October 21 2018

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

 

October 14 2018

Peace Corps Rwanda | Clothing, Electronics, and House Things

I received my nomination to Madagascar in July 2017, moved from the apartment I was living in to the house I now own in October/November 2017, didn’t board the plane to Madagascar in February 2018, re-evaluated the suitcase now headed for Rwanda in May 2018. The suitcase[s] were packed and re-pack 3 times before I even left the US, but the question is, did I do a good job packing?  Did I pack the right things?  Is there something I wish I had packed but didn’t?  Is there enough clothing, or too much? Is my kitchen too ‘extra’ or just ‘extra enough?  Let’s see

Luggage

4 bags that you can see; 2 you can’t… So much stuff

Let’s start with the bags.  I have so.many.bags. It’s unreal. My big green duffel bag’s handle broke during one of the many transfers during PST. It’s now used as a bedside table.  The main compartment has stuff left here by the previous volunteer [think mosquito net and some clothes] + clothes that no longer fit me nor can I make them work.  I’m using the small pocket on the top at a drawer of sorts where I keep my Vaseline, nail maintenance tools, and my battery operated foot scrubber.  I’ve used the larger outer pocket as sort of a trash collector.   I gathered so many papers/books, ect during PST that I don’t/won’t use anymore, and I hate the idea of burning trash so I jsut put it there. Out of site, out of mind.

The Osperey Backpack and REI backpack were solid choice which are now empty, hanging on the wall waiting patiently to be put to use again.

Another volunteer and I bought a Target suitcase set the day before leaving [and some clothes], and I have the carry-one size suitcase.  The bag is fully packed waiting on its return trip to America in February.  It will bring back a lot of things to America that I don’t need, and will bring to Rwanda a lot of things I do need [mainly food items]. I’m also taking home a few things for a fellow PCV that he will pick up upon his return to American.

My checkered tote bag served its purpose in getting my electronics here, but now sits lonely under a table.  I almost always use my backpack for quick trips around town and going to the market for the sole reason that I can carry my backpack on my back.

My leather purse will be going back to America.  It has literally been used once.

My daily backpack was packed in side another bag.  I use this bag the most and honestly it probably won’t make it the two years.  I also used this bag for my entire nursing program and paid less than $20 for it in 2014 so I’ve definitely gotten my money’s worth out of it.

I have a small canvas bag that I use for my weekly market trips. I bought it at Primark for about 10 Euros in 2012/2013 that is serving it’s purpose well, and I won’t be taking it back to the US

I have acquired two more bags since arriving in Rwanda [I know. I have a problem]  One’s a padded tote and the other is more like a small cross body purse.  Currently they are serving as wall decoration. I bought them more for souvenirs than anything, but the padded tote will house my computer [if it survives that long] and my camera when I COS.

The green Osprey bag is going back to America and not returning to Rwanda. I plan to have my orange backpack + the padded tote and small  fabric purse as the only bags when I leave.  The rest are staying in Rwanda and I really don’t care what happens to them.

Clothing [I have lost nearly 25 pounds in the first 5 months so a lot of my clothing is comically large now]

In the terms of every day life, I didn’t pack a ton of clothes.  In PC-land, I have way too much clothing.

To revisit I had the following:

  • Fleece pull-over x1.  YES, I could probably use another. My plan is to completely wear this out.
  • Lightweight rain coat. YES. I use it for wind and rain. And moto rides.
  • Cardigan x3.  Three is too many. I’m taking the black one home [it’s the best quality, and I do like wearing them]; the other two I’ll wear while in Rwanda, but aren’t making the cut back to America.
  • Blouses x5.  I  brought them because PC says we need business casual clothing. I’ve worn 3 of the 5. The nicest of the bunch is returning to America when I visit. 2 will be left behind in Rwanda, and 2 [may] make it in the POST-COS wardrobe.
  • T-shirts x5.  YES. Plus I’ll be bringing more when I return to Rwanda… Plain colorful T-shirts. I doubt these will make it back to the US as I wear them everyday and hand washing isn’t kind to clothing. But they are relatively inexpensive at Target, which is where all of these came from.
  • Hoodie x2. One is returning to the US because it’s too nice for village life, and the other one won’t last/make the trip home. I fully expect it to be in threads two years from now.
  • Flannel Shirt. MEH.  I wear it occasionally. It won’t be returning to the US.
  • Other miscellaneous shirts x3. Just NO.
  •  Pants x 12.   This is INSANE. 6 will probably be too many. To be fair, I didn’t pack 12 pairs of pant, but due to care packages and shopping, I now HAVE 12 pairs of pants [most of which are too big, but I still wear them] The jeans I wore to Philadelphia are way too big and I never wear them anymore. I wore them a lot in PST, so I don’t feel too bad. I have another pair of jeans that were too small when I left for PST, but now fit. I brought one pair of scrub pants, and had 3 other pairs arrive in care packages. 2 gray, 1 black, and 1 blue.  The original gray and blue pants now look like clown pants on me. They won’t be returning to America. I bought 2 pairs of pants at Target prior to leaving. One is too big for a belt and the others I wear sparingly. [They are heavy weight brown cargo pants and washing them is a bitch].  I have 2 other pair of brown/khaki pants + 3 pair of gray/stone pair of pants. My plan is to alternate between two pair of pants, hopefully wearing them out [literally… My favorites always break down in the thigh area]. For COS, I want to be down to no more than 3 pairs of pants [possibly khaki/gray only].  I’m hoping to wear the scrubs out even though I love the quick wash/dry capabilities of them.
  • Skirts  x4– I brought 2 –one mid-calf brown skirt and one slightly below the knee blue, and have had 2 made. I’m planning to bring at most 2 back with me.
  • Socks and underwear x a lot… seriously I think I have close to 40 pairs of underwear and 20 pairs of socks SERIOUSLY!  A lot of the socks are returning to the US since I only wear wool socks or sandals.  I have 12 pairs of underwear in rotation. 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.
  • Bras.  I have 3 sports bras and 4 regular bras. One of the sports bras is now too big [Yes, I’m losing weight there too]. I fully expect to be down to 2 or 3  at the end of 2 years
  • ShoesI brought 5 pair; 2 are returning to the USA, and it their place, I will be adding my hiking boots and another pair of shower/house flops, and possibly my tennis shoes. One pair I brought just for swear in, another pair isn’t practical, and I don’t think the slide ons will last two years, and I HATE shoes that go between my toes [which are readily available here].
  • Additional clothing:  Yoga pants x2, mesh basketball shorts x2… One of each would suffice… Swimsuit not used regularly but glad to have it

Household/Kitchen Things

I didn’t pack a lot of house things since I knew I’d be living with a host family the first three months. Instead I packed a box, and shipped it to me the day before I left. In retrospect this was one of the better decisions I made concerning packing. Things inside the box included:

  • Set of knives
  • Measuring cups/spoons
  • grater
  • vegetable peeler
  • can opener
  • Stainless steel mug
  • Assorted spices
  • A few zip lock bags
  • A head lamp
  • Seeds
  • Snacks [tuna, peanut butter, hard candy, clif bars…]

Each of these things was worth the space and cost of sending myself the box.


  • Two sets of sheets [one used in PST, the other not used] Fun fact: I brought twin and full sized sheets. While I did use the twin in PST, the bed I have at my site is essentially a queen.  I had to buy sheet anyway.
  • I quilt/comforter. YES.  It was so heavy in the bag, but every day since breaking it out, I’m glad I have it. It’s warm, and I like the color.
  • 2 pillows from home. YES. Annoying in transit, but I’m so grateful to have a ‘real’ pillow.
  • down blanket and travel pillow YES. I use these when I visit other PCT. It’s nice to be comfy when outside my home environment
  • Toiletries. YES. It’s nice to have brands my skin is familiar with in an environment that’s not familiar. Leave the make-up at home, but bring quality skin care products. And lotion.  Lots of lotion.
  • Meds. YES. PC does give an adequately stocked med kit, but it’s also nice to have some things of my own because the last thing I want to do is make an hour long trek to the bus station to pick up medicine when I’m feeling sick. I use the PC med refills for things like insect repellent, condoms, lip balm, tampons, and malaria med.  Everything else I use my own supplies
  • Quick Dry Towel–Meh. I rarely use it, but will on my post COS trip.
  • Decor–I brought 3 flags, USA, SC, and University of Tennessee plus some photos/cards of/from friends back home.  These are comfort things I’m glad to have but are not at all necessary. I’ve also used ikitenge fabric to decorate the walls
  • Curtains–Totally not necessary, but I’m glad to have them

I am over all happy with the household things I have, and the only thing I wish I had was a water bottle.  How I overlooked this is beyond me.


Electronics

  • Laptop FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY, YES. Bring a laptop. It doesn’t matter what kind, but have one.  I fully expect this one to not last the entire time, but it makes doing PC reports much easier.  Blogging is MUCH easier from a laptop.
  • External Hard Drive x2. One is a 1TB drive, and the other is a 2 TB. YES.  One quit working so I;m glad to have the other one.
  • Kindle… Meh. I’ve read all the books on my Kindle, but I have an app on the laptop that allows for e-reading.  The Kindle is going back to the US
  • Camera. Yes, but not unequivocally yes  I don’t like taking pictures of people so it hasn’t gotten much use yet, but I do plan to use it more when I travel.  My smaller camera is returning to the US because I never use it.  I have a tiny action camera [think Go Pro knock off], plus my iphone [which I use mainly for music since its not 4g capable], and my cell phone.  I have enough cameras
  • Flash drives x2 32GB each Meh. They are small so they don’t take up much space, but I haven’t used them yet
  • iphone I was hoping to use this as my phone but since its an older iphone its not 4G capable and the only service I get in 4G so I had to buy a Rwandan phone, but I love using it as an Ipod
  • External speaker–it quit working after about a month, or more accurately it works, there’s just a lot of static when I use it
  • Headphones x4 I have yet to use them so why I though I needed 4 pair is beyond me.  They will return to the US and I’ll use them at the gym.
  • USB charger YES. You never know about the electrical grid in the rural villages
  • Flashlight and headlamp YES  my kitchen doesn’t have electricity so  I either have to eat at 5p or use my headlamp to cook
  • Rechargeable batteries Absolutely
  • Outlet adapters  one or two should suffice; I brought 10! of the 2 pin kind [like used in Europe] which is what I need for Rwanda, but apparently places like South Africa, Tanzania, and Kenya use different ones.
  • Power strip I brought it because I had it, but these are widely available in Rwanda

You will hear people say this, and if you are anything like me, you won’t believe it, but here goes anyway:  Pack half the clothing and double the snacks of the original packing plan. I legitimately wear the same clothing All.The.Time. 4 pairs of pants would have been sufficient. Maybe 6 or 7 shirts. In a country like Rwanda, villagers wear the same clothing all the time so it’s not weird if you do to.

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
September 16 2018

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.

September 9 2018

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
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.
August 19 2018

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.

 

 

August 5 2018

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.

 

 

 

July 22 2018

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.

July 4 2018

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