A Typical Day at the New Site

I have been at my new site for a little over a month now – time has FLOWN. 

Here’s the haps:

I am working with CPJSP, a French youth development program that is an implementing partner of my NGO, EDC.  Basically, I’m at a youth center come vocational training center, with elements of both tied in together.  I’m in the beautiful Kamonyi District, filled with waving banana trees, red dirt, and bright, bursting pink hibiscus.

A typical day:

5:00am: Wake up. It’s dark. It’s coooold, Kamonyi is coooold for equatorial Africa!

5:20am: Lace up the sneaks, and head outside for a run (this is the only time it’s possible to run without packs of small children racing after me, literally howling and barking like dogs. This is, of course, fun in it’s own way (sometimes I howl back), but not as Zen as I usually go for with a running session).

6:20am: Yoga yoga yoga. Best part of my day.

7:00am: Bucket bath!  My “douche,” the outside room for bathing, is pretty nice, all things considered – it’s cement, not dirt (which is full of pesky parasites that burrow under your skin, yum!), and pretty spacious. I dig it.

7:10am: Leave douche with dripping hair and clean skin, to find crowd of men hanging outside in my compound, having been called in by our resident squatter. Love it.

7:45am: Head to CPJSP; it’s a 10 minute walk, very very close.  Along the way I pass a small coffee plantation, and many children and neighbors that I am beginning to make friends with.  Yells of “Uwela!” (my Kinyarwanda name) follow me down the path. In general it’s 10 minutes full of smiling, greeting, stopping to shake hands with elderly Mamas with babies on their backs and branches or bundles of grass balanced on their heads.

8:00am – 10:30am: Hang out at CPJSP; I might talk with Olivier, our secretary, about all kinds of random topics, from American marriage culture to Freudian psychology concepts (I love these conversations, you have NO idea), or I might help Valens, our M&E specialist, with some troubles with his technological forays on a recently-donated computer (we just did a lesson on window minimizing and how to save things on a “frash dlive” – it’s going well!).  Most of the time, though, I hang out in the crumbling cement building we use as a teacher’s room, and lesson plan, read, or talk with any of the staff that might make their way in there.

10:30am – 11:00am: Break time with the youth!  When they come out of their lessons, they’re aaalll mine.  We play various games, trying to work in some English when possible.  Recent favorite: duck duck goose, where it became more of a “pick the muzungu every time and then RUN HER DOOOWWWN,” and in which I got to show off my sprinting-in-a-skirt specialties.

11:20-12:00pm: English with the youth. I rotate into a different classroom each day, and we do 40 minutes of basic English.  This isn’t my main job, but while we’re waiting for that project to actually start, I’ve gotta fill my time with something, and everyone seems eager for this.  

12:00pm-2:00pm: Lunch with the teachers. Often digressing into lengthy meetings and discussions.  Usually we have igitoki (boiled banana), beans, and rice.  Sometimes there’s black tea! Favorite.  There is usually a “Muzungu Moment.” For example, “Uwela, you know that so and so wants a wife.  Why don’t you let him take you to Gisenyi on a beautiful trip, he’ll pay for everything, you’ll love it! Then we can talk.”  Me: “Ihangane, ariko singurisha”  (Sorry, I’m not for sale) – this borrows from a behavior change media campaign in Rwanda that’s plastered everywhere to combat older men buying sex from young girls with candy, promises of education, etc – basically, I’m saying “Sorry baby, I don’t need a sugardaddy.”  Everyone finds this overwhelmingly funny, and quote it for daaaays.

2:00-3:30pm: More hanging around, watching the grass grow.

3:30-5:00pm: I teach English to the teachers at the school.  I LOVE this – the teachers are great.  Motivated, kind, and humorous.  We have a lot of fun.

5:oopm – 5:30pm: Community walking – meeting people, greeting people, visiting – being a good little PCV and doing my integration while there’s still sun.

5:45pm -10:00pm: At home!  Cooking, talking with my compound-mates, hanging out with Keza, their small daughter, doing laundry (in a bucket), washing dishes (in a bucket), mopping my floor, doing any extra work needing doing, writing, reading, watching movies, doing yoga, the world is my oyster.  Then I pull down my mosquito net, light my candles (my house has a working socket, but no lights), and curl up for some sleep.

And there you have it folks.  A day in the life.

There are many more updates, mostly pertaining to exciting PCMO adventures, but I’m going to save that for another time.  

May the Force be with you!

Liquid Limbo

I’ve been in Kigali for over a month. 

It’s been a transitory period, full of adjustments and learning and immersion into a new scope of the future.  I’ve gained a significant amount of experience at the headquarters for my NGO; I’ve helped develop curriculum for our new Accelerated Learning Program, I’ve participated in field assessments, trainings with Implementing Partners, meetings with interns.  It’s been invaluable.  I certainly haven’t been bored.

But it’s time.

I’m ready to get started on what’s next – I’m ready to begin the (close to) final year of my service, to start really living again.  Right now I’m floating in a liquid limbo where I can’t yet see the future, but can’t quite remember the past.  It was good at first, to have some time for serious reflection, but I’m ready for movement now.  Forward movement. To gain and build momentum.  This is somehow a staging ground, a launching pad – and I just want to launch.

I’m ready for Kamonyi – for creating new relationships, for getting to know the youth, the teachers, the directors.  For waking up in the morning and smelling sun on grass and looking outside to see banana trees waving in a light breeze.  For having my own house again. For early morning runs and yoga.

For creating a community.


Today we went to visit one of the participants in our Akazi Kanoze groups, a young woman who’s part of a savings group in a rural setting just outside of Kigali.  The air was that thick, electrified kind of pre-storm wildness.  There was an explosion of banana trees just behind her cement-and-tin-roof house.  Inside, we sat on rough wooden benches just as the rain started.  The room was completely bare, except for some ancient jerry cans tumbled in the corner.  The rags hung from sticks that served to cover the entrance into the only other room in the house blew in the wind.  In the back of the house I could see sorghum and beans waving in the impending storm.  Kids were crowding around, showing off their English (“Good morning Teacher!”) while I went ahead and took the teaching moment (“It’s 3pm…good afternoon!”).  The woman had a small girl, shyly curling up behind her.  In her arms was a baby, no more than 2 months old, and, completely unembarrassed, she breastfeed throughout the interview.  We talked about her savings group.  It meets twice a month, members are supposed to give 200 francs per meeting…400 francs (roughly 75 cents) is too much per month for most members, so attendance is rapidly dropping.  What they need is to apply for a microloan to get some capital for a proposed small business project, but they don’t know how to start.  Bingo.  NGO can link their group with a microfinance expert that will help them form the properly certified cooperative they need to be to link with SACCO for a microloan, and then follow up with basic financial management education.

Today was a good day.  Sort of a perfect day.


But I’m still ready for it to be tomorrow.

Not a Drop to Drink

Almost ten months in Rwanda has given me a new-found appreciation for those water fountains that graced the majority of our elementary and high school experiences.  Sure, the lines were long and sometimes the water flow was more like the last trickle of a drying oasis in the Sahara, but the water was clean. It was drinkable.

It wouldn’t make you sick.

It wasn’t murky, swimming with dirt.

And it was available.

It was there.

Water in Rwanda does vary regionally – the Eastern Province, for example, particularly suffers from a lack of water – but it’s a fairly universal problem.

Water runs out. All the time.

Some people get their water from rivers or lakes.  The silt takes at least 24 hours to separate from the water.  Many people just drink the dirt.

Not many people can afford something as luxurious as a water filter.

Most people drink unclean water.

Diarrhea is one of the leading causes of death in children aged five and under.

Many parasites that cause diarrhea are found in unclean water.

This is a problem.

There are many campaigns that attempt to address this issue.  From the Ministry of Health efforts to NGO-organized teams, a great deal of information has been disseminated at length throughout the country regarding how to clean water.  Boiling it is one solution, though it won’t remove the mud.  Another popular approach is “Sur Eau” – bleach.  Organizations like PSI distribute free Sur Eau in some parts of the country.

And yet, these methods are rarely used.  This is what is commonly referred to as a behavior mobilization problem.  The information, for the most part, is there – acknowledge and distributed.  But not acted upon.  This is a common problem here, on a wide range of different development issues – huge information campaigns are conducted, a large variety of people are reached – people know the information, can tell you by rote – but their behavior doesn’t match their knowledge.  Even in the most remote parts of the country, anyone can boil water – it’s easy and effective.  It would save lives. Maybe even a lot of lives.  But very few people do it.

So how do you mobilize that behavior change? How do you motivate? How do you identify what’s preventing behavior change, and how do you effectively address that within a country- and culture-appropriate context?

These are the tricks.  And the challenges.

Sometimes – by no means always, but sometimes – it’s surprisingly straightforward, if a few moments are taken to ask strategic questions.  Why do so few people wash their hands after using the bathroom or before eating, an enormous source of disease transmission here?  It often isn’t a deeply complex issue of culture clash or NGO funding spreadsheets. It’s simple.  Families can’t afford the 20 cents for a bar of soap.

So is the next step developing Income Generating Activities? Once money is available, how do you ensure that the funds will be put towards soap?  What other demands are there on the cash?  How do they rank within a families priority stratosphere of needs?  Could financial management workshops be instituted to help families create effective budgeting to address this range of needs?

….And even if a bar of soap is purchased, is there enough water available to use it properly?

And so we jump down the rabbit’s hole of Development Work.

This is an extremely oversimplified snippet of the problems and potential solutions that are seen out here.  But it presents the basic idea.

And every time I take a sip of clean water (thanks, Peace Corps filter and bleach), this is the filmstrip of thought that moves on fastforward through my brain, into the forefront and slips into a daily pondering.

Peace Corps has been an awakening in so many ways.  Proper gratitude for the incredibly plentiful amount of clean water we don’t often stop to consider at home – that’s something I’ve gained in my time here.

Times, They Are Changing

The world has revolved, and then revolved a little more. 

A momentous change has taken place in my Peace Corps life, and I’m at liberty to share.

Due to a combination of mellifluous elements, I will no longer be living in Butare.  Peace Corps has pulled me from my site. The last seven months of service are now the middle, rather than the final, chapter in a long novel of unwinding experiences.  For those of you who either aren’t here to witness the madness, or with whom I don’t engage in detailed and witty repartee on a regular basis, the reasoning behind this change comes from several angles.  The simplest explanation is this: my contribution to the safety/security statistics of our program has been appreciated as not my only possible outlet of programmatic expression (or more clearly, I’ve had too many security problems at site), and – perhaps especially a dynamic element – my role with the women’s cooperative and business became a source of concern.  The view that Peace Corps had of my job, and the view that my partner organization had, were very very different, and as it turns out, not compatible.  To sum it up briefly, as a PCV I cannot be the head of a program – this is not sustainable by Peace Corps definition.  And the tasks that I was specifically requested to do were, unfortunately, not compatible with Peace Corps’ vision of my role.

My feelings are very mixed.

The project that I was a part of was truly incredible, and regardless of the rest, I’m honored that I had at least a brief chance to be a part of it.  What I will miss most of all are the relationships I had with the women I worked with – no one is perfect, and we had our share of bumps in the road, but I was deeply inspired by those women, and I was very close with some of them.  It was very hard to say goodbye to them, and to the first half of my Peace Corps life.  All I can say now is that I wish them the absolute best, I will miss them, and it is time for me to walk down this new path that Peace Corps has laid before me.

And where will I be going? What’s the next step?

Let’s break it down.

I have been partnered with EDC, a US-based NGO that operates in a number of countries around the world in education, health, and economic development (as well as domestically in the US).  In Rwanda, EDC works on a USAID-partnered project called Akazi Kanoze, which means “work well done” in Kinyarwanda.  The focus of this project is to re-link disenfranchised youth (primarily those who have slipped through the cracks of the education system) into civil society through expanded opportunities to education and economic development.  EDC is just beginning the rural extension of this program, and I will be part of the team that “spearheads” this expansion.  I will be moving back to where it all began, to a village in Kamonyi where EDC has an Implementing Partner (in this case, a struggling vocational program for out-of-school youth). I’ll be working directly with the youth, as well as teachers, in a truly in-the-field, grassroots setting.

My feelings on this are many, but let it suffice to say that I am very grateful that I have been blessed with such a poignant second adventure.  It’s been a rough time, with a lot of emotional rollercoasters that have no seat restraints, and big big mental approach changes, but I have so much hope for the future.  

Let’s do this.

{epic theme song starts}

The Things You Miss, and the Things You Don’t

Undebatable Fact: Life in Rwanda is shockingly different from life in the U.S.

I know. Everyone’s totally astounded.

But what IS surprising, sometimes, are the things that you get used to, and the things you that you don’t.  The hardships that you adapt to until an altered reality seems farfetched, and the ones that continue to grate on you, day after day.

During the Christmas holidays I left Rwanda for the first time in 8 months, and while I did not venture back to the western world, I still found myself deluged in conveniences and luxuries that are beyond a Rwandan lifestyle lens conception.  The United Arab Emirates are full of many wonders, but what had me blown away is pretty amusing.  Food.  SO MANY LIGHTS that are SO BRIGHT. Food.  Starbucks.  Food.  Clothing stores.  Food.  Hot running water??!! Showers???  Food.  People don’t stare. Food.  People don’t scream “White person!!” Food.  People don’t sprint at you upon sight. Food.  You don’t stop traffic. Food. Bookstores. Oh yeah, food.

India felt a little more like coming home, in a weird sense of relief: aah, dirt, corrugated tin shacks, cows. That’s more like it.  But there was still…food. With spices and flavor and nutritional value and everything!

Coming back wasn’t easy, but being away and returning was certainly a valuable experience.  It brought to light the things that you don’t even realize you were going without until suddenly you have them again – and which of those things actually matter to you.  And as such, it throws some clarity on the things that have the deepest impact out here.  I’ve arranged them into a neat little paradigm.

The Things You Thought it Was Gonna Kill You to Live Without

1. Electricity and running water. The fact that I bathe using a bucket and a cup tends to inspire a general reaction of horror.

2. Protection from Insects: my old friends, the wolfspiders. Delightful.  Mosquitos, the flying worm-things, 3-inch grasshoppers that are fried and popular for snack-time, etc etc

3. Low-Risk for Serious Illness:  getting ill is an inevitable part of this life.  High-risk for malaria. Parasites, amoebas, viruses – everyone gets sick.  Some people get really sick.  Some people get sick a lot.  Some people less.  But everyone gets sick.

And you know what, you get USED to all of this – and before very long, none of it really seems to matter that much.  Sure, hot showers are great, no denying it.  But does it keep me up at night knowing that tomorrow morning I’ll probably run out of enough water to finish rinsing the shampoo out of my hair by hand? Nah.

The Things You Didn’t Even Think About….That Drive You Insane

1. The Muzungu Mystique: People go nuts, and I mean absolutely NUTS, over the whole muzungu thing.  Flocks, like literally streaming crowds, of kids coming run and screaming if they catch word that you’re outside.  They follow you to your house. They peer in the windows.  They bang on the doors.  People stop in their tracks if they see you, and stare and stare and stare. Cars stop in the dirt roads and reverse to get a better look at you.  You are, quite literally, the star freak of a one-person circus show.  Every minute detail of your daily existence is closely watched, carefully analyzed, and discussed at great length by…the entire village.  If you sneezed while passing someone, everyone has probably heard about it, and found it very seriously good entertainment.  It is beyond BIZARRE to have your every movement followed like this, and in an indirect and deeply image-oriented culture, you can be sure that you are making constant mistakes – and also, that while everyone else will, you’ll probably never hear about it.  And therefore never even know that you’re breaking boundaries.  And as a PCV, where you are ingrained from Day 1 to be as careful and intentional about creating a positive, respectful image as physically and mentally possible, this can cause a great deal of stress for many volunteers.  There is an overwhelming sense of your identity as a person, as an individual with feelings and thoughts, being worn away and eventually erased by lack of acknowledgment.  You are not a person – you are a muzungu.  You are here as walking, talking entertainment – you are free fodder for laughter, astonishment, harassment, ridicule. Because after all, you’re a muzungu – you can’t function like everyone else, with feelings and all. Your existence beyond this is rarely seen.  This, beyond anything else, is the challenge of serving in Rwanda.  This is where real loneliness sets in – when you are surrounded by people who may never, ever see you as a fellow human being.

My goal? I want one, just one, *real* friend.  Who sees beyond the Muzungu-ness, and can distinguish at least a glimmer of Danae – and is interested in that glimmer for purely what it is. A slice of who I am as a person.  And hey, who knows? It could happen.

2. Constant, Shameless Sexual Harassment

This is linked with the Muzungu Mystique – as people stop to yell in your face, poke you, make incomprehensible demands in slurred Kinyarwanda, it is just about inevitable that amongst them will be at least one man who will decide you have to marry him, and will spend an inordinate amount of time convincing you of this.  Have a boyfriend? Doesn’t matter!  Here to work? Doesn’t matter!  Don’t want to be spoken to like that? Doesn’t matter!  Don’t want to have your physical space invaded so aggressively? Doesn’t matter!  Don’t want to sleep with him? Really doesn’t matter!  And this same conversation you can put on a reel loop and play over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over. Every day.  And the real disadvantage of being in town is that there is a never-ending supply of young men who haven’t tried their hand at offering me enough cows to make me theirs, and a far-too-small pool of people who care enough to do more than watch and laugh at the hilarity of it all.  And while I’ve tried to make a joke of it (“I’m way too expensive for you! You totally don’t have enough cows to buy me.  You show up with 200 cows, then we’ll talk.”), after 9 months I have to admit, it gets kind of wearing.  Respected as a woman? Not here.

They say it in the little booklets they have you read before coming – Peace Corps is totally up front about it.  It isn’t the physical hardship that makes Peace Corps hard.  It’s operating on a daily basis in a tough, tough cultural context.

So what do I miss? Running water and lattes?  Yeahhh, sometimes, but not all that much.

Being seen and respected as an individual and a woman with a personality, an intellect, and something real to contribute as a human being?

That’s the one.

{next post: POSITIVITY. Promise.}

A Long Time Coming

Hello and hello and hello, distant world out there!

It’s a new year, and a whole lot of a time since any updates.

SO much has happened, it’s difficult to know where to begin.  I suppose I’ll start off with the most spectacular highlight of my Peace Corps service to date.

At the end of November, and beginning of December, I worked with fellow PCVs on not one, but TWO absolutely amazing Camp GLOWs.  GLOW stands for Girls Leading Our World, and the camps focus on working with secondary school girls to build their confidence, sense of empowerment, and ability to protect themselves from HIV/AIDS.  In a word, it was INCREDIBLE.  In the first camp, held out in the Eastern Province, I worked with a Rwandan co-facilitator to teach an absolute plethora of material, including everything from leadership to fairly involved HIV/AIDS material.  In the second camp, I returned to the South to work with several Rwandan co-facilitators to help train them to teach Communication and Sexual and Gender Based Violence modules.  In both camps, I also held sports-oriented recreational sessons. My absolute favorite was doing yoga with the girls.

Teaching Yoga at my first camp!


Doing the Human Knot at the second camp

Peace Corps in general has been continually increasing in difficulty and obstacles to fulfillment, but these two weeks…were absolutely mindblowing.  It was EVERYTHING I wanted out of my Peace Corps experience.  For the first time in so many months, I felt a complete rush of enthusiasm and joy – and a sense of competency that has been sorely lacking.  Finally, something I can DO – really, really do – and know, with at least reasonable confidence, that it’s having at least some kind of positive impact.  The girls were amazing, the fellow PCVs were amazing – it was such a rush. Especially in the first camp, where all PCVs were in charge of SO much material, it was such a RUSH to be sprinting around all day, to be teaching such a gorgeous group of brilliant, brilliant girls – to feel, finally, directly useful.

Unfortunately, things at my current site have started to slide very seriously downhill.  I was pulled early from the first camp, to my complete dismay, due to a violent fourth break-in at my house in Butare.  Peace Corps “emergency evacuated” me from the house and brought me to a new place about an hour’s walk away, on the other side of town.  The new neighborhood is a breath of fresh air in some senses – there is SO much more life, a real sense of community and chaos and busy-ness that thrills me.  But Peace Corps believes that this will not remedy the security situation – in a nutshell, they don’t believe they’re capable of  keeping me safe in this area.  Not the most encouraging.  In addition, there was a lot of damage to my old house in the last break-in, and the owner of the house has been…well. Horrible.  More than the break-ins themselves, the way this already hurtful situation has been handled by locals I thought were friends has been – so incredibly and totally demoralizing.  If you’ll allow me to be raw for a moment, I don’t think I’ve ever felt more abandoned and directly taken advantage of by people I genuinely liked and trusted, at a time when what I really needed was their support.  Peace Corps is supposed to be all about being open, in every sense of the word – and to my great disappointment, I’ve walked away from this with the repeated lesson that first and foremost, you have to “do everything in your power to protect yourself from even the most apparently kind people, and to never trust anyone, or you’re just being stupid,” in the words of a local.  I refuse to let that defensive approach take over my mentality, but it still just…makes me sad.  Blah! Okay.  I really am sorry for the negative blast of energy – I promise it’s melting away quickly.

Changes will be coming to remedy all of this.  It’s been an uphill battle, but I know that things are going to improve.

In other, and better, news, Peace Corps/Rwanda just started a new Gender and Development Committee, designed in part to assist PCVs in implementing gender in their projects and aims through trainings and programming, as well as a myriad of other gender/development-oriented concepts.  Representatives for the Committee were elected from each training class, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to be a representative for Health 3!  To add some real sparkle to an already dazzling opportunity to do some work that I really believe in, there is the potential to be apart of the national coordination of the whole country’s series of Camp GLOWs and Camp BEs (Boys Excelling) for 2012, which is really just, in plain words, awesome.  


So life is up and down, up and down – but that’s Peace Corps.  It’s a rough ride, but I refuse to believe there isn’t something at the end of it all that makes it, somehow, worth it.  Has my dream turned into something of a nightmare? Yes.  Does that mean that I’m going to stop dreaming? No.  Not yet.

I have hope.

I believe in change.

And I’m going to make it work if I can, or go out fighting.

And that’s all there is to it.

The International Peace Marathon

“Beyond the very extreme of fatigue and distress, we may find amounts of ease and power we never dreamed ourselves to own; sources of strength never taxed at all because we never push through the obstruction.” – William James


November marches on, and those leaves keep turning over.

I’ve always been pretty interested in pushing my mind and my body to the limits, and then seeing just how far over those lines I can bend without breaking.  Peace Corps has taken my mind and my soul that far and then a lot farther, so far beyond what I used to see as limits that there are days I can barely recognize why I used to think certain levels of human tolerance and survival were impossible.  But my body?  Besides the food limitations and occasional (rare) illness or injury – not really, not so much, not too many lines have been pushed past and beyond and into the far reaches of possibility.

So it’s time to change that.

I first heard about the International Peace Marathon during PST, and a group of us got pretty excited about doing a team relay – each person runs somewhere between 6 and 7 miles each.  But out at site, with a lot of stress and not a lot of relief, I started running – and the freedom, the glorious, soul-drenching liberation, just swept me up.

And I started thinking.

Why not do the whole thing? Not just a quarter, not just a half – why not do the whole damn thing?

I’ve been wanting to run a marathon for a long time, why not make my first in Kigali, with an underlying cause of International Peace? Would that not be the most amazing introduction to a world of endurance running?

And wouldn’t it give my mind and my soul some much-needed relief, to be caught up in the cycle of intense training? The sense of accomplishment, the finite goals achieved and then pushed to new heights?

The answer, so far, several weeks into my endurance training is yes yes and YES.  It’s been incredible.

Waking up at 5am, into the silent and misty morning.  Slipping into my trail shoes, slipping out the door, slipping into the still, empty dirt paths and just flying for all I’m worth.  It’s so wonderful to be alone, not to be stared at, to have time for just just just me and for my mind to let all of the toxins out, for the sweat to push through all thoughts until I’m clear, I’m empty of anything but liquid peace.  The red dirt (treacherously ravined and rocky from the torrents of rain), the lush banana trees, the glorious valleys filled with almost-purple mist, the bright flowers bursting forward – this is the very real stuff of dreams. And on those perfect mornings, it’s all mine.  Follow that with yoga, with a warm bucket bath, with dripping clean hair and a hot cup of tea and a puppy curled up next to me as the sun finishes its rise and the day starts to unfold, so much already accomplished, and I have no idea how I got by without it. 

This has become my sanity in an uncertain world.

Am I going to finish the training? Am I going to make it to the race? Am I going to accomplish the full marathon?

I have no idea.

But you know what, whether or not I make it to that finish line, I’ve already taken myself so far.  And even if that’s all I accomplish, I’ll have reshaped my world.  And I call that a victory.



Special thanks to another, un-named PCV for the title.  “Arakizi” (pronounced “Aracheesey” in Kinyarwanda) means “he knows it,” referring to the language Kinyarwanda.  I’m not saying this PCV pretended not to know any Kinyarwanda when I was being mildly harrassed by a guy on a matatu, or said something along the lines of, “Arakizi? Ooooh, AraCHEESEy – fromage?” Nope.  Definitely not saying that he did that.  But I’m also not saying that he didn’t.  ….or that it wasn’t freaking hilarious.

So. Say cheese.  Or….AraCHEESEY.

Meaning finally, some photos!  These are from my phone, sadly the only meager remnants of photographic evidence of my Rwandan life after my camera was stolen in the first break-in.  But they’ll give you at least something of a taste of the texture of my world, both during training in Kamonyi and a few snippets of my “mudugudu” in Butare (in my context, essentially “neighborhood,” but it really means “village”), and of course, that super-duper special number-one guy in my life, Izuba the Monster Puppy.


Pillows and blankets are for wimps, not Peace Corps Trainees

This was my bed in my host family’s house throughout training.  That REI sleeping bag, and the green mosquito net, were quite literally my haven; during training the only time you had a moment without a multitude of prying, insanely curious eyes and whispers and touches was after everyone was, literally, asleep – this is when I’d curl up with a book, or my journal, and just breathe. It’s the half-hour that got me through the rest of the day when 10 hours of language was just too much.  Sadly, the wooden stakes molded over pretty quickly, so they weren’t too secure; they’d fall over in the middle of the night, sometimes landing next to my face, sometimes on my head.  But hey, I’ll take waking up to moldy stakes to the face anytime over waking up to wolfspiders crawling into the sleeping bag (that happened waaaaaay too many times, evil evil wolfspiders).

Kamonyi Main Road

African dirt IS red!  This path ultimately led from my host family’s house towards the main road of Kabande, the name of my mudugudu.  The palm-esq, jungle-y trees are in fact banana trees.  My absolute favorite for all time.

This is right outside my Host Family’s house.  Both of my host parents are teachers, but (like many Rwandans living in our sector), they also subsistence farm several major crops, including corn, sorghum, beans, cassava, and potatoes.  This stalks in this picture are young sorghum plants.

This is the path leading from my Host Family’s house; in the distance you can see a few of the Thousand Hills of Rwanda, with mist just starting to gather in the valleys.  Moments like these were what made me start to fall in love with Rwanda, way back in the early days.

Rwandan Sunset : )

Four of the women in the Cooperative I work with, drumming.  These are traditional Rwandan drums, which – before these women – only men were able to play.  The four pictured here are among a group of brave, brave people who blazed a new path for women in music, in business, and in the socio-economic development of Rwanda.  I’m honored to be working with and for them.

This is the dirt path outside my house in Butare; the name of my (current) mudugudu is Taba.  This picture was taken before the advent of the rainy season; this path now looks more or less like it was ravaged by a rabid lion the size of the Empire State Building.

My (incredible, evil, wondrous, monstrous) puppy Izuba; first at around 8 weeks, and then at around 11 weeks.  He’s the light of my Rwandan life

New Leaf November

This last week represents a landmark for Health 3. We have finished our IST – In-Service-Training, followed by BCC, a 3-day workshop on Behavior Change Communication. This is a continued training that takes place after a Peace Corps Volunteer’s first three months of Service, and is generally centered heavily on technical training. In Peace Corps/Rwanda, this means that our entire training class is gathered together in the Bethanie Center on the (absolutely stunning) shores of Lake Kivu. We were here for 11 days – a luxuriously large chunk of time to be out of Site, to enjoy running water that’s sometimes (very) hot, all the electricity we could want, and even – and this is truly mindblowing – free wireless internet (though that only lasted for two days, but they were a glorious 48 hours). But far above and beyond the (admittedly convenient and lovely) material luxury, the real splendor of the experience is the location and the company. Lake Kivu is beyond incredible; lush and green hills surround the body of water, and in the distance we can see the Congo and its famous active volcano glowing in the evening. While swimming in the lake is technically forbidden by Peace Corps due to the high prevalence of schisto and man-eating methane bubbles, the atmosphere truly makes the training feel like we’re on some kind of vacation in paradise. And finally, most spectacularly, we got to be gathered together – all of Health 3 – for the first time since the end of PST (Pre-Service Training). We’re a small group, only 18 of us (Education 2 started with 70), and all things considered, this is my closest thing to family out here. We’re not perfect, but I absolutely love Health 3, each unique facet that each person brings. It was a stressful environment to be closely packed into for almost two weeks together, but it was incredible to have this much time with this many people that I love. It’s funny, but out here – you can be absolutely surrounded by local people, and still feel entirely and completely alone. But with fellow PCVs, people see you – you’re a person, with feelings, with intellect, something more than a bizarre source of entertainment – not the walking, talking Muzungu doll, but Danae, a real, breathing, feeling human being. It’s a nice change.

The technical training was fascinating, and will definitely help me develop my secondary projects in health. Unfortunately there wasn’t much programmatic support for my technical sector (small business development and cooperative management), but hey, this is Peace Corps, it’s all about making as much happen from as little as possible anyway, right?

I also had the amazing luck of having my birthday fall during IST. I am so grateful for all the birthday shenanigans – as far as Peace Corps birthdays go, it was pretty spectacular. Halloween costumes (hi Shawn), surprise games, and an evening in beautiful Kibuye Town – and best of all, being with people I love.

Sadly, the end of IST/BCC didn’t bring me straight back to site, but rather to Kigali for a check-in with the medical officers, thanks to a nasty moto burn on my calf that took advantage of the tropical climate to develop into a nice infection. Good news: I’ll keep the leg!

Now I’m back in Butare, finally, after almost 2 weeks out of Site. The best part? Being reunited with my puppy, Izuba! He’s 13 weeks old now (he was just 7 when I got him). He’s got a few screws loose, but I’m in love. Izuba means sun in Kinyarwanda, and he’s definitely brought a lot of sunlight into my Rwandan life.

And now we’re entering into November – I absolutely can’t believe it. I’ve been in Rwanda for six months, and at site for almost four. Half a year – half a year! How have I been in-country for half a year? That’s a LONG time. It’s encouraging. Only 20 and a half months of service left! I’ve decided that this is going to be New Leaf November – post-IST, time for a fresh approach and some fresh starts, for turning over some new leaves. I’m going to take charge of my Peace Corps experience and my projects, and ensure that I continue to develop work that’s fulfilling, satisfying, that means something to me and the people I’m working with – that has a lasting impact. As a PCV, we’re trained extensively from Day 1 in sustainable development and human capacity development; it’s the cornerstone and foundation of the Peace Corps as an organization. It’s the lens through which we develop all of our projects, the fundamental aspect that bleeds through every iota of our work. And it’s damn important to me. It’s so frustrating to see the droves of international development workers and volunteers who come in, throw a lot of material resources around, and leave – without any look at developing human capacity, at creating a project with local ownership by the stakeholders, and the potential to continue long after they’ve left because it’s a project developed with and by Rwandans – it’s why we see so many empty libraries, computer labs that are full of beautiful equipment but left locked and untouched. As PCVs, we often look askance at these people and the short-sightedness of their development work; we literally have textbooks dedicated just to avoiding creating this sort of development. So, as I work towards increasing my project-satisfaction, that’s a key element of my approach, and a strong guiding force.

New Leaf November also has a nutritional focus – no more half kilos of rice for 10 days. It’s time to eat three full meals a day, with lots of vegetables, and fruit if I can finagle it. Butare has an amazing market, it’s time to take advantage of it, damn it. And tea and coffee! Lots of tea and coffee. My (amazing at being long-distance) parents sent me some glorious loose-leaf tea from Columbia Kate’s, a tea house in my home town that has a lot of deep memories; this is going to be my rain-tea, my make-a-bad-day-good tea, my inspiration tea. It’s time to be healthy, happy, and fulfilled – at least in some measure. Daily training and yoga is also going to be a big focus. There are many other tenets to New Leaf November, but one that may perk up some ears is blogging more consistently – a post every week or two. There’s SO much going on, it’s time to start exploding about some of it on this medium. So stay tuned – there’s lots more to come.

Rwanda is crazy, my life is crazy, almost nothing makes sense anymore, but you know what – I can life with that. And I’m going to live with that.

Here we go November.


Buhoro Buhoro

The past few weeks have truly melded into a dizzy mess of the good, the bad, and the ugly. Also, some of the beautiful. Ups and downs, challenges and successes – it’s cliché, but hell, it’s also reality. It’s Peace Corps.

Last week in particular was a significantly bi-polar stretch of time. I spent the first few days of the week in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda – being there is like being transported through the time/space continuum back to modern-ish, Western life, which can be both a relief and overwhelming, even borderline repulsive at times. I’m not a big fan of Kigali, but it’s undeniable that there are opportunities there – I was on a work mission to make key coffee contacts for a future economic development project centered on the coffee production in my region, and thanks to the immense kindness and ingenuity of a new mentor I’ve established in Butare, I was able to cover a LOT of ground. I’m going to be able to arrange a 2-day, free training (with meals included!) for my entire staff in one of the best coffee labs in Rwanda, which is just incredible, and I was able to meet a host of exporters, importers, processors and coffee farmer cooperative NGOs – and, my personal favorite, the entire directing staff of the Cup of Excellence. I got to have an hour-long conversation with the International Director of the entire shebang (bonus: he’s Scottish), and he connected me with some amazing groups for future world-wide publicizing and market development.

It was fulfilling – just the sense of doing something, laying the foundations for a project that’s bigger than myself, adds a whole lot to daily satisfaction with life out here.

And perhaps best of all, the extended time in Kigali (2 nights) had a wonderful side effect – they amplified, by about 100%, my appreciation for my site. There are days where – hard as it is – I miss the village lifestyle intensely. There are unfortunate and ugly sides to town life. But being in Kigali truly helped me realize what a beautiful blend of diverse lifestyles Butare is – how much charm and character it really has. Yes, there are aspects of the Rwandan version of urbanity. Yep, we even have cheese sometimes (ridiculous luxury). One of the roads going through town is paved, and NGO cars barrel down it frequently. There is at least one building with more than one story. There are street kids who get high and rebel throughout the town. There are men in dark blue uniforms and in army camouflage that walk around carrying semi-automatics (and meld into the night only to pop out at your awareness from unexpected corners, standing tall and silent and appearing prepared for Imana only knows what).

But there are also women in igitenge (traditional dress) with babies strapped to their backs and bundles of grass meant for the consumption of cows balanced on their heads. There are dusty ravaged paths everywhere off of the mainstreet leading into crumbling buildings, hidden side-paths. There are hole-in-the-wall places to get hot milk (a specialty of Rwanda’s, and I have the good fortune of being close to Nyanza, the milk capital of the country), treasures buried in the small crowds that pass through the paths yelling at each other, singing, sometimes even dancing. There are stunning valleys falling away into mist, and the one near my house is often full of cows or goats and a shepherd I’m slowly befriending. There are men on bicycles carrying large loads of green bananas and shouting at each other. It’s full of hidden niches that I’m slowly discovering a bit at a time. There is SO much here, and I’m truly just beginning to appreciate how very much is hidden from the cursory glance – Butare is like a deep, deep well, and the further down you get, the more incredible it gets. In some ways, it feels like it takes a blend of village and town and mixes them into this strange concoction that, while surprising at first, only tastes better the more you drink it.

Sadly, things took a turn for the worse the day after I returned to Butare. I left for work at my usual time in the morning, and a few hours later raced back home to grab some papers I’d forgotten. When I arrived home, it was to find my entire house in shambles, broken into and ravaged through. I lost my DSLR camera and zoom lens, an external hard-drive, and a Northface backpack’s worth of smaller items. The loss of the things themselves – sad though it is – aren’t what really gets me. Stuff is stuff. What really hit me was that, due to the nature of the break-in, Peace Corps is certain that the culprit has a copy of my keys. And they knew when I left home, and that my house is normally empty during the workday. This means that someone close to me, someone who has access to my keys, someone who I trusted, turned out not to really be a friend. And in the middle of this intense immersion, this daily struggle to integrate and be accepted in Rwandan society, that kind of betrayal hits home so much deeper than it would otherwise. But, as they told me, this is town. And that is life in town. These things happen.

And life has a funny way of balancing itself out. Even as I found myself newly unsure of my community, my community continued to open up to me. Friends of all kinds dropped in to make sure I was alright, to apologize for the situation, to make sure I knew where to go to file a report and to tell me over and over how dangerous it is for a woman to live alone, and to offer a live-in umukozi to protect me from the harsher elements of Butare (not something I’m going to do, but a sweet gesture nonetheless).

And I’m determined not to let this stop me, get me down – keep me from continuing to dive into my work, my world, this community. I’m continuing to have mini adventures ducking into places I hope are cyacyi spots (the ever-continuing hunt for a good cyayi spot is still going strong), and then hanging out and having beautiful, easy, Kinyarwanda-full conversations with anyone and everyone around who dropped by to check out the muzungu who wants to speak Kinyarwanda (even in Butare, this still makes you a walking talking Muzungu Doll of borderline freak-ness). People have just been – warm and friendly and interested and open. I’ve had people run out to greet me, promising to visit and asking me to come visit them – something that you’re bombarded with in a village, but in town comes much more rarely, and therefore I think it comes with a little more gravitus, and something that I find immensely gratifying.

That shows me progress – shows me that at least in some ways, bit by bit (buhoro buhoro), I’m starting to become a member of this world. And that, in the face of anything and everything, can’t fail to brighten up my entire mental framework.


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