Rwanda By the Numbers // Musanze Weekend

Rwanda, By the Numbers

340 – The number of days I’ve been in Rwanda
439 – The number of days until COS (Close of Service) if I decide not to extend
11.78 million – Rwanda’s population (as of 2013)
79 – The number of days until I turn 23! (the second of three birthdays I’ll celebrate in Rwanda)
3 – The number of rats who I’ve lived with since moving into my house
21 – The number of co-workers currently employed at Kibilizi Health Center
57 – The number of co-workers who have been employed at Kibilizi HC, at some point, in the last nine months (high turnover rate)
$3.57 – The cost of travel to my regional town (AKA my weekly market trips
2006 – The year that Rwanda gained access to cell phones (not even smartphones…cell phones)
72 – The average daily temperature in my village
58 – The average nightly temperature in my village (Thank goodness I brought my duvet back from the States!
73 – The number of Peace Corps Volunteers currently serving in Peace Corps Rwanda $0.07 – The price of a large avocado
$25.71 – The average net wage, per week, for Rwandans (in US Dollars)

Musanze Weekend

This past weekend, four of us went to Musanze (the Northern regional town) to visit a friend and explore the town. On Friday, we woke to very heavy rain and washed-out roads. Naturally, in true Rwandan fashion, we waited out the rain. Luckily, I hitched a ride with the Red Cross and didn’t have to brave a moto in the mud. The other PCVs weren’t so lucky and ended up having to trek through the slush/ended up muddy.

I caught an hour-long bus, around 11:00, to Muhanga and met up with the other PCVs. At this point, we had two route options: (1) Muhanga to Kigali to Musanze and (2) Muhanga to Miramuke to Ngorero to Musanze. We opted for the “shorter” and less traveled route, the one recommended to us by our Rwandan colleagues, option two! After four buses, an hour-long delay, and a heavy rain storm in a ghost town, we finally ended up Musanze and caught up with Brian (fellow PCV/sensei/guide). (Of course, this is after watching two grown adults vomit into their bags…not out the window, but into their bags full of stuff. EVERY TIME I GET ON A BUS.)

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Ghost town bus stop.

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This wee little one was just as tired of traveling as we were.

That night, we went to Volcana Lodge and ate some stellar pizza. (Brian kept telling us it was the best pizza in country. It was definitely good, but I just think I’m not really a pizza person. It’s not my go-to.) The next morning, we had every intention of going to watch the Olympic qualifying bike race, through the mountain roads, but (of course) it started to pour. So, instead, we hid out at an ATM until the skies closed up and then went to get massages (I know, such a hard life we live). I passed on a massage, but got some quality bonding time in with the women who ran the salon.

After getting some grub at a nice little cafe (that we visited now less than five times in the span of two days), we went over to Brian’s friend house. Said friend graciously offered her (very nice) house to us for the night; she headed into the city and left the keys with us, so trusting I know. That night we jammed out hard to a 90’s playlist and played cards. After, we got to sleep in actual beds; it was tremendous.

The next morning, we gathered up our things and went back to the cafe (they had to be tired of dealing with us by this point) where we met up with two American girls (Mia and Tessa) who are in Rwanda for work/were vacationing in Musanze over the weekend. Brian had arranged for us to get together and take a taxi up to the peak of one of the mountains in Musanze.

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La Paillot cafe, where we spent way too many hours and far too many francs…

By 11:30-ish, we were on our way down the mountain…on our little adventurous hike. At the very beginning of the hike, a lovely Rwandan gentleman came up to us and starting playing a homemade violin-type instruments. It was literally just a piece of whittled-down wood, two strings, and a shell. He played a couple of songs for us and then was on his way elsewhere; the sweetest beginning to our hike.

All-in-all, the hike took about three-and-a-half hours (much longer than the two-hour hike the super-trail-experienced-Brian had prepped us for). Of course, his daily norm is getting up at 5:00AM to trek around the mountains with gorillas.

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This is Brian, by the way.

The hike was stunning; no words (and honestly no photos) will do Rwanda’s beauty justice. Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m not going to try, so here’s what we got the opportunity to view last Sunday: IMG_8633Along the way, we picked up some followers. In Rwanda, it’s very normal for children to wander anywhere and everything without informing their parents. Children as young as three (and sometimes just barely walking) are out and about on the weekends, breathing in the sunshine…and following abazungu (foreigners) for miles. As we walked, we thought – Hey, it’s Malaria Month – why not give them a little lesson on malaria net usage…and so we did just that. Of course, they just wanted our empty water bottles and some strangers to speak English (“Hello, teacher, how are you?”) to.

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The little munchkins, playing jump rope, on the first part of our hike.

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They could really be future GQ models, all posed to perfection on their own.

Around forty-five minutes in, we got a little turned around and ended up closer to the lake than we wanted (just because there was literally no walking path…all mud). It’s okay, though, because this lovely man in a boat directed us back to the walking path. After all, we couldn’t all fit in the rowboat.

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Lovely boat owner/operater/old man.

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Fearless youngster, collecting wood to make a fire for dinner.

IMG_8635At one point, we stumbled upon the dam that powers a majority of the villages we passed through (since most houses might have a single lightbulb, at most, they doesn’t require a lot of juice). I was struck by the stark contrast between village life and the high-tech dam. Rwanda is big on hydroelectric facilities, so it wasn’t exactly shocking…but it was an in-your-face reminder of the differences that still remain between Rwanda and the fully developed world.

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Old versus new.

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At some point, contractors abandoned the building in the background (not uncommon in Rwanda and probably due to a lack of funding).

IMG_8622 IMG_8636 IMG_8618 IMG_8619On Sunday evening, we began our return trip and purchased tickets for the 6:30PM bus to Kigali. As the minutes ticked away, more and more people started crowding the buses coming in and out. By 6:15, we realized that we were going to have to fight for spots on the bus (even though we already had tickets purchased). Thus began the most infuriating moments of my service.

As more buses rolled in to the bus park, dozens of people began running, shoving, kicking, to get spots on the buses. Imagine you’re standing in a semi-line, waiting for the 6:30 bus to show up and, when you notice it’s finally entered the parking lot, the fifteen to twenty strangers WHO DON’T HAVE TICKETS start moving, as a mob, toward the spot where the bus will eventually park. In order to get a spot on the bus (that you’ve already paid for), you know you have to move with the mob, too. As you do, you notice children are being shoved toward the bus entrance, infants are being passed through windows to “hold” seats for their parents, and grown men are elbowing women to get closer to the bus’ door. All the while, you’re wishing you could explain the concept of a line…though “ihangane” [“be patient”] is a classic Rwandan phrase, no one is being patient.

After a particularly harrowing event where a child was shoved to the ground by a grown adult, we went to the bus line’s office to complain (read: shout and scream about the chaos). In response, the bus line sent a man out to have us form two lines (one for the 6:00PM bus and one for the 6:30PM bus). As the 6:30 bus rolled in, the lines disappeared and people just started running toward the bus. Somehow, I reached the bus’ door first and held the non-ticket-holders off, so the rest of my group could get on the bus.

It was a disaster.

And a reminder that the simplest of things (lines, ticket numbers, checking ticket holders) can’t always solve problems of human nature.

Happy Malaria Month! (More importantly, MAY IS HERE AND APRIL IS GONE!)

HALLELUJAH, it’s May! April is finally over and new things are on the horizon.

But first, let’s recap the past couple of weeks.

On April 25th, World Malaria Month began and I embarked on a dual-purpose mission: (1) teach malaria prevention strategies and help to lower my District’s very high rate of malaria and (2) remain as busy as possible to avoid dwelling on April’s travesties.

So far, so good.

As I’ve mentioned before, Rwanda celebrates “umuganda” (day of service) on the last Saturday of each month. April’s umuganda was quite special since April marks the anniversary of Rwanda’s 1994 Genocide. I spent the morning of Saturday, the 25th cleaning up around the Health Center and hanging banners and signs for the ceremony that was held the following Monday.

At some point during the next week, we “border” PCVs (my District borders Burundi on its Southern and Eastern fronts) received a safety and security e-mail updating us on the current state of things.

For those of you who don’t know…Burundi’s president, Pierre Nkurunziza, is seeking a third term, despite a constitutionally set two-term limit. Riots and turmoil have forced tens of thousands of Burundians to flee to the DRC and Rwanda. There are about 3,000-5,000 refugees crossing into Rwanda daily. Many of them are crossing into my District, stopping at one of the nearby temporary transit stations, and being moved into a refugee camp. The nearest camp is about an hour walk from my house. The influx of refugees isn’t exactly changing my day-to-day. The biggest change is that my Health Center and neighboring hospital are seeing more patients seeking psychiatric help (the current conflict in Burundi is bringing up many emotions for Rwandans who sought refuge during the 1994 Genocide). As far as Peace Corps and the Embassy are concerned, we’re perfectly safe; we just need to keep an eye out for a rise in petty crimes and theft.

As for doing my part? I’ll be splitting my time (75/25) between my Health Center and the nearby refugee transit station until the situation has leveled out. Since I live on the Red Cross compound, I’m getting a unique opportunity to help out with the women and children who have crossed the border. I’ll be ensuring that they’re taken care of until they reach the camps and that they have access to the resources they need to take care of their kids. One mama gave birth, via c-section, just after she crossed into Rwanda and is a first-time parent. Right now, I’m just helping keep her spirits up and make sure she’s breastfeeding regularly and hygienically.

[If you want to read more (which you should, since this is a conflict that is going to affect all of East Africa’s relationships…read this New York Time’s article, Burundi on the Brink.)]

The Wednesday after that e-mail was sent, I got a visit from our PCMO (Peace Corps Medical Officer). The medical team visits PCVs once a year and decided to move up our visits because of April’s events. My Health Center was stoked that they could speak French to the doctor; the visit went well and the doctor told me I’m spoiled because of my Health Center, home, and flushing toilet. (I really can’t say he’s wrong; I lucked out!)

Soon after, I was notified that a VIP from the Embassy would be coming to my regional town soon for a visit. I can’t really give out more details than that until said visit has happened, but it’ll be a good opportunity for me to meet and greet…and get to know some doctors who are here, from the States, to help at the refugee camps. (More details to come next week!)

Following that, it was time to prep for our Southern Province Malaria Walk! From April 30th-May 2nd, eight of us PCVs went site-to-site to teach about malaria prevention and treatment. We were able to reach three schools, a health center, and nearly 1,000 students. Aside from BE Camp last year, this was one of my favorite activities so far. We got to play games with the kids, watch some student-led skits, listen to malaria-related songs, and teach lessons on how to lower malaria transmission rates. I honestly do feel like we made a little knowledge dent in those kids’ lives…and it’s always a good feeling to feel productive in Peace Corps.

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I don’t know what’s going on with my face here, but we’re arranging the lifecycle of a mosquito and explaining how malaria spreads from person to person.

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Kim’s BE & GLOW Camp kids doing a sketch on what to do when you think you have malaria. (Hint: Go to a CHW or Health Center and get tested!)

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The sketches continue. P.S. Yeah, this is how males and females greet each other in Rwanda.

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IMG_8185On the Friday of the Malaria Walk, I had to skip a site to attend my Health Center’s Labor Day celebration. I was bummed to miss part of the Walk, but had such a fantastic time at the party. We were in my regional town at a swanky hotel and…here’s the kicker…all the food and drinks were freeeeeee. That’s right…I pigged out on frites and chicken wings and Coke and didn’t have to pay for a thing. (As it turns out, the government of Rwanda was footing the bill since our Health Center did so well last year.) Of course, in true Rwandan fashion, we all gave speeches about our co-workers and what we hoped to accomplish this year.

As I spoke, I came to realize that it’s been nearly a year since I left the States and nine months since I started working at Kibilizi Health Center. I’ve worked there longer than all of the interns, seen co-workers come and go, and bonded heavily with my supervisor and counterparts. As we celebrated, I thanked my lucky stars for the new family I have here in Rwanda. My counterpart and I spoke about the tight bonds we share as a staff. It’s quite unique and a testament to the wonderful people I call my co-workers.

The party planner, Rugamba (one of my counterparts) had decided weeks ago that we’d do a secret-santa style gift exchange for the holiday. It was incredible amounts of fun. Some people wrote poems to get us to guess who they were gifting to. Others danced their way to the giftees. When it was my turn, I think the staff was a bit shocked to watch me dance my way around the tables and trick various co-workers into thinking they were my giftee…before finally sneaking up on Josie (my true “cacaette” giftee). Afterward, my counterpart asked me, “Why are you not excited at work?” I laughed and told him that, in America, our work culture is very different than Rwanda’s; that I’m serious at work because that’s what I’m used to. He understood, but said, “America is not fun. You are VIP here.” I just cracked up because he’s so right. Later, I discovered that my best friend, Moseka, was my gifter; she got me three beautiful pieces of igitenge (traditional African fabric) that I’ll be making into a dress very soon. After filling myself with free food and joy, I hopped on a moto for my third hour-long ride and headed to Vanessa’s site…our last stop on the Malaria Walk.

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11169936_10100158516573701_4221807993316844623_n11150660_10100158516633581_1680226313635802688_nOn Saturday, when we finished up at Vanessa’s site, the eight of us basically got ourselves into a moto parade (seven abazungu on motos for an hour tends to draw attention) and went to our regional town for our quarterly meeting.

After April’s events, the South lost two Health 6ers…so the meeting felt a bit different. It was quieter, quicker, and more subdued. (Not that it wasn’t fun, but there was a new, distinct energy difference.) It was Kim’s last meeting as Southern VAC Rep; we elected Grace as our new Rep. Feels so strange that in three months I’ll be a member of the most senior Health group in country. Have I really already been here a year?! Where did the time go?

That morning, our regional town had a Genocide memorial event and tensions were running high for some locals. Two of our fellow PCVs had a run-in with a particularly angry local who shouted and cursed at them; they were forced to retreat to the safety of some nearby armed guards when he picked up a rock and threatened them. Luckily, we didn’t have any incidences when we went out as a group later (for fried pork and frites), but we all decided on a quiet night in…playing Goat Simulator and downloading movies. It made me realize that come December, when Health 5 and Ed 5 are gone…it’s going to be an even lonelier time for us Health 6ers. I’ve got a lot of hopes riding on the new Health group (that’ll be here in one month!)…hoping they’re up for the challenges and adventures that come with being a PCV in Rwanda right now. Health 6’s old motto, “No new friends” doesn’t apply anymore. We’re taking applications for honorary members, ya’ll! (Must love movie nights, Case cleanliness, coffee, and slip n slides.)

On the horizon?

This week, I’ll finally be installing the television in the Health Center waiting room. I’ve finally finished negotiating a price for a metal wall mount. So that’s exciting!

We’ve also pinned down a hotel for the WASH Training of Trainers and decided on  dates (the last week of May). Come mid-June, the three of us doing WASH will begin our village trainings and finally start a program that’s been six months in the making.

As for David’s bleach dispenser project, we’ve all been trying to figure out how best to proceed. Unfortunately, all Health 6ers have grants out already, so we can’t take over his grant until we close out our own (around September). We also thought about getting a Peace Corps Response Volunteer to take over the project, but many Response Volunteers don’t get language training and wouldn’t have the communication skills required to get the project moving in Rugendabari. Finally, we’ve settled on the incoming Health 7 group. After their training is complete, they’ll have the language skills necessary for village life and will be aptly prepared for health work. We’re planning to explain David’s project, in detail, to them during their PST (Pre-Service Training) and, with any luck, one of them will want to be placed in Rugendabari and help us finish David’s project. It’s quite a unique opportunity, to be given a project that’s already fully planned out, and be responsible for oversight and M&E (Monitoring and Evaluation). Since David thoroughly planned everything out, the project itself will only last a couple of months (including the hygiene trainings). So by December, if a Health 7 PCV is placed in Rugendabari, they’ll be finished up with their first project and ready to move on to whatever they want. Fingers crossed! After the Rugendabari pilot program, the hope is that a good number of Health 6ers and Health 7ers will want to move forward installing bleach dispensers in their own villages; it’s too good of a project not to want to spread the project throughout the country.

So, that’s that.

Let me reiterate:

IT’S MAY! It’s no longer April. Much excite.

April, A Month of Rememberance

This month has been the most trying time of my life. It took this month’s tragedy to realize that the moments I’m experiencing here are not contained within a 27-month period. Even my blog’s tagline, “See you in 2!” won’t hold true. After two years, I’m not going to be the same person that left home in June 2014. None of us in Peace Corps Rwanda will be. I know I’m sounding mighty melodramatic right now, but stay with me; this month has changed my outlook on so many things in life and in service.

As most of you know, my friend and fellow Health 6 Volunteer, David Ripley, passed away on March 31st while on vacation in Tanzania. David was warm and kind in ways many of us will never be. His truths ran deeper than most and his laugh lines were plentiful. When I say David was one of the best people I’ve known…it’s not bullshit. David lived his life according to his own terms, but with the best intentions.

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David Bruce Ripley

There’s an endless stream of things I could say about David. Instead, I’ll just put here what I sent to David’s family:

The first time I ever saw David I thought, “There’s no way this guy is here for Peace Corps.” He walked through the lobby of our hotel, matching suitcase set in tow, hair slicked back, looking dashing as ever…and I thought, “He must be here for a business conference.” A few hours later, he quietly walked in to the Staging event and my notions of what a Peace Corps Volunteer should look like were shattered.

Over the course of the past ten months David also shattered any preconceived ideas of how a Volunteer should act. As he became one of my closest friends, I was lucky enough to watch his passions grow (for both our work here and for one of our best friends, Carrie). It didn’t matter if we were digging ditches, building hand-washing stations, or playing Taboo in the city…David brought a light with him that I will never forget. He was one of the most unique people I’ve ever met…incredibly laid back, independent, fiercely supportive of the people he loved, and sometimes a little neurotic when it came to finishing projects. But what made him so unique was his honesty. On my worst days, David reminded me that it could always be worse…that I needed to suck it up, grin and bear it…that he was there to support me and that nothing was out of reach.

A couple of months ago, David changed my life. Before joining Peace Corps, we both shared a love of emergency medicine. A while back, David asked me what I wanted to do after Peace Corps. When I responded, “nursing”…David looked at me and, without missing a beat said, “You’re better than that.” He was sincere in every single thing he did and said. We spent the day talking about our dreams, what made us happy, and where life might take us after Peace Corps. He told me that his family would visit while he was here and that he couldn’t wait to have everyone meet Carrie. The love that David had for the simplicity of every-day moments is a gift that he shared with every life he’s touched in Rwanda.

There is nothing that will ease this pain. David was a truly extraordinary person, with a passion for life that I can only hope to emulate. In his memory, we will work to continue his sanitation project and help David’s community realize his dreams. Since June, we’ve grown as a family and will continue to remember David for his visions, his honesty, and his incredible compassion.

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Carrie and David's true affections for each other. Bunch o' weirdos.

Carrie and David’s true affections for each other. Bunch o’ weirdos.

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11084252_10155435640770093_2234020832940595779_n 13243_10152894817028223_2044539960351352728_nIMG_7902As you can see from the photos above, David has had a profound impact on many of our lives here in Rwanda. He truly was the sunshine in our group and, with a little help from our friends…we’ll remember him for that…and we’ll get by.

I wish I could say that this was April’s only travesty, but – alas – the shitstorm kept coming.

The past couple of weeks have been extremely difficult for many of us in Peace Corps Rwanda. Some Volunteers have decided to return home for personal reasons. To make a long and devastating story short…there’s just a few of us left in Health 6. And all I really have to say is…

I feel incredibly lucky to have met such wonderful, talented, unique individuals. I’m fortunate to have bonded so tightly with my Health 6 family. As we held it together to plan David’s memorial (with the help of some truly wonderful PCVs outside of Health 6), we were repeatedly told, “I’m not sure how another group could’ve made it through something like this.” We struggled, but constantly told ourselves, “At least we have each other; at least we have Health 6.” That’s not to say that it was all peaches and cream 24/7. Just like any other family, we bickered amongst ourselves and got on each others’ nerves. But it worked.

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Look at those happy, smiling, naive loves.

And now?

Well.

It’s literally a day-by-day kind of thing. I miss David. I miss the rest of my Peace Corps family. This journey is going to be more trying than I ever expected. I’d never thought about going home before this month. I spent a solid couple of days wondering if this was worth it. I remembered seeing somewhere (on one of the countless Peace Corps blogs I read before coming here) that any time you think about going home…wait two days. Typically, the feelings dissipate. (If not, maybe consider talking to someone you trust.) So. I waited two days. And, lo and behold…the feelings dissipated. Not entirely, obviously, but it just comes in bouts now. For now, I’m getting by because of my community and because of the other Volunteers who’ve experienced the same losses this month. Misery sure does love company and I couldn’t ask for better company throughout this mess.

What I can say is…the reason this loss is hitting us so hard is because we were so fortunate to have had each other in this journey and to have created such a tightly knit family. It’s so odd to think that, just eleven months ago, I didn’t know these people. That they haven’t been in my life for years. Remembering that, and remembering exactly why I signed up for Peace Corps (and waited two full years for an invitation), I can honestly say that I’m going to do everything in my power to stay here. (If April taught me anything it’s that you can’t say anything for certain.)

With everything having changed so rapidly, some of my projects are going to require to major repair (namely, the WASH Implementation Plan). But WASH is going to happen! (If it’s the last thing I do here!)

After we’re rid of the monsoon-like weather, I’ll have a builder come make a cabinet for the TV/DVD Player. Our first movie night with the HIV+ kids will be in May. Depending on the ages of the kids, I’ve got Avatar or The Avengers (need to download Kinyarwanda subtitles, but seeing as I don’t have 3G at site anymore…).

In four days, World Malaria Month begins and a few of us South PCVs will be doing a Malaria Walking Tour throughout three villages in our District. We’ve got tons of activities planned…staying busy is great for my mental health. I’ll also be doing a bunch of the activities around my villages (trying to win Malaria Month, ya’ll).

That’ll bring me to the end of May…which leads into June…which is when new Trainees arrive! We have a Training of Trainers (ToT) for the Volunteer Advisory Trainers (VATs) just before PST (Pre-Service Training). (I don’t know if you could tell, but Peace Corps loves their acronyms.) I’m really hoping that the handful of us Health 6ers left can go to the airport to pick up the new Trainees. When we arrived almost a year ago, there were two Volunteers there and I distinctly remember seeing Nikki right when I stepped out of the airport. It was the most exciting thing. I’d love to have us all there, supporting the new group when they arrive. (Throwing myself into work and the happy parts of this experience are certainly my ways of coping.)

By August, the new Trainees will be sworn in as Volunteers and we’ll host BE/GLOW Camps in the South. That’ll be the one year in-service mark for us…I hear it flies by after that. (Here’s the hoping.) My COS (Close of Service) trip now includes a whirlwind tour of the States to visit Health 6 homies!

And as for the living day-by-day…well, it starts tomorrow. (Always a procrastinator.) Being April, Rwanda is still in a period of mourning for the hundreds of thousands of lives lost to the Genocide. (A recent report has upped the death toll to nearly two million…TWO MILLION.) It’s a hard time for everyone in Rwanda right now. Tomorrow, I’ll be attending a memorial event held at my Sector office, with my entire Health Center staff.

It’s a reminder that my community is my home. My co-workers are my family, too.

I signed up for 27 months of service.

I’ll be here.

The Kindness of Strangers in Rwanda

Though I’m currently listening to Def Leppard, as my neighbor has requested we do for the past three nights…I’ve become obsessed with playing:

  • Hozier’s self-titled Hozier album (The entire thing on repeat all day, erry day.)
  • Give Me Love – Ed Sheeran (An oldie, but a goodie for those nights when I’ve watched one too many rom-coms.)
  • Renegade Fighter – Zed (Thanks, Smallville!)
  • Wild World – Cat Stevens

Mark Twain said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” I wholeheartedly agree with this. Traveling opens you up to new worlds (conveniently located on your same Earth) and shows you the best and worst of what people have to offer.

During my 289 days in Rwanda (which is nearly ten months, woahhhh), I’ve bore witness to the incredible fortitude Rwandans have. (In truth, their affections and warmth will stick with me for the rest of my life.) Many will call this muzungu privilege (foreign/white privilege) and I can’t disagree with them; I’ll never know life as a native Rwandan. I do, however, know life as a citizen of American…in America. I’m the first to admit that, when I lived in the Sates, I was a grumpers when it came to dealing with other people (especially strangers). I was happy to shuffle about a crowded grocery store…silently…avoiding eye contact…and just generally despising having to deal with people. I was just another one of the countless people saying, “I hate people.” Oh, how things have changed.

I mean, sure, I love my me time. I enjoy reading and drinking coffee solo in the mornings just as much as I did in the States. The difference, here, is that when I leave my home…as soon as I lock the door…the world’s getting a straight shot of 100% pure, social Melissa. (Whether they like it or not…trust me, some don’t enjoy it much. I used to get yelled at in grade school for talking too much…not much has changed.) I’ve made it my mission to network and meet as many people as possible whilst here. I just really want to get to know people. (I think that’s why I was so excited for the Ed 6 group and now I’m stoked for the Health 7 group…it’s so much fun to share this experience with others.)

So, since being back from my trip to Amuricahhh, I’ve been a busy bee. (Though I’ve still managed to sail through ten season of Smallville…no shame!) I spent the first two weeks of March hunkered down at site, holding meetings with District officials and village members to form the hygiene and sanitation clubs I’ll need for the WASH behavior change classes. I’ve relied heavily on the EHO (Environmental Health Officer) at my Health Center; he’s been an absolute pleasure to work with. Rugamba is a workaholic, second in command on the Health Center, and always has a smile on his face. And though Rwanda has a bad rap for business etiquette (for example, our 7:00AM meeting starts between 7:30AM and 7:45AM some days…and some days it’s at 6:45AM…no rhyme or reason), Rugamba was able to schedule a same-day meeting with my District officials. The two officials have graciously have agreed to host the village-level training of trainers (ToT). Furthermore, many of my HC’s staff have approached me to say that they “know we will succeed” in these trainings. Sometimes, especially during college, it feels like it’s every man, woman, and barely walking child for themselves. Yet, here in this strange little village, I’ve found a staff of thirty people who seem to be pulling for me every day.

My incredible supervisor, Florence, and I on International Women’s Day…well, the day after, but weekends are sacred, ya’ll.

After getting all the clubs settled, I was off on a trip to visit my host family and to have a mini-vacation at my friend Laura’s site. As usual, Kigali kind of sucked me in and I ended up meeting with like four different staff members. I even had a brief meeting with our Country Director and discovered a little snafu with one of my upcoming projects. No one really made any mistakes…just an excited staff member exchanging e-mails…but I’m now on the Peace Corps’ Director’s (in D.C.) radar…so that’s cool, right? (Right? ha…)

Laura, Carrie, and I went to the pool for some R&R. It rained, but it was wonderfully stress-relieving nonetheless.

After the meetings, I was on my merry way to Rwamagana (where my host family lives). I got to see my host brother, Benoi, my host sister, Jackie, and mama. (I use those terms loosely, since Benoi and Jackie are actually mama’s nephew and niece…I think. Family is family here.) It’d been nearly four months since I had seen the fam, so I was feelin’ pretty guilty. Mama has a tendency to get upset when I can’t visit as often as she’d like (I think she’d prefer if I just lived there), so I always get anxious that she’ll give me talking to (like I’m twelve years old or something, ha!). This time, she was just so happy to see me…it was a raucous good time.

After lunch, Laura and I were on our way to her site in the Wild Wild East!

Host brother Benoi, rooster (RIP, you tasted delicious), and the young neighbor/umukozi.

I spent Friday and Saturday nights at Laura’s, hanging out and eating the best/worst foods ever. We started out with a healthy lunch and, somewhere along the way, decided that sugar and salt were better for us than the veggies. A choice decision if I do say so myself. We watched horror movies and listened to metal and it was just a pretty awesome girls’ weekend, all around.

Oh, there are two things worth noting…

First, Laura’s cute little home made me want to HGTV-ify my house. So, I immediately came home and purchased a mattress and wardrobe/bookshelf for my bedroom. Second, THE EAST IS SO DAMN HOT. I have no clue how anyone lives there…let alone gets out of bed. (In reality, it’s no hotter than summer in Northern California, but still…the South has made me a tempered climate fiend.)

Amandazi and frosting…literally fried dough balls with frosting. Closest thing to a cupcake we’re gettin’.

On Sunday, I swung by my host family’s again because they bought me a rooster. It was such an sweet show of love and I feel incredibly lucky to have them as my second family! That rooster became the first thing I’ve every killed, ya’ll, and my host sister was too busy cracking up laughing to take a video. Anyhow, he tasted delicious and I had crispy fries on the side (can’t believe mama still remembers my favorite meal).

I got back into Kigali late Sunday and got me some good sleep in. On Monday, I woke up bright and early and was off in search of a television for my Health Center. Carrie, Vanessa, and I all ended up waiting at the bus stop for a good twenty minutes before a nice guy offered us a free ride to the city. I’m pretty sure Peace Corps (and my parents) would frown upon this…but the whole catch-a-free-ride-situation is pretty standard here. (Like hopping in the back of a pick-up in small town America, except I’m less afraid of someone axing me to death here in Rwanda.) Plus, there were three of us in the car. Turns out, the guy is an office supply dealer in Kigali, which, as it turns out…we’ll be needing very shortly for our Kigali WASH training. We got his contact info and he dropped us off safely in the city. This is just another reason why I’ve become so incredibly open to experiencing new friendships and relationships…why I’m interested in the lives of strangers now. Rwanda really has been fatal to a great number of my prejudices.

Back to the shopping…

Have you ever wanted a giant circle bed with a thumping car stereo? NO?!

Thanks to some gloriously generous donors, I was able to buy a TV and DVD player (with USB ports)!

I’ll have some better pictures once we get the wall case built, but…needless to say…my staff is incredibly thankful and so stoked to start using it for morning information sessions. I already have four videos that range from five-minutes to twenty-minutes and are about HIV/AIDS, malaria, and diarrhea. I cannot thank you donors enough! I was just speaking with a District official who reported on our Health Center that our customer care needs to be better…that patients are waiting a long time with no interaction from health staff. Though I can’t exactly hire more staff, this TV is going to help educate the masses and, for that, I thank you!

Here comes even more sappy KINDNESS mumbo jumbo!

When I got back to the Peace Corps office on Monday…I thought Hey! Let’s go see if anyone is heading to Butare (my regional town) for site development. As it turned out…our Assistant Program Manager, Andre, was heading out there the very next day. So, the next morning, Vanessa and I loaded up a bunch of our crap (that probably would not have fit on a bus, anyway) and got a free ride to Butare. I was going to have to pay 5,000RWF for my ticket and a ticket for the TV (yeah…). Andre the hero!

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Is there a dart Olympics? First time ever throwing darts and I got two bulls eyes…where’s my prize?

When we got to Butare, I negotiated for a taxi to take me to the bank, the mattress boutique, and home to Kibilizi. I got a fairly good rate, but what was even better…that taxi driver helped me get a lower price for my mattress. He could’ve just sat in his taxi (especially since I’d just bartered with him for a lower price), but instead chose to help me get a price fit for a local and not a foreigner. I seriously love this place and these people.

That brings me to this week…

Since Tuesday afternoon, I’ve been setting up the TV and downloading videos in Kinyarwanda (too bad Rwanda isn’t really a French speaking country…the videos would be plentiful). I also decided that I needed to be a better tenant. I’m not a bad tenant or anything (I hope), but I decided to offer my services to the Red Cross. I figured…I have the time and the resources…why not. So I met with my District Red Cross leader (kind of a like a County leader)…and we just hit it off right away. He’s such a cool guy and super helpful. He’d visited the Health Center when I was in America and they told him I was bringing a TV, so he offered up some health videos that the Red Cross uses…which was super nice of him! Yesterday, I mentioned that I needed to head to Butare to buy a wardrobe and he offered to drive me since he had to pick something up (it’s about 20 minutes and a 1000RWF moto ride away, normally). Off we went for a shopping extravaganza. I bought more furniture than I’d intended…but he was so good at bargaining for a lower price, on my behalf. We got coffee together and watched as buses drove by, carrying refugees to the “new” camp located just to the South of me. When I expressed interest, Robert offered to take me there some time if I’d help out with bed net distribution. I’ve been wanting to go, so of course I said yes! He also has two youngins who are looking for English tutors, so I told him I’d go visit him and his wife/teach the kids a bit, as long as I got to play with their young baby!

Finally, to reiterate my point that Rwandans are the most wonderful people…

I spent pretty much the entire day hotel shopping online and via phone calls (though I’ve come to enjoy people, I still despise the phone). It was actually pretty exhausting doing all the price checking and what not…but I finally found what I think might be the best option for our upcoming WASH training in the city. The hotel had prices listed at maybe twice what we could afford…and their conference wall was wayyy out of our budget…but I went ahead and called anyway. After ten minutes of explaining the training and Peace Corps and what we were aiming to do…the manager decides to go with our drastically lower budget. It was incredible! He is such a nice man and I’m actually really excited to have our facilitators stay here. A friendly staff makes for repeat customers.

And, now, after this incredibly long post…it’s time to make an egg salad sandwich. I bought spicy mustard in Kigali and mayonnaise in Butare and my life has forever changed. Boiled eggs are only 14 cents, so I’m getting alllll the protein (and cholesterol).

On my way home!

Going Going, Back Back, to Cali Cali – A Peace Corps Rwanda Volunteer in America

(Well, not really. I’ve just come back from California…and Texas. But you get the song reference, I’m sure.)

As many of you know, I went for a (fairly short) vacation to the States. I was gone from February 5th to the 24th. Only nineteen days and…after all the layovers and time differences…I was really only in the States for fourteen days. I spent a week in Texas with my grandparents and a week at home, in California. I really couldn’t have asked for a better time. I got to see so many people I love and missed greatly. I even got to spend a night in San Francisco with my college roommates. I gained ten pounds and ate just about every type of cheese I could get my hands on. (No shame.)

There were definitely some points of adjustment, but mostly I was surprised by how quickly I fell into old habits (not bad ones or anything…just American ways of being.) I didn’t really have a ton of culture shock (after all, I lived in the States for nearly twenty-three years…what’s nine months in Rwanda?).

Getting on the plane in Rwanda was certainly weird. It didn’t really seem like I was just a few plane flights away from the States. Going home seemed a world away. (In fact, California is a world away from Rwanda.) I did have the most interesting seat-mates on the flight from Kigali to Doha, Qatar. Within a few minutes of take-off, the woman in the middle seat turned to the man sitting next to the window and asked him, in Kinyarwanda, where he was going. He responded, in English, “I’m sorry…I don’t understand. I’m from Philadelphia.” The woman turned to me and said, in English, “Why were you in Kigali?” I explained that I live in the Southern Province of Rwanda, thus launching us into an hour-long conversation about her assumption that the man was Rwandan and her assumption that I was just visiting. It was all in good fun and we pretty healthy discussion on race judgments. Soon, we were all three asleep and on our way to our respective destinations.

When I landed in Qatar, I had one mission: find a comfy place to rest up on my seven-hour layover. (I opted not to get a hotel room on the flight to the States, since rooms average $200+ and I just didn’t think a seven-hour layover warranted the cost. I was wrong.) I soon discovered an over-stuffed, super comfortable chair in a “television-viewing” room. I, along with four other tired-looking individuals, tried napping in said comfy chairs. Within an hour, a less-than-pleasant security guard came over to tell us we weren’t allowed to sleep there. My question: why in the world would you place some comfortable, sleep-worthy chairs in a place where people weren’t allowed to sleep? The other four people soon fell asleep again, but I headed off to find one of the airport’s “quiet rooms” which were, apparently, for napping. I quickly found one and let me tell you…those “quiet rooms” are going to be where the zombie apocalypse originates. Imagine a giant carpeted, sound-proof room. Upon entering said room, you’re immediately hit with a wave of stifling hot air. As you walk the length of the room, looking for an empty chair, you’re overcome with the feeling of swimming through other people’s exhausted oxygen. After scanning the fifty or sixty lounge chairs (filled with wheezing, coughing mouth-breathers), you make a dash for the exit. Yeah-it was awful. I guarantee every person in that room traded germs with one another.

After my grueling layover, I was on my way to JFK!

Luckily, I missed the huge snow storm by a few hours, so there wasn’t much turbulence and I had a lovely white-ish view of the city. When I landed, there wasn’t much ceremony involved in the customs process. They ask you to pick up your checked bags, go through customs, and then re-check your bags (I really don’t understand that whole process. Why not just send them all the way through to the final destination?) The customs officer stamped my passport and asked why I was in Rwanda; no asking if I had anything to declare, no temperature check, easy enough! Before my flight to Dallas, I had time to grab an iced chai. My first American food item! It was deliciously cold and the everyone I encountered at the Starbucks (staff and patron alike) were awfully rude. Welcome back to America.

When I got to Dallas, things started to feel real. My grandpa picked me up and we were off! I was struck by how many cars there were and how well people abide by traffic laws. My week in Texas was so perfectly relaxing. I got to enjoy thirty minute, scalding hot showers and the most comfortable bed in the entire world. I really just enjoyed getting to wake up naturally (no 5:00AM alarm) and spend the entire day relaxing with my grandparents. So good for my psyche.

My beautiful grandmother! (I fully regret not taking more pictures and not getting one with my grandpa. I was distracted by all the relaxing.)

As I said before, being back in the States was a pretty easy adjustment. The only shockers were how loudly everyone spoke…and how much of everyone else’s conversations I understood. I felt like Superman, being able to hear everything all at once for the very first time. It was pretty overwhelming and there were times when I just had to be alone to collect my thoughts and get some silence. Another strange experience was going to the grocery store. Like…

IMG_6895At what point does someone say…”There are too many chips here.” The “variety” of food stuff was overwhelming. Everything is basically the same…with different branding. I understand the basics of capitalism, but dayummm…how do we function with all those choices? My grandma also took me to get my hair cut…it was definitely the cleanest my hair had been in nine months.

After a perfect week of all my favorite foods (hello, baked chicken and actual sweet potatoes!) and watching HGTV/horror movies with my grandparents, I was headed to California.

Again, I regret not taking more pictures; I didn’t even get one with my parents. Whoops. I did, however, take a perfectly weird picture of my pup:

Zeva! (I spent a lot of time playing with my parents’ dogs, since pets just aren’t a thing in Rwanda.)

I haven’t lived with my parents in five years, but a week at home seemed too short. I felt pretty busy the whole time, but I brought it on myself. I spent a good two days doing nothing at all and I couldn’t take the stagnation; I’m such a bad vacationer. I did, however, get to play video games and watch movies on a huge TV and spent quality time with my parents and grandparents. I really can’t get over the huge amounts of support I get from my family. When I’m here, in Rwanda, everything comes as second nature already. I forget how fascinating this culture is sometimes. My parents and all my grandparents kept reminding me how interested they are in learning more about Rwanda and how proud they are of me…and it was just incredible to feel how supportive they all are of this whacky journey.

I was struck by how accessible literally everything is in the States. Immediate gratification for your every whim, want, and desire. Missed last night’s episode of Vikings? No problem…video on demand, torrentz.eu, or DVR it. Craving chocolate? Easy enough…hop in your private vehicle and hit up any convenience store or drive-through. Hungry, but you don’t want to cook? Within fifteen minutes, you can be nomming on some quality American grub. Also, refrigerators…freezers…oh man-thank you James Harrison for your contribution to the developed world. The amount of cold drinks, ice cream, and Angel’s I ate was…just high enough. My mom took me shopping and I just couldn’t get over all the different things I could buy right then and there.

Not only did I get some quality time with my parents…but some of my friends came into town for a hangout before my trip back to Rwanda.

Kaitlyn, me, Megan, and Morgan!

It was incredible getting to see them all again (we all went out nine months ago…just before my Peace Corps journey began). I’m so proud of these ladies and I can’t believe we’ve known each other for fifteen years.

I got home real late and woke up real early for my journey into San Francisco. I was exhausted, but I wouldn’t give back that night for anything; I had such a great time with those weirdos. Grateful for them coming into town and spending time with me.

My flight out of San Francisco was at 6:00AM Sunday morning, so my parents and I journeyed to the city on Saturday. After getting my In N Out fix and saying a very quick goodbye (we were double-parked), I headed to my friend Diane’s apartment. (In all honesty, I’m thankful for the quick goodbye…I don’t do drawn-out goodbyes very well at all.) Diane came running down the street and we hugged it out…it had been a good year since we’d seen each other and she sweetly offered up her apartment for me to stay at the night before my flight.

I have no idea where the time went, but that day flew by. We grabbed burritos and ate at Alamo Square:

Full House, anyone?

It certainly wasn’t the first time I’d been in SF, but it was the first time I didn’t feel out of place. I guess, before Peace Corps, I felt like I didn’t really have anything to contribute to that whole scene. Now, talking to people, I feel like I actually have an experience worth sharing.

I had to travel nearly 10,000 miles to a hipster SF coffee shop to get Rwandan coffee. Also, check out those $4 pieces of TOAST.

That night, our other old roommate, Alison came to join the festivities. We had a glorious night of talking about Peace Corps, watching Amelie, and cooking/eating pizza bites in Diane’s bed.

Laben reunion!

I got a whopping four hours of sleep before I had to say goodbye to Diane and Alison. I was feeling bad that Diane was going to have to drive me to the airport at 4:00AM, but thankfully Alison had to be up early for work anyhow. (Cheers to two girls who are literally always up for an adventure!) (And, keep your fingers crossed for the both of them, they’ve both recently applied for the Peace Corps and would make extraordinary additions to the family!)

My journey back home to Rwanda was more planned-out than the trip out to America. I had a six-hour layover in Dallas, so I got to get breakfast and shop a bit with my grandpa who picked me up from the airport. That definitely eased the slight pain of going back. My flight from Dallas to Doha was (obviously) a bit longer than the one from Doha to JFK (about fifteen hours in total). I sat by a lovely Indian woman who spoke to me for a couple hours about her recent divorce and how difficult it had been to send her children to college in America. It’s a good thing I’ve become more of a people-person, but I still had no idea what to do when she started crying. I just tried to comfort her and let her treat me like a surrogate child. (No joke…she was very concerned that I get enough sleep and cleared out the middle seat for me to lie down. I still couldn’t sleep very well.) Luckily, I had a hotel for my fourteen-hour layover. I really enjoyed being in Doha; if I have another layover there…I’m going to try swinging a stay of a couple days. It’s a beautiful city…I just wish I could afford really anything there. (Hello, richest country in the world.) I really, really enjoyed the call to prayer played ’round the city.

P.S. Fly Qatar Airways if you have the chance.

After my extended layover, I journeyed six hours back to Kigali. I really can’t say much about the trip other than to mention the flight attendant who was quite forward and asked for my phone number and proceeded to ask me out on a date, since he had a layover in Kigali. I couldn’t believe how openly flirtatious the guy was being…while at work…in front of his coworkers and passengers. I felt bad for blowing him off (I hate being unintentionally mean), but I got to Kigali and nearly immediately passed out for fifteen hours. No regrets. Oh, and as soon as I got into Kigali, I was checked for a fever and had to wait a couple minutes for them to re-check because I was running warm (#noebola).

Zach, Aaron, and I had a very scientific taste-test to determine our favorite Sour Patch flavors.

I spent the next two days eating Sour Patch kids, getting medicine for a skin rash, playing Yahtzee (thank you grandparents!), shopping for a television for my Health Center, re-submitting my grant, working on my VRF (Volunteer Reporting Form…I think?), and meeting at the Ministry of Health. I like to keep busy.

IMG_7284I’ve been back at site for twenty-four hours now. I made my bed with my new sheets and duvet (no more sleeping bag for Melissa!) and slept for nearly twelve hours. I’m caught up on sleep, enjoying the rain sounds, drinking coffee, and reading.

In summation, re-integrating was both quite easy (getting used to American conveniences) and very difficult (finding time to collect my thoughts). I loved visiting home, but I’m so glad to be back. Being in the States just doesn’t feel right for this period of my life. Being in Rwanda, working and living where I do, that’s what feels like home to me. I’m sure in seventeen months…I’ll feel differently…or I won’t…in which case I’ll think about extending for a third year. For now, I’m all relaxed and rested up, fat and happy on American food, enjoying having spent two weeks with family…and ready for the next hurdle!

Nearly Nine and Doin’ Fine

It’s been eight months since I left California. By the time I visit home next month…it’ll be nearly nine! Furthermore, I’m finally off crutches! (Except I’m not allowed to dance, hike, play sports, run, or go on long walks for another two months). Anyhow, to celebrate, here are some songs I’ve had on repeat:

One of the things I’ve come to realize about myself, since being here, is that I’m a creature of habit. I truly, truly enjoy organization and schedules. I’m just beginning to understand that I also enjoy the chaos that is living and working in a developing country.

Coming back from being in Kigali for so long (broken foot) and starting work again…well, it’s been difficult. In Kigali, time doesn’t really pass in the normal sense; you get to stay up well into the night and sleep in as late as you want, no staff meetings to mark the passage of time. It’s been a struggle, but I finally found a routine that works well for getting my constantly-tired-ass out of bed.

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What a lovely post in the middle of sunrise.

I wake up between 5:15AM and 5:45AM Monday through Friday, at which point I start boiling water. (I’ve lived with cold bucket baths for eight months; times are a’ changing.) After the water is boiled, I add some to my french press, some to my bowl of oats, and some to my bath basin. I then promptly “shower” in the luke warm water, dry off, and spend no less than forty-five minutes sipping coffee, eating, and reading the White House’s daily press briefings, watching West Wing, or taking inane Buzzfeed quizzes…whatever peaks my interest. By 6:30AM I’m putting on my makeup, clothes, and getting ready to head out the door.

All of that might seem like a lot to you. But. As I said before, I need the structure. Otherwise, I’ll set my alarm for 6:30, get antsy about the thought of only having thirty minutes to get ready…then I’ll hit snooze and pass out again. One of the problems…or, rather, blessings in disguise…about Peace Corps Health (and typically every other program besides TEFL) is that it’s incredibly un-structured. Instead of getting dragged down in the fact that no one expects me to show up anywhere, at any given time, I try to stay focused on those 5:30AM cattle farmers screaming, “Mwaramutse (morning)” when they see me boiling water. And those 6:00AM church bells, loud enough to wake the dead. And the 6:50AM school children running circles around me, asking me to teach them English.

Of course, the best parts of my days are the chaotic, unscheduled ones. The hour that I’m forced to babysit a newborn while the mama undergoes post-birthing surgery. The three-hour staff meeting that I can only understand a lick of, but comprehend that we’re getting yelled at for lack of data reporting. The slip in the mud, in front of the school, because I wore sandals on a day that I knew – I just knew – that is was going to downpour on my way home. The cry session with my co-worker who just found out her mother passed away.


Fair warning: This rest of this post is not going to be chipper. You’ve been warned.

Upon getting to work this morning, I was told a very sad story of an infant in a nearby town. The story goes as follows:

It’s regular practice for the Health Centers to have one or two night-shift nurses. Just like in America, they work two or three nights in a row and then have an off-night/off-day. In this nearby town, that for anonymity’s sake we’ll call “R”, one nurse was working a solo night shift and a mother came in for an emergency delivery. After questioning the mother, the nurse figured out that the pregnancy was only in its sixth month. Without any other options, the nurse delivered the premature infant.

Upon delivery, the nurse was ill-prepared and assumed, incorrectly, that the nearest hospital was just too far a journey for the infant and the mother. Instead of calling for help, out of fear of being labeled ignorant or inadequate, the nurse waited for the child to die. There were no obvious birth defects (other than the small size, of course), but instead of caring for the infant…the nurse left the child in a trash bin, in the cold, and waited for it to pass away.

After waking post-delivery, the mother found out what the nurse had done and obviously panicked. She called the authorities and the nurse was arrested. She will spend her life in prison for her carelessness and ineptitude.

My point, in telling this depressing story, is that things like this are a crash course into reality. It’s easy to get caught up in the every-day here. Of course, horrors like this aren’t necessarily unique to Rwanda…or even unique to the developing world. But I still forget that not every area in Rwanda experiences the level of health care that my co-workers provide to Kibilizi. This morning’s story reminded me that, regardless of the safety net Kibilizi appears to provide, the health care system in Rwanda is still desperately in need.


On a similar, frightening, note…

Last weekend, one of my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers was poisoned.

The Volunteer was riding a bus back from Tanzania and was sharing a meal with another passenger. At the end of the meal, the passenger offered the Volunteer a small piece of candy. Given that sharing food is deeply engrained in East African culture, the Volunteer accepted.

As told by the Volunteer, he immediately felt drowsy and realized something was up with the candy. Incredibly, he had enough wherewithal to text his sister his GPS coordinates…and then promptly passed out.

When he woke up, his iPhone and iPad had been stolen and a concerned citizen had gotten him to a Tanzanian hospital, at which point Peace Corps Rwanda had become aware of the situation. Our medical staff was able to pick him up and bring him back to Rwanda, where he spend three days in and out of a heavy, poison-induced fog. His family had been informed right away and Peace Corps handled the entire situation with grace, if I do say so myself.

He’s already well on the road to recovery, but it was a scary situation nonetheless. And, again, it was a reminder that no matter how at-home we feel during our service…our differences still make us targets for things like theft. It was a rude awakening for all of us, I’m sure.


Aside from those two stories…the past couple of weeks have been pretty superb.

I spent the weekend in Kigali for a PAC (Program Advisory Committee) meeting and got to celebrate one of my best friend’s 23rd birthdays with her.

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Happy Birthday, Laura!

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Classy and content, of course.

With the generous help of only three people, Kibilizi will be getting a television when I return from the States next month! I’ve already informed my Health Center staff and they’re stoked for the possibilities. Personally, I cannot wait to see the looks on the kids’ faces when we announce a monthly movie night. The weather is a bit cold right now (wet season in Rwanda), but when it warms up…I can imagine us in the outdoor waiting room, having a mini slumber party, watching kids movies with Kinyarwanda subtitles. I can’t wait!

I’ve been presenting the WASH hygiene and sanitation plan to a number of higher-ups in my area and, so far, the reception has been nothing but kind and supportive. I’m hoping this is a trend for future projects. I can’t stress enough (for future PCVs)…it all comes down to your bond with the community. If you show a good work ethic and take the time to meet all the proper officials, actually take an interest in getting to know them those first couple weeks, your service is likely to go much smoother!

Right now, my only struggle is site guilt. With all the grant work I’ve had to do, and the extended stay in Kigali, I’ve been away from work more than I’d like. Next month, I’ll be visiting the States and, though my supervisor has been more than supportive of my journey home to see family, it’s nerve-wracking to be leaving so soon into my service. I was always under the impression that I’d stay the full 27 months and not be able to return home (funds, time, etc.). Luckily, February is a down month…just a month of waiting for grant funding to get approved, so it’s the perfect time to head home for a vacation. It’ll only have been 9 months, but I feel like I’m already going to have to re-integrate a bit. I came into this journey not knowing what to expect; I didn’t know if I’d love or hate Rwanda. And, now, being so enamored with my new home…it’s going to be difficult getting used to Americans again. And Safeway…good god…Safeway is going to be a struggle. (Why are there so many toothbrush choices?!)

Until next time! (Which may be in the form of a blog update from America!)

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Matt’s (in the grey tee) family came to visit and a few of us got to spend some time with them. Absolutely fantastic people! (Had to try hard not to kidnap little Trip.)

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Battle wound! (From building greenhouses!)

Compound Livin’ & What I’m Up To

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).

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The family planning office, where we test for HIV/AIDS and give mamas their check-ups.

IMG_6509Basically, 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.

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Editing the final image for the GoFundMe.

(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.

New Year, New Awesome, New Crutches

Priorities:

Now for the rest of it all:

Remember back in middle school when your friends were getting their first broken bones and you thought, I want a cool cast! followed quickly by Only if it’s my left hand, so I can still write. or Crutches would be awesome for a couple days.

Well.

Think again.

If you’ve been keeping up with my blog (or my other social media platforms), you might have noticed that I’ve broken my first bone! And it’s not been nearly as fun as my eighth-grade-self imagined. To make a very, very, verrry long story short…

I’ve had x-rays, multiple MRIs, countless trips to King Faisel Hospital, and spent four weeks in Kigali. I AM FINALLY BACK AT SITE (as of an hour ago). I opened my door, fully expecting a mess and what did I find? A cupboard full of food (thanks to my November care package), clean clothes, clean dishes, and no trash! I even had the foresight to buy petrol for my stove before leaving for my weekend trip that turned into a four-week nightmare.

The PCMO (Peace Corps Medical Officer) has been incredible throughout this whole process. After discovering the break, he went out of his way to find some research on the break and, with giddy excitement, told me how uncommon this kind of injury is and how it’s often only seen in triathletes and military personal. If you know anything about me, you’ll know that the probability of either of those things being true, for me, is bout -25%. (I do enjoy a good uniquity, I s’pose.)

To make things concise, the rest of the post is a bit more organized:

Week One in Kigali (12/5-12/12):
Pretty much covered in my last post; went to Ed 6 Swear-In and the Leadership Retreat…then found out I had a stress fracture.

Week Two (12/12-12/19):
Went to get an MRI on two separate occasions to nail down the fracture and figure out the best treatment. I had every intention of leaving Kigali on Monday, but the MRI machine didn’t pick up good enough images (despite my 90 minutes in the machine). The results from the second MRI came in on Friday and I was put on “Case arrest” (basically had to stay on the couch all week/weekend. At this point, I was starting to go stir-crazy and had intense cabin fever. Luckily, there were two other PCVs “living” at the Case and one other visiting, so we kept each other pretty busy. The whole while I tried to get as much work done as possible via E-mails and phone-calls.

Week Three (12/19-12/26):
By Monday, I had a lovely pair of crutches:
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Never, ever again will I take the States’ conveniences for granted. Getting around even the largest city, in Rwanda, is impossible with crutches. Impossible. Every sidewalk is a death trap and every store is an obstacle course.

At this point, I was starting to get pretty damn bummed. I had planned a trip to Burundi and would’ve left on December 24th. The PCMO didn’t clear me for travel (I don’t blame him one bit; crutches are hard enough that I probably would’ve given up using them on vacation.) Come Monday (12/22), I discovered that I had a minimal case of pink eye, courtesy of the Peace Corps transit house. (Disgusting, right?) Got me some meds from the PCMO and it cleared up the next day, thank heavens. Tuesday (12/23) rolled around and I went to breakfast with some PCVS and had my favorite avocado and bacon sandwich. A few hours later, I got to enjoy the sandwich a second time…and then a third…fourth…fifth…etc. because I got food poisoning. Thus ensued twelve whole hours of vomiting and being unable to sleep a wink.

I had avoided a pity party until that point. Then, the tears fell and I called my parents and grandparents. (Thanks for listening to my sobbing and whining and still loving me.) I have never thought about leaving this place. Rwanda is home now. But in that moment…my darkest moment in country…I just wanted to go home for a day or two and have my mommy make me some soup or something.

By the next day (Christmas Eve), I was feeling weak and bummed about missing Burundi, but was in such a better head space. Thankfully, one of my fellow Health 6 PCVs came into town and offered up a spot house-sitting with her. After getting to the house, we spent the day watching movies and relaxing (with my foot up, mom, don’t worry!). The next day (Christmas), we got up early and went shopping for food goodies. By 6:00PM, we were settled in and grubbing away:

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My co-workers and boss sent me some lovely Christmas messages and I had a great phone call with my entire host family. Speaking of which! My host sister, Jacky, is engaged! She’ll be married, next month, to her boyfriend, Bosco. I’m so unbelievably excited for her!

I couldn’t have asked for a better Christmas in Rwanda.

Week Four (12/26-1/2):
I spent the next few days, until New Year’s Eve, house-sitting with the girls and having a generally relaxing time. My favorite part was probably cleaning up after the two cats, which were clearly not potty-trained; especially when one of them decided to eat an entire lizard:

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Classy cat food.

What to say about NYE?

Rwanda does it better.

I spent New Year’s Eve eating, drinking, (avoiding) dancing at a club, crashing a wedding, playing beer pong with water (so American), and staying up until 6:30AM, tryinggg to keep up with the three-hundred, or so, Rwandans at our hostel. I failed and had to sleep a wink. But dayum…the party raged on until 2:00PM the next day. I really do not understand where their energy comes from; this is such a napping culture…but there were people up and partying for 36 hours! Crazies.

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Zach came to visit me at the transit house, in my time of need!

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Laura, Grace, and me!

Chuck, A-a-ron, Zach, and me!

Whitney and me!

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We forgot to take a NYE photo; morning after!

Vanessa likes to take selfies on my phone; she deserves this.

And, if you’re wondering, I spent the stroke of midnight in a cab with three other PCVs…lost and looking for the club our friends were at. #glamorous

Yesterday, I tried to head back to site after seeing the doctor one last time (until my one-month check-up). The universe had other plans. After hobbling my ass to the bus stop, venturing on the bus with crutches, and trekking across the large bus station…I was told the soonest bus I could get on was at 6:00PM (it was 1:00PM at the time). If I had gone at six, I wouldn’t have been back at site until 10:00PM and taking a moto after 8:00PM is not the business in a country that doesn’t have DUI checkpoints. I opted, instead, for a 6:30AM bus today and am finally, finally, FINALLY back at site! I could’ve cried tears of joy when I saw my neighbors and realized they had truly missed me as much as I had missed them!

And, now, it is time for a nap and my very own bed in my very own home.

I’m ready for 2015; I’ve never been more ready to conquer 365 days.

Keep Calm and Avoid Stress [Fractures]

First thing’s first: music!

  • “Scotland” – The Lumineers
  • The Serial Podcast (the absolute best source of entertainment for the three-and-a-half-hour bus ride from Butare to Kigali)
  • “Morning” – Beck
  • “Only” – Nicki Minaj (a dedication to my cohort)
  • “The Last Goodbye” – Billy Boyd (The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies Soundtrack)

Though it’s been only nine days since my last post, I’ve got quite a few updates.

On Friday, December 5th, a new group of Rwanda Volunteers swore in. There are now thirty-six new Education Volunteers in Rwanda. Bottom line: They’re fantastic! They seem just as tight-knit as our little Health 6 group. I see successful collaborations on horizon.

On Saturday, a few of us headed to the Case (the Peace Corps transit house) to cook (and ultimately save money). After eating, we went to spend time at Mamba Club (the unofficial Peace Corps hostel in Kigali). We met up with some other PCVs who happened to be in town and spent the evening playing cards, chatting, and grubbing. After a while, we decided to go out to a nearby club. Twas a pretty tame night, save for some serious networking. (To be talked about further down in this post.)

Over the course of the next couple of days (Sunday, Monday, Tuesday), my left foot started hurting and swelling. I didn’t really take notice at first; the same foot had been hurting on and off since August-ish. On Tuesday morning, I went to see the PCMO (Peace Corps Medical Officer) to get my second shot in the Hepatitis A series (as is required by Peace Corps). While prepping the shot, the PCMO noticed the swelling in my foot. We talked a bit about other symptoms and he gave me a full exam. In the end, he decided that I should go for x-rays immediately, convinced that I have broken my foot. Imagine my surprise, given that I haven’t so much as bumped or stubbed by foot since being in this country.

Less than an hour later, I was sitting in Rwanda’s largest hospital, waiting to get x-rays. From 8:00AM to 9:00AM, I hobbled back and forth from the “waiting area” (which was basically three chairs in a back hallway) to the reception, trying to explain to them that I wasn’t responsible for settling the payment. (Peace Corps pays for all of our medical care while we’re here.) After dealing with that (in English and Kinyarwanda, yay!), I waited ninety minutes to see the x-ray technician. Once I was ushered out of the x-ray room, I was seated, again, in the back alley waiting room. A solid three hours later, I was still waiting around to receive my x-rays (so that I could take them back to the PCMO). At around 1:30PM, I found myself fed up (knowing full well I had to leave for a Leadership Retreat at 3:00PM) and went to find someone in Customer Care. After another thirty minutes, I got word that the tech. who handles all the x-rays was “on lunch” and wouldn’t be back for another hour.

At this point, in America, I probably would’ve flipped out. (I mean, really! The tech’s been “on lunch” since 9:00AM. Get real.) However, fully understanding that I’m currently in Rwanda…I just left. Called the PCMO and let him know that the driver should come get me; the x-rays were a lost cause at that point in the day. The PCMO apologized furiously, over the phone, but he had no reason to! The systematic flaws were certainly not his fault. And, let’s be honest, this kind of crap happens tenfold in the States.

I headed back to the Peace Corps office, showered quickly, and jumped in the car headed to the Leadership Retreat in Kibuye (on Lake Kivu).

The Retreat lasted from Tuesday night to Thursday morning; definitely not enough time to make final programming changes…but enough time to get the conversation started. I also really appreciated the ratio of ten staff members to ten Volunteers. It was nice to get immediate answers from certain staff as to why some changes just aren’t feasible. We spent the Retreat discussing the Frameworks of Peace Corps Rwanda’s Education and Health Programs, as they relate to Rwanda’s Vision 2020 strategic plan. We brought up changes that we felt would benefit the Programs and each cohort. As I said before, it was a good start. Rome wasn’t built in a day, ya’ll.

After a number of ridiculously hot showers, comfy King-sized-bed sleeps, and seven pages of Programming notes, I was ready to head back to Kigali.

Lake Kivu, view from the room’s balcony

Lake Kivu’s many islands.

Failed selfie.

Five o’clock sunrise.

After the Retreat, I went back to Kigali and straight to the doctor. My foot had begun to swell even more. The pain was definitely bearable, so I wasn’t too concerned. The x-rays had come back that morning and showed a very slight stress fracture. Really, nothing to be concerned about. Still, the doc is worried because we’re not sure how the fracture happened. We can only assume it’s a result of all the walking I do (in inappropriate shoes) and my lack of coordination (I trip over my own feet on a regular basis). However, the fracture combined with my current (and frequent) flu, is putting the doc on edge. He thinks I might have an auto-immune something-or-other.

Six or seven vials of blood, and a TB test, later the doc sent me on my way. He apologized throughout the entire visit for not being able to do more, which I thought was very sweet. He told me he appreciated my patience (probably the first time anyone has ever said that to me) and that he would boot my foot if I wanted (I definitely don’t because it would make getting around in the village nearly impossible and I do not want to be stuck in Kigali).

At this point (Saturday afternoon), the swelling has gone down significantly and I feel a bit better (flu wise). I’m just taking it very easy hoping that by Monday, I can avoid the schedule MRI and get back to my site. We’ll see how that goes. I walked a very short distance to a cafe this morning and foot swelled up for a couple hours. Not very practical to return to the village when my only mode of transportation are my feet…if my foot is just going to become a balloon every time I try to go anyway. On the flipside, I really don’t want to stay in Kigali. I miss my site, my home, and my co-workers (though they’ve all been so incredibly understanding!). We’ll see.

Enough about my foot! Time to talk networking.

As I briefly mentioned above, I spent some time networking last Saturday night. A group of us met a couple gentlemen who work for Prepex, a company that makes a non-surgical male circumcision device. This was an incredibly lucky find, as Rwanda’s Ministry of Health has put a lot of emphasis on male circumcision (in an attempt to lower male-to-female HIV transmission rates). Basically, I got really excited about a potential collaboration and arranged a meeting yesterday (Friday) between myself, a Prepex representative, and Peace Corps’ HIV/AIDS Coordinator, Nicole.

The meeting went better than I could have ever expected. Essentially, us Peace Corps Volunteers would be responsible for handling all of the community outreach (advertising, education, finding the right location in our communities, follow-ups, etc.) Prepex has (incredibly) said that they would pay for everything involved in the trainings of our Health Centers’ staff.

Basically, Volunteers would bring nurses form their Health Centers to a three-day training in Kigali. After the training, Volunteers and their nurses would return to their villages to advertise and perform the (completely free) procedure. Ultimately, the Ministry of Health wants to complete 700,000 male circumcisions by 2015. Now, with Prepex’s help, Peace Corps can help them achieve that goal. Right now, everything seems to be moving in hyperspeed, but I can only hope that the universe threw this into my lap for a reason. I can’t imagine a better first project. I’m thanking my lucky stars that everything is going this well. (And keeping my fingers crossed.)

Well.

That’s about it for now.

Until further notice, I’ll be wasting my money in Kigali and trying to stay busy planning my upcoming projects (that will, if everything continues to go well), begin in January/February. I also have a holiday vacation planned to neighboring Burundi, starting December 24th. I’m thoroughly excited, so my foot better get its shit together in time. Though the borders from Rwanda to Burundi just opened back up for us Volunteers, they’re likely to close again soon. The upcoming elections are creating a heated atmosphere across the border, so we’ll see. We’re all holding our breath, hoping we don’t get a phone call the night of the 23rd, telling us to turn back.

[As an aside, there was an “accidental rocket projectile” launched into Rwanda on the 9th. The rocket touched down, and exploded, in the far northwest of the country and no one was harmed. We have one Volunteer in the area and Peace Corps is still decided on whether or not they’ll move him out. (They’re expecting more action in the coming months, from the insurgent group in the DRC that wants to get back into Rwanda.) Another wait-and-see situation. I’m all safe, fam bam, so no worries.]

Co-worker Appreciation Day (Which is Pretty Much Every Day)

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.

IMG_5643First and foremost, this is my Titulaire! (My supervisor!)

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.

IMG_5645Name: 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.

IMG_5644Name: Rugamba
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.

 

 

 

IMG_5648Name: Agnes (on the right)
Occupation: Nurse
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!

 

 

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetName: Mediatrice
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
Occupation: Nurse
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

Yet another view of my Health Center.