Sunday, December 13, 2009


With less than a week left until swear in there are a lot of emotions amongst the volunteers, trainers and really everyone involved in PST. On Friday we finally were told our sites. Mup our director wanted to make it this big ceremony and had me and a few other volunteers draw a map with chalk on the basketball court next to our house labeling all of our districts. Once we had the map done, all the volunteers came to the court and we announced the sites one by one having each person stand on the map where their site was located. It was nice because we got to see which of the volunteers we would be living by for the next two years! I’m really pleased with the people in my district. I don’t think I stand-alone when I say that the personalities in our group go very well together. But most of all, my site, which is in the Karongi district is right by Lake Kivu, which is pretty much paradise. Below are some photos from my district to give you a taste of this blissful place…

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Friday, December 4, 2009


Two weeks left of training! Can’t believe its been two months already. Oh how time flies. So on Monday I left to visit one of the health PCV’s living around Lake Kibuye. I was excited to be going near the water, but I never expected to be in paradise. The photos you see attempt to capture the breathtaking scenery. It was truly blissful. Two of the PCV’s from our group have already been assigned a site right near the lake…lucky guys.

For the first time since we’ve been in Rwanda, we were sent off on our own. No PC staff there to tell us what to do, or how to get where we needed. It was kind of nice being able to figure things out for ourselves. We found the transportation system in Rwanda to be pretty easy and reliable after having successfully making it all the way to Kibuye and back. The road to Kibuye as we were warned is extremely curvy so car sickness is a big problem. Now I almost never feel carsick but will have to admit that after that bus ride I did feel a little nauseous and light headed. I managed to even read most of the way there trying not to pay attention to the strong smell of body odor and ignore the sounds of people throwing up out the window. All was well until of course I got hit. Yeap, I was lucky enough to be sitting right in front of the only child on the bus who decided it was okay to eat and drink right at the beginning of the trip. Of course due to the windy roads the poor girl threw everything she shoved down her face right back up…onto me. I tried to be calm about the situation; slowly put my book down on Ellies lap, looked down at my sweater and realized how much she got on me. I took of my sweater barely turning around to look at the girl, folded it, vomit side in and laid it on the floor of the filthy bus in front of me. I took a deep breath in, closed my eyes and had to have a “woosa” moment. I was easily calmed by staring out at the beautiful scenery. Fair warning to all those who travel by road in Rwanda; do not eat before traveling for long periods. I think the government should make it law to post advisory warnings on all the buses in Rwanda because projectile vomiting is really an issue.

Two days before I left for my site visit, we had a session on what its like to be a minority PCV in Rwanda where many of the current health pcv’s came and spoke about their experiences thus far. It was really interesting to hear what many of them had to say especially because I know that I will probably go through many of the same things when I am on my own. That session couldn’t have been more timely for me even though I had no idea what I was going to experience on my site visit.
Living here in Nyanza, I wouldn’t say I have experienced much different treatment but I realize now that its mostly because im almost never alone here. Most times I’m either with a fellow Rwandese or another PCV. Most people in the community know me, or of me and I can actually say I feel pretty comfortable walking around town alone in Nyanza.

I knew from the beginning that my experience here in Rwanda would be quite different from the average white American. Not only because I am considered a black person, but also because of my African heritage.

Its been a bit of a culture shock since this trip to Kibuye because I don’t think ive ever really gotten this kind of treatment at home in the US. I try to remember that there is no real sense of diversity or understanding of fair treatment in many rural Rwandese. The typical white American is such a novelty for people here that when they see someone of their skin color they can fathom the idea that they are not from Africa. It has taken me several attempts to explain to some people that I am American and that I was born and raised in the US. I’ve only managed to convince a few number of people I meet besides our trainers that I am not “umunyarwanda kazi”. But sometimes its just easier to accept their labels. I realize this will be one of my struggles here. I am really looking forward to moving to my site, having my own community and just get to know people and have them get to know me.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Hills Continued

Since day one of training, we’ve had a series of lecturers and guest speakers on various topics. Some spoke on the education system in Rwanda, and some spoke about the genocide and Rwanda’s history. Last week we had someone come from a Rwandan reconciliation organization and towards the end of his lecture he emphasized the importance of our presence in Rwanda as models of unity. He went on speaking of the great unity of America and how splendid it is because it has become a melting pot of people from every corner of the world and no matter what our descendents are we are all united because we are citizens of the good ol’ USA. I thought at that moment about how all of these things were so untrue. We are almost as divided as the Rwandans were 20 years ago. Race is the biggest problem today in America, more than anywhere else in the world. I think its unfortunate that outsiders fail to notice the divisions in the “free world”.

It’s crazy to think that I’ve been here in Rwanda for what will be a month this week. It seems like so much longer.. Everyone who knows me, knows that I get sick everywhere I go. I was a little worried before coming here that I would constantly get sick and that my body wouldn’t be able to adjust, but surprisingly my health has been nothing but great, minus the unknown bug bites I’m getting all over… I have on the other hand managed to injure myself repeatedly since the beginning of PST. I’ve realized how funny these injuries sound from having to explain them so many times…cut my big toe playing ping pong, bruised my right forearm so bad, half of it is purple and the best one of all, bruised my left eye opening my bottle of Primus (beer) against the table instead of looking for a bottle opener. I’m sure there will be many more to come.

Halloween in Rwanda
This time last year…I cant remember what I did last Halloween, Probably because I haven’t ever really celebrated it since maybe sophomore year of college. This year, I had the biggest and probably one of the best Halloweens ive had and it was in Rwanda, a country where most people don’t even know about the holiday. The only reason I even participated is because I am here with my American counterparts who all are constantly craving for an opportunity to embrace any part of American culture. I don’t have anything against Halloween, I just don’t care for it much. I ended dressing up as a DJ by default, because I actually was the dj for the party, which is part of why it was such a great night. It was a real challenge to manage the requests and still get to play what I wanted, but it was nice to be able to do something most of my close counterparts from home know I enjoy…play good music.
PST has been gradually getting more and more busy, leaving me very little time for rest and really being able to have my own time except for quick beers before dinner and by 9PM all I want to do is sleep. Up until now ive never really felt stressed or pressured, but the full days of lesson planning, language classes and teaching are becoming demanding.

Someone responded to my first blog asking how the Rwandan people have accepted ME and I will attempt to answer that in these next few lines.
I think my individual experience here is far different from the rest of the group. Of course everyone has his or her personal encounters and reflections but I think my background makes me stand apart from the rest in a specific way. The first reaction from the Rwandese people of me is that I am one of them and once they see I cant speak Kinyarwanda, they still think I am one of them but that I have lived in the US for a long time. Then when I say in Kinyarwanda that I am an American and was born there, they start to believe me, but then are still doubtful. Lastly, if Im with the person long enough I explain that my parents are Ethiopian and then they stop for a second, think about it and become very interested and generally happy.

Monday, October 19, 2009


Muraho! Welcome all to my Peace Corps blog! Here I will attempt to write the accounts of my two years here in Rwanda as a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV). I meant to start this blog right at the start of things and although lots have happened, its only been about two weeks since I’ve been here.
I am now in my second week of Pre-Service Training (PST) and its going pretty well. The language classes are a bit frustrating but with practice, like learning any language, I’m sure ill get better. The native language of Rwanda is Kinyarwanda, which is what we are learning. They also speak French and Swahili and very little English.
To give you all a background on why and how I got here…Kagame, Rwandan’s current president decided some months ago to transition from French to English as the official language used in schools and across the country. Because Kagame wanted the switch to occur swiftly, within three months all the schools across Rwanda had to switch from French or Kinyarwanda to English. You can imagine how difficult this was for the Teachers and especially the students.
So, because of such good relations between the US and the Rwandan government and the want for PC to come back to Rwanda, PC created an education program or group of volunteers, us. We are here to help the Rwandese people with their rapid transition from French to English as teachers and educators. It’s exciting to be part of such an important evolution in Rwanda. One of the reasons Kagame wanted to switch to English is also due to Rwandans want to become part of the East African Community.
It’s been almost twenty years since PC has been in Rwanda so we are a pretty new concept here, but are for the most part very well accepted and needed. The Rwandese people are desperate for interaction with anyone who speaks English so the can have an opportunity to both learn and practice the language, which for them is the gateway to success. actual job, the one I will be required to do among many other things is a secondary school teacher where I will teach English. Besides that I will probably spend a good amount of my time continuing to teach English to my colleagues, friends etc and become an active member in my umudugudu, which means village.
I have no idea where I’ll be living and in what conditions yet, and wont find out until probably the last few weeks of training, so there is some anticipation, but for the most part I’m trying to live in the present and learn as much as I can from PST.
The first two days we arrived in Rwanda we spent in Kigali, the capitol city. Those two days consisted with lots of introductions, meetings of most importantly the visit to the genocide memorial. Before visiting the memorial that day, I knew nothing could really prepare me for what I was about to experience. I knew about the genocide only through books, documentaries and historical facts, but never from first hand experiences.
The memorial in Kigali is a beautiful exhibition that presents the story of the war and the casualties of it in every aspect. It represents all sides of the war and ends by sharing the universal genocide incidents that have occurred all over the world and how Rwanda is trying to overcome the war.
This experience made me realize how powerful the war was, and I took a small step towards understanding Rwanda and its people. It’s amazing how quickly Rwanda has evolved since the genocide and a great inspiration for the world to see the country working towards reconciliation after such strong hatred.
Looking around this picturesque country you would never think that only less than fifteen years ago it was all ashes.
My biggest challenge will be trying to understand the Rwandese people in regards to their history. With the war having happened less than fifteen years ago almost everyone around me, were around during the war and have family members that were either killed or have killed. It’s frightening to know that our teachers, trainers, colleagues and soon to be friends are these people. I think this will be an obstacle in building close relationships with Rwandan people who are generally conservative as are many African nations. It will require a lot of tip toeing around when it comes to asking questions about family and getting personal, but I suppose in time some will open up and in time I will learn how to deal with this.
I feel very lucky to be here and I’m loving every moment of this. The past few days have been tough because we had some people think of leaving and we actually lost one person. It’s always a bit of a shock, but many of us know who probably wont make it through training. It’s always disappointing when someone leaves, but for a moment I’m also envious that he/she gets to go home and be with their loved ones. I think it takes a lot of guts to be here, but also passion, determination and strength. So, not to say you are weak if you go home, but maybe you just made the wrong decision in the first place.