Which means what's up in Kinyarwanda, not what you want fish to do to a hook. I recently celebrated my 6th month in Rwanda which I think is an accomplishment. Half a year! I’m sorry that my ideas aren’t always connected since I try to cover a variety of topics.
Development in Rwanda is happening at a rapid rate. Roads are improving, new building are being built; the infrastructure is quickly improving. But as someone pointed out to me, although infrastructure can change quickly, development in the realm of education and medicine takes much more time.
There are some specific challenges that PCVs face in Rwanda and in the schools. When getting to know someone, it is natural to want to ask questions to learn more about them. In Rwanda sometimes I am hesitant to ask certain questions because of the underlying questions or the answers I might receive. For example, questions about family may lead to hearing that the person lost their parents or siblings. A question like where are your from may result in learning that the person has lived in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Tanzania, or Burundi because they sought refuge in nearby countries. Like I said, things are changing quickly in Rwanda. Up until a few years ago, Rwandan students studied all subjects in French. Recently because English is a global language and Rwanda is part of the East African Community which uses English, English was adopted as the new system. More specifically, recently means this is the second year English is being used for most students and the first year for Senior 4 and Senior 6. This has led to challenges for both teachers and students. Teachers who completed all of their studies in French are now required to teach in English regardless of their ability level. Students must complete National Exams in English and some struggle because of the language barrier. I think now is an important time for PCVs to be in the Rwandan schools in order to help with this transition. Class sizes are also challenging, but I know this issue is not Rwanda specific. My class sizes vary from about 40-60 students. I want to learn all of my students’ names, but I find it difficult with the amount of students I teach. Sometimes the amount of students in my classes reminds me of a small college lecture hall.
Before I came to Rwanda, I heard that people dressed conservatively. I thought that my sources may have exaggerated, but it turns out they did not. Women mainly wear skirts or dresses past the knees. I find myself being shocked when I see someone’s knees now. Rwandans are well dressed. In the US dress is viewed as a form of self-expression, but here the way someone dresses reflects the respect they have for others. I try to dress well here to respect Rwandan culture. Around my house sometimes I wear shorts, but throw on a wrap around skirt if there is a knock on my door.
I have noticed that as I’m learning more Kinyarwanda, the number of people telling me I should marry a Rwandan has increased. I don’t entirely understand the logic. If I speak Icelandic, must I marry someone from Iceland? People have also been telling me I’m Rwandan when I speak Kinyarwanda. Surprisingly my nationality has not changed, I’m just taking an interest in a new culture and language. Regardless, it is encouraging sometimes to hear I’m Rwandan.
I came upon an interesting quote in a book I read while here in Rwanda. “They’re disciplined and they’re straight and they have an impossible task. It’s as if Jews who survived the Holocaust formed a government after the war, not in Israel but in Germany. And then they had to figure out how to arrest and prosecute the Nazis in their midst.” Reading a quote like this reminds me of how much Rwanda has accomplished in less than two decades despite their painful history.
For the most part I’m doing well here in Rwanda, but there are several things I need to attribute this to. 1. A sense of humor. Being able to laugh has been very helpful. 2. My cell phone. It has a flashlight, an alarm clock (which I haven’t needed as much as in the US), and allows me to be able to communicate with other volunteers and my family. Texting about funny circumstances or frustrations is a good release. 3. My journal. I have been journaling most days here and I think it helps me to process the day.
4. Flexibility. Things don’t always happen the way I may want. For example, when traveling occasionally it takes longer because of rain, unforeseen circumstances, etc. I just try to think of it as an adventure because otherwise it’s too easy to get frustrated.
5. The internet. Although it is slow and not as reliable, I appreciate having internet access. 6. Supportive friends and family and other PCVs. Thank you. I am blessed to have supportive and encouraging people in my life.
One of my favorite things about travel is putting a face to a country. Before coming to Rwanda, the continent of Africa was almost entirely faceless to me (as it is for many). I still don’t know many people outside of Rwanda, but as time passes I am gaining connections to different places. I think it’s very valuable that in the future if I hear news about Uganda, I will think of my two Ugandan co-workers and their well-being. I think interconnectedness can make for a more caring world.
If you would like to learn more about Rwanda, I would recommend watching the movie Sometimes in April. It is a sad movie, but most think it is much more accurate than Hotel Rwanda. A book that would be good to read is Land of a Thousand Hills. It is about a woman who lives in Rwanda for many years. I enjoyed that the book only speaks for a little about the genocide and mainly focuses on other aspects of her life in Africa. If you do read this book, I urge you to be wary of the historical accuracy of some of her accounts. I did not always like the way she described the genocide.
For those of you who have the opportunity to learn a language through immersion, I have a few strategies that have made it easier for me. Treat everyone as your teacher. Whether it be my moto driver, a bus driver, a fellow bus passenger, a child, I try to speak with them and ask questions when I do not understand. Learning a language requires humility, especially when you realize you are linguistically limited to the age of a 3 year old. Being outgoing has helped me in my effort to learn Kinyarwanda. Learning involves taking risks and making mistakes. My funniest blunder being me asking at what I thought was a doughnut store (they’re not actually doughnuts, but they are somewhat similar) for what I thought was the word for doughnuts. Instead I asked for socks and was confused when they said they didn’t have them. Patience also seems key. I have to be patient with myself as well as the people I’m trying to talk with. I think learning a language through immersion is the easiest way, but I understand not everyone gets the opportunity.
April is Genocide Memorial Month, the week of April 7th being the most important part. The 1994 Genocide began on April 7th, so that is the significance of the day. Most villages had daily meetings remembering what happened. I attended a few meetings, but found it challenging since I’m not able to understand what’s being said and I’m unable to comfort those suffering. One of my closest friends was crying during the first meeting and there wasn’t very much I could do or say. It’s difficult to comprehend because I have not experienced anything like it. I also went to another Genocide Memorial during the week. This one is located in Nyamata (which is a 20-30 motorcycle ride away). It is a church where 10,000 people sought refuge and were killed. The pews where people should be sitting are covered with the victims’ clothing. Overall, Rwanda was much more quiet and serious throughout the week and I had to consciously keep my radio at a low volume.
Those who know me, will be surprised to hear that my sleeping schedule is changing here in Rwanda. I normally go to bed between 9-10 pm and wake up around 6 am. Maybe you could say I’m becoming more of a morning person. Craziness.
Eating without electricity is like a race I don’t always win. I don’t like throwing away food, but some things go bad quickly. Eating is also somewhat dangerous in Rwanda. I sometimes bite down on a surprise rock in my rice or beans. Not the most pleasant, but I guess it makes eating little bit like a sport.
I just returned from my In-Service Training (IST) Confernce in Kibuye. It was the most beautiful place I’ve visited in Rwanda. Kibuye is located on the shores of Lake Kivu, the largest lake in Rwanda that separates Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. You can see the Congo in the distance and on clear nights you can see a volcano glowing. We saw some colorful sunsets, lightning shows, and the moon was also bright while we were there. I find nature very refreshing so it was good for me to be in such a lovely place. We also had really delicious food. Everyday we had sessions from about 8 am- 5:30 pm. We talked about our successes, challenges, teaching strategies, secondary projects, how we are taking care of ourselves, etc. It was really nice to see other volunteers, share stories, and enjoy each other’s company.
Break was enjoyable and went by very quickly. Between visits with other volunteers, IST, Genocide Memorial Week, and so on the vacation is almost over. I start my second trimester on Monday. Back to school!
Sending lots of love your way!