The title is a bit of click-bate, I’ll admit…but it’s true: I’m still feeling a bit of a holiday hangover! Not in the traditional hangover sense, but in that can I still have my toes in the Indian Ocean and Thai food in my mouth kind of way. Vacations are a blast. (Even more so when you get to experience new adventures with some good friends). But coming back to the real world grind is a wee bit of a struggle.
Also, it has been pointed out to me that my last post (one of my favorites, really) is now MIA. Somehow the whole thing has managed to disappear. Hopefully y’all read it if you wanted it.
- Love Yourself – Justin Bieber (Yeah, I know, but his new album is FIAH!)
- Light Up – MUTEMATH
- Sweetest Devotion – Adele
So, as you may have guessed, I went on vacation to Tanzania for Christmas and New Years (nine days in total). Originally, our merry band of four intended on going to Zanzibar (large island off the coast of Tanzania), but had to shuffle things around after we were notified of security issues (read: Peace Corps said no). Although we didn’t get to spend as much time as we wanted on the beach (smaller island trips were very expensive), it was still a much needed (and well deserved) relaxing break from landlocked Rwanda.
On our flight to Dar es Salaam, we had a lovely (read: horrible) layover where Vanessa learned she’s allergic to Advil. After overcoming that fun discovery, we were on our way! We flew over Mount Kilimanjaro and I was bit by the travel bug all over again. Our VISA is good for one year, so perhaps my COS (Close of Service) trip will include a little climb on one of the Seven Summits.
We ended up finding a wonderful AirBnB in a great neighborhood right near the beach. Naturally, we found out upon arrival that said beach was not for swimming, as the tide was out from 8:00AM until after sunset. We were not about the night swims. The apartment we stayed at had air-conditioning (a must if you plan on not being sweaty 24/7), a large television (hello, Law & Order SVU marathon), a washing machine (still afraid to wear some of the clothes, lest the wonderful clean smell dissipate), hot showers with tons of pressure (so clean), and a refrigerator (cold drinks and pasta salad!). Vacation life was good.
Our first priority was getting food…both in our bellies and in the fridge. We went to a very posh grocery store where nearly everything was out of our budget. So, basically just like when I go back to the States and look at produce prices. We got everything we needed to feast on Christmas and then proceeded to the nearest Subway. I cannot tell you how much we were all looking forward to a nice sandwich….with fresh bread and actual sliced deli meat…and how disappointed we were. Grace actually did not even finish her sandwich. I wish I could say that it was just that particular Subway…but I don’t think so. I think we’re just used to fresh, natural ingredients, cooked in a way that we each enjoy (cooking for ourselves). It all just tasted so manufactured. It was a sad time and I couldn’t help but think I’m going to have the same reaction to some of my old eateries when I get back to the Sates. (Don’t worry, In N Out, you’ll always be #1.)
One of the highlights of the vacation included a boat trip to a beautifully pristine island where we lounged on grass mats under thatched umbrellas, swam in the salty Indian Ocean, and I tried crab! (Crab is really just a boat for whatever seasoning and dipping sauce you have with it, yeah?) We also went to a really boujie shopping “mall” where we bought $10 chocolate bars, ate gelato, and tried to get a fancy cocktail (not for those prices, sir). On New Years Eve, we were lucky enough to meet up with another Rwanda PCV who was vacationing in Dar es Salaam. After a truly delicious Thai dinner, we went out to a hip (yeah, hip) rooftop bar. The drinks were overpriced, but I’m proud to say I didn’t have to buy a single one. (Thanks, mom and dad, for teaching me how to use my “people skills” to my advantage!) The club ruined the midnight countdown and we danced our way into 2016 without even knowing it. The next day was full of cleaning and clothes-washing (all the things) in preparation for our return to Rwanda on the 2nd.
After getting back around nine in the morning, we all got out of the city as quickly as possible, looking forward to our own beds and own spaces. It’s been almost 600 days, y’all…it’s my home.
The very next weekend was our Regional Meeting in Butare. I don’t know if this is a Peace Corps wide thing…probably not given the sizes of most countries…but we meet, regionally, every quarter to discuss committee updates and get a reprieve from the daily grind. We mostly just eat a lot of Chinese food and try to stay up late (most of us are under our mosquito nets by 9:00PM when in village). I stayed an extra night to hang out for one of the PCV’s birthday and learn how to play Settlers of Catan. I managed to make it to 11:00PM before my body told me it was time for bed (vacation sleep hangover in full effect still). The next morning I woke up and headed back to site pretty quickly; I had to get ready for my health center’s staff holiday party!
My staff loves parties. We party for Christmas and New Years. We party for Labor Day. We party for weddings. We party for baby naming ceremonies. It’s amazing. After talking to other PCVs, it appears I have one of the few health centers where the staff truly enjoys hanging out. We don’t have staff drama (I can’t say this about any job I had in the States) and everyone just wants the best for one another, both professionally and personally (the older staff is constantly trying to set up their children with the younger interns). We each pitched in 2,000Rwf ($2.78) for the party, which was held at a bar owned by one of our nurses. Said nurse is called Mama Melissa because she is the mama of Melissa and that’s how mothers are identified in this culture. After over a year of asking to meet her daughter, I was introduced to the slightly younger (and way sweeter) Melissa who was on break from university in Kampala, Uganda. The real kick at this party came when gifts started being exchanged. This time, instead of doing a secret Santa type exchange, we did a “dance exchange” whereby one person asked someone to dance and, after an appropriate length of time, the askee then asked another person to dance. After saying my quiet goodbyes, I left as quickly as possible. I’m an outgoing person, but dancing in front of all of my co-workers holding cameras and phones…no thank you.
Since then, I’ve just been in the village working and enjoying the end-of-the-pay-period broke blues, which are particularly difficult after spending more than you should have while on vacation. But…great news…today was payday! Cue the dollar signs, or francs, in my irises.
So with just 185 days left, what’s going on in my life?
- WASH surveys until I can no longer see straight. I’ve been compiling the massive baseline data collected before my WASH project started. I have nearly 12,000 pages of data to sort through and turn into a succinct report for Peace Corps, my health center, the District office, and the Ministry of Health. All of this needs to be done before the end of the month because, come February, I get to do it all again as I analyze the post-lessons data. DO IT FOR THE M&E!
- Africa Cup (CHAN) games. Tomorrow I plan to meet up with some other Volunteers in the area to go see one of the Africa Cup games in our brand spankin’ new regional stadium. (Mostly excited to see the stadium as it’s been in construct since before I got to Rwanda.) On Monday, I hope to see another game, but this time with Vanessa and the kids from her Kids Club who have HIV and come from backgrounds that would not normally allow them to attend a professional soccer match. I’m also planning to bring a youngster of my own village. Since he’s been on school break, David has been living at the Red Cross and working harder than just about anyone I’ve seen in this country (and that is saying a lot as everyone seems to be a hard worker here). David is seventeen and has spent his life taking care of his younger sister who was born with severe developmental and physical delays. He’s the first person to greet me in the morning and the last one to say good evening. For fun, he washes my dishes (seriously, guys, he just likes hanging out in my house and washes dishes so he can listen to my ~super hip~ music). I’ve never met a sweeter boy. So far, I’ve been keeping this a surprise, but it’s killing me; I’m really bad at surprises! I’m buying his ticket tomorrow and going to ask him to the game on Sunday. He’s never been to a professional game and hasn’t been able to afford leaving the village during this school break (November-February). I don’t know if you can tell…but I’m really excited for him to go to the game!
- PAC (Program Advisory Committee) Meeting where we will be planning all of the upcoming conferences, including Health 6’s COS (Close of Service) Conference! Less than 70 days until our conference.
- WASH lessons finish, which means my primary project is all but over. After a year of planning and hard work, after countless meetings with sector, district, and Ministry of Health officials, after nineteen lessons taught to nearly 1,000 households…it’s coming to a close. A labor of love, let me tell you. We’ll be holding a huge graduation ceremony…complete with certificates, of course! After, I’ll be writing up an analysis and report of the Implementation Plan to submit to officials at the Ministry of Health for their review. It’s going to be a busy month.
- Grace turns thirty on the 19th and Health 6 is blowing into Kigali for themed shenanigans.
- Dad’s birthday and Valentine’s Day; as someone who worked at Hallmark and hates the greeting card industry/fabricated holidays, I’ll let you decide which one I care about more.
- STOMPing Out Malaria RMV (Regional Malaria Volunteer) training will take up a full weekend. The whole committee comes into Kigali for a three-day training and meeting where we learn all there is to know about malaria. It’s kind of like a mini Bootcamp (see: Senegal Bootcamp post). Since I’ve already been to Bootcamp, I’ll mostly be helping teach and eating free food.
- COS (Close of Service) Conference will be at the very end of the month. I fully expect this to be just as haphazard as our MSC (Mid-Service Conference) was, but with more heightened emotions. Closing out this journey is the furthest thing from my mind (because I’ve pushed it there). I fully expected to be staying a third year in this beautiful place, but after going home and realizing I need to get back to school and family, I’m just barely coming to terms with the idea of leaving. BUT NOT YET! I’m in denial until they force me on that plane.
As for April, May, June, and July…they’ll come in due time. This is going to sound cliche, so try not to vomit everywhere, but I’m really taking it day by day. This experience is something I’ve yearned for since middle school (granted there were a lot more lions and grass huts when I imagined it); knowing that it’s coming to an end is a difficult thought to wrap my brain around.
As my time here winds down, one thing I’m trying to do to stay “in the now” is focus my energy on the relationships I’ve formed in Rwanda (both PCV and host country national). I still have those days where I want to shut the front door and read for hours on end, but I’m making sure that my interactions with those I care about are both meaningful and valuable to the relationship. When I leave Rwanda (not forever, never forever), I want my friends, co-workers, neighbors, and family to know that I’ve left a piece of me with them and taken pieces of them with me.
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