Recently I had someone ask me what my co-workers are like. Thus, this post is born!
Before I get into the nitty-gritty, let me just say that I am profoundly lucky to have such a great team to work with. As I’ve said many times before, I’m not sure I would have made it at my old site. The people were just unfriendly and largely unwelcoming. (Odd since they requested a Volunteer!)
Here, in Kibilizi, I’ve felt at home since day one. In fact, I consider many of my co-workers like family at this point. Case in point: When I was sick last week, my Titulaire brought me tea and a blanket (YES! A BLANKET!). She stayed with me while I checked my temperature and even offered me fever-reducers (don’t worry Peace Corps – I didn’t take any meds that weren’t in my med-kit). Two nurses then came to visit and stayed only 30, or so, minutes. (The Rwandan thing to do would’ve been to wait for me to finish cooking dinner, stay for dinner, go buy Fanta, come back, stay for a few hours.)
Sometimes I feel like I’m not experiencing the harsh cultural divide that other Volunteers get on the daily basis. My co-workers, neighbors, friends in the village…they’re all extraordinarily respectful of my American values and “me-time”. In fact, they’re all uniquely interested in adopting different parts of my American culture (outside of language, even). It’s incredible. I’ve heard so many horror stories of Volunteers who have trouble with their Titulaire or counterpart or various co-workers. There’s not a single person at my Health Center that I wouldn’t welcome into my home for tea or dinner.
Anyhow…that’s my introductory rant: I’m so lucky to have this place and these people.
*** I would like to note that I just had to take a twenty-minute break to go have a mini dance party with my neighbors. We’re celebrating a new baby boy, born during one of the best harvest seasons Kibilizi has had in years. Yeah. I love my life.
Keep in mind that Rwandan names are different in that they don’t have a family surname. They have a “Rwandan” name and an anglophone name.
Name: MUKAKALISA Florence
Occupation: Big bad boss lady of the Health Center
Favorite activity: “Borrowing” my flash drive to transfer her family photos and every single Health Center document ever. (Who knew 16GB flash drives could hold the world?!)
In a nutshell: This woman is beyond fantastic. She supports me in every whacky thing I want to do and helps me every step of the way. Many Volunteers have iffy relationships with their Titulaire because they’re usually gone so much. Florence is at the Health Center every single day and I appreciate that she expects the same of me.
Name: MWITENDE Maurice
Occupation: Head of Community Health Workers; my counterpart
Favorite activity: Snapping selfies of us at inappropriate times (i.e. during staff meetings, when visiting the Executive Secretary, during mamas birthing sessions)
In a nutshell: Maurice goes to University in Kigali (the capital), so he’s gone many days, but he’s a great counterpart! He’s on board with all my plans and he cracks me up (which is pretty much the most important thing to me). My second week at site he sat me down and, with a straight face, goes, “Going two years without sex is very bad for a person.” I died laughing. Not even creepy; he’s genuinely that concerned for my well-being.
Occupation: Environmental Health Officer
Favorite activity: Sending me picture message forwards of random white people with captions like, “Happy Friday” or “Good 2 kno you.” They keep me in stitches, man.
In a nutshell: This guy is so involved in work and the community, it’s crazy! I have never been to work on day where he’s been absent. He works most weekends, too. I’m uber excited to continue working with him on hygiene initiatives.
Name: Agnes (on the right)
Favorite activity: Trying to convince me to give women Depo shots. (Don’t worry, Peace Corps, I won’t.)In a nutshell: I work with Agnes on a daily basis. I’m basically her shadow on most days. All the while, she puts up with my incessant questions and sometimes-shitty Kinyarwanda! (Not a lick of English between us.) We’re both workaholics, so it’s certainly a good pairing! She has two kids, 7 and 9, and lives right behind my house!
Occupation: Well…I’m really not sure what the official title is…but she is basically in charge of all things malnutrition.
Favorite activity: Drinking tea. This woman could out-drink any of you if it involved a liquid containing dairy.
In a nutshell: Media loves to laugh! With people. At people. Doesn’t matter as long as she’s laughing. Which is great; she’s got an awesome laugh. She was the person person to let me shadow…my first day, I was a baby-weighing machine! She’s also helped me, immensely, with hearing and (correctly) identifying how to the write Rwandan names. An actual life skill here.
Last, but definitely not least, is the person I work with most (and who I appear to have no pictures of):
Name: MOSEKA Clemantine
Favorite activity: Looking through my purse to borrow my pen, every single day. (Please send more pens!) Playing with my hair. Trying to get me to wear more risque clothing. Telling me to go visit her family in the Congo (Again, don’t worry, Peace Corps!)
In a nutshell: I can’t even begin to explain how much I appreciate this woman. She was the first co-worker to truly welcome me into open arms. Maybe it’s because she’s Congolese, so she gets a little bit of the “outside” treatment, too. She’s just been utterly fantastic. I follow her around all day, through the different services, all the while chatting with her in simple Kinyarwanda (it’s easy because she’s learning too!). When either of us is gone for more than couple of days…we reunite with the biggest hug and catch up. In fact, her mother passed away a couple of weeks ago and when she came back to work and told me…I just hugged her for a few minutes. It was the first time I’d ever seen someone in Rwanda (that wasn’t American) cry. It broke my heart. I didn’t have the language skills to say anything other than, “I’m sorry”, but she understood my sympathies.
The long and short of it is this: Without the people in this post (and the other thirteen staff members), I wouldn’t be the Volunteer that I am. They’ve shaped my service more than any other factor. More than training, more than my cohort (sorry, guys), more than my village, more than Peace Corps staff. If they hadn’t been so welcoming and so understanding of every single one of my slip-ups…every day would be a struggle. I’ve always made good bonds with my co-workers (in the States), but here…it’s different. They’ve become like family and I can’t imagine life without them. #realtalk