According to James Taylor in his song September Grass.
Service in the Peace Corps, and living abroad in general, has undoubtedly changed in the 50 years that volunteers have been working abroad. Technology and globalization have been the main catalysts for this change. For example, my fellow PCVs and I have cell phone, internet access, blogs, facebook, etc. Also more and more countries have increased exposure to the US through what I think is our largest and most influential export: music, movies, and pop culture. Improved communication makes it easier for friends and family to understand our experiences through more frequent contact. Additionally, we PCVs don’t have to wait months for news from loved ones. While I enjoy snail mail, I am glad that if I need to communicate more quickly, there are other options available to me. I think when people discuss these changes, they normally focus on how it might have simplified or improved our experiences. And while that might be true, I’ve wondered if there might be a counter argument. Perhaps this improved communication makes it more difficult for volunteers to immerse themselves in their country of service because their ties to the US are still strong. Do others have opinions on this?
While I was traveling from Rwanda to the US and back, I appreciated the journey for multiple reasons. Many people I’ve met have never left their country of origin or flown on an airplane. Travel is a privilege and I’m fortunate that I’ve been able to travel and be exposed to different places. Also, I love meeting people. During the flights or at the airports, I met interesting people from Spain, Mexico, Rwanda, England, Canada, US, etc. I enjoy exchanging stories and experiences. I think that time in airports and airplanes can also help somewhat with the transition. Spending a couple hours in the airport in Amsterdam helped prepare me for the US where, PCVs joke, the streets are paved in gold. It’s almost as if an airport can serve as a neutral space between cultures, although arguably it is a better representation for a highly developed, capitalistic culture.
My opinions differ greatly from my co-workers in regards to corporal punishment. I think there are other ways to discipline and that corporal punishment can lead to increased violence in a society because students are learning it’s acceptable. Those who don’t use corporal punishment might be considered weak hearted, not strict, and as someone who doesn’t understand discipline. I’d like to hear from other people (including educators or people who have witnessed/experienced corporal punishment). Do you think it still serves a purpose in the school setting? Can it teach a lesson better than other forms of punishment or what lessons is it teaching? Can students learn in an environment where they do not feel safe?
In some ways the Rwandan public transportation system is ahead of the US. The country can be traveled by buses. For example, in my nearest town Nyamata, there are buses every half hour or more going to Kigali, the capital. In other ways, the US public transportation system can provide a more enjoyable experience. The majority of buses I take would probably fit about 15 people in the US, 4 rows of 3 people and 2 people in the front. To increase profit, these buses carry 19 plus passengers, 4 rows of 4 people, and 3 people in the front. Children are not normally included in this count. So one day, I sat in a row with 3 mothers and 3 babies. Fortunately, my personal bubble is small, but regardless it can be a tight squeeze. Many times designated stops are not respected, so when people knock on the window, the bus stops. It can require multiple people exiting and re-loading if someone in the back needs to get out. Let’s just say these rides are a journey for the senses: babies, live chickens at my feet at times, religious music, the occasional person/ baby vomiting, interesting smells- most unpleasant, and in the experience of another PCV: a birth. Despite that sometimes a bus ride can result in discomfort, I’ve met some nice people and have had some particularly funny rides. Also, the almost hour ride from Nyamata to Kigali costs around one dollar.
In Rwanda, I’ve been reading quite a few books. It serves as a good way to relax and an escape. PCVs share books and our collection adds up to a small library. I haven’t been reading books that are too depressing. If you have any books that you’d recommend, I’d like to hear your suggestions.
For many people in the States receiving mail might mean a mail carrier arriving at your door causing your dog to bark or in the country you may have a mailbox that gets hit by snow plows. Now I receive my mail at PO box in Nyamata. I take a motorcycle for about a half hour to reach the post office and whatever box or letters I receive will join me on the return motorcycle ride. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear if I’m the only person in my village to use the post office. I share the PO box with 5 other volunteers.
I’ve noticed in Rwanda that relationships between men and women are different that relationships between men and women in the States. It’s easier for me to have a friendship with an American male without being as concerned as to how my actions are being interpreted. Here I am more distant in my relationships with men because I don’t want my intentions to be misunderstood. This can prove to be challenging since men are more educated, so most of my daily interactions are with men. At my school, for example, I am one of two female teachers. Male PCVs can choose to integrate in their communities by sharing a beer with co-workers, community leaders, etc. That’s not to say I want to spend my time drinking, but I think being a male could make some encounters easier.
Rwandans like to pray (or as some students say- play to God since they confuse ls and rs). My community has 4 churches: one Seventh Day Adventist, two Pentecostal, and one Catholic. Church normally last 4 hours and I’ve never been to a church where the benches have backs. Since church is in Kinyarwanda, I’m not able to understand a large percentage of what is being said. I realized recently that praying with my students at school is more enjoyable for me. The school is close to my house and students don’t feel the need to stare at me because they are accustomed to my presence. Besides school, I enjoy the Pentecostal church because there are around 4 choirs and good amount of time is spent singing. The Catholic church has the shortest service and the Adventist church feels familiar because they sing some hymns that I know.
Some songs mean more to me since coming to Rwanda, especially Shed a Little Light by James Taylor. I’d recommend listening to it and paying attention to the lyrics. I sang a portion of this song to my students after we studied the “I Have a Dream” speech my Martin Luther King Jr. Although Rwanda is still in the process of reconciliation, I hope they can focus on their shared humanity and identity.
“ Oh let us turn our thoughts today to Martin Luther King
And recognize that there are ties between us
All men and women living on the Earth
Ties of hope and love
Sister and brotherhood
That we are bound together in our desire to see the world become
A place in which out children can grow free and strong
We are bound together by the task that stands before us
And the road that lies ahead
We are bound and we are bound”
As the leaves are changing colors and the temperature is cooling, eat an apple for me. My favorites are crisp Cortlands or McIntosh. Speaking of weather, the rainy season has returned which I enjoy. Happy fall to the US and spring to my friends in the far South.