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

Friday, June 3, 2011

Kigali Peace Marathon

A few Reminders:

1)   Although many of you receive these blogs from me via email, they are also being archived on the blog itself. It can be found at Look there for all past blogs (even going as far back as Scotland 2009!)

2)      Yes, my email changed. You can now reach me via email at this address ( by simply replying to this email (rest assured, it will only come to me and not everybody on the email list)

If you do wish to reply to what I say, you can email me directly (which will be private) or you can comment on the website (once again,, although this will be public.

4)      If you do NOT wish to reply to what I say… well, can't help you with that one.

Yes, I do maintain a Twitter account. It can be found @LivingInRwanda. I try to use it as a way to do daily updates on anything from what I'm doing to random thoughts to what it's like being a Peace Corps Volunteer. Essentially, it's a mini-blog.

I also maintain a Picasa Photo site. Check it out for photos from Training, my new house, Lake Kivu, and visits around Rwanda. It can be found at:

Over the weekend of May 21st and 22nd, Kigali put on the 7th annual Kigali Peace Marathon. Given that 2011 is the 50th anniversary of Peace Corps, our Country Director decided to support several runners in the marathon.

Now, I think it goes without saying that there was no way I was going to run 26 miles. I mean, let's be honest: I tried to train for the month leading up to this, but it really cut into my sleep time. Instead, I joined one of our 7 relay teams, meaning I was only responsible for a quarter of a marathon, around 6 and a half miles. Much more realistic…

The Marathon took place on Sunday, but Peace Corps brought us all (or told us to come via public transportation) to Kigali Saturday morning. Our Peace Corps office recently acquired an adjacent building and just finished remodeling it into new medical offices and a Case de Passage (that's French for… I really am not sure what; we just call it the Hostel). While the new med offices were still waiting on more beds for the infirmary and the Case had no mosquito nets, we were allowed to spend our nights in Kigali there.

The Case was designed to comfortably accommodate 30 volunteers at once, although given Peace Corps standards of comfort we could probably put 50+ volunteers there and had no complaints. I mean, there are decent mattresses, electricity, running water, couches, a DVD player and TV, porcelain toilets, showers (WITH HOT WATER), and a kitchen with a stove, oven, and refrigerator (although we still have to make our own food). Rolling into the Peace Corps Office early on Saturday morning, I dropped my bags and immediately headed back downtown to run some errands. It was difficult not to immediately take a shower, but I figured I'd be getting dirty on Sunday anyway, so decided to forgo that for the moment. Chelsea also ended up in town for the weekend as she had some issues she wanted to discuss with our Programming staff.

Saturday night our Administrative Officer (they have a new acronym of the position, something like DPT) held a massive carbo-loaded dinner at her house for all participants. I know I have never seen so much magnificent (and healthy) food in Rwanda, but I might dare say ever in my life. Either way, it's definitely in the top 5. We had pasta, garlic break, salads, olives, guacamole and chips, beer (ok, not ALL healthy), desserts with real, non-frozen or preserved raspberries, and many more things my taste buds wish they could remember.

Sunday morning it was up bright and early (well, not bright; it was 5 am) in order to get ready for the marathon, tape for feet against blisters, and load the buses that would take us to Amahoro (Peace) Stadium, where the marathon would start and end. In true Peace Corps style, we arrived at 7am when the race was set to start at 8 am. It started at 9.

All told, Peace Corps sponsored 22 Volunteers and 6 staff members to run on 7 relay teams, 4 half-marathon runners, and 1 full-marathon runner (shout out to Steve Charles Cahill, the only one brave enough to even try). The relay teams would embark in waves, meaning that the one running the second leg couldn't leave until the first runner finished. I was slated to run second, so I had some extra time to stretch and get ready.

By the time Kelsey, my teammate who ran first, made it back I was feeling pumped. Feeling like true hard-care athletes, I was waiting to untie the tracking chip from her shoelaces while she caught her breath before it was off. Another Peace Corps Relay runner came in at about the same time and switch with Kay, so she and I ran off together.

While Kigali is pretty hilly, the route we took was not so bad. The course took us out towards the Nyatarama neighborhood before turning around and following the same route back to the stadium, or so we thought. Kay and I made pretty good time for the first 'half,' only getting passed by the full marathon runners. You know, the 95 pound machines from Kenya. Just before the turnaround, we passed the Peace Corps office and were more than a little disappointed to not see the non-participating Volunteers who happened to be staying at the Case out front. We soon found out that they weren't there because they were 5 minutes further down the route at the turnaround, fully prepared to cheer us on. The gate guards at the Office did wave and cheer on our way back, too.

Kay and I reached the turnaround, what we thought was the halfway point (that makes sense, right?) in about 17 minutes. If it were the halfway point, like we thought it was, I had just set a personal best for a 5k run. Needless to say, that was not the halfway point. We figures that out at about the 30 minute mark, when the route deviated onto a side street and started heading away from the stadium. It was around minute 35 that I had to let Kay go; she was doing much better than I was. I slowed down for maybe 5 minutes but kept Kay in my sights until near the stadium.  In the end, I entered the stadium and circled the track at just about 58 minutes. Not the best time ever, but still pretty decent I feel.

After a quick tag and chip-swap with Emmanuel, our new Health Program Manager, I was a bottle of water and three bananas away from never moving again for the rest of my life. After the marathon, the buses returned us all to the Peace Corps office where we laid in the grass, sat on couches, slept, or anything else that didn't require movement of the legs. Come nightfall, Chelsea and I headed out to a Chinese restaurant (yes, they have those in Kigali) for a quiet night out by ourselves. A weekend in Kigali will make you forget just how much you've gotten used to the loneliness of site.

Stay tuned for another update coming soon about a visit to Chelsea's site (you don't really have to stay tuned; this isn't radio and I'll probably send that post out right after this one…)


PS. 'Case de Passage is french for House of Passage, ie Hostel. I think. If your French is better than mine; no judging.

The Visit

This one'll be a long one, so grab a beverage and something to eat; you might be here a while.

2 weeks ago, I posted a blog that I had been working on for some time called 'The Dark Side of Peace Corps.' Since then, I have received numerous comments and emails from friends, family members, Peace Corps Applicants, Nominees, Invitees, Volunteers, and Returned Volunteers (I even got a call from our Peace Corps Country Director…that was fun). In response to these, I wish to thank you for your concern, thoughts, prayers, and wishes in general. Also, it was never my intention to dissuade prospective Volunteers from Service. Peace Corps is a wonderful opportunity that I personally feel should be seized if presented, even though I still maintain it is not for everyone. If you're thinking about applying or in the process, understand that these words were meant to be enlightening and… other positive things.

A few weeks ago, I took a few personal days to visit Chelsea in Burera/Kirambo. Those of you with a map handy will see that Nyaruguru, my district, is almost in Burundi while Burera is almost in Uganda, meaning our two sites are clear across the country from each other (even if it is a rather small country).  Peace Corps has many travel policies, one of which is that I'm not allowed to travel at night. It can complicate things (especially when you have to teach half the day and then try to traverse the entire country), but it makes sense.

My journey to visit Chelsea started at 10am on Friday, just as my class wrapped up. Thursday night I had called one of my neighbors/friends, Hubert, who is a motorcycle-taxi driver, and arranged a ride to Butare, the first checkpoint of my voyage. I told Hubert that I wanted to leave just after my classes at 10. Now, Hubert only speaks Kinyarwanda and French and, despite my repeated attempts to convince him otherwise, thinks that I also speak French. After getting over that obstacle, I conveyed to Hubert that he should be ready to pick me up at my house by 10. What does Hubert do? He rides up to the school, asks where I am, and parks outside my classroom at 9:45. My students thought that was hilarious.

After detouring past my house to switch bags, it was off to Butare. The road between my village and Butare is a little… dichotomous.  For the first 14 kilometers, which takes about 35 minutes, the road is gravel, washed out, and in generally horrible shape. However, the 'road' soon meets up with the Main Road, which is paved, has painted lanes, and speed-limit signs. We follow the tarmac north for about 20 kilometers (20 Minutes) before pulling into Butare.

Once in Butare, my next task involves getting a seat on a 'coach' bus to Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. The nice things about these buses is that everyone gets an actual seat, which should tell you a lot about the lesser bus companies (hint: the smaller bus' name literally translates to 'squeeze'). Having made it to Butare around 11:15, I was able to reserve a seat on the 12pm bus, allowing me time to catch lunch at a local restaurant. The trip from Butare to Kigali takes somewhere from an hour and 45 minutes to 2 and a half hours, depending on how many trucks we get stuck behind. On this particular day, I reached Kigali at about 2:15.

Kigali is sort of the central hub for travel in Rwanda. No matter where I go, I almost have to travel through Kigali. In order to get to Kirambo, which is northwest of Kigali, I have to get off the bus at Nyabugogo instead of downtown and get another ticket for a different bus going to Base/Gakenke. Having gotten a ticket for 3pm, I board the filling bus and wait for it to depart. To my surprise, it actually left about 15 minutes early (which never happens). The road between Kigali and Base has been under construction for nearly 4 months now, so the normal 45 minute drive turns into a little over an hour and results in the woman sitting next to me vomiting into her dress. At Base, I trade the coach bus for another motorcycle ride over dirt roads for about 45 minutes before arriving in Kirambo just before 5pm, having been travelling for 7 hours and spent nearly 13,000 francs (about $22).

Friday night Chelsea and I made fries and guacamole at her house. Yes, I did eat guacamole. Yes, I am aware that it is made out of avocadoes and other vegetables I never would have eaten in America. I've been trying this new thing with Chelsea's help where I don't refuse to eat food I've never tried before. Those of you who knew me and my eating habits in the States would hands down say that I was a very picky eater. But I realized after I came here that I was convinced I didn't like things (like avocadoes) that I had never actually tried before. Having become uncomfortable with this, I asked Chelsea to help me break this habit and expand my tastes a little. Our first attempt at this, to my initial dismay, was the guacamole. I'm still going with I only liked it because Chelsea made it, but I'm willing to accept that it's not bad.

A good portion of my time spent at Chelsea's site (at least during the day) was spent at her school where we would sit and talk with students and eat meals with the teachers. Our time with the students involved Chelsea and Rodrigue, an accounting student, have a rather vivid disagreement over the purpose of Tai Chi, teaching them English slang like 'booty' and 'bromance,' and playing a makeshift game of catch using my hat and our heads. Romalice and I actually got pretty good, to the point where we could consistently land the hat squarely on the others' head from about 25 feet away. Hey, it's harder than you'd think…

Kirambo has a rather large market (which is NOT a 45 minute walk spanning two valleys like Cyahinda's) on Saturdays, so Chelsea and I spent the day picking up food for an epic chili she was going to make and shopping for fabric to have dresses made out of (for her…I assumed that was obvious). Having no conventional stove, the chili had to cook over the charcoal stove (Imbabura) for a little over 3 hours, during which we continued our epic shenanigans with her students. After securing permission from her school's Dean of Studies, we were able to discreetly take a handful of her student back to help us eat the chili (we made waaaaay too much).

Chelsea's site varies from mine in a myriad of ways. For starters, her town, school, and house have power. This is kind of a game-changer as it allows things to be accomplished after 6pm and before 6am (although let's be honest: nothing happens prior to 6am even when we do have electricity). Since my region is devoid of power, I have to go to my school every night at 6:30 just so I can continue to plan my lessons (or do anything that involves more light than a candle or kerosene lantern can give off). In addition, her school is nearly dichotomous to mine. My school administration almost never interferes in my work (my headmaster's idea of ensuring I am productive is to ask me if I am 'ok' once a week), but they are also much more uptight in relation to the students. My students have at most 3 hours a day where they are not studying, and in that time they have to clean out the classrooms and dormitories. However, because Cyahinda is so remote and most of my students' families live in the area, the students are allowed to leave campus without permission (within reason) so long as they actually come back.

Chelsea's school, on the other hand, has a few more luxurious aspects than mine does. Because they have power, there is usually music played when class is not in session and movies on a few nights each week. They also routinely have dances (yeah, even in Africa teenagers have to go through that ordeal). However, perhaps because Kirambo is a bigger town, her students need permission to leave school grounds (which they are not usually granted). I'm going to try to say this next part as fairly as possible. The administration at Chelsea's school really likes to… interfere… with her ability to fulfill her primary responsibilities. Don't get me wrong, it's not the entire staff. Her Dean of Studies, Ferdinand is a relatively laid-back guy. We joined him and John, another teacher from the Teacher Training College in Kirambo, for dinner one night and they wound up helping us kill a liter of scotch (its ok, it was truly terrible tasting as far as scotch goes). But there are a few of her colleagues who do not really understand what a Peace Corps Volunteer is supposed to do, nor are they very receptive to learning.

All in all, the spending the weekend away from my site and relaxing with Chelsea was a lot of fun (not that there was any doubt it would be), and exactly what I needed. Sometimes, no matter how good or bad our work in our village is going, we just need to change things up a bit for a few days. Escaping my school and visiting Chelsea, even though it meant being drawn into another school, was a perfect getaway.

-Don't Forget To Be Awesome