Friday, September 3, 2010

First day in Kinihira

(It’s pronounced “kee-nee-hee-rah” - I’m learning that around here “k” and “g” are almost always hard.)
This is a lot more like what you might picture when you hear “Peace Corps”: There are a few water pumps in town and only the distant one reliably works. The only electricity comes from the solar panels at the health center and GACP field station (where staff - all 4 of us - are allowed 1 computer charge per week). There are erect power poles awaiting wires. I’m told they were put up before the election as a sign of progress; the power station itself is months from being finished.

The field station and my future house are located on the main street, which is lined with shops and houses. The bulk of the village is a dense collection of houses stretching down the hill behind this street. The surrounding view is beautiful: emerald tea fields, plot being tilled as the rainy season begins, cow pastures, glades of eucalyptus. Behind all this, if it’s clear, Nyiragongo bellows smoke and Karisimbi disappears into the coulds). On the other side of the street, from the field station, Kivu is visible on a clear day.

Cows are an even bigger deal here than in the rest of Rwanda, which is saying a lot. Milk costs 30% what it does in Gisenyi - 120-150RWF/liter ($.25). Cheese in a neighboring village is 1800 RWF/wheel - by far the best price in Rwanda.

This morning I started walking down the street and met sme girls carrying roof tiles on their heads. I asked why they weren’t in school and they said “it’s cold,” though I may have misunderstood. It was cold but that’s a pretty poor excuse. They gave me a tour of the village, introducing me to pretty much every adult who was home. Along the way we gathered 20 or so children - I felt like the pied piper. One gave me a very green passion fruit; another a piece of sugar cane. I was welcomed by a village elder, Francois, who wasn’t actually very old. Upon leaving his house the kids and I came across a circle of people around an open space. What could be more interesting to stare at than the new muzungu? It was a neon green snake. Francois came over and killed it with his walking stick.

I also met Bwiza (“bgiza,” meaning good). She’s 23 (my age) and has a 5-year-old son whose father is in Kigali (I think). She welcomed me into their small house and gave me a sweet potato and a cup of milk. She lives with her parents and some of her siblings - 9 people in total. They have a dirt floor but are fortunate to have a tin roof.

In the afternoon I visited the health center with my new counterpart, M., to meet the titulaire (director). Then I tried to read while kids gawked at me through the fence, so I talked to them a bit. The scientist has been here two years, so you’d think they’d be used to a white woman by now. At the afternoon market (4-6pm daily) there were only irish potatoes and sweet potatoes. This is typical. If I’m lucky I might find cabbage, corn, or avocadoes - you can see why I’m eager to start a garden!

I was able to carry on a decent conversation with many people here: the extra four months of Kinyarwanda since swearin make a huge difference. Many adults also speak Swahili and some speak French because the majority of the population was repatriated here from Congo after the genocide. I’m hoping my French will get some much-needed practice and I might try to pick up some Swahili.

It was a great first day. Because inauguration is Monday, I’ve got a 3-day weekend to explore and make more friends (or at least continue building my army of children). I’m really excited about many potential projects here!


  1. the way you say white person is the same in swahili. also you should know hakuna matata already. Also, i know "hello", "how are you?" and "i'm fine"

  2. Kinyarwanda and Swahili are both Bantu languages so they share a lot of similar words. Kinyarwanda's grammar is a lot harder, though.

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