It’s Beginning to Look Nothing Like Christmas

Yeah, so the title certainly doesn’t have same ring as, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.” But everything’s wonky in a country that really doesn’t have seasons. (The “wet season” and “dry season” really blend together.) Here’s a few new songs that were been introduced to me the past couple of weeks:

As I’ve said before, I do quite a bit of reflecting in this country. Example: Currently, I’m sitting on the couch in the transit house (it’s like our home-away-from-home in the city), and I’m looking back on the last two weeks, wondering what the hell I’ve done. In my mind, it just looks like a bright watercolor smear.

The week directly after Camp (November 16-23) was mostly recovery time. I had a flu (when don’t I have a flu in this country?) and I spent my mornings working at the Health Center. It was a pretty active week, in that we spent our afternoons doing VCT (Voluntary Counseling and Testing) out in the rural villages. Basically, I’d go to the staff meetings at 7:00AM, “work” (catch up/bullshit with my co-workers) until noon, cook/eat/clean lunch, then take a moto out to one of the villages. I’d then watch my co-workers do blood draws and chat up the locals about health practices. At the end of the day, we’d take the samples back to the lab. By Friday, we’d tested almost four-hundred people. There were nearly twenty individuals who’d tests had come back positive for HIV. We invited them back to the Health Center to get follow-up advice and medication. Unfortunately, as we’d expected, only a handful of those people came back. (One of the driving factors of village-testing is that people can’t make the trip in to the Health Center. We weren’t surprised that they couldn’t make the trip to get medication.)

Friday evening was pretty emotional for me. I’m constantly thinking, “How do I help these individuals immediately?” and “What can I do to make a lasting difference here?” Obviously, the answer to the second question is education. The first question, though, is a bit tougher to answer. As a Volunteer, I shouldn’t (nor do I have the resources to) buy the medication that the uninsured need. Of course, there are welfare programs in this country (to be discussed later). So. My next step was trying to figure out how to get the medications out to the most rural of patients. My temporary solution is this: I will be making monthly trips, with a nurse who I’ve become quite close with, out to the rural health post in Duwani (it’s an extension of our Health Center for those who are unable to walk the two hours). We’ll distribute medication to the individuals in need. The patients who are psychically unable to make it to the health post will receive home visits (from me and, hopefully, a nurse). I’ll monitor their nutrition, sanitation, and compliance with the medication. As I told my campers over and over again, HIV is not a death sentence. With proper nutrition and medication, long and health lives are entirely probable!

When I feel down, I write. A lot. After all the testing last week, I put pen to paper (or, rather, fingers to keys) and jotted down this bit:

“A couple of weeks ago, I was sitting in one of our daily staff meetings. Bright and early, 6:45AM. (Never again will I complain about having to be at work by 8:00AM. As I tried not to space out (quick Kinyarwanda is hard ya’ll!), I glanced through the window and saw a mama standing under the awning outside. Before I knew it, she was grabbing a baby from her back, whipping out her breast, and starting to breastfeed.

Totally normal here.

In fact, I’ve seen more bare breasts in the past six months than I’ll probably ever see in my life (outside of the next nineteen months). It seems weird to me that, when I return to the States, mamas are going to be using thick towels or blankets to breastfeed in “public” or just bottle-feeding. Before coming to Rwanda, I didn’t really feel either way about the breastfeeding-in-public debate. Even now, I’m not one of those “breastfeeding is the most beautiful thing a mother can do” types of people. I just think it’s a natural thing; as natural as changing your baby’s diaper while at a picnic…or something.

As the mama held her breast to her baby’s suckling mouth, another woman came over and started chatting her up. Knowing Rwandans, they were probably talking about the grim weather or farming or ibitoki (plantains). There they were. Two women speaking inches apart, while one of them held her bare breast to her baby’s mouth.

It was fantastic!

And then! The second woman lifted her hand and rubbed the baby’s cheek. (More like a soft slap, because that’s the Rwandan thing to do.) All while the kid had mama’s boob in its mouth. The kid looked over like, “My boob, lady!” and went back to breakfast. The woman just continues to pinch the baby’s face and laugh with the mama. No one cared about the bare breast.

C’mon, America.

Fear of bare breasts is so nineteenth century. Get with it.”

It’s not hard to see the beauty in this country. It’s everywhere you look. Sometimes, you’ve just got to shake away the negativity that you’ll inevitably bring home from work.

I spent much of the weekend of the 22nd/23rd chatting with my neighbor, Tom, about the health care and school systems in Rwanda. His English is excellent, so we spoke in both Kinyarwanda and English for a good few hours each day. My favorite part of the conversation came when I mentioned “Obamacare” and Tom goes, “You shouldn’t use that term. It brings negative views brought on by different political parties.” Of course, he’s 100% right. No more using Layman’s terms with Tom; he knows his shit.

On Monday, I traveled to the city and prepped for a budgeting presentation I’d be giving at PST (Pre-Service Training). On Tuesday, I headed to the training site with Bryan, the Director of Programming and Training (and also one of my favorite people on this planet), and Jonathan, my co-presenter. The presentation went really well and I’m glad; it was one of topics that I felt strongly about and that we never received. Jonathan and I spoke to them about how to budget the money they’d be getting for moving in to their sites (which happens next week!). We also created a list of the items they’d want to buy at their training site, versus what items they should wait to buy. One of the trainees told me yesterday that she felt it was one of the most important training sessions she had. (Which obviously stroked my ego, but was more important to know because now we can include it in the training schedule.) I left the training site feeling even more rejuvenated. The new group of trainees are just as enthusiastic as we are. It’s going to make for a great partnership over the next two years!

After the presentation, came the festivities. And there were many.

IMG_5522 Other H6ers started trickling into Kigali by Tuesday night. Wednesday was basically a travel day for much of the group. By the time we all rolled into town, it was time to go out! And go out we did (every night, save for last night). My wallet hates me. My taste buds love me. Ya win some, ya lose some!

Thursday morning, a few of us woke up early and started cooking for Thanksgiving at our Country Director’s house. We made green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole, baked mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, and brownies. Our Country Director, Jen, bought all of the supplies (I hope on Peace Corps’ dime) and she cooked turkey and pies for us. I kid you not…the strawberry rhubarb pie was the best thing I’ve eaten since I’ve been in country. After dinner and wine and talk time, we watched Dolphin Tale (Tail?) with Jen’s kids. (Although, if I’m being honest, most of us ended up in a food coma.) I spent a couple hours running up and down the stairs with Jen’s two-year-old on my back.

IMG_5578Before this year, I’d never spent a Thanksgiving apart from my parents. I don’t know if I’d have made it through, sans tears, without the beautiful new family I have. We said our thanks before the meal and I looked around the group, each of them with their eyes closed, probably wishing they were with their families back home. Though I felt the same, I was giving extra thanks that our group is the way it is. We’re a large family (now at eighteen H6 members), but we mesh so damn well. I gave extra thanks that these people have accepted me the way I am, many flaws and all. And I gave thanks for each and every one of them. Not only do I accept them, I appreciate every g’damn one of their quirks.

IMG_5592 After a week of going out, we spent last night playing board games and watching movies. It was glorious!

There’s probably a lot of things I’m missing, but I’ll end up writing another post at the end of this week, anyhow. So, for now, ta ta! Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetIMG_5612IMG_5610Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset


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