Are you married? Do you like beer? Pre site visit.

22 Jun

Monday morning we were supposed to leave for Kamonyi at 8 am to be there in plenty of time for some administrative tasks at 10 am. Of course this is Africa and the Peace Corps so we left somewhere between 9 and 9:15. Typically it’s a bit of a squeeze between the two vehicles with everyone but it was an even tighter squeeze with all the bags for site visit. Luckily it’s only a 45 minute drive to Kigali and if anyone’s leg/foot fell asleep under the weight they didn’t have the misfortune of falling out of the back of the paddy wagon.

Once at Fort Peace Corps we waited around to find out what was next. It was about an hour before we figured out there was no real plan for us and there was a hold up with getting us our walk-around money. Typical. Frustrated and growing increasingly hungry we decided just to take ourselves to lunch. Not far from Fort Peace Corps is the MTN center where we went for lunch. It was like reverse culture shock, other white people, abundant electricity and ALL KINDS of things that do not exist in my daily life here in Rwanda. We went to this place called Bourbon, but really it could be called heaven on earth. First of all there was not just coffee, but ICED coffee. This may not sound that incredible to most readers, but in Kamonyi  (aka ‘the bush’) electricity is limited and even if there are cold drinks available, it’s a gamble if they’re actually chilled, and less likely they’re refreshingly cold. As if that weren’t wonderful enough, I was able to order the sandwich I had a hankering for. Maybe it wasn’t the delicious turkey cold cut I had imagined, but it had tomato, avocado and lettuce. It came with a salad, so I killed two birds with one stone. That was satisfying enough however, I went for it all and ordered some chocolate ice cream, achieving yet another level of nirvana.

After lunch we met our counterparts at Fort Peace Corps in a very warm upstairs conference room. My supervisor, the Head Nurse of my health center was one of the first to arrive. The good thing about that was it put an end to the suspense of who my supervisor was. The bad part was that it was really awkward when we were introduced in front of everyone and had to pretend like we hadn’t already met.

Have you ever had a prospective or current supervisor inquire about your marital status or taste for beer? Me either, that is until I met this one. I started to panic inside when he told me he was single. I could tell that we aren’t that far apart in age from looking at him and in light of the information above, all the warnings of overzealous Rwandans flooded my mind. In our cross cultural lessons we learned that male volunteers shouldn’t let women into their homes because they might never leave (seriously). For a woman to let a man into her home in the evening is to basically consent to sex. Not to mention that just having a single member of the opposite sex into your home can ruin your reputation, completely undermining a volunteer’s ability to do any work. A current volunteer shared a story about how a Rwandan wanted to ‘date’ her so badly he went as far as planning a project so he could work with her. I’ve digressed a bit, but do you understand the reason for my panic? Imagine then how it escalated when my supervisor informed me that I would be staying with him during my site visit.

I decided that I was going to give him the benefit of doubt and just be on my guard about establishing appropriate boundaries. Sometimes this is particularly difficult because in the past my friendliness has been mistaken for romantic interest. I’ve yet to experience a situation in which this is not mortifying. The perfect opportunity to outline the boundary presented when he asked why I wanted to be in Rwanda. I explained from what I read Rwanda, more than any country seems like it really wants to move forward and make better lives for Rwandans. Rwandans characterize people as ‘serious’ or not, which worried me at first because I don’t see myself as serious by the English definition. In Rwanda it means someone dedicated to their work and betterment of self, which I can totally get behind. So I mentioned to my supervisor that I was very serious about my work with the Peace Corps and he seemed like a person to help me work hard during my service.

We spent the remainder of the time talking about the health center, the community and such. I thought it a good sign that we both had the attitude of, ‘Let’s just talk about that when we get to site.” Since my Kinyarwanda was still extremely limited and it took a lot of effort for him to communicate with me in English. Did I mention I was anxious wrap things up and get on with some errands? The afternoon concluded around five and the trainees were free to descend on Kigali with our newly dispensed walk around and travel allowances.

First it was back to the MTN center to purchase a modem and some credit. It took quite a while for the group of us to all conduct our business. Then I popped over to the German Butchery for some ‘survival food’ to take on the visit just in case I had to fend for myself. I was exhausted and overwhelmed by the food choices, not to mention feeling a bit rushed so we could get on with our dinner plans and hungry to boot. I settled for a jar of peanut butter and some laughing cow type cheese which did not require refrigeration. I am too snobby to eat processed cheese out of a can but apparently if you wrap individual servings in foil I’ll go for it. I also purchased a rather expensive loaf of specialty bread. It was about 2.5 times as expensive as the bread I buy at my host stay but it was magically delicious. It was sesame seeds on the outside and whole grain goodness, the closest thing to whole wheat American bread I’ve had so far. It surprised me how much I missed ‘good’ bread.

From the MTN center we dropped off our loot at Fort Peace Corps and a group of 8-10 of us set out for a pizza place to celebrate the birthday of a fellow trainee. There was trivia but we didn’t make it there in time to snag a table so we had to settle for pizza and beer. This was my second time to have beer since arriving in Rwanda. One of the cocktail specials was a Manhattan which piqued the interest of another trainee and I. Before ordering one I decided to ask about the kind of liquor they made it with. Good thing I did because it was Jack Daniels which I don’t have anything against. However, in my opinion a proper Manhattan is made with Makers and I just wasn’t up for Jack Daniels. Especially since water is not served complimentary. So I went with a Turbo King, the mark of a man (of course) and subsequently about the darkest beer commonly available aside from Guiness. Of course I’m such a beer snob that I only like Guiness on tap, we’ll see how that changes in the coming months. Suffice it to say, dinner was quite enjoyable. On the walk back we ran into some current volunteers also staying at Fort Peace Corps (can I just call it FPC from now on?) on their way into Kigali proper to hit up a night club. They tried to convince us to come however the lure of hot, running showers was too much to resist and we wished them goodnight.

The next morning most of us headed to Bourbon for breakfast. Time was short, and of course like many things in Rwanda, breakfast service was moving rather slowly so I settled for some more iced coffee. There was a split in mentality about how the Peace Corps had made us wait around and started late yesterday so it was only fair for us to be a little late from breakfast. However, it wasn’t just PC that we would be late meeting with, but our future supervisors. Not to mention one of the expectations the trainees had placed great emphasis on was beginning on time. We spent a bit talking with our supervisors again, but the bulk of the morning PC staff spent communicating expectations for the visit to our supervisors. Things like policies relating to travel after dark and by moto, the scope of our work, and basic living requirements (does not include electricity). Then it was time to begin the journey which is chronicled in my last post.

Before I continue I should mention that three of the four people in my small language group were placed along Lake Kivu. One North of me, and one to the South. So the first night we stayed at the Southern site in a hotel. After we paid the moto taxis, we were shown to my room which my supervisor dutifully examined to make sure it was up to snuff. I was a little nervous for a minute that we would be sharing the room which had only one bed, which would’ve been weird even in America. I was left to use my cold, but running water shower. The power went out for a little bit while waiting for dinner and was still out when we were seated which ended up working to our advantage. We sat on a little patio near the edge of the cliff overlooking the lake, a ways away from the restaurant for. It was a breathtaking view of the stars, Lake Kivu and the lightning in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The lake was dotted by the lights of fishing boats. Apparently, they can only fish for the tiny fish on cloudy nights because they are attracted to light and if the moon is too bright the fish won’t be drawn to the lights on the boats.

The next morning we got to enjoy the view again during breakfast along with the singing of the fishermen.


3 Responses to “Are you married? Do you like beer? Pre site visit.”

  1. Jill teVelde June 22, 2011 at 7:12 pm #

    another fabulous blog by Maharo! Honestly, your posts will make a great book someday. I’m glad you had some comfort food and found some emergency chocolate ice cream … that’s my girl ! Can’t wait to hear more! Love U …


  2. Jamie June 22, 2011 at 9:30 pm #

    I love your posts!!! You’re so brave! Way to be stealthy in awkward social situations!

  3. leslierunsbham June 23, 2011 at 3:54 pm #

    Your posts are so great. I miss you so much and I can tell that you really are having the time of your life! I am so happy that you get to live by the water and that you got to have some drinks and delicous food. Lots of love your way 🙂

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