…Which means many days in Kinyarwanda literally or in other words, it’s been a while. First of all, I’d like to apologize for my absence from this blog and my silence.
I recently finished what in the US would have been my summer break from school. The break went by very quickly and I was much busier than I thought I would be. It was very enjoyable.
Although I had a break from school, I had different responsibilities for Peace Corps. I spent one week and a half at PST (Pre-Service Training) for the new Education group that arrived to Rwanda in September. I mainly observed the trainees in model school helped provide feedback on their teaching. It was a good opportunity to be involved in the training and I was happy to be there.
Another week, I was a facilitator in Camp GLOW- Girls Leading Our World. I would say that up until now this has been the highlight of my service. After an application and interview process, we selected 48 students from various schools in the surrounding area. The main purpose of the camp was to teach girls from ages 14-18 about HIV/AIDS, SGBV- sexual and gender based violence, STIs- sexually transmitted infections, and leadership. To do this we had various classes about goal setting, self esteem, condom use, saying no to sex, to name a few. In addition to serious topics, we also took time to share and exchange cultures. We tried to re-create an American camp by doing things like a talent show, dance, bonfire, eating s’mores and afternoon activities like zumba, yoga, salsa (taught by me), crafts, pilates, etc. It was encouraging to see my shy students take more risks and participate more than I had expected. Female students in Rwanda rarely participate in the classroom, so it was great to have a female only camp and hear more of what they have to say. I was really impressed with the campers and Rwandans who helped us to facilitate and touched when the girls cried on the last day as we were concluding camp.
A few PCVs in my area were invited to participate in a conference about volunteerism in Rwanda organized by United Nations Volunteers (UNV). This was another great experience for me. We helped with some of the logistics like registration, photography, set- up, note taking, etc. Something that I enjoyed but is somewhat silly, is that the conference had simultaneous interpretation with headphones for nearly every participant. This is to say that if the speaker was speaking Kinyarwanda, you could listen to the headphones to hear English and which was being interpreted by a person sitting in a glass box in the back of the room. Also, since Peace Corps is still new in Rwanda, it was a good networking opportunity. More importantly, the conference gave me the chance to meet some interesting and kind people.
Some of the Health PCVs in Rwanda have recently received assignments as teachers, but very little of their training was related to education. To help them to be more comfortable with their new positions, another volunteer and I organized and lead a conference about teaching English. The volunteer is one of my closest friends in the country, so it was nice to be able to work together.
Since my training class has spent almost 15 months in Rwanda, we had a Mid-Service Conference last week. It was held in Musanze which is near Volcano National Park. This park is one of the last places in the world where you can see gorillas in their natural habitat and where Dian Fossey did the majority of her research. The conference was organized in part by volunteers and I was pleased to see more small group activities. It’s always nice to see all of my training class at once since it only happens every few months.
Interspersed with work, I was able to explore some also. Most exciting for me was going to Zanzibar, an island off the coast of Tanzania. It was my first time seeing a country in Africa besides Rwanda. To get to Zanzibar my friends and I took a 30-35 hour bus from Kigali, Rwanda to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and then a few hour ferry ride to Zanzibar. There are planes that go to Tanzania, but we were operating on a Peace Corps budget. I loved Zanzibar. It’s a very interesting place. The society is mainly Muslim and it was an important location in the spice trade. Due to this, the food is flavorful and the culture is an Indian, African, and Middle Eastern fusion. The center, Stone Town, has really interesting architecture. The beaches in Zanzibar are beautiful with white sand and bight blue water. My friends and I went snorkeling and the ride ended as we watched the sunset from the boat and ate fresh fruit. Another day we got massages. I went to Zanzibar with five friends- four PCVs and one American who is not a PCV. We enjoyed great food, drinks, and scenery. I met people from different countries, mainly from Europe- Italians, Irish, German, English, and Swiss, but also a few people from South Sudan, Canada, and the US (including a girl from UW- Madison who was studying abroad in Zanzibar). Our trip concluded with one night in Dar es Salaam before our bus back to Rwanda. My friends and I were kindly welcomed into the home of my friend from college’s parents. They were incredibly hospitable and we are grateful for the food, conversations, showers, and beds. I would highly recommend visiting Zanzibar. Although it is far, it was an affordable and worthwhile vacation. The trip was short because I had to return to Rwanda, but it was packed with fun. My five friends and I traveled well together and I really enjoyed their company.
Also over vacation, I went on my first safari. I went with another PCV and her friend from American who was visiting. We took a day trip to Akagera National Park in the Eastern Province of Rwanda. During this day we saw giraffe, hippopotamus, zebra, wart hog, impala, crocodile, water buffalo, baboon, beautiful bird, turtle, topi, waterbuck, monkey, antelope, bush buck, etc. We saw many African animals I had only seen previously in zoos, except elephant and lion (elephants are rare in Rwanda and I think lions no longer live in the country). Throughout the trip, I thought of The Lion King and occasionally was the voice for the inner dialogues of the animals. Thanks to Kim and Sera for inviting me along!
Happy belated holidays! My holidays were different from last year when I was in training with 70 other Americans, but they were enjoyable all the same. For Thanksgiving, I gathered with 5 other female PCVs. We ate delicious food and I am thankful for each of their friendships. I consider them all to be strong women with admirable traits. We did not roast turkeys in a pit or have all the traditional Thanksgiving fare, but I liked to be with a small and caring group of friends.
I celebrated Christmas with about 16 other PCVs. I helped with the shopping and some of the preparations. We spent two nights celebrating, the nights of the 24th and 25th. We ate great food (mainly Cuban and American), danced, played some games, and relaxed by a hotel pool on Christmas day. There was a live band playing near the pool and I was happy to hear them play “La Bamba.”
For New Year’s I spent time with American and Rwandan friends. We welcomed in the New Year by dancing for hours at a party called Happy People.
I recently celebrated a second birthday in Rwanda. I had lunch with two friends, went to school, and had dinner with some of my neighbors.
My holidays were enjoyable in a large part because of the other Peace Corps Volunteers. Many went to the US, but those of us that were here made the days memorable.
I’m back in my village and back in school. It’s a slow start because students are still arriving, but hopefully by next week the school will not feel so empty.
I hope you have had a joyful holiday season and a good start to 2012!