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You Brought THAT On A Moto?

20 May

You Brought THAT On A Moto?

I have plenty of friends who have organized events. Imagine organizing two camps but not having a work car to transport anything. Now imagine that you have to keep stuff at your house before the camp and the only in an out of there is a moto taxi. Welcome to the Southern region’s GLOW/BE camps. Back in November I visited my friend Christine’s site before we headed off to the GLOW/BE camps she co-chaired and we took all this stuff plus the two of us on 3 motos. Good times.


And They Called It Kitty Love

20 May

I just wanted to take this time to talk about someone who has been an integral part of my mental health at site and that’s my kitten Helen, or Helena to the Rwandans.

In case you don’t remember, I inherited Helen from a PCV in my region who finished her service in November 2011. When I got her she was still a kitten which drove me crazy at first. She was fond of randomly jumping on my back which was painful and infuriating.

Since then she’s mellowed quite a bit and now brings me a considerable amount of happiness. Whenever I’m sitting she’s usually in my lap and when she comes to sleep with me it, always on/by my legs and if I move she has to make sure she scoots up next to me. Usually she spends the night hunting and then comes in around 5 am for a snooze. Unless it’s raining, then she usually spends the night with me. When I toss and turn she gets impatient and goes elsewhere to sleep.

The one thing that’s taken getting used to is the way she expresses her love for me. That’s by bringing rats in my room and eating them, usually under the far corner of my bed, right where my head is. It used to stress and gross me out but now it’s just par for the course. The other morning she came in with a rat as I was waking up and followed me into the bathroom and living room with it before she settled down to eat it. Whenever I get home from a trip away I always have to do a hunt for any ‘left-overs’ she may have left behind.

When I’ve been gone too long she likes to express her affection by biting my feet. It doesn’t hurt that bad but it’s pretty annoying and I’ve taken to giving her a good whack when she does it.

Plenty of people in my village have expressed an interest in inheriting Helena after I return to America. However she’s spoiled, and has ‘umuco mubi’ (bad manners) as I’ve told them. So I found another volunteer for Helen to go live with. It will be the first time she’s lived outside Cyangugu.

I hope that Helen can become somewhat of a Peace Corps tradition passing from one pcv to another, and getting plenty of love in the meantime.


Neighborhood kiddos dancing to Mumutashye by Dream Boys

21 Feb

Hey friends out there in blog land! Seems like I’ve fallen off the Earth, but als I’m still here. The holidays, the months before, as well was those after have been a blur of mostly goodness. Add to that a crummy internet connection and that seems as good a reason as any my lack of blog posts.

Trust me, there’s plenty afoot and I’m going to do my best to catch you all up on it.

In the meantime, here’s a fun little video I made last month. I came home from a run and the kids started playing with my sunglasses. It was astonishing the way they adopted the ‘swagger’ we see Rwandan pop stars exhibit in music videos. I say ‘we’ but considering that I’m the only one in my neighborhood who has a computer and electricity has yet to arrive anywhere in the village, I’m probably the only one who has seen videos with any frequency.

Gorilla Trekking

21 Feb

In mid November my site neighbor Kate and I headed up to Musanze to go see the gorillas. We had purchased our permits back in June, just before the rates went up and aside from checking every once in awhile to make sure I still had my permit I didn’t give it much thought.

Due to a busy schedule, Kate and I traveled from Kamembe, in the very Southwest of Rwanda, through Nyungwe Forest, through Kigali, and up North to Musanze. Luckily the trip went well, except for some drunken ladies in the twege on the way to the hotel. I hadn’t bothered to get directions to the hotel, thinking it would be easy to find from Musanze town, thank goodness for the kindness of Rwandans!

After a long day of travel culminating in a lovely evening moto ride through fields of sheep, the five volcanoes in the background, we arrived at the hotel around 5 pm and were greeted by some friendly staff. The Kinigi Guest House is great by Rwandan standards and they even have hot water that was surprisingly hot. It appeared that we were the only guests there and even though we stayed in the ‘dormatory’ (a room with 4 beds) we got to use the bathroom in the VIP suite which was very generous.

We decided to take a walk into the neighboring village to stretch our legs and I was amazed at the friendliness and English proficiency of the people we met on the road. A byproduct of Volcanoes National Park headquarters being so close no doubt.

We got back to the hotel with the last light of the day to find the electricity was out. Unfazed we went to the restaurant to for dinner. It wasn’t long though before I found myself COLD and went back to the room to put on long johns and socks (a rarity for me in Rwanda). Dinner took forever per usual but was soooooo worth it! We both got steak and it was the best thing I’ve had in a long time. After dinner, I tested the shower, skeptical of the promised ‘hot water’ and unwilling to take even a tepid shower. I was pleasantly surprised at the abundance and hotness of the water. It was glorious. After that it was bed time because we had an early morning.

Miraculously breakfast was waiting for us the next morning. As another volunteer who travels for work once put it, “Hotel employees always seem to wake up surprised in the morning that guests want coffee and breakfast.” Not so in this case. During breakfast we finally saw some other hotel guests, two other groups of young women also going to see the gorillas from the way they were dressed.

After breakfast our driver was waiting for us, an adorable well-dressed older man who came recommended from some other volunteers. We headed down the road to park headquarters where we showed our permits and passports, mingled with other tourists waiting to hear what group we would go see and watching some traditional dancers. At the conclusion of dancing our driver told us what group we would be seeing and connected us with our guides who gave us a background on the different gorilla groups and ours specifically. Then it was back into the car to drive to the trail head.

At the trail head we were greeted by porters who we could hire to carry our bags and ‘help us’ in the mud. Some of the people in our group elected to hire porters and I felt pressured to do the same but ultimately decided not to. We were also given walking sticks and we headed up the trail which first led us through fields of potatoes until we came to a wall of rocks marking the edge of the forest. This ‘wall’ is to protect the crops from ‘bulls’ which I’m pretty sure are elephants. At this point we met up with one of the park rangers who was packing (to protect us from aforementioned bulls). Our guides were in radio contract with the trackers who told us at this point that the gorillas had moved locations so we headed downhill to another entry point into the forest.

Once we entered the forest we were ‘bushwacking’ but it wasn’t too bad at all, a gentle incline and very little mud except for where the bull tracks were. After about an hour total of hiking we met up with the trackers in clearing. Our guides explained to us what would happen next, we dropped our bags, bringing with us only what we needed and then headed off to see the gorillas.

It was incredible! You get one hour with them which begins when you first see them, which is the reason we break to gather everyone together and situate ourselves. First we came across a group of juveniles. Our guides told us because it was the rainy season and bamboo shoots were abundant that the gorillas were drunk from eating the bamboo shoots. It was obvious because the juveniles were beating on the chests and wrestling with each other. After watching them for awhile we moved onto where the Silverback and his lady friends. For the duration of our hour with the gorillas the Silverback just chillaxed between us and the gorillas.

We got to see baby gorillas nursing and playing with their mamas and because they were in dense undergrowth and not in a clearing we were able to get much closer to them than the designated 7 meters. It was so beautiful that I was almost moved to tears. The guides were awesome making sure everyone got a good vantage point of the gorillas and their picture taken if they so wished. They also ‘talked’ with them, making sounds to let them know that we were there but meant no harm.

Cyangugu HIV/AIDS Theater Showcase

21 Feb

Wayyyyy back in October the Cyangugu Peace Corps Volunteers put on the 2nd Annual HIV/AIDS Theater Showcase. The idea started with some Ed 1 volunteers last year and they got a grant from Peace Corps to cover transportation costs and food.

The Showcase is a daylong event where students from each of the schools put on skits, songs, dances, or poems related to various HIV/AIDS themes. Sandwiched in there are some lessons from health volunteers. It was such a hit with the students the first year that they were asking the teachers when it would happen this year. I decided to take the lead on modifying and submitting the grant for this year which made me the ring leader.

We ran into a little snafu with the disbursement of funds and the start of Peace Corps’ new fiscal year, but there’s no love like G’ug love and the volunteers in my region came together to save the day.

I came into Kamembe, where the event would take place a couple days early to purchase supplies and get everything in order. Then I went to visit my friend Kari and her GLOW club the night before. The club was having their end of the year party where they said goodbye to the girls graduating and inducted the new club officers. It was good to see all the girls from GLOW camp but sad to think that this would be the last time that I would see the girls who were graduating.

The next morning we all piled into the taxi and headed into Kamembe for the Showcase. Miraculously everyone arrived on time and we promptly got down to business. Each school had 30 minutes to perform and if you know anything about Rwandan students you won’t be surprised that most schools used all 30 minutes for their performances. Students at boarding schools in Rwanda have most of their time structured studying, farming, or cleaning so the opportunity to perform is one they relish.

After three school performances another health volunteer and I spent an hour and a half teaching some lessons from the life skills manual. The students get the biology and facts of HIV/AIDS drilled into them so we wanted to focus on building their capacity. So we had a lesson on peer pressure, one on healthy relationships, and an activity where they classified different activities as high, medium, or low-risk for HIV/AIDS transmission.

After that we broke for lunch then had the remaining performances. The students filled out the post-test, signed a pledge that they would do all they can to protect themselves from HIV/AIDS and we took group pictures.

After the students were all in taxis back to school some of us went out to celebrate our success.

The girls at Kari’s school have a very strong GLOW club and a great asset in Kari so I tasked the girls who attended the Showcase with taking notes in hopes that they will help plan the Showcase next year because as volunteers we’re always looking for ways to create leadership opportunities.


Ifirimbi Yanyuma

9 Dec

I try in as many ways as possible to share bits of popular culture here in Rwanda with friends back home. This song came out this year and someone ended up in my possession. What I like most about the song is that I knew it was a love song before I understood any of the words because of the music and the way Kamichi sings. Gotta love that!

The title translates as ‘the last whistle’. Ifirimbi yanyuma y’ubuzima translates to ‘the last whistle of life’ and the song is about how Kamichi is going to love his girl for all of time. I haven’t seen a copy of the song lyrics or had someone break it down for me. My explanation is just from what I’ve been able to understand, so pardon any misinformation.

As mentioned, the song is about loving someone until ‘the last whistle of life’ then I’m pretty sure he sings about being together in heaven where life is easy and the rain doesn’t fall and there’s always sun. Along with some other stuff.

In the US we say things like ‘until my dying day’ or ‘last breath’ as a measure of our eternal love for someone. In an attempt to understand the significance of the last whistle I asked a friend about it and while he wasn’t super familiar with the song he said compared it to a futbol match. Hahaha. Which is entirely possible. I’m going to do some more asking around.

Also, from my understanding the video is not thematically connected to the song. Which seems to be common in a lot the the Rwandan music videos I’ve seen.


Gukira Soup

9 Dec

In America when I’m feeling sick or worn out from too much fun the night before my go-to feel better food is Pho (Vietnamese beef soup). Unfortunately it’s not available in Rwanda. What I HAVE come up with is a poor man’s substitute I like to call Gukira soup.

In Kinyarwanda gukira has two meanings. The first is to be rich, the second means to recover from illness (get better). When a person sneezes in Rwanda the people around say ‘urakira’ or ‘kira’.

The recipe for Feel Better Soup:

2 c water

4 beef bouillon cubes

Grain of your choice (pasta and couscous are my go-to)

Whatever veggies I have (onion, tomato, and carrot are common for me)

The following are to taste:

-Minced fresh ginger*

-Chopped parlsey

-Minced garlic

Prepare veggies, parsley, ginger and garlic. Add everything except parsley and tomatoes to water and bring to a boil. Once the water is boiling add bouillon cubes, parsley and tomatoes. If using pasta add pasta and boil until al dente. If using couscous boil 2 minutes more, add couscous, cover and wait 5 minutes.

The ginger/beef broth combo makes my taste buds super happy.

*I learned the hard way that high ginger in high doses can be a diuretic soooo be careful.