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.