Tag Archives: Peace Corps Rwanda

Swearing in and Moving Out

On Tuesday August 14, 2018 despite any reservations anyone may or may not have had, I, along with 22 others was sworn in as a Peace Corps volunteer in Rwanda representing cohort Health 10.

I wore a fancy dress. I put on make-up. I danced on live TV. I listened to speeches given by my fellow trainees/volunteers, the Charge d’Affairs, the Country Director, the Program Manager, the director of Training, a Ministry of Health official, and a tuitulaire.  Some speeches were in English; some were in Kinyarwanda, and around noon, after starting nearly an hour behind schedule, I stood, raised my right hand, and swore to protect the constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic.

It’s the same oath everyone who works for the government takes including the US Military.  The military was never intended to be my career path, but in taking the same oath that several friends and family have taken, I felt a momentary surge of patriotic pride.

After becoming an official volunteer, we munched on snacks and Fanta, and mingled with the people there.  All in all, it was one of the happier days since arriving in Rwanda.

All good things must come to an end, and around 1:30 we were escorted to immigration to get our Rwandan ID cards made.  These cards mark our official residency status and in theory gives up Rwandan citizen status especially at places that charge a higher price for foreign tourists [Rwandan national parks, I’m looking at you].

Things get crazy while waiting out turns at immigration

On Tuesday evening, after the ceremony and after immigration, nearly everyone went out for drinking and dancing. I know myself well enough to know that would have been a mistake on my part, so I spent a quiet evening at home—home, one again, being our Catholic nunnery.  Before anyone starts to feel sorry for me for ‘missing out’ on anything, having the nunnery to myself was pretty awesome.   I had unlimited food and drink [I think I had 5 fantas and at least 2 plates of food], I was able to take a hot shower that lasted longer than 5 minutes [seriously, only my second since leaving America. The first one being at the PC infirmary a mere two weeks prior].  Without any competing devices, I was able to use the internet to my hearts’ content, download books to my Kindle, movies to my hard drive, and even video chat on WhatsApp.  I had a perfectly enjoyable evening doing the things I love with the people I love, and didn’t suffer the hangover that most of my cohort had.

Glow in the dark Jesus for the win

Thanks to a Catholic holiday, we had a free day on Wednesday saving the actual moving until Thursday, and thankfully, most stores are not Catholic and were open for business. I’m not a huge shopper, but I did enjoy hanging out at the bookstore with the rooftop bar, getting my gas stove and a few other home goods, and going to the grocery store getting some food favorites in preparation for my first weekend alone.

Thursday morning involved moving all the stuff that had been stored in a room up to the parking lot to be loaded in to the moving vehicle.  I was as surprised as anyone when everything was loaded, and two volunteers’ stuff for two years fit in one Toyota pick-up truck.  Good byes were said; tears were shed, and off we went [I admit to remaining mostly stoic until one of my Northern friends hugged me and had tears in her eyes. Then my eyes did the same].  With bananas and bread in hand [who can eat breakfast at an emotional time like this] plus a couple bottles of water, my fellow volunteer and I set off to the South.

 

I still can’t believe nothing fell off the truck while we we’re moving

We dropped her off first, and I was a little envious of her site. A proper house with a small front porch, right in town, with neighbors for visiting.  Her HC happened to be a 15 minute or so walk which is just about perfect.  [I can hear the babies being vaccinated from inside my house].

Somewhere between her site an mine

After she was ‘installed’, we bumped along back roads for about an hour until we reached the town of Nyanza, and the dirt roads once again turned to pavement. Another 30-45 minutes later, we pulled up to my house. Things were unloaded; the gas stove was tested [it worked!], and suddenly I was alone… truly alone for the first time in quite some time.

I had planned for this eventuality, had ample international phone credit and data, and set about to making my first meal in my ‘new home.’ [It was delicious].  I unpacked a few things, hung some wall decor, made my bed [pulling out my quilt for the first time], and listened to some tunes.  Later on, I called some friends. Past experiences have taught me that I don’t make the best decisions when I’m either hungry, angry, lonely, or tired, and on my first night here, I was two of the four.

First meal at the new homestead… Moving all that stuff in the house is hard work

On Friday, I made my way down to the city, to get a few more food items, go to the bank, meet some current volunteers, have some Chinese food, and start to figure out how all this works.

I am in a small village in rural Rwanda.  Doing things the way I am used to doing is no longer an option.

This is my new normal.

 

 

By the numbers: 1st edition

This post is a little different than previous posts as I am currently visiting my future home. I thought I would quantify my experience in Rwanda thus far.

0: Number of pants that I brought that still fit.  Note: I still wear all the pants that are too big so my outfits these days are quite comical. Also the number of things i have accidentally dropped into the latrine. Thankfully.

1: Number of kittens I’ve seen. Also number of kittens that currently live at my house. Also the number of times I have eaten fish.

2: Number of volunteers from South Carolina in my cohort. Also number of volunteers from South Carolina that I know.

3: Number of ikitenge fabrics I’ve bought and have had made into clothing. Also the average number of liters of water I drink daily.

 

5: KM….Distance to Huye/Butare, the second largest city in Rwanda. I’m about to become a city girl.

6: number of pizza bites I ate at our last training meeting. They were delicious.

8. Number of times I have eaten spaghetti with tomato sauce after I explained that I don’t just like plain noodles. Also the number of people in my cohort also placed in the south.

10: number of kilograms I’ve list since arriving in Rwanda. This is not surprising as my activity level has increased and my caloric intake had decreased.

15: % number of women who currently seeking prenatal care at my health centre.

23: Number of people remaining in our cohort. One person left about two weeks ago.

49: Days since I left South Carolina.

86: Currently the number of children that suffer from malnutrition registered at my health center. My goal is to reduce it to 0.

148: Number of current Peace Corps volunteers in Rwanda serving in health and education. The distribution is about 2/3 education and 1/3 health.

~500: Words. My approximate Kinyarwanda vocabulary. This is a gross estimate and may be more or less.

 

725+/-: Days remaining in the Peace Corps assuming things go as planned.

36700+/-: The number of people in my cachement area. A cachement area is the geographical area a specific health center serves. My cachement area is the largest in Rwanda.

42000: Rwandan francs I receive every two weeks. It’s approximately $40 and I use it to buy lunch everyday as well as fabric/clothing, phone credit, data package, and anything else that pops up.

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.