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

Thursday, February 10, 2011

With school underway (well, mostly), I find myself becoming less and less bored at my site. I teach at a Catholic boarding school in the Nyaruguru District of Rwanda, which is on the Southern Province, just west of Huye/Butare, the self-claimed academic capital of Rwanda. I have to say Huye/Butare because the restructuring that Rwanda underwent around 2006. If you look at a map of Rwanda that is, say, 10 years old (like all the ones on my house), you’ll notice that Rwanda is broken up into 12 Prefectures. During the administrative shuffle, the 12 Prefectures were reassigned into 5 Provinces: North, East, South, West, and Kigali. In addition, each Providence is made up of several Districts, of which there are 30 total in Rwanda.

Butare was originally the seat of the Belgium Colonial Government that ruled over the northern part of the then Ruanda-Urundi Territory (there are a few different variations of this name, but it is essentially present-day Rwanda and Burundi). In the early 1930’s, Butare was renamed Astrida after the Swedish wife of a Belgium King, but eventually reverted back to the original name Butare after Rwanda gained full independence  and the first University (now the National University of Rwanda) was built there in 1963. Butare was both the name of the city proper and of the Prefecture surrounding it, and was thought to be the main contender as Capital of Rwanda after Independence, but Kigali won out because of its more central location. While both the size and population of Kigali had ballooned in the years since, Butare has remained a moderate-sized town, catering mostly to the educational sector. During the Genocide of 1994, many people fled to Butare for safety, and its academic status helped keep Butare relatively safe for several months while the Genocide raged around it. The leaders of Butare, to this day still majorly a product of the University and Butare’s academic background, did everything they could to keep the Genocide from beaching Butare before they were killed and replaced.  During the administrative reshuffling in the early 2000’s, Butare was thought once again to be elevated to higher standards with its proposed selection as the capital of the Southern Province. However, Nyanza (the old Seat of the Kings of Rwanda during colonial and pre-colonial times) was surprisingly chosen instead. Butare City was officially renamed Huye and became the capital of Huye District. Officially, Butare no longer exists as a City or a Prefecture; all references to the City or the District should say Huye.

However, the people of Butare are rather stubborn when it comes to the affairs of their academic oasis. While all buses to Butare from around Rwanda will be labeled as Huye, the operators will still ask you if you are going to Butare, most signs in the City itself still say Butare, and everybody in the City still calls it Butare. Sorry, that was a rather long tangent; the point being Butare/Huye is the closest large city to me.

My school is what’s called a Groupe Scholera (or a Group School) meaning it technically houses Primary and Senior students, although the Primary classrooms are further down the hill by several hundred meters than the Senior classrooms. I teach Mathematics to a Senior 2 class (about the equivalent of 8th grade) which meets for 6 hours each week. In addition, I teach Senior 4 and Senior 5 Information Communication Technology/Computer Science. Technically, classes started 3 weeks ago (on the 10th), but the Senior 1 and Senior 4 students are not yet attending school because of the Primary 6 and Senior 3 exams from last year. Because of this, I am only teaching 8 hours per week, with 6 hours at the S2 level and 2 hours at the S5 level until next week, when my S4 classes will start (about a full month after the start of Term).

I live by myself in a house large enough for three people with absolutely no furniture (although I’ve commissioned several pieces from the local carpenter, with whom I’m also arranging a deal where I help him with his labor needs and he teaches me hand-carpentry). It’s difficult to get most things in my village, so I have been slowly accumulating things for my house during my infrequent trips to Butare and Kigali. I do have a local market; unfortunately it is about 2 miles south of my house and only runs on Mondays and Fridays. I had been warned by Emma, a Peace Corps Health Volunteer who has been in my town for nearly 2 years to never go to the market. Last time she did (about 2 years ago) they threw food at her. Rather bored, what did I decide to do? Go to the market. While no-one threw food at me and I did get several things I need for my house, it was a little awkward being the only white person these people have seen in a very long time (probably since Emma went there two years ago).

Because I lack the time, desire, and skills necessary to cook for myself, I have arranged a deal where I eat with a few of the other Rwandan teachers of my school. For 15,000 Frw a month, I get lunch and dinner every day. For those of you keeping track at home, yes that means I eat for less than $1 a day. For those of you not: 15,000 / 30 = 500, 500 Rwandan Francs (Frw) = about $0.87. We usually have rice, beans, potatoes, and a mixture of random vegetables and greens I try not to think about as I swallow. We (there are 9 of us) eat these meals from a communal plate, although we do use utensils. Somedays (usually around market days) we have Pineapple and on Mondays we have meat.

My village has no running water or electricity. All of my water is either collected off the gutter behind my house (pictures on Picasa) or brought from the school, which also collects rain from their roofs. All the electricity I use for my phone (yes, I have a phone, provided by Peace Corps; feel free to call me at +250784103401, but remember that I am currently 8 hours in front of Central Timezone)and my computer either comes from my small solar panel, or from the school, which also uses exclusively solar power. This is sustainable and great, except I’m expected to teach Computer Science with no power. However, they are currently running power into my village (the lines are halfway here and there are small square holes appearing in the ground at the rate of about 3 per week). I have been assured that we will have power by March…or July, depending on who you ask. I’m not holding my breath.