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.