Only regret what you haven’t done. -Unknown

This is a blog for us to record the daily trials and tribulations of our 2 year Peace Corp service in Rwanda.
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Rwanda Library Project

Dear Friends & Family, A colleague of mine in Rwanda is raising money to get books sent to his village.  He is a great volunteer and wants to help his kids. He is using the same NGO that helped Carina and I to receive books (International Book Project). If you are interested in helping him, please see his email below.

 

Hello all.

 I would like to offer the chance for you to make a difference in the lives of 600 students in Rwanda.

 As most of you know, I teach at a secondary school in Rwanda. Teaching in Rwanda presents many challenges. One of the biggest of those is lack of resources. Imagine trying to study for your high school exams without having access to books. That’s why I’m trying to help the school that I work at get a shipment of donated books sent to them.

 I am working with the International Book Project (IBP) to get a pallet of books shipped here. All of the books are already donated. We just have to raise the money to pay for the shipping cost. You can help by going to the link below and donating, or by passing this information along to others who may be interested in helping. Even small donations help!

 Please indicate that your donation is “on behalf of PCV Michael Amerson.”

https://npo.networkforgood.org/Donate/Donate.aspx?npoSubscriptionId=1002441

 IBP is a reputable organization that has been used by other Peace Corps Volunteers in Rwanda to get books to their communities.

 Thanks for your help!

 Michael Amerson

Education Volunteer

Peace Corps Rwanda

Help Found!!

I want to thank everyone for reading my previous blow. Many of you stepped up very quickly with love, kindness, sympathy, and generosity. A kind family has stepped up and decided to support Arsest in the upcoming school year. Thanks to this family, at least one  student will have a chance to further his education and better the lives of not only himself, but his family and younger siblings. That is one thing that is amazing in Rwanda, if one family member succeeds in life, he/she will support their family when possible without being asked. The family unit is very strong in Rwanda and we could learn a lot from it.

Thanks again for your kindness and thoughts. If you weren’t able to donate money, you can always donate thoughts and prayers for the people of Rwanda.

Here is a pretty cool video showcasing the beauty of the land in Rwanda if you are interested: http://vimeo.com/57465392.

 

Student Sponsorship Opportunity

Dear Friends & Family,

I always had a hard time donating money to these international organizations all over the world because I wasn’t ever sure how the money was used or where it was going to. If you are of a similar mind set, then I have an opportunity for you. I have a former student who has recently passed the National Examination of Rwanda. This is the exam that you take at the end of your 8th grade year. If you pass, you are eligible to continue your education. In theory, education is free in Rwanda for 12 years. However, there are many other cost that go along with ‘free’ education – notebooks, pens, uniform fees, medical insurance, transport to school (you generally have to leave your village to attend 9-12th grades), and you must provide your own mattress.

This student, Arsest Philemon Niyigena, was one of our best students. I can vouch for this young man and his desire to learn and better his life as well as improve his country of Rwanda. His English was far above those of his peers and he is very interested and passionate about his education. He was the leader of our debate club for two years despite having work to do at home to be able to eat each night. He came to the library to read each weekend. He almost didn’t have enough money to take the National Examination this year. Instead of missing it, he took a week off of school in order to work a temporary manual labor job so that he could pay to take his exam.

Unfortunately, his family is very poor. His father died of AIDS when he was a young boy and now his mother and aunt are supporting  several children and an ailing grandmother. He is in need of support for this up and coming school year. He has given an estimate of $235 to cover the expenses for this school year so that he may continue his studies. I want to ask if there is anyone out there who is interested in sponsoring Arsest as he works to earn his high school diploma.

See his email to me below:

thank you father, i have nothing to say about what you do for me only God bless you and all your family for your love to me.

I’m happy for your care about my issues and help for continue my studies, because for me i was loosed my hope but you raise it up anyway it’s pleasure to have a good father like you. so i pray in Jesus name that you will get a good job,because God know your wants and needs.

let me introduce the situation about school requirements: first i have finished O’level and I’m going to start S4,school will start at 04th,Feb,2013. i try to calculate all expenses such us:school fees,mattress,transport,uniforms,notes books, pens,insurance fees,and other small expenses so i fund that it’s all about(frw150,000)or($235) it seems like to much money it’s because we will going to start the new academic yeah 2013.

i think it’s necessary to tell my parents names that you will use when you send money;”NIYIGENA Philemon” aka arsest.

i want to to excuse for a little late to reply the massage,other time i will try be quick as possible.so thank very much i love you to and Carina

we miss you so much!!!!

 THANKS!

If you are interested in sponsoring Arsest’s education, then please email me at: andrewskinton@gmail.com. I may have opportunities like this in the future as well.

One person can make a difference and everyone should try.

                                                               – John F. Kennedy

Goodbye Rwanda, goodbye Peace Corps, goodbye Andy & Carina

(This blog was written while still in Rwanda. Carina and I have since returned back home to Texas)

As you know, we are preparing to leave Rwanda in a few weeks. A fellow PCV’s dad who has travelled and moved quite a few times wrote the following words:

Words of Wisdom:

A quick existential comment about leaving.  Sometimes when you leave something that you have been a part of, you forget that you have to say good bye to yourself as well.  This is especially true for situations where you have become close and intertwined to your social and physical environment.   After you leave your village, and later  after you leave the Peace Corp and Rwanda, you will no longer be the same person you were and you will not be able to return to that person.  Every time I left a place, I tried to remember and say goodbye to the geography, the house, the animals, the weather, the sounds, the sights, the smells, the sense of place and all the items that defined me to myself as a person in that time. In addition to the people/friends, I learned that I could never expect to see them or my particular self again.   To this day, the person that I was at each of those times creates the strongest and most useful memories that I have of those times and my place in them.  You never have enough time but even five minutes creates something that will be meaningful to you later on.  If you have a moment before you leave, walk around with your senses wide open and try to remember everything at that moment and your place with them.  You will find it helpful in the years to come.

I think what he wrote was beautiful and more true than I would have ever known before. I have moved several times but none of them as drastic and dramatic as “leaving” life behind and moving to Rwanda to be in the Peace Corps. That sounds like such a hippie thing to do. But I am not a hippie and after two years in Rwanda, I don’t feel that I ‘left’ anything behind. Of course we miss our friends and family, but we have learned more in two years about ourselves, our marriage, Africa, America, our world, and the people of Rwanda than we could have ever learned had we not had this experience. I am surprised by how much we have learned about America being here. We have been able to take a step back and evaluate our own culture – the good, the bad, and the ugly. One thing that makes me sad is how we take everything for granted back home. Its not only opportunity, money, and a good life – its more broad ideas such as democracy, freedom, and personal rights. I am going to completely fudge this statistic, but it is near truth – half of the world’s population (3,500,000,000 people) live on less than $2 a day. I don’t think that this is something that we, as Americans, are required to feel guilty about. But I do think it is something we need to thank God for that we have the means to provide for our loved ones. I think we should keep this in our mind. I can only hope that I can remember the lives that have touched me here in Rwanda despite any monetary or material assets they may not have.

Another thing I struggle with is this; when you hear awful news about war and all the world’s problems, try to think of all the families, children, old people, and innocent people caught in the middle of these tragedies. When you hear about all the failed government and corruption of Africa, try not to chalk it up to ‘those Africans’. Try to think of the millions and millions who want a better life for their families, who work hard, who struggle to be at peace with God because of their poverty (truthfully, we have seen people are more thankful the poorer that they are), who are unreasonably happy. It is too easy to see the world’s problems in a bubble of how does this affect me personally or my country. That is part of the reason that I love travelling so much, you get a chance to see, for example, that Turkey isn’t some mythical land with mythical people, it is a country with joy and pain just like America. It is a place of failure, success, and love. Turkish people are people all the same. Rwandans are people all the same. Tanzanians are people all the same. We are jaded in the US because of the media system in place. When we hear Iraq, we think of terrorist, road side bombs, and our soldiers who have died. Remembering the soldiers is always important, but also try to remember the majority of the Iraqi people are peaceful and they only want to improve their lives and not live in fear.

I got a little of track, I want to get back to leaving Rwanda. We have seen so much love, respect, and appreciation in the past month. We have students crying to us on an almost daily basis. This is a monumental display of love given that crying is not a part of Rwandan culture. Tears are almost always hidden and even mocked by people’s peers. We had a girl write a beautiful song just for us. We had another girl hyperventilate because she was so worried about never seeing us again. The teachers had a celebration for us to show their appreciation. As I am writing just now, I can see across the valley for miles upon mile. I smell the scent of the tea as I can see women plucking the tea and chatting in front of our fence. Even at 1:15pm, it is almost chilly sitting in the shade with the gentle breeze blowing. I can see many clouds passing closely overhead (the clouds are close when you live at 6,500 feet of elevation). There is rain building to the east preparing to dump its life giving bounty on us most afternoons this time of the year (its rainy season now). We have a yard full of flowers that bloom year-round. I smell like little stinky children after playing with some of the neighborhood children for 2 hours earlier. I am pretty sure one of them had peed themselves and I let them crawl over me anyways. This is what I will miss. Words can’t describe it, pictures can’t show it, and the only consolation comes from knowing that Carina has been here with me to experience this together. Tonight, I will pray that I can remember these sights, sounds, and feelings that make our lives and the Peace Corps such an adventure.

As we say goodbye to our students, colleagues, and friends, I am also saying goodbye to a part of me also. We will never be able to relive our time in the Peace Corps, but I hope that we can find peace as we have here in this small village tucked in the mountains, tea plantations, and croplands of north-central Rwanda.

For those of you who have read our blogs for these two years, I want to thank you. I hope that I have given you a taste of what Rwanda and the Peace Corps is like. I have enjoyed writing probably more than you have enjoyed reading. Many of you have given us so much support through kind words, comments, emails, and care packages. I may or may not add stuff in the future, but the Peace Corps stories are now in the past and we can all lament over this together.

I will leave you with a quote from the man with the vision who started it all (or at least officially signed it into action. God bless and PEACE!

One person can make a difference and everyone should try.

– John F. Kennedy

Safest Country in Africa

 

http://allafrica.com/stories/201211190109.html

Recently, Rwanda was voted the safest place to live in Africa. I couldn’t agree with this statement more. In Kigali, you can be out on the streets or in the market and never feel threatened. While it can be intimidating at first, you quickly find helpful and kind people in the sea of people at the markets and bus stations. I have not once – not once in two years – felt any serious threat to my safety. That is amazing!! I have never even had that sort of safety back in Houston.

In Kigali, the streets are literally swept everyday by an army of workers. While this isn’t practical, it is giving basic jobs to some who may have to beg otherwise. The streets are also lined with beautiful trees and palm trees in the medians. The contrast of the mountains in the distance and the 5 lush hills that Kigali sits on make for a dramatic view.

I want to congratulate Rwanda for acheiving such a safe environment where Rwandans and expatriates alike feel safe. Anybody who wants to see a model African city should most definately visit Kigali.

Capital punishment is as fundamentally wrong as a cure for crime as charity is wrong as a cure for poverty.
Henry Ford

The Future of Rwanda

I wanted to post a short video of one of our most precious students – Julienne. This girl went from a shy, non-speaking student to one of our best English speakers in just 1 year. By all accounts, this girl shouldn’t know English. She has had the same education as all the other students, but now she is writing and performing her own song in English and is always joking around with us. The last week of school when I had to type exams for all the teachers, I put her in charge of the classroom and made her the temporary teacher. She accepted this job with gusto and I caught her speaking English to the class and keeping them in line.

Julienne is one of the few students we have gone to visit. Our visit was awesome and her family went all out and even bought us Fantas (which are a lot for a family with very little money). They cooked us up plantains, beans, and cabbage. We piled into three chairs in her 4′ x 8′ room where she sleeps. She only had the photos to show us that we gave her from our GLOW camp.

Julienne lives near the bottom of our mountain in a small house consisting of 3 rooms and an outdoor kitchen. She has no electricity or water but she is lucky enough to have a 9-volt battery to power a radio and single bulb at night. She lives with her mother and they have one cow. Her father has multiple wives and thus is virtually estranged from Julienne’s family. Her sister recently dropped out of school because she became pregnant though she is not married. Julienne has only missed 1 Sunday at the library in 5 months. She comes to all the debates, English club, and girls club and even sometimes to the computer club. She comes to all the after-school activities despite living a 40 minute walk away. And by staying at these clubs, she risks having to make this 40 minute walk down the mountain in the rain, dark, or cold.

I can’t tell you how incredible this student is. Last year we didn’t even know her name. She is my student – I am not saying it was the inspiration of her teacher (me) – but this year, she is a leader of the school. She appeared out of nowhere this year and with a little attention and affection, she has blossomed. Girls like this are the ones who make your two years of frustrations, stares, difficult transportation, and blank stares in class all worth it. If I had a million of her, I could change the face of this country.

Anyway, that is a little bit about Julienne. Please enjoy the video and song that she wrote for us: http://youtu.be/8QbCeUT_Vxs

No one succeeds without the help of other people.
No one can say, “I don’t need people”
-Jan Silvious

Future Series: Preparing to Leave Rwanda

Dear readers , I want to start a small series on what it is like for us as we prepare to leave Rwanda. Some would say that coming home wouldn’t be so bad and that entering into life here would be the most difficult. But the opposite is true. I say a slogan from the Peace Corps that said “The hardest job you’ll ever have to leave”. I can vouch for that 100%.

One recent event of importance was a final ‘going away’ party that our group held recently. Though we aren’t all leaving yet, we had this party to coincide with Halloween. The location was taken back to where it all began in our training – the thriving metropolis of Nyanza! To some, this may sound crazy.. Nyanza and metropolis shouldn’t be in the same sentence. That is what we thought 2 years ago as we were living there for 10 weeks. But after living in our respective villages for two years, Nyanza has it all!! Add to this, the town has developed so much in 2 years that it is hardly recognizable. There is a new baller hotel (where we had our party, see photos), a new covered market, a new high-rise (well, high rise by Rwandan standards as it has 10 floors or so), street lights, paved roads around the market, a revamped hospital, and many other new stores. Needless to say, it was wonderful strolling those old roads where we walked during training.

Carina and I were joking the other day about how far we have come in our integration into Rwandan culture and society. When we first were in training, maybe 2x we walked home at night in the dark from the training center and were petrified with fear. Now, we enjoy an evening stroll when we walk a guest home at night (as is the cultural standard here to accompany a guest at least part of the way home). Recently, we have had our great friend Jane eating dinner with us most nights. She lives maybe 200 yards away. We end our visits with her by walking her home under the vivid Rwandan stars. It is so beautiful at night you can’t imagine. It’s hard for most of us Americans to know what a natural night sky looks like these days with all the light pollution we have in our cities. It has also been very cold here. At night, you can see your breath as we walk down the small hill to where Jane lives and watch the fog beginning to settle into the valley in front of our mountain. Back to what I was saying, we have learned so much and come so far. We often surprise Rwandans about our knowledge of their culture. Many times they will ask how we have learned their ‘secrets’.

We also used to cringe at the sight of the many workers walking home with the machetes slung over their shoulders. Because of the tragic history here, this was a visual threat to us often. But now, when we talk of Genocide, we have to struggle to imagine that something so horrible happened in this country. There are no visual clues to the total destruction of society that occurred here just 18 short years ago. Now, Rwanda is becoming a beacon of light in Africa. we understand that machetes are a part of life here and a infinite use tool that everyone has.

Another sign of our integration, things that used to be strange or funny are now part of everyday life. Some examples include seeing women breast feed daily. The other day at school, I even saw a woman breastfeeding while walking down the road carrying a bag of food on her head. I didn’t even skip a beat, just kept on with what I was doing. That is another thing, to see people carrying things on their heads is completely normal now. They carry everything from huge things to the smallest of things. People even walk with a bottle of water on their head instead of carrying it their hands. I have a theory that there is a kind of unspoken competition to see who is the most skilled at carrying stuff on their heads. You can find women carrying their hoes on their heads on the way to the fields in the mornings. Or sometimes you can see people carrying trees. . . .yes, whole TREES on their heads!! The tree may be 20 feet long and as wide as a coffee can so you can imagine that weight and skill to balance such a long thing. We are also used to the things people do such as petting my arm hair, telling Carina that they like to watch her eat, or following us as we walk down the road (literally on our heals) to try and overhear our English conversation which they don’t understand but want to try and listen anyways.

At this party in Nyanza, we all got together as a group one last time. It was bittersweet and full of memories. A fellow volunteer put together a slide show that was awesome complete with cheesy ‘Good riddance’ songs. We put back a few beers and chatted the night away. Being villagers ourselves these days, the party fizzled out by 11pm as many people are used to going to bed shortly after dark and rising with the sun. The Halloween costumes were rudimentary but well thought out. When you don’t have resources, you have to overcompensate with creativity. We had a doctor, an old village woman, the Spice Girls, an old man, and a ‘nudist on strike’ just to name a few. Me, being the immature 31 year old who is overly ambitious about Halloween, came up with a costume at the last hour. I went off to the market and bought a very large ‘market’ bag. For those not in Rwanda, the market bags are plastic bags with out-of-place pictures on the side of them. It could be a picture of London, Paris, Obama, some random Japanese cartoons, or a football team. Regardless, I bought the biggest one that I could find and cut holes for arms and legs and wore this. It was slightly inappropriate, but it got unofficially voted as the best costume partly because I wasn’t wearing any pants. [Don’t worry, I didn’t go out in public like this and the hotel was privately reserved for us]

So, I will be writing about issues that face us as we begin to pack our bags and leave Rwanda. Look for more to come in the following weeks!!.

A politician is someone who promises you a bridge, even when there’s no river.

-Gregory Roberts (Shantaram)

Deep Thoughts, by Jack Handy

Dear blog followers, I have sort of fallen off the wagon when it comes to blog writing. So much is changing these days as we transition and get ready to depart Rwanda.

Rwanda is the big brother that we love to hate. So many amazing things have happened here while at the same time dealing with frustrations of differing levels DAILY.. We have made a life for ourselves that we absolutely love in our village. We have many friends that we love and will miss dearly in the future. Also, we are dealing with a sense of guilt. There is guilt associated with leaving people and your community. For us, coming to the PEace Corps and living in a Rwandan village was a temporary situation but for our friends here, it is their reality. While it is easy for us to go home and jump back into the ‘Land of Opportunity”, we have to deal with leaving some beautiful, intelligent, capable people here where opportunity can be much more difficult to come by. It is hard seeing the full potential of some people stiffled by society. But based on some of the people we have met and known, we know that Rwanda will be a model for other African countries in the future. We see ambition, the willingness to change, and good business ideas coming from the youth of this country.

And don’t get me started on the students. While it is true that 80% of them aren’t motivated to learn, the 20% that are motivated are wonderful. We love our students more than I could have ever expected. After year 1 here, I thought we were a little slow in building student relationships. But this 2nd year, our relationships have literally exploded. There are so many kids that I wish I could take home with me. I wish I could take them under my wing and teach them my wise ways (I think I can say that, I am almost 32 years old!!) Our students have become awesome English speakers and thinkers despite all outside forces telling them that speaking English goes against your culture and makes you seem as if you are braging to others and creative thinking is not taught.

Rwanda will be just fine and there are so many good things happening here, but there are still many problems mainly associated with a weak economy because at the end of the day, the nearest port is 700 miles away over difficult roads. That is what is hampering growth here. Things cost much more here in Rwanda. Things that are essential for growth like computers, consumer goods, technology, etc. But despite this set back, Rwanda has plans with the EAC (East African Community) to build a railroad from the ports of Dar es Salaam through Kigali and up to the port of Mombasa, Kenya. We have watched Kigali and Rwanda explode in growth. Every time we are in Kigali or a major regional city/town, there are new buildings and development. I have no doubt that in 10 years, the face of Rwanda will be almost unrecognizable to us.

What else?? School is almost finished. This coming week, we are having a talent show composed of various student groups at our school. We are very excited. We have had try-outs two weeks ago and the performances were wonderful. We have quite a few songs sung in English plus a song written for us which almost brought me to tears. I will post videos on youtube in the future with this.

The teachers got together and had a celebration for us. We weren’t sure what to expect, but it turned out great. We gathered in a catina (local bar). Several teachers gave speeches giving thanks for all we have done. Sometimes it feels as though we are overlooked and underappreciated here, but it just isn’t their culture to outwardly show appreciation. But after hearing some of their words, we know that what they feel in their hearts is joy, happiness, and appreciation. The theme of the day was ‘today is a day of happiness and great sadness’ is what they repeated several times. After the speeches, we ate brochettes, ibitoke, na ibirayi wa urusenda (goat meat skewers, plaintains, and fried potato halves with hot sauce). Then I gave a speech. I spoke of my #1 lesson being here in Rwanda and why I came to join the Peace Corps: Many times when a person lives this life in Rwanda, they think money will solve their problems. But I told them that I had a good salary and plenty of money before PC, but something was still missing. I tried to speak around this theme. I also spoke of how important teaching is to the development of Rwanda. It is more important than business, the military, or any foreign aid they might receive. You can’t be a great country if you dont educate your children. Its hard to see this in a place where poverty can force you to only see the immediate present. Teaching is development that affects the future, not the present. This is a surprisingly difficult concept to convey when you are worried about if you will be able to eat your next meal or buy a uniform to attend school this year. I tried to explain that it is okay to love your students and you can respect students as you respect a colleague. I had all these lofty ideas that hopefully were conveyed properly and translated into their minds. After this, they presented us with a gift (well, atleast in theory but it was for Carina only). They gave her the ‘igitenge’ (local fabric used to make womens dresses and clothing. It was beautiful and an expensive gift for them.

Overall, we were touched by their appreciation and it was a nice re-enforcement. This week we are in Kigali doing some medical testing. We have to make sure that we are going back to the US healthy. And becuase our group is ~55 people, they had to start early to get it all done and samples analyzed. We had a traumatizing experience of having to give ‘stool’ samples. This was quite traumatic and foul. But that shows you how easy life in Rwanda can be compared to other Peace Corps countries (although conditions vary immensely in Rwanda). We have water and electricity and a legit toilet at our house while other volunteers drink dirty river water and have pit latrines that they share amonst 4-5 other houses and they lug car batteries from miles away to have any source of electricity.

I just wanted to share some recent events. I hope everyone is getting prepared to vote and choose our next president. I want all of this over with by the time I get home. I count myelf as lucky to have missed this entire presidential election process. From what I have heard, it sounds like the usual bitch fest about everyone and all things with many unreachable promises thrown in for good measure. Can’t say I am sad at all about that.

Umunsi mwiza, akazi keza, amahoro, na turi kumwe. Mukomeye!

“Focusing your life solely on making a buck shows a certain poverty of ambition. It asks too little of yourself. Because it’s only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you realize your true potential.” – Barack Obama

Kinton Photo Contest

Carina and I had an arguement the other day about has the best ‘artistic photographic’ eye. Carina took one of these pictures and I took the other although I cant tell you who took which. We would like you to vote.

I don’t know what the prize for the winner is, but more on that to come.

Its a Small World Afterall, Its a Small World Afterall. . . . .

This past week or so has been full of visitors and lots of reflection for me. [all names have been changed or excluded to protect the privacy of the innocent and guilty]

Last week, we had two surprise visitors from Peace Corps Zambia. When Carina went to South Africa this past January, we met a guy who was also down there for health reasons with the Peace Corps. We ended up spending 10 days or so with him and hung out quite a bit. When we were parting from South Africa, he said that he would come to visit us sometime. Of course we thought he was full of it, but this guy is one of those guys that lives on a whim. Of course we didn’t think twice about it until I got a message on Facebook saying that he was in Uganda and wanted to take a bus down to Kigali and then come stay with us. That was on a Friday, he was pulling up on a moto by Monday afternoon. He and his girlfriend had travelled by bus from Zambia to Tanzania, up to Kenya, then across to Uganda, then back down through Rwanda. It was a real pleasure to have them with us. We spent a few days drinking some beers and cooking good food. We even took them to some of our clubs at school so our club students could meet them. They absolutely loved our site in the mountains of Rwanda. They wowed us with tales of how much more difficult life is physically in Zambia. We had a lot of good discussions on the successes and failures of international aid and development. WE came to the conclusion that the physical conditions of any place – have it be in the desert or savannas of Africa – are easier to acclimate to than the complexity of society like Rwanda. We spent a lot of time talking about the current issues in Rwanda and how life is indescribable here due to the complexities. Keep this in mind for when we come home and I have a hard time describing life here.

On top of having our PC Zambia visitors, we had our site replacement (who is in training now in week #5) come on her site visit. I don’t know if I have mentioned it, but after much pleading on our part, Peace Corps Rwanda is sending a new volunteer to our village. She is a single girl and she will arrive sometime in December. We couldn’t be more happy to know that our community that we love will have 2 more years of an American here to try and get new ideas and help developing. I must say, having her here made us feel like super-volunteers. We don’t think about how much ‘village’ knowledge we have gained until we are trying to tell someone new to this country all that information. Just simple things that took us the first 3-5 months to figure out she is going to know her first day here. Some examples that took us a surprisingly long time to figure out such as: how to get to Kigali on public transport? Where you can find eggs in the village? How to get food regularly? How to call a moto to your house? How to make it to the Peace Corps office in Kigali? How to organize a club at school?

Our two groups of visitors overlapped by two days, so we had quite a housefull for those two days. Our site replacement volunteer is from Atlanta and the female PCV from Zambia is also from Atlanta. In an strange, amazing twist of fate, they both went to the same small private school in Atlanta and our site replacement studied with the Zambian PCV’s brother. Talk about a small world – to meet a person that went to your same high school and knew your brother 9,000 miles away from Georgia in a small village in northern Rwanda. Sometimes, I just can’t believe the complexity of life while at the same time believing the destiny of 2 people ut of 320,000,000 Americans coming together on a continent far from home. Can you imagine all the pieces of this puzzle that went into this meeting? The two from Zambia were only in Rwanda for 3 days and just happened to be our friends and just happened to come to our village and just happened to come on the same week and just happened to have a connection to this new volunteer. It is mind-boggling sometimes.

With all this information we are giving her, we hope it makes her life just a bit easier and she is able to hit the ground running here. On top of our ‘village know-how’, we tried to explain to her all the complex relationships that we have formed here, the situation at our school, and all the projects and activities that we are doing. I realized when talking to her, that we are teaching club 6 days a week!! Mondays are computer club after school. Tuesdays are English club after school. Wednesdays are GLOW club after school. Thursdays are debate club after school. Fridays are computer club again after school. And Sunday is library day for 3 hours.

I do feel a little pity for her. It is going to be tough for her to step into our shoes. First of all, because she is single, younger, and coming here alone. People are always going to be comparing her to us. I think many of them will forget that all the things we were able to do was partly because there were two of us. Her next challenge will be her age. She is 24 and we are both older than this. At 24 in Rwanda, young men/women are just finishing the equivalent of high school or starting in university. They have a hard time imagining that she has been finished with her 4 year university for 1+ years already. Then, she is single. Apparently in Rwanda it is the most popular to ask about a person’s relationship status. People for 4 days were asking her “Are you single?” even before they asked her name. I had to scold a few male teachers for this as I told them that question can be offensive. Its like they were evaluating her based on her being single or not. Then again, in Rwanda you are an “umukobwa” (or girl) until you get married. Even if you are 30 years old, you are not a woman unless you are married. I thought it was partly the men being sleeze balls, but even the women and girl students asked her this off-the-bat.

Regardless, she is going to have a difficult job trying to fill the shoes of two people. I think overall, she was very happy to have ended up in Kinihira village. After all, how could you not be happy with our mountain vistas, perfect year-round climate, sea of tea fields, tea factory, hospital, and friendly people. I am happy it is her who is replacing us and we wish her the best of luck in the future.

Side bar: I just finished the book Shantaram. It was awesome and I recommend it to anyone (plus I got a bunch of good quotes out of it).

I sometimes think that the size of our happiness is inversely proportional to the size of our house.

-Gregory Roberts (Shantaram)

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