Monday – June 16, 2014 “A Day in the Life of an Umusitajera”

It’s nearly 9:00PM here in Rwamagana and I’m just about settled into my nest (which is how I refer to my extra-high bed and mosquito net). I was going to read some of Dance with Dragons when I realized I wanted to share my thoughts about today. Nothing especially exciting happened…which is why I’m feeling pretty amazing right now. Today felt like a normal day in Africa. Dare I say…I feel as if I’m fitting in here in Rwanda.

I’ve talked to a few friends (and of course family) since being in Rwanda. (To those of you who want to hear from me more…get Viber and send me a Facebook message asking for my number!) What I like hearing from people is that I “sound like I’m having a good time.” To be entirely, 100% honest, I’m having a great time here! For those of you who don’t know me very well…back in America, I can be a bit of a pessimist. (More of a realist, but whatevah whatevah.) Apparently, I’m an ever-loving optimist in Africa! I chalk it up to spending two years in the Peace Corps application process. I mean…I could have backed out at any point. But this has been a dream of mine since I was thirteen. Now that I’m here…I’m really just taking everything in, processing it, and loving every moment of it. Of course, there’s some negativity that floats around our little group of volunteers (I’ve been a perpetrator once or twice)…but on the whole…I’m just damn happy to finally be here. Had someone given me a globe last year and told me to point to the country I wanted to be placed in…Rwanda wouldn’t even had been an option (I had no clue what life was like here). I’m sure you’re tired of hearing it…but this place is amazing! Anyway, I wanted to share what an average day is like for me. So, here:

Today I woke up at 6:02AM (I can’t wake up on the hour…or the half-hour; it has to be a X:02 or a X:14 or a X:32. It’s just a thing I have.) So I woke up and I checked my phone (pretty much like in America). I don’t get regular cell service in my room; it comes and goes throughout the night, so I usually wake up to old texts and notifications. Furthermore, all of my friends and family are between six and nine hours behind me, so they’re pretty active during the time that I’m sleeping. After checking my phone, I hung out in bed for twenty (or so) minutes, just collecting my thoughts and trying to remember all the language I learned yesterday (“ejo hashizi”). When I finally decided to get up, I went through the lengthy process of un-tucking my mosquito net and climbing down from my nest. I then grabbed my towel, my igitenge (piece of fabric that women use to wrap around themselves after bucket showering), and headed off to the bathroom (“umusurani”).

I love our bathroom. It’s got a toilet, a shower area, and a sink. Here’s the thing, though…there’s not actually running water in our bathroom. Our toilet doesn’t flush (you pour water down it after each use). Our sink is basically a holding area, since there’s no water being pumped through the faucets. And the shower area is really just a basin with a drain. It’s awesome. I think we have a latrine (fancy word for a hole in the ground), but my mama will not show it to me. She’s very prideful and wants me to use the inside bathroom only. (Definitely not complaining…using a latrine for longer than a weekend camping trip is not the business.) After dropping off my towel and igitenge in the bathroom (I was still wearing my pajamas at this point), I went outside with a bucket to get some water (“amazi”). At the beginning, my family was boiling water, so I could have hot bucket showers. At some point, I told them cold water was fine…it’s definitely a solid wake-up tactic. After I got the water, I headed back to the bathroom to “shower”. (I should mention that the lock on our bathroom door is a large rock on the ground by the door.) Bucket showering basically consists of splashing enough water and soap on your body, in just the right places, that you feel clean. It’s not so bad. I wash my hair every two-three days. That can be kind of taxing, but it’s not awful…it’s just a matter of making sure you get all of the shampoo out. (Without water pressure…you basically just scrub and splash and scrub.) And that’s how you bucket shower! Ta-da!

After that, I headed back to my room where I got dressed quickly, put my hair up in a bun, and put on mascara. Today, I wore jeans and a white t-shirt. I’m sure I looked very American, but I just can’t handle wearing long skirts every day. I then filled up my Nalgene with water from my giant, Peace Corps-provided filter and went to the living room for breakfast. This morning was the first time I had something that I was absolutely not a fan of. I was served my normal pasta, hard-boiled egg, and bananas. But…instead of the normal beans (which are delicious!), I had some sort of amalgamation of passion fruit and beans. Let me tell you…twas awful. I ate around as many of the beans as possible and took extra bananas so as not to offend mama. I’m pretty much in love with most Rwandan foods…but that shit did not fly with my taste buds. After breakfast, I grabbed my backpack and told mama “umunsi myiza”, which means, “Have a good day.” On my way out, my host ~nephew stopped me because my backpack was dirty. He and I spent the next ten minutes scrubbing it because I wasn’t presentable for school apparently? I love this country’s rules on cleanliness. After, I darted out before he could tell me that my feet were dirty. (They’re always dirty, here.)

School (“ishyuri) is very close for me…about a five-minute walk. However…between class and my house is a small daycare-type school. This morning, as is the case with most mornings, I was “attacked” by a crowd of small children. When I say “attack” I mean all the kids shout “Hello” or “Muraho” and come up to high-five me or to touch me. It’s great! Except that sometimes they follow me for the entire walk and then I garner attention from all of the adults in the area, as well. It’s not necessarily bad attention; I’m just used to blending in. And, here, I stand out just about as much as any person could. I guess I could be on stilts…that might be more attention grabbing. I love the kids here…they’re always in the mood to talk and who doesn’t love children’s laughter?! Older Rwandan women are my absolute favorite to converse with though…they’re often very sweet and they have so much to say!

School is actually just a room in my teacher’s house. My teacher’s name is Immacuille and she is such perfection. She’s 24 (I think) and she has got to be one of the best teacher’s I’ve ever had; she doesn’t even want to be a teacher permanently, which I think is sad since she’s so great at it. Today, as with most days, I got to class first and talked with Immacuille until my other group members (Vanessa and Carrie) arrived. I lucked out completely with my group; we’re all pretty evenly matched in the skill department. More importantly, we’re all three extremely motivated and we try to remain positive about the whole learning experience; it’s a big bonus! After we all settled in, we started reviewing what we learned on Saturday (infinitive verbs…a whole bunch of them). Then, we moved on to family relationships. Let me just say that in Kinyarwanda…some words and phrases are easier than in English. However, family relationship words are definitely on the difficult side of things. There are actually different names for “brother” and “sister” depending on your gender and also on your age. (Ex. If you are the younger sister of a girl…that’s a different word than if you are the younger sister of a boy.) After practicing that for a bit, it was break time! For break, today, we went to a gas station. In Rwanda, most gas stations double as a café situation…minus the coffee (“ikawa”). My group mates and I got sambusas (sp?), ate there, and then went back to class for another two hours…until lunch break!

Lunch break in Rwanda is usually ninety minutes to two hours, since it takes about 20 minutes to walk downtown to a real eatery. Additionally, unless the restaurant is buffet style…you gon’ be waiting a real long time for food. (Ex. Last Saturday, a group of us went to a “bar” and waited about two hours just to be served our food. This is called “Rwandan time”.) Until today, I had only eaten at this placed called Restaurant Classica, which is 1500 RWF (drink included). That’s about $2.00 USD. Yeah. TWO DOLLARS. However, that’s mega expensive in Rwanda. So, today, some “veteran” volunteers showed a large group of us to a new place that only costs 500 RWF ($0.71 USD). It was pretty terrific! Everything on my plate was a carbohydrate, but it was a serious amount of food. There were mashed plantains (basically mashed potatoes), fried-ish potatoes, red rice, white rice, pasta, and beans. It was extraordinarily filling. I could only eat half of what was on my plate…but it was $0.71, ya’ll! And I got a “Coca ikonje” (cold Coca-Cola) for 200 RWF. So worth it. (Also, cold here a subjective…there’s no ice in this country.)

After we all ate, some of us headed to the market. I needed to check on my skirt (“ijupo”) that I’m getting made from a igitenje I bought when we first arrived. Rwandans work on their own time, man. I’ve been back to this lady’s stall like three times and her bag is there (I can see my skirt), but she’s not there for me to pay her. Some day I will get my beautiful skirt…I hope. After checking her stall, to no avail, I went to buy an outlet converter. It’s cheaply made and expensive, but the “veteran” volunteers recommend it and I trust them. I still need a wattage converter (mom…dad…), but I can charge my phone for now! After buying that, it was back to class! This afternoon was entirely fun. Basically, we drew our family trees and played word games in Kinyarwanda. I learned more, today, from charades and Hangman than every before in my life.

Class ended at 5:00PM, as usual. Some groups get out early, but I’m pretty glad Immacuille keeps us the whole time. I walk out of class, each day, feeling great about what I learned. If I keep up this rate of learning, I should be set by the time I’m on my own at Site. After class, we (Vanessa, Carrie, and I) went to The Hub (local Peace Corps office) and grabbed some things out of our secondary suitcases. (Upon arriving to our host family sites, we were required to leave one of our suitcases at The Hub and take what we could carry in one bag.) Today, I grabbed my Chipotle Tobasco because imma bust that out during lunch tomorrow! The food here can be bland sometimes, so it’s good to keep things interesting. Also, I put that hot sauce on everything back home…so why wouldn’t I here?

Then, we each headed home. My house is literally a three-minute walk from The Hub. When I got home, mama was in the living room, watching Kinyarwanda music videos (because she’s hip like that). I immediately noticed that there was a new set of furniture in our tiny living room. Not replacement furniture…in addition to what was already there. So we now have: two three-seater couches, two loveseats, four large chairs, and two large tables. Basically…we climb over furniture to sit now. I’m not sure if they’re permanent fixtures. If I had to guess, I’d say yes. There are always, ALWAYS at least three people in my house. Typically, there’s between five and seven inside and a few more outside. I guess this is the party house? My mama is just very social.

After dinner (the same thing I had for breakfast), a few of us sat around and watched the World Cup. (We have a very cute, tiny TV that I need to wear my glasses to see. I’m pretty partial to it. At least I don’t have to the move my head side-to-side to see the whole picture.) I bet my host “brother”, Benoi, that Umudoge (Germany) would beat Umuportugal (Portugal). When they did…he had to buy me a Fanta! (I have a stock of like ten Fantas under my bed. I just can’t drink all that Fanta.) During the game, this man came over….maybe he’s a neighbor? I was not a fan of the man. He sat very close to me, which is weird, since Rwandans are usually very good about allowing personal space. This man then proceeded to try and impress me with his English (which was pretty good, no lie). But I prefer to speak Kinyarwanda as much as possible, so when he said “I only speak English,” I said, “I only speak Kinyarwanda.” My mama and “brother” laughed, which I think embarrassed him. Dude made this weird “tssk tssk tssk” motion and started babbling about how I should be a lady and be less sassy and what not. Mama was visibly offended by the man, but he helped himself to our coffee anyway. He then asked me about America and I said, “I like it, but it’s expensive” in broken Kinywarwana. He responded, “That’s fine, I have much money. I will take you back to American and buy you things.” Ugh. There are d-bags in every country. Benoi (host “brother”) made up some excuse and basically shoo-ed the guy away. Benoi is awesome.

After that whole fiasco…some more neighbors (who I do like) came by and we were all chatting. By “chatting” I mean that everyone was talking in Kinyarwuanda and I was just trying to keep up with some of the words I know. At some point, mama asked me if I would go on a picnic with her on Saturday. I said, “Yego!” which means, “Yes!”…because who doesn’t want to go on a picnic in the most beautiful country in Africa? Then she mentioned that the picnic would be in Kigali (which is like a two-hour drive from Rwamagana). Of course I’m up for the adventure. But the thought of being on a trip with mama (who speaks zero English) is a little daunting. Communicating over a language barrier is very difficult, but I (sort of) do it all the time…what’s one little picnic? Ha! After hanging out for a bit more, I excused myself to go to bed by saying, “ijyoro ryiza” which means “good night”. That’s about where I’m at now. I’ve spent the last hour writing this blog entry (which I probably won’t post until Sunday’s “Hub Day”), and now it’s time for bed! I think this is the latest I’ve stayed up since being in Rwanda! (10:30PM, watch out world!)

Ijyoro ryiza!

1 thought on “Monday – June 16, 2014 “A Day in the Life of an Umusitajera”

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