Wednesday, April 27, 2011

General update

Yes, I know I've been delinquent on here! I've just posted blogs dating back to my South Africa vacation in February. Life has been sometimes hectic and sometimes so slow I read entire books in single days, but my honest excuse for not blogging is a mix between laziness/demotivation and lack of electricity. As of last week I have electricity, so that excuse is gone. The laziness and demotivation stemmed from a bit of a mid-service slump: on the heels of lovely South Africa, with my counterpart's position empty and no movement from Peace Corps on my nutrition grant submission, it was sometimes hard to figure out what exactly I'm doing here and why giving up another whole year of my life was worth it.

I'm over that now, excited (if not quite energized) for my second year of service. A new counterpart has been hired, work with ecoclubs and the continuation of my household surveys and needs assessment is imminent. My nutrition project is going forward, as well as potential collaboration on family planning, anti-AIDS and anti-SGBV (sexual and gender based violence) clubs with the health center titulaire. A new group of health trainees is coming and I'll be helping out a little with training (the lucky trainees - they get homestays!). And perhaps most importantly, I love my village, my friends and neighbors, my soccer girls, my garden. I have a few complaints - the perpetual mold problem and the fact that some teenage girls in the village seem to think my sole purpose in life is purveyor of nail polish. C'est la vie, buhoro buhoro. The anniversary of my becoming a PCV is a week away. Let year two begin!


Here are some links I’ve been collecting for the past few months. It’s a bit disorganized, sorry!

Finally, a fellow PCV wrote this great blog post on problems in Rwanda, I highly recommend reading it:

Thursday, April 14, 2011

South Africa redux: medevac

On April 4 I returned to South Africa thinking I was there for a root canal, which cannot be performed in Rwanda. When the dentist (who's worked on Bono!) took a look, it turned out no root canal needed - but he did have to repair some shoddy dental work done in Rwanda. Aside from the dental appointments, it was basically a second vacation to South Africa. I enjoyed many of the same foods, still marvelled at drinknig tap water and taking hot showers with pressure, and brought even more varieties of cheese back to Rwanda at the end of the ten days.

Partly because I'd told them about my vacation in February, I couldn't bring myself to tell my village I'd gone too South Africa to have my tooth problem addressed. People in my village were aware of the problem and knew I was having trouble, for example, eating corn. Their suggestions for this ranged from having the tooth/teeth pulled to theorizing that my wisdom teeth must be coming in (my wisdom teeth are long gone). I just could not figure out how to explain to a village full of extremely poor people, many of whom have never even been to Kigali and whose only recourse for toothaches is rudimentary extraction, that I went to South Africa on an airplane because of a toothache, all expenses paid. The inequalities there boggled my mind.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Maybe don't rely on DHL in Cyangugu, Rwanda

I was in Cyangugu all week for my mid-service training. Spotted this near the border with Congo.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Lake Burera

I got to spend some time at Lake Burera, in the north of Rwanda. The area has a gorgeous crater lake with views of the volcanoes and an impressive Partners in Health hospital.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Racial profiling and bus security

As I was getting on the bus to leave Gisenyi, I noticed a uniformed secuirty guard with a metal detector wand. He was sticking the wand in passengers' bags before they could enter the bus. The bags, being full of keys and cell phones and other assorted non-bomb metal goods, made the metal detector beep like crazy, and then the security guard would wave the passenger onto the bus. At no point did he look into the bags to investigate the source of the beeping. Just another example of someone here doing something that looks good but is actually entirely pointless or ineffective! However, I'd bet most Rwandans don't know what the wand is or how it works; maybe they think it would do something other than beep frantically if there were a bomb. So perhaps it is effective deterence.

I was waved on without being subjected to the frantically beeping metal detector. Racial profiling at work!

Unscheduled delay

En route from my village to Gisenyi.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

South Africa!

I had a fantastic vacation to South Africa from February 12-26. I went for the U2 concerts but was awed by the amazing cheap food and amenities such as potable tap water. To relate the vacation to my time in Rwanda, I figure a list of everything I ate in South Africa should convey just what I’ve been deprived of after a year in Rwanda. Although it probably won’t be as exciting to the average blog reader!
sushi x3, haagen dazs x3, other ice cream/gelato x3, falafel & hummus x2, fruit (grapes, nectarines, peaches, pears, plums, cantaloupe, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, kiwi), cheese (haloumi, parmesan, brie, blue, feta, cheddar), a disappointing bagel & smoked salmon, pizza x4 (with great cheese!), greek, cheeseburger, burger with brie, big mac, pickles, tons of braai (bbq) meat (beef, chicken, pork, sausage, lamb, ostrich), doritos and chips and spicy cornnuts, tons of salads with goodies like cheese and olives and bacon in them, sandwich with mozerella and artichokes and other delights not found in Rwanda, heavenly chocolate mousse from the grocery store.

 It was exciting to see the Rwandan flag scroll across the giant 360 screen with other African flags during the U2 concerts!
 Bye U2! See you in 2015?
 South Africa is truly the land of opportunity: Ice for Africa and Pizza from a vending machine!

Me at a very windy Cape of Good Hope!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Dusiga! Dusiga! My unlicensed backyard nail salon

Ever since my family visited, bringing with them a selection of colorful nail polish, I have been greeted by most of the village children with cries of “dusiga, dusiga”: “let’s paint, let’s paint." Sometimes I do their nails as they squeeze their hands through holes in my fence. Both girls and boys: equal opportunity nail painting. If I have time and they're a small group, I invite them to sit in my backyard on a straw mat, giving them play-dough or crayons along with a manicure.

It's taken a few play-dough sessions, with me suggesting they make things like cabbage, chappati, donuts, and modeling my haphazard cow and sandal and tea-cup making skills, but they've finally gotten creative: a person in a chair, trees, spoons and forks in addition to a variety of soaps, carrots, candies, gums, and other common items they stack up to "sell." Score one for imagination!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Superbowl, Rwanda style

"Two out of the three German guys watching the Superbowl with us at a restaurant owned by a British-Rwnadan are wearing Steelers jerseys which they bought in the market here in Gisenyi, Rwanda, earlier today. I love globalization." - my facebook post, kickoff at 1:37am local time

(The homemade nachos were the best nachos I've ever had...and complete with the only sour cream I've eaten in a year!)

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Soccer Saturdays

Back in November or December, I organized the first Soccer Saturday: girls only. I had a hard time explaining to the boys, over and over again, why they couldn’t play (a literal translation: “if boys play you will only play with other boys and the girls need to learn”). Eventually, we had a highly successful girls-only game, with perhaps 50 spectators (mostly small children and jealous boys). Afterwards, the boys begged for the ball in the dwindling daylight, and the girls asked to do it again the next week.

We’ve now had four or five soccer Saturdays: some with only a few girls, where I was compelled to include the boys and then reclaim the ball and kick the boys out as timid girls crept up to the sideline to watch. On this latest Soccer Saturday, I allowed one boy to play on each team (so that they couldn’t pass exclusively between each other), as well as the goal keeper. The girls ranged in age from 6 to 23, and even the youngest participated fully in the game.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Why Kinyarwanda is hard: noun classes

Kinyarwanda is hard for many reasons, but one that continues to dog every Kinyarwanda learner is noun classes.

The noun class is a feature of Bantu languages that has no equivalent in English. It may be compared to the masculine and feminine nouns in French or Spanish, which must be matched to the correct form of an adjective (e.g. a tio gordo and tia gorda, or femme blanche and homme blanc). Still, even German, with its masculine, feminine and neuter, only has 6 permutations when you include singular and plural.

Kinyarwanda has 16 noun classes, marked by prefixes to the noun root. Although some line up with singular and plural (noun class 2 is the plural of noun class 1: umuntu person becomes abantu people, 4 is the plural of 3: imidugudu villages from umudugudu village, etc), there are plenty of irregulars (some class 9 nouns are pluralized with class 10, others class 6).

Sound complicated? That’s not even the hard part! In Kinyarwanda, each noun class not only must be matched by a distinct adjective prefix, but also by a verbal prefix, e.g. Impga nini irya. Additionally each noun class has its own prefix for possessives (impga yanjye, impga zanjye), demonstratives (iki kintu, ibi bintu), direct and indirect objects (which are employed as “infixes” within the verb, between the prefix for the subject and the root).

Confused? Me too.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


Sorry it’s been so long since an update. I’ve written other posts from December and January, but they will have to wait until I have free internet - there are too many photos to upload by phone modem. For now, I’m back in the village, preparing for my work with the schools and ecoclubs, working on bringing the community needs assessment to other villages, getting my nutrition proposal ready to present to Peace Corps when there’s solar power (but there’s very little these days - I haven’t seen the sun all week), and tending the garden that my family helped me get started (fingers crossed that things grow!). I’m also adjusting to the fact that my counterpart resigned to pursue his master’s degree, so things are up in the air a little on the work front.

Still, I think time is going to fly by for the next few months. I’ve got projects to nudge to life, my garden to nudge to life, new neighbors to visit from the new group of education volunteers. From February 12-26 I will be in South Africa for U2 concerts, sushi, etc and will hopefully get lots of pictures uploaded. Weirdly, I’ll be out of Rwanda when my year anniversary rolls around. In March there’s mid-service training, and the first group of volunteers will be closing their service and leaving. We won’t get the next health group until May, after memorial events in April.

On the down side, just when I’d gotten comfortable - mastered nights with no electricity, baking perfect brownies in the “Peace Corps oven” (a pot inside a pot lined with sand atop my kerosene stove), making stovetop pizza that my sister complimented, in her own way, when she declared “it’s like frozen pizza!” and ate 2 pies - I’ve been granted two reminders that I am definitely in the Peace Corps, and in land that was a rainforest less than 20 years ago. Since December I’ve been fighting a disgusting and smelly mold invasion that is not helped by the lack of sunny hours each day. I replaced bamboo shelving with wood, but mold has gotten all over my Rwandan woven baskets, my hot chili flakes that I thought were a highly toxic environment and were inside an old margarine container, my unfinished wood table, my finished wooden mortar and pestle. I’ve repeatedly wiped the green fuzzy growth off the outside of tobasco, jam and other jars with a bleach-soaked cloth. The smell of mold permeates much of my clothing, but until 4 days ago there was barely any sun to air things out. I’ve been burning incense for the smell, and luckily the weekend was bright and sunny.

Perhaps worse than the mold, while I was away for over a week at the beginning of my family’s visit, a rat moved in. Of all the precious items sent to me in packages (thank you package senders!) - cookies, nuts, baking mixes - he mercifully chose to attack my cheap local Rwandan peanut butter, gnawing through the container lid. He left gross little pieces of evidence all over my kitchen and bedroom. Before I could borrow a trap, I left to bring my family back to the airport, and when I returned and lifted my sheets he ran out of my bed. Well, the trap was set, and though he tried to get into the container where I had stored cocoa and chocolate, he was eventually tempted by the dollop of peanut butter in the trap. He’s now dead. Having heard another rat, I re-set the trap, but I think he can smell fear and death on the cage and is avoiding the tasty new morsel of peanut butter. He was bold enough Sunday to run into my open door (airing out the house: mold vs. rats) while I was no less than two feet away. Needless to say, I will be getting a cat as soon as I return from South Africa.

I usually operate with my stand-by Rwanda mantra of “I’m going to choose not to think about that”: successful against giant roaches and spiders, moldy jam that can be scooped off so the rest of the jar survives - slightly fermented - for several months more, etc. Against these recent obstacles, my mantra finally failed. Despite this, I did not feel too tempted to get on the plane with my family back to the US, and I’m looking forward to the next 15.5 months of service - but at the same time I will not deny that I’m counting the time.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

My family in my village!

My family had a lovely stay in my village. They met all of my friends, played with and read to the kids, went several days at a time without bathing, and learned how to cook pizza dinner with a headlamp and a frying pan. On our last afternoon, my friend Bwiza came by with a photographer and his old-fashioned film camera in tow, and bought us a couple pictures, with my family and her 5-year-old son. The fact that we had digital cameras was irrelevant; she wanted to buy this gift for all of us. (Note written January 29: the pictures came out crooked; apparently all it takes to be a Rwandan photographer is a camera and an index finger to push the trigger button).

Before visiting my village, we also had one crazy day in Gisenyi running around to see all my old coworkers, as well as my current supervisor and several friends. It exhausted my family, and they got fed multiple Rwandan meals and drank too many fantas (sodas).

Between the lower- and upper-middle class urban families in Gisenyi and the much poorer families in my village, plus a night cooking dinner with my host family in Nyanza, my family got a view of the broad spectrum of life in Rwanda. As I became re-acquainted with all my Rwandan friends through my family’s eyes, I saw how universal some things are: parents affectionately scolding disobedient but adorable children, urging them to eat this or that for good nutrition; kids playing (whether with cars homemade from plastic trash or an abundance of stuffed animals) and dancing (to music videos or radio in the village); children’s love of television in the urban areas (as well as love of fighting over the remote with siblings). Other things are specific to Rwanda, particularly Rwandan hospitality and how hard people have to work on ordinary tasks like cooking (break up the wood, start the cooking fire, get water from the tap, peel all the filthy potatoes with a blunt knife, etc etc).

As nice as visiting all the national parks and tourist sites was, my favorite part of my family’s visit was the time spent introducing them to my Rwandan friends and their way of life.

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