Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Camp GLOW!

Four months ago at the Peace Corps in-service training (IST), the idea of doing a Camp GLOW came up. Camp GLOW was created by Romanian Peace Corps volunteers in 1995. GLOW (girls leading our world) has been on my mind since. I have learned that the education and empowerment of girls may be one of the most effective ways (not the only way) toward peace and security in world. I spent around half a week in Kigali helping prepare for the camp. The camp started December 3rd and went to the 7th. Many PCV's put a LOT of time and effort into this camp which was attended by almost 80 girls and 10 Rwandan Facilitators. The girls were chosen for having a proficiency in English and leadership skills.
For the first annual Camp GLOW in Rwanda we had several guest speakers including people from the US Embassy, Rwandan Parliament and more. It was held at the International Red Cross in Kigali. Walking up to the building you see a beautiful "Welcome to Camp GLOW" sign made by some crafty PCV's. As you enter you would see almost 80 girls clad in white Camp GLOW t-shirts, created by other creative PCV's, sitting in one of their 10 groups of 7-8 girls and lead by one PCV and a Rwandan facilitator. Each group was named after one of the incredible women whose large pictures were hung on the wall along with a famous quote by her and a short biography. (Wangari Maathai, Rosa Parks, Rigoberta MenchĂș Tum, Harriet Tubman, Miriam Makeba, Anne Frank, ImmaculĂ©e Ilibagiza, Mother Teresa, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and Hafsat Abiola) In my group, Mother Teresa, were 8 future leaders of Rwanda.
I learned a lot over the course of the camp. I learned that leading a group is not something that I'm natural at and far from my comfort zone, but that didn't prevent me from trying. I truly tried my best. It was perhaps one of the most difficult things I've done but I learned so much from it and by the end I felt like I was catching on. I learned from my PCV colleagues, the girls, the speakers, and our wonderful Rwandan facilitators.
The camp was a success! Especially thanks to handful of SUPER hardworking PCV's. I left the camp feeling great. I feel we made a difference... however miniscule. If I make no footprint on the world in my life... I would still be content. I have tried me best with love in my heart. And that's all that matters.
Camp GLOW was wonderful and I wish I could tell you every single thing about it but for now... back to Rwamagana.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving in Rwanda!

Rwanda doesn't recognize Thanksgiving obviously but that's no reason not to celebrate it ourselves!
It was a beautiful Thursday morning, around oh... 900, at the Peace Corps office in Kigali. The forecasts called for deliciousness and after weeks of planning and anticipation, the cooking of a grand Thanksgiving dinner was underway. With 15 kilos of potatoes, a freshly slaughtered turkey that was at one time lost on a bus somewhere in Rwanda, sweet potatoes and plenteous amounts of other ingredients... the Peace Corps volunteers joined forces. Tom, armed only with pineapple and series of secret ingredients made "cranberry sauce" without the help of cranberries. We were concerned but our faith in him never wavered. What eventually ensued was around 25 people taking copious amounts of food to the face. Turkey! Salad! Stuffing! Mashed Potatoes! Gravy! Hummus! Pita! Sweet Potatoes with marshmallows! Green Beans! Cake! Pie! Wine! Beer! All this without a single domestic dispute... and on time! Perhaps one of the best Thanksgivings ever. Words can't describe how full we were... well maybe. But the Romans still would have been jealous. I guess what I am saying is... Life is good.
How can one not speak about war, poverty, and inequality when people who suffer from these afflictions don't have a voice to speak?
~Isabel Allende (Chilean author, 1942- )

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Gisenyi, Rwanda

This last weekend I went to Gisenyi, which is about a 4 hr. bus ride, with my friends Emmett and Malcolm. Gisenyi is located on the northern end of Lake Kivu, which is divided between the DRC and Rwanda. The area was incredibly beautiful and mountainous. On the way we passed Musanze, which is located at the foot of the Virunga (Volcano) National Park. Through a thick fog we were able to catch a nice glimpse of these volcanoes but I can’t possibly convey the feelings it invokes or even simply give you the chills that went up my spine. I’m no Hemingway. On the other hand, the terrain is quite unforgiving. People live on the side of mountains that seem physically impossible to live on let alone farm on! People must have the physical acuity of a mountain goat. The slightest mistake would send you plummeting down in a way that only Homer from “The Simpsons” could comprehend. It looked like a completely different country than the one that I have intimately known for the past 9 months.
The first thing we saw in Gisenyi was an acrobatics group practicing on the beach of Kivu. If you haven’t seen African acrobatics before, you are missing out. Second was the frontier of the infamous and mysterious DRC but I dared not set foot there. Not until after my Peace Corps service that is. Third was a hot spring. It wasn’t developed for bathing but could potentially make a good tourist destination if people chose to make it one. We walked around a small peninsula and returned to town for lunch. For lunch I had fried sambaza! Mmmm… Mmmm…. Sambaza is a tiny fish about 2 1/2 inches long and is fried (whole) in a light batter and served with a delicious sauce. Birajyoshye! (Delicious!) We had some beers and returned to our cheap yet pleasant hotel room exhausted and satisfied. The next day we made our long journey back to our sites with a newfound deference for the northern province.
I know I said that I wouldn’t do this but I can’t in good conscience leave out the amount of human suffering I witnessed in Gisenyi. I was surprised to find that this more touristy town showed more signs of poverty than Rwamagana which has practically no tourist attraction at all. Beggars were all but few. From my short time there, children seemed to show more signs of malnourishment than other areas that I have seen in Rwanda.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Congo Wars

If anyone wants to learn more about this region in the world, I just finished a book by Thomas Turner called The Congo Wars: Conflict, Myth and Reality. It is dense with information on the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) which is deeply entangled with Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda. It's pure information but very accurate and thorough. Although unknown to most people, the war in the DRC is the second deadliest war in history with about 5.4 million casualties, nearly half of them under the age of 5 since 1998 when the war began. Only the holocaust was deadlier. Why they don't teach you this in school is beyond me. I know you think my posts are depressing. I don't mean them to be. But I feel that I have a duty to tell you the good and the ugly. Perhaps I will try to show more good in the next post.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

More Cultural Notes

1. Many Rwandans have been told that in America, marriages are a contract with a defined beginning and end. For instance, you can sign a contract for a 2 year marriage. After 2 years... it's over.
2. For some reason, many Rwandan parents tell their children that Muzungus (white people) eat children. So it's not uncommon to find children afraid of you.
3. Old Rwandans love canes. Old women (abakecuru) and old men (abasaza) almost always have a cane it seems. Most the time its just a nice walking stick but sometimes it will be a special cane that Rwandan kings once sported.
4. The culture of Rwandans has been affected strongly by several things. I can't give the full story right now. I will dedicate a full post to that subject.

Friday, October 2, 2009


My primary project is the construction of a YOUTH CENTER in Rwamagana. My office currently sits on a pretty large piece of property which will be used for the youth center. I am very excited about this project although it will take time. I am applying for grants now and trying to get this project started ASAP. I want the center to be a comfortable, safe, and fun environment for youth to express themselves with confidential access to information and counseling that can keep them safe and HIV free. I am planning on it having several counseling rooms for VCT (voluntary counseling and testing- for HIV), and general reproductive health counseling. I am also hoping that with a collaboration with the organization called Books for Africa, the youth center will also have a public library which is something that doesn't currently exist in Rwamagana. I also want it to have a gaming room, and maybe a cinema room for showing films and giving presentations. Of course, I will need proper funding to accomplish this so it will be built in phases. I think that something like this would be invaluable in my community.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

August Continued

The rest of August flew by after having in-service training which was only catalyzed by copious amounts of Rwandan coffee and not a drop of rain. I took a short trip with friends to Rusumo Falls which is on the border with Rwanda and Tanzania. It was beautiful. The bus ride turned out to be a truly cultural experience. It was over 3 hours in a small bus (these are called Twegerane "we squeeze together" buses. Guess why. It is the size of a VW bus and fits 19 people not including babies, luggage and livestock.) that took the most random stops imaginable including one for 20 minutes that involved the loud Congolese music, dancing, eggs, peanuts and an empty bus. Yes, the driver got out and danced.
At Rusumo, we walked along a bridge between Rwanda and Tanzania above the waterfall. Then we hiked up to the top of hill and got a great view of everything from there including Tanzania.
I had a very important meeting with my organization. 1) My primary project is building a youth center in Rwamagana, 2) they want to move the national headquarters to Rwamagana, and 3) they want me to design it. So I took out the little knowledge that I had on drawing a floor plan and just drew it. And that's August.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Cultural Notes #5

1. When ordering a drink at a restaurant you are always asked if you want the drink warm or cold. Yes, people do order warm water and fanta.
2. Rwandans try to give you the answer that they think you want. Not giving an answer is disrespectful. So… suppose you want to get to a specific place. Oh, let’s say… the post office that just randomly moved from the building it used to be in and left no notice (I wish I was making this up). You ask a person on the street where the post office is… they think. “It’s down that road”, she says. You walk, and find nothing. So, naturally you ask another person, who just points you back down the same path. This will continue until you find a person who actually knows. However, most Rwandans don’t navigate the way we do. They may even work at the post office but won’t be able to tell you if it’s on the left or the right. They think of places in terms of the surrounding area or history. For instance, its past Mujyambere’s house, behind the place where there used to be soccer field.
(Lesson: be patient)
3. Babies are named on the eighth day after they are born. Names always have special meanings that are known. For instance, the name Mukobwajana means you must give a dowry of 100 cows to marry her. Or Gahungu, little boy. Or Ngendakumana, “I go to god”. Sometimes children are named for events happening around the time of the birth, which may or may not be good. However, children now have the right to change their name if it causes problems. It comes in handy when your name means small bad girl (True story, she had her name changed after she personally confronted the mayor. She is only 9 years old.). My friend’s name is Matata. In Swahili this means many problems/worries. I’m afraid to ask why. However, Christians get Christian names eventually. But people don’t have middle names.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

In-Service Training (IST)

On August 1st I left Rwamagana to Kigali. Stayed one night then continued my journey to Kibuye (note: the road is extremely winding with steep canyons and insane bus drivers. I literally heard the tires screech on every turn). Kibuye is a fairly large town in the Western Province on the coast of Lake Kivu, which makes up most of Rwanda's border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). We stayed in a nice hotel that overlooks the beautiful emerald green lake. Opposite you can see green islands and a short peninsula. The lake is large and looks and sounds like the ocean. All of the volunteers came. We had some celebratory drinks that night and enjoyed the amazing set up.

The next morning I awoke to the sound of singing far off in the distance. I went outside and saw a couple fisherman in a hand made boat rowing full speed across the lake. It was beautiful to see and reminiscent of Rwandan life hundreds of years ago. The singing was incredible and carried across the entire like without a bit of interference. Both fisherman would exchange songs that sometimes have very fast lyrics but incredible melodies. The fact that they sang so well while rowing full speed was even more impressive.

We stayed there for the entire week beginning at 7 am for breakfast to dinner at 8 pm. We had guest speakers, presentations from fellow PCV's and much more. One presentation was about "Kangaroo Mother Care". This is a technique that people are implementing in countries with out resources like incubators for low-birth wieght and premature babies. In it, mothers (and fathers) are taught to carry the baby chest to chest. This way the babies body temperature is kept constant and other benefits too. I was asked to provide the father/baby example. Trust me... there are plenty of pictures that you will see.

I swam in the lake every day and 3 nights. One of the nights was a full moon. On Wednesday, we all took a boat ride to Amahoro island (a tiny island about 10 minutes ride with a bar, volleyball, and food). On Friday, I paid a small price to go water skiing! This was my first time water skiing and I am happy to say that it didn't end in more stitches on my face. In fact, I somehow managed to get up and go around lake for about 15 minutes before I was too exhausted to continue.

It was great to reunite with all of my new found friends. I had a great time.

Amahoro (Peace)

Saturday, August 8, 2009


July began with 2 holidays. The 1st was Rwandan Independence day (1962) and the 4th was Rwandan Liberation day (liberation from genocide that is in 1994). I was in Kigali for the most part during these holidays but didn't do anything special. Taught English all month. Everyday was different and varied from complete success to complete failure. It's hard teaching English.

I took 2 long bike rides. One in Kibungo for 3 hours with my friend Tom. 2nd, I took a ride to lake Muhazi from my apartment (abt 2 1/2 hours). Very cool. On a ride back from work one night I hit a large rock in the middle of the dirt road and flew off the bike managing, somehow, to land on my feet. My white pants were undamaged but my bike was carried home by a couple nice Rwandans guys. I fixed the bike the next day. I'm learning more about bikes here than ever before.

Gave a presentation on family planning (in English w/ a translator) to "model couples". Model couples are trained by an organization called PSI (Population Services International) who do great work in Rwanda and elsewhere. They are married couples who practice family planning. They are trained in family planning methods and other related topics so that they can teach their communities not only by evidence, but by example.

I read "An Ordinary Man". The autobiography of the man who inspired the movie "Hotel Rwanda".

Little by little progress is made.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Traditional Scarification

For a long time now I have noticed very uniform scarring on the cheeks of some women in Rwanda. The scars are upside down teardrop in shape and are about an inch long. They are about an inch below they eyes on each cheekbone. Normally there are about three or four but sometimes more. I have still yet to learn about the exact origin of these but I know that there is a special metal tool that they use by heating it up over a fire and scarring the person. It can be done at any age and is done for “beauty”. I will post more in depth information when I find out. These shouldn’t be confused with the scars that can be seen on some people that were done for medicinal purposes.

JUNE 2009

A change of seasons has taken place. It’s now the dry season. No rain for the entire month. (nothing= “ntacyo” {n-ha-cho}) The beans in the market are no longer fresh, but stored. Other foods are becoming less common and some more. It’s not hotter. Only dry. I went to a Rwandan birthday this month. Rwandan birthdays consist of 5 phases. 1: Reception (from the scheduled b-day start time, for another hour). 2: Speech by master of ceremonies. 3: Eat, 4: Speeches by everyone in the room about the birthday boy/girl. 5: Cake! Unlike birthdays in the US, it is very formal and somber. Rwandans love to laugh but birthdays are very serious.
Second, I have begun to teach English to adults. Mon-Fri. Levels 1 and 2. What materials? Chalkboard, chalk, eraser, chairs and a party tent. Very Peace Corps. Resources are not easy to come by here. I like teaching though.
I saw news on the television the other day. Shocking. Iran election, Burma, Sri Lanka, N. Korea, the economy… Meanwhile, I am sitting deep in the heart of darkness, watching kids kick around small homemade soccer balls made from things they found in the dumpster (a hole in the ground) while I’m waiting for a merchant to come back and give me change… the 500 franc bill ($0.90) I gave him for the 100 franc ($0.18) pen was too big, he had to go to the salon next door to break it. I don’t look forward to the moment when the children here ask me, “How come American boys and girls have so many toys and we don’t?” Children don’t have a conscience like that though do they? They only want what others have instead of questioning the underlying reason why they don’t have those things. Perhaps if they did, mommies and daddies wouldn’t find use for their guns, wars and enmities nor would they find solace in uttering things like, “I can’t change it” or “that’s life”. Its interesting that the saying “life isn’t fair” comes from those who don’t suffer the real consequences of injustice. The statement is true, but is an excuse for apathy. So, why this violence around the world? Sure, it’s depressing. The trick for me is turning those thoughts and feelings into positive action.
Well, that’s June in Rwanda everyone. Sorry about the rant. Poverty sucks.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Rwandan President Kagame Speech about Peace Corps

This is pretty amazing…

Pres. Paul Kagame President of the Republic of Rwanda

Posted: June 9, 2009 04:51 PM

A Different Discussion About Aid

The United States of America has just sent a small number of its sons and
daughters as Peace Corps volunteers to serve as teachers and advisors in
Rwanda. They have arrived to assist, and we appreciate that. We are aware
that this comes against the backdrop of increasingly scarce resources, of
budget discussions and campaign promises, and of tradeoffs between defense
and domestic priorities like health care and infrastructure investments. All
that said, I believe we need to have a different discussion concerning the
potential for bilateral aid.

The Peace Corps have returned to our country after 15 years. They were
evacuated in 1994 just a short time before Rwanda collapsed into a genocide
that killed over one million people in three months. Things have improved a
lot in recent years. There is peace and stability throughout the nation. We
have a progressive constitution that is consensus-driven, provides for power
sharing, embraces diversity, and promotes the participation of women, who
now represent the majority in our parliament. Our economy grew by more than
11% last year, even as the world entered a recession. We have chosen
high-end segments of the coffee and tea markets in which to compete, and
attract the most demanding world travelers to our tourism experiences. This
has enabled us to increase wages by over 20% each year over the last eight
years -- sustained by, among other things, investment in education, health
and ICT.

We view the return of the Peace Corps as a significant event in Rwanda's
recovery. These young men and women represent what is good about America; I
have met former volunteers who have run major aid programs here, invested in
our businesses, and I even count them among my friends and close advisors.

Peace Corps volunteers are well educated, optimistic, and keen to assist us
as we continue to rebuild, but one must also recognize that we have much to
offer them as well.

We will, for instance, show them our system of community justice, called
Gacaca, where we integrated our need for nationwide reconciliation with our
ancient tradition of clemency, and where violators are allowed to reassume
their lives by proclaiming their crimes to their neighbors, and asking for
forgiveness. We will present to them Rwanda's unique form of absolution,
where the individuals who once exacted such harm on their neighbors and ran
across national borders to hide from justice are being invited back to
resume their farms and homes to live peacefully with those same families.

We will show your sons and daughters our civic tradition of Umuganda, where
one day a month, citizens, including myself, congregate in the fields to
weed, clean our streets, and build homes for the needy.

We will teach your children to prepare and enjoy our foods and speak our
language. We will invite them to our weddings and funerals, and out into the
communities to observe our traditions. We will teach them that in Africa,
family is a broad and all-encompassing concept, and that an entire
generation treats the next as its own children.

And we will have discussions in the restaurants, and debates in our staff
rooms and classrooms where we will learn from one another: What is the
nature of prosperity? Is it subsoil assets, location and sunshine, or is it
based on human initiative, the productivity of our firms, the foresight of
our entrepreneurs? What is a cohesive society, and how can we strengthen it?
How can we improve tolerance and build a common vision between people who
perceive differences in one another, increase civic engagement,
interpersonal trust, and self-esteem? How does a nation recognize and
develop the leaders of future generations? What is the relationship between
humans and the earth? And how are we to meet our needs while revering the
earth as the womb of humankind? These are the questions of our time.

While some consider development mostly in terms of infusion of capital,
budgets and head counts, we in Rwanda place equal importance to
relationships between peoples who have a passion to learn from one another,
preparing the next generation of teachers, administrators and CEOs to see
the exchange of values and ideas as the way to build the competencies of our
people, and to create a prosperous nation.

We will do this because we see that the only investment with the possibility
of infinite returns is in our children, and because after a couple of years
in Rwanda, working and learning with our people, these Peace Corps
volunteers will be our sons and daughters, too.

Rwanda Resources

I thought that maybe some of you may be interested in learning about Rwanda and the genocide that took place. I would suggest it too. So check these out and feel free to ask questions on Rwandan history. I have learned so much. I have also learned that there is a lot of misinformation out there too.

"Ghosts of Rwanda"- This is a Frontline (PBS) documentary on the genocide. Very good and informative.
"100 days"- Movie about the genocide. Well filmed and filmed in Rwanda too.
"Hotel Rwanda"- Movie about a hotel manager that saved many lives. Story is questionable in accuracy but nonetheless good.

"We Wish to Inform you that will will be killed with our families tomorrow" by Phillip Gourevitch (sp?).- Accurate non-fiction.

Friday, June 12, 2009


If you are interested in seeing pictures you can go to and look me up. You have to have a facebook account or have a friend with one log in to check them out. I will try to post some pictures here soon though. There are some pictures there. Also, friends of mine have taken a bunch of great photos too so look for my Peace Corps friends.

Cultural Notes #4

1. On mens suit jackets they sew their tags on the outside of their sleeves near the wrist. I guess to show off the brand name hehe.
2. People go "tssst" if they want your attention. I was offended at first but learned its normal. However, is very confused with the American "psst" (I want to tell a secret). haha. So if you say pssst as if to tell a secret you actually attract the attention of EVERYONE in sight!

May Updates

This is the first post in a long time now so I will be brief. Everything is taking longer than I had expected. I'm still adjusting. Especially when it comes to work and my job description. I will discuss that later. However, I hiked to lake Muhazi one weekend. It's closer than I imagined. I got pooped on by a bird, played soccer, and taught the "head, shoulders, knees and toes" song to a crowd of 50 aged 3-70. Hilarious I tell you! Life is good. Saw lake Mugesera and a place called Shalom Village. Shalom village houses over 100 genocide orphans on its beautiful compound that has a school, fruit tree groves and murals on the walls.

Work was stagnant for a while but now its moving. In May I went from organization to organization and introduced myself and Peace Corps in Kinyarwanda. It felt good but soon enough I visited almost all the organizations in town (over 30). I will begin teaching English in less than two weeks. It's easy to find an audience here. Everyone wants to know English. I fear that the registration list will be close to the population of Kigabiro sector (the sector that I live in. Rwanda is broken down like so: Nation, province, district, sector, cell, village). However, I am working hard on beginning health activities for youths at the center. My organization AESD is a subcontractor with PSI (Population Services International). PSI is awesome. Look them up. I will be carrying out PSI goals through AESD. This is great news. I went to meetings in Kigali with PSI and other head organizations in the country and got a sense of commitment and I'm excited to get started.

Well, I'm trying to make this blog less boring. Stay tuned... we'll be right back after these messages.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Daily Routines

7:00- Wake up. Take a cold shower (there’s no hot water). Eat small breakfast, bread butter, honey and a small banana or orange (which are actually green, have seeds and are sour). 7:45- Ride bike to work (about 10 minute ride). Sometimes in a thick fog. I greet strangers along the way “mwaramutse” (good morning). Kids are on their way to school and say “good morning!” the entire way there. 8:00- At office with colleague. I have my own desk in the small office that sits on a big piece of property surrounded by banana trees. I don’t have much to do yet but sometimes I translate reports from broken English into proper English. I take note of ideas for building a health and development youth center here. In the office there is a wall with pictures of orphans in Rwamagana district, one ancient computer and some bookshelves with a bunch of books. 12:00- I ride home for lunch. Normally beans w/veggies and rice. 1:30- Return to work. 5:00- Off work. Go home or stop by a soccer game on the way and watch for a little while or run errands. 7:30- Dinner generally a selection of these (plantains, cabbage, carrots, beans, rice, corn meal, potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, spaghetti, onions). Study, read or practice guitar. 11:00- Sleep.

Cultural Notes #3

1. I mentioned shaking hands in a previous cultural note. But furthermore, if someone’s hand is dirty they put out their arm out and you are expected to grasp their arm as you would their hand.
2. Cooking indoors is extremely rare. My kitchen is outside as is everyone else’s. Most the time there is a small closet sized structure outside the house where the cooking is done.
3. Also, people cook with charcoal-like wood chunks in a small stove-like grill.
4. Queues do not exist here. It’s not that people “cut” in line there is just no line to begin with.
(How I learned: I went to the bank one day with customers sitting in the chairs with no obvious order. So I figured I would sit next to this nice old man and wait for him to go before I would go up. After about 3 people were served he became more anxious. Every time a customer would get up to leave he would start to stand, only to find that he wasn’t as fast as someone else. So he would sit back down and repeat. This happened about 5 times. He would get a little further each time. One time he even was in a full standing position and ready to pounce… but he was still beat. A healthy young contender he faced with no sign of remorse. The old man was finally served and I followed. You have to have cat-like reflexes to get served though. Unless you’re “opponent” is a nice hesitant old man (such as my contender). He never showed any sign of frustration though. Neither has anyone else. Only my abazungu colleagues and me.)

WEEKS 11-11 (Apr 21- May 4):

I have been here at site for a couple weeks now. I got my stitches pulled out and it’s healing fine. The first week was challenging. Mainly because I didn’t feel like I was making any progress or integrating in the community. My job description was vague and I began to miss everyone back home a lot. It is also difficult being an umuzungu (white person). People don’t discriminate but we attract a lot of attention. I began to avoid eye contact with people because I didn’t want to see them staring even though I knew they were anyway. I went to a soccer game in town, which was amazing to watch. Unfortunately it ended in a brawl between some of the players so I left. It was a great cultural experience. I met some people and felt accomplished. I began to utilize the attention that I was attracting to begin to introduce myself and meet people. I feel much better now.
After work one day I decided to go see my local resource family (I haven’t seen them since site visit in March). They gave me the warmest welcome I could possibly imagine. Afterwards, I ran into another PC volunteer who was on her way to a genocide memorial event nearby.
After dinner I attended the event. We were the only white people there. People gave their testimonies of what happened to them and their families. I understood bits and pieces, which went something like …entered house… brother… ran… killed mother…. A friend translated some of it later… horrific stuff. Around midnight I walked my colleague home but I returned to the event. Everyone was standing around a bon fire singing. It was a song about remembering their lost loved ones. It would be sung once and then someone would list the members of their family that were killed. (Cultural note: it is strongly stigmatized for people to cry, even women. A tough expectation from this country in particular.) They would say I would like to remember… The lists were very long sometimes. For some people the only thing that stopped the list was that it became unbearable. A few people had total breakdowns and left. I felt so weak being there. I am far removed from the entire experience and yet I could hardly hold myself together.
The next day I heard there was a soccer game at the cinema so I went. There wasn’t a single female there. It was packed with people (no fire standards here). One side of the room was for one team (Barcelona) and the other side for the other team (Chelsea). There were lots of good spirited yelling and teasing.
Lastly, I attended a meeting at the local health center with a bunch of community health workers. I had them very impressed with my kinyarwanda for a while but I knew it couldn’t last. They asked me to give a speech about family planning in kinyarwanda. I delayed as long as I could but it was inevitable. I stood up and bombed it. Oh well. Afterwards I had a meeting with PC and my organization staff. It went very well.
Until next time…

Saturday, April 25, 2009

WEEKS 9-11 (Apr 10- Apr 21):

Week 9 was our last week of pre-service training. We had our last tests and interviews and said our last farewells. On the 14th we left for Kigali. The next day a total of 32 trainees, including myself, were officially sworn in as Peace Corps volunteers at the US ambassador’s house. Many people were there to congratulate us including some of our counterparts and returned PCV’s. National news reporters attended the event too and filmed and interviewed a couple of us. There is a picture on the Peace Corps website of our swear in. The next day we went to Lake Muhazi (north of Rwamagana) for a celebration. The lake is gorgeous and bigger than I thought. A couple people, including me, did some wake boarding. Unfortunately, at the end of my run I fell off but I let go of the rope a little too late. My life jacket brought me to the surface right away and I was nailed in the face by the wake board. It cut the bridge of my nose and my eyebrow. I had to get 2 stitches in my left eyebrow (the 7th time I have had stitches, all on my face) but my nose didn’t need stitches luckily. On the 18th, I departed to my site. Now the 2-year commitment begins. Kinyarwanda is coming along. People are impressed that we are learning Kinyarwanda because most people don’t put forth the effort to learn Kinyarwanda.
Every morning here at site it is very foggy and beautiful. Sometimes I am even lucky enough to hear the Muslim call to prayer.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

WEEKS 8-9 (Mar 30-Apr 9):

For several weeks, we prepared for our “practical activity”. For this assignment, we were supposed to identify a target group that we would eventually give a health presentation to in kinyarwanda. I gave a presentation about HIV/AIDS to a huge group of primary school children ranging in age from about 6-16. Doing the presentation in kinyarwanda was difficult and took a lot of preparation. Overall, it was a success. I gave a presentation about the transmission of HIV/AIDS and a colleague gave a presentation after mine concerning the myths about HIV/AIDS.
We held a party for our language and cross-cultural teachers and for our resource families. It will be sad to see everyone part but exciting to go to our sites and get started. Training ends Saturday the 11th. We will go to Kigali on Tuesday and on Wednesday the 15th we will be sworn in AS VOLUNTEERS!!! From Kigali we will go to our sites and begin our service. After the party for resource families my “mama” brought me to her neighbors wedding. It was very fun and more traditional of a wedding than the last one I attended.
Genocide Memorial Week began on April 7th. On April 6th 1994, the president of Rwanda’s plane was shot down. On April 7th the mass slaughter was already in full swing. It is a national holiday here and is taken very seriously (as it ought to be). For the entire week, everything will close at noon and the public is expected to attend genocide conferences where guest speakers will give their testimonies etc… Movies concerning genocide will be shown everyday throughout the entire country. People will also visit their families and gravesites of their lost loved ones. It is a time for mourning, reconciliation and remembrance. On the 7th, we joined a silent parade through the streets to a memorial site (mass grave) nearby. It is strongly discouraged and stigmatized to not attend these events.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Kinyarwanda is VERY difficult

I thought that some of you might be interested in the language that I am learning. Here is a little bit of info on kinyarwanda.

1. Kinyarwanda is tonal meaning that the way you pronounce things or use inflection can change the meaning of the word entirely. For example, the word gusura can mean both to fart and to visit. The only difference is that if you prolong the second “u” it means to visit but if you say it fast, it is to fart.
2. There are 16 noun classes. Each class of nouns has a different plural form and just about everything in the sentence will change according to the noun. Which means that there are many ways to say the same word. For example, ni byiza (it’s good), ijoro ryiza (good night), uri mwiza (you are good looking).
3. In kinyarwanda, there tends to be new verbs for every behavior. For instance, in English we can “sprinkle” about anything. You can sprinkle spices, dust, water etc…
Well, in kinyarwanda there are completely different verbs for sprinkling spices versus salt etc…

Anyway, this is just a taste of its complexity. I hope it interests you because it just frustrates me!

Facts about Rwanda

1. Life expectancy at birth is 47.3 years. The life expectancy at birth in the US is 77.85 years.
2. Rwanda is the most densely populated country in Africa
3. 60% of Rwandese live below the poverty line
4. Rwanda is slightly smaller than Maryland at 26,338 sq km.
5. The HIV/AIDS prevalence rate is between 3% and 6%.
6. About 90% of Rwandese practice subsistence agriculture.

Cultural Notes #2

1. If you are invited for food or drinks it is expected that the person who invites the other will pay the bill.
2. In order to get married the man must offer the woman’s family a dowry. Many times it is a cow. It isn’t required by the government anymore but is traditional and widely practiced.
3. When buying something, it is expected that you bargain with the seller.
4. When greeting someone you haven’t seen in a while you greet in a similar manner as in many places in Europe. Instead of fake kisses on each cheek though, you hug them three times while asking them how they are.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

WEEKS 6-8 (Mar 21-Mar 29):

Some friends and I have been working on creating a peace corps t-shirt. So we have taken a couple trips to Kigali to meet with the t-shirt guy. On the morning of the 25th I was laying in bed half asleep when all the sudden my bed started shaking and I heard a rumbling. It took me a second to realize it was an earthquake (my first ever). Once I did, I ran under the doorframe. I later learned that it was a 6.1 on the Richter scale. It was the biggest one since last year that killed some people and destroyed some buildings. This time the epicenter was in Cyangugu to the west. Luckily, nobody was hurt and no structures were damaged (at least none that made news).
This last week was health week for women and children. So we all went to different health clinics around town to help out. I went to a clinic and helped distribute vitamin A to children. Blindness is a serious issue here so vitamin A is important to prevent it.
Many of our language teachers graduated from the national university here in Butare this week. I went to the graduation ceremony. The entire town shut down. Everyone was in fancy clothes too.
We had our farewell party to our resource families. Afterwards my mama took me to her neighbors wedding. It was VERY fun.
Oh yeah. My kinyarwanda name has been given to me by a friend who has been naming the trainees. It’s Mahire, which means one who is lucky/blessed.
I hope all is well back home. Amahoro (peace).

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

WEEKS 6-8 (Mar 5-Mar 21):

As many of you already know, by birthday was March 5th. I had a nice laid back celebration with friends. We had some drinks and then went to the only Chinese restaurant in town. It’s called, “Chinese Restaurant”. The food was very good but nothing like the Chinese food we’re used to in the US. The day after, we found out what our sites are. Because this blog is public I can only give you a general idea of where my site is. My site is in the Eastern Province in the district of Rwamagana. We also were informed of what organizations we have been paired with. It’s not clear what I can reveal in this regard. All I will say for now is that I will be assisting a fairly small faith based organization that works for the mitigation of preventable diseases through behavior change.
The next week we all left to for Kigali to meet our counterparts (the people in our paired organizations who will assist us in working for the organization). We stayed in Kigali for one night and had meetings with our counterparts and others. The next day we departed to our individual sites. At site, I was introduced to my future colleagues, the community and my apartment. I have a very nice place that over looks a beautiful valley. After the volunteer swearing in on April 15th I will live there for 2 years.
We all found our way back home by Sunday. On the 18th there was a reggae show in town that I went to. It was free and had a VERY good reggae band. On the 20th, we all went to the market to buy food for our cooking lessons that were to follow on the 21st. I went to the market with a group that had to bargain for chickens, salt and more. I helped bargain for the chickens and carried them home. In Rwanda, they tie their legs together and carry them upside down. Afterwards, there was a music competition at the University in Butare. I bought a ticket and went. I was surprised to find very little live music. There were some hip-hop dance groups that were very good but for the most part there were just, although entertaining, lip singing groups. There was an award ceremony for several categories of music throughout the event.
On the 21st, I was also in the cooking group that had chickens. I learned how to kill them, pluck them, and gut them. I am one who believes that if you can’t kill it, you shouldn’t be allowed to eat it. I have been eating meat since I have been here and felt that it was necessary for me to go through the steps of killing the animal myself. Aside from that, it was overall a good experience. I can’t say that I necessarily enjoyed it.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

WEEKS 3-6 (Feb 15-Mar 5):

The last couple of weeks have slowed down. On Saturday the 28th of February we had language tests by an outside group. They went well I think yet they were very difficult. On Sunday the 1st a big group of us went to Nyungwe Forest National Park. We saw three different species of monkeys there. One of the most beautiful sights we saw was of Lake Kivu.
On Tuesday the 3rd, we had our last interviews with the Peace Corps concerning our site placements. Although most of the sites have already been decided on we won’t know our sites until Friday the 6th.
On March 4th, we visited an orphanage and an organization that assists women in distress and people infected and affected by HIV/AIDS. The orphanage was one of six in Rwanda. It is being run by a couple of Catholic nuns but isn’t doing so great. Their funding is insignificant and much of it (if not all) will be cut later this year and sent to Burundi. Since Burundi is now becoming more stable after many years of instability and war, many organizations are moving their focus from Rwanda and to Burundi. I don’t know what will happen to the orphans who range in age from 2 weeks to 18 years old. Normally when the parents of a child die they are taken in by family members but these children have lost all connections to their families. The orphanage is the only place they can go.
I am starting to miss everyone more. I hope everyone is doing well. Until next time… take care.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Cultural Notes

I thought I would dedicate a post solely on Rwandan culture. Here are some interesting facts.
1. In Kinyarwanda, there are only words for 6 colors. I believe (don't quote me yet) they are blue, red, grey, black, white, and green. Therefore, what we know as purple... they would call blue. However, more recently French words for other hues have been adopted and are used today.
2. When shaking a persons hand you always use your right hand and lay your left hand on your right elbow. I am not SURE why this is but I suspect that it may have something to do with showing where both your hands are so you aren't perceived as trying something sneaky with the hidden hand.
3. There is no word for please in kinyarwanda. There is a word that translates as please but it only used when BEGGING.
4. When addressing elders you do not present your hand before he/she does. And you do not ask how they are doing before they do. It's viewed as disrespectful but is losing its potency.
5. Friends and acquaintances of the same gender hold hands often. However, hand holding between genders (even in young couples or married couples)is rare.
6. White people are known as "umuzungu" (singular) and "abazungu" (plural). It is a daily experience to hear children yelling in excitement "umuzungu!".
7. In photos, Rwandese typically don't look into the camera and typically don't smile unless it is a TRUE smile.

I will continue with more cultural notes as time goes on. I will try to post my recent activities soon.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

WEEK 2 (Feb 8-14)

We have been studying Kinyarwanda hard and long. This week we were assigned “resource families” which are Rwandese families that volunteered to help us learn the language and culture. We meet with them for at least three hours a week. My “mama” is very nice. She is a secondary school teacher and has three kids. Her house is a couple kilometers from here and the last kilometer is up a VERY steep hill. Each PC trainee was assigned one family.
Second we went to one of the starkest genocide memorials in the country yesterday. Mrs. Wellman, please read this before reading it to the class.
We boarded a couple small buses and drove for about 40 minutes through some of the steepest areas I’ve seen in Rwanda yet. Not without car trouble though. The bus that I was in couldn’t do it. It broke down so we started walking. The countryside was beautiful and made it worth it. We arrived at the Murambi memorial and were given notice of what we would see and were given the option to decline. There were 27 rooms filled with the bodies of victims preserved in lye. You can see the expressions on their faces at their moment of death. The deaths of these people were oftentimes horrific. Many of the bodies were missing limbs, their skulls crushed or split or decapitated. Children were no exception. There were a couple adults clenching their babies. Many of the bodies still had their clothes on. Not a whole lot of people can make is through all 27 rooms. I don’t think anyone makes it through without crying. Some of you may be concerned of why this memorial exists. The idea is that the face of genocide has been veiled so many times before. They are trying to show the true face of genocide so that it doesn’t happen again. There is much more to this story but this blog probably isn’t the appropriate place for that.
Afterwards some of us went to a local park to play volleyball. There was a wedding that was getting ready to start at the church nearby, so another PC trainee and I decided to stay just to see the drummers that were setting up. We were sweaty and not well dressed but this very nice man offered for us to attend the wedding. We ran home to change and clean up and grab our cameras. When we arrived at the wedding there was a very awkward 30 seconds when everyone turned around and looked at the Muzungus (white people). We sat down in the back but an usher brought us up closer. This is actually normal in Rwandan culture. They are VERY hospitable even to strangers. We were offered cake and drinks that they wouldn’t let us refuse (hehe). It was the most exciting experience I’ve had in Rwanda yet! The drumming was absolutely INCREDIBLE and the dancing was some of the best dancing I have EVER seen!! Some very important people were there and we met a couple of them. Anyway, this blog entry is getting long. I miss my friends and family very much! I hope everything is good back home!

Thursday, February 12, 2009


On January 26th I flew into Washington D.C. for the Peace Corps staging event. The staging event was held the next day for the entire day. First we had general classes on the Peace Corps, Rwanda and our job titles. Then we went to the Peace Corps headquarters for a special reception where we met the acting director of the Peace Corps, Jody Olsen, and his Excellency James Kimonyo Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary from Rwanda. On the 28th, we received some vaccinations and departed for Rwanda in the evening via Brussels, Belgium.

We arrived in Kigali, Rwanda in the evening of the 29th and were welcomed the U.S. ambassador to Rwanda and some Rwandans holding a sign reading “Murakaza Neza Peace Corps!” meaning “Welcome Peace Corps!” The next day was to be intensive.

On January 30th, we received more vaccinations and had a meeting with the Rwandan Minister of Health. Afterwards, we went to the Gisozi Genocide Memorial in Kigali, which is the burial site of over 250,000 people killed in a three-month period during Rwanda’s 1994 genocide. As we laid individual roses and a wreath on the mass grave, I struggled to but could not fathom its magnitude. However, the memorial is not just a mass grave. There were many rooms filled with information on genocides of the past (i.e. Armenia, Cambodia, Bosnia, Germany and more). An entire section of the memorial was dedicated to the individual stories of 14 children who were murdered during the Rwandan genocide. There were huge walls that were lined with string and clothes pins, so that families may come and hang a picture of loved ones who were lost in the genocide. I suspect that I was not the first, nor the last to simply hang my head and cry.

However, what has been even more overwhelming is the hope for this beautiful country and its people to recover, reconcile and progress. I am honored to be in Rwanda during this momentous era. For these reasons, it is easy to lift my head once again and smile. I know that Rwanda will change me more than I will ever change Rwanda but one thing is for sure. I have completed my goal already. I have given my best shot at creating a better world and will continue try to do so. That is all I can do. Whether I actually help alleviate suffering around the world or not is not for me to judge.

After all that, we went to a celebration with the director of Peace Corps Rwanda. We met many other people who the director knows and whom work in Rwanda. I was exhausted, hungry, thirsty, sick, sad, ecstatic, and jet lagged. Yet, I made it through.

Finally, my first post. Enjoy, if you have any comments... feel free.

On January 31st, we left Kigali for Butare (now Huye) in the southern province. I will live in Huye for the next 10 weeks during pre-service training. Technically, I am a trainee now and will be sworn in as a volunteer in April… if I pass the training. We arrived in Huye and were met with more traditional dancers at the convent where we are staying. It is plenty big for us and more beautiful and accommodating than I was expecting (we have toilets, individual rooms, great food, our laundry is done for us, showers, our classrooms are sheltered and organized etc…) I want to mention that this isn’t a normal Peace Corps (PC) process. Normally, the volunteer lives with a host family during this period. I am not quite sure why our experience is different.

WEEK 1 (Feb 1 – 7):
We have busy schedules that involve about 2-3 intensive language classes in groups of 3-4 with different teachers each time. We get three meals a day and a short break that we can use to go to town. We frequently have technical sessions, safety and security sessions, and medical sessions that focus on specific subjects. We have Sunday’s off but most everything is closed.
Town is spread out and there are very few buildings taller than two stories (if any). Bikes, pedestrians, motorcycles, and cars all share the same space, which makes safe travel nonetheless interesting. Most people just walk. There is only one main road in town and it is paved. The rest are dirt/mud. The national university is located here too. I can get almost anything I need in town. Also in town, there are many children who beg for anything they can get. Their torn clothing and bare swollen feet is hard to cope with. Luckily, it is much more common to see relatively successful people who can at least feed themselves and their families.


I want to preface this blog by saying that due to the issues with posting information that can be viewed publicly I will not be able to express the complete truth about my experience (i.e. political views, or any sensitive information). Also, the internet here is VERY slow and limited, making it difficult to add posts or respond to questions so please excuse any delays.