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, September 7, 2011

The Spur in the Moment (or How I ended up in South Africa, Pt 1)

Let's Tarentino this thing: I'm writing this from inside the airport in Nairobi, Kenya on my way to Cape Town, South Africa. Hook, Line and Sinker…


The whole story starts with a meeting, as all good stories should. In Peace Corps, we have what we call a Volunteer Advisory Committee, or a VAC (there's the Peace Corps acronym thing again). Essentially, the VAC's job is to facilitate communication between Peace Corps Staff and the Volunteers on the ground. Volunteers in Rwanda are broken up into 10 regions based around our Emergency Action Plan's consolidation points (where we go in case of a natural disaster, civil unrest, or when Peace Corps staff runs out of things to do and decided to run a drill). We have regional meeting every month or two, and we choose a VAC Representative to represent the Volunteers of their region. My consolidation point is Huye; the largest region at 20 Volunteers. Last month, I became the VAC Rep for the Huye region (This is going somewhere, I promise).

The VAC gets together once a quarter for a day-long meeting to discuss the issues raised by the Volunteers. It was for this reason that I found myself in Kigali last Thursday, eating amazing pasta salad and drinking beer at our Country Director's house. Too fast? Let me slow down a bit.

Our meeting was set to start at 9:30am on Thursday, and since I am about 4 hours from Kigali (on a good day), I got permission to come into Kigali on Wednesday afternoon. Chelsea parents were on vacation visiting her here, so I dropped by Nyamagabe (where Chelsea's new school is) on Tuesday to hang with them for a while before they headed off on their safaris. Wednesday afternoon they dropped me back in Butare after touring a few museums and I caught a bus to Kigali and the glory of a hot shower and couches. Thursday morning the 10 VAC Reps and the 3 Interim Representatives met at Mary's (our Country Director) house. We were warned that the meeting would be long but I don't think any of us were prepared for what that really meant. 10 hours, 2 meals, and 2 rounds of beer later, we wrapped the meeting up and headed back to the Office for a just-as-long nap.

Friday morning I was supposed to go home, but I got roped into staying another night to help with a secondary project (read: begged them to add me to their list so I could have just one more hot shower). Friday afternoon several of use went out to Sol Le Luna, an amazing Italian place with the best pizza in Rwanda (also pretty close to the most expensive) before regrouping with the mass of PCVs and heading to Papyrus, a nightclub not too far from the office. You remember Papyrus? The last Tale about the 15,900 tab and why Chelsea had to buy me a tequila shot. We didn't arrive at Papyrus until near 11, but the party had just barely started. If you thought I was going to divulge was happens with 25 PCVs and alcohol are mixed with late nights and auto-tuned music, think again. We finally tuckered-out around 3 and caught taxis back to the office. Most of the Volunteers had to be up for the meeting at 8, but not I.

While the now 30 or 40 so Volunteers sat upstairs in a conference room, I sat downstairs and watched half a season of How I Met Your Mother. Productive afternoon. Saturday night I ended up downtown with several other Volunteers, where we hung out a juice bar (not that kind of juice bar). Rumor was Kitoko, one of the more well-known Rwandan musician who sings a song called 'Bella' (look it up!) would be at a small dive in downtown Kigali to play a show at about 9pm, so we decided to hang around town until then and try to catch the show. While at the juice bar, I got roped into actually participating in the secondary project I had used as a cover to stay another day (they're doing English training for Judges and are wanting to launch an online component…) by Ellie.

Now, here's where things start to turn South (literally, not in a metaphorically bad way). The following Friday (the 5th of August) I was supposed to head to Uganda for a friend's wedding. Actually, that friend is Steve-Charles, my roommate during training and fellow farsider. The problem is, Peace Corps really didn't want him to go through with the wedding (although this was only the ceremonial wedding, no legality involved) mainly because of visa reasons. I was discussing this with Aaron (one of the Married Men (his wife is Deanne, you'll meet her later)) who is on the VAC as well. He kind of looked at me strange and asked me to recap the vacation plans. It was then that I saw his concern. During the VAC meeting, we had had a 2 hour discussion on exactly why we were not allowed to go to Kampala (the capital of Uganda), although my vacation would only take me as far north as Mbarara, a place we were allowed to go, I began to see several issues with my plan. Aaron checked himself and mentally stepped back

"I should stop talking before I talk you out of your vacation" he says. Deanne, his wife, nods in agreement and chuckles. In a split decision, I acted rashly (or geniusly, depending on how which side of South Africa you look at it) (Sidenote: I guess 'geniusly' is not a word. Guess it's a good thing I don't teach English). I press Aaron to continue; I really wanted to know what he thought.

"Let me tell you why this is the worst idea you've ever had" he leans forward and begins to tick off on his fingers. "You want to go to a place Peace Corps doesn't really want you to go..." One. " a wedding Peace Corps doesn't want to happen…" Two. "…with your ex-girlfriend." Three. He leans back a folds his hand, his face an equal blend and concern.

"When you put it like that…" I think.

"You should just come to South Africa with us, we leave next Sunday." I scoff.

"There's no way Mary will approve that. International travel halfway across Africa with a six day notice?" Deanne smiles and Aaron retorts with a bet that I can. "Mary loves you."

"Tell you what," I sit back and think it over. "I'll call Mary tomorrow and ask to move my vacation. If she approves it and I can find a decent plane ticket, I'm in.


And that was that. In the morning I called Mary, who, to my utmost surprise, approved the changes with no hesitation. All that was left was to get a plane ticket. I hung out at the office until Monday morning when I could get access to my credit cards from the safe and hit up the travel agents downtown to find a decent ticket.  With a ticket booked (but not yet paid for), I had to head back to Cyahinda. I'd already been in Kigali for six days and desperately needed some alone-time. Its amazing how quickly that kind of things become normal.


On Thursday (we're up to August 4th now), I had to head back to Kigali to work on a new secondary project with Keira. About 2 months ago I had a 'great' idea (it was really more like a frustration). IN order to teach my ICT classes, I have to reference 8 different textbooks all with varying levels of correct-ness and ease of use. I decided then and there that I was going to do something about that. Not by trying to find a better textbook in Kigali, but by writing one myself.


The next thought through my head was just how much work such a thing was probably going to be. I probably should have been discouraged, but instead I called Keira, who also teaches ICT, and asked her if she was interested in helping. She agreed it was a 'great' idea and that we should begin immediately. Two months later, we had the basic foundation and permission to start our work on Project SABRE. The name has a little bit of back-story. When we were discussing what exactly we wanted to do, Keira and I simply referred to it as 'the resource.' This got a little dull after a while and we began brainstorming new names, which turned out to be on the same level of difficulty as writing a textbook. Therefore, I codename for the time being is Project SABRE, where SABRE stands for Super Awesome But Really Exhausting.


So Keira and I met in Kigali and Friday and Saturday to nail down more specific formats for writing this thing and a general timeline to accomplish our work (we also REALLY wanted more hot showers). Needless to say, after two days of that I was ready for a 10-day vacation for sure. So with my bags all packed and goodbyes and jealous stares in order, I left for the airport at midnight on Sunday for my 3AM flight.


Now, because I tacked onto this trip a little later than the others (which included the Aaron and Deanne, Matt, Kerry, and Markey), my travel was a little different than theirs. While they were flying out Sunday afternoon and flying all the way to Cape Town, I was not. The flight from Kigali first took me to Nairobi, Kenya, and then jumped to Johannesburg, South Africa. Once in OR Tambo airport in Johannesburg, I met up with a private car I had hired a few days previous to take me to Park Station, where a train was waiting to take me all the way across the country to Cape Town.


Little known fact: South Africa is larger than Texas and California combined. Therefore, my trainride took about 28 hours. While I had left Rwanda before the other, they beat me to Cape Town by about 4 hours on Monday. But I won the scenery-war. What's that? A whole flock of pink flamingoes? Check.


So that brings us up to Monday the 8th and we were in South Africa until the 15th. Don't think I'll derive you of all the amazing details; I just need a few more days. Look for Part 2 of this post in a few days…

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