The Holidays: A Recap

23 Feb

I’m wayyy behind on my bliggity bloggage, forgive me, I’ve been busy living life!

Originally I was going to go with a group of other PCVs to Uganda for some beach time and white water rafting over the holidays but the trip had to be postponed. This ended up working out for the better because I’ve found a dancing buddy in one of my fellow volunteers in the region and she was not happy at the prospect of spending her last Rwandan NYE apart.

Unlike in America, where the Christmas stuff comes out right after Thanksgiving, sometimes before….. mum was the word in the weeks leading up to Noehli in my village. I decided that rather than stay at my site I’d use the opportunity to visit some other volunteers and shadow them at work.

On the 23rd I headed into Kamembe to take care of some errands before I went to visit another volunteer. I was happy to see that some of the stores in town had decorated for the holiday. Christmas had a familiar vibe as my dancing buddy and I ran errands before going to spend the holiday at another volunteer’s site. To be on the safe side you have to catch a taxi car before 5 pm in order to get insure you can take one there. We intended to leave at a decent hour but the errands dragged out and before we knew it we were trying to argue a reasonable price with the driver who was not in the mood to accept it. So we followed a woman who was going to the same place over the twgerane park and waited, hoping it would fill up soon and we’d be able to make it that day.

The whole experience was reminiscent of Christmas Eves past, last minute shopping for stocking stuffers, and staying up late into the night after the traditional Christmas eve dinner to wrap presents and watch a White Christmas. We arrived in the dark to my friends site so I didn’t have a good idea where she lives, except that it’s with nuns behind walls and gates which delightfully keep many of the obnoxious people out.

We greeted the nuns, were shown to our room, and shortly went over to the priests’ house for dinner. I had heard that priests have a reputation for pushing the booze and found it to be true. There was wine, beer, and whiskey in addition to the ubiquitous fanta. One of the priests poured me a large glass of red wine and I made sure to nurse it in order to not have to drink another so as not to wake up on Christmas with a hangover.

Many of the priests I’ve met have bellies and I understand why, because they eat very well. The meal we had was delicious and the thing that sticks out in my mind was the Akabenze, which is the name for pork. It was the first time I’ve had it and so far I’ve not eaten any to rival its deliciousness.


I’m not typically big on Christmas though I do enjoy participating in the traditions of my family and friends. However this year I felt like I had to pick up the slack of the people around me. Which meant that in the week before I left site I found myself singing carols at work, amazed how much of the French ones I still remember from high school. I found myself also wanting to sing a carol at dinner with the priests but not wanting to sing a solo since the other volunteers did not want to sing. So Go Tell It On The Mountain remained unsung.

It started to get late and the head nun was clearly very tired, we started discussing if she would rally the troops (nuns) to go home before she dozed off at the table. Finally she did and the priests escorted us across the grassy field back to the nunquarters. It wasn’t long before we called it a night.

After waking up, we went to breakfast bearing gifts of cheese and agasha, which is a juice concentrate. Breakfast was DELICIOUS, with warm bread, honey, and coffee to name some of the highlights. Then we headed off to the 7:30 mass.


It was absolutely beautiful walking through the grassy field, the sun still low in the sky and the air and grass still heavy with moisture. I wanted to take a picture of the people walking through the field lit by the sunlight but I didn’t have my camera and I’m always wary of taking pictures of strangers here.

The church for this particular parish in on the small side and we walked past many people seated and standing outside to listen to the mass on the speakers. Despite being guaranteed a seat because we were with the nuns, it was a squeeze. Catholics have the shortest church service in Rwanda, but it still clocked in around 2 hours. Impressive considering how many people took communion. Mass is probably the church service that closest resembles its counterpart in America because of the uniformity worldwide. After mass it was a bit of a stampede to exit the church and when we did my breath caught a little at the sheer number of people standing outside, waiting to enter for the second mass.

Basically we spent the rest of the day eating, being full & hot, watching movies, and playing with the almost three year old orphan boy who lives with the nuns. First we watched Elf and after lunch we watched Baby Momma. The latter isn’t exactly Christmas material but 2/3rds of us hadn’t seen it, and it’s reaaaaaally funny.

After breakfast on the 26th AJ and I headed back to Kamembe and Gillian headed back to site. A girl from my group came to visit and we had lots of fun hanging out and I even did a holiday art project. I modgepodged some containers I used for pens and makeup using igitenge. I figured my mom would be proud of my holiday craftiness since that’s kinda her thing.

I headed to Gillian’s site the afternoon of the 28th. We did P90x (I’ve since fallen off the wagon), I accompanied her to work one day, and we hung out/cooked with a coworker she lives with. I also helped him put music on his shuffle and in the process got a bunch of random/awesome Rwandan music. This coworker is a delightful young man, I can’t even really explain him except to say it’s like sunshine emanates from his eyes. He’s so serious about his studies that he deleted all the girls from his phone because he didn’t want the distraction. Only sometimes it backfires because he doesn’t know who is calling. We had a lot of fun one night cooking dinner, ubugali from corn flower, a tomato sauce and imboga.

It was lots of fun spending time with Gillian because we both like to treat NYE and birthdays as special. So the focus was on hydrating and resting so we could be at our most gorgeous for NYE.

I had a dress made for the party we were going to and I’m really pleased with how it turned out. Though I’m waiting for another occasion where I can wear it. It’s also on the shorter side for the village, but I can just wear leggings with it. Which was my original plan, but I was feeling gutsy so I just decided to go bare legged.

For NYE, two friends of PC Kamembe, who happen to live together and near us both have birthdays in December so they had a party. At the party there was dinner and of course plenty of speeches, and beer. I kept trying to rally the troops to head out to the dance club for dancing but we kept getting ushered inside. Finally it was Peace Corps’ turn for a speech. We all stood up and introduced ourselves and our leader gave a speech in Kinyarwanda which was impressive considering how beers they’d had. Though it was repetitive but that’s the style here. There was dancing, more brochettes, more speeches and then finally midnight struck and we were all dancing and jumping around. A tray of peanuts appeared, apparently some kind of tradition? I soon found myself trying to throw them into fellow party goers’ mouths and trying to catch them in my own.

Sometime after 1 am a group of us headed down to the dance club to confirm my worst fears. Paco was the lead singer of the awesomeness responsible for our dance teacher rasta man, and all the sweet reggae jams we spent our Friday and Saturday nights dancing to. His contract with the hotel ended earlier in December and he was snatched up by another hotel in Rwanda. Another Congolese band was brought in to replace him, which is what we saw on new years. They were not impressive and luckily it wasn’t long after we got there before the band finished and we got to dance to the top hits of Rwanda. I accomplished my goal of dancing until 4 am, though at times it was pretty crazy. Rwandans on the whole are not one to drink to excess, sure there is the odd overly drunk guy. On this night though, lots of guys were drinking lots of beer which resulted in a number of fights and I saw a lot of guys walking around in the days following with black eyes. Needless to say I was extremely happy to be in the company of some very good guys.

While I didn’t learn anything groundbreaking from my colleagues’ work, it was extremely heartening to see the way they interacted with their coworkers and people in their community. It gave me hope for the budding relationships in my own community because I still felt a guardedness.

My birthday (which is like a holiday) fell on a Thursday so I was at site and it wasn’t particularly remarkable. Work was slow so I spent much of the day watching episodes of The Office and relaxing. I wasn’t feeling particularly motivated so I just ate the chocolate pudding I had been saving for the occasion for dinner. The next day I headed into Kamembe to celebrate with friends. I spent Saturday down by the lake with a friend. Later we went out for dinner and gave the new Congolese band one last try. Still underwhelmed and not sure how we’ll spend the rest of our Friday and Saturday nights. I can’t complain though since I didn’t pay for a drink all night and got called up on stage and sung happy birthday to. There’s even a snippet of video that I’ll try to get uploaded when I can find a decent internet connection. Fun fact, few people use toilet paper in the bathroom, but it IS a popular tool for decorating. Case in point, I had shredded toilet paper thrown on my head at the end of the song. There was a girl there with her family celebrating her 16th birthday who was also sung to. The whole joint birthday thing was incredibly awkward.

It was like Christmas came at my birthday because when I went to the post office on Friday I had a bunch of packages to pick up. One from Lu-dawg, a very important one containing funfetti birthday cake mix from Tracy, and two from the WCHD care package team. I was a happy happy lady, especially since the WCHD one came with an adorable dress which solved my problem of what I should wear for my birthday. I also got a package from my grandma and my mom’s cousin on Christmas Eve. And another between the holidays from my Aunt and Uncle. Thanks to all my family and friends for putting in the time and effort to put something together for me.

Funfetti is somewhat of a birthday tradition for me so I made sure to bake it right away on Friday and we thoroughly enjoyed it Saturday after coming back from the club.



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