Tag Archives: Peace Corps Rwanda

By the numbers 2: Food and Market

1:  Number of times I had pizza. Although advertised as ‘cheese pizza’ it certainly had a lot of onions on it.  Also the number of kilograms of peanuts and sugar purchase since August.

2:  Number of times I go to the market each week. Once to the Huye market and once to the Mbazi market.  I absolutely hate the market and as much as I hate the grocery store, I’m looking forward to just having to deal with Publix instead of 10 different people for 10 different items. Also number of kilograms of rice and beans purchased since August

4:  Number of new dishes I have learned to cook courtesy of my closest fellow volunteer who loves to cook

Potstickers… one of the dishes I’ve learned to cook in the last two months

5:  Number of times I have fixed spaghetti in the 2 months I’ve been at site. I went a couple of weeks without but now it’s my Friday night activity along with watching a movie—dinner and a movie… I’m leading a fancy life over here among the hills.

6:  Number of Rice Krispies Treats eaten in one day [I received 8 in a care package; had self control on day 1 and 2, then….] 3 number of days said rice crispy treats lasted

8:  The number of times I’ve eaten at the local Chinese restaurant. 4 number of different dishes I have tried at said restaurant.

Molly loves me

12:  Number of recipes in my current rotation.  Other than the spaghetti, this ensures that I eat something different every day in a two week period. [soups, sandwiches, potatoes, eggs, and rice and beans make up the bulk of my diet]

Tomato and Avocado sandwich with homemade pickles… a lunch staple

15:  KG the amount of gas I bought in August that I am hoping will last me until February [or longer]

23:  The total number of pounds lost since my arrival in Rwanda; also the number of  pounds of pizza the average American eats.

24: Number of Fanta Citrons consumed since my arrival to the South [This may or may not be a lot, but it is my only beverage other than water.  And it’s much better for me than Dr. Pepper.

52 (out of 60):  Number of times I have skipped ‘the most important meal of the day‘.  Mornings and I are not friends.  Even in Rwanda when everyone is up with the sun.

500 RWF:  Cost on a 500ml Fanta in a restaurant. 1 or 2:  Number of Fantas I drink per week.

1440:  The number off calories my fitness pal says I am supposed to eat per day. 0:  the number of times I have exceeded 1440 calories in one day; although one time I did exceed the number however the total was offset by the gratuitous amount of walking I did that day upping my calories to 2145 for the day… I came nowhere near 2145 calories.

3500 RWF:  The average amount I spend at the market buying the following:  Cucumbers, carrots, potatoes, red onions, green beans, green peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, mandarin oranges, apples, and bananas + bread and cake.

 

Apple Cinnamon Crepes

 

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 snack 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

From Trainee to Volunteer 4: Lowering Expectations

This is the 4th post in the series From Trainee to Volunteer [See the others here:  Swearing in, Site, and Goals].  This one is all about expectations. During PST and even before, Peace Corps tell its trainee not to have expectations because whatever expectations you may have  [good or bad] will not be met.  Come into service with a blank slate so to speak, and you’ll have a chance to mitigate disappointments.

BUT…

Back home, most of my jobs had clear expectations, and there were generally accepted ways of doing things.  Be at work on time [call if you are going to be late], take care of assigned patients/customers, don’t be a smart ass, and don’t kill anyone were the basics of just about every job I’ve ever had.  How exactly said job was accomplished was generally left to me, and as long as I didn’t break any rules [or laws for that matter], I was generally left alone to do said job, and ask for help when needed.

Peace Corps jobs are a little different.  One month in and I still haven’t met the boss. I wouldn’t know who he was if it weren’t for the supervisor conference we had in training. I still don’t have a schedule or any semblance of a schedule.  I don’t know when ‘work’ starts.  I’ve shown up at 7am and have been late and shown up at 8a and been early.  I still don’t know what I am supposed to be doing or how to do it.  Oh yes, I have my site goals, but without support and honestly without a plan those are just ideas.  My assigned counterpart doesn’t show up to work a lot of the time which leaves me to either sit in the office, go home, or just find something to do.  I’ve been ‘finding something to do’ but when I mentioned this to PC, I was told to ‘not be so flexible’.  It’s damn near impossible to co-create, co-teach, co-plan, co-present, co-anything when the person you are supposed to be co-ing is unreliable [PC’s new mantra is Co-co-co… We should never be doing any projects on our own; every project needs to have a counterpartsomething about fostering sustainability and having local-level buy-in so when I leave, the project continues on…]

During the first three months, the focus is on ‘integration’—meeting neighbors, establishing a house, getting comfortable in said home, learning even more Kinyarwanda, basically allowing the community to ‘see me.’  My job as described by Peace Corps is to be seen.  And for an introvert like me, being seen is hard.  Talking to strangers in a language I don’t have full mastery of is hard.  Meeting and greeting people is hard.

In order to accomplish ‘being seen’, I set little goals for myself each day.  Some days it’s ‘go to the AM meeting at the health center [even though there’s a 99% chance that I won’t understand most of what is said and isn’t applicable to me].  Walk across the street and talk to my neighbor for 3-5 minutes [this is about all my vocabulary will allow].  Go to the market and buy some things [I proud to say that I now have an egg guy and a tomato lady that seem nice and don’t try to rip me off]. Talk to the HC staff. Sit outside [weather permitting] and cook, or wash dishes or do laundry…

It doesn’t seem like much, but some days it’s exhausting.  Usually on Saturdays I don’t leave my house [I love Saturdays]. I may do laundry, cook, and fetch water, but I don’t often leave the front gates.  I have been assured by past and current volunteers that going slowly in the first few months are the best approach.  Show up, be available, and be friendly.  If I can do that, I will have a successful service.

From Trainee to Volunteer 3: Peace Corps Goals

PC |Rwanda is trying something new with our cohort of Health volunteers [He10] called site goals. In theory site goals are created by the PC staff and the health center boss prior to a volunteer’s arrival.  Once again, in theory, this gives the volunteer a little more direction on where the PCV should be focusing his/her time.  Site goals are developed to be completed over a period of 6+ years using 3 volunteers total.  Volunteer 1[He10] is the plan/lay ground work person. Volunteer 2 [He12] is the carry out the plan person and volunteer 3 [He14] is the wrap up person.  In theory, after 6 years the site will ‘graduate’ and no longer need a PCV.

Like I said, all this is great in theory, but putting it in practice is another beast entirely.  For example, I am the third volunteer at my site.  People here are somewhat used to having a volunteer around doing various projects.  They are used to telling a PCV what they’d like to have, and the PCV working on it either by education, tangible building projects, or receiving a grant.  Site goals create some issues with that.

For example, my site goals are reducing childhood malnutrition to 0 and to increase women delivering babies at the health center from 15% to 50%.  However, when interviewed both the staff and some of the inhabitants of the villages, said that bad hygiene practices/lack access to clean water is a more pressing issue than women having babies at home. Some of the nurses at the health center say malaria is more of an issue than women having babies at home.  It’s hard enough to convince people that have limited access to water that washing hands is important let alone to convince a women in labor to walk up to 2 hours to the health center to give birth, stay for about 24 hours, and then walk back 2 hours post-partum while carrying a newborn.  If I were in their place, I wouldn’t do it.  So nutrition, hygiene, and malaria are what I’ll be working on.  He12 and He14 can tackle the women giving birth at the HC issue.

So, while PC has their goals, I have mine, and they have absolutely nothing to do with PC’s site goals.  I’ve identified 5 goals I’d like to work on in the next two years, and to be honest, they’d be the same goals I’d work on back in America.  Instead of NEW YEAR’S resolutions, think more along the lines of NEW LIFE resolutions.

  • PC Goal 1: Lose weight.  Lack of motivation to exercise combined with unhealthy eating practices [I really don’t enjoy cooking and eating meals on the go] and schedules all over the place [should I eat a full meal at midnight?  Or what about breakfast at 8am even though I’ve just worked 12+ hours] has led to an unhealthy weight gain.  Add that to the 50 pounds I gained while on high dose steroids for six months, and you have a chunky Michelle.  I’ve already lost about 10kg in the 3.5 months I’ve been here so I just need to keep it up and keep it going.
    • Goal 1.2: Commit to an exercise program that will be possible to maintain whether I’m in my village, my country house, or traveling back and forth to work/school every day.  Right now, that’s yoga, and while I’m still finding it difficult to make it a daily habit, I am finding it easier to start back when I miss a couple of days. #progressnotprefection.

I can no longer wear those pants, and that shirt has room enough in it for a small animal.

 

  • PC Goal 2: Learn to cook. Well.  While I can cook, and have no doubt that I can cook well enough not to starve, with [extremely] limited options for dining out, I need to learn to cook a variety of things with very limited ingredients.  Learning not to rely on quick cook foods, frozen dinners, and snacks is like rewiring my brain.  And since my primary goal here is nutrition, I should be [at least] a better example. To that end, one of my fellow PCVs is teaching me how to cook all sorts of interesting things… all from scratch… all from common ingredients that we find in the market.  We meet periodically to buy fresh ingredients from the market and whip up something delicious while watching a movie.  These recipes are featured in posts called Cooking in the Corps.

One of my first cooking lessons—recipe coming soon

 

  • PC Goal 3: Apply to and get accepted into NP school.  I’ve only found one school that advertises the degree I want [dual FNP/PMHNP], but it is possible to combine programs at other school to get the same program offered at the one school. To this end, I am taking the GRE at home in February.  Some schools require it; others don’t, but it will be easier to take it in the US versus trying to schedule it in Rwanda. At present I have a list of five [with two others in reserve that only offer the FNP portion so I’d have to apply to a different school to do a post-masters PMH] schools I plan to apply to [I can’t afford any more on a Peace Corps’ budget]  They are as follows [in no particular order]: UTHSC [the only school I’ve found that offers the dual program], UT-Knoxville [the only school on the list that offers a Coverdell scholarship], USC [they have both degree programs; they don’t have the dual degree as an option], Frontier Nursing University, Eastern Kentucky University [both have both options available; neither have a dual program], and the two schools in reserve are both South Carolina schools that only offer the FNP degree [meaning I’d have to go to a second school for the PMH degree] Clemson University and Francis Marion University.

My goal is to start no later than Spring Term 2021.

 

  • PC Goal 4: Learn photoshop.  I have a copy of Photoshop Elements downloaded on my computer, but I barely know how to do much more than crop. I’ve got nearly 50000 photos on my hard drive that need editing so I’ve got a lot of material on which to practice.
    • Goal 4.2: Edit and organize said photos
    • Goal 4.3: Re-design the blog and ensure every post has at least one photo in it.

 

  • PC Goal 5: Strengthen relationships.  This one is kind of esoteric but with the exception of 2 [very important] outliers, the people important in my life today are people I’ve met in the last five years. These are the people I call when I’m down; the people I WhatsApp with regularly; the people who send me mail and care packages; the people I draw strength from when I think about quitting; and the people I don’t want to disappoint.  This also applies to PC friendships too.  I’ve identified a couple of others who have a similar outlook on Peace Corps service and life, and I am in contact with them weekly about how life is going at site, what’s coming up, just life in general.  Facebook and other social media apps make keeping in contact with others a whole lot easier than it was say 1998… I don’t think I would have survived PC circa late 90’s/early 00’s when technology was available, but oh so hard to access… especially in the developing world.
The best co workers on the planet
My favorite children at their favorite place
New friends are awesome too

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.

From Trainee to Volunteer 1: 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.

 

 

Splish splash…I was takin’ a [bucket] bath

Splish, splash, I was takin’ a [bucket] bath
Long about a Saturday night, yeah
A rub dub, just relaxin’ in the tub
Thinkin’ everythin’ was alright
Well, I stepped out the tub
I put my feet on the floor
I wrapped the towel around me and I
Opened the door……………………………
Bobby Darrin
It has been 53 days since I have felt hot water on my naked skin. It will be another two weeks until I’m back in Kigali at the nunnery with the hot water. In these 53 days, I have taken approximately 30 bucket baths of cold water.  I do not enjoy this, but as my host family does not have running water,  asking them to light a fire and boil some water seems a bit too presumptuous, cold water is my only option [Edit: during the  last week at my host family, I found out that they have an electric kettle that they had been keeping from me. It did not endear them to me.  Yes, I asked before hand. No they didn’t just get it.  I only found about about it by waking up earlier than expected. To say I was pissed would be an oversimplification of fact. Also this post is edited now that I am at my house I do things just a little differently than before]  So how exactly does one bathe in a bucket?

Tools Needed:

  • 1 Bucket
  • 1 cup [anywhere from 8-16oz will do], or empty plastic bottle
  • Soap of choice
  • Shampoo of choice
  • Flip-Flops
  • Non-electrical lighting [not necessarily needed if you are bathing in the middle of the day]
  • Towel and washcloth


Taking a long, hot shower [or even a short hot shower] along with relaxing in a hot tub are two of life’s greatest luxuries, in my humble opinion.  As neither are available to me at the present time, I can only dream… dream that one day my back will get clean, the hot water will pulsate and rumble all around me working out any muscular kinks. [To be fair, the hot tub didn’t happen all that often back in America, but it was the fact that it COULD.  In Rwanda, that is but a dream.]

There are currently no such luxuries in  my life. In Rwanda, my life revolves around a bucket. Or more accurately, buckets, but that’s another story for another day, and to say that I am not a morning person would also be a gross understatement of fact. SO. More times than not I do not bathe in the morning, I use those extra few minutes for another cat nap, and everyone’s is a little happier.

I roll out of bed around 6:45am. The roosters have been cockle-doodle-doing since about 4:30a and the cows are moo-ing about who knows what and despite the fact that I sleep with my windows open, and do in fact hear the world coming to life starting about 5a, I roll over, pull the blanket over my eyes, turn the music up just a little bit louder, and drift in and out of consciousness for the next two or so hours.  6:45 is the absolute latest I can arouse myself, find clean[ish] clothes, make my hair look like I, in fact, did not stick my finger in an electric socket, drink 500ml of water and eat a piece of fruit and call it breakfast, brush my teeth, take my vitamins, and get to the health center by 7:00a.  Most of the time, I am the only one present at 7a, but they say work starts at 7 and like the punctual American I am, I’m there at 7 [or at least by 7:15].  Also, notice there’s no time to be messing around with buckets at this time of day, but what I do, is pour water from my jerry-can into my bathing bucket until it is about 1/3-1/2 of the way full, probably using  about 7-10 L of water. I then set this bucket outside in the sun, and let that amazing star perform it’s magic.

It’s rarely what I call hot these days, [and though sometimes I do sweat while going on long walks, it’s usually confined to the back of my head… dry shampoo is a wonderful thing] so cold, straight from the tap water is a no-go; if it’s a choice between cold water on a cool day or being dirty, being dirty may just win out. My day usually ends around 2p so I walk the 50 or so steps from the health center to my house, make lunch/dinner, and if it’s been a sunny day, whooooo-weee…. my bucket now contains lukewarm water, which is more than adequate for me to do the deed. [It’s amazing what we can become accustomed to/ becomes normal]

Step-by-step for bucket bathing

I have tried to make my shower room ‘rural Rwanda luxurious’.   Bucket bathing still sucks but at least with all my tools in the designated spot, and not having to schlep them around from here to there, makes it not suck as much.

 

Step 1:  Get nekkid… except for flip-flops.  No amount of cleaning will make that floor clean.  Wear the flip-flops.

Step 2:  Hang clothes on the nails loving pounded into the concrete

Step 3:  Fill my cup with water.

Step 4:  Take washcloth, wet, take soap and wash face. Use the water in the cup to rinse soapy face. 20% done. [Every.Single.Time I am amazed by the amount of dirt I see in the cup.]

Step 5:  Fill cup again and pour over head.  This part is so much nicer with lukewarm water.

Step 6: Shampoo. Lather. Rinse. Rinse again. 40% done.

Step 7: Using a washcloth [or loofah scrubby thing], soap it up and begin scrubbing.  I usually start at the top and work my way down… over the hills and valleys and peaks and crevices, if you know what I mean. 60% done.

Step 8:  Rinse.  It’s actually not too bad with warm water. I still miss a faucet and actual hot water, but this will suffice. 80% done.

Step 9:  Wash feet. It’s  amazing how much dirt they can attract… even while wearing socks and shoes.

Step 10:  Rinse feet and marvel at the amount of dirt/dry skin you’ve removed. 100% done

Addendum:  Dry self and put on clothes… Bonus points for remembering to bring clean ones.

This process usually takes approximately seven to ten minutes.  If it is a nice sunny day, there is nothing more enjoyable [in Rwanda anyway] than sitting outside, freshly bathed in the sun reading a book while letting the sun dry your hair.  It’s one of the few times I can enjoy bathing, because in rural Rwanda, bathing is no longer fun; it’s just another chore to be done.

Postscript:  I have one of those Amope foot things…It is essentially a battery operated sander for feet.  I use it once a week on clean feet, then slather clean, scrubbed feet in Vaseline. Finally, I put on socks and go to bed.  It’s amazing how much nicer my feet are since I started doing this.

 

 

 

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.

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

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.