Monday, December 27, 2010

The Day an Alien Came to Town

Culture Shock - a phrase generally used to describe a person's adjustment to a new group of people and their customs. But, have you ever stopped to consider the culture shock experienced by the group of people who are welcoming the individual?

To anyone who's been abroad for an extended period of time, you know that people make a big deal about the phrase "culture shock." Entire books are written on the subject, organizations train their recruits about the new culture in advance to dispell any stereotypes and make the transition smoother. They inform them about the phases of the shock and how to cope with it. But think about a typical African boy who sees, for the first time, a white man walk into a local restaurant. I can only wonder what goes through his mind. He doesn't have any training about culture shock, no education about Amerians except for their stereotypes, and surely not even a heads up about the newcomer. Nah, the man just pops up one day and expects you not to be shocked at all.

No wonder they call a foreigner an "alien." It's a fitting analogy. imagine a Martian lands in your neighborhood. I'm not kidding, a real live Martian just moved into the house a few doors away from you. No way! You've heard rumors of them before, but you didn't know if they even existed. It could have all been a myth. Is he really green? He can't be; that's such a strange color of skin. What does he eat? what does he wear? If he has a flying saucer, and surely he does, then he can take me back to Mars for a visit. And if he can come all the way from Mars to my little neighborhood by himself, then he must have a lot to offer me.

This is why crowds gather 'round to stare at me. It's why some kids are overjoyed to greet me and others run away crying. I've learned to accept it: I am an alien.


Four weeks, 99 hours on a bus, three days on a cargo boat, and seven currencies later, I am home, in Rwanda. My travels have been exhilarating and refreshing, but right now it is good to be back where life is familiar. The people, the food, the culture, the language; it is all familiar.

Being away for a month and coming back to Rwanda has given me a chance to step back and reconsider my work this past year and think about the work that is most needed in Rwanda.

At the beginning of the year, when I first realized that I was going to have a surplus of donation money to spend in my community, I began asking myself how I could possibly use these funds. It seems strange, doesn't it? What does a shopping spree look like in a third world country? On one hand it seems obvious, but on the other it isn't. You would think there should be too many choices, yet when I tried to put pen to paper, I drew a blank. Why? Because I didn't know what the community really needed - I had only been there for a month or two! Maybe that sounds silly. After all, a straightforward cookie cutter solution should fit the bill: shoes, clothes, toiletries, and cans of tuna fish and beans to pass out, right? But poverty is a completely different beast in Rwanda than it is in downtown Cleveland, let alone in Uganda or Zambia. Poverty, entangled in economics, politics, cultural views, technology, climate, and geography, has many faces, countless causes, and elusive answers. So, to ask what a community needs is a challenging question.

Fortunately, through some wonderful counsel from a few leaders within our village, I am confident that we met a great deal of needs. This includes school supplies, school fees, textbooks, calculators, and sports equipment for my church as well as clothes, food, doors, mattresses, and Bibles for individuals in my congregation. Another generous gift from the states was specifically used to provide 200 mosquito nets for my school and a shipment of used textbooks is on the way from my university's TBP chapter. I have been overwhelmed by the generosity that people have displayed in helping my community. A great deal of admiration and gratefulness go out to you folks.

But now, after living here for a year, I want to return to that question: what does my community need? In particular, I want to consider non-monetary needs. As I look around I see countless opportunities to make practical and long-term differences in my community. Science labs need to be organized and teachers need to be trained how to perform and teach experiments. Electricians need to rewire my school so that every bulb and appliance does not run on when the electricity is switched on, and then teach the staff and students about power saving and the environment while they're at it. Agriculturalists need to teach Rwandan farmers how to compost and how to rotate a variety of crops using permaculture, which will not only improve soil and food quality and quantity, but will also contribute to an improved diet. Speaking of which, nutritionists could hold local seminars informing parents about healthy food/crop choices and diet-related health issues. Engineers can teach and help to install gravity fed water systems, local purification techniques and local energy, heating or electricity schemes. Librarians can organize our school's library and teach us how to increase student's access to books and perhaps open the library to the comjunity since no public library exists. Businessmen can teach graduates and young entrepreneurs how to develop business strategies and make the connection between their education and the job market, bringing in jobs and money to their local encomy. The opportunities are exciting and endless. It is not impossible by any means; the people in Rwanda are eager to learn and are ready for change. They just need the guidance and encouragement in the right directions.

In summary, if you have any skill or knowledge, as well as the creativity and guts, then pick yourself up, pack a duffel bag, hop on a plane, and fly to a small village somewhere in the world. You're guaranteed to find your niche.

Monday, November 1, 2010

A Little Adventure

Today I decided to go exploring around the area. From my home I can see across a large valley to the next hill where there is a large mound of rocks... in fact, this is the highest point in my district. So, I packed some water and my map of Rwanda and starting hiking. I arrived in the village of Musaza about two hours later, scrambled up the rocks and was astonished by the view. On one side was Rwanda. Facing the side there was Tanzania on my left and Burundi on my right, with the mighty Akagera River dividing the borders. I had no idea I was so close to Burundi! You could see miles upon miles upon miles from this point! I took some pictures, but they really don't do any justice, so I'll just post the map here to illustrate what I'm talking about!

To help you get oriented, the yellow lines demarcate the borders. Rwanda is on top, Tanzania bottom right, and Burundi bottom left. My home town, Nyakarambi, is just next door to the village of Kirehe, which is printed the side of the main road toward Tanzania. I hiked from Nyakarambi to the small triangle labeled 1834 (meters) and then to the town "Musaza" just to the left on the map. Beneath me in the deep valley was the Akagera River and in the distance I could see Lake Rweru, more than half of which lies in Burundi. To the north, I could pick out the tallest points, like Rukira, near Kibungo, which is about 35 km away. (Ctrl + CLICK on the picture for a larger view in another window).

The town of Musaza itself was mystical; a surreal feeling of being on top of the world, at the corner of three borders. It made me realize how small Rwanda is and how easy it is to travel around these parts of East Africa. If I just had a tent, I could easily be at the Burundian border in a day, Lake Rweru the next evening, and so on. Food is never a problem... Rwanda is a country of 10 million people and the size of Maryland (Burundi not too different). Wherever you go you will find people and tea shops and places to stock up on food and water. Hmm. It's just incredible! Now that school is finished, I hope to be able to do a lot more exploring!

Thursday, October 28, 2010


25- October

My village has this new thing - it's called the Internet. I was eating dinner with a friend a couple nights ago when he told me that the Rwanda Develpment Board had installed a new computer lab just down the road. I was in disbelief. Internet? in Nyakarambi? My life was about to change.

The weekend only intensified my excitement as I waited in suspense for Monday morning. Could there really be internet here? Was it coming and not yet finished? Would the lab be open and working? Usually news travels fast in our village and I would have expected the whole town to be buzzing about this. In my impatience I had asked a few people on Sunday if they knew about the new connection. Some gave the same reply I did: "Internet? In Nyakarambi? Oh no, not yet," but others verified it. I gave the whole thing a fifty fifty chance.

Monday rolled around and I roled out of bed, did some laundry and took some breakfast until the clock rolled around to 9am. I headed down the road toward the new white building that was rumored to house fifty computers with a fast connection the outside world. The gate was open. Okay, that's a good start. How about the door? Yep; wide open as if magnifying the eagerness of new visitors like me. I walked into the room on my left to find my pastor hunched over a computer punching a keyboard finger by finger and a sea of sleek new computers behind me. He looked up, hugged me, and through his grin said, "I think Nyakarambi is now having the internet!"

I sat at my computer and opened internet explorer. As I waited for the browser to load, I looked around me. A little dissatisfaction set in. The other computers were all occupied by teenage boys, browsing any entertainment sites they could find, loading YouTube videos (hogging precious bandwidth), and looking at new electronic gadgets they could only hope to buy. Gmail's homepage was open and I clicked sign-in. The screen went black; the electricity was out. I let out a sigh. It could be three minutes or three hours. I waited thirty minutes, then gave up hope and went home.

As I write this (having just returned home) my bubbling excitement for the internet was quelched by dissapointment. Sure, the power will come back on eventually and I will probably be posting this blog via the new computer lab. These things are to be expected in Rwanda. But strangely, I am more discontented with my first impression of the internet's use here. What will the internet be primarily used for in Nyakarambi, and by whom? How much time and money (what little they have) will teenagers throw at a box that provides them with music videos, merchandise, and promiscious entertainment? We aim for development and pour foreign aid into Rwanda and hope for what outcomes? I don't mean to sound cynical or condemning, but I do mean to be skeptical or at least cautious and aware of how technology affects the world. And while materialism and entertainment of all sorts is as common as day in America, it is a strikingly new technological and social revolution in Rwanda. And while countries like America have had decades, even centuries to adjust, a small town like Nyakarambi is receiving a concentrated dose of this revolution that is in stark contrast with the hoe-digging, hand picking, cattle herding life they have always known; and this, bear in mind, only sixteen years after a genocide. What curious and unimaginable dynamics are shaping this country. Nyakarambi, welcome to the rest of the world.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Rain, Rockets, Rwanda...

The following is an email update I sent out recently, but before I paste it here, I just want to say Thank You to all who have replied with your words of encouragement. they are a blessing to me. A special thanks to those who've been following this blog... rest assured there are many (too many) 'Brock thoughts' rolling around in my head, and when the busyness of exams and job searches and grad school applications fades, I'll be sure to put those thoughts firmly on paper (or online I suppose). As Rwandans say, "Ihangane" (patience), or as they also say, "Buhoro buhoro," (slowly by slowly)....       


Dear Friends and Family,

After a solid three months without a single rain cloud, the dry season has come to a close in Rwanda and the fresh rain is restoring the green to the land of a thousand hills as well as the skip in people's step. The dawn of October also heralds the last month of school. With one month to go, my students and I are buckling down to finish the curriculum and prepare for exams. In mathematics we are finishing
trigonometry, and in physics groups are giving their presentations on eight different renewable and non-renewable energy sources.

I am incredibly proud of my students. First, I thought that their physics presentations might be a disaster, but far from it. After
doing their own research, each group taught the class about how a certain energy source works (like hydro power or fossil fuel
stations), outlined the advantages and disadvantages, and discussed the practicality of the technology in Rwanda. To top it off, a few
teachers and I took over thirty students on a field trip to see a hydroelectric power station in the Northern Province of Rwanda! They
asked very intelligent questions and it was a joy for me to take the teaching experience from the blackboard to their country's very own

The other highlight of this term was last week's official opening of the Rusumo High School Science Club. The first experiment was a rocket
that I had built with a few students. Curiosity, excitement, and skepticism permeated the hundred of students encircled around us. They
counted down: "...5, 4, 3, 2, 1..." Nothing. We scrambled to troubleshoot a loose connection while our onlookers chuckled and
opinion tipped toward skepticism. Unexpectedly, the rocket lept to life, piercing a good thousand feet of deep blue sky. Five days later
we found it hanging in a banana plantation, still in tact, and still airworthy for future flights.

Needless to say, the past few weeks have been a special time of bonding with my students. I am looking forward to the next few weeks
too. In addition to teaching, I will be purchasing sports equipment for my school, as well as Bibles, doors, and other basic needs for
orphans and widows at the church I attend. These funds have been graciously provided by the Vacation Bible School programs at Bethany
and Zion Covenant Churches (Cleveland and Jamestown). Thank you!!

For one week in early September I returned state side to celebrate my sister Kristen's wedding. The wedding was beautiful in every way:
weather, ceremony, company, food (no rice and beans), and all. Making the transition back and forth was surprisingly smooth. Life in
Nyakarambi has become pretty normal by now. Nyakarambi itself is still
making that transition from village to town. A new bank is being built now; it will even have tiled floors and air conditioning!
Unfortunately, these conveniences have yet to reach my home, which leaves lesson planning to candlelight.

Please continue to pray for my friendships in Nyakarambi. They mean a lot to me, but as the school year approaches and end, it is difficult
to balance quality time with accomplishing my projects and goals. Pray that in this period of business I would still find time to relax and
enjoy the culture and natural beauty surrounding me.

Many thanks to all of you who are reading these updates, sending emails or mail, or praying. It means a lot to me. Keep in touch.

Peace and blessings,

P.S. As I write this on my ipod, I am sitting in a bus playing classic
American hits: Michael Jackson's "Billy Jean," Michael Bolton's "How
Am I Supposed To Live Without You?" and of course, Celine Dion's "My
Heart Will Go On." It's the small things that make you feel at home,

Monday, September 6, 2010

The First Rain

29 August 

Last night I was sitting in my favorite chill-out shop drinking tea and chowing on some capati when the TV flashed to a meteorologist reporting the weather in Rwanda. I let out a chuckle of disbelief; i would never expect to see a meteorology report in Rwanda, one because I'm in rural Africa, and two, there isn't much to report on during the dry season. I can't remember seeing a drop of rain for three months straight. Of course, the weather map showed sunshine and partly cloudy for the entire country. "At least they try," I thought to myself, and returned to my tea.

This morning I woke up and stepped outside and the first thing I noticed was a different smell. It smelled like spring but before spring arrives - that foreshadow of a scent that hails the changing of seasons. I didn't think much of it; the weather was sunny and hot. Until I got to church. While everyone was singing and dancing I thought I heard a different sound that didn't match the clapping and hollering of the congregation... like rain hitting a tin rough. I looked outside and sure enough, it was raining!!!!! Hmmm. Something about rain, especially the first rain in months. There's only more to come!        

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Parade of One

18 August 

"Pastor Pascal," is how he introduced himself.  We were sitting on a small wooden bench hunched over a table sized for an eight year old. Light green walls lit the otherwise drab cement hole-in-the-wall restaurant. We drank umutobe, a pungent banana juice that would make even the most stoic face scour. That was back in February. Many conversations and just a few cups of banana later, Pastor Pascal and I share a special friendship.   

Pascal works as a shoe repairman at our local market. Originally from the DR Congo, he recently moved his family (wife, two daughters, and a three year old boy) to our random village of Nyakarambi, in hopes of finding a job as a pastor; but until that materializes, you'll find him sitting on a cement slab every Tuesday and Friday polishing, stitching and gluing soles back onto the bottom of shoes, and making sandals out of old rubber tires (very durable I must say). Each job he does, each pair of sandals he sells, is a profit of fifty cents to a dollar, and this only two days a week, and this for a family of five.

This evening I visited his home for dinner.  As usual, a visit to his house included several detours to visit his neighbors and chat over fanta. Walking from house to house kids swarmed around me, kicking up dust from the parched dirt road. They ran ahead of me, trailed behind me, came close to touch my arm. They sang, shouted "abamaraika," ("angels"), danced in their beige and blue school uniforms and toted their toy cars made of plastic bottle bodies and bottle caps for wheels along side me as we paraded ahead.

His house was simple, typical. Cement walls, crumbling on one side, and sticks supporting corregated metal sheets above. A wooden table and two benches furnished the room where we sat. Kids peared through the square hole window, their heads bobbing up and down, appearing and suddenly disappearing like the hammerhead arcade game. Gabby, his youngest son, sat on the floor. His pot belly stuck out, exposing an inflated belly button atleast five inches long. Pascal's wife served our dinner: cooked banana, rice, beans, and sardines mixed together in one enormous heap on an 18" diameter plate. The sun was setting as we finished (still half the food left on the plate). We walked to the road; this time neighbors silenced the crowd of kids they were so loud. Pascal hailed a passing policeman who let me hitch a ride on the back of his motorcycle, sitting comfortably against the rifle slung across his back.                                

"If God lent us many forgivenesses, we will have many benedictions." Pascal repeats this phrase every greeting, salutation, and just about every ten minutes in between ("benedictions" in kinyarwanda is the same as "blessings"). I don't know if Pascal needs many forgivenesses, many jobs, or just a bit of good luck, but I do know that for a family and a community so generous, so caring, so eager to learn and work hard, many bendictions is the least they deserve.            

Monday, July 5, 2010

General Update

Warm greetings from Rwanda! I am always amazed at how time flies, especially when there is no change from winter to summer in Rwanda; it is hard to tell exactly which month it is sometimes! It seems a daunting task to write this update since there is so much to write about. I wish I could relate all the conversations, all the lessons learned, all the pictures worth more than a thousand words to all of you in one email. All I can say is that Rwanda is a country of change and a country of adventure; you never quite what to expect on any given day. I wish each of you were able to come join me for a week and experience it for yourself.

We are well into the second trimester of school and I am truly enjoying my students; although it is not always easy, we find ways of keeping each other entertained. For example, I've established the "powa sign" in my classes ("powa" is swahili for "cool"). When I finish teaching a concept, I ask them to give me the "powa sign," that is, a thumbs up for "yeah, I totally get it," a thumbs sideways for "eh, somehow," and a thumbs down for, "I have absolutely no idea what is going on, Teacher Kyle." They always laugh and perk up at the "powa sign."

A couple weeks ago one of my closer Rwandan friends, Ben, came to visit me at school to look at our broken array of solar panels (Ben is an electrical engineer in the capital, Kigali). We did a few calculations and if all goes well, we hope to fix the solar panels! It is a good practical learning experience for me, and it's something I hope to share with the students so they can see a practical application of their education.

From my school, 2km down a dusty dirt road, take a right down the hill another 4km of paved road, and you reach my home in Nyakarambi, a village that is rapidly becoming a small town. It is incredible to watch a village change before my eyes. A new gas station is just about finished, and power lines are being strung from pole to pole, soon carrying electricity, and with it a whole new set of changes. I did a double take the other day as I was walking down the one stretch of road that is Nyakarambi, and saw a garbage can on the side of the road. To my amazement, the street was actually lined with garbage cans, evenly spaced every hundred meters. This is the first waste disposal system I've seen in the Rwandan countryside!

I have plugged myself into a local church. The pastor is a very humble and caring man. He regularly visits me to see how I am doing and to give me a short message that he has prepared in English since the Sunday services are in Kinyarwanda. The singing and dancing at church is lively and colorful. There are a few songs that I know the tune to and can play on guitar (even if I don't fully understand the Kinyarwanda). A few weeks ago I played guitar for the church. I'm also helping a local branch of Compassion International on Saturday afternoons. They have two broken guitars and no one to play them. If we can fix them, I'm hoping to give the staff some lessons and teach the kids a few songs!

While the change in Nyakarambi is exciting, the most significant part of life to me has been coming to understand the people and culture of Rwanda. There are some things that just do not make sense to a Western mind; Rwandan life can be full of contradictions, some humorous, some just flat out frustrating. But I am at a point where I feel settled. When someone tells me a program will start at 10am, I can guess the actual start time within half an hour (4:30pm). Where before I would spin my wheels to get work done, I now know that Rwandans really can do a job well; they are very capable, but they need motivation, and that requires lots of encouragement and persistence.

On a deeper level, my frustrations have been replaced with a deep respect for the people of Rwanda. It is sinking in that sixteen years ago this country was in pieces. There was no unity, no peace, no government, no hope or belief that they would even survive the genocide. Communities, families, education, business: everything had to start from scratch. And to see what Rwandans are doing now is incredible. Some of my students have written letters that they would like me to share with you all at home (I will send them to my churches in Cleveland and Jamestown next term). Reading their letters and hearing even just a little about the effect of the war on their families puts into perspective what they have gone through and how remarkable it is that they are learning about electrodynamics (even if they don't understand it) and dreaming about being doctors (even if they have no funds to attend university).

Prayer Requests
As you can imagine, Rwanda has a difficult and complicated history, which is sometimes an obstacle to moving forward. While Rwanda is rapidly changing and growing, there are still underlying political and ethnic tensions. Sixteen years is a short time to find a complete remedy to a struggle that has lasted over a century. Elections are also coming up in early August. Pray for peace in Rwanda and for reconcilliation. Those are two words my students always use, but it's one thing to say them and another to believe them and put them into practice in order to replace hatred with love. The NY Times has recently published several articles on Rwanda. A good one to read is this: 

Also, please pray for my interactions with people in my community. I want to be more intentional about strengthening the friendships I've made and inviting them to share a meal or a coke.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Marabou Stork

I just put up two new posts, but I just had to add this one as well. Thanks to Jo C who found this info on one of the more peculiar sitings on our trip to Tanzania, I introduce you to the Marabou Stork.

Marabou Stork

To the casual observer the massive Marabou Stork with its balding, scabby head and pendulous pink air sac may appear to be one of the ugliest creatures in the world. If this same observer were to notice the Marabou's fondness for carrion and its habit of squirting excrement onto its own legs he or she would probably consider the original opinion to be justified. It takes a real bird lover to see past all of this stork's bizarre adornments to recognize the scruffy charm underneath.

For more, And I picture that I couldn't upload, see


May 26

Before I came to Africa I remember struggling with finding my place, as many new graduate do, in that strange period between the comforts of college and the security of settling - the vastness of an unknown life ahead of me. I had a strong hold on who I was, but a slippery grasp of who i was to the rest of the world.

Now, in Rwanda, finding my place looks very different from when I was in America. In some sense it's easier.  A clearly defined role as a volunteer, as an American, as a voluntary outsider (by color and culture at least), the new friendships in my community, and the comradeship of other volunteers in the same position all help define my place in Rwanda, making it feel at home. But in a different way, a more subtle way, home is difficult to establish. With all the new surroundings, it's not hard to detach or distance myself from this new home, to be distracted from my work here, or to sort of turn the autopilot on: going through the motions of teaching, building friendships, and working around cultural barriers.

A friend from home recently sent me a prayer (as she does every month - thanks!!) on this subject. Here's part of it: 
   "Do not let it sit in. Teach him to embrace it, knowing and constantly thanking you for the world you placed him in and the knowledge you have given him to pass to others. Bring back a childlike faith in him to relearn everything in the new surroundings... Let him find your presence in every piece of the surroundings. How can one yearn for anything more than your presence?"          

A couple days before I left Cleveland for Jamestown to begin packing for Rwanda, I heard a worship song that said, "I finally found where I belong, in Your presence." I'm finding it's true, in any situation. I can travel the world, alone or with life long friends, and I know where I belong. I always have a place. 

Warm sun on my back, cool breeze on my face. Smell of freshly cut grass. Hum of birds' wings around me... a world of open doors... 

Marato Amahoro

May 24

This weekend my fellow volunteer and friend Mitesh and I ran in the 6th annual International Peace Marathon (Marato Amahoro) in Kigali, Rwanda. Mitesh ran the full marathon and I ran the half  It was the first marathon experience for both of us, so we didn't quite know what to expect. 

In all the months of training leading up to the marathon, I was running alone (accept for the crowd of 20 little kids chasing me on their way to or from school), so it was exciting to arrive at the stadium surrounded by over a thousand other runners from all over the world. We met a man who was traveling the world running a marathon a week for one year (52 marathons!!). Last week he was in China, next week Hungary. Another man from America visiting for the week to run and do some orphanage work, and several people from Belgium and Germany and Japan, some working in Rwanda, others visiting. And of course there were all the east African countries competing, including the Kenyan runners - best in the world. There were young kids and even older women (they ran the five kilometer fun run) and a race for wheelchairs too. 

The race began an hour behind schedule, 9am instead of 8am., which meant the hot sun, unabated by the thin line of clouds in a predomiately blue sky, was scorching by midday. I have a nice tan - note to self, the rainy season is now officially over; wear sunscreen! My first lap felt great - I was pacing myself just as planned, but as the day grew hotter and the water stations started running out of water (go figure) the second lap was more grueling and I slowed down by 8 minutes (the half marathon route was two big laps around the city, the marathon four). I was amazed to see that the Kenyans were lapping me - ugh. Also, there was a guy with only one leg who ran the half marathon on his crutches. That's incredible.         

I finished the half marathon in 2:13:07, which put me in 235th place out of about 500. The top runners were all African, mostly Kenyan - 1:04 was the best time. The first place marathon runner was around 2:46, which is really good considering the heat, the hills, and the altitude. It's just amazing what these runners can do!!

All in all, well worth it. But I think I'll stick to biking for my exercise for the rest of my year here :)  

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Questions for teacher Kyle

In an effort to build better relationships with my students and to make classes more fun, I told my students to write down any questions that they have about me. Well, I am sitting in front of a stack of over a hundred pieces of paper with questions I'm supposed to answer over the course of this year. Here are some samplings:

- You are married? (the number one question)
- Have you all parents? (the number two question)
- In America do you eat beans?   
- Teacher Kyle is a teacher know many language kinyarwanda, Kiswahili, English, ...    (HA!)
- You can help the poverty?   
- How many children and wives do you have in America?
- Have you woman?
- What is the meaning of LosAngels?
 - You know today USA has black president is miraclous to you what you think about it?
- Why change the country from America to Rwanda?
- I would like to know your mortal status?
- If you know French I will tell more about the road to success.   (!?!?)
- Can you perform to take me in USA if possible?
- Which type of religion do you pray in? 
- How do you compare the climate modification of Rwanda and USA?
- How have years old?
- I wont to know a news about a superstar in the music.
- I need to know the names of your parents. 
- You know a date of your birthday?
- Can I see a poor person in America like in Africa?
- Some people say that in America in your country there are some people who have the heart of help other like us student the ones of us the money is difficult I say school feese. When you go in America you will tell them this problem?  

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

April 26
Today was one of those days... the good kind... the kind where everything right and everything good reassures you that this time and place is where you're supposed to be. Today the sun was shining and the flowers were a bright pink against the blue sky. My iPod's "random" setting knew just the right music to play - starting with Johnny Cash and Damien rice, and followed by Flogging Molly, Yael Naim, good ole Peter Cetera, and the Fast Cars and Freedom of Rascall Flatts. I am showered and clean after three days of wearing the same thing (sadly, that's not unusual here, although I swear it doesn't happen too often), and smooth shaven. I'm wearing my new black suit coat, which I bought at the market for 9 US bucks, over a fitted anti-wrinkle Van Heusen button up (my favorite), tucked into a pair of khaki colored dockers. I take a 5 minute moto ride from my house to school, a bit quicker than usual as we fly over the holes in the dirt road, making one abrupt stop for an old lady crossing in front of us. I dismount and greet my headmaster and dean of studies. As I walk into the staff room the teachers applaud at my new suit and comment on how smart it looks. I indulge in the attention for a brief moment, bowing and thanking them and telling them it's really just a coat. I teach my lesson, 100 minutes of mathematics. I'm refreshed, energetic, and on top of what needs to happen, but flexible and not worried if everything on my list to do doesn't get finished today - one step at a time, start where you are and do what you can.

On the way home a little boy not much taller than my knee follows me down the road, jumping up and down, naked, and screaming "bonjour, bonjour!!" Others ask "How are you teacher?" or "How old are you?" Some laugh, some smile shyly, a few even cry at the site of a white person. Some run at me full force, arms open wide, embracing me with a huge hug around the knees. My pants now have green streaks of avacado smeared on them. I continue down the hill. Old men and women with canes in hand and baskets on head stop to greet me with a handshake, a smile, and a friendly "mwiriwe." They chuckle as I reply in kinyarwanda, "mwiriwe neza, amakuru?"

This week I will practice a song for church on my guitar with my friend John Paul and I'll invite a couple friends to meet and catch up over a fanta. If I have the time I might plant some vegetables in my garden out back.

This is Africa. This is my life. I'm glad I'm here.

Saturday, April 24, 2010


Hey folks! Guess what!! Pictures are here!!! finally!!!!! Wheew, it's taken me way too long to get them up. But it's worth it. Check out the pictures of our trip to Tanzania (Kahama, Moshi, Dar, Zanzibar) at

Here are a couple pics of my house, my kitchen, and my classroom.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


April 15, 2010
Yesterday I was in stonetown, Zanzibar, shopping for a few souvenirs. I visited a cooperative consisting of 65 women who made pillows of all sorts of colors and designs - they were beautiful! Just as stunning were the women's warm hospitality and friendliness. Meghan and I explained to the lady who spoke the best English that we were volunteer teachers in Rwanda. As expected, she asked us if everything was peaceful there and we assured her it was for the most part. She said that her husband had died fighting in the civil war in Tanzania and that she fears for her children' safety. She was very glad that we were teachers, providing education for children.

We perused the piles of colorful fabrics and after much deliberation made our final selections. We took out our cash and began to tally up the bill. Now, usually at a women's cooperative there is no bartering, the prices are set. But to our surprise they began "bartering" for us. First, instead of exchanging from dollars to shillings, they told us we could just pay the US price tag in shillings, meaning an $8 pillow would be 8000 shillings, which is a 27% discount by itself. On top of that, when I added up my bill, it should have been 53000 shillings. When she added it up, she got 50000. I said okay, 50000. Then, she gave me a huge proud grin and said 45000. And 45000 it was.

I am still amazed at this kindness to a complete stranger. We (Americans) live in a culture so focused on profit that it isn't even a choice to sacrifice kindness, but apparently the default. Moreover, instead of trying to rip off a muzungu tourist who's almost always a target, these ladies put aside their own culture's stereotype of me as well as the stereotype of money being the most important thing in life, in order to show the most pure act of kindess.                 

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Smell of Memory

I've heard it said that smell is the strongest sense for recalling memories. The other day I dug deep into a bag of extra odds and ends that I brought with me from America and pulled out a bottle of lotion that I hadn't used for months. The first thing I noticed as I opened it and lathered it on my hands and then my face was how strong the smell was. Being in Africa, there aren't many scented things - atleast as sweetly scented as what Americans are used to. It's like our smell has been desensitized; what used to be a rather weak smelling lotion was now overwhelming to me.
And with the overwhelming smell came a flood of memories (I'd used the same lotion for a few years)... and not just pictures of events, but the emotions and the friendships engrained in those moments of time: the late nights spent finishing that physics homework assignment, the oh-so-good cold pizza in the greasy Rascal House Pizza box on the counter in our apartment leftover from a roommate's special event, the feeling of being clean and well shaven after a hot shower, my dimly lit room with all its decorations in just their right places hanging on the walls while I lay on my bed chatting to a friend on the phone, the anticipation of a date with a special someone, the heartbreak, the excitement of dressing up in a tuxedo for a choir concert, or a suit for a night at the orchestra... 

I never knew a bottle of lotion knew me so well.             

Friday, February 19, 2010

Redefining life

I am here at my site in Nyakarambi, Rwanda. After three weeks of training (with a great group of volunteers I must say) we were all sent our separate ways, dropped off in a strange new land of rolling green hills and incredibly starry nights. I've been in Nyakarambi for five weeks now and, while I am enjoying the experience, I am realizing how different life is here than what i have experienced in my previous 23 years. Imagine. You have no car - a symbol of freedom and independence in America. You are surrounded by a new language and what normally takes 10 seconds to communicate can now take up to 10 minutes. Your washing machine is gone, so is your shower, tap water, and electricity for a stove, oven, microwave, or toaster. You have an ishoka (ax) and igibiriti (matches) at your disposal for cooking meals and boiling your water. Cold drinks are a luxury, and the idea of Italian food for dinner or M&Ms for a snack is a joke among volunteers. This is just the beginning, but it is good and well worth it. I am slowly learning to redefine my life and expectations of Rwanda. In the following posts i will try to describe this process in three areas of life: culture, home, and school. Here's the first...

Redefining life: culture
I came to Rwanda expecting to see a country deeply scarred and struggling to get back on its feet after the 1994 genocide. In some ways this is true, and quite literally so; I often pass people whose arms or legs are crippled or missing, and last month I tried to avoid watching a man with no legs and flip flops on his hands carry himself up the same hill that had winded me. And once in awhile you will see a "Prisons" vehicle pass by with men in neatly pressed pink garb, indicating those who are on trial for crimes of genocide. But, for the most part, people go on living their everyday ordinary lives and I find myself having to remind myself that the events in 1994 actually happenned. This is the point of view of a naive outsider, someone who could never understand how the genocide has really affected every family in Rwanda. While I struggle to see the impact on their culture, I believe it is there; it's just not always obvious. Take for example my friend Venuste, who told me about his job in the district education office, his studies at university degree, and how he lost both of his parents in the genocide when he was 15.

On a lighter note, last week I went to a wedding!!! One of our teachers got getting and I guess anyone and everyone is invited to a wedding in Rwanda, including me... and the cows. The groom gave the brides father a 2 liter bottle of coke, a bottle if wine, and 2 cows as a gift in exchange for the bride's hand in marriage. I'm totally going to give my bride's family a bunch of cows on my wedding day. The wedding was very long... It took all day and started with a couple hours where the brides father tried to convince the grooms father for his son to take a different wife... Basically bartering. The decorations consisted of tarps hung over banana trees and wrapped in toilet paper. :)

In preparation for the wedding, I learned that there are many cultural differences when it comes to relationships and marriage in Rwanda. My friend and fellow teacher Kirisa explained to me today that finding a wife can be a very long process here. In his preparations for marriage, he first completed university and worked in order to save enough money to buy a plot of land. Now that he has the land, he is saving to build his own house in which he and his future wife can live. With land and a house, he will search for a wife, meanwhile, saving enough for the cost of a wedding. When he finds a girl to date, they will date in secret, not telling their families. When they are ready to make arrangements for marriage, they will introduce each other to their families for the first time. Ha! Amazing!

When it comes to finding that special someone, Rwandans can be the most suave creatures on the planet. For example, when introducing themselves they will say something along the lines of "Hello, my name is Ben, I am from Kigali, Rwanda, and I am single." In fact, many times when introducing myself for the first time, people (both guys and girls) will flat out ask me if I am single. It's just customary. The truly sly ones, with a little more class, will ask, "How are your wife and kids doing?"

While Rwandans can be closed off emotionally at first, they have no problem expressing themselves as they get to know you. Yesterday my friend Evereste came up to me during lunch and said, "Kyle, I am going to sit next to you because I love you." In fact, in kinyarwanda the word for love and like are the same. Yesterday, during a staff meeting, a guy held my hand while stroking my arm. It's incredibly awkward but completely normal here to express your love/like for a friend like that, whether it's a guy or a girl.

Surprisingly, one of the things I miss the most about culture at home is the variety of arts and food. In America you can go to the cinema for a movie or an art gallery to see famous paintings and sculptures, or listen to a symphony orchestra, or a rock concert, or go the theater for a play or musical. Or you can just wander around town and find an infinite variety of restaurants ranging from hole in the wall coffee shops to international foods, wines, or local brews.

Well that's all for now... More to come on the community/home and the school later!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Stereotype Me

This morning I went shopping at the local market, which runs every Tuesday and Friday and is literally 300 feet from my house. I was looking at metal hangers for my dress shirts. Like anything and everything at the market you should barter or else you'll end up paying way too much. I tried to barter for five hangers. I started at 200 francs (about 30 cents), but they refused to go any lower than 500 francs (just under a dollar), which was their starting price. I tried several stands and each time I was baffled because they wouldn't budge. I knew that I was being ripped off because I am a white foreigner, and apparently skin color determines economic status. One lady was even blunt enough to say, "you are rich; you can afford it." I can't tell if I am annoyed because of the stereotype or because it's is true.

There are many things I am loving about the culture here, but this stereotype that all whites seemingly have an infinite supply of money at their disposal is not one of them. I walk down the road and little boys stick out their hands and demand "amafaranga!" ("money" in kinyarwanda). Teenagers and even adults stare at me for literally minutes on end as if dollar signs are hovering over my head. Countless people want to be your friend and they will tell you there stories of how they cannot go to school because they do not have any money and are looking for a sponsor. I realize this comes with the territory of being a volunteer from a country whose GNI is $41,400 in a country whose GNI is $220 (2004 figures, per person). But, it can be difficult sometimes to build friendships because it's hard to distinguish those who genuinely want to know me from those who are more interested in my stereotype. I must remember that not all Africans, not all Rwandans, label me and judge me by the color of my skin. Many have a genuine interest in my work here, my life, and me as a person; it would unfair, afterall, for me to cling to my own stereotypes of them.   

On a deeper note, if I'm here to promote global understanding and mutual respect between cultures, then what should my reaction be to this stereotype and how should I represent Americans in my conversations with people? I guess the question I am getting at is, "Am I really rich?" When i am talking to people here about American finances I try to explain that there actually are people who struggle to get by in America and that 10% of the population do not have jobs and that I myself am not a wealthy person, but live a regular middle class life, according to American standards. Obviously the middle class in America has much more financial opportunity than the middle class in Rwanda, and obviously the income is greater, but the cost of living is much higher too. So, I am back to the question of how does one define "rich?" Maybe the best way is not by absolute income, but by purchasing power, or the opportunity to purchase "stuff." I don't know but I would be open to suggestions, thoughts, and advice. Thanks for reading my little vent here and for thinking about the issue with me.

P.S. I finally got 4 hangers for 300 francs.                            

Monday, February 1, 2010

The "first" day

NOTE: I may publish multiple posts per day, which were written on different days because of my limited Internet connection. So be sure to check previous posts. Also, more posts are in the works so check back shortly (I hope)!

Today was the first day of school for Rwanda, according to the original plan laid out by the ministry of education. However, it also happened to coincide with a national holiday: veterans day. So, welcome kids to your first day of school... here, have the first day off! In typical Rwandan fashion, the ministry of education announced over the radio yesterday that school would actually start tomorrow and that those going to boarding schools (my kids) should travel today so they can begin their studies bright and early on Tuesday. 

Now, the teachers at my school had a meeting today. I was a bit nervous, it being the first time that I would meet everyone I'd be working with for the next year and possibly longer. I arrived ten minutes early to the meeting that my headmaster said was to start at eight. I was the first one there, which was good and gave me some time to look at my schedule (I am teaching a full day on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, a half day on Wednesday and Friday I have off)!!! Sounds great, although it is still about 25 hrs per week, so I will be keeping busy. More to come on what I am teaching in an upcoming post (coming soon). Other teachers started trickling in and by 10:30 the meeting started. I can't complain about the delay... The extra time gave me a chance to get to know the teachers, and what an amazing, energetic, enthusiastic and friendly group they are!!! I was very impressed, and relieved, by their ability to speak English, but I was mist surprised by their genuine sense of humor, which made for a very warm welcome. This is so encouraging and I have a feeling that we will all make a very good team for teaching. 

I wish I could be so excited for the meeting that followed. It lasted for four straight hours. No breaks, no standing up, no lunch, no water or tea. 95% of the conversation was in kinyarwanda because, understandably, that is the easiest for a majority. I did have a translator, but for the most part it was a very long and drawn out meeting. It is truly remarkable how Rwandans can sit in one place, on wooden chairs or crunched 5 people to a couch, for so long. I've noticed this in many situations like at church, which lasted for 3.5 hrs and in buses, or in my classrooms, which some are scheduled for 2.5 hrs long, all teaching, no labs. In America, this would never fly, especially with students... We are encouraged to give them frequent breaks and to keep things brief and concise in order to keep peoples attention. Yes, taking breaks may be a more effective teaching method, however I think one of the reasons for our short attention span can be attributed the fast food, on demand, instant culture in which we are brought up. 

After the meeting, two of the teachers kindly took me to their home and said I was welcome anytime to hang out, eat, or even sleep. Then we all went out for coke and biscuits and enjoyed good conversation and of course, laughter. A good start to the first day of school!        
"We must learn to prefer quality over quantity, service over profit, neighborliness over competition, people and other creatures over machines, health over wealth... economic health over economic growth... If we are to have such an economy, we must repair our country and our society... We must end waste and pollution. We must renew our urban and rural communities. We must remake family life and neighborhood. We must reduce indebtedness, poverty, homelessness, violence... We must take proper care of our children. We must quit treating them as commodities for the "job market" and teach them to be good neighbors and citizens and to do good work." - Wendell Berry, Peaceableness Toward Enemies

As I think about and prepare for the first day of my teaching stint here in Rwanda, I am beginning to realize the significance of education beyond that of just teaching the material. My "job" is to teach math and physics by completing the curriculum laid out for me before the year's end. It seems straightforward enough: prepare the notes in advance, organize labs and homework assignments, mix in some quizes and diagnostic testing for evaluation, and add a dash of class discussion here and there. But as I read Berry's essay, I am challenged to do more. Education is more than relaying information and making kids into successful adults ("successful" usually refering to economic status). Education is vital not only in teaching students the material, but also how to use the material to benefit our world and communities now while ensuring our health tomorrow.

This is especially true in Rwanda. Here, the focus is on becoming a technological hub for East Africa and there is a strong incentive to move from a subsistence agricultural economy to a "knowledge based economy." And this change is evident in Rwanda's rapid economic growth, the value of higher education, the 2010 mandate that all classes be taught in English (not French or Kinyarwanda), the recruitment of international math and science teachers, and the improvements in infrastructure enabling an industry-based economy. With these changes in mind, may I reemphisize Berry's thoughts: education must be guided by a practical care for the world and a respect for morals. Science must be accompanied by ethics. Technology must be rooted in an awareness of our neighbors' needs and our future resources. Kids must become good neighbors before they can become good engineers, politicians, or doctors.

Saturday, January 16, 2010


14 January 2010

The cows are mooing and the birds are chirping this morning in Nyanza. Our group of fearless volunteers ventured the winding country roads of Rwanda on Sunday to arrive at Nyanza, a small town about 1.5 hours outside of Kigali. Here, we are giving kids and adults free English lessons for this week as the last part of our training. The country side surrounding Nyanza is absolutely beautiful... rolling green hills, misty mornings, blue afternoon skies (wellsometimes - we are in the rainy season after all), markets, and streets lined with people carrying food, wood, mattresses, or anything you can imagine on their heads.

On Sunday we spent the afternoon at an orphanage playing soccer and learning how to say "tickle" to kids in Kinyarwanda. The kids are amazing soccer players, not that I was surprised, but given my size I think we were pretty evenly matched :) Playing with kids is always good for the soul; it seems the more time you spend with a kid, the more you become one.

The hotel we are staying at in Nyanza is actually pretty nice: comfortable beds, running water, our own bathrooms, a TV to follow the African Cup, and even hot showers (again, sometimes). However, as we learned the hard way, this does not mean that we should expect the same service as we are accustomed to in the states. On Monday we ordered food from the hotel... fries, goat brochettes, and pizza, not anything too terribly fancy, but we waited two hours!! I keep thinking back to two summers ago when I was a waiter at the Athenaeum Hotel in Chautauqua, NY and how many unsatisfied customers would complain about a 20 minute wait when the kitchen was dealing with an influx of at least fifty customers at the same time. Here, food requires patience (ihangahe in Kinyarwanda). But, on the flip side, we were guaranteed fresh food - the goat pen is just at the back of the hotel.

Back to the part about the rainy season. Last night I experienced the most intense storm I can remember in my entire life. It started around 8PM and lasted well into the night and the next morning. It was not just raining during this time, but constantly lightning and thundering. For a while it was right over top of us and the flashes of lightning were like staring at the flashes from a photographers camera - bright white - and the thunder would follow with a sudden crack that reverberated in your chest. The power in the town went out several times, which left everything pitch black. Imagine watching a storm with no lights. When it wasn't lightning, you literally could not see anything - not even the person standing next to you. Then a flash and a series of bolts lighting up everything around you like a strobe light. It was pretty incredible.

Finally, I will leave off with a few more first impressions about Rwanda that I left out in my previous post. First, it is not impolite to stare here. Add to this the fact that I am a muzungu (white person) with white hair, and you can imagine what it's like sometimes to walk down the street. Secondly, if you want to get someone's attention here in Rwanda, you hiss at them. My hissing skills are slowly developing and I am anticipating culture shock when I come back to America and receive strange looks when I hiss at the waiter or my friend across the way. Finally, Barack Obama is a major hit here. Walk down any street and you will see "Obama Saloon" (Saloon is their word for Salon), and vendors selling "Obama Pants."

Friday, January 8, 2010

The first week!

Muraho na umwaka mushya kuva Rwanda!!
Hello and happy new years from Rwanda!!

Last week our group of volunteer teachers (14 Americans, 2 Brits, 1 Norwegian, and 1 Canadian) safely arrived in kigali, Rwanda! We are half way into our training, which has encompassed kinyarwanda language training, lesson planning seminars, classroom management tips, genocide memorials, and cultural lessons around the capital. One of the best parts of the experience is the volunteers. They are really down to earth and friendly. Moreover, we all have different backgrounds - economics, politics, teaching, engineering, science, and music, which brings unique perspectives on education, globalization, and technology in Rwanda. I have been encouraged by all of the conversations so far. Also, it seems that everywhere I turn, people are talking about renewable energy; I have already met 2 new contacts and know of a third who are working on sustainable energy.

To give you all a little taste of life in Rwanda, I've come up with a list of my top 10 first impressions of Rwanda:

1. Every morning I awaken to a cacophony of birds around 6am, as the sun begins to rise. For some reason the birds in Rwanda are five times as loud as the birds in America. Maybe it's something they eat?

2. Motos are an extremely efficient way of getting around, not to mention the excitement of riding on the back of a motorcycle and zipping around town! You can usually work out a cheap price too... about a dollar to get across the city. This brings me to my third point...

3. Bartering. It's one of my favorites. Iike it because it basically consists of two people coming to an agreement on something and it often results in a friendship being formed. It's much more interesting and relational than standing in line at wal-mart.

4. Music is almost everywhere. Walking around in the evenings there is always a church congregation singing, or people drumming or clapping to rythym.

5. Friendships are intentional here and are more freely expressed. Guys hold hands walking down the street and it's actually very confusing for a Rwandan if you consider someone to be a friend yet do not shake their hand when seeing them, but merely pass by and wave.

6. Kinyarwanda is a really hard language to learn!!!! All the verbs are irregular and if you were planning to play kinyarwandan scrabble you best bring along copious amount of the letter "u". Besides the fact that it's a lot of memorization and that words often sound alike, it is a lot of fun to speak and Rwandans love it when you speak it.

7. The food is very plain. Mainly rice, beans, and fries. But, Today I found a place that makes a mean omlette :)

8. Kigali is surprisingy clean and developed! There is a mall with a 24 hr Target-like store and a great modern coffee shop with wireless.

9. "Muzungu!!" - enough said.

10. There is not a single movie theater in Kigali that shows current films (that I'm aware of at least)! The best you can find are old country westerns or an old foreign film. Although, if you keep your eyes open some restaraunts/bars show new releases. This Saturday a restaraunts is showing Invictis!

As i write these, keep in mind that I have spent most of my time in Kigali, a pretty developed city, and that having only been here for just over a week, these are only surface first impressions; as I spend more time here I'll understand the culture on a much deeper level!!