Archive | April, 2012

“This Music Is The Glue Of the World….”

10 Apr

Unlimited internet until midnight tonight and a slow day at work = lots of blog posts.

Like a lot of people from my generation, I’m a bit of a music fanatic. To say it’s a big part of my life might be an understatement. In an effort to share as much as possible with my peeps stateside I’ve put together a playlist on youtube of the songs in Rwanda I find myself excited to hear, played ubiquitously, stuck in my head, and boogieing down to at Kamembe’s hot spot: Rubavu. Hope you enjoy!


Recipes: Rice in Cream of Chicken

10 Apr

Figured it’d be fun to share some of the things I cook. Unfortunately since it’s usually dark when I finish cooking and I don’t have electricity there aren’t any pictures.

This recipe started one day when I was sick with a cold and decided to snazz up a Lipton’s soup Packet. I deceivingly call it, “Rice Cream of Chicken”

-Sliced carrots

-Sliced onion

-2 cups of water

-Chicken bouillon cube

-Powdered soy milk

-Peanut flour

-A Sprig or two of rosemary

-A generous helping of oregano



Combine water, veggies, rosemary, and oregano in a pot and bring to a boil. Add chicken bullion and boil for 5 more minutes. Add in peanut flour and powdered soy milk until desired consistency. Add rice and cook for a few minutes more or until your patience runs out. Garnish with black pepper.

This has been my go to meal the last couple of weeks since I’ve been too lazy to cook beans for chili and feel uninspired to cook anything else. Not to mention I have an obscene amount of rice since I saw it fit to purchase 10 or so kg of it months ago.

Due to my recent apathy towards cooking I’ve also not been good about going to the market which means the recipe has evolved. Sometimes I add tomatoes and the last two nights I’ve added dried kale that my mom sent me (because she’s awesome). The recipe is sure to do some more evolving since I used the last of my chicken bullion. Though I’m hoping to break out of my food rut before it goes too much further.


Growing Pains

10 Apr

Growing up my brother and I were always spending school vacations at one parent’s house or the other, and frequently visiting extended family. My grandma has a picture that says, “Bloom where you are planted” and I think that having reading it so many times from an early age I learned to do just that. As a result I wasn’t sure that it was possible for me to be homesick. I now know it to be possible.

For the last little bit (a month? Three weeks?) I have been so incredibly homesick. It’s hard to put into words the reasons or the source but it has manifested itself in a restlessness and frustration with the fishbowl effect not to mention the frequent urge to cry.

I’ve been able to go about my daily activities but so often I’ve felt just below the surface like a kid covered in chickenpox who can’t sit still for itching. The fishbowl effect seemed to magnify with an inverse relationship to my ability to tolerate it. There’s always someone with something to say about my choice to buy a box of crackers, the number of eggs I buy at the market each week, who I do or don’t greet, and what I wear. I found extreme resentment at the maneuvering and fibs necessary when I find myself hungry and wanting to visit the cantina since I’m too lazy to make the 40 minute round trip home for lunch during my 1 hour lunch break. I was unable to read anything from friends or talk about home without tears springing to my eyes. Since crying in public isn’t acceptable it’s really been quite inconvenient.

I also had a lot of anxiety about Rwanda’s commemoration of the 1994 genocide during the month of April. How my community would observe the month and how to conduct myself in an appropriate and respectful manner.

Last Tuesday afternoon in an effort to muster some sanity and energy I cooked up an excuse for work and headed to my regional house/town for a little self-care. It was my intention to make it back to site on Thursday, but it didn’t happen until Friday. It was a glorious time and just the recharge I needed. I drank wine and ate French fries Tuesday evening. Wednesday morning I took myself out to breakfast at a quiet little spot and enjoyed a thermos of café au lait (pretty sure it was even real coffee!) and wrote letters. Writing letters always proves to be a meditative and clarifying experience for me and the recipients seem to be good sports about my ramblings. I also got to spend some time with the two newest volunteers in our region. It felt good to reclaim my time and have a little bit of solitude and in the end I returned back to site, not cured of my homesickness or anxiety, but with the courage to continue.

There was a girl with the same Kinyarwanda name as me working at the breakfast place Wednesday morning. Each time someone called for her I couldn’t help but look up. I also picked up on the different ways people pronounced it and could then hear various coworkers of mine in my head calling for me.

At first I was a little resentful that my supervisor decided to give me a Kinyarwanda name after only a few hours of knowing each other. There’s a ceremonial element to naming a baby in Rwanda and the manner in which I was given mine didn’t seem to honor that. Regardless of the method in which my name was given, I am so thankful to have one. It’s much easier to pronounce than my English name and is pretty much the only thing people call me in the village. It only gets a little tricky when I forget to tell people when they come to visit.

After chores Saturday morning I was looking for the world map I had sent to hang on my wall (just now getting around to decorating my new room) and brought out all the letters I’ve received. In that moment I was finally able to let the tears come. Fleetingly I thought about the promise I made to visit a friend but decided to be fully in that moment. I read some letters and I cried, out of longing for people and my old life in America, out of joy for the good things, and at the absurdity of it all.

Successes/moments of my friends that I used to be able to celebrate in person but now am relegated to reading on fb or letters leave me feeling left out. As I reread letters of friends who shared they often wondered what I was doing at a particular moment the feelings of being left out were beat back and I knew that I am in their thoughts as often as they are in mine.

Despite how much it hurts to be away from the people I love I don’t want to go home. As much I’m aware of this homesickness I also spend just as much time in awe of all the beauty revealed to me here. There are so many things that bring me such intense bursts of joy.

Views of the valleys and hills unfolding to the lake on my walks to and from work each day. The way they change with whatever the weather is doing that day.

The jokes and conversations I have on those same walks with my coworker neighbor.

Meeting the children of my coworkers and the way they’re miniatures of one parent of the other. The younger they are the cuter I think it is.

The way that some of those same kids used to look and me and cry but will now greet me with a hug.

There’s an old woman the choir at my new church and when she sings there’s a light in her eyes I’ve not seen in anyone else. She’s one of several old women I think are absolutely beautiful.


When people in my village call me ‘mama’ despite my marital status and lack of children. Also when they call me an umunyarwandakazi for wearing a long skirt or some other behavior.       

I thanked my coworker the other day for being such a great friend to me, explaining to him how much the friendship of he and his wife meant to me lately since I’ve been so homesick. We started talking about my eventual return to America and how he will miss me and people will ask him where I am since we routinely walk to work together. I told him that I’m going to have a hard time because I miss people now in America but when I got home I’ll miss people here. As a result I’d probably have to go live somewhere like Kenya which made both of us laugh.

I don’t want to think about that aspect of the future right now, especially since it’s just over a year off and I did such a good job of avoiding any real goodbyes when I left America. For now I’m all living the moment.                                                                                                                                                                    


9 Apr

Trying to put everything about my experience in Zanzibar into something coherent is proving to be quite the challenge so please bear with me. Not to mention that wordpress and the internet in general seem to be hating on me a lot these days. The average number of times I try to post a blog before actually succeeding is 3-4.

In the meantime, I invite you to check out the photos I FINALLY managed to get posted on my facebook. There are several public albums with pictures from Rwanda so go on over and have a looksie:

Again though I ask for your patience since fb is overwhelming with my current number of friends so if I don’t respond to a friend request that’s why.

Thanks for stopping by!

Moving Day

9 Apr

Monday February 27th was the day I made the move to my new house. It just also happened to be the day that I actually had some work to do, sort of. The ‘work’ involved the ‘launch’ of a community-based nutrition program which I’ll elaborate on in another post.

Anyway, my coworker and I set off after the morning meeting with about 30 pounds of food strapped to the back of the moto and the two of us squished onto the seat. The place we were headed is accessible by walking down the backside of the mountain my health center is on and through the valley beyond it. To walk there takes about 1.5 hours. However, since we had food to deliver we had the moto and had to go down the main road almost halfway towards the village where you can catch a taxi. We left the main road and set off through the valley of rice fields, which is my favorite part of my moto ride. The rest of the trip included a lot of sketchy bridges and places that needed ridges but didn’t have them. To say the road was bad would be an understatement and I’m sure that the moto was really heavy given the food and extra person but my coworker did a good job keeping us upright and moving forward. I wish I had a good map to get a better idea of the exact route we took. Anywho, it took us close to two hours to get to the community. We visited three different community health workers to drop off the supplies for the program then dropped in on a meeting at the Cell office.

It was getting on in the day and my supervisor told me that I would move in the afternoon but hadn’t given any details so I was a little nervous about the process considering that my new house is a 20 minute walk from my old one/the health center. When the meeting concluded I thought we’d head back to the health center and was under than impression until my coworker informed me that he was hungry and someone wanted to give him a meal and Primus. He asked if I would also have a beer and I said sure, not very happy about the delay.

The Primus turned out to be two Mutzig and the meal turned out to be peanuts. When the time came I chickened out and settled for Fanta. As much as I talk about how wonderful it’d be to be able to have an adult beverage on my lunch break then return to work, I just couldn’t bring myself to break the rules. Besides, I still had a moto ride home to survive.

We started back to the health center sometime after two. Since we were no longer encumbered by the giant bag of food my coworker drove more aggressively, much to my discomfort. The motos the health center has are more like dirt bikes than the moto taxis. The seats are shorter and there’s a metal rack on the back, they also have better tires so allowing the driver to take bumps faster. Unfortunately the suspension isn’t so great so I was really sore in the days after our little adventure and my tailbone felt like it was bruised for quite a few days after.

We got back to the health center around 3:30 and I hadn’t had anything to eat since the morning except for peanuts and fanta. My coworkers were all asking when I was going to start moving and all I could tell them was I didn’t know.

Finally I talked to/tracked down all the necessary people and the moving started. I paid two guys to carry all my big furniture to the house. The rest of my stuff was brought to the health center and strapped on to the back of a moto. I couldn’t watch each time as it drove off, a mountain of stuff precariously tied to the back. I was also incredibly embarrassed by the volume of stuff I had. My supervisor assured me it was nothing to be embarrassed of and assigned yet another coworker/moto combo to help move my stuff.

The entire time this was going on, dark, nasty rain clouds were slowly making their way towards us from the East. I had tried to remain relatively calm about the whole situation and had thus far been fairly successful but people kept asking me about Helen my cat, including if she would die because I had tied a hoodie around the basket in an effort to calm her down. So I made a last sweep of the house, wrestled Helen into a basket with the help of my former housemate and went back to the health center. When it became apparent that the rain would arrive at any time and I still had odds and ends, including my mattress to move I decided to go on foot. Many of my coworkers had said they would help me in my move but all of them save for one bailed on me at the prospect of rain save for Mama Rugira and for that I am eternally thankful. So she took my bucket of dishes, and I took the basket with my cat and we set off just as the rain drops started.

We passed one coworker/moto duo coming down the hill from the health center and told him to grab my mattress. Walking through town we saw another coworker on maternity leave and I told her I was carrying my cat, she just laughed. We argued over who would picked up first by our coworker on a moto. Mama Rugira thought as the fragile foreigner that I should and I, grateful for her help and feeling remorseful about including her on this trip so far from her house with a downpour imminent thought she should. In the end I won. As she took off I wondered what the wet spot on the back of my coworker V could be. Later I would find out that my kerosene stove had leaked on him and he would smell like that for a couple of days. I hopped on the back of the moto, basket of cat and all but then got off close to the house when the road became rather treacherous. Rather than get back on I waved my V forward and told him I’d walk the 300 yards to my new house just as the rain started to pick up.

The house girl came out to take the basket from me and jumped a little when I told her it was my cat. I got put Helen down in the living room with the rest of my things, looked at my ‘landlady’ and we both just laughed for a minute or so at the ridiculousness of the situation. Imagine, motos full of stuff and men with furniture on their heads keep showing up until finally a person you’ve only met once shows up with a cat in a basket.

The second moto drive took off for home before the rain started to get too bad and the rest of us just stood there under the overhang for a minute. Since he lives nearby, I thought V would take the moto back in the morning when he went to work. But he decided to take Mama Rugira home. I knew he’d have to walk back so I offered him my rain jacket and when I couldn’t unzip it he grabbed it from me and put it on over his head. Of course when I got it back it smelled faintly of kerosene. As did my American Apparel hoodie that I tied around Helen’s basket. The guys showed up with the last of my furniture and I paid them.

My new housemates gave me a battery operated lamp to use since we don’t have electricity (yet) and put a chair in my room. I began the process of bringing my different bags into my two rooms and trying to figure out what all had been doused in kerosene. I had my second meal of the day of banana bread and was riding the endorphin high that came with all the excitement of moving. I considered writing this blog post then, but opted for a movie instead.

Mud and Marriage Proposals

9 Apr

This is what happens when I don’t write blog posts in a timely manner…. I forget the good stuff!

So back in December when I was headed to town from my site for the holidays I had myself a little adventure. While waiting for the mutatu (taxi) to show up on of the moto drivers tried to broker a marriage with me on behalf of a young man. As the conversation progressed the group of guys grew larger and larger.

Neither of them would accept the 101 reasons I gave them for not be able to get married, not even when I kept insisting that my dad wanted 700 cows (this almost ALWAYS works to foil marriage proposals). The young man said he had 600 and could easily buy 100 more. After 15 minutes or more I reached a turning point so I accepted the marriage proposal pending the purchase of 100 more cows. Then I decided to have a little fun. In an effort to make myself an undesirable bride I started asking the young man questions about if he was able to cook, clean, do laundry etc (mind you this is all in Kinyarwanda) because I didn’t know how to do any of those things. At some point another guy chimed in with a marriage offer from his friend who also had 700 cows and a moto to boot! I informed them that all I liked to do was read books and eat candy which immediately got me no less than 20 pairs of elevator eyes.

The guy with the second marriage proposal asked me how many kids I would have and that’s when I seized the opportunity to make myself into the least desirable wife ever. I announced that I was unable to birth children which was met with snickers. So I tried another tactic and told them I was barren, not knowing the word in Kinyarwanda, still no dice. Finally I pointed at my stomach and said, “Mfite iki bazzo hano” which means, “I have a problem here.” Instantly the jovial atmosphere disappeared and a wave of yoooooos echoed across the group of young men along with a couple Ihanganes (a general expression of sympathy meaning sorry/be patient). One of the guys announced that no man would want me and my husband-to-be reassured me that someone would.

Thankfully at this time a car pulled up offering me a ride. I was excited at the prospect of riding in a car instead of cramming myself in a taxi, until I remembered that the offer probably wasn’t free. Indeed it wasn’t, they wanted the same amount as a taxi fare but were only going half the distance. My cheapness made for a good bluff as I pointed out the taxi that was previously being worked on was finally running. The guy instantly halved his price and started guiding me to the car.

I’m happy it worked out with the car coming just when it did because I can’t imagine having to stick around and be subjected to the pity of the young men who think I’m barren. Not to mention that the road construction in that area makes many places in the road incredibly difficult for the mutatus to pass. It had rained all night the night before and into the morning so the roads were especially bad that day so I was thankful for the ride in a 4WD car. Particularly since I didn’t see any other mutatus on the road, it could’ve been hours before I finally got one/made it through the mud.

I was reminded of all this last month when I was visiting one of my coworker’s and he asked me if I had an ‘inshuti’. I told him I didn’t and asked what prompted the question. Turns out someone from the area around where I catch the taxis told him that I had a boyfriend who was a student in Kigali and that I was paying for his school. I chuckled and told him about the December marriage proposal as a possible explanation, unfortunately jokes about infertility aren’t as funny to some people. Understandably.