Ten days ago, I landed in Rwanda…along with twenty-two other abasitajeris (volunteers). We are now Peace Corps Trainees…on our way to becoming Peace Corps Volunteers. It’s been a whirlwind and I’ve only just now had the time to sit down and collect my thoughts. Here’s what a bunch of twenty-somethings look like after 18+ hours of traveling (from Philadelphia to Rwanda, Africa):
All-in-all, the trip went pretty smoothly. We left Philadelphia and traveled two-and-a-half hours, by bus, to JFK. When we arrived at the airport, we were informed that the airlines didn’t open for another two hours. Of course, we spent that time enjoying our last American meals. Immediately upon checking in, a few people got slammed with extra baggage fees. (Tip: When the Peace Corps says to “check the airline regulations”, what they really mean is, “Call the airline multiple times because whatever is on the website is probably not accurate.”) My parents tried to convince me to pack another bag instead of leaving a few items back home. I am so glad I didn’t; I would have been hit with a $200 extra bag fee. Even though it’s probably going to cost ~$60 to send me a care package with those extra items, it’s still cheaper than the extra bag cost. (Mom, dad: I was right this time!) After the baggage fees were settled, we ran into one more setback (of course); Brussels Airlines would not print our airline tickets because they were under the impression that we needed Visas for Rwanda. (The Peace Corps is extremely clear about Passport/Visa issues…our Visas were going to be taken care of after arriving in the country.) After a few phone calls between the D.C. office and the airlines, we were on our way through security and off to the gate.
We flew from JFK to Brussels, Belgium and then from Brussels to Kigali, Rwanda. (I think the trip was somewhere around 18 hours, give or take a couple.) When we landed, some “veteran” volunteers picked us up and we bussed to the hostel where we would spend the next two nights. The hostel had some absolutely gorgeous views! Here’s a sample background with Miche and I!
We spent the two days in Kigali doing piles of paperwork and figuring out our phone situations (of course). American and Rwandan cultures are (obviously) very different, but the culture shock wasn’t too bad. I just spent the time soaking everything in. After spending nearly two years in the application process (beginning September 2012), I was just beyond thankful to be in Africa. Of course, this journey hasn’t been without it’s hardships. The second night we stayed at the hostel, I woke up to water spraying directly onto my face. A pipe had burst underneath the sink and was pouring into our room and all over our stuff. (Honestly, it was the most water pressure I’ve seen since being in Rwanda.) There were eight of us in the room and we all shot up and got to work moving our stuff out of the room, which was quickly flooding. Things definitely got wet, but nothing was destroyed. I ran around the hostel complex, looking for someone to shut of the water main. Let me just say that I have never felt more helpless; I ran up to some guards and tried to explain the situation…hello, language barrier! The next morning I learned the words for water (amazi) and help (mfasha). I’m pretty sure I won’t be forgetting those any time soon. We were re-homed, but it was a pretty awful night’s sleep, given the adrenaline rush.
The next morning we had language lessons (which is pretty much the story of our lives up until now). Around noon, we headed off to Rwamagan (Eastern Province), which is where we’ll spend the three months of our PST (pre-service training). At the end of the three month period, we’ll all be re-homed somewhere much more remote. We’ll be spread out throughout the country, but we’re all hoping to be within an hour of another volunteer (wishful thinking, I guess).
It’s only been a week and we’re all still getting our bearings, but I couldn’t be more in love with Rwanda. The people here are incredibly welcoming and, more often than not, they’re willing to converse with you in Kinyerwanda (converse is a strong word…I mostly just repeat the same phrases and say “yego” [yes]). It’s been wonderful! My favorite part about the people here is that they typically look very grumpy and stare at you, butttt…as soon as you say, “Muraho!” (Hello!), they brighten up so much! (I think they’re just happy to know that the Americans in their villages are ready and willing to the learn the local language.
My host family is amazing! I still can’t figure out how everyone is related, exactly, but that’s all part of the fun. I think there are three people who live in my house (my host mom, my host mom’s granddaughter (Paci), and me). There are quite a few people who live in my complex (I’m pretty sure my host mom is the landlady, but who knows). I’m closest with my host “sister”, Jackie. She’s 24 and she’s a nurse at a pediatrics hospital, so we have quite a bit to talk about. She also speaks a bit of English, which is helpful! My host mom constantly tries to feed me. I probably had seven glasses of hot milk during my first two days (I’m lactose intolerant, so that was fun). Whatever amount of food you think will fill you up…multiple that by four and that’s what my host mom wants me to eat. I just…can’t. The food here is much better than people let on! It can be monotonous, but it’s good nonetheless. An average meal, for me, consists of pasta, boiled bananas in mystery sauce, beef in tomato broth (I usually pass on this because it’s too tough for me to eat with lockjaw…). I get rice and beans sometimes, which are excellent! My favorite thing to eat here is “ishu”, which is warm, salty cabbage stuff. I get it very rarely, but I am a big fan!
For the past week, we’ve been very busy with class and just gettting acquainted with the town. Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday we have language class all day. Tuesday and Fridays are our “Core Days”. Sunday is our day off! Here’s what our afternoon classes look like:
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: This country is beyond gorgeous. The weather is perfection (mid 70s-80s all the time).
Class gets out at 5:00PM and curfew is at 6:30PM, so we basically spend that ninety-minute period doing this:
I’ve got to go because today is our “relax at Hub” day and we’re going to watch the newest episode of Game of Thrones!
Until next time!