It’s the Final Countdown…(to becoming a Peace Corps Rwanda Volunteer)

Beware: This post is not exactly a happy one. I’m tremendously happy, but there have been some emotional moments in the last month.

As of today, we have thirteen days left in PST! I have very mixed feelings about it being done with. I’m so excited to not have language class every day. And to be able to make my own decisions about what to do, where to go, etc. But, I don’t have a house yet. It’s hard to get excited about moving (even though I cannot wait to live alone!) because I can’t picture it. At this point, my living situation is entirely up in the air and, as someone who plans everything down to the last detail, that’s really quite scary. I do recognize, though, that part of the reason I joined the Peace Corps is to experience life in an entirely new light. I’ve got to be patient.

One of the main reasons why my housing situation is up in the air is because there was an awful bus accident three weeks ago on the main road going from Rwamagana (where I’m currently located) to Kiramuruzi (where my site is located). Motor-vehicle accidents are devastating, here in Rwanda, for a multitude of reasons. Obviously the buses lack many of the safety features that America requires, but also there are three, maybe four, main roads in Rwanda; and the country is very small. So, when accidents happen, it’s likely that someone you know was involved. My titulaire’s (supervisor’s) wife passed away in the accident three weeks ago. One of the other volunteer’s supervisor passed away, as well as 16 other people. After we found out, there was a flurry of emotions. Yes, things like this happen in America. However, America is huge so it’s easy to shy away from an accident across the country. Trying to navigate a discussion about grief and loss in English is difficult enough…it’s even harder in a language I barely know. I’m definitely nervous about going to site and speaking with my titulaire; he has two small children and I can only imagine how much stress he’s under.

Because his wife passed away, he will no longer be moving to house he built (where I was supposed to live). Given that, I have no idea where I’ll be living. Peace Corps has known about all of this for three weeks. And yet, for some reason, I’ve heard no final answer about my housing situation. It’s stressful (since I move in 15 days), but I can only assume that they know what they’re doing and, in due time, it will all be taken care of.

In the last month, we’ve also learned a lot of technical skills. It’s been entirely interesting learning how to do things without even the most common of tools. For example, hammers are few and far between here. When you can find them…they’re ridiculously expensive. Here’s a hand-washing station we built outside one of the boutiques:

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Building a tippy tap for hand-washing!

peace corps rwanda building tippy tap

Finished building a tippy tap!

We’ve also gone one a few trips in the past month. The most memorable of which was to the Genocide Memorial. I can’t even begin to explain how emotional the trip was. Looking around Rwanda, it’s so easy to forget the tragedy that happened here twenty years ago (in my lifetime!). Everything is so well developed and the people hide their emotions too well. So walking through the different exhibits was rough. Necessary, but rough. I enjoyed that the exhibits explained just how involved Europe, Belgium, and America actually were in the Genocide. There was also a section of the Memorial that went over the various genocides our world has experienced (Bosnian Genocide, Namibian Genocide, Armenian Genocide, the Holocoust, and on and on and on…) Growing up, you hear about all of these travesties, but they seem so far removed…so deep imbedded in our pasts. Here, in Rwanda, it’s only been two decades. We’re just barely a generation removed. The children here don’t know what happened…the teens are barely aware…but the adults are reminded every day about the events of the Genocide.

One of our supervisors (bravely) told us her story. Her parents were killed during the Genocide, by her neighbors. Now, twenty years later, she lives next door to those very same neighbors. She explained that every morning she walks outside, sees her neighbors, and says hello. When they ask her for forgiveness, she says no – not until they tell her where they buried her parents.

I’ve not posted this picture anywhere else, because it seems indecent, but here’s one of the exhibits that hit me hard:

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Genocide memorial in Kigali, Rwanda

There were four cases lined with skulls and other bones. Some were very evidently cracked (by a weapon) and others were so tiny you knew they belonged to children. Upstairs, there was an exhibit that took everything out of me. I had to sit…and I just cried. In America, there’s no way to imagine the level of devastation Rwanda experienced during the Genocide. But, at the Memorial, it was thrust in our faces, for just reason. The upstairs exhibit had large photos of children murdered during the Genocide. The faces of twenty, or so, kids stared down at me. Each one was accompanied by a name, age, favorite food/activity, and the way they were murdered. The one that affected me the most was an 8 month old little girl whose favorite activity was “smiling”…she was murdered as someone stabbed a machete through her and her mother.

It was definitely one of the hardest days of my service, thus far.

Anyyyhow…sorry to bum you out…

Here’s a picture of me and Keza (next door neighbor to our teacher). She’s perfect and sweet and awesome!

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Our class’ uber-cute neighbor!

And here’s a photo of Joseph:

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Joseph is only 7-years-old and yet he takes care of his grandmother and has to forgo school because of it. He’s the sweetest boy; he never fails to say, “Mwaramutse, Melly” and always asks how my day went. Every morning, I carry water to his house, so he doesn’t have to stop cooking breakfast for his grandma. I just wish there was more we could do for him. I wish he could go to school.

Here’s what my breakfast looks like every morning:

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Heart-shaped, half-way stale bread. And milk tea with coffee. I hate the stale bread, but I eat it because it makes mama happy. And because she makes the milk tea just for me because she knows I like it best. Again…I love my family.

I had the first of three birthdays I will have in Rwanda. I turned twenty-three. I can’t think of a cooler place to spend my early twenties. I had lunch with all of my fellow trainees (it was a language class day, so no ‘turning up’). When I got home, my family took me out to a bar for six hours. I drank four Fantas and ate endless goat brochettes. I’m having a truly awesome time in Rwanda. It just feels right. I try to explain it to people, but it’s difficult. It’s akin to how I felt waking up in college. I knew that I wasn’t in my hometown, but I felt at home. I get the same feeling here in Rwanda. I definitely have my down-days, though. Some days I just can’t deal with the men in this country. They have little to no awareness when it comes to personal space. I mean – hell – I’ve been followed to class by some man trying to talk to me in Kinyarwanda. I understood everything he was saying, but following someone isn’t exactly the way to invite friendship. If everyone could be like my host-brother, Benoi, life would be perfect.

Lastly, we got two new volunteers! Phil and Robin…from Kenya. Kenyan volunteers were evacuated two weeks ago because things are getting intense. Even after the mall shooting last year, Peace Corps decided that the situation was safe enough for them to continue service. However, rebels began targeting foreigners, so Peace Corps decided it was time to pull out. They then put out the call to other African countries and asked if they would be willing to accept volunteers from Kenya who wanted to continue their service. Rwanda offered to accept four volunteers, but Peace Corps only sent one our way…the lovely Phil. He’s a year into his service, so he’ll only be here for another 12 months. Even still, he’s awesome and we love him. Then…things got cray in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone. Ebola everywhere. There are over 1,000 deaths from this newest strain of ebola. And, unfortunately, the WHO doesn’t see a stopping point in the next six months. At that point, if things continue going the way they are right now, the death toll could reach 10,000. We really have no clue. One of Phil’s fellow volunteers (who was also evacuated from Kenya) was then evacuated from Liberia (where she transferred to). She’s now with us! She’s amazing and a complete badass.

At this point, we have no clue if ebola will make it to Rwanda. We’re hopeful that it won’t, given how prepared the government is. All border crossings are thoroughly secured and everyone exhibiting flu-like symptoms is being checked and quarantined if need be. But we do know that it’s spread to Nigeria and Uganda. A couple of days ago, Volunteers Serving Overseas, in Uganda, received an SMS message from their superiors confirming that there is a case of the most current ebola strain in Uganda. As for us…we have yet to be notified of anything serious. At this point, there are no confirmed cases of ebola in Rwanda. We’re all hoping it stays that way, given that we don’t get RPVC status (or our benefits) until a year into service. In the meantime, I’ll be taking extra safety precautions and being more-than-a-little careful around people with the “flu”. But, honestly, there’s nothing to worry about. Rwanda is one of the safest African countries…I feel safer here than I do in some American cities!

Keep your fingers crossed that ebola stays out of Rwanda, so I can stay in!

Umunsi mwiza! (Have a good day!)

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