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, December 15, 2010

Adventure Corps goes to Kigali

This past Saturday we had what Peace Corps calls a Banking Holiday. It essentially means that us Trainees are allowed to travel to Butare, the nearest large city to Nyanza, to access our walk-around allowance. This money is basically so we can buy food when it is not provided at the training center and other incidental expenses. However, instead of going to Butare, I found myself in a Peace Corps Landcruiser on my way to HQ in Kigali. I’ll explain.

Two of my fellow Trainees, Chelsea and Kim, had asked for my extensive expertise as a technical liaison (that bit is a little egotistical, I rescind it) and asked if I would accompany them to Kigali to help them buy computers on Wednesday. Our initial plan was to skip a teacher training session and take the time to zip into Kigali, get what they needed, and get back. I should note that we had cleared all of this with our Training Manager, Mup, just to cover ourselves.

On Saturday morning, just before breakfast, Mup came to the three of us and gave us the option to go to Kigali instead of Butare with some of the training staff, allowing us to not miss any training session, do our banking, and get our shopping done. He happily agreed and jumped in the back of the truck without much of a second thought.

Here’s the catch. In the Kigali HQ office, our credit cards and other important documents are kept in a safe to which only one person has the key. We were told that person would be at the office, despite the fact that the office is technically closed on Saturdays. She was not at the office. We had absolutely no way of accessing the safe and as such no way of buying computers for the ladies. I had no real need to access my things, although I was exploring the option of buying a guitar in Kigali, which required me to either spend almost all of the Rwandan Francs I had left or change some money (which is kept in the safe as well).

With no possible way of obtaining computers, the three of us decided we would still take advantage of being in Kigali for the day. Once the Peace Corps truck was ready to head back to Nyanza around noon, we had the driver run us around town for a bit. We tried to go to the bank to get some more money from our accounts, but found the line too long (not to mention that some sort of glitch had caused the walk-around allowance to never be transferred to our accounts). We then were dropped off at Nakumat, sometime referred to as the Umuzungu (Foreigner) Mart. There is a saying here that you can find anything in Kigali. Usually, you find it at Nakumat, although for a price. After being inundated by all the American products, eating the best bacon cheeseburger I’ve ever had, and buying a bottle of Teacher’s Scotch Whiskey (I thought the name to be a novel notion), we descended into the crowded shop-streets to get bus tickets back to Nyanza, find some igitenge (fabric used either as a waist wrap for women or to make clothing) and look into the possibility of getting a guitar. The igitenge was found along with the help of a woman from the United Arab Emirates who spoke more languages than I could count, but no such luck on the guitar.

When we returned to Nyanza, we found most of the Trainees staging a minor and mostly non-serious coup over not getting their walk-around allowance. This was carried out at one of the few bars in town and involved mostly alcohol and words, which we heavily slurred in reaction to the alcohol. During PST, we have a curfew of 10pm (don’t ask why, I’ve tried to come up with a very good reason and haven’t found one I think is acceptable). This means that if I am in Nyanza late at night, I have to start waking home to Farside by 9:15 at the latest because it takes me 40-45 minutes on foot. Problem: it was 9:15 and my food had not yet come.

In a unique moment of sheer responsibility, I called Valens, my house LCF, to inform him that I would not be home by curfew. He said it was no problem, but that I could consider staying in town at a different PST house. Preferring this over the 3 mile walk, I called Mup to further explore the notion. Mup gave me permission to crash at the house nearest to the bar. I politely informed him that I believed that to be a house of female Trainees. His response? Sleep in the living room. While the concrete floor wasn’t the most comfortable, it actually wasn’t much worse than the RwandaFoam mattresses and preferable to the walk back to Farside.

Having spent most of Saturday preoccupied, I had not gotten around to writing the short speech I had ‘volunteered’ to give during our visit to a Genocide Memorial on Sunday. This, coupled with not walking home Saturday night, found me at 6:30am in the living room of the girls house where I had crashed the night before attempting to write a serious speech. In addition, I somehow got put in charge of the 45 Trainees who decided to visit the memorial. Still not quite sure how…

Without going into too much detail, the memorial was optional for a reason. Over 50,000 Rwandans had been murdered at this site and some 800 bodies had been exhumed from mass graves and preserved with limestone. They were on display in the rooms in which they were killed. It was very difficult to handle; many of us could not finish the entire tour. Afterwards, I gave my short speech I had prepped a few hours prior:

“We have chosen to come here today in an attempt to further our understanding of such a significant event in Rwanda’s history. We had seen the photographs, heard the stories, and felt its impact on society. Now, we feel it is important to see for ourselves. This memorial has been preserved to remind Rwanda and the World of the need for unity and peace. Rwanda is a place of change. Rwanda is a place of forgiveness.  We pray for Rwanda. We pray for its people. We pray that together we can make a difference in this world. As educator, this is our all-encompassing focus during the two years we will be in Rwanda. The Unites States Peace Corps wishes to take part in the perpetual peace that Rwanda is striving towards. We as Trainees, and soon as Volunteers, are grateful for the opportunity to contribute during this special time in Rwanda’s history. We wish to thank the Memorial Authorities for having us today and I would also like to thank my fellow trainees for being here as well.”

I do need to give many props to Chelsea, who proofed the speech as I was writing it and didn’t hold back when she though one of my ideas was utter crap. After the memorial, we stopped off in Butare to get some lunch and ice cream before returning to Nyanza and to the normal grind of PST. One more weekend down. Only 5 day until the next one…

-Don't Forget To Be Awesome
Shawn Grund

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