Part I – Compound Livin’
All over the world, Peace Corps Volunteers live in drastically different circumstances. I lived with a host family for the three-month training period. Some PCVs in other countries live with a host family their entire service (phew!). In Rwanda, there are a few different set-ups after training.
(1) Living on the Health Center grounds/school grounds
(2) Living on a compound with a family (you’re basically in a granny-unit)
(3) Living on your own (whether that be on your own compound or in a single unit house)
(4) Living on an NGOs compound/other local organization
I landed in the fourth set-up; I live on the Red Cross compound, about a 4-minute walk from my Health Center. It’s incredibly convenient, safe, and makes for a family-like atmosphere.
So. What is it like to live on a compound?
I have had a total of seven addresses in my life including: two in Lake County, a dorm room, a townhouse (with 6 girls!), a house, an apartment, and (finally) a compound in the middle of rural Rwanda.
All of my past residencies have felt like home in one way or another, but I think I’m enjoying compound living more so than any other living arrangement I’ve had.
After 27 months of service, my Rwandan “apartment” will tie Concord House for the most time spent in one place (outside of my homes growing up, of course). I’ve only just begun decorating (artwork is expensive, ya’ll!), but this tiny, one-bedroom “apartment” feels like a home entirely my own. Of course, that’s probably because it is entirely my own; I don’t have any housemates.
That leads me to my first point: Living alone is superb. I can’t gush enough about how much I enjoy waking up at my own leisurely pace (on weekends, of course, because otherwise it’s a dandy 5:30AM wake-up for the staff meetings). Most of all, I enjoy how quiet the interior of my home is on a Sunday morning. I usually wake up around 9:00AM to the sounds of church bells in the distance and…well…nothing else. It’s entirely quiet, save for a few chirping birds. There’s no forty-year-old roommate milling about, slamming cupboards and doors. There’s no lawn mower just outside my bedroom window. There’s no garbage truck, intent on strewing trash about as it slams the cans down. All is quiet and there’s no one to guilt me out of bed because I haven’t taken the trash out yet.
Trash. The second most tantalizing factor of living on a compound. Since I live on the Red Cross compound, I enjoy the perks of having a repairman, without having to actually pay said repairman. (Although, in all honesty, I cook dinner for us like two nights a week, so I don’t have to throw out leftovers.) In addition to helping me re-wire some “outlets” and clean my drain, the lovely repairman takes out my trash daily. In fact, he refused to show me where the compost pile was for the first month I lived here. He says, “You are nurse. Nurse should heal, not clean trash.” Not exactly a nurse, but homeboy is sweet nonetheless. In addition to him, there’s a night guard who make sure all is quiet on the Western front. I know I’m up and headed to work entirely too early when the night guard is still on duty. He’s a sweetheart.
The next best thing about living on a compound is the feeling of security and comfort, without the feeling of isolation. What I mean is…when I get off work in the afternoons, I just want to decompress. But I also don’t want to be anti-social. Lucky for me, all of my neighbors are really good about boundaries. Whenever I get back from an extended trip, they’ll come say their hellos and hang around for a bit. But after 10 or 15 minutes, they head back to their apartments to mill about or cook. Moreover, on Saturdays, I feel totally comfortable staying in leggings and a tank top while I go outside to wash my clothes. (I would never wear leggings or a tank top in the village.) There’s a eight or nine foot tall wall of bushes that lines the compound, so no one can watch the muzungu get sunburnt while she’s scrubbing her knuckles raw on a pair of blue jeans.
Finally, the biggest perk of living on the Red Cross compound is my neighbor, Tom! He’s a moto driver for Red Cross and works all sorts of crazy hours, driving patients to and from the hospitals and health centers. His crazy hours are probably why we get along so well! There’s no pressure to cook together every night or to have a conversation at a set time, etc. But when we do see each other, and each have more than five minutes, we have the best conversations. Tom’s English is superb and he’s very much on the up-and-up with international relations. We’ve spent hours discussing the pros and cons of Americans going to work internationally, rather than staying in the States. We’ve talked about health care and how different the political parties are in America. And, on occasion, he’ll just gift food to me (I think he’s trying to fatten me up!). In America, I don’t think I ever became friends with a neighbor (at least not so willingly). It’s the atmosphere here…the people…they foster compassion even in the darkest of hearts.
Well. That’s about it. That’s what it’s like to live on a compound in Rwanda.
Part II – What I’m Up To
This morning, I had a really great meeting with my titulaire (supervisor of Health Center), Rugamba (Environmental Health Officer), and Maurice (my counterpart). We discussed all my upcoming projects and how things are going at the Health Center, muri rusange (in general).
Basically, I’ve got three big projects happening:
(1) TV for Kibilizi (Check out the GoFundMe here!)
As many of you know, I’m raising funds to buy a television for the waiting room at my Health Center. Today, my titulaire asked me how the fundraising was going. She was absolutely thrilled to hear that I’ve raised nearly half the funds. My counterpart was giddy when I told him the idea about having monthly movie nights. He’s always trying to think up ways to involve the kids in Kibilizi. And, no lie, I think he’s real excited to watch the movies himself.
I should have the television (and shelf) installed by mid-March, so I can begin showing the patients videos on how to prevent SIDA and the spread of other communicable diseases. I’m really excited for this one; no one wants to wait silently for 6 hours! If just one person leaves the Health Center having learned the proper way to wash one’s hands…I’ll feel validated. I honestly can’t think of a better way to spread this information; Rwandans love technology and the country is moving toward a media-centric approach to health care.
(2) WASH Program
The WASH Program is a venture that myself and nine other Health 6 Volunteers are just getting started with. The program is a five-month curriculum on hygiene and sanitation; it’s aimed at reducing water-borne illness.
Basically, we’ve each chosen a Cell (for me, I chose Kibilizi Cell). Within each cell, there are 6-12 villages and each one has a Community Health Club. The Community Health Club will elect Community Facilitators (six of them) who will be trained in the WASH curriculum. Each week, the Community Health Clubs (50-100 people each) will get together and learn about a specific health topic. At the end of each week, Community Facilitators will go to the Members’ houses to ensure they’ve adapted the new health practices.
It’s required a lot of planning and meetings…with a bunch of different people. I can’t imagine having tried this venture on my own; I’m so glad there’s a group of ten of us to go through the struggles together. I’ve taken on one of the leadership roles, so I’m always in contact with our MINISANTE facilitator, Andrew, and have a meeting with him Friday to go over the final budget. (Math, not my strong suit. Glad to have had a fellow PCV, Alex, help me through all that!)
After coming back from Amuricahhh, we’ll be ramping up with the orientations and trainings of trainers. (This vacation fell exactly where I needed it to, so that none of my projects are out of sync!)
(3) Prepex Collaboration
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m working on starting a collaboration with Prepex, a non-surgical male circumcision device. The collaboration is just beginning, but Prepex is all for it; they’ve already put Peace Corps’ logo on a couple of their materials.
I have a meeting this Friday (I legitimately have three meetings this Friday, ugh)…to discuss our next steps. I’m hoping the next step is an all-inclusive meeting with Prepex and the interested PCVs, so we can all be on the same page going forward.
*As an aside, I’m still working on the malaria-prevention coloring book. I decided that, rather than rush to have it out sooner, I might as well take my time so that this can be something PCVs actually use and not just a time-filler on my part. Hoping to have it finished by March.