Archive | November, 2011

Things my umukozi used to do for me

26 Nov

’ve been in a list making mood lately so I thought I’d make a list of things my umukozi used to do for me. For reasons I’ll explain at another time we had to let her go so I’ve been busy picking up the slack in addition to teaching English classes four days a week, and a new workout regimen. Needless to say, I haven’t been watching much tv lately. Without further ado:

  • Clean the latrine
  • Wash my laundry (I especially miss someone to do my bedding)
  • Mop weekly
  • Cut my weekly pineapple
  • Cook lunch
  • Go to the market for the staples (I make an appearance to see people and pick out my own fruit)
  • Wash the dinner dishes (It was hit or miss with the dishes after lunch)
  • Pester the carpenter about finishing my furniture (luckily I have almost all of it)



Changes, I’ve Never Been Good With Change

26 Nov

Hate it when it all stays the same, caught between the gold and the grain. – Stars

I have two anniversaries that I observe in my time here. The first is the fifth of each month, this marks my arrival in Rwanda. I can still remember the evening clearly. The humidity and wet tarmac from a recent rain, the smell of burning garbage, the way the electricity in the airport flickered for a second as I stepped into the building, a foreshadowing of the chaos that is characteristic of life in Rwanda. How after 18 ish hours on a plane, and even longer without brushing my teeth we were welcomed by the Ambassor to Rwanda and then spent two hours filing paperwork for our bags that were left behind in Brussels.

The 13th of each month is the anniversary of my arrival at site. Looking back I find it reminiscent of move-in day my freshmen year of college. I rolled up with my Peace Corps escorts, tracked down the keys to my house/room, pretended to know a woman I had never met before who was apparently my roommate (she still lives with me) then unloaded my things from the car. All the while staving off the realization that it was truly happening, that I was being removed from the safety net of daily contact with fellow trainees, a host sister who speaks excellent English, and a host family who had taken such good care of me.

After six months away from the only country I’ve ever called home I thought it’d be fun to make lists of the changes and experiences I’ve had so far.

Ways That I’ve Changed

I would actually say that I like peas and cabbage now. It’s probably something unhealthy in the way they cook peas here that makes them so delicious and cabbage is just so ubiquitous here. Whereas back home it was one of those vegetables I could never prepare in a way that was appealing to my taste buds.

I take cold showers, willingly. My host family had hot water for me to bucket bathe with every morning I lived there. I said I would cry if I had to take cold showers at site. Turns out, cold water coming out of a tap beats warm water out of a bucket. There’s just something about feeling water run over you and like all the soap has been rinsed off.

I had a housekeeper. And I’ve become dependent on her. I’ve always disliked cleaning the toilet and living here I really don’t like to mop the floor so I’m happy to have someone else do it. Though it was tough in the beginning to relinquish control and accept the possibility that things might not get done exactly the way I’d like.

Rwandans have a way of speaking with their eyes and I’ve adopted it.  Kind of like a head nod or pointing only you motion with your eyes and occasionally there’s some eyebrow action. If you know me this probably isn’t surprising to you.

I go to church just about every week I’m at site. It’s a good way to be seen by a large segment of the community not to mention the first couple times you go they make you stand up in front of everyone and introduce yourself. I was even practicing with the young folks choir for awhile. Now I just teach the young kids church songs in English and get to hold a microphone when we sing them for the congregation.

I watch a lot of tv in my down time. Hoping to get Season 8 of weeds, the new Dexter and Modern Family episodes if anyone has the. For most of my college years and since I haven’t had cable tv so this is a pretty big change.  I look at it as getting caught up with pop culture, only to still be behind when I finish my service.

It’s taking some getting used to but I am SO glad that I brought a Kindle. So many books in suck a small space! And the capacity to swap books with volunteers. My goal was to read the classics but my friend loaded so.much.good.stuff on my kindle that I’ve been otherwise distracted.

I have a garden, A LOT of carrots, some peas, corn, beans and onions. I also planted spinach, chard, zucchini, basil, cilantro, and parsley. The herbs are off to a slow start and the rest of the veggies didn’t sprout. I consider this my practice run for the seeds I received from my mom and coworkers. I’ve already started thinking about where I’ll plant things, including decorative lavender and lots of other good stuff.

My musical tastes are slowly expanding, thanks in part to the mixes from my friends and the volunteers here. Moving from the indie/alternative rock into more hip hop and mainstream. Whereas I used to listen to mostly listen to albums in their entirety, seldom skipping a song, all I really want these days in a good mix. I’ve even put together mixes of my own. Before I would start to make a mix but never finish it.

In America I had a great distaste for bars of soap. You could actually call it a fear. Here, that’s pretty much all there is and I don’t really think about whether or not it’s hygienic to use the same bar of soap for laundry, dishes, handwashing, and shoe cleaning I just do.

I’ve become an adrenaline junkie. First it was the sweet moves I learned in our self-defense session. Don’t worry family and friends, it was simply two volunteers sharing their knowledge, Rwanda is quite safe. Though the wrist release has come in handy with creepers when we’re out dancing. Then it was the downhill-ish mountain biking that was my ride home from large group days during pre service training (PST). Not to mention that I want a motorcycle when I get home because I’m always wanting the motari (moto driver) to go faster faster when I don’t have a big bag strapped to my back.

I eat food cold that I never would’ve in the US like french fries and scrambled eggs because sometime it’s served that way and sometimes things just comes up that prevent me from eating right away.

One thing that hasn’t changed….. I still loathe chickens, remember this post. Rwanda has a law that forbids taking animals on public transportation, good news in the fact that I won’t be sharing a seat with a chicken anytime soon. Bad news for volunteers who need to take their pets into Kigali to be vaccinated or fixed. Days after I had the realization that I wouldn’t ever find myself on a bus sitting next to a chicken (at least in Rwanda) I was sitting in a twegerane taxi waiting for it to fill when we backed into a corner and loaded some chickens into the back. I kid you not. Luckily I was riding shotgun and there were several rows of seats between the offending creatures and myself.

A Thanksgiving Miracle

24 Nov

We all know miracles are associated with Christmas, there’s even a movie about one that happened on 34th street. Well I’m here to tell you that miracles can happen at Thanksgiving too, even in a country that is not America despite Thanksgiving at the end of November being a very, American thing.

The last Saturday of every month is a national day of service in Rwanda called Umuganda. While it has flaws and a sketchy past, I really like the concept of Umuganda. Unfortunately since I’ve been at site there’s been one reason or another to keep me from doing Umuganda in my community, including this Saturday when I’ll be in Kamembe celebrating Thanksgiving.

The Thursday before national Umuganda we do Umuganda at my health center. Today was the first one I’ve been present for and where the miracle happened. Usually Umuganda at work is “gukora isuku” literal translation “to do hygiene” meaning to clean. Today I helped mop the building I work in on a regular basis. I was asked to grab four mops from the store room and joked with everyone in the main area about how I was going to use them ALL. Someone had poured water all over the floors so I did my office and then moved onto a meeting room where two other people were working and we worked side by side saying little. There you have it folks, the Thanksgiving miracle.

It is an all too common occurrence to be told by a Rwandan that I’m doing something incorrectly or that I must do a certain thing one way or another or risk being infertile, losing my sanity or some other ridiculous claim. I remember adamantly assuring my host family that I was capable of washing my clothes despite appearances. Thus it was not lost on me that no one said anything about my ability to mop and trust me I did have an audience. In fact, one of my coworkers even exclaimed that I DID know how to mop.

It was an especially good moment in a pretty good day. I’ve been feeling pretty low on energy and stretched thin these days but I slipped back into the old me for awhile, joking, learning dance moves, and playing at karate with coworkers.

The Day of Never Ending Work

19 Nov

I’ve got a couple other blogs started but they require a little more thought so in the interest of posting SOMETHING let me tell you about my day today. Miracle of all miracles, despite the 5 am bathroom trip, the cat going crazy climbing the curtain and my roommate’s radio I managed to sleep in. Until 8:30! Rwandans don’t understand the concept of sleeping in and lately despite being more tired than ever I’ve been getting fewer hours of sleep than normal. Part of this is due to the fact that my roommate has taken to playing her radio quite late into the evening only to commence again at 5 am.

My new friend Helen the cat has also contributed to my sleeplessness, at first because she was wearing a cone as a result of being spade and it made a lot of noise on the concrete. Now because of a general restlessness, a result of spending most of her time in my room.Next week I shouldn’t have to worry about her trying to go to her old home so she can venture outside to release some of her pent up energy.

Back on track, so when I finally got out of bed and dressed the first order of business was breakfast. Oddly the electricity wasn’t on (later it I figured it was because the guy in charge of monitoring it was out of town) so tea/coffee wasn’t an option. I settled for pineapple and almonds (from my mom’s most recent and totally awesome care package). After breakfast I did the few dishes from last night’s dinner and lamented about how I had slept in and would now have to do the housework in the heat of the morning. Before starting the laundry I put the potatoes out in the sun in an attempt to get a leg up on the mold situation that set in.

In order to allow ample time to dry my bedding was first up. Fortunately it cooled off a bit, but then it started to rain, a drizzle at first and then more earnestly. The rain didn’t cramp my style because I was protected since I was in my shower. I continued with laundry figuring the sun would come out eventually and my stuff would dry. Still I didn’t want to take any chances to I used my clothesline and rope to make a line in the common room so the bedding could get a jumpstart on drying.

Laundry finished around noon and still it rained. I needed to go to town to buy a broom and some phone credit but debated going in the rain (I become more Rwandan every day). I didn’t want to put off cleaning the floors so I put on my raincoat and headed to town.

Next up was cleaning the floors so I tidied up in my room and then swept my two rooms, the store room, and the common room. Then my least favorite activity, mopping. There are two ways people mop here. The first is using a rag and a bucket of water. This is how I had to mop at my host family’s and it’s my least favorite. The other method involves dumping water on the floor and using a squeegee to push it outside, how I normally mop. Due to the nature of this week’s mess I used both methods, though in different places. I was hoping that my roommate would mop the floors this week since I did it last week, but she worked today and I didn’t feel like waiting around.

We used to have an umukozi (house worker) that would do all this stuff but we had to let her go for reasons I’ll explain in another blog.

By this time it’s almost two so I figure it’s about time to eat something. So I light the charcoal stove to reheat leftovers from last night. I have a gas stove that I’ve been using more since cooking for myself (previously my umukozi did most of the cooking), but I think the wicks need replacing because it seems to take longer than it should.I decided that this rainy day was a good one to make a soup so I started cutting veggies up to start cooking after lunch was heated.

The soup has yellow lentils (bought in Kigali at swear-in) which I cooked for 30 minutes before adding sliced potatoes. After letting those cook for a bit I added some sliced carrots, onion, and what I thought were bay leaves from the market. Still not sure, but they added good flavor. After another hour or so I added garlic powder, another chicken bouillon packet (both from a care package) and some salt.

It finally quit raining after I finished eating so I moved the laundry outside to catch the last couple hours of sunlight and did the rest of the dishes. I figured by this time I was due a rest so I read my kindle for awhile until it was time to check on the soup.

I went outside and realized that I don’t enjoy the sunset outside enough so I pulled weeds in the garden for 40 minutes or so. With the last rays of light I washed the dirt off my hands and feet and collected my laundry.

Unfortunately the last hours of sunlight weren’t warm enough to really aid in drying the laundry. Fortunately the electricity came on sometime in the late afternoon so I got out the iron and ironed my sheets dry. It would have taken a lot of ironing to dry my blanket and pillowcase so I settled on using my sleeping bag and a t-shirt for my pillow.

By this point it was nearly 8 pm so I dished myself up a bowl of soup and decided to call it a day. Haven’t decided if a movie, reading, or more blogging is on the agenda after this.

Tomorrow is my titulaire’s (my supervisor at work) wedding and despite being invited, I’ve had my fill of weddings. Luckily I’m off the hook for going because it’s at another volunteer’s site which is expensive to get to and he’s not providing a car for employees, as far as I’ve been able to gather. So instead tomorrow I’ll go to church, try to keep my patience while I teach the kiddos This Little Light of Mine and then teach English to some staff from 3-5 pm.

Another busy day tomorrow but hopefully I’ll get the couple things I didn’t get to today done. That would be P90x, baking banana bread, and taking a pumice stone to my feet.

PS I was able to take some pictures of the cat ‘being crazy’ so hopefully I can include them in a post about her.


3 Nov

Turikumwe means ‘we are together’ in Kinyarwanda and that’s just what us Health 3ers have been for the past week. It’s emerged as a combination theme/running joke for the training since it is a common expression our coworkers. It’s also my second favorite phrase in Kinya, ‘Hariya hepfo’ being the first. Anyone have any guesses on what it means?

Last Sunday (October 23rd) we slowly made our way in groups from sites and regional towns to the resort town of Kibuye on the shore of Lake Kivu. Our lodging, the Hotel Bethanie is a good distance from town, which combined with the packed schedule, leaves this experience feeling like a bit like a lock-in. This situation has left some people restless but so far I’ve been really busy and not felt the need to get out.
None of us knew what to expect when we showed up Sunday were kept in the dark with most details with the exception food logistics and the time we needed to report for duty. Monday morning there was a palpable playful energy emanating from the group, the result of all of us together again for the first time since pre-service training. We’ve come a long way since the clueless/naïve group that first arrived in Kamonyi to meet our host families.

Monday, the first day was spent discussing logistics and the schedule for the week. But most of all we spent took time to share our experiences. We quickly filled up a sheet of paper with Parking Lot questions and so far the rate at which we add to it is quite a bit greater than the rate we address them.

The days are jam packed and we spend a lot of time sitting either in sessions, at meals, or around beers in the evening. The staff has really made an effort to incorporate time for group activities, brainstorming and pleeeeenty of energizers, including a really great laughter yoga exercise.

We’ve had sessions on a variety of topics utilizing the experience of colleagues of volunteers who live nearby. Some sessions have been more helpful than others, but that’s with anything. Session topics include, family planning, nutrition, youth friendly centers, sexual assault as it relates to PCVs, and planning and implementation of programs. I have quite the list of potential project ideas to bring back to my health center.

The food here is really good, or at least a departure from what were accustomed to at our sites. The buffet style means it’s plentiful, and many of us have remarked on the inevitability of leaving IST a couple pounds heavier than when we arrived. I’ve enjoyed fish, meatballs, salads, and french fries in large quantities since being here. We have a break in the morning and one in the afternoon where snacks, tea, and coffee are served. I’ve been drinking A LOT of coffee, so far it hasn’t messed with my sleep schedule too much.

The bulk of our hours are spent in a waterfront building, upstairs in a large room where we have sessions, on the balcony soaking up the lake view, or downstairs on the patio where we talk all our meals and drinks in the evening. It is absolutely beautiful here, though unfortunately despite our lake front location, due to the weather and Peace Corps ‘strong discouragement’ there hasn’t been a lot of swimming going on. The reason PCVs are discouraged from swimming in the lakes here is due to a gnarly disease called Shisto, the vector being tiny snails on the surface of still water. There’s some cognitive dissonance because earlier groups of volunteers in country were under different leadership and received a different message about the seriousness of Shisto. Apparently it’s not an issue until you start peeing blood, and that can take months. Part of our medical care includes being tested for Shisto before we conclude our service. So, volunteers are all over the spectrum on how they feel about swimming.

The first couple of days we were here wireless internet was plentiful and I was able to Skype with some people. Unfortunately, the power went out Tuesday night and we haven’t made any progress with getting the wireless back on track so I’ve missed several Skype dates sadly.

Friday afternoon our IST concluded and in the evening most of our counterparts arrived for the Behavior Communication Change workshop beginning Saturday. It was a little stressful with my coworker there because I feel like my life outside of site is so distinct from my life at site, even down to my name. At site everyone calls me by my Kinya name ‘Mahoro’ while everyone PC related calls me Heidi. I also felt a pressure to be the hostess for my counterpart but luckily things worked out for the best.

We were able to celebrate Halloween even here in Rwanda on Friday the 28th along with a volunteer’s birthday. As part of their wish, a majority of us did everything we could to put together costumes and we headed out dancing. As so often happens with me, I failed to find the energy for follow-through on my flash of inspiration for my costume. As a result, my Rwandan school girl costume was a bit lackluster but at the end of the day, it was the effort that mattered most.

The BCC session was painful, partially because they were days seven, eight, and nine of sitting all day getting information spewed at us. The other painful part was that some parts were super basic and review of what we learned during PST but they were really helpful for our counterparts for whom, the information was relatively new.

The IST experience was the closest our group has come to living together since we were the first group to live with host families instead of the center-based training that previous groups have had that lends itself to more of a summer camp-like atmosphere. It was good to catch up with people as well as develop better relationships with others. We’re just a group of 18, well 19 now that we adopted a Niger transfer. It’s a bit of an anomaly that all of us have made it to IST, one that many of us hope will continue because as such a small group when someone leaves it’s a noticeable impact on the group. There was plenty of talk about challenges and breaking points and I know a number of people are entertaining thoughts of going home if things don’t get better. That’s life, and as amazing as this experience is, sometimes it takes a toll on uncompromisable things. I know that all of us have put down roots in this country and only with very heavy hearts would we leave. Lord knows why I’m dwelling on this so much since no one has gone home yet! Here’s hoping to a roster of 18 at MST!