The following content is comprised of personal opinions, and in no way reflects the opinions of the Peace Corps or the U.S. Government.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Week One in Rwanda

Below are my writing from the past week. I had hoped to post them individually, but there was so much going on to write about and no good way of getting to the internet...

October 21st, 2010, 4:55am
35,000 feet of the Atlantic Ocean, En Route to Brussles

Today has been a very long day, although filled with a lot of waiting. It seems like a lifetime ago that I woke up at 5:30 am in Philadelphia (still sleep-deprived) and joined the other 70 trainees in the hotel lobby. We walked around the block and down the street to a federal building for a Yellow Fever shot. Apparently, the nurses find it much easier and very amusing to give you the shot while you’re not paying attention. Clever, yet slightly sadistic. I like it.

After the 71 of us filed through single file, we made our way back to the hotel to catch a coach bus for two hours into New York.  Our plane left at 6:50… we were through security by 1. With 5 hours to kill, we did the only thing we knew how. We bonded over beer, pizza, and cards.

For those of you who don’t know, which by now you should, I played Ultimate Frisbee for almost 6 years. Naturally, I decided to bring a disc. While waiting at JFK I found that I’ll spend the next two years with a guy who played with Gruel and a girl who went to and played for a school at Macalester. Yeah, the one in Minnesota. Needless to say, we already have plans to start a few Ultimate leagues in Rwanda. By the time it becomes an Olympic sport, expect Rwanda to be on top led by a few Peace Corps Volunteers.


Satruday, October 23, 2010,
8:10pm, Central African Time

Today is our last night at IWACU, the compound we have been staying at since we arrived in Kigali Thursday night. The compound is situated inside the actual city of Kigali, so the dirt streets are just outside the walls. Yesterday, we went on a 2 hour walk around the area surrounding our compound. We endured the calls of ‘Muzungo’ and the stares of Rwandans as we sheepishly followed our LCF (Language and Cross-Culture Facilitator), a local Rwandan. We quickly realized that simply saying hi in Kinyarwanda goes a long way to alleviate the awkwardness. Part of the walk took us through a local market, where they sold everything from ice to flour to cellphone accessories. It was somewhat intriguing to see the clash of relatively primitive living with the modern communication technologies.

Out time at the IWACU compound is a Pre-Pre-Service Training of sorts. We received tons of general information about what to expect both for PST and in our actual community site. We were also given our first round of shots and put on Mefloquin (SP??), our Malaria pills. Apparently the pills, which we take once a week, have the side effect of giving you both vivid drams and hallucinations. Between the 71 of us, we have some pretty awesome stories of snake attacks and hanging out with KISS. I’m assuming that was a hallucination.

Today was a very taxing day, emotionally, mentally, and physically. It was our second full day, although it feels like we’ve all been together for a few weeks already. With information being tossed at us from all angels all day, it gets a bit overbearing. We also visited Gisizo, the Kigali Genocide Memorial Museum. Although not actually a place of signifance during the Genocide, all of the victims bodies are mandated to be buried there. Currently, they belive they have over 250,000 Rwandans buried there. One would think that it would be a fairly large site to bury a quarter of a million people, but it actually isn’t that large. While the bodies are buried in coffins, most coffins hold an entire family. We, as the Peace Corps, left of wreath of flowers and individual roses on one of the concrete coverstones and took a moment of silence for them.

Sunday, October 24, 2010
Nyanza City, Southern Province

Early this afternoon we loaded three buses to leave the IWACU compound in Kigali for Nyanza where our PST facility is. Up to that point, all we had seen of Rwanda was the heavily-populated Kigali region. It was quite remarkable to move away from such a crowded place and get into the rural Rwandan regions. The three hour bus ride brought us to the city of Nyanza and to the next 11 weeks of our lives. Upon arrival, we were split into our smaller house groups. I am in a group of 4 other male trainees and 2 LCF’s.

Side story that hopefully lead back into the conversation flow… The last few days I have been intending to get up and go for a run before breakfast with some other trainees (PCT’s), but I haven’t yet gotten a full night’s sleep. Friday night I woke up at 1:45am and couldn’t fall back asleep until 5. Ironically, I learned through this that Kigali has Islamic Prayer Chants starting at 4:20am and running until 5:30am every day. This may have contributed to my sleep deprivation. Saturday night was a little better, but I still wasn’t up in time again for a run. Moop, one of our senior training staff members, asked for a list of those who have been running and those that enjoy running. It wasn’t quite clear what he was intending to use the list for at the time. Now it is.

When we found out our house groups, we were told that our house was the furthest from the training center. The four of us we pretty cool with that (by the way, it is myself, Jed, Charles, and Dylan in our house…there are also 4 female PCT’s a few doors down). Then we were told we would take a bus to drop out bags off while some others would walk theirs there. We were pretty stoked until we found out there was a reason for the bus ride. Our two houses are about 2 miles from the center. It was around that time we realized everyone on the runners list was on the bus... We are placed in the furthest housing because we expressed we liked to run.

This means the 8 of us are basically sequestered from the rest of the 63 PCT’s. To be to breakfast at 7am, we need to leave our house at 6am. We will most likely not return until long after dark. On the up side, we are supposed to get bikes on Friday. That should shorten things up a bit.

I suppose I am overreacting a bit. Nyanza is a fairly large area, although mostly surrounding the same winding road, and all PCT’s are scattered pretty thoroughly. Plus, there is a market outside our house. With fresh fruit, also from just outside our house.

Tomorrow, we start our actual Pre-Service Training (PST). Can you tell the Peace Corps really likes to abbreviate everything? PCV, PCT, PCMO, PST, COTE, COS. Yeah, plenty more where those came from. Anyway, we get to start formal language training, technical training, and get to meet our resource families. These are similar to host families, except we will not stay with them. They are here to further facilitate our transition into the culture.

On a final side note, many of us have noted as you may as well through these writings that things don’t always happen as the Peace Corps plans or in the most efficient manner. Some of us PCT’s have come up with a way to cope with it. ‘This is Peace Corps and this is Africa. Sh*t happens.’

October 26th, 2010
Nyanza, Rwanda

Today was the first day of actual language classes during PST. The language in Rwanda is called Kinyarwanda and is pretty specific to Rwanda itself. However, most common people speak Swahili and those that completed all 12 years of school will speak French and some (if we’re lucky) English. All of our Language and Cross-Cultural Facilitators (LCF’s) speak English, French, and Kinyarwanda with about 80-90% speaking Swahili as well. I think there is one that speaks a fifth language….

Kinyarwanda is a Bantu-derived language and therefore is relatively complex. Forewarning: I am not an expert, so take this information with a grain of salt. Kinyarwanda is relatively phonetic, although there are a few differences. Almost every ‘R’ is rolled to the point where it is an ‘L.’ A combination of ‘rwe’ usually makes a ‘gwe’ sound. For instance, the word for good afternoon is ‘mwiriwe,’ pronounced (MERE-A-WAY) but with a rolled R while the farewell word for the afternoon is ‘mwirirwe.’ That added R before the last W makes it (MERE-A-GWAY).  Kinyarwanda is also really heavy on the letters w, u, and g which tends to dramatically increase the number of syllabus.  For instance, the word for volunteer is ‘umukorerabushake.’ We as a group are still attempting to pronounce it, so I will not even attempt to put it here.

Last night we met our Resource Families for the first time. A Resource Family is essentially a Host Family except we don’t actually live in-house with them, although we are required to spend at least 4 hours/week with them for dinner and social events. We had a huge ceremony with all 70 Trainees (we are down one for medical reasons unknown to me) and a member of the RF for basic introductions and information. The process to pair us up was a little…precarious. A list was already prepped, but we needed a way to get the information out to everyone. In true Peace Corps Style, our Training Manager Mupemba spoke in French (He is Congolese, so his Kinyarwanda is not top-notch) and an LCF translated it into Kinyarwanda for those RF’s that didn’t speak French (most). At the same time, two Trainees translated from French to English for the rest of the Trainees. Literally, we had three languages bouncing around at once. My mind was blown.

Today was my first visit to my Resource Family’s home, which is just down the road about three blocks (like time, blocks are elastic in Rwanda). I am not entirely sure what my host mothers’ name is because she insists I call her Mama and her husband Papa. They have 7 children all between 5 and 14 years old, although one (the 7 year old) is adopted. Neither Mama nor Papa speak ANY English. Fortunately, the oldest child is learning English in school and is capable of translating most words for me. The children think it is funny when my skin turns red after too much time outside. I do not…

Tomorrow is a pretty packed day, and I’m sure it’ll be a challenge. Generally there are two ways to learn a language; Soft immersion and hard immersion. Classroom and Real Life. However, Peace Corps/Rwanda has altered the scales to Hard Immersion, which we do in the classroom, and what I like to call Concrete From 5,000 Feet Immersion. In this process we literally are placed in a family that does not speak English and asked ot communicate several ideas by whatever means possible. While this is improving my Kinyarwanda skills, I think it is improving my pantomime skills faster.

 Here's a little tidbit of knowledge relating to my experiences her for you to take home...
"The hardest journey is the one that leads to the truth. I didn’t know t that…If I had, I probably would have stayed home, drank myself stupid and watched Ferguson until the big nod closed my book for the day. In a blinding flash I realized that what I was really experiencing was the result of a life-long indoctrination by a culture which elevates individualism above all else, thus causing a soul-crushing sense of aloneness which demands over and under the counter medication, the constant distraction of sporting events, TV, major motion pictures and a pop-tabloid religion based on celebrity worship/crucifixion." --Chuck Lorre



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