preface: I have written 3 blogs from September until now. It was really a difficult time for us here. Everything combine made us ache for something consistent, familiar, something! I didn’t post because they all had a tone of depression which I didn’t want to send across the atlantic to our family and friends. This blog below is pretty straightforward, and because I am sending it now I can tell you despite the difficulties those few months entailed we left home for the states on a good note and are now doing extremely well. We are really really happy, and refreshed. Ok, read on:
If you are keeping up and read the blog “the final term” the next month and a half followed the same pattern almost amusingly. This canceled, this 6 hours late [as opposed to the usual 1-2], this surprise ceremony, this surprise test, this bacteria in your food, this strange conversation, more canceled, it continued comically and exhaustingly. We are pretty laidback flexible folk, but this term got the best of us. We ended downtrodden and ready for paradise.
But before we get there, lets give you a highlight reel of the term:
[I have taken the liberty of adding a * to the dates which involved us eating a mass plate of carbohydrates. Usually rice, beans, plantains, pasta, and a small chunk of meat with at least 2 fantas. I mean “don’t want to hold it in your hands because it’s uncomfortably heavy must set it in your lap” mass plate of carbs. About half of the time it will have a plop of mayonnaise in the middle just to mock you.]
September 17: ULTIMATE FRISBEE TOURNAMENT IN KIGALI! The capitalization was not for formatting purposes, but to express the UTTER EXCITEMENT we have. We enjoyed playing with people from the states, Europe, and other African countries. It was a pleasant surprise to see ultimate developing across the world. The facts remain true, you can bet on it: ultimate players are 98% of the time extraordinarily cool people no matter where they originate from.
Sept 24- Regional Meeting in Kibuye- always fun
Sept 25* Ceremony to welcome the new headmaster and say goodbye to the old headmaster.
Oct 1- Trip to Nyanza and Butare. You may remember these names because they are our old stompin’ grounds from our Peace Corps training. We visited old friends, our host families, and old watering holes. Seeing my host father brought me much joy. It was strange to be back in Nyanza after living in such a different place. When we arrived it seemed poor, unmodern, and developing. Now, I see it as a metropolis full of wealth and goods. Poverty is a funny thing. It reveals itself in many ways. I thought of my host family as poor. They are both farmers with no supplementary income, their house is modest, their food was delicious but humble, and one night I visited them as a surprise and 3 hours later he mentioned they wouldn’t be eating dinner that night. But the poverty in our village is different. I don’t know if I am ready to analyze or explain what I mean, except that it is different.
Oct 8* English Club Final Ceremony: Too precious for words. My EC members worked hard to prepare a full party complete with skits, songs, poems, food, and dancing. My EC students are very serious about learning and were delighted by the opportunity to memorize some English songs and have a festivity to celebrate their accomplishments. As I was passing out certificates [which are a big big deal here] the students would stand with Aaron and I and say “touch it” so that in the photograph we were all together holding the record of their success. I can’t wait to get home to the states where internet is fast enough to post video. They sang “in the jungle, a weembaweh] soooooo wonderfully precious.
Oct 9** GLOW Club Final Ceremony: This was also a precious and wondrous occasion. During this last term our focus has been “Women’s Health”. We discussed self-esteem, puberty, nutrition, sexuality, STDs, HIV/AIDS, and prevention. During these lessons I had a question box for anonymous or difficult to answer questions. At our final ceremony we invited my friend and “neighbor” Kerry, a health volunteer and nurse, to come address their questions. The girls learned a lot, and when we were finished we had some speeches and enjoyed food and dancing together.
Food. I’ve talked about Rwandan food culture and this story will provide you a shining example. My girls didn’t have very much money to contribute to the party so we were working with 300 FRW x 20 girls. $.50×20= $10. I thought that rather than buying 1 fanta or 3 sambusa [like an indian samosa, or Asian meat fried wonton] it would be smart to buy in bulk. This concept doesn’t necessarily exist yet here. You buy 5 kilos of potatoes or ½ a kilo for the same price/kilo. You buy 1 case of Fanta to drink at home for the same price as buying in the restaurant. So while I was traveling I picked up 2 bags of popcorn kernels [3,000 total] and 1 big container of pineapple juice concentrate [2,000 total] This left 1,000 remaining for decorations, gifts, etc. My leaders agreed that this was a good idea and fully understood what I was doing. A few days before the party they ask for the remaining money and permission to go to Gisiza [the bigger town with a big market down our hill]. I asked why they needed it and they responded to get more supplies for the party. Though I didn’t think it was necessary, I thought it might be fun for them to get special permission and wanted to give them a break. They asked if they could keep the supplies here until the party and I obliged. They returned a few hours later with bags and bags full of amadazi [a doughnut but not fluffy or sweet. So fried dough.] and bread. I still have no idea where they came up with the additional money or if somehow there was a buy carbs in bulk special that weekend that I missed out on. Either way, our party meal consisted of a plate full of popcorn, with one amadazi and one bread roll on top with the pineapple juice. It is impolite to receive food and not eat it so, dispirited; I stomached 2 huge pieces of bread and a plate full of popcorn. I was trying to provide an example of a healthier but still fun snack. But the carbs won that day. They always do.
During my GLOW ceremony, Aaron was participating in a day of sports. Our teachers played against a combination of the parish workers and other primary school teachers for 3 events. We lost in volleyball, but succeeded in basketball and soccer. [Aaron is our famous basketball player here. His presence makes winning possible. And he looks very cute in the matching Laker’s jerseys our team sports.] This ended with a ceremony, dancing, and yes a large plate of food. Notice the two stars I had today.
Oct 15* Holy St. John’s Day. John is the patron saint of our school, and thus we had to celebrate his day. Luckily this tied in well with some end of the year announcements and awards. I got to congratulate my S6 EC students [they are graduating from our school this year] and my GLOW leaders. The Vice Mayor [a strong female] was there and shook their hands.
Oct 17-21 Exam week, and our 1 year in Rwanda anniversary!
Oct 26* Surprise Teacher’s End of the Year party- meeting at “8” which really was 3:30 [not kidding] followed by celebrations at a local pub.
Somewhere in that term was Teacher’s Day, a huge sector wide ceremony, that felt like the 4th Harry Potter of all schools coming together and performing their best magic or in this case traditional dance. It was cute, but long. And belated. And we ate a huge plate of food.*
We really have a lot to share, and I regret not keeping this more cohesive during this term. As I mentioned, it was difficult, busy, and lacking in free time/motivation.
paradise found- our vaca to Zanzibar
After all of the chaos of term 3 we decided a vacation was in order. We hoped on a bus and went 30 hours [yes, you heard that right. 30 hours in an African bus] across Tanzania got on a ferry and landed in a paradise- Zanzibar.
Stone Town is the first destination off the ferry. It is a town in which cultures interweaved resulting in extreme beauty and a lot of fun. We walked through narrow alley ways lined with decorative doors and beautiful people. It is how I imagine Italy. Our hotel [$12/night +breakfast] was full of antique ornate furniture and out our window we saw clotheslines hanging from windows with colorful clothes drying in hot sun and cool wind. It was fantastic. That evening we enjoyed a sunset in the sand and food at a night market. The night market is full of vendors with shell fish and sea food, meat, vegetables, crepes, shwarma, soups, desserts, everything. Grilled fresh for your eating pleasure. That atmosphere of good fresh food and families enjoying themselves is one of our favorites. There was also a signature drink of fresh squeezed sugar cane mixed with chopped ginger and crushed ice. It was lovely in every sense of the word.
The next day we shopped until we dropped. Africa is known for their hand crafts and Zanzibar was full of them. At a significant discount from Rwanda. There is also a big middle eastern and indian population so there were some unique pieces that cannot be found in Rwanda.
Afterwards we went to Jambiani, a coastal village on the eastern side of the island. We and our friends rented a b&b right along the beach and enjoyed the easy life for a while. That beach. It defined white sandy beach. It defined the blues and greens you want to see in ocean water. It was breathtaking every moment. We could walk about a mile into the shore of the ocean before being submerged by the ocean. We enjoyed local cuisine [which is coconut curries, coconut rice, great flat bread, and sea food], fresh fruit [brought to you island side by the guy who climbed the tree to get it] the sea, and our friends.
We snorkeled and saw all the cast of finding nemo minus nemo. We also swam with dolphins! [both combine price of $15]. It was impossible to feel any sort of sadness there, surrounded by extravagant natural beauty.
We ended the trip with lobster, cooked at our home, white wine, and a camp fire on the beach overlooking the sea and stars. A friend who went with us ate a lobster everyday. It was quite fantastic.
The 31 hour bus trip home was difficult, but ultimately worth it.
Beyond the respite, it was also really nice to see a different African culture. It borders Rwanda but has some significant cultural differences. It is a freer place. A perfect example is street food. In Rwanda it is incredibly bad culture to eat food in public. Even carrying your food home from the market out of a bag is unheard of. I have never seen a person eating in public, unless they are at a bus stop or on a bus. In the middle of our trip we stopped in a town to sleep from 12-4am. There were vendors cooking omelets and kabobs and drinking beer and soda right on the road.
Also, at the night market in Zanzibar it was really different to see families together having fun. In Rwanda husband and wife rarely walk together, because it implies they are being irresponsible and someone isn’t caring for the children. It is even more rare to see an entire family of 4-5 walking together. We didn’t think of it as strange until we were put into a context where it is normal to see families again. The subtle differences made us think, and ultimately have more empathy and love for Rwanda. This country was devastated in 1994, and really the 50 years leading up to it weren’t happy times either. The culture here is a bit dry [food is bland, emotions aren’t shared] and though it is frustrating to us at times we are trying to use it as a catalyst for our personal empathy and love to shine.
then we did camps GLOW and BE [girls and boys leadership] and we went home for Christmas. Expect a blog soon about our camps, our trip home, and what we are doing now:]