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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