September 23 2018

From Trainee to Volunteer 5: Home wasn’t built in a day

This is the last post in my series From Trainee to Volunteer relating the trials and tribulations transitioning from Peace Corps’ Trainee to Peace Corps’ Volunteer [See the others here:  Swearing In, Site, Goals, and Expectations]

 

The first time I cried during Peace Corps service was Monday during site visit.  We arrived on Saturday, and that Saturday morning had been last meal.   Also keys to the latrine and shower were missing and I was told to ‘just use what the others are using’.  There are a lot of things I can deal with but sharing bathroom facilities with 20 or so others isn’t one of them.  And so I didn’t.  I only went to the bathroom at the health center and didn’t bathe for the entire week [yeah, by Friday, I was pretty disgusted by myself].

I brought snacks—peanuts, eggs, chips, a couple of bananas and 8L of water smuggled out of St Agnes—I didn’t realize that these snacks would be my only food for three days. I went to work that Monday morning—really in a state of shock—came back at lunch, went in the room that is now the kitchen, sat on the floor and cried.  Big, giant ugly tears.  I was hungry. I didn’t know where anything was to even get food. Other volunteers were staying with host families and current volunteers.  I was in a two room house with no electricity [let me clarify that the house has electricity; I just had no way to access it during site visit] by myself. I called a friend and said ‘I have to get out of here now’, and to his credit, he didn’t say ‘just tell me when to pick you up.’  He probed around for the cause of my mini-mental breakdown, and we created a plan for getting me food which would lead to a better head space—one that was more equipped to deal with the challenges of serving in the Peace Corps.

All this to say that it was not love at first sight at my site.  I arrived late in the afternoon on Thursday and the first thing I did was set up a basic kitchen.  We’d missed lunch and St. Cristus’ breakfast was not nearly as complete as St. Agnes’ breakfast was and I knew that the last thing I wanted was to have another meltdown due to lack of food since I still did not know where anything was.  I had my pots and pans and a special bag of food I’d gotten in Kigali in preparation for making this meal easily accessible, and set about making my first meal.

First Peace Corps’ meal at site

Later on a full belly, I set about unpacking and settling in.  I hung my US Flag, SC flag, US map and UT flag on the walls.  I hung two large ikitenge fabrics on the walls. I made my bed then sat on the couch and opened up my first care package [from me]. While eating a Heath Bar [that amazingly didn’t melt] and reading going away cards/letters, I formulated a plan to turn the two rooms on the corner into something of a home.

‘Murica, the great state of South Carolina, and the University of Tennessee make up the wall decor in my living room

My bedroom has these amazing brown curtains that have hung in every place I’ve lived since 2009.  My bed has two pillows [from home], a nice weight quilt [from Target] and a fuzzy blanket [from T-2000]. Next to the bed, my large duffel bag now serves as an end table.  I keep all my electronic cords here since it’s near the outlet and I use electronics in bed anyway. [I know…I know…bad sleep hygiene]. The large green bucket has many uses but most of the time it serves as my dirty clothes container. I have a small trash can that I put trash in.  On the floor I have my small rug [purchased in Rwamagana] that allows me to walk around barefoot. The accordion wall hanger, an over the door hanger and about 15 nails make this room ‘homey’.  Lastly I’ve hung a few photos up on one side of over my bed, and cards, notes, and motivational sayings on the other side.

 

I had a local carpenter make a table that I sit my two metal chests on. [The smaller chest contains socks, underwear, tank tops, ect and the larger one tops and pants.

Bicycle delivery of two tables costing approximately $20 each; also you can see the health center where I work in the back ground.

My living room is more generic with the sofa, two chairs, and coffee tables all belonging to the landlord. In this room, I just moved the furniture to a different location than where the previous volunteer had it. I hung up the flags, added some glow in the dark stars, another accordion wall hanger, and a hook for my moto helmet. I have a small stool and two basins by the front door for no other reason than I don’t know where else to put them and that space looks empty.

The curtains hanging over the two windows and front door I made myself from a panel of ikitenge fabric I’d bought because I liked it, but had no idea what to do with it.  I also like that it’s black, and although not black-out does a decent job of keeping it dark. I keep the windows open nearly 24/7 [I know…. I know… bad example for preventing malaria], and most of the time the breeze coming in keeps it pretty cool in here.

The latrine is your basic squatty potty, but instead of just having a hole directly underneath, this one has a concrete step and is built at an angle.  So I have to pour water in after I use it to ensure the products end up in the intended destination.  I have to ‘flush’ my latrine.

I’m most impressed with my little shower room. I still don’t shower every day [for example, I’m not getting naked outside when it’s cold out], but this room makes is a lot nicer when I do.  I keep all my supplies together so it’s a ‘just add water’ situation when I do shower.  It still smells like shit but what can you expect when it’s located next to the cow stalls and has ‘open-air ventilation.’

Finally on the tour of my little house on the corner is the kitchen. I spend more daylight hours in this room than any other, and not because I’m in there cooking all the time. Twenty five nails in the wall have made this kitchen a home. I have a place for the pots and pans, the hand towels, the oven mitts, coffee mugs, and kitchen utensils.

 

One table, courtesy of the health center, holds my gas stove, PC-issued water filter, and a dish drain.  I had a table similar to the one in my bedroom made and keep it in the kitchen. I use this one for food prep and dry goods storage.  The 4 tier plastic shelf holds fruits and vegetables as well as plates and plastic storage.  The chair in the corner was relocated from the house. I moved it from the bedroom to the kitchen.  It gives me a place to sit ‘outside’ but still inside. I also have a small stool and two basins that are put into use when I’m doing dishes or laundry.  My favorite pieces are the two shelves I made from scrap wood.  I’ve got one hanging in the kitchen as a spice rack of sorts, and the other in the shower room holding toiletries.

I still miss my little house in the country, and the two kitties that live there, but over the last month, taking the time to make this a little space a little more like me, makes it easier to be away from my ‘real’ home.

I miss this girl more than I should
August 26 2018

From Trainee to Volunteer 2: Site announcement, first visit, and first week

I touched on the fact that I wasn’t altogether happy with my site back when we had the announcement.  I didn’t pitch a fit, cry, or really display any type of emotion, but the fact was nearly everything I had said in the interview concerning site placement, I ended up with the opposite.

I wanted to be a ‘first generation’ volunteer; instead I’m the third at this site, the last having been a Peace Corps’ poster child. [The only poster I’m ever going to end up on is a ‘Wanted’ poster].

I wanted to be rural. While I do live in a rural village per se, I can, and in fact do, walk to Rwanda’s second largest city. There’s pizza and ice cream and Chinese food.  There’s a university and an arboretum. Connectivity leaves a lot to be desired, but it’s a small inconvenience.

Huye has legit coffee milkshakes that are worth hanging around for

I wanted to be in the mountains, near one of the national parks. I’m near exactly zero mountains and the closest park in over three hours away.  I have a lot of hills, some very large hills to be exact, but it’s not like being in the mountains. It’s like being in the Midwest; you’re not exactly at sea level, but not really in the mountain and both the mountains and sea are quite a long way away.

Site visit was rough.  There was a food issue [there wasn’t any], a bathroom issue [missing keys meant I was to share with everyone else],  a work issue [what the hell am I supposed to be doing], a counterpart issue [he took me to bars after I said I don’t drink and left me to find my way home in the rapidly approaching darkness], and a supervisor issue [when I called PC about the lack of food, he became offended and probably embarrassed—I haven’t seen him since].  Getting home was no picnic as I’d agreed to meet some others and while I was at the bus station by 8am, no one else was.  One person of the four showed and we were on our way at 10:30, a full two hours behind schedule.

The day went from bad to worse and at 10p when I crawled into my bed back in Rwamagana, I wanted nothing to do with anyone.

Sometimes I am amazed at my own stubbornness and why I didn’t decide to GTFO after that week from hell, I’ll never know, but here I am, a full month later, still in the Peace Corps, still at my site, still trying to figure out what to do.

My first week at site was challenging, and to be fair, I’d guess most people’s week was challenging as well.  However, in addition to starting a new job and meeting new people, and figuring out what it is exactly that I am supposed to be doing, I had the challenges of having both an absent boss and counterpart.  Throw in that I still struggle a lot with Kinyarwanda, it made for a very long week [even though I only ‘worked’ four days].

I’m trying.  That’s all I can do.

Do laundry while its sunny; rain clouds blow in a soon as it’s hung up to dry. An apt metaphor for how things are going.