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!!