The Beginning Of the End or the End of the Beginning?

16 Jul

Today is July 16th, where has time gone? Let’s start with last Tuesday, the day that we picked up and headed to Kigali. There were four Peace Corps vehicles to collect 18 people’s worth of stuff including all the bags we came with and the various items Peace Corps had issued like beds, trunks, etc. Amazingly enough, a car showed up at my house sometime after eight am and all my stuff was unloaded at the Hub by nine.

In the interest of getting to Kigali in a timely manner, a number of people including myself were invested in doing whatever possible to help. This included moving piles of moldy bed parts (side story they had been sent to Kigali to have the mold cleaned off them and varnished so they wouldn’t mold), I think in hopes that the mold would magically go away? I don’t know. Just as it seemed like departure for the promise land of Kigali was in sight, things started to go awry. Before we started loading the moving truck PC rented with our baggage I asked several times whether or not the bikes would also need to go in the moving truck since there should be plenty of room and it made the most sense to load them first. The plan was another truck would come later to retrieve them. Our trunks, which would stay behind (a source of contention), had been unloaded haphazardly in the front yard so I asked a staff person where we could stack them to make room and they said in the main room of the house. After we had them all stacked another staff person told us that we needed to move them out back behind the house. Soooooo we did.

A phone call from Kigali saying that the bikes needed to go in the moving truck threw a wrench in everything because the truck was already packed with everyone’s bags and mattresses. So some of the bags were transferred to another vehicle and the drivers commenced the painful process of loading 17 bikes into an already overfull truck. I cringe at the thought of how many spokes were bent and chains stretched. Tell me what is the point of buying $600 bikes for volunteers just to treat them like shit? Not to mention the mattresses they were thrown on top of. The other point of reason we tried to make was if we could somehow separate out the moldy and flea/bed bug infested mattresses from the others so that those lovely gifts would not be passed on.

One last gripe, because of the low quality of beds volunteers received they molded, and some even had their mattresses mold. Others as I previously mentioned got bed bugs and fleas. As a result a number of people did not want to take their mattresses to site but PC said too bad, the budget if more important so not only do you have to take your bed with you, but you’ll be charged for it. How awesome is that? I can’t seem to get away from the economic recession. I feel the most sorry for the married couple who were given two single mattresses they were expected to sleep on.

Alright so sometime around noon I had had enough of the insanity and left in one of the cars for Kigali. After everyone arrived and we unloaded the moving trucks a group of five of us went to a Japanese/Korean restaurant that was nearby. It was expensive, then again what in Kigali isn’t? However sooooo worth it and delicious. I ordered a soup of sorts with Udon, shrimp, tofu and chicken. The broth was an amazing mix of salty and just a little sweet. And I could totally taste the cauliflower and broccoli that had cooked in it. It was heavenly. To top it off, there was black pepper. Someone ordered Bulgolgi which was AMAZING and I got to have some kimchi from another person’s bento box which was also really good.

After lunch we caught a twegerhane into ‘town’ to price and scout stuff to purchase. Some of us wanted to find this store called T-2000 which is supposed to be a good place to get housewares for cheap. With some mediocre directions ¾ of the Taba group headed off in search of this store, and perhaps a dress for one of us to wear to swear-in.  We walked and walked and walked, found the restaurant supply store where I bought two small-ish bag of tortilla chips. Then walked some more, but started asking for directions. After walking for quite awhile we realized that we had walked in a giant, unnecessary circle, but we did get a nice tour of ‘town’.

T-2000 was underwhelming, though I did buy some tea lights for when I want to have a date night with myself, or maybe for more practical reasons since I don’t have electricity. Also while we were there, we say the forbidden Marines. Backstory, there a contingent of seven or eight marines who work at the US Embassy. The country director told us all kinds of marvelous things about the Embassy and Marines like access to swimming pools, liquor, and fresh baked cookies to name a few. Also of the wonderful fourth of July party the Embassy has. After all this she told us we were not to fraternize with the marines, or their connections, and avoid the embassy in order to prevent Rwandans from thinking we were spies. How cruel is to dangle swimming pools and fresh baked cookies in front us 18 deprived individuals and then tell them to keep away? To add insult to irony, one of the people I was with overheard one of the Marines say that he wanted to get back so he could get a swim in. They left the store around the same time we did only they had a driver and suburban waiting for them.

We headed to one of the supermarkets and I picked up a few things to make nachos, since there’s a stove where we were staying. One of us was hungry and ordered a sandwich and because I feel the need to eat ice cream whenever I can here, I ordered a sundae. Thank heavens I had the sundae in my belly because we walked in another giant, needless circle. The week before Kigali moved where the busses to and from town depart and arrive from however they did not do a good job making this common knowledge. The phone a friend method did not work well so we employed the walk a bit and ask for directions method. What we knew was that we wanted to head towards the prison, and the directions people gave us kept including poorly lit and desolate streets (because it gets dark here at six). Luckily it worked out and we made it safely, and double luck we had a master of martial arts with us for protection.

So we returned back to Fort Peace Corps tired and sweaty. Some other were there along with two current PCVs so we chatted with them and gorged on the skittles and oreos friends of another volunteer had brought. Eventually I showered and then had someone flat iron my hair which was a nice treat.

Wednesday I woke up bright and early to finish the slideshow which we did not end up using at the swear-in ceremony. We had some left over money from buying t-shirts so we used it to buy breakfast goods and enjoyed juice, pancakes and eggs. Oh and coffee with REAL milk. I also did my makeup real fancy, helped other people in a variety of ways and then at eight am we had song and dance rehearsal. One of the language and culture teachers modified a Rwandan song to reflect the things we had done during training so it was put into the program for us to perform.

Swear-in was at the Ambassador’s house but since the old one had left for a new post and the new one had yet to arrive they were represented by the Charge d’affaire who is a TINY woman. She wore four inch wedges and still required a platform at the podium but she’s the most proportional tiny person I’ve seen. The minister of health for Rwanda showed up late, but it was awesome she was there nonetheless.

The ceremony began with a welcome from the country director, but before it started I got to have an underwhelming conversation with a representative from USAID. I will refrain from saying anything else in order to not incriminate myself. After the CD’s welcome it was time for the song and dance. I was one of the dancers and I’ve tried to block out the memory of how ludicrous the whole thing was. I do remember that I had to try really hard not to break out into laughter during the dance. The singers were hijacked by the teacher who wrote the song for us. We didn’t know that the song was based off another song that most Rwandans know and that the tempo we had practiced it at was actually two times too slow. Between the sped up tempo and the throngs of people with cameras crowding us it felt like pure chaos. The good news is that the pain was over that much faster. I still don’t know if people were impressed with our attempt at learning Rwandan culture or amused at the mess we made of it all. Did I mention we had at maximum four total hours of practice? Oh and the whole ceremony was on Rwandan National Television.

After the song and dance debacle we had three sets of speakers, two English, two French, and finally two Kinyarwanda. I didn’t sign up to give a speech because I figured people were tired of hearing me talk all the time at training and I didn’t have anything particularly meaningful to say. Turns out you don’t have to sine the bulk of the speeches were comprised of thank yous and other necessary formalities, not that we aren’t a thankful bunch, however I don’t think it was what anyone imagined when they signed up to give the speeches, I could be wrong.

After the speeches the Charge D’Affaires gave us a few words and introduced the Minister Of Health, then we were sworn in by the Charge or maybe our CD spoke first? I can’t remember, the whole thing was surreal. Afterwards there were light refreshments which I ate a lot of when it became evident there were a lot of leftovers. I continued to try to avoid my supervisor who had come, not because I don’t like him, but because it still takes a lot of effort to interact with him at this point and I did not have the energy for it. He came to tell me that he would be in Butare at a training until Sunday.

After enjoying the cookies, carrot cake, meatballs, mini quiche, pizza-esque squares, kebabs, and juice we gave out t-shirts in appreciation of our training staff then loaded up and headed back to Fort Peace Corps.

You’ll have to stay tuned for what happens next since I’m tired and have already written a ton. I’ll give you a little teaser, I had my first liquor drink, went to a Rwandan club, and showered at two am with a hose.  For those of you who know me, would you expect any less of me on my first night as a Peace Corps Volunteer?



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