This Is War

24 Jul

Call this half of a post. It’s not quite bedtime but I don’t want to start another book and with no electricity visibility is limited.

First of all, Rwanda has lightening bugs, I saw my second one this evening while brushing my teeth. The only other time I’ve seen them was last summer in Chicago.

Today I finished my second Ernest Hemingway book of this month, For Whom The Bell Tolls and A Farewell To Arms. Judge me all you want, but so far I’m not impressed with the dude. I remember reading the Old Man and The Sea in high school and not being too fond of it either, though I suppose it merits a re-read as an adult.

Both the Hemingway books I’ve read have to do with wars which is so relevant to my life right now as I try each day to relish the small wins when all I want to dwell on is the challenges. It’s weird to compare my life/job in the PEACE Corps to a war, but really you could  consider it a war against ignorance. There are daily battles, often multiple. Sometimes I walk away defeated, sometimes the victor, and in the case of the mice, it is just one of many a skirmish.

It’s been a tough week and I’m starting to wonder what it is I’m doing here and why it’s worth it, and even more face my relationship with my self-esteem head on. It’s hard when wherever I go people ask me for whatever it is I’m holding in my hand, or money, or to teach them English. Or when they come over to my house and want something of mine.

The woman I live with likes to tell me what food I should buy to eat and what things I need in the house. Yet there is some kind of double standard because she keeps her things in cardboard boxes on the floor and there is only the bench and chairs that the health center contributed in our communal living area. And I’m the one buying the bulk of the food even though we’re both eating it. The woman who cooks our lunch likes to give me a hard time because I want to eat the same simple things over and over again. What they don’t seem to understand is that starting from scratch in a new house is expensive and despite my umuzungu status I don’t have boatloads of cash. That I would rather save money to go on a vacation than buy a coffee table for the guests I don’t want in the house. So yeah, there might be weeks when all I want to eat is rice and beans and if you want something different, buy it.

There was a victory this evening, lately in an attempt to keep the mice at bay I’ve been throwing out food when there’s not enough to reheat for the two of us. My roommate asked me why I do that when there are hungry people and I explained that a)we don’t have anywhere to keep the food right now except for in a pot with a lid on the floor which looks gooooood to a mouse and b) I didn’t want to save the food for people because I don’t like strangers at our house, because I’m tired of people always asking me for stuff and I’m worried about theft. light went on and she said that she would quit cooking so much food in the evening and I felt so gratified because I’ve been trying to say we cook too much food THE WHOLE TIME.

Other victories include figuring out how to store the numbers in my phone in such a manner that allows me to know who is calling and texting. For a smart phone, it really isn’t so very, or perhaps its the user. I’m supposed to be able to surf the web with it but it’s just  been this week that I was able to successfully get on fb with it, other websites not so.

With the mice, as much as it stresses me out to hear them running around the false ceiling, mop up their poop several times a week, and even see one run across my bed, I have to accept that this is a battle I will win slowly. It’s either that, or the very real possibility of making myself neurotic. The fact of the matter is, I lack the resources at this time to take the effective measures with my food to keep them away. Little by little though. Like yesterday when I figured out that the mice were getting through the hole in the false ceiling to the ground by running down some wires, the ends that hang just a couple inches from the floor. I taped the ends a foot or two off the ground to the wall, since I probably can’t just rip them out (I’m waiting to get electricity any day now). While I’ve still seen them in the house, I wonder if they will come less often now that there is not an easy exit strategy. This week my buffet I had made should be delivered and we can get all the food off the ground and behind some mouse proof doors. Whenever I see them, NOT in my personal space I try to think of the movie Ratatouille which has proven a less effective strategy than declaring my room a no food zone which sucks because my bed is the most comfortable piece of furniture in the house.

There are things that I work really hard to keep from rolling my eyes at in order to not be disrespectful. Like, when someone tells me something is not good and I ask why, in kinyarwanda to boot, and they cannot offer me an explanation, only that it is bad. Or how yesterday morning, the woman who cooks/helps around the house saw me writing in my journal with red pen and told me that I shouldn’t because it will hurt my eyes. Or how this evening my supervisor stopped by again after visiting to tell me that my window was still open (after dark). I told him that a)the paint fumes are still quiet overpowering and b)I sleep under a mosquito net. I failed to mention how I faithfully adhere to my malaria prophylaxis regimen daily. I will continue to take these things in stride because someday someone is going to tell me something that will make me feel like an asshole, but I will be so happy to know so I can stop the offending behavior. Rwandans on a whole are a subtle and non-confrontational people and I’ve never been one to pick up on subtleties. Just one more thing I can look forward to being better at after two years.

This post kind of turned into a vent session. There’s no doubt I’m at the first of many lower points in my service. With everyday though there is something, no matter how little brings some kind of happiness to my day. I’m adjusting to a new way of life in a place where my coworkers and people in my community aren’t quite sure what to think of or do with me. It’s going to take time for all of us to figure out what that looks like and I will continue to struggle and experience frustration as I try to exert the control I love so much that doesn’t actually exist. Not to mention learn how to tackle the challenges with out the resources and autonomy I’ve grown accustomed to.

Tuzatsinda is kinyarwanda for we will win, and by golly us volunteers will do just that even if victory may only be realized in hindsight. No matter what happens, I can only come out of this experience a better person than I was before.

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3 Responses to “This Is War”

  1. Kelly July 26, 2011 at 10:37 am #

    Sorry I haven’t commented on any of your post but I have been reading them and enjoy hearing all about what you are doing! At times things can be rough, but know it will all be worth it! You are doing such amazing things! WOOP! can’t wait to skype with you soon!

  2. Jamie Wulfekuhle-Zaweski August 8, 2011 at 1:19 pm #

    Hey girl hey!!!

    This post got lost in my inbox. Thanks for being willing to be so raw with us. I’m excited to see how this unfolds, you are handling everything with so much grace and courage! I’m sending lots of positive thoughts your direction!

  3. Jill teVelde August 18, 2011 at 2:39 pm #

    Hey Sweetie,
    Just catching up on your blog. You are so amazing. I am so proud of you. Your post really made me stop and put my life into perspective. We are all on this planet together. I love you! Llama

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