Opportunities Knocking (In My Ceiling?)

Let me preface this post with a little soundtrack music. alt-J recently released their newest album, This is All Yours, and I am in looove.

Screen Shot 2014-10-02 at 10.14.13 AMAnd, just in case you’re in need of some more music, here’s a list of what I’ve been listening to lately:

  • Latch – Disclosure feat. Sam Smith
  • You & Me (Flume Remix) – Disclosure
  • i – Kendrick Lamar
  • The Morning – The Weeknd
  • Echosmith’s album, Talking Dreams
  • Sam Hunt’s EP, X2C

Back to point of this…how’s my fifth week at site going? Most excellent! I’m a sucker for routines and I’ve finally got one down pat…working on letting a little spontaneity into my life (but that kind of defeats the purpose of spontaneity, yeah?) Bi baho.

I’ve spent the last week trying to be more social; integration, ya’ll. I won’t pretend that these integration efforts don’t serve a more selfish purpose: I’m trying to network as much as possible. I’ve got 23 months left, if I don’t extend, and while that seems like a world away right now…it’ll get here quicker than I realize. I’ve tried to spend at least an hour a day on my porch…just reading or doing laundry or cooking, what have you. Even that little change in my to-do has opened me up to all new people and opportunities. (When I head back to the States, I should work on being less of a hermit.) This week, I did laundry with my neighbor (who didn’t try to teach me the “right” way to wash my jeans…win!). While doing laundry, we had a discussion about what it means to be a neighbor in Rwanda. Here’s what I learned:

  1. Neighbors should always tell one another when they’re sick, so that someone can cook for you. (Score!)
  2. Neighbors should feel comfortable knocking on your door any time/any day and you should feel comfortable talking to them.
  3. Neighbors should spend at least a few minutes every evening with you, catching up on village gossip.

Now…this is very, very unlike my neighbor experiences in America. While in college, I lived in Concord House for two years and spoke to my neighbors once. ONCE. It’s going to take some getting used to…but everyone is so damn nice here that I truly enjoy the conversations. Let’s hope, in two years, I can bring a bit of this neighborhood love back home with me. I also met this gentleman who works for a malaria initiative here in Rwanda. I can’t remember his name (traditional Rwandan names can be difficult!), but he was very nice and we spoke for an hour about how we can potentially work together on some malaria projects in Kibilizi.

On that same note, I just finished compiling some data for my counterpart and I learned a whole lot about childhood illness in my surrounding villages. For the most part, the Community Health Workers see one or two children, each month, with dysentery or pneumonia. And, though I know malaria is a big problem in my Sector, I hadn’t expected that high of numbers. In one of the villages, the CHWs see between 30 and 50 children with malaria, each month. And that’s just children under the age of five. I compared these numbers with the number of deaths, resulting from malaria, and found a huge discrepancy. The numbers are low. The only thing I can come up with is…people around here are very aware that the staff is quick and efficient when it comes to treating malaria and so they don’t view malaria as a huge threat. I mean…it’s great and all that they trust the Health Center, but malaria is no joke. These kids shouldn’t be subjected to such a harsh illness just because their guardians aren’t taking the proper precautions.

So. That’s where I’m at right now. Trying to figure out the best way to tackle a project that gets parents involved, in a way that doesn’t necessarily put the blame on/alienate them…but gets them interested in taking preventative action. In the meantime, I want to do a small project to get kids involved with preventing malaria. Trying to work on building that autonomy! Thus, I’ve come up with a coloring book! (Honestly, this might just be me projecting my wants onto the kids…but who doesn’t love coloring?!) Over the next month or two, I hope to work with my fellow South Volunteers to come up with a cohesive story-line that involves malaria prevention (and will actually interest kids). Ideally, we’ll be responsible for drawing the actual images. I have a book template, so we’ll be able to easily print the coloring books out. The major hurdle here is the crayons…they’re not the easiest (or cheapest) to find here. I’m thinking through all the funding options and hoping to get in talks with a Crayola representative. But keep an eye out because I might be accosting you all with a Go Fund Me campaign! 😀

I’ve also made a connection with someone at the Eastern Congo Initiative, which is an advocacy-focused group, founded by none other than Ben Affleck. (You nevvver know!) And, though I can’t travel to the Congo whilst in the Peace Corps, it’s on the top of my to-travel list after service. I’m hoping to go there right after COS. I’m really just interested in opening up all opportunities possible while I’m here. After Service, I’m hoping to have a large number of different avenues I can choose from.

On the more personal side of things…last week I went without water and electricity for 72+ hours. What a joy, let me tell you. The electricity wasn’t too big a deal…I was able to charge my phone at the Health Center. But, it certainly makes you appreciate a non-stop current. I just kept reminding myself that I’m extremely lucky to be serving in a country that offers electricity to Volunteers (at most sites). And, on top of that, I finished off the three development books I’ve been neglecting, since they’re the only hard-copy books I have. The water, thoughhhh. I got too used to having 24/7 water access. Didn’t even have a back-up jerry can filled (bad, Melissa). So. I went 72 hours with just washing the necessary parts of my body, hoping people didn’t notice how dirty my jeans were, and cooking things that involved very little water. It was an unfortunate few days, to say the very least. But…as with all things…the status quo returned and I’ve had water and electricity (give or take a few outages) for the past week. (And a back-up jerry can of water, just in case.)

Don’t get me wrong…I love my living situation. In fact, I’ve been playing at battling something in my ceiling since I moved into this place. I’m 90% sure it’s a rat…but the damn thing plays catch with itself. I’ll just be laying in bed, trying to sleep (at like 8:30PM, of course) and this thing will throw something across my ceiling…and then scurry over, pick the thing up, throw it again…and repeat the process. It’s the weirdest thing. So, when the kind gentlemen came to fix my electricity, they went into the ceiling and killed the something. (Even bagged it up and removed it for me.) I thought I was finally rid of my midnight predator. Instead, a couple nights ago I was reading Tana French’s Broken Harbour, minding my own business, and I hear this huge crash just above my head. The thing’s friends had come for vengeance. I just about jumped out of my skin. The book I was reading is about a family who is murdered in their home. The best part? It involves an animal that the husband tries to trap in their ceiling…the whole thing was just eerily similar to my midnight predator situation. So, there I am, no electricity…pitch black…reading about murder…and this thing starts banging against my ceiling. Let’s just say my heart was doing somersaults. I then finally understood why there had been a big wooden rod leaning against the bedroom wall when I moved in. I picked it up and started tapping my ceiling, trying to get this thing to shut up. Needless to say, I felt like a damn crazy person. It was all a great adventure. (In case you’re curious…it didn’t work. I still have a midnight predator chillin’ in my ceiling, every night.)

In terms of other goings on…it’s been a rough month for our little Health 6 group. We’ve had a few people pack up and head back to the States, for various reasons (health, site-related, family emergency, etc.) Every time someone leaves…it tugs at the heart strings; after all, we’re such a close group. I understand that everyone has to do what’s right for them and that, even after such a lengthy application process, Peace Corps isn’t always what we expected (or what we wanted). I hate losing members of our group, but I certainly get it. I know that, if I hadn’t requested a site change, I probably would have been considering heading home, as well. Sometimes things just don’t feel right and there’s not much a person can do to change that. (Sometimes it isn’t entirely about integration.) But. It still hurts to have to say goodbye.

Even despite that, I’m having a truly tremendous time here. I wake up wanting to go to work (most days, anyhow) and looking forward to talking with my co-workers. I’m even picking up a little French on top of the Kinyarwanda. Everything just feels right, here in the Land of a Thousand Hills.

Here’s some pictures from the last couple of weeks:

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Home sweet home…my little apartment is on the right.

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Instagram picture of my regional market (rather, a quarter of it…it’s huge).

Mamas and babies for vaccinations. (Vaccination day is my favorite!)

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My “main street”. This is about as busy as it ever gets.

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