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.