Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Appreciation for everything will turn your life around.

Can you believe I've been in Rwanda almost 2 years?!?! I still can't wrap my head around it...time sure does fly. As my time winds down (only 3 months left...eek!), I thought I would list a couple of things I am going to miss:

~waking up to the sounds of my students singing
~my co-workers at FAWE Girls' School
~hanging out in the staff room at FAWE
~laughing with my students
~my host family in Butare
~East African music
~bucket baths
~being in such close proximity to my Peace Corps family
~random kids on the street saying "Gooda morning teacher!" at any time of the day
~being called Uwineza
~the beautiful landscape of Rwanda
~the amazing moments when I realize the things I have been teaching are actually being learned and put into practice by my students
~all of the awesome friends I have made since being here
~my supervisor at FAWE (I have learned SO much from her)
~the warm welcome and feeling of inclusion that I received from the teachers I shared a compound with
~the feeling of pride and humility I get when my students get in front of their peers to teach the lessons we practiced together
~when my students can create a skit, song, poem, monologue to illustrate their thoughts/feelings on HIV/AIDS, decision making, goal setting, genocide, unity, women's empowerment, etc (in short...my students are ALL STARS!!)
~speaking Kinyarfranglish
~being late in American standards, but still being hours early by Rwandan standards
~Mama Goretti
~teaching new words to my Rwandan friends, and the look on their face when they see I am pleased that they are now using the word
~being mistaken for my Asian-American friend's mother or sister
~coming out of Nakumatt and all of the taxi drivers yelling my name and offering me rides home (kind of creepy, but still...)
~going over to my headmistress's house to watch Spanish soap operas dubbed into English, and laughing over a cup of tea
~isauci wa'umunowbwa (peanut sauce), ibitoki (plaintains, but not the sweet ones), urusenda (hot sauce & lots of it!), pilau (Muslim rice), dodo (when it's made just right), ibishyimbo (beans...the mushier the better), imineke (small little delicious bananas), and Muslim spiced tea
~Rwandan invitations (when they invite you out, they have to pay...haha!)

The simple joys, the little things that put a smile on my face, those are the things I'm truly going to miss.

A Day in My Shoes

It's been some time since my last post, and I just realized that I have never given a break down of my daily routine. Nothing is ever really consistent here, but here's some insight into a typical day for me.

5:45am: I wake up to the sound of the radio blaring and the yelling of the abakozi (they work with the cows at my school), promptly turn over and go back to sleep
6:15am: wake up to hear some of my students singing, I smile to myself...and then go back to sleep
6:30 am: my alarm goes off...I hit snooze
6:45am: my alarm goes off again...I contemplate getting up
6:50am: I finally get out of bed, fill up a bucket, and start boiling water to bathe (the water is freezing here in the morning)
7-7:30am: take a bucket bath, get dressed, eat breakfast
7:30am: leave the house, greet some of the students, teachers, and staff, make plans for after school activities, head to work
7:30-8:30: travel to work. My job isn't that far if you were driving, but public transport by my house takes for..e...ver.
8:30-9am: greet everyone at the office, chat with my direct line supervisor about any updates
9am-11am: staff meeting
11am: TEA BREAK!!
11-12: work...of some sort
12:30-1:30: lunch
2-5: work...of some sort
5-6pm: Depending on what day of the week it is, I usually rush back home to work with the GLOW Club or the Create a Smile Club
6-7pm: Prepare and eat dinner
7:15pm: brush teeth, wash face, prep for bed
7:30-9pm: listen to music, read a book, watch something on my laptop (depending on if I have electricity) until I fall asleep

Monday, October 4, 2010

Life is too short so laugh harder, love deeper, and forgive sooner.

A day in the life and random tidbits. Many friends receive emails with this title from time to time to just give them a glimpse into the crazy comedy that is my life in Rwanda. I decided to post some for everyone's reading pleasure.

-My Kinyarfranglish is rapidly improving, but my command of the English language is slowly but surely diminishing as a result.

-My supervisor is a career development expert from Scotland...she's done alot and is pretty awesome. However after working with her for a couple of months I now find myself responding to and/or saying things like, "Do you fancy a cuppa?".

-I can either be called skinny or fat, depending on what I'm wearing, all in the same day.

-It always seems as if I get into the 30 passenger buses when travelling in Rwanda, and end up sitting in the middle...with NO WINDOW!! It wouldn't be so bad if once you started driving, like a domino effect, EVERYONE didn't start closing their window. Now you end up getting to your destination smelling of sweat, other people's B.O., vomit (in some cases), and the man that was sitting waaaayyyy in the back's cologne (I'm tired and couldn't figure out how to grammatically fix this sentence).

-I went to a going away house party for a friend the other day (We miss you Louise!!), and found out from many Rwandans in attendance that I was the first black American they've ever met. I was dancing with this one guy, he asked where I was from, and I told him. He didn't believe me because he said I didn't dance like other Americans, I danced like a Rwandan. We went back and forth about this, and I ensured him that I was American. He said, but I don't understand, Americans can't dance. He had only met white Americans, and his generalization was that none of them could dance. We laughed about it for a bit and he danced away. I then realized as he walked past others they all began to look at me. The volume of the music just so happend to be turned down as someone said..."What?! She's American?!?! You lie!". I decided to take a break from all the stares at this point, and went to have a seat. That's when I noticed this other guy looking at me in the distance. He then walked over to me, knelt on his knee, and started wiping away tears. Me: "Why are you crying?" Him: "I am just so happy that I have met you. You have come all the way from America to work with us, and that makes my heart happy." Me: "Uhhh....that's great, but can we talk about this some other time? People are starting to look." I know it sounds touching, but not when you're at a house party and everyone has already been staring at you all night.

-I got the cotton part of a Q-tip stuck in my ear (dont' ask and don't judge). In my attempt to get it out, I ended up pushing it in even further. I was too embarrassed to call the PC doctors, because of an equally embarrassing* incident that took place a couple of months ago, so I went to the nurse at my school. I told her...in KINYARWANDA, what happened. She then calls over the guards, matrons, head of maintenance, etc INDIVIDUALLY, so they could better "explain" to her what happened. After I explain it...in KINYARWANDA to the last person, all of a sudden she gets why I'm there, and proceeds to tell me that she doesn't have the tools to help me, and that I must go to the hospital. No offense Rwanda, but I absoultely refuse to go to the hospital here, to have someone stick some large instrument into my ear to remove some Q-tip cotton. So...sigh...I had to suck it up and call the PC doctor. They tell me to come in, ask me what happened, take it out in less than a minute, and I was on my way. Yes they were true professionals about it, but I'm sure I heard uproarious laughter as I was walking out of the med unit. I see you PC doctors...I see you.
*Small details on embarrassing story: I had a really long day, and hadn't eaten, so in my haste to have a delicious PB&J, I accidentally cut my hand (really really bad, almost needing stitches bad) trying to open up a jar of jam with a knife. Don't ask and don't judge, but that PB&J was on point!

-Why do I have a mouse in my house (haha that rhymed)? I don't leave any food out, I thoroughly clean my house...what else must I do? He comes around pretty often, so I just named him Ben. He's cute, and is my friend now. No point in trying to get rid of him, he's a beast and just keeps coming back for more.

-I am now Rwandan...says everyone (including myself). I now grunt in response to things, hang up the phone before saying goodbye, put waaaayyyy too much sugar or salt on/in things before even tasting it, when I don't understand a question instead of saying excuse me, come again, I just scream Eh?, and say to people I haven't seen in awhile, "so and so...long time!".

-I met a guy and told him I was from America. He said ohhh, do you know Mark? He lives in Virginia, and is a black American like you. I say no, sorry don't know him. He looks at me incredulously and says really?! well you should know him...he's a great guy. Uhhhh...I'm sure he is.

-I asked a colleague if now, since I'm working for this major organization in Rwanda, I could get a free Blackberry as well (I knew it was a long shot, but I figured it wouldn't hurt to ask, and I was half joking when I asked). He said, the organization can't provide it, but I will buy you one in exchange for something else. Uhhh oookayyy. He says that we must sign a contract between him, myself, and the church, then winks and says if you understand what I'm saying. Instead of laughing in his face, which was my gut reaction, I say you must first consult my father. He says no problem, give me his number. Then I say you must talk to my grandfather and all of my many many uncles too...because this is very important to me. He says...Eh eh eh eh, that is too much! I will send them a group email, and our engagement shall be part of a public service annoucement to them all!! Uhhhh.....welcome to my life!

Jace, cyangwa Uwineza

We start as fools, and become wise through experience.

I know, I know...it's been almost a year since my last blog entry. Time sure does fly, but in all honesty I felt like I didn't have much to report, or what I wanted to write about I wasn't really "allowed" to. I'll try to update you on what's been going on lately as succintly as possible.

-In December of '09, several PCV's (Peace Corps volunteers) and I planned and held a girls leadership camp (Camp GLOW). Although Camp GLOW is something that Peace Corps has been doing in several countries, it was the first time being implemented in Rwanda. We had over 70 girls from across the country attend, and it was a huge success. We focused on topics such as HIV/AIDS education, proper nutrition, life skills, career planning and goal setting, team building, etc. Sustainability is one of the key factors in deciding to start a project in PC, so we are happy to report that many of the attendees of Camp GLOW have taken the information they learned from the camp and have started GLOW clubs in their communities and respective schools. 2 students that attended the camp from FAWE Girls' School (the school I work at) started a GLOW club that now has 40+ members...not tooting my own horn, but my girls are AWESOME!!

-January, February, March: Another PCV and I planned a benefit concert to supplement the cost of shipping several thousand books to Rwanda. The book project was called Books for Africa, and the books went to build/enhance 14 libraries around the country. The planning of the concert was extremely time consuming (and I've actually blocked alot of it out of my memory), but it was as successful as it could have been considering the circumstances. Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, had been experiencing many grenade attacks leading up to this event, so many people didn't feel comfortable coming out at night...who could blame them? All in all, we raised the funds needed to ship books for a couple of sites. Contined work at FAWE on a slightly lesser scale. I wrote a peer mentorship curriculum that focused on leadership skills, decision making, HIV/AIDS awareness, conflict resolution, etc. I train a couple of my students on the curriculum, and then it is up to them to teach the lesson to students at 4 other schools in a neighboring district one Saturday every month. My girls take what I give them, and make it their own...it blows my mind evertime I see them standing in the front of a classroom teaching a lesson. They have truly impressed me. I'm also the advisor for a couple of after school clubs.

-April, May, June, July: not much was going on, which was IMMENSELY frustrating!! Work at the school pretty much came to a dead stop since the beginning of 2010 (besides the aforementioned after school clubs). I wasn't as upset about it at first because a) I was doing all that work planning for the benefit concert, and b) having me on the teaching schedule would take away from the school hiring someone else (our purpose here is not to take a salary away from someone else). After the concert it hit me how absolutely useless I felt. Those who know me, know that I really don't like being idle, so although I had some activites to work on, those things took up maybe 5-10 hours per week. Believe me when I say I did everything in my power to find work to do. I contacted everyone I knew, just to get my hands on something even if for a day, week, or month. Everyone knows that when you come to PC you don't always start out having much work. They usually drop you somewhere, say assess the needs of your community so you can find some work, and good luck! My experience wasn't like that at all. I had TONS of work at first. I didn't join PC to sit and twiddle my thumbs all day, so I would wake up some days and ask, "Why am I here again?". Then I would walk out my house and talk to some of my students, or look at my affirmation wall and remember my purpose. I may not have been doing anything great at the time, but my students are a constant reminder that the small things matter more than anything. *Also during April: went to Uganda and went bungee jumping over the Nile River!!! It was scary, but I would definitely do it again. During May: I was medically evacuated to South Africa for 2 weeks. No worries, it was nothing serious, just had to go for treatment that couldn't be taken care of in Rwanda. Had an amazing time though. Got to see zebra, giraffe, wildebeast, ostrich, etc that was only like a couple feet away. Also got to eat some really great food that I hadn't been able to get since being in Rwanda. Sigh...S.Africa is a magical place lol.*

-August: Spent a couple of weeks in Tanzania/ZANZIBAR!!! It was amazing!!! Turquoise blue water, white sandy beaches, good food, and great friends!!!

-September: Finally started working again...woohoo!! Started a new job working for a government agency that was entrusted with starting the first ever career centers in Rwanda. We have 18 up and running career centers to date (I still work at the school 2 days a week). Patience and prayer work. Also, was chosen to attend Peace Corps first Post Conflict workshop. This was an amazing opportunity because only 5 volunteers serving in post conflict countries were invited to attend. This was our chance to provide first hand accounts of life in the field and to give any feedback we had about PC operating in these countries to PC Washington. For those that I have spoken to recently, you know that since coming to Rwanda I have a real interest in working in post conflict countries or in the field of conflict resolution/peace building. Attending this workshop gave me an even deeper understanding on the importance of preparing and having knowledgable people working in this field.

-Since Camp GLOW worked out so well last year, we are planning to do another one in December...actually we're doing 2. We have the budget to double our number of girls from last year, and to also do a seperate boys camp. We're expecting great things!
-Our Books for Africa project initially projected that we would receive about 14,000 books, with approximately 1,000 books going to each site. Well...the total number of books received was close to 24,000, and we also received 42 computers!!! Clearly, God is surpassing our expectations!!! Also, instead of just sending books to these sites (because how does that aid in sustainability?) we trained all of the librarians from each site. We focused on maintenance of the library and books, cataloging systems, library events, etc. The training was a huge success...thanks Jess for all of your hard work in making this happen!

After reading this over I've realized that I've done alot in the short amount of time I've been here. Sometimes it takes us taking a step back from our everyday reality to realize the impact we have on those around us, and how much they have impacted our lives in return. I'm extremely humbled for being given such an amazing opportunity to serve in Rwanda. I would never say it's been easy, but it's a challenge I would take on again because I've received more than I could ever give. If I could show any more gratitude for the lessons learned, laughs shared, tears cried (because they have made me stronger), immense joy found, advice and support received, friendships lost (because they weren't enriching), enhanced, gained, or rekindled....trust me I would!

~Amahoro (peace)
Jace, cyangwa Kinyarwanda inzina (or Kinyarwanda name), Uwineza

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Umva! Listen! Ecoute!

I know it’s been a long time since the last time I wrote. Things have been crazy busy here. After returning to Rwanda in late August, after being in the states for a couple of weeks, I had to hit the ground running with work and other projects I’m apart of here.
As many of you may know I was in the states for a couple weeks in the beginning of August. I lost someone very dear to me. Uncle Gene was amazing person. He was so generous, loving, welcoming, encouraging, and full of life. I have never lost someone that close to me, and I took his passing a lot harder than I would’ve imagined. Uncle Gene, I love and miss you immensely. I didn’t allow myself the opportunity to grieve when I was home. As a person with a degree in counseling, I should know better, but at the time my major concern was being there both emotionally and physically for those in the immediate family. So, not really grieving and then coming back to Rwanda, after the school term had already begun 2 weeks prior, was hard. I was being pulled in so many directions here. Students wanted and needed my attention, the faculty at my school wanted me to get back into my teaching schedule, and then had many obligations from the NGO that I’m working with and helping to launch.
So, I thought to get back on track with blogging, I would start with something light, and humorous, so you can get a feel of what my days are like here.

Things I’m slowly becoming used to:

1.People using the title of this blog interchangeably in a conversation, usually with their finger wagging in your face, even though you are fully engaged in said conversation.
2. Men using the sidewalk, a ditch, a tree…anything, as their own private bathroom, and then looking at us passersby as we are the ones intruding on their privacy.
3. Sitting in a bus as women who are trying to get on will hand you all of their personal items. Their suitcase, purse, child, sacks of maize, huge thermoses of tea (or whatever they put in those things).
4. Same aforementioned woman, having her child lift up their shirt in search for food, while on the bus. That same “source” of nutrition falling onto your arm after the child has used it for all of its nutrients. Sidebar: if a child is big enough to sit up straight, lift up your shirt for food, and then throw it down after they have feasted, then I think it’s high time for this said child to be finding its food elsewhere. Not passing judgment…I’m just saying.
5. Seeing this same woman carry all of these things on her back, head, etc. walking up a 90 degree angle dirt hill, in high heels, at night. I have tried this, and it is no easy feat. Well, maybe you can exchange all of her possessions for my back pack, her heels for my flip flops, and night time for day…but still, it’s not easy.
6. Seeing men carry everything and I mean everything, on their heads for miles. I once saw a man carry an entire living room set (this includes sofa frame, two armchairs, and a coffee table) on his head…and I’m not exaggerating. Now if I don’t see someone carrying a queen sized bed frame, two nightstands, and a bureau, I might consider them lazy.
7. Being called and answering to the name Uwineza (my Kinyarwanda name, meaning one who does things well) at work or at the local store. Now when people call me Jacelyn in public, I get confused.
8. Using three different languages interchangeably (Kinyarwanda, French, English) in one conversation, just to get your point across. By the end of these two years I will be fluent in Kinyarfranglish.
9. Not traveling or pretty much doing anything, when it’s raining.
10. No one arriving or turning in assignments on time. I no longer get frustrated when I arrive to a meeting 2 hrs before anyone else does; I just shrug my shoulders and say T.I.A. (This Is Africa). However, as the American, you are expected to arrive on time to everything; and your assignments should be done efficiently and in a timely manner.
11. Going to a restaurant, ordering, and waiting at least an hour for your food to come. No bread offered to tide you over…you just wait. I’ve learned to never go to a restaurant hungry. Instead you go when you’re still a bit satisfied from your previous meal, because by the time your food actually arrives, then you’ll be hungry enough to eat it.

Things I probably will never get used to:

1. People staring at me. I’m not talking a quick, discreet once over out of the corner of your eye. I’m talking full on staring. To the point that you become self conscious, and give yourself the mental once over, wondering: is there a stain on my shirt? I just washed this thing the other day. Is there something wrong with my hair? Is there something in my teeth?
2. When people find out you speak “good” English and are African American, believing the rightful course of the conversation should veer toward them saying, “what’s up my n***a?!” Excuse me…what?!?! Just because I’m African American does not, I repeat, DOES NOT make it ok to say that to me. We don’t all speak like that. In fact, many of us find that term to be highly offensive.
3. Having to explain over and over again, that I come from America. So did my parents, and my parents’ parents, and so on. I’m sorry I can’t give you my direct lineage, and unlock the mystery to what African country my ancestors came from. Now I just say I’m Rwandan or Kenyan. In response they shout I knew it, and high five each other, like they just won some bet.
4. Answering questions about my religion (I hate that term). Typical conversation:
A: Uwineza, what religion do you practice in America?
B: I’m a Christian.
A: (eyes light up with excitement and recognition) So am I! So are you Catholic?
B: No, non-denominational.
A: (blank stare) So….that means you’re like Anglican?
B: No, non-denominational.
A: So…you’re like Episcopalian. (notice this is a statement, no longer a question)
B: No, non-de-nom-i-nat-ion-al.
A: Oh, I get it…you’re a Protestant.
B: NO…non-de-no (cut off by person C)
C: What are you talking about?
A: Oh, religion. Did you know Uwineza was a Protestant?
5. Meeting a man on the bus or in a store. We go through the standard greetings, they ask where I’m from and their eyes light up. So this man, who I just met 2 minutes ago, has professed his undying love for me. I roll my eyes, and sarcastically reply, I love you too buddy.
6. People here NOT understanding sarcasm.
7. Greeting someone EVERYTIME you see them. Not just a simple wave, but actually stopping and greeting them. Now in America, unless you were a friend family member or someone I hadn’t seen in a long time, I wouldn’t cross a major intersection with cars zooming by to greet you. I would just give you a slight wave, scream hey how are ya?!, over the roar of traffic, and keep it moving. Here in Rwanda, no matter if it’s just an acquaintance, you must stop, even if you just left the same place an hour ago. It’s deemed highly disrespectful if you don’t.
8. When inviting someone over to your house, you must offer them something to eat or drink. Not just a glass of water, which is typically all that I ever have in my house; but a Fanta, tea, coffee, and/or an alcoholic beverage. Hence why I hardly ever have anyone over besides Americans. Who has money for all that stuff?
9. When invited over to someone’s house, having to eat or drink something, anything. If you don’t it can translate to you not trusting them, and thinking maybe they are trying to poison you. I remember one time going to my host family’s house after eating a hefty lunch. They offered me a plate, full of starches; I couldn’t even imagine eating another bite of food. Their faces when I first turned the food down, was a look of disappointment…I felt horrible, so I had to eat. Needless to say, I had to be rolled home. Once you eat one plate, they just slop on more food, saying you don’t eat enough.
10. You’re invited over to a friend’s house. You’ve learned your lesson from before, so you don’t eat anything before you head over for dinner at 6pm. You expect to be eating within the next hour or so. Not so. You clearly have to wait until the rest of the family is ready to eat, or the food is prepared. That means even if its 10 pm, if they are just sitting down to dinner, then so are you. (this is not an exaggeration…it’s happened)

Uwineza (Jace)

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

"The hardest job you will ever love." -Peace Corps

So...you all are probably wondering what I'm actually doing in Rwanda. I forgot that I haven't mentioned my actual job details in previous posts. I will try to give a brief summary, but to be honest things change and/or are added on a weekly basis.
I teach at an all girls boarding school, which houses approximately 750 girls. The school focuses on math and science, with a particular focus on leadership and empowerment. I am teaching english, life skills, and reproductive health 4 days a week. In addition, I am working on establishing a volunteer program. That consists of locating and contacting various organizations within the community who are seeking volunteers to help with mentoring, teaching english, spending time with children at orphanages, etc. As of right now I have 4 places (schools, NGO's, orphanages) that I am working with. I take about 15-20 girls to each location at least once a month. So far, so good...I haven't lost my mind yet...haha. Also, I am starting a career/guidance counseling program. Career counseling, and just counseling services in general, is not in existence here. Within the entire country there are only 2 counseling centers. I have been spending alot of time researching and contacting people about resources and information on applying to university here in Rwanda and also in the states, and various career options. A majority of my students don't believe they have options when it comes to careers. They truly think, since it's a math and science focused school, that they can only become a doctor or an engineer. They don't know that there are tons of others things they can do within those fields. To be honest, many of them were told they were going to this school once they scored really high on their exams. Its one of the top 3 schools in the country, so its a privilege to get in. Whether they want to pursue math or science, doesn't matter...attendance at this school makes them and their families look good. Oh, and I just found out today that I need to start working with the Anti-AIDS club. I was actually going to put this off til next term, just so I can get my feet wet and start becoming acclimated with the assignments already given, but they want me to start working on it right away. I just don't want to become overwhelmed. I want to be able to devote my time and energy to a small number of things so I can do them efficiently and effectively. Peace Corps wants us to create things that are sustainable, and this won't be the case if I'm being pulled in several directions. The issue now is priortizing. If you ask my direct supervisors at the school, all of these things are pressing issues that need my immediate attention. I know that certain things may have to be pushed back so they can get my full attention. Decisions, decisions, decisions. There's more that I'm doing and excited about, but I'm not sure if I'm allowed to mention it in my blog...so I'll just send that out in an email. I sound really busy, and I am, but I'm happy and excited. If you know me, you know I like to remain busy always...my hands will always find something to do. Keep me in prayer though!

Amahoro (peace)

"Let nothing perturb you. Nothing frighten you. All things pass. God doesn't change. Patience achieves everything." -Mother Teresa

Things I will no longer take for granted:

  • education and access to it. Most children here don't make it past primary school because they can't afford school supplies. If they make it past primary, most don't go on to secondary school because they have to pay school fees which equals about 50,000Rwf in the more expensive boarding schools (less than $100USD). If they get through secondary and dont score at least a 4 on the national exam, then they can't get a government funded scholarship to study at university.
  • education options. First of all, students here start to pick "majors/specializations" in secondary school. The school I work at focuses on math and science. By the time these girls get into their 4th/5th year of secondary school, they are already doing college level math, chemistry, physics,etc. NO JOKE! Next, if they do well on the aforementioned national exam they can then apply to a school of their choice, if they don't get in there, then the government places them somewhere else with an opening. Universities here are not like the states. Every university, with the exception of a couple, has a particular focus. For example, there's a school of finance and business, agriculture and forestry, education, health, etc. Needless to say, if you wanted to go to school to become a physical therapist, but didn't get into the health university, you may get placed at the school for agriculture and forestry. Interesting huh?

  • fridge and food options...no way to preserve food surely diminishes my creativity in the kitchen. I don't cook any meat, I think you have an understanding of why from my last post. I eat alot of peanut butter and jelly, grilled cheese, and pasta. It's easy, you don't have to worry about preservation (with the pasta I make a cup or less, so I can eat that in one meal), and its satisfying.
  • Washing machine and a dryer. The other day it literally took me half the day to soak, rinse, and scrub some laundry. That's not even including putting the clothes on the line to dry. On top of that...it rained all that night, and most of my clothes got blown off the line by the wind into a whole bunch of mud. So...cycle repeated.
  • Access to water...HOT water! Some days we have water to take showers and some days we don't. If we do have water its freezing cold, but those days im just appreciative to take a shower that I don't care.

  • transportation that doesn't squeeze as many people as possible into a small space. Mutatus (small bus/van) will put as many people on as possible, and will not leave until it is filled to capacity. The literal translation in Kinyarwanda is tightly packed...haha!! But, its saving grace is that its extremely cheap. I can get from one side of town to the next for about 75 cents.

  • the freedom to wear my hair anyway I want to. The girls in secondary school here must cut their hair into a small, manageable 'fro. Personally, I like to have options.

  • spending time with my friends and family.

  • an unlimited phone plan where I can just pick up the phone and call or text whenever I want to vs. having to purchase minutes in order to communicate with anyone.

  • sleeping without a mosquito net

  • not having to take malaria meds once a week (and sometimes i forget and have to play catch up...this is our little secret).

  • drinking water from the tap if I so choose without having to worry about what unsightly disease I may get as a result.

  • A good book...that's affordable!! Books here cost about 25,000Rwf (that's over $20USD).
  • Being able to speak English as rapidly as I want to, without feeling guilty, or hoping that the person I'm speaking to will understand.
  • People not being astonished and literally tripping over themselves when they hear me speak English. I have met several Americans who are totally bewildered, and say "WOW your English is amazing!! Who taught you?!" UMMMM...actually I'm also American, English is my native tounge.
  • People getting my jokes and my sarcasm...unfortunately these things don't translate in Kinyarwanda. When I try to make jokes in Kinyarwanda most people don't get it...LOL!
  • Just being seen as a person. Not having people trying to guess who I am and where I come from. Here, I'm mostly thought to be Kenyan. So walking down the street people will talk to me in Swahili, when I don't respond, they try speaking Kinyarwanda, when I don't respond to that they speak French. After all of that I hear..."Sister, please what language should I speak to you?" Ummm...let's try english?!

  • Patience

  • The opportunity to give whole-heartedly and without restraint. If I haven't told you yet, my students are amazing!! A lot of the girls at the school are orphans, victims of the genocide, and some are even living with HIV/Aids. Besides their circumstance, these students are anxious and excited about helping, giving, and assisting those less fortunate than they are. Since I have been working on establishing a volunteer program, on a weekly basis the girls come and ask how they can be involved. Yes, I know part of the excitement is that they get to leave the school grounds (its a boarding school, the girls typically don't leave unless they are sick or going home on holiday), but its more than that for them. The looks on their faces when they are able to give the clothes and school supplies they have collected to a group of young girls at another school who can't afford them on their own. Or when we go to a women's village that supports genocide and rape survivors, just to help them clean up the premises...the happiness on the girls faces just to help truly touches me. These are girls who give their last so that someone else may have. How can you not love them?!

Things I've learned:

  • The thirst for knowlege amongst my students is insatiable and amazing!! I have never met a group of young girls who wanted to know so much about the world and their academics. These girls wake up at 5 am, and don't go to bed until after 9pm. Yes, they get a couple of breaks throughout the day, but a majority of their time is spent studying. Access to books is not available or just not affordable. They seek me out for whatever novels I brought here. I can give it to them on Monday, check back on Wednesday to see if they are enjoying the book, and they tell me they have already completed it. Where do they find the time to do leisure reading on top of the time spent studying? Do you know what they ask me next...Teacher, do you have any other books? Yes, I do and I will bring it to you. Teacher, but when will you bring it to me...it amazes me.

  • Nothing, and I mean nothing will get done here if it is raining (which happens pretty often, we only have short periods for dry season). Teachers will not teach, and students will not put energy into learning. My first time going to class in the rain, almost all of my class had their heads down. Me: this isn't nap time, did you have a busy night last night? Students: Teacher! It's raining! Me: So, just because its raining doesnt mean our brains cant absorb information. Students: But Teacher!! We don't study when its raining...you see there are no other teachers in their classes. They were right, mostly all the teachers were in the staff room. When I asked why...oh we're just waiting out the rain.
  • I love African tea...what we call a chai tea latte. Didn't really like it back home, but its actually pretty good here. What could also be pushing this new love for tea, is tea time!! We get a 30-45 min break (this is on top of the 2 hr lunch break) everyday at school just to enjoy a good cup of tea...gotta love Africa!!

  • I'm alot stronger than I thought I was...both phsyically and emotionally.
  • Seize each and every opportunity. Network and get to know as many people as possible. Not only because you never know how they may be able to assist you in the future, but most importantly because people in the international development sector are great people, with extraordinary stories.

  • God is amazing and He continues to blow my mind!!

  • I have a bond with 30 other people that I will never have with anyone else.

  • Rwanda is a special place, with special people, a unique history, and an ambitious government.

  • I'm more patient than I thought I was.

  • DREAM BIG!! Your dreams/ideas might sound crazy, but people who really care about you, will support it and may be more gungho than you are...lol (thanks Rachael!!)