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, November 24, 2010

Recalling a Month in Rwanda

This past Sunday marked the 1 month anniversary of our arrival in
Rwanda. As instructed, we prepared for the worst but hoped for the best.
The fact that I am writing this on a bed in the Training center
Infirmary while being pumped full of antibiotics and acetaminophen is
testament that the Peace Corps is not all fun and games. Not to worry...
Its just a small sickness and the Good Doctors are willing to release me
back into the general population by lunchtime. I'm just glad I was able
to dodge taking the oral re-hydration salts....

Last week, as i mentioned, spent 4 or 5 days visiting our sites where we
will be placed in January after completion of Pre-Service Training. I am
at a Catholic boarding school in the Southern Providence, about a
stone's throw away from the Burundi border (which I am not actually
allowed to cross). I am replacing a Volunteer who taught English, but I
also have another Health Volunteer in my town until the end of
March/April when she will return to the States. Having so many
Volunteers in my town was a little unexpected given the relative size of
the village which, when school is not in session, is about the size of
my high school graduating class.

My headmaster has informed me that they have S4 and S5 (equivalent to
grades 10 and 11) and they want me to teach these upper secondary
classes instead of the lower secondary (S1-S3). This is a welcomed
change, although it doesn't in any way mean that their English will be
any better. However, I met my Headmaster, my Dean of Studies, and my
Deans of Discipline and they all have pretty decent English. My
Headmaster (who is really cool, by the way) is in a distance learning
Masters Program out of Kampala, Uganda and the texts he was studying
from when I was there had some pretty sophisticated English. Since his
wife is attending University in Butare, he is back and forth between my
school and there fairly often and he has a decent truck. This is
fortunate because there are only two other ways out of my village. I can
take a 'bus' (which they pack people into like packing peanuts and only
come very early in the mornings on Mondays and Fridays) or by a moto
(either an actual motorcycle or a really crappy dirt bike). Either way
it takes me about an hour to reach Butare, which is the nearest large city.

I have a house to myself at site, which I have already decided to make
into a bachelor's pad. I think my Headmaster's truck will come in quite
handy in getting furniture to my house. I have pasted pictures of what
my house looks like on the Picasa site that was listed in my previous
post. Check 'em out.

On the way back to Training from our site visits I met up with some
other Trainees and went for Ice Cream in Butare. I capitalize it because
it was so good. I'm not sure if its because of the actual quality of
said ice cream or if its because of the relative scarcity in Rwanda.
Either way, its going to be a major pit-stop for me for the next two years.

This week we hit the ground hard.... 4 hours of language and 4 hours of
Tech Training almost every day. The monotony of the schedule begins to
wear on you a bit, but at least we will always know what's coming next!
For now, I have to return to sleeping so I don't miss more Language
sessions from being laid up with the Good Doctors. In the end, I suppose
it's close to a fair trade...

-Don't Forget to be Awesome

Friday, November 12, 2010

I Have a Home

Ok, so it isn't my home yet, but last night we were assigned our
specific sites and schools where we will be living for the two years
after training. Drum roll, please...

I am going to be placed in a very small town (that I already knew) in
the Southern Province next to Nyungwe National Forest. I will be
teaching Mathematics to student in S1, S2, and S3 levels (equivalent of
grades 7-9) which are the last years of the free 9-year basic education
program. In addition, I am told that my school has about 40 computers
(with nearly half of them functioning!) so I may be called on to teach
computers as well.

On Monday all 68 Trainees will spend the week visiting out sites and
meeting with out Headmasters and Teaching Counterparts. Forewarning: I
may not have access to internet for the next week as I will be on the
move and rather busy. I will be sure to update you all with the news and
some pictures!

On the topic of pictures, I just uploaded some pictures from the last
few weeks. They should be open to the public in the Picasa account
attached to my blog. here is the URL:

For now, it's time for me to return to our training center for some
Language and Tech Training sessions!

-Don't Forget To Be Awesome

Saturday, November 6, 2010

PST schedule and Halloween

18 days ago, I boarded a plane in Minneapolis and started a journey that
will encompass the next two years of my life. Prior to departing for the
Peace Corps and Rwanda, I decided to not dwell on what was about to
happen to me and just jump in feet first. This way, I was guaranteed not
to psych myself out over leaving. However, this has had the unpleasant
side effect of major culture shock. I spent very little time preparing
myself to leave for fear of changing my mind, leaving me wide open to
all the unknowns. While Rwanda itself is in no way bad in any sense of
the word, Pre-Service Training does suck the life out of you. Here is an
example of a standard day:

5:00AM - Alarm goes off. I ignore it
5:30AM - Charles (my roommate) wakes up. I ignore that too.
6:00AM - I stumble from my top bunk and get ready to shower. A 'shower'
consists of standing in one or two liters of water and splashing it as
effectively as possible onto your body. We have no hot water. We have no
running water.
6:45AM - Meet up with the other Farsiders (the collective name for Jed,
Charles, Dylan, Caroline, Annie, Nicole, Caitlyn, and Me since we are
the furthest from the training center). Load bus for downtown Nyanza.
7:00AM - Breakfast; tea, bread, and cheese. Sometimes eggs.
8:00AM - 2 hour Language session where we spend most of the time
attempting to translate our teacher's pantomimes.
10:00AM - Half-hour tea break.
10:30AM - Back to Language
Noon - Lunch usually consisting of rice, potatoes, bananas, and perhaps
meat. Use spare time to hit up internet cafe or nap under a tree.
2:00PM - Technical Training session where we learn to teach well.
3:30PM - Pointless 15 minute break
3:45PM - Back into the classroom for a safety and security lecture,
medical lecture, or some other important information....
5:00PM - Random 2 hour break which can be filled with napping under a
tree, Medical Officer consults, vaccinations, more security lectures, or
some random debrief activity which usually dissolves into questions
about our sites.
7:00PM - Dinner (similar to Lunch)
8:00PM - Bus returns to pick up the Farsiders
8:15PM - Arrive home and start getting ready for bed.
9:00PM - Charles is out like a light. Peter and Valans (our
Facilitators) are still playing guitar in the living room.
10:30PM - All is quiet, yet I'm still typing this out as I fight to stay
10:31PM - Approx time of falling asleep.

As you can see, our time at PST in Nyanza is very structured. However,
just because the schedule says one thing doesn't mean it well happen
then or at all. Just trying to stay flexible...

Last weekend was Halloween (as you know...). From my observations,
Rwandans do not celebrate Halloween. Of course, we didn't let that stop
us from celebrating Halloween. Without many structured events, most
Trainees ended up on a pub crawl that was more of a circle (there are
really only three good bars in Nyanza). We would pretty much walk into
any of the three and ask 'Abazungo bari hehe?' or 'Where are the
foreigners?' and be directed to a table surrounded by merry Trainees. A
good time was had by all, although we did get a coincidental reminder of
the dangers of alcohol use as a coping method a few days after. Its
almost like they know...

Contrary to the schedule I posted above, tonight we actually visited
with our Resource Families and ate dinner with them as we do twice a
week. Today, there was another young man at dinner with my family who
was a student in lower secondary (Equivalent to grades 7-9) and just
finished his national exams to pass to the next grade. Unfortunately,
cheating is a large problem in Rwanda. The students recognize that they
need to pass the national exams in order to continue schooling and feel
that they need to achieve this goal by any means possible. Also
unfortunately, some teachers don't do anything about it. Some teachers
take it one step further. Our dinner guest was telling me that one of
the local teachers was just JAILED for 20 YEARS because he gave a
student the answers to their national exam. Strict? Yes. Effective? Also
yes. I'm not sure how accurate that information is, but it doesn't
surprise me as much as it would have a month ago.

Don't Forget To Be Awesome