Hola! I’m surprised another month has gone by! Fun fact: in Kinyarwanda the word for month and moon are the same. That makes sense, unlike the hours of the day which still cause me trouble. You must start counting at 7:00 am which is considered 1, 8 is 2, 9 is 3, etc. Also the words have for time have been borrowed from Swahili which adds an extra challenge. So, I can’t just look at the time and see a 3 and say, “It’s 3” because you actually say it’s 9.
I’ve posted a couple pictures on facebook. For those of you who don’t have facebook, I hope this link works for you: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2917635&id=8648255&l=5d477fcd55
I thought I could describe my house for you all. My favorite part of my house is that I have a gate surrounding it. Being a foreigner, I tend to get stared at quite a bit, so it’s nice to have a private space. Granted, children do occasionally get curious and peak under the doors of my gate or bang on the doors, but for the most part they behave. They are especially curious if I have visitors at my house. My house is made up of three rooms: my bedroom, my living room, and a spare room. My bedroom has my bed (surprise) with a green mosquito net, a blue chest that Peace Corps gave to us, and a bookshelf I had made for my things. My living room has a coffee table and seating for six: three individual chairs and one larger chair that seats three. I didn’t realize at the time that seating for six might be somewhat excessive, but I guess I’m ready to entertain if (and when, hopefully) you come to visit. My extra room was potentially going to be for a roommate, but now I think I will continue using it for storage. I keep some pots, dishes, and other odds and ends there. When I first saw the house, it was all gray. Thankfully they’ve painted it since then which adds a good touch. My living room is a light yellow, my bedroom is white, my spare room is a calm red, and the doors and window trims are a bright blue. Within my gate there is another building, I’m not sure what I should call it. There are four small rooms: two for storage (where I have my charcoal and charcoal stove), my shower which is a room with a drain, and my latrine aka squat toilet. I’m pretty sure in my village, I have one of the nicest houses because only a few houses have gates.
I have a name in Kinyarwanda! It was given to me by my closest friends in the village (the family with two adorable children). They were choosing between two names: Umutoni (which means beloved) or Inyenyeri (which means star). I love stars and I love the word for stars in Kinyarwanda. Hint: the ny combination sounds like the Spanish ñ. A couple days later, I was riding in a bus from Nyamata to Kigali and getting proposed to. I just take it as a joke and comment that I want 100 cows, since there is still a dowry in Rwanda and cows are very important. One hundred cows is an unreasonably high dowry, so it’s a safe number and causes some laughs. So some people on the bus, who I’ve never met before, say your name is Umutoni. That made the decision easy- my friends and some strangers who I hadn’t told my new name to thought that Umutoni was fitting for me. Most people still call me Allison (pronounced Arisoni), but Rwandans are happy to hear I have a Kinyarwanda name.
I’m a leader in the Black is Beautiful Movement, Rwandan Chapter. Unexpected, yes? I understand that in the US people receive skewed standards of beauty from the media: TV, movies, magazines, the internet, etc. It surprised me, however, that in my village where there is not access to TV, magazines, internet (unless you have a modem), they also have some strange standards of beauty. It saddens me when a mother of a 6 month old baby says to me, “your hair is beautiful, my baby’s hair is not” or “your skin is beautiful, my baby’s skin is not.” Since many people here believe in God, I try to respond saying, “We are all children of God, right?” Well if we are all children of God, he loves us and created us all to be beautiful. Sometimes I say my skin is milk and their skin is chocolate, but that analogy doesn’t work as well since chocolate is more expensive and not everyone likes or eats it. I wonder where these inaccurate messages of what’s hot and what’s not are coming from and arriving to the Rwandan countryside.
It’s currently the rainy season in Rwanda. I kind of miss having four seasons, now I only have two: rainy or dry. It hasn’t been raining everyday, but maybe that is yet to come. The sound of rain really does amplify when you only have a tin roof, like at my house and at school. It makes it challenging to teach if it’s raining hard because listening and speaking activities are not feasible. Something I like about the rain is that it cools things down and makes it possible for me to sleep with a blanket or wear socks!
I had a difficult week in the middle of Febraury. I found out that my grandma was not doing well and then my cell phone was stolen which made it difficult for my family to contact me. My grandma passed away and although it was hard for me to be so far away from family, I had peace knowing that she had lived a good life. My grandmother had really severe Alzheimer’s and had lost to ability to speak. Her quality of life was really poor at the end and as my mom reminded me, we had said goodbye quite a while ago. I did feel blessed with the love I received from Rwandans, PCVs, and people back home. My Rwandan co-workers did not want me to be alone very much, so they kept me company. That same week, I found out that the only other English teacher at school was leaving to continue his studies. I was sad because I enjoyed working with him. It has increased my workload somewhat because they haven’t hired a new teacher yet. Another teacher and I have been sharing the hours. Hopefully they will hire a new teacher before next trimester. It was a difficult week, but I hung in there and tried to remind myself that most things happen for a reason. (Or at least that is my belief in most cases.)
I’ve almost completed my first trimester at school which is hard to believe, maybe because we started a week late for Senior 3 and 5 and a month late for Senior 4. There were also days off for elections, Women’s Day, and Hero’s Day. Regardless, I’m looking forward to the break. The break lasts for 3 weeks. April is Genocide Memorial Month because the genocide started in April and lasted 100 days. There will be events in my community and I also think it is important to visit some of the nearby genocide memorials. During break, I will also have In-Service-Training with my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers. I haven’t seen most of my training class since the beginning of January, so it will be great to see each other and share stories. We also had a language training scheduled in April that has been canceled; I hope it gets rescheduled because I would enjoy studying more Kinyarwanda. Although I’m looking forward to break, I’m not as excited for testing and grading, but I guess that’s part of being a teacher.
If any of my teaching friends have ideas of successful lesson plans for English as a foreign language, I would greatly appreciate the input. I have the challenge of teaching a computers course without computers (since we do not have electricity or computers). My students ask for practical or application based activities which are difficult to give them without computers. I’ve had them make paper keyboards but they seemed to think that was funny.
Happy spring to all of you in the US! My family tapped trees last weekend for making maple syrup, so you know that the seasons are changing.