Wait? Are you still in Rwanda? The Peace Corps? The short answer to that question is no. No, I am not.
As of February 3, 2019 I left Rwanda for what I think will be the absolute last time, but I’ve learned to never say never. Earlier this year I was medically separated from the Peace Corps. No hard feelings there, but as medical separation goes, it is a bit of a cluster-fuck. PC rarely gives you warning that you are being medically separated, therefore there are a lot of unresolved issues that crop up. Rarely is there the opportunity to say good-bye to your cohort, let alone any friends you may have made in other cohorts, and even worse, there’s no opportunity to say good-bye to your community, or pack up what ever of your belongings you want to take with you.
I was medically separated on January 4, 2019. I was medically evacuated a week or so prior. I lived in the infirmary at Peace Corps Head Quarters in Kigali for 36 days. I left my little house on the corner on November 17, thinking I’d return in just over a week thanks to a Peace Corps training. But no, I never did return owing that to an injury suffered while at said training.
However, I already had Peace Corps vacation plans for the month of February so upon arriving back in the US, I did my laundry, organized my stuff, and prepared for returning to Rwanda [I KNOW!], this time not as a Peace Corps Volunteer, but as a private citizen with a still somewhat banged-up leg. I arrived to Kigali on January 22, spent the night in Kigali, shot down to Butare and hung out with friends. Made my way to Nyungwe National Forest… which was just as amazing as I thought it would be. Then I scooted up the coast of Lake Kive to Kibuye and Gisenyi, did some hiking on the Congo-Nile trail, crossed over into the DRC, scooted over to Musanze, made a run for the border and made my way to the ‘Equator’ sign in Uganda, and had a short but memorable safari at Akagera National Park. Finally it was onward to Kigali once again for the originally scheduled flight back to America.
So to recap: GSP–>ATL–>BRU–>KIG–>[11 days in Rwanda + 2 days in Uganda]–>AMS [7 hour layover in Amsterdam where I went out and explored the city]–>WAS–>GSP and in a month’s time I’ll go GSP–>WAS–>PAR–> LON–>ATL–>GSP. 6 weeks of a true whirl-wind exploring parts of Rwanda, the Netherlands, France, and England.
So what’s next?: After my injury, I did some contingency planning and applied to a couple of grad school programs. I just found out that I’ve been accepted to at least one of them. Starting tomorrow, I am back to work at the same job I was at before leaving for the Peace Corps [I’m not sad about that; I loved working there and my co-workers]. I still need some time to process everything that has happened in the last 9 months, but one day I hope to be able to look back on my time with the Peace Corps as a positive time where I did my best to help the people of the community of Mbazi. That time is not today, but I think with time, it will come.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
Let’s begin with: I HATE PACKING. AND SHOPPING. AND WAITING. Add to it that I have already done this once when I thought I’d be heading to Madagascar [Read Every. Single. Thing. I packed for Madagascar] in February. 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. Comprehensive as in just over 5000 coherent words on what to bring to your Peace Corps’ adventure. Keep in mind that this is a Pre-Departure List, and I plan to update [List updated September 2018 after having spent one month at site] it once I’m fully installed at my future site. The format essentially reads like this:
What not to bring
Let’s start with what not to bring. Peace Corps will provide a twin sized mattress, a mosquito net, a solar lamp, one bucket, one cup and a water filter. PC also provide malaria medication, general first-aid supplies, sunscreen, condoms, and any prescription medicine you have scripts for. They will also treat any acquired illnesses so unless you just want, you really don’t need a full sized first-aid kit [Full disclosure: I brought every conceivable first aid item available and even some that aren’t. I’m also a RN in the US, and will have to be damn near dead or have something unusual come up for me to call the PCMOs for anything. But that’s me…] For those who are going to Rwanda but not with the 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.
I have a friend that says there aren’t many problems in the world that can’t be solved with copious application of money. I’d apply that to the Peace Corps’ as well. If you buy absolutely nothing new for PC from the time you get your invitation until you leave, and save that money, it should go pretty far in rural Rwanda [not so much in Kigali]. If you’re planning on bringing some cash, bring hundred dollar bills that are 2006 or more current. I’m not sure why this is, but Rwandan banks don’t accept the older bills. Not little headed Benjamins, but 2006 or newer big headed Benjamins. 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. It’s nice to have a stash to supplement the moving in allowance especially if you are headed to a new site and have to buy everything.
A lot of places in Kigali and other larger towns take credit cards so having one or two is a good idea as a back up to cash. Credit cards are also a good idea if you want to buy a plane ticket or stay in nicer hotels while on vacation.
Luggage: I need containers to get my stuff from here to there
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 [Also, the handle broke during one of the many times this bag was moved during training. It is essentially a 30″ high night stand now and will not be making the trip across the Atlantic with me–the bag is still functional for sure, but the draw of having a wheeled duffel bag was to extend the handle and drag it behind me… so while the bag is very large and sturdy, Rwanda broke the plastic handle]
8 year old 65L hiking backpack that has already seen half the world.
Osprey Porter 46–a 46L bag with backpack straps that can be removed and carried like a tote. This bag does not have wheels, but is otherwise an awesome bag
A tote bag–also a carry-on–In it, I’ll carry a book and assorted small odds and ends + my electronics and sleeping kit.
I also have a school sized backpack packed in the bags and another small canvas/cloth tote that I will use as a market bag.
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: 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.
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: It gets quite cool in the mornings during the rainy season in the south and even colder in the North. I’m glad I brought it.
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 both as a rain jacket, a wind breaker, and for covering my skin on moto rides
Item: Cardigan x3. One black; one silver/gray, and one orange.
Rationale: It can get cool. These can spiffy up t-shirts and make me look more professional
Verdict: I wear the black one the most, but do wear all of them especially on those rain-cooled mornings.
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. One doesn’t quite fit, and the other is even too nice for Rwanda and will be going back home with me when I visit the USA next year.
Item: T-shirts x7. Plain, colorful
Rationale: I wear these all the time. Even to work.
Verdict: I love that I have these. I’m bringing a few more when I return from my vacation
Item: Long-sleeve T-shirt
Rationale: Sometimes my elbows get cold
Verdict: I usually sleep in these so I’m glad I have them
Item: Hoodie x2
Rationale: They’re fashionable. They have long sleeves. And a hood.
Verdict: One is essentially a long sleeved t-shirt. I wear it to bed some, and around the house when it’s chilly. The other one is nice and soft and somewhat stylish. It’s too nice for Rwanda to break so it’s going back home with me next year.
Item: Flannel Shirt
Rationale: Because why not?
Verdict: I don’t wear if often but I do wear in around the house as sort of a light weight jacket. I’m glad I brought it.
Item: Pants x 5. Dark brown, dark grey, khaki, dark green, and black + one pair of jeans. Also known as hiking pants. Also scrub pants x1 in dark gray.
Rationale: I need something to cover my butt
Verdict: I’m glad I have the scrubs, and I’ve already sent for more. I’ve already lost 15 pounds in just over three months and while that is good for my overall health, most of my pants are comically large now. I can now only wear the scrub pants and pants that can be belted.
Item: Skirts x2–one mid-calf brown skirt and one slightly below the knee blue.
Rationale: Sometimes skirts are more comfortable than pants
Verdict: I haven’t worn them at my site, but I wore them frequently at training. In order for me to wear a skirt it needs to be a special occasion or above 75 degrees. Neither of those have happened yet.
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, and will be bringing these on my return voyage
Item: Socks and underwear x a lot…seriously I think I have close to 40 pairs of underwear and 20 pairs of socks
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.
Verdict: During training, I took out 6 pairs of underwear and 4 pairs of socks and used those exclusively. Once I moved in to my house, I took another 6 pairs of underwear and 4 pairs of socks and put them in rotation… so now I have 12 pairs of underwear and 8 pair of socks in rotation. At the 8,16, 24 month mark, I will remove the too worn items and replace as necessary. In reserve I have 5 pairs of underwear and 3 pair of socks for my COS trip. I have found that the cotton ones have a much shorter lifespan that the quick-dry kind.
Item: Bras. I have 3 sports bras and 4 regular bras
Rationale: I have larger than average boobs and would like to keep them corralled and would prefer do fight gravity a little while longer
Verdict: I wear them everyday so I look for comfort. One sports bra is now too big. The regular bras can be adjusted. I’m glad I brought the different styles, types, and sizes.
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 brought or will bring back the following: 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. I found an inexpensive pair on Amazon and will most likely gift these to someone when I COS. Trail-running shoes. I wear these as my every day shoes [Shoe stylish I am not]. 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.
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. The Teva dress sandals were worn for swearing-in and will be returning to America. Also returning to America will be the Keen leather shoes. In its place will be coming rain boots and hiking boots. The Keen shoes are not practical for two hour one-way treks up and down hills.
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, but I will be bringing the fuzzy pajama pants when I return. Some nights are beyond chilly and with no HVAC of any kind, clothing and blankets are what keep me warm.
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.
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, but hold hope that one day I will.
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, 3 measuring cups [1/2c,1/3c, and 1/4c]
Verdict: I ended up not bringing the cutting board and was lucky enough to be left a nice wooden one. The knives and measuring cups I use daily; the spoons not so much
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: Surprisingly enough, I grate a lot of things…carrots, ginger, garlic… things I never grated back home. I’m glad I have one
Item: Can opener
Rationale: Opening cans without it is super hard
Verdict: I now have two, and have yet to open a single can with it. There just aren’t a lot of canned things and most things have the pop-top
Item: Stainless Steel Water Bottle
Rationale: I don’t want to have to buy all my water and drink out of a puddle isn’t acceptable
Verdict: I wish I had this earlier, but I’m glad I have it now. I drink between 2.5-3.5 liters of water a day and it’s pretty easy to do when I only have to fill up my bottle a couple times a day.
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 them. I’ll just peel the damn vegetables.
Verdict: I rarely peel vegetables… I’ll probably end up with a gut full of parasites, but peeling vegetables is a chore I cannot get behind. I do however wash them in treated water, and cook or pickle them long enough that I hope the germs are gone.
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: I use the salt and pepper everyday. And the cinnamon when I have oatmeal. And Italian seasoning when I make spaghetti. Haven’t used the others yet, but I will. Also I need more pepper.
Item: Zip-lok bags
Rationale: They are illegal in Rwanda and I’m a rebel. Also I use these nearly everyday.
Verdict: I should have brought more.
Item: Head lamp and other solar charged lights
Rationale: The electrical grid is not reliable
Verdict: I ended up bringing two head lamps and one extra solar lamp. The electricity goes out frequently and my kitchen doesn’t even have electricity so if I end up cooking any time past 5:30, I’m doing it in the dark. The headlamps are especially useful for the kitchen. I keep one in the kitchen and one in the bedroom. The other lamp stays in the shower room.
Rationale: I need food. Hopefully the climate is conducive to growing them. They don’t take up much space
Verdict: I haven’t used them yet because I live in a concrete compound, and haven’t figured out exactly how to use them yet. I’m thinking about taking one of my basins and making in a shallow, portable container garden. I can at least grow herbs, lettuce [which is impossible to find], and maybe something like a squash in it]
All these items are in my box that is currently in transit.
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, and a cheap pair I picked up right before leaving for $10. Options include a single [90cm], full sized [120cm] queen sized [140cm] and giant [200cm]. My bed at training was a single and my bed at site is the 140cm variety, but because these are expensive, I opted for a 120cm with a little space on the side and I have my PC mattress on top so I’m sleeping like the princess and the pea.
Verdict: I ended up buying sheets here, because I found a pair I like and I have essentially a queen size bed here. The other sheets will return to America with me
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. Also I was left 3 towel at my site. I have used all five at some point.
Item: Swiss Army Knife
Rationale: When is this not a good idea?
Verdict: It’s small. I’ve used, but I haven’t needed it.
Item: Sleeping bag
Rationale: It may solve the sheet problem. I may need to visit others.
Verdict: I also left this at home. Camping is not a thing in Rwanda and the blanket I brought is sufficient for visiting others.
Rationale: It gets cold and this one packs up small
Verdict: I use it frequently and is one of the best things I brought.
Item: Quilted comforter
Rationale: It’s warm and homey
Verdict: Even though this was a bitch to pack, and I never used it during training, it is on my bed now, and it is one of the items I am most glad that I brought. I got a full/queen sized one of medium weight and love having it. I almost want to bring it back home when I COS but it doesn’t match any of my decor and I don’t want to carry it around during my COS trip.
Item: Pillow X2
Rationale: I sleep much better with my own things
Verdict: I am so glad I brought not one but two pillows with me. I used one in training and now that I’ve got my own space [and bed] both of them are out. Also Rwandan pillows are crap…either lumpy foam or hard as a rock with no give.
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: I could use more notebooks. Mine got wet and are now falling apart. One travel journal is a gratitude journal I write in everyday [even if its only ‘I have a roof over my head’ and read when I’m having down days, and while I don’t use the planner daily, I to at least try to plan out my weeks/months.
Rationale: I am a pen-whore and needed to downsize. Also I like to color code things.
Verdict: I ended up only bringing three. I should have known better. These are now in a care package currently in transit.
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: These are wholly unnecessary and will be returning to the US with me. I’ve used the pulse ox a few times and will most likely keep in here. As I’m currently at about 6000ft, it’s interesting to see how my oxygenation is changing as I get used to the altitude.
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 video chat 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 or get a solar set-up.
The Official 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, you don’t need to get one.
Rationale: I rarely go anywhere without it so of course, it was coming with me.
Verdict: I haven’t brought it out yet mainly because I self- conscious enough without it, but as I get to know people and as they get to know me, I plan to use it much more.
Items: Flash drives x2 32GB each
Rationale: I’ve been told I’ll need them. Verdict: Handy for transferring files, not entirely necessary
Rationale: It doesn’t work as a phone but with 64G of songs/podcasts, it’s a no-brainer.
Verdict: I listen to music every day so I’m glad I have it
Item: External speaker
Rationale: My laptop speakers are wretched. Rechargeable speakers are the solution
Verdict: See above
Rationale: Sometime you just need to chill
Verdict: I rarely use them, but am glad to have them
Item: USB charger
Rationale: Electronics need to charge
Verdict: There’s no such thing as too much stored power.
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. Also my kitchen doesn’t have electricity so I either have to eat at 5p or use my headlamp to cook
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: They’re amazing
Item: Outlet adapters
Rationale: For my items that have to plug into the wall, I’ve got a handful of light, simple adapters.
Verdict: Glad I thought of these
Rationale: 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
Verdict: I used it for swearing in and a couple of other times just for the hell of it, but I don’t even look in a mirror daily so make up seems a bit excessive. I’ll keep it just because it’s likely to go bad at home.
Rationale: Apparently stick deodorant is not a thing I can get here.
Verdict: I brought 3.5 sticks. I’m glad I have them and will be bringing back more. I average one stick ever 2.5 months.
Rationale: I’m sure I can find shampoo here if I look hard enough and am willing to pay enough, but who has the time and money for that.
Verdict: I cut my hair super short four days before leaving and the travel sized containers lasted one month. I’m now using my Dr. Bronner’s soap for shampoo as well as soap. It works OK, but I will be bringing back one bottle of 2-1 coconut scented shampoo/conditioner because as my hair grows, I’ll be using more shampoo
Item: Soap. I have both a bottle of peppermint Dr. Bronners soap and a very nice bar of woody-scented soap that feels amazing. I use them both
Rationale: I need to be clean
Verdict: Nice bar soap has been wonderful. I’m not a fan of bucket baths still, but I’m a fan of my soap.
Rationale: My lips are always dry. Burt’s Bees is magical.
Verdict: Yes, you can request these from med supply. No it’s not always available, it’s nice to have a back-up. And some in every single bag and jacket pocket you have.
Item: Dry Shampoo
Rationale: For when I can’t be bothered to wash my hair
Verdict: I’d never used dry shampoo before, but I love it. It smell coconut-like so it reminds me of the beach. It was really good during hot season when the back of my head would be all sweaty 5 minutes after washing it. Now I usually wash my hair once a week and dry shampoo it 2x/week.
Item: Toothbrush and toothpaste
Rationale: I don’t want dentures too soon
Verdict: I have brand favorites so I brought some. I also bought some Russian toothpaste in the grocery store and keep it in my weekend bag. That way if I forget it when visiting someone, I’m not super sad. I love my cinnamon toothpaste.
Item: Nail clippers, nail file, and polish
Rationale: Gnarly nails are not nice. I’ll pick one color to take with me when I COS and leave the rest behind
Verdict: My hair and nails have always grown fast and it’s no exception in Rwanda. I usually cut them every other week and shape on the in between week. I don’t paint my fingernails because it would do no good between the hand washing of dishes and clothes and generally just using my hands more, but I do like to keep some color on my toes.
Item: Travel bottles
Rationale: Lugging big bottles of things around suck, and little cheap baggies leak.
Verdict: They’re small and mine are cute. I use them when visiting other volunteers for the weekend and for the first 10 weeks in Rwanda.
Rationale: They may be my only source of nutrients some days…those days my diet consists of potatoes, rice, and pasta.
Verdict: I brought some gummy ones to supplement the PC provided pre-natal vitamins, and I’m glad I did. I hate the taste/smell of regular vitamins so I’m glad to get a break. In addition to regular multi-vitamins, I brought a B-complex since I’m not eating a lot of grains or eating much meat.
Item: 6 passport photos
Rationale: The Peace Corps said to
Verdict: I only brought 2 because those things are expensive [$15 for 2 at Walgreens]. I then got 6 printed at a shop in Rwanda for 3000RWF [about $3.25]. They are use to establish a banking account, apply for residency visa, and something else that I don’t remember. But you will need all 6.
Item: Purse and wallet
Rationale: You need somewhere to store your cash and backpacks aren’t always practical
Verdict: I bought a nice matching leather set right before I left. I haven’t used the purse much… essentially only when in Kigali, but the wallet stays in my backpack. Now that I’m at site, I don’t carry my backpack everywhere I go so the wallet often stays hidden in my house. I also have a small change purse for the never ending accumulation of coins and small bills needed for motos and transit. I am hoping to be able to take this on my COS trip and use it in America when I return.
Items: Entertainment such as playing cards and bananagrams
Rationale: Because when does a deck of cards not come in handy?
Verdict: I’ve yet to break out my cards [other people have always had a deck too], but I play bananagrams about once a week. It’s great for keeping up my English vocabulary.
Item: Tide-to-go pens
Rationale: Stains are a bitch to get out… especially when you have to hand wash clothes
Verdict: They’re cheap, light, I doubt I’ll regret having a few around. They have saved my life (or at least my shirt) multiple times.
There it is, my complete packing list for Peace Corps | Rwanda. I am also creating two separate lists of things I didn’t bring that I want to bring back when I come back from my US vacation… this list contains mostly food items, but also things like rain boots, and a third list of things I brought, and either don’t need, can’t use, or no longer fit.
My goal for COS is to be down to the 65L backpack plus whatever bag I have my electronics in, and I have no doubt that I can do it. I don’t plan on buying a ton of Rwandan thinks to take back to the US, and most clothing items will not be any good anyway. One backpack and one tote will be much easier to manage than 2 backpacks and 2 tote bags.
Every aspiring journalist knows what the five W’s are–it’s essentially a how to for writing. Who, What, When , Where, and Why. If you can answer all those questions, then you’ve got an effective story. So let’s begin, shall we?
I’m Michelle and until the end of May, I’ll be hanging out a my little house on the prairie in South Carolina. I’m a RN and will be working right up until I leave. I’m always up for an adventure.
I’ve accepted a position at a Maternal-Child Health in Rwanda with the Peace Corps. The official Peace Corps job description reads like this:
[This is the one for Guatemala; I’d suspect Rwanda is essentially the same.]
Maternal and Child Health Volunteers collaborate with health clinics, community organizations, and family members to promote healthier lives for mothers and children. Volunteers are assigned to health clinics in the most rural and needy communities where many children suffer from chronic malnutrition. You will help improve the training system of public health clinics to deliver high quality training to women, community members, and midwives to deepen their understanding of maternal, neonatal, and child health topics. All work done within the project will have a focus on behavior change, community empowerment, and sustainability.
Volunteers train health workers in adult education methodologies, behavior change theory, motivational interviewing, lesson planning, and overall development of educational resources. These actions will enhance health workers’ abilities to deliver high quality education. Having trained health workers and developed educational resources, Volunteers will co-plan and co-facilitate educational activities with household and community members, especially with women who are of reproductive age.
Volunteers with also work with the community at large, as community organization and empowerment is key to promoting community health. Volunteers and community members will engage in campaigns, activities, and projects to address community health needs. Methods include raising awareness around health issues, providing training on community project design and management, implementing educational projects, and implementing structural projects such as latrines, improved cook stoves, or vegetable gardens.
Technically, the journey begins on June 04, 2018. I will serve for 27 months, returning home [if all goes according to plan August 2020!] In all reality, the journey began September 2016 when I first applied. Since then, through the rounds of interviews, incredible amount of paperwork, and frequent doctor visits, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. [I’m still not getting my hopes up too much because my lastopportunityfell through]
Rwanda is a small country, technically in East Africa, but being land-locked, seems more central Africa to me. It borders Uganda, DRC, Tanzania, and Burundi. It’s mountainous; not as mountainous as Lesotho, but still not many places are. As a result of the altitude, despite being practically on the equator, the climate is much more temperate. It occasionally snows there. Rwanda is about the size of Massachusetts and is one of the more densely populated countries in Africa [1211 people/sq mile as compared to my current situation of about 150 people/ sq mile]. I’m about to get a whole lot of curious neighbors.
This is a complicated answer. Why am I completely flipping my world upside down and exchanging a comfortable life for Rwanda? Honestly, the simple answer is because I can. The more complicated [much, much more complicated] answer, I’ll discuss later.
and the new departure date in June 4–which gives me about 2.5 months to get ready. I’ll be in the Maternal-Child Health sector which focuses on the first 1000 days of life.
It’s not Madagascar; it’s certainly not where I thought I might go, but it is an opportunity to do something in a field I’m qualified to serve in.
It’s a small, land-locked country in Eastern Africa
The genocide that people immediately think about when they hear ‘Rwanda’ happened 24 years ago .
It’s a safe as if not safer than other African countries.
It shares a border with DRC; Lake Kivu [a large lake that serves as Rwanda’s answer to oceans. It has beaches!] separates the two countries
It’s capital is Kigali
It’s official languages are Kinyarwanda and English [Although French was an official language up until a few years ago]
It’s a more temperate climate due to its altitude so I may need long sleeves and sweatshirts.
The sun essentially rises and sets at 6a/6p every day.
There are four seasons: Rainy Season 1 and 2 and Dry Season 1 and 2
Rwanda probably has the best road in all of Africa [overall]
The mountain gorilla lives in Rwanda and Uganda and no where else on Earth
Rwanda has set a country goal to become Africa’s 1st middle-income country. I’m not exactly sure what all that entails, but it sure says a lot about the hope and progressive nature of this country.
So I don’t know a whole lot about what is to be my future home for the next two years, but it is still close enough to the Indian Ocean that I have a chance to swim in it. I hope I get to visit a few other nearby counties while I’m in the area [Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, maybe Mozambique… I’m looking at you especially]
What is this place?
Hi, I’m Michelle and this is my own little corner of the interwebs where I write, share photos, and interact with others in the blog-o-shpere. So in addition to that–Who am I? I am –in one way or another– the following: hiker + backpacker + swimmer + pediatric respiratory therapist + registered nurse + avid traveler + cat parent + gardener + photographer + medical science junkie + adventure-seeker + DIY enthusiast + voracious reader + history and science nerd + football fanatic + aging athlete + wannabe chef + trying not to succumb to the trappings of a 9-5 life. And beginning in 2018, a Peace Corps Volunteer in Rwanda.
Everyday life doesn’t have to be routine. Anyone can do just about anything he or she wants to do– sometimes one has to find creative ways in doing it. Sometimes one has to tear down the barriers that might stopping them. Everyday is an opportunity to choose your own adventure. That is what I ultimately write about.