Seven Plates of Fries, A Pool, Gone Girl, and Eight Weeks Later

The past eight weeks have been a blur. I feel like I just wrote a blog entry, but it’s been three whole weeks and I’m already well into my fifth month in Rwanda and 9th week at site (where does the time go?!)

Here’s my listening list for this week:

  • The XX’s album, Coexist
  • Braveheart – Neon Jungle
  • Stolen Dance – Milky Chance
  • Fleetwood Mac

The past three weeks have probably been my busiest since coming to Rwanda. I’ve been on the go, go go. I can proudly say that I’ve attended all but two of my 7:00AM staff meetings. And the only reason I missed those two meetings was to travel to the cities (Butare, Kigali) for meetings. I’m a firm believer in attending the health center staff meetings. Being a Health Volunteer is difficult because of the lack of structure. I’ve found that attending the meetings and showing my face each and every morning has helped so much with integration. In turn, my co-workers have been extremely receptive to me joining them during their day-to-day services. Aside from the staff meetings, I’ve been working in the maternity and family planning services pretty consistently. I really had no inclination toward pediatrics before coming here. Now, I can’t imagine not working with the mamas and babies every day. There’s a distinct energy that buzzes around new life and I’m loving it.

On top of my normal goings on, there’s usually a day or two every week where we have a one-off health training or community day. I was lucky enough to have been told about Community Outreach Week (October 7-9) before it actually happened. (That’s a rarity given Rwanda’s go-with-the-flow work ethic.) I spent the three days, from 7:00AM-5:00PM at a primary school in Duwani (one of the rural villages in my district). It was overwhelming to say the very least – think 200 children screaming “muzungu” and running up for hugs – but I had such a great time. I got to introduce myself and Peace Corps to the kids (4-12 years old) and got to explain to them that we were there to give vitamins and medications. I struggled through the speech, in Kinyarwanda, but my counterpart was there as backup for when I couldn’t get the tenses right. It was definitely a good reminder to keep studying…”buri munsi” (every day).

Before going to the school in Duwani, I hadn’t really been able to explore the most rural villages. By moto, Duwani is 25 minutes away. Given the hills, that would be 90-minute walk or so. I will make the trek at some point, but right now I’m trying to focus my energies on work and research (Community Needs Assessment). In the meantime, I’ll take motos to interview families in the rural villages. I don’t think I could ever do meditation (just don’t have the brain for it), but the vistas in Rwanda certainly allow for some meditative thoughts. When I look out over my villages, I can’t help but be reminded of why I’m here and why it’s important I stay focused in the next two years. I find myself falling in love with Rwanda over and over again.

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Overlooking one of the Southern Province’s many valleys.

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The lack of smog/light pollution does a country good.

After the hectic week of community outreach, I was stoked to go to Butare for a little pool party action. We had a get-together to say goodbye to the Education 4 group and to welcome the five new Education 6 trainees to the South. It’s always a good time when the dirty South gets together, but I am bummed to say goodbye to some of the Ed 4 group. (I s’pose that’s life, eh?) On Sunday, a fellow volunteer and I headed back to my site for some light hiking (aka walking) and to take in the vistas. I spent the rest of the week working full days at the Health Center since I knew I’d be taking off Friday (Oct 17th) and Monday (Oct 20th) for my trip to Kigali.

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Classy pool party activities.

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Speaking of Kigali, last Friday I attended my first PAC (Program Advisory Committee) meeting. It was stressful, to say the very least. At times, I felt like the Health Program needs were being overlooked, in favor of the more successful Education Program. I left the meeting feeling frustrated and understanding why the Early Termination (ET) rate is so high in Rwanda’s Health Program. I have no intentions of leaving this place before my time is up, but I understand why others have already left/are planning to leave. On the bright side, my co-PAC-member, Lavar, and I now feel invigorated and ready as ever to rejuvenate the Health Program. It’s going to take a lot of work, organization, and planning, but it’s absolutely necessary to ensure that the Health volunteers here feel useful and understand why President Kagame welcomed us here in the first place.

After the meeting, there were shenanigans plenty and fun goings-on. In fact, on Sunday, I went to see Gone Girl at an actual movie theater. With actual popcorn. It was fantastic. I’ll refrain from commentating on the movie, given that every critic in the world already has, but I do think it was a good adaptation of great novel.

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“Vacation” means a hot shower and a soft bed.

My most troubling experience since coming to Rwanda…happened this weekend. I had been planning to visit my family on Saturday. Instead, plans just kind of fell apart (people got sick, rain made traveling near-impossible, etc.). The problem came when I tried to explain, to my host family, that I wouldn’t be able to go for a visit. If you’ve been reading any of my updates, you’ll know that my host family and I are very, very close. Unfortunately, there was a serious breakdown in the relationship when I explained that I couldn’t go to Rwamagana. I explained that I had zero options and that I could not visit; they did not understand. There was literally nothing I could do to get the point across to them; they just didn’t want to hear it. I even had a fellow volunteer, well-versed in Kinyarwanda, explain it further. Nothing worked. Essentially the conversation ended with them knowing I wasn’t going to visit that day, but not understanding why. As everyone else has told me, they’ll be fine when I do visit (Nov 22nd), but for now…they’re upset. It’s been a perfect example of a culture clash and breakdown between Americans and Rwandans.

Anyhow, I spent Sunday and Monday pigging out in Kigali and Butare and having an all-around wonderful time relaxing. By Sunday evening, I was missing site. By Monday morning, I was terribly missing site and my neighbors and my co-workers. I think this is what integration feels like? When I hopped on a moto and headed back to my site, I started really relaxing and feeling at-home again. I guess the Kigali city life just isn’t for me. Moreover, being away from site for four days just isn’t my thing.

Looking forward, I really want to focus on getting a micro-finance group going (but I have to wait until February)…so that I can potentially fund a small village co-op. Ideally, I would like to work with HIV+ mamas and mamas of malnourished babies to open a little cafe that would serve tea and baked goods. There is literally not a single restaurant or tea-serving cafe in my village, so I’m hoping we would make a killing. Ultimately, I want some of the profits to go to the mamas and the rest to help fund a human resources type area of the cafe. I’m envisioning a couple of computers where locals would go to type up resumes/CVs that they would then use to land jobs in Butare (since it’s so near). My co-workers, district officials, and the HC patients have all confirmed that our villages’ biggest needs lie in joblessness, so I’m hoping to teach some classes on resume-building and interview skills. It’s all in my noggin as of now, so we’ll see how the next few months play out in regards to village needs and wants.

Given that things are getting pretty busy for me, I’m lucky to have such wonderful people back in America who’ve been willing to send me goodies for the kids and goodies for myself. I can’t thank you all enough. As for now, I’ll just let you know that I’m in love with life right now. Rwanda has become more than I ever expected. Time is already flying by and I’m trying to take advantage of every moment. I can’t imagine being anywhere else.

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Thanks, Tammy! I’ve seen more smiles in the last week than every before.

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My parents know me well. ❤

 

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