. Conference days are really different.[Breakfast at the ungodly hour of 7a; meetings all day] Travel days are different in that they involve a whole lot more sitting and gnashing of teeth [get to bus station, buy ticket, wait for bus, sit on bus, arrive to Kigali. change buses,ect] . Each of us do the same chores and daily routine activities that we did back in America, but here, these things can take half the day instead of a few minutes. Take laundry for example: instead of wadding up my dirty clothes, tossing them in the machine, pouring in soap, and walking away and doing something else for a bit, laundry here can take hours. I have to first haul the water, get the clothes soaked and soaped, scrub until my knuckles are raw, do a whole rinse cycle in a different bucket, then wring everything and hang it to dry.  While you learn little tricks to cut down on the time consuming nature of these activities [like soaking your clothes in a bucket of water and soap overnight], maintaining ourselves at our sites takes a lot of our time and energy.

Work, which can vary with the day of the week, takes up the other large bulk of our time.  Babies come when they want whether a meeting is scheduled or not. Screenings can take all day.  For example, if a mom/baby doesn’t show up to a scheduled meeting, we have to chase them down. Is the baby OK? Are they eating?  Is mom OK?  If it rains or there’s a funeral, your whole daily plan might fly out the window and you have to start rescheduling things all over again. 

Day to day life here is full of little joys, little disappointments, and lots of the regular things we did back home, but now we do them Africa-style.  In Peace Corps, no one day is quite like the next, and if you ask me, that’s the best kind of daily routine.

Handwashing station takes the place of running water and a sink.
Sep 3, 2018 - Peace Corps, Wanderlust    No Comments

Things I miss about the USA

Happy Labor Day. These random holidays like Labor Day and 4th of July and Memorial Day has never really meant too much to me. Working in health care, days like these are really just regular days. There’s no such thing as ‘holidays’, or at least not in the traditional sense where I’d get the same days off as everyone else and get do things like hang out at the lake with friends or enjoy cook-outs for the holiday. So in that sense joining the Peace Corps has been interesting. At one point or another I’ve celebrated every American holiday outside America, and some countries’ holidays inside that country. But nothing can replace celebrating the holiday in its original form… And while I’ve only been gone from the USA for a few months, there are still things I miss.  This post is from my previous travel blog from when I spent 16 months traveling around South America (with some updates from what I’m missing now… Some things change; some never will… like my love for good pizza).

  • Pizza  Pizza is probably my favorite food on the planet.  Back home, I probably ate pizza 3-4 times a month.  Not always the same kind or from the same place, but pizza (and a salad when I’m feeling healthy) has been a staple in my diet since the early years and I don’t suspect it leaving any time soon. I did find pizza goodness in Buenos Aires and Mendoza; however most of South America and all of Rwanda has been a huge disappointment in terms of pizza.  Bad crust, bad sauce, strange ingredients.  I can’t wait to hit up Barley’s Taproom or Sidewall’s or the Mellow Mushroom for some good pizza with olives, feta cheese, spinach, and tomatoes.

One of my Peace Corps goals is to make a pizza… a delicious pizza like the one pictured below.

Untitled

  • Watching American sports. I am a huge sports junkie and I miss meeting up with friends to watch March Madness, college bowl games, or stressing over Tennessee football. Fall is always the hardest because college football in nearly a religion in the south, and I am a follower of the sacred University of Tennessee. Watching my favorite teams at odd hours via slow internet streams just didn’t cut it, and while going to sporting events where I am is a small comfort, I am never going to follow Mexican bullfighting, Venezuelan baseball, Peruvian football, Rwandan basketball, or Buenos Aires polo when I am at home.  [Although I happily watched Super Bowl XLV live.]

I am grateful that I was in a country that was a soccer loving one with time time zones close to the original for some of the world cup matches.  Before joining the Peace Corps, I had hoped to score tickets to World Cup|Russia, but watching the games in this tiny corner of the world where soccer rules, is great for international bonding.

  •  Food variety. If I ever eat white rice again, it will be too soon. Seriously, that seemed to be the hallmark of almost every single meal I’ve eaten over the few months. I wasn’t a big fan to begin with, but having it on the plate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner got old. Fast!

  One of the staples of Rwandan cuisine is–you guessed it–white rice.  It’s no wonder I never eat this in America.

  • Free, non-carbonated water in restaurants. Again, this should be self-explanatory. Plenty of places offered free snacks, but free water? Not a chance.
  • Public transportation. Even though back home I do not live in an area with good public transportation, I like going to places where it’s accessible and easy to use.  MARTA in Atlanta has gotten me where I needed to be on more than one occasion.  Subways in Rome, New York, London, Moscow and Buenos Aires are amazing.  If I didn’t live in a rural area, I’d be all about using light rail (like Seattle’s metro link that whisks me to and from the airport to the center of town without issue) or whatever was available.  Motor bike taxis, bicycle taxis, mini buses, cars nearly falling apart, and cabs—not so much to my liking.

Bogota’s TransMileno is surprisingly efficient, and while crowded at times, it is a much better option than loading up a minibus to maximum capacity +1 and having people yell ‘stop’ when they want to get off the bus.

  • Knowing where to find things. Again, yes, you can buy just about everything you need on the road even in tiny remote villages in the middle of nowhere.  But finding those things can be a challenge. In most of the places I visited (and Madagascar is no exception), daily essentials were spread out among many smaller stores and it took me days (or weeks) to figure out where to go for what I needed.

OH, how I love Target. I spent part of my last visit to Seattle walking around this three story gem located right in the middle of the city. They had everything…

  • Not paying to use the toilet.  Or even finding a toilet when needed. I think this one is self-explanatory.  Fun fact:  did you know that, according to The Guardian, the top 10 worst places in the world to find a toilet are in Africa. One is Madagascar [4th worst place in the world to find a toilet] and two of Rwanda’s neighbors also make the list [Tanzania and Congo]  and there is a World Toilet Day (it is November 19th if you’re curious), dedicated to keeping everyone’s shit corralled so that fecal contamination of the water supply as well as diseases transmitted via the fecal-oral route are diminished.

  Another Peace Corps’ goal:  to make myself a luxurious toilet where my knees don’t creak every time I must use it or in emergency             situations, shit does not splash on my shoes/feet.

  •  Respect for people’s time. Even though I am not a scheduler by nature, I do appreciate time.  At home, when someone says “let’s meet at 8:00,” they generally mean “let’s meet at 8:00.” If they are running late, they will call or text you to let you know. We have a basic appreciation for people’s time and not wasting it. Such was not the case while I was traveling. Nothing seemed to start on time and someone saying they would meet you at 8:00 meant hopefully they would be there by 9:00 – likely with no contact whatsoever to indicate they may be late. When we were planning anything that include non-Americans  we always gave a fake time. 7:00 meant 8:00 or so. Indeed, most people didn’t arrive until closer to 8:30. I think this just reflects a more laid back attitude, but as someone who hates waiting around for no good reason, I will take the American way every day.

German trains and s-bahns are always so punctual. If I lived in Germany, I’d never be late anywhere.

Alexanderplatz

 I have found a general lack of respect for time in nearly every corner of the globe… except Germany and Switzerland… oh how I love that  place; they are so punctual.

  •  American men. I know many women love over foreign men.  Heck, I have even dated foreign men [One abroad, one who had moved to USA], but overwhelmingly, the foreign men I have met [mostly Italians and Hispanics] are overbearing, controlling, condescending, and overprotective.  I do not like being yelled at or whistled to in the street.  I do not like being asked if I ‘want to fuck’ because those are the only English words they know.  For me, that machismo attitude is such a turn off!  Give me a good old American guy who can see a woman as his equal and appreciate her independence. A guy that smells clean, wears cologne sparingly, and bathes regularly. A guy who wears baseball hats and khakis rather than skinny jeans, and who is at least my height (5’9).  If he has green eyes and curly hair, well, I’m a smitten kitten.
  • Free wi-fi:  Wi-fi is slowly making its way down south, but it is not always free, nor is it always reliable.  It brings me back to the Ethernet cords I had in college. Or dial-up.  Both make me appreciate how prevalent wi-fi is in the USA. [and Canada and Europe].  2018 hasn’t brought many upgrades to the poorer corners of the world.

But what I miss most about being away from the USA, is people and kitty cats …co-workers, friends, and family + Lucy and Molly.

 

Jul 1, 2018 - Peace Corps    No Comments

Pre-Service Training

For those of you who like my soul searching [baring?] posts, this is not one of them.  Stay tuned next week for more of that.  This one is about pre-service training.  What exactly is pre-service training?  Glad you asked.  If you thought, like I did at one point, that as soon as I got on the plane, I was an official Peace Corps Volunteer, you would be incorrect.  At this point, I am a mere trainee.  So what exactly am I doing right now?

Pre-Service Training [aka PST, but what I will mostly call training because I think documents with too many acronyms suck]

  • PST is the Pre-Service Training that Peace Corps Trainees [me!] undergo before being sworn-in as official volunteers. It typically lasts 10-12 weeks and takes place in the country of service.  My training will last 11 weeks and will occur in the town of Rwamagana.  ,Rwamgana is a city of about 47,000, located in the Eastern part of the country.  It’s located at 5000 feet above sea level [think Denver], and is about 30 miles east of the capital.
  • The entire 10 weeks of training is scheduled with the exception of Sundays.
  • Kinyarwandan class runs most days from 9-1
  • Afternoon classes include technical topics like ‘hand washing’, ‘pooping in a hole’, ‘making Oral Re-hydration Salt’, ‘lighting a stove’, ‘taking a bath in a bucket’, ‘washing clothes by hand’, and other exciting topics like ‘preparing your Peace Corps reports’, ‘grant-writing 101’ ‘understanding the Rwandan genocide’ [side note:  can anyone really understand genocide? I have visited Auschwitz; I’ve been to Bosnia [and other countries of former Yugoslavia]; the location or the ‘reasons behind it’, genocide is something I’ll never truly ‘understand’.]
  • There are field trips!
  • And chances to feel like puppies at the pound [see ‘meeting the host family‘ and ‘site announcement’ coming soon]

Essentially training is like going to summer camp where you know no one and being a freshman at college where none of your friends went all at the same time. Then you make friends, get a little comfortable, and then the rug is pulled out from under your feet again.  This is training. And this is where some people quit. In Peace Corps’ parlance, it’s called early termination, and it essentially means you resign from your position as a  ‘volunteer’.

One of the more fun weeks… where we learn ‘permagardening’, and meet our future health center ‘bosses.’

 

 

 

 

In general, I’m not to suffer from test anxiety.  In addition to the standard barrage of testing one does while in k-12 , I’ve taken the SAT, ACT, AP subject exams, GRE, MCAT, 2 respiratory licensing exams + one specialty exam, TEAS, an entire nursing program full of ATI exams, and NCLEX. However, the one thing all of these exams have in common is that they are computerized.  No talking required.  I very nearly didn’t graduate from my first go around in college due to the ORAL PROFICIENCY EXAM.  I have always suffered from a crippling fear of public speaking/performance, and while I’ve gotten better as I’ve aged [matured?], it is still one of my least favorite things to do on the entire planet.

One of the requirements to be sworn in as a volunteer is to achieve a certain level on the language exam.  It varies from language to language and program to program, but essentially one must score somewhere between novice-high and intermediate-mid depending on the difficulty of the language. The exam usually takes place in the next to last week of training and is essentially a recorded interview in the target language and is graded to determine a person’s fluency.  [Side note:  Google translate does not have Kinyarwandan as an option.]

Pre-Service Training concludes for everyone on the day of Swearing-IN, [for me, this occurs on August 14, 2018] which is a big ceremony with government officials and TV crews and fancy clothes. After taking our oaths we officially become Peace Corps Volunteers. Immediately after the ceremony we travel to our permanent sites and begin the two years [more or less] on our own. It’s an intense day.

And here I am thinking Peace Corps’ would be fun

Jun 6, 2018 - Peace Corps    1 Comment

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…

May 19, 2018 - Hideaway, Peace Corps    No Comments

The Hideaway

A lot of Peace Corps’ Volunteers post photos and /or videos about their Peace Corps’ homes–and I plan to do that as well.  But this one is a little different.  While I’ve still got a few more days until I depart for Rwanda, I wanted to celebrate my new home, and what I hope will be my home for many years.

I acquired this house in October 2017.  At the time it became available, I had already been in the Peace Corps’ application/clearance process for a year. So while I wasn’t 100% sure I’d be joining, I’d already been through a lot of the steps.

When I moved in it look like 1990 made a pit stop and never left.  The walls were cranberry-colored and they had put wallpaper on the cabinet doors. The oven/stove combo dated back to 1970.

Wall-papered cabinets? Not the best design decision

One of the first things that happened was a new metal roof.  While a new roof was needed, the decision to go with metal was my own.

Next up, was a lot of wallpaper removal and painting.  And patching holes.  And more painting.  I got my ‘Africa’ room done first.  It needed the least amount of surface prep so it was relatively quick to paint the accent wall ‘Moroccan Red, and the other walls ‘Ethiopia’.  With curtains hung and furniture from my previous living space, this room served as my bedroom for the first few months.  It’s the smallest of the three bedroom, and now functions as a guest room… you know, should anybody living more than 50 miles away visit.

In the beginning… Wallpaper removal. Cranberry walls

Then I worked on my ‘office’.  While I don’t do a lot in here, I do have my big, comfy chair, and my desk in here. I’ve since added a bookcase and a long dresser.  I have a TV/DVD which is almost never used, but this is where I come to study [file papers, scrapbook, ect…].  My favorite wall is the checkerboard wall in orange and white representing The University of Tennessee.  I also have my college diplomas hanging in here as well.

The Checkerboard Wall… a mighty pain to paint that, but it looks spectacular now

The living room and kitchen/dining room took a lot of time.  The walls are mostly veneer paneling that I’ve painted over.  When I do my major remodel post Peace Corps, walls are being moved and it’s all becoming drywall, but for now I went with a blue accent wall [Caribbean Blue] and a moody gray [London Fog]. I’m using a muted orange as an accent in the living room.

Travel Wall!

Muted orange couch and curtain. Black kitty cats fit in nicely.

For the kitchen, I went with a more neutral shade of gray, concrete counter tops dyed black, a 3D aluminum splash back, and a muted gray subway tile in the dining room and counter top I created next to the oven.  Around Thanksgiving/Christmas, I got new appliances [stove/oven combo, dishwasher, refrigerator] in a slate finish.  I painted all the upper cabinets bright white and lower ones gray.  I finished the look with a industrial knob pull on all the cabinet doors.

First meal cooked in the new oven: baked spaghetti

New oven, gray walls, industrial-style door pulls, and wall decorations

Black concrete, aluminium splash-back

My bedroom is green with brown accents and the bathroom is a hot mess of mis-design that I can’t even deal with until I knock walls down and do a re-design, but at least I have a shower, a working toilet, and a bathtub should I feel compelled to use it

I’m most proud of the walkway and flower beds I added in the time from the original Madagascar departure until the current Rwanda departure.

I’ve got big plans for the back yard space including a screened in porch off the bedroom, adding a breakfast nook off the kitchen, and creating a ground-level patio and fire pit.

The house itself is pretty modest by American standards, but most impressive by world standards.  I’m not exactly sure what my living situation will be in Rwanda, but I am guessing Lucy and Molly will have a higher standard of living that I will.