Archive | August, 2011

The Week Of The Abashytsi

20 Aug

It has been quite an eventful week chockfull of abazungu, and some Rwandan abashytsi. Tuesday, brought a parent and daughter trio from Manchester who did vision screenings on just under 300 people. They brought a substantial number of glasses but as this was their second week, there weren’t many to hand out so they recorded the prescriptions and will be sending the glasses with the woman who runs the district hospital but lives in England near them.

That afternoon after finishing a snack to begin the business of studying the second in command at my health center knocks on my door and I find a moto driver and a disheveled and lost looking young woman. She explained to me, that she was trying to go to Kibuye but missed the morning bus and thought surely there must be another (but of course there isn’t). Somehow she ended up at my site and people’s natural course of action was to unite the abazungu. I didn’t hesitate to give her a place to stay for the night since I could easily see myself in her situation during my stay in Rwanda.

Turns out she was an Israeli near the end of her six month backpacking trip through East Africa. When I asked why she was backpacking and how her parents felt about her going solo she informed me that Israel is a country of travelers and it is quite common for people to backpack. My roommate and the girl who cooks for us were quite enchanted by our visitor. It was funny to see a bit of ‘culture clash’ happening. I was prompted numerous times to ask the guest what she would like to eat and informed that ‘the visitor is queen.’ They were a bit incredulous when it was decided our guest would cook a tomato sauce for dinner not having knowledge of the backpacking culture of reciprocity. So the guest and I headed off to the market to buy some spaghetti and tomatoes for dinner.

The sky told of coming rain but we say many people who wanted to greet and know about the visitor. Drops started to fall as we made our last transaction and rather than take shelter as everyone else was doing I figured we could make it home before the rain started in earnest. I’ve never been more wrong in my life. It promptly started pouring like someone had turned on the garden hose full blast. We sought refuge where meat is sold until someone brought us an umbrella and we made it up the hill to the health center, the water running like a small, but swift river down the road the entire time. Thunder and lightning not far off. We were quickly soaked which made me feel terrible since the guest had remarked on her lack of clean clothes. We waited out the worst of it for 15 minutes or so and saw lightning strike the telephone tower in front of us. Seriously, if lightning had a face, I could have given a damn good description to a sketch artist.

We had a cheerful evening of American-ish food and conversation then awoke bright and early to escort the guest to the bus. Once she was situated I decided to go for a run since I already had drug myself out of bed at five am. It was my first run at site, and it was short but good and holds promise.

Midmorning on Wednesday, my program manager from Peace Corps and his assistant arrived to meet with some staff at my health center to collect information for our upcoming training. They had informed me the day before of their visit. Afterward we had a chat about how things were going and I received some very helpful advice. Despite it being almost noon they declined an invitation to lunch, saying they had to be in Kibuye for a meeting that afternoon, much to the chagrin of my Rwandan counterparts. You are ALWAYS supposed to offer your guest something to eat.

Thursday there was a break from the steady stream of visitors which was good because I confirmed something that I had hoped was not true. Someone has been taking money out of my wallet in my room. There have been a couple times in the past where I had less money than I thought, but chalked it up to my own forgetfulness. This time I made a mental note of how much money was in my wallet after we returned from the market Tuesday night and found all of it gone when I thought to check Thursday morning. Since there isn’t anywhere to buy an Americano and it isn’t proper for women to patronize small town bars it’s not uncommon for me to go several days without needing my wallet.

Initially I was really angry, and by the time I went to work I was just downright sad. Part of the responsibility rests on me for granting such ready access to my wallet. However, the only time my door is unlocked is when I’m home and the only time my door is not in my line of site is when I’m cooking, in the shower or latrine. Deductive reasoning shows that there are only two people who could possibly have access to my room during those windows of time, both who I considered to be my friends. That is the most disappointing thing, I feel I’ve been courteous and generous yet a person finds it appropriate to take advantage of my trust. In the grand scheme of the things the amount of money stolen was quite small. However, I have to live for the next 26 months with a growing distrust of people. I’ve been assured by my coworkers that not all Rwandans are like that, and I trust them.

I found myself wondering repeatedly over the last couple of days if it was all a bad dream. Thursday evening I confronted both my roommate and umukozi, hoping for a confession but got none. Friday I called Peace Corps to tell them what happened and informed my tutillaire as well. Since it was a Friday and I haven’t seen my tutillaire in days what’s going to happen is still up in the air. In the meantime, I am annoyingly locking my door anytime I am not in my room.

Friday evening, I got just the distraction I needed. Two volunteers from my region came to visit and we made some Zataran’s Jambalaya that my mom had sent me in a care package. In lieu of Andouille sausage and shrimp we used shredded cabbage and beans. Despite it being rice, beans and cabbage all of which I eat many times in a week it was deliciously different. I look forward to figuring out how to back cornbread to enjoy with the other Zataran’s she sent me. We spent the evening talking and playing with the wax from the tea lights.

In the morning we enjoyed some chai and more good conversation before we cooked a breakfast of pancakes and eggs. We also made a delicious fruity topping of pineapple, bananas, and honey. I kept forgetting about the pancakes so they got a little dark, but the eggs were perfectly seasoned. After the chai was finished we made a thermos full of coffee and it was delightful.

We cleaned up and I gave them a tour of my health center and we had a bit of a walk about town. They planned to visit another new volunteer for the evening South of me. They wanted to take the Onatracom bus that runs from Kibuye to Kamembe since it would be 1,000 francs instead of the 3,000 to take a moto. We asked a number of people who said the bus came between one and two pm which I thought was crazy because I’ve never seen it roll past and earlier than 4:30 pm. Nonetheless we arrived by the road to wait at one. Around two, a squeezie bus came by heading to a destination a little ways North of where they wanted to go. However they decided it was better than chancing to wait for 2+ more hours. So they squeeeeeezed themselves in and were off with a wave.

I am so fortunate to be in the Southwest region and in the company of awesome volunteers. The two visits I’ve had with them have been energizing and I gain such insight, spoken and unspoken. One of the volunteers who visited me makes it a habit to visit people so I think she has the authority to say that I live the farthest from, anything really. Most places have buses within a reasonable distance that leave multiple times in a day. There’s only one that originates here at 6 am going North. The other two busses that pass through here have no real schedule and it’s possible to spend hours waiting for a bus that never comes. The other, albeit very expensive option is to take a moto. The good news is that everything crucial to daily life is available within walking distance and the beauty of my surroundings makes up for any challenges in leaving.

I feel surprisingly detached from the whole theft episode for now. Perhaps my visitors provided a distraction, perhaps because I can’t be certain what the outcome of everything will just yet. For the time being, it’s Saturday night and because of all the rain, it’s the first night this week that we’ve had electricity. I’m going to enjoy it by watching a movie or tv episodes!


Kinyarwanda Nikimwe Algebra

12 Aug

As I haltingly work noun infixes into my repertoire of Kinyarwanda I’m reminded of an epiphany I had in calculus senior year of high school. While using algebra to solve a problem I realized that once upon a time just learning algebra was a challenge. Five years later, I considered algebra to be my best mathematical friend. Even now, when presented with a math problem I have no idea about I try to algebra-ize a solution (a lot of good that did me on the GRE). It’s just as easy for me to remember back to eighth grade and the lost feeling prevalent at the end of the day in algebra class. I also remember spending hours each night trying to make sense of my homework only to feel frustratingly stupid when I marked more answers wrong than right correcting the homework. Kinyarwanda is like algebra for me. Right now I’m back in eighth grade struggling and feeling frustrated with my inability to understand when people speak to me and what I’m learning from my tutor. Last week I reflected on the fact that I’ve been at site for almost a month and feel like I’ve stagnated in my Kinyarwanda progress. The people around me seem to think otherwise and repeatedly comment on my expansive vocabulary and how quick progress. Their reinforcement was just what I needed to bust out of the self-doubt rut I was in. I’ve started to carry my flashcards with me for when work is slow (which is a lot). Every week I intend to add a handful of new verbs to the ever growing pile. I’m hopeful that in the next six months Kinya will change from the focus of my work to a tool used to get to know the community and people around me more in depth. I heard once in a history class, I think, that if you lined the people in China up (maybe like 1,000 people abreast?) and had them march into the ocean that they would keep going for some ridiculous amount of time like a year before they ran out of people. The take home point being that China’s population was large perhaps with a rather healthy growth rate. Perhaps this was a predecessor to today’s ever popular infographic? Not that I think the people of China should be marched into the ocean or have particularly significant opinions on the size or growth rate of their population. Rather, this is how I envision words in Kinya as they make the move from my tenuous short-term memory to the more reliable long-term. Only rather than march 1,000 abreast they sort of straggle one by one. Progress is progress right? Also, I miss the English language. I miss playing with words, creatively conjugating and throwing them in sentences they may or may not belong in and waiting to see how friends react. I seem to remember having the most discussions over word choice with my friend Ethan. I suppose it’s taken me this long to miss English because up until a month ago, I spent most of my days in the company of fellow Anglophones.


10 Aug

What are the chances that I wold have a discussion with my coworkers about prostitution on the same day that I start reading Lolita?

I’m not sure it was entirely appropriate for me to explain that in America, on the whole women do not pay for sex. Apparently male prostitution is profitable in Rwanda. I have no idea why or how. Rumor has it that a couple of male coworkers accept money for sex from the school girls. Keep in mind that a student can be up to 25 years old here. My second thought after wondering why in the world a woman would pay for sex was if they’re paying then it must be something they want. So I tried not to stress out about safer sex and consent.

I’m So Tired I Wish I Was the Moon Tonight

2 Aug

Chaotic travel + too much fun this weekend + a teacher that won’t go home + hormones = EXHAUSTION!

So Friday the group of volunteers in Kamembe went to a bar/hotel where this Congolese band plays covers of everything from Rwandan and Congolese music to Reggae and Phil Collins. No joke, it was amazingly cathartic (not to mention fun) to dance the night away. We stayed until midnight or so and rather than going to bed when we got back to the house we started watching the latest Harry Potter movie. It was around 2 am when we decided to call it quits. Unfortuntely my ability to sleep-in in Rwanda is broken so I was up at 5:30 and have been paying for it ever since.

School is out for the next three weeks so I figured I’d take advantage of my tutor who is a teacher abundance of free time. So for the next few weeks I’ll be in Kinyarwanda bootcamp in the afternoons instead of working. The goal of leaving work at 3 pm instead of 5 pm to study is twofold, one so I’ll have more brainpower, two so I still have plenty of time to make dinner. This only works if my teacher actually leaves at 5 pm. Getting him to leave appears to be a 30 minute process as he continues to talk and tray to teach me things I already know.

So this is my little disclaimer that I find myself quite busy these days so if you don’t hear from me (sorry parents) please don’t worry. I continue to do well adjusting and plugging away at work and life here in Rwanda.


PS I have my new/permanent address for the next two years

PPS The title is from a Neko Case song. Fun fact, Neko reminds me of my friend Jamie, Valentines day, bubble baths and a giant glass of hearty red wine. They’re tangentially connected- can you guess how?

Participation Requested

2 Aug

As I familiarize myself with how the health center runs I’m fairly certain that I can observe/participate in whatever I’d like, especially since patient confidentiality does not exist here.

So the question is…. do I want to observe the labor and delivery process? I’m pretty sure I want to have kids one day and the rudimentary manner in which medical care is delivered here continues to stress me out. Which makes me think that I should NOT observe.

What do you all think? Leave a comment and your logic behind yeah or neigh.

First Two Weeks at Site

1 Aug

Monday July 18th was my first day of work at the health center. At the daily staff meeting I was asked to introduce myself along with a few other people who I think were interns. There were a lot of faces I didn’t remember seeing last time and some that I did. Again, they were amazed by the amount of Kinyarwanda I was able to speak. I said something along the lines of, “My name is Mahoro, I’m American, I’ll live and work here for two years. I’m trying to know Kinyarwanda. I have trouble when people speak quickly, sorry please speak slow.”

Monday I helped hand out ARVs with a woman I worked with during my site visit. Morning is the busiest time with people waiting for us when we show up after the staff meeting. After lunch there was a meeting with the community health workers and teachers to discuss the national vaccine campaign. Afterwards, I went back to the ARV office. Afternoons are slow going so I counting meds, exercised my limited Kinyarwanda and tried to read patient charts which are in French. Around 4:30 I smelled amandazi cooking so we went to see them cooking and then to eat some with tea. I ended up paying for mine and my coworkers’. Not really sure how that happened but what can you do? Side note, something that I’ve been struggling with is finding the line between Rwandan hospitality (I’ve been told people will take half of nothing and give it to you) and being taken advantage of. This very evening a coworker came by wanting food and like most other times, I just played it off. I feel a pang of regret every time though with the thought, “What if I’m being rude and burning bridges?” or “What if I’m in a place where I really need help/food/money will I be a sorry Charlie?” It doesn’t help that I’ve been trying to stretch my money because I didn’t want to leave my first weekend to go to the bank in Kamembe. That and I’ve been providing the bulk of the food for the woman I live with, and apparently the woman who has been making our meals. Back on track, last week was a national vaccine campaign week. In cooperation with community health workers and school staff, nurses from the health center went into various parts of the catchment area and schools to deworm kids and give them Vitamin A. The area around my health center is quite mountainous (understatement) and large so we operate two outposts . I spent Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday at the closer of the two, three kilometers north of the health center. The walk takes about an hour and I mostly downhill, which makes going home the more difficult of the two trips. It was absolutely amazing to look out across the mountains, see the health center tiny and faraway and to know that I walked the distance. There are two staff that work the outpost every day, one hands out meds and the other triages and does lab work. Another nurse and myself were the designated vaccine campaign people. Short of the time I chaperoned at a Foo Fighters concert, this was the least work like setting I’ve ever been in. We were at the top of a hill and on a mat under the shade of coffee plants is where we conducted the campaign. For the most part I did a whole lot of nothing. Between the CHWs and the nurse they had it covered. In the following days as I proved a bit of competence I was able to do some of the tracking paper work, and one day when I was left alone I ‘vaccinated’ five kids. When I think ‘vaccination’ my mind goes to needles and vaccine which is not what we were doing. The Vitamin A was in capsules that we broke the top off of and squirted in the mouth. The albendezole/mendezole was in tablet form. So for the older kids we just gave it to them to chew. For the younger ones we dissolved it in a spoon with some water and the drank it. Not sure on the success rate of this method because most of the time a lot of it ended up on their face/everywhere but their mouth. Or they were so upset that they ended up coughing/puking it up. I persevered with one boy when I dissolved a tablet after he puked up the tablet I gave him to chew. The CHWs visited the schools to vaccinate the kids there so we saw mostly kids younger than school age.

The outpost is close to the house of one of the CHW’s and she fed us every day we worked there, not sure if that’s standard practice or just because I was there. My coworker was hilariously sneaky about calling me when it was time to eat. The first day she told me we were going for a walk. The second day she said the CHW needed my help. Monday I lucked out and there was a vehicle working in the area who gave us a ride back to our general area. The rest of the days I made the trip to and from on foot. Tuesday was decently busy, Wednesday was reaaaaally slow, and Thursday I didn’t feel good. I was really tired and felt heavy limbed. I figured it was a combination of the days outside in the sun/heat and not drinking enough water so I made sure to drink plenty that afternoon. Between the water and food the walk home wasn’t so bad that day. There was a copy of Born To Run Floating around training and I started (re) reading it one day to pass the time so when I was walking on the goat paths to the outpost I was reminded of Born To Run and kept thinking how awesome it would be to run here. On the way back Wednesday I contemplated bringing running clothes the following day and running home. That was until I woke up exhausted the following morning.

Friday was my own personal hell. I worked at the health center helping with the administration of actual vaccinations with three other staff. My job was to weigh the babies and record it but before I did that I had to call the mother up. Sounds simple enough right? WRONG! Rwandans write in a script that is at best barely legible and Rwandan names have all the vowel combinations that I struggle to pronounce. So I’m shaking in my boots nervous trying to read chicken scratch and pronounce it right which makes it hard to remember the weights of the babes. I also had to ask how many months the kiddo had in order to plot it on the graph which was fine most of the time except when the mom would start mumbling something that even if I did know Kinyarwanda better would probably be difficult to understand.

As I weighed the babies I play a game, sweat vs pee because they are clammy from being strapped to mom’s back wrapped in several layers of towels/blankets and diapers are not prevalent in Rwanda. Even when there’s no mistaking the smell of urine I comfort myself with what has become my mantra after any less than hygienic toilet experience, “Urine is sterile and you’ve been vaccinated against Hepatitis.” Coupled with a reminder to keep my hands of my face and out of my incredibly itchy eyes I’m good to go! Disclaimer: I have my moments of ridiculous germaphoebia.

Adding to my stress were the random Kinya lessons from my coworker administering the vaccinations. He was fond of waving the needle around while he talked to me, and even though it was pre injection, visions of needle sticks danced through my head. Half the time he would just start talking not even bothering to see if I was listening or not. Then I saw some of the sticks he made and my blood pressure went up even higher. And always with the babies crying, which in of itself wasn’t that stressful but it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. After lunch, I walked through the health center and didn’t any staff I decided to head back home and spend some quality time with my Kinyarwanda grammar book.

Saturday I lazed around reading/journaling until 10 am whence I commenced cleaning. From 10 am to 4 pm I cleaned with a short break to eat lunch. I washed dishes, then clothes, ate lunch and then started wiping down the walls in the common area which are disgusting. I didn’t get too far before my arms got tired. Then I mopped, cleaned the shower and finally cleaned myself. I thought I’d treat myself to some biscuits and nutella so I went to buy some. Just as I was getting down to the business of snacking some guests showed up and ate all my biscuits 

Sunday there was a rumor that we were going to get electricity at our house. So between waiting for that, and the painful situation going on with my eyelids I skipped church and hung out/read all day. I don’t know if I managed to sun burn just my eyelids or if they were chapped but they hurt, and itched. They’re pretty much back to normal these days. This past week I worked in ARV on Monday, went for a loooooooong hike to another outpost on Tuesday. This one required the use of some pretty narrow paths as we descended the mountain behind the health center and into those beyond. We walked for an hour and a half before we reached our destination. My coworker was there to conduct ‘hygiene inspections’ so we visited some different shops and from what I could tell asked about some different practices like using sureau (bleach) in the water and cleaning. We were there for less than an hour before we headed back. Wednesday I worked with a coworker to give a nutritional supplement to some malnourished kids. There wasn’t a lot to do that day. Thursday I was back in ARV where I saw an albino. I’m not proud of the way I reacted, but after three months in Rwanda with limited time in Kigali around white people I’m really surprised whenever I see one. This person mystified me because at a distance they looked white but they spoke Kinyarwanda really well and were dressed like a farmer. It was evident they were an albino once I saw their eyes but I was still freaked out because I didn’t know if the blotches on their skin were carcinomas from advanced AIDS or intense sun exposure. Being around/near sick people still really freaks me out, especially here where the medical care at my health center is so rudimentary. Hopefully something that I’ll become less sensitive to over time.

Friday was a helluva adventure. I needed to go into Kamembe to do some banking. This was also the last day of the school term for three weeks so there was a mass exodus to Kamembe which combined with the rain that we had all that night and morning made for a kinda rough and expensive trip. Details about my awesome weekend in my weekend update post 😉