On Why I Decided to Leave Rwanda and the Peace Corps

December 10, 2013

 

Deciding to leave the Peace Corps was probably the most difficult decision I have made in my life. Maybe you knew this was coming, maybe you didn’t. In a preemptive attempt to curb telling this story over and over, I figured I would write out why I did this. 

For the past 8 or so months, I have had some crazy mood swings. I would go from normal, happy-go-lucky Taylor to a crying mess for no reason. At first, I attributed this to part of the Peace Corps process, no one ever said that this experience wouldn’t be emotionally, physically and mentally difficult. I knew it was coming. What I didn’t expect was how difficult it would be to pull myself out of these low periods. And that they would keep coming. No matter what I did. It was hard, but I knew that I could “stick it out”. I thought of all the people I would be letting down if I left: my village, my school, my co-teachers, Rwandan counterparts, Rwandan PCVs and of course all the people at home who sent me love and supported me along the way.

Instead of giving up, I decided to get involved in an effort to stem these bouts of depression. I wrote a grant, built a new court at my school, co-led a two day teacher training, helped with a student 5K, became a trainer for the new Education group in country and planned for two weeks of youth empowerment camps to be held in late November. Needless to say, my weekends filled up and free time was practically non-existent. Still though I couldn’t shake the unhappiness.

This all came to a head when I was to host one of my absolute best friends for a week. Having her here made me remember who I was in America, and the spark that was now missing from my life. We talked a lot about my options and through her I realized that deciding to leave early wasn’t a failure. Instead, I began to see leaving as the healthiest option for me, and one that family and friends would understand. Life is not about just “sticking it out”, life is about enjoying everything to the fullest. Another year of my life being unhappy wasn’t worth the pride of staying. However, I was in the middle of all the craziness I had signed up for. I had responsibilities and projects that I couldn’t leave unfinished.

So I waited until now and on Monday I told Peace Corps that I wanted to leave. I am so appreciative for all the experiences I have had in my 15 months in Rwanda. I am also so happy to have had such wonderful staff at the Peace Corps office that whole-heartedly supported my decision to be happy and healthy. Working in Rwanda is tough to say the least and I would not have made it as far as I did without my wonderful friends there. I will miss you dearly.

Currently I am sitting on a plane to Chicago waiting eagerly to touch down and be back in America. I am so excited to be back with my incredible family and friends for the holidays and make up for lost time. During the holidays I will be in a job-applying frenzy hoping for some good news. Todd and I are looking into getting a place together in January in Washington, D.C. and I couldn’t be more excited about our future together. In the meantime, I will have my old cell phone number again and I would love to catch up with everyone!! Again, thank you all for all the incredible support. You have no idea how much it meant to me. 

365

So I have officially been in Rwanda for a year now, huzzah! It has been a dynamic year full of ups and downs. This year I have:

 

  • Moved to a new country
  • Tried and was slightly successful at learning a new language which is insanely difficult
  • Taught English to around 300 students
  • Lived with a host family for three months without electricity, water or English
  • Become adopted into said host family who loves and supports me always
  • Lived by myself for 9 months, long enough for me to realize that I hate living by myself
  • Met and fell in love with a pretty wonderful man
  • Watched more TV on my computer than I thought possible
  • Read 47 books
  • Learned the art of negotiating
  • Lost 20 pounds
  • Realized the wonder and revitalizing power of a hot shower
  • Learned how to cook a damn good red spaghetti sauce under the tutelage of Todd
  • Received so many wonderful care packages from family and friends. I swear my Mother can fit more into a flat rate box than I ever thought possible
  • Stopped worrying about expiration dates. Who says you need to refrigerate mayonnaise, cheese and leftovers when you can just smell it to ensure it’s not spoiled?
  •  Tasted my first passion fruit which led to a slight obsession
  • Had Hilary, my parents and Hannah all come and visit me in Rwanda!
  • Travelled to both Zanzibar and South Africa
  • Embraced pit latrines
  • Drank more Primus beer than I care to admit
  • Learned the behaviors of chickens from hours upon hours of watching them strut around the compound
  • Developed the biggest hatred for roosters
  • Felt for the first time that I understood what depression is and what it takes to pull me out of it
  • Learned to hand wash clothes
  • Understood what it feels like to be stared at ALL. THE. TIME.
  • Met 33 of the most wonderful people who came along with me on this crazy journey
  • Wrote too few blog posts, sorry!!
  • Seen who my true friends are back home, the ones who try their damndest to stay in touch no matter what
  • Tried to understand a culture that has such a heartbreaking past
  • Walked uncountable miles on red, dirt roads
  • Greeted thousands of people, one of my favorite aspects of Rwandan living. I no doubt will do this once I am home.
  • Missed Diet Dr. Pepper
  • Logged hours upon hours in sub-par busses on windy mountainous roads
  • Loved riding on motos
  • Started a youth empowerment club
  • Wrote a grant that will build a dual volleyball/ basketball court at my underfunded school (final approval hopefully coming this week, fingers crossed!)
  • Survived pre-service training, not an easy feat
  • Realized how little I need in order to be happy

 

No matter what happens next, I am so proud of myself for making it this far. I think that I have done some good work for others during this year. Life here can be difficult every day and because of that, I have become a stronger person. Thank you all for supporting me in many different ways this past year!!! Here’s to what’s next!

First Term Break

May 1, 2013

I sit here on a dreary and rainy Labour Day, thanking the Rwandan government for the day off school, just a week into the new term. I am thanking the higher power that I wasn’t subjected to the hours-long, inevitably Kinyarwanda only Teacher’s meeting that Todd (man-friend extraordinaire) was dragged into in his village. Instead I get my day to try and catch up on some things that had been pushed aside. Before I jump into catching you up on my incredibly busy vacation I want to update you all on the slightly irrelevant but still vitally important things in my life that if we were in constant communication you would be asking about.
• It appears that the mouse/rat/unidentified animal residing in the space between my drop ceiling and roof has either found it’s way out or died. I assume that it will be made incredibly clear in the next few days as to which happened by the amount it will smell in my house. Either way, I will be sleeping under my mosquito net until it’s been a week without hearing it. I feel that nothing can get under this net and therefore I am protected.
• I only have half a bag of sweet tart jellybeans left from my Easter care package and am starting to stress about life post-jellybean. Good thing we have doctors at our call 24/7… ☺
• With the arrival of Kevin (my neighbor’s brand spankin’ new baby boy) the “babies in my life tally” is up to 2. Thankfully this number will increase in the next month when my language teacher from training welcomes his first-born in the next few weeks. I am going to try and snap some pictures of them in the clothes my Mom was awesome to send me. Be on the lookout.
• Today I was able to sleep into 9:45 AM. This is the latest I have slept in the past 8 months, except when I was sick. I am never falling asleep tonight.
• The rainy season is on the way out. I am hoping this means an end to the swarms of bugs that try and get inside my house when it rains at night. However I will miss having the excuse of “its raining, can’t leave my house”. You win some you lose some.
• My students may or may not have missed me over the break. I got a: Students: “Teacher we missed you so much”
Me: “Oh thanks you guys, I missed you all too”
Students: “Yes, but we also missed using your volleyball”
At least they are being active and healthy??

Okay so to my break. It was absolutely crazy. I am going to try and rehash it as best as possible but no promises!
First I headed to Tanzania and Zanzibar. Our group of 10 headed out in three shifts, two groups via airplane and one group on a 30 hour + bus ride. My group left Kigali at the convenient flying time of 1:30AM. We pushed ourselves to stay awake until we were able to board, narrowly succeeding. Once nestled into our seats we promptly passed out until we were rudely awakened 30 minutes later to find ourselves in Burundi. Not on our flight plan, we were a little concerned to discover that somehow we were there. Not to worry, apparently we had a stopover to pick up more people unbeknownst to us. We did eventually make it to Dar Es Salaam, making it the fourth country we had been in in 12 hours. The next day our group took the ferry and made it to the island of Zanzibar. The best way to describe Zanzibar is for you to think of what a tropical island paradise looks like in your mind. That is Zanzibar. White sand beaches paired with clear water and a tide that at it’s lowest could go out almost two miles. Unfortunately 6 out of 10 in our group were plagued with some stomach virus/ food poisoning. Thankfully it hit me on the only rainy day of the trip and I was good to go once the sun came back out. The ten of us spent the week eating much-craved seafood (Rwanda is land-locked), drinking fruity, icy, delicious beverages and attempting to not get horribly burned. We had a night in Stone Town (the main city of Zanzibar) to explore the city before we returned to Dar Es Salaam to head home. I have to say, Stone Town is one of the coolest places I have ever been to. Since it lies in such a busy shipping channel it had so many different cultural influences: African, Indian, Middle Eastern and European. Needless to say, paired with the easy access to seafood, it has some INCREDIBLE food selections. Leaving Tanzania was bittersweet, but I was ready to return to Rwanda, where I speak the language (albeit badly) and where the temperature wasn’t like New Orleans in July.
Once I got home I had a few days to prepare everything before Hilary arrived! It was absolutely surreal to have her here. Everyone knows the feeling of having two different worlds collide: when your friends from college meet your friends from home for example. Imagine this feeling on a grander scale and this is what it was like. For the past 8 months, the only people I have seen and been with are the people in this country. Except for the odd skype session and phone call from home, these people have been my entire life and to have Hilary get to meet them and see my home was incredible. We had almost two weeks together and we didn’t kill each other; I consider the trip a success! When she was here I wanted to show her Rwanda so we did a good bit of traveling. We went to Musanze where she got to see the breath-takingingly beautiful volcanoes. We went to Butare and had real soft serve ice cream. From there we went to Kamembe in the south where you can throw a rock and hit the DRC (literally). We took a boat up Lake Kivu to Kibuye, where you get one of the most incredible views of the lake anywhere. During it all she was able to meet and hang out with all my friends. My blood family got to meet my Rwandan family. It was pretty great. I think she really enjoyed being here and it was such a treat to have a visitor!! It’s nice to know that someone outside of the Peace Corps community that understands, if even a little, what I go through day in and day out. Only a few months until my next set of visitors: my parents!
So after Hilary left I had a week of training with my training class. It was the first time we had all been together since we swore in as Peace Corps Volunteers over four months ago. It was wonderful to see each other. It was also wonderful that Peace Corps put us up in a swanky hotel and gave us more food than I thought it was physically possible to ingest in 6 days. I am pretty sure everyone left a few pounds heavier from our three complete meals and two snacks daily. We also had some pretty great sessions about starting secondary projects and writing grants. I left with some pretty good ideas and more confidence about writing, running and evaluating a grant. More info to come on that though!
So now I am back at site and it’s good to be back. I realized that I had missed my little home and the people that now create the fabric of my daily life. School has already taken off and I love being back in the swing of things. Love and miss you all back home, only 7.5 months until I’m home visiting!

Also a huge CONGRATULATIONS to Grace A and Taylor P as they GRADUATE soon!! So proud of you all!!!!!

The New Normal

February 20, 2013

So life has become normalized lately as I get into the swing of things at site. So I figured I would make of list of things that I have learned about life here or things that make me happy
• My daily alarm clock – At 5:00PM everyday the Primary School lets out and hundreds of kids run by my compound (thank goodness it’s gated or my visitors would grow exponentially), eager to be finished for the day. You can hear their glee from inside my house and it never fails to bring a smile to my face.
• My host family- So for the first three months in country, I lived with a host family in the district of Kamonyi. Now, I may be partial but I had the greatest family that I could have asked for. The other night my Papa (my Rwandan Father, not to be confused with Dad, my American Father) called me simply because it had been a while since we spoke. We only chatted for a few minutes, but hearing his voice and knowing I have a Rwandan family that is here for me and cares for me was incredibly. I also told him about my sister’s upcoming visit and how we wanted to visit the family and I swear he giggled with happiness.
• Rwandan Weather – So I have figured out that there are only 5 temperatures in this country and they are as follows.
o Sunny- aka HOT. Rwanda is only about 2-3 degrees from the equator and add in my elevation and you are literally just closer to the sun. When there is no cloud coverage, I burn when I think about walking outside. Probably it is only like 85 degrees but I have become too acclimated to the mild Rwandan weather.
o Cloudy – My favorite of Rwandan temperatures. It is usually a good 10-15 degrees cooler than the sun and there isn’t a huge fear of turning into a lobster. Watch for the impending dark clouds though, as they spell soaking rain.
o Raining – Subtract another 10-15 degrees from our initial 85 degrees and it gets quite cold (for Rwandans and me). A storm can bring strong rains and possibly hail but will definitely bring out every Rwandan’s coat.
o Night – The night is beautiful here. During training, when my family and the surrounding area had no electricity, you were most likely to find me outside staring at the sky every night. The magnitude of the starry Rwandan night sky is absolutely incredible. It also is the perfect temperature: sweatshirt weather. I can sleep with my window open (with a homemade screen over it to keep out the bugs) and be perfectly comfortable snuggled under my covers.
o Rainy night- The coldest of the five temperatures, as the rain is a powerful temperature changer here. Makes you wish for open flame.
• Greeting everyone – I believe I’ve mentioned this before but Rwandan communities are incredibly close knit. Whenever you go anywhere, walk into a room, pass someone on the road, you greet them. I can only imagine how this ingrained routine will play out on my visit home this Christmas.
• Something that keeps my sane in this country is watching movies and TV shows. It allows you to escape for a while and I have guiltily had days where I watched entire seasons of a show (looking at you F.R.I.E.N.D.S.). However, something you NEVER think about while watching TV in the US constantly plagues us PCVs. In movies and TV shows, the characters are constantly eating and drinking, making it hard to watch anything involving fountain sodas, take out and good alcoholic drinks. I don’t think I have ever watched a movie with other PCVs where there hasn’t been at least one comment along the lines of, “I would actually kill someone for that hot dog and Diet Coke” or “uggggggh Chinese delivery”. Think about it the next time you turn on the TV and pour one out for me.
• Getting mail is actually the greatest thing in the world. I am so lucky that my parents can pack a mean care package! I am also lucky that I grew up in a wonderfully supporting Church family. Extra special shout outs to Mrs. Franks for reminding me it was Christmas, the Robertsons for a wonderful care package and the Barker family who hasn’t missed a holiday! It makes me realize what a wonderful and loving support system I have at home. Doing everything I can to make y’all proud of me!
• Roosters- I didn’t understand what true hatred was until I lived in the same compound as a rooster. Every morning between 4AM-7AM the beast is awakened and will continued to sound off for a solid fifteen minutes. I swear the demon knows that I sleep with my window open and loves to station himself by said open window. And if you have never had the pleasure of hearing the decibel of a rooster’s call, count yourself lucky as I have no idea how something so small could make sure an incredible noise. One day I may kill this thing. I don’t think my neighbors wo;; be happy.
• Chickens- So as much as I hate the rooster, I love the chickens. When you live in a village where no one else has the same mother tongue as you, you begin to talk to things that don’t talk back. The chickens have become my friends (DON’T YOU DARE JUDGE). I know their temperaments and their favorite foods from many hours of stoop sitting, watching them. I also can measure the amount of time I have been at site based on the growth of one set of three sisters. When I arrived in December they were hatchlings and now they are almost the size of their mama!
• The invitations have been sent out and the answers are coming in! The Health 5 group is due in June and we finally won’t be the new kids on the block! It’s crazy to think all that we have learned and experienced since our own arrival in September (almost half a year in country!!!) and I can’t wait to meet the new guys!
• Teaching- Coming into country, this was my biggest anxiety. Rwandan teaching is nothing like being in the states. I have minimal resources consisting of my notebook with my lesson, my creativity, chalk and what seems to the students as a never-ending source of energy. Most of my classes hover around 50 students with vast differences in English comprehension. I teach in two-hour blocks to three levels of students who vary in age from 11-20. This is due to the government’s guarantee that every student has access to a nine-year basic education. After the genocide, huge numbers of Rwandan citizens fled the country and they are still coming back (It is completely normal to hear that people studied in Uganda for a few years while they fled). So now these people came back and insist upon getting their promised education. My friend Alex has an S4 student (equivalent of 10th grade) who is in his mid-late thirties and happily is excelling! It is also common for students to drop out of school for a year to work for school fees. Even though the government guarantees nine years of schooling, you have to pay school fees at every school in the country. Since my school is a public, day school, these fees for a year are 15,000 Rwf or about $25. This can still be a stretch for some families, leading to large age differences in my students. Even though I had no formal teacher training, I find that I am beginning to enjoy myself when I teach. I have no idea if I am helping my students with their English skills but I am becoming comfortable in my job.
• Break- So even though I like teaching, I am eagerly looking forward to the break after first term. I have two more weeks of classroom teaching, exam week and then a week of marking. Then it’s break! Since I don’t have to give an exam, those last two weeks will be a breeze. After the term is finished, I am off to ZANZIBAR with my friends. The ten of us will lay on beautiful, white sand beaches for over a week, drinking fruity drinks and generally not having a care in the world. I. CAN’T. WAIT. Following vacation, on the seventh of April, Genocide Memorial Week begins. I’ll talk more about this week after I been through it as I am still slightly confused as to how everything is going to go down. In the middle of the week, MY SISTER IS COMING TO VISIT. This will be my first visitor since being in Rwanda and the first time I have seen Hilary in over a year. I can’t wait to show her around the country and have her meet Todd and my friends!! Hilary will be here for two weeks and her stay will overlap with IST for a few days. IST (In-Service Training) is a week-long training conference for my group. It will be the first time our group will be together since the end of training! I am so excited to see everyone and have all food and lodging paid for!

Sorry for the rambling and at sometimes ranting update, but it had been too long for a concise or coherent post! And again I will promise that I will try harder to update more often. I am kinda running out of ideas so if you have any questions about me or my life here, feel free to comment and I will get back to you!

Books! Books! Books!

January 20, 2013

At the outset of my service, I set a goal for myself to read 150 books while I am in Rwanda. I did the math, and I am about 15% of the way through my service, and 15% of the way to my goal. Perfect! This is what I have tackled so far

  1. Graceling by Kristen Cashore – Amelia recommended this trilogy before I left! It was pretty good and a fun read to take my mind off things at the beginning of training.
  2. Fire by Kristen Cashore
  3. Bitterblue by Kristen Cashore
  4. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein – Not the best book to read when you miss your dogs terribly, but a great book all the same!
  5. Chasing Fire by Nora Roberts – Because we all know how much I love my romance novels
  6. Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates by Tom Robbins – My friend Sam’s favorite book of all time. I enjoyed it immensely and would recommend reading it!
  7. We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families by Philip Gourevitch – One of the best books to read on the Rwandan Genocide. It was really hard to get through and sometimes hit WAY to close to home, including one story about the village I lived in during training.
  8. The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter and How to Make the Most of Them by Meg Jay – Thanks to Kali for gifting this book to me before I left! It was definitely an interesting read, even if it scared the shit out of me that I didn’t have my life completely figured out at 23 J
  9. A Little Princess by Francis Hodgson Burnett – Classic!
  10. The Hobbit: Or There and Back Again by JRR Tolkien – I have never read the Lord of the Ring Trilogy and before I read it I wanted to reread the Hobbit.
  11.  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by JK Rowling – No explanation needed
  12. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling
  13. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling
  14. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling
  15. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by JK Rowling
  16. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by JK Rowling
  17. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling
  18. Animal Farm by George Orwell – I hadn’t read it since 9th grade Pre-IB English so I figured I would give it another go
  19. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
  20. A Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – Recommended to me by Dan, a fellow PCV. It was an incredible book and made me wish I had some Spanish under my belt as parts of it were in Spanish. Seriously, if you are looking for something to read, look no further.
  21. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon – A nice romance novel recommended to me by Emily before I left for Rwanda
  22. Bossypants by Tina Fey – Probably not best to start this book in the middle of a long-winded teachers’ meeting in Kinyarwanda. I actually had to hold my hand over my mouth to not laugh out loud.

 

If you have any recommendations that you think I should check out, PLEASE comment and let me know! Now that I am at site, I have tons of down time and would love to read YOUR favorite book!

Holidays and the First Week of School

January 14, 2013

 

            Coming into Peace Corps, I knew that one of the hardest parts was going to be being away from home during the holidays. There is nothing about this time of year that I hate. I love the peace I feel when I walk through my red, front door to be greeted by hounds then parents. I love that my parents make sure there is firewood stocked for my visit. I love the smell of Christmas Eve morning and the oven schedule my mom makes every year. Knowing that it wasn’t going to be the same in Rwanda. It’s hard to feel the holiday spirit living in a perpetual summer day, where the temperature doesn’t dare deviate from mid-seventies to mid-eighties. Where there is no commercialism to speak of (outside of downtown Kigali that is) and Christmas isn’t a season. Thinking back, I am grateful that it didn’t feel like my normal Christmas, as it would have been so much harder to not be with family and friends.

However, we PCVs were determined to make Christmas special, however we could. All the PCVs in the Northern Province gathered together at Josh’s house, Josh being the one who agreed to graciously host us. We spent three days eating, drinking and generally enjoying one another’s company. My hand-sewn stockings adorned the wall as twinkle lights wove in and out of them. The climax of our Christmas had to be Christmas Eve dinner. We bought two, live chickens which Josh and Betsy then killed, plucked and butchered. They then passed them off to me where I deep-fried them, Southern style, to accompany our green beans and mac-and-cheese. Somehow we all pulled it off and it was delicious. We all said goodbye on Boxing Day to make our way back to site for a few days before we were to come back together for New Years.

For New Years, around 25 of our training group came together in Kibuye, a city that borders the beautiful Lake Kivu (seriously, look it up), absolutely gorgeous! We stayed at a hotel that had a 270 degree view of the lake. One day we spent most of our daylight hours on a boat on Lake Kivu, with the DRC within eyesight. We stopped at this island named Napoleon Island, as it looked like his hat. When we stopped, we saw all these birds, must have been thousands of them, flying around the island. Then we realized they were not birds. They were huge bats. And there were four million of them. It was seriously one of the coolest things I have ever seen in my life. I spent that evening ringing in the New Year with my wonderful boyfriend and 24 of my favorite people in this country. Not too shabby.

Coming back to site after so much together time with my fellow PCVs was rough. We had a week of downtime before school was scheduled to begin. Alex and I took a day trip to Musanze to collect some mail and happened across another American who lives in Musanze and told us about a place where we can get pedicures for only 1,000Rwf, or approximately $1.75. It was not the exact same as a pedicure in the States, but it was incredible all the same (even when the lady who was working on my feet asked if her friend could touch my foot, ehh this is Rwanda. Ntakibazo, or not a problem, the answer to everything here). Alex and I decided it will be an “every time we go to Musanze” thing. I got home and was treated to a great surprise visit from Todd (the aforementioned wonderful boyfriend) that helped me assuage my fears that school was starting the next day and I would be a legitimate teacher (EEEEK!).

Monday morning came and I made my way up to school (not that it’s a journey, I can probably get there in twenty steps), stomach full of butterflies. You see, I didn’t know what levels, courses, days or hours I would be teaching or even if I would be asked to teach that day. Nerves abundant. Thankfully I recognized some faces from my site visit as I waited outside the teacher’s room for our meeting to begin. My headmaster spoke for a while (not that I understood any of it, my Kinyarwanda is not NEARLY that good) and then we broke off into primary and secondary teachers (I am teaching secondary). It was obvious that we would not be teaching that day. The students who had shown up were busy cleaning the school and the grounds (HELLO difference from America), including cutting the grass by hand.

The rest of the day we “supervised” the students until it was our chance to meet with the Headmaster. I found out that I will be teaching English Communication to all the classes of secondary. It totals 16 hours a week (technically we aren’t supposed to teach more than 15, but whatever). Every teacher in Rwanda is guaranteed one day off during the workweek so I have every Monday off and three-day weekends every weekend (Ohhh HELL YEAH). I also don’t teach before 9am every day, so everyone that has ever known me knows that I am ecstatic over that. I spent the rest of the week teaching and lesson planning, trying to remember names and faces as I have around 300 students every week. So for now, I am still trying to get into the swing of things and figure out how every day is going to unfold. It’s coming buhoro buhoro (slowly by slowly). 

 

ALSO, a belated Happy Birthday to my wonderful sister, Hilary!! I hope my phone call actually went through. Miss and love you!!!!!

“In two weeks this house will be your home”

December 19, 2012

 

The past few weeks have been a blur. Two weeks ago today, I was saying goodbye to my host family and packing up to head to the capital.  It was hard to leave the family that had given me so much love and support over the three strenuous months of training. With promises of visits to come and many tears (mostly from my end, let’s get real) I rode off in the PC car. We spent two days in Kigali, preparing for installation (the PC fancy term for us being dropped off at site), buying things we wouldn’t be able to get at site, olive oil and popcorn seeds being at the top of my list. Friday morning we all threw on our nicest clothes (just saying that for PCVs we were looking pretty wambeye neza, or looking smart, the highest of Rwandan compliments) and jetted off to the Ambassador’s residence (apparently when you live in a mansion, it’s no longer called a house. So fancy.)/ America (embassy property = America, let me have this) for Swear-In. This was the moment we had been working toward for three months, the moment I was looking forward to since I submitted my PC application 2.5 years ago. There was some traditional Rwandan dancing that you know I was all up on, speeches from trainees in English, French and Kinyarwanda and some speeches from the Ambassador and CD (country director). Then the moment: we all put up our hands, repeated the same words that the president says and voila! we were Peace Corps Volunteers. At that moment we transformer-style morphed into robots, ready to integrate into small Rwandan communities. Kinda. It was a really cool moment that I will never forget, that was followed by an incredible buffet (Mini. Pizzas. All that needs to be said about that) where we gorged ourselves on American food that we had been deprived of the last three months.

After swear in, we all were pumped for swear in night. After having a 6:30 curfew for all of training, we couldn’t wait to actually have a night out on the town. Shenanigans ensued. Everyone made it back to our lodgings eventually and no one died, so we all considered it a successful evening. Add to that that my dinner was a burrito and margarita and I was happy as a clam.

I realize now that prior to swear in, I hadn’t really put much thought into the day after swear in. I was unlucky enough to be in the first group to get installed at 7AM the morning following swear in. Trying to stay composed on two hours of sleep, an awful hangover and with the knowledge that I was about to leave everyone I knew in this country was impossible. I was “that girl”. You know, the over-emotional one that cried the entire morning, trying to gather up my belongings. Yeah, it was rough. After a round of hugs from everyone, promising that I was okay and that I would contact them once I was at site, Alex and I loaded up with our Deputy, Bryan and our Training Manager, JD. Alex and I took a good fifteen minutes to compose ourselves and eventually the tears stopped and the hangover kicked into over-drive from the lack of water in our systems. However, Bryan was the absolute best person to have to take us to our sites. His presence calmed us more than anything else could have. We stopped first at my site to unload and have the staff check to make sure that everything was up to PC standards. The staff had okayed me coming up to Alex’s site to move her in as they had to pass by my village on the way back to Kigali anyways. It was hard to say goodbye to Alex, but we knew that it would only be a matter of time before we would see each other again. Then it was my turn to be dropped off. Bryan walked me into my compound and told me something that really stuck with me. He said,  “In two weeks this house will be your home.” Feeling the tears coming again, I got one last hug and off he went.

And I was alone. And exhausted. And terrified. But oddly enough a liberating feeling was also there. No more curfew. No more having to account for my every move. No more regimented schedule of when to eat, when to sleep, when to bathe. Feeling great, I went and slept for the afternoon; trying to catch up on some much needed rest. I woke up in a blind panic. What the hell am I doing here? How in the world can I do this for two years? How can I survive without anyone else who understands my culture, jokes, witticisms? Trying to shake off the foreboding feeling, I decided to try and cook up some dinner. After melting an extension cord and fighting with my petrol stove for an hour it started pouring: both the rain outside and my tears. I was just so overwhelmed and scared and lonely. After basically living with 33 other American for training, it was startling to be all-alone. I called some great people in my training group and calmed down enough to make a PB&J for dinner (thanks Robertsons, I wouldn’t have made it through that first night without that) and passed out again, determined to wake up in the morning in a better mood.

The next days gradually got better and better. I figured out how to cook successfully and I was able to cook comfort dishes that I had missed during training. I also am now living in electricity (which I will never, ever, ever take for granted for again) so I can watch movies and check facebook to my heart’s content. I even have a light in my toilet, granted it is still outside and a latrine but SO FANCY A LIGHT IN MY LATRINE! My days are simple now. I wake up whenever I want, usually around 8, still trying to catch up on all that missed sleep from training. If it is a market day I walk the 30 minutes to my market town and get all my basic staples for the next few days (usually for under $1). If it isn’t a market day I lounge about, trying to do things to improve my house or cleaning. Currently I am making a stocking for every PCV in the north for our Christmas gathering (boredom leads me to sew apparently). I try and get out every day and walk around the community, introducing myself to anyone I encounter. Successful days are measured differently now: I took a hot shower today, I went to the market and bought carrots, I met two new people in my village etc. Until the school year starts at the beginning of January, life will be much slower. I am looking forward to getting together with the Northern Province for Christmas next week and gathering with everyone in our training class for a New Years Celebration on Lake Kivu. Until then, I will sew :)

Thanksgiving

November 26, 2012

So as we PCTs were busy with the final days of model school on Thanksgiving Day, we celebrated on the Saturday following. Instead of telling the stories of killing and butchering and cooking for 75 using only charcoal stove, I will say what I am thankful for this year.

1. My incredible family in the USA (and South Korea) who are so supportive and loving (and can pack a damn good care package).

2. My PCT family that listends when I need to vent, agrees and joins when I need a cold beer, splits and avocado when I can’t finish it or just give me a hug when I really need one. We left Atlanta with 34 trainees, and to this day (and I am typing this up on December 3) we still have 34 trainees. From what people have said, this is pretty unusual, which I think shows how wonderful our group is as a whole.

3. My Rwandan host family (an entire blog to come on them) who are so supportive and wonderful even when we can’t fully understand each other or when my Mama makes me re-wash my jeans because they didn’t get clean enough the first time I tried (and trust that there is nothing worse than hand washing jeans in the rainy season).

4. The wonderful LCFs (Rwandan teachers who teach us the language and culture) that make sure I can communicate and live in this country.

5. That my laptop can last for a week if used properly.

6. That in a week and a half I will be living with electricity and a water pump in my courtyard.

7. That I know one drink mix-in can actually make double what is says on the package.

8. That I’ve lost three belt loops since coming to this country.

9. The great community of volunteers in this country who are so supportive of the trainees.

10. That M23 has stayed on the Congo side of the border

11. That the moon here can actually be used as a light when it is full. And that the stars here are unrivaled by anything I have ever seen.

12. That in a week and a half I can make my favorite pasta with garlic salt and Parmesan cheese again (thanks KC for forever making me obsessed with that dish, that I will even be making it in Rwanda).

13. That I made it through my first big holiday away from home and loved ones. To everyone out there reading this, thank you for everything. You are loved and you are missed, especially during this holiday season. I won’t pretend that it was easy, but it makes it easier knowing what an incredible support system I have.

Model School

November 26, 2012

 

For the past two weeks of training my hands, and most likely my skirt, have been covered in chalk dust. For this time, all PCTs lives have been consumed by Model School. Model School is one of the first, last big hurdles to get over before we are allowed to swear in (the others being the final language exam and the finals tests for Safety and Security, Cross Culture and Medical). For many PCTs, it was the first time we had ever taught in an official classroom capacity, including myself. Since the Rwandan school term finished up a few weeks ago, PC has been signing up local kids to come to our school (basically a voluntary, two-week summer school so kids can get extra practice). Mostly we had pretty small classes, which helped to ease everyone’s anxieties. This will not be the same at site as most of us will have class sizes from anywhere between 40-65.

As I stood in front of fifteen 12-14 year olds attempting to discern the difference between a countable and uncountable noun, I realized something: I really like teaching. I love standing in front of those children, giving them a push in the right direction when they are wrong or encouraging them when they are right. I love the moment when I see it “click” in their minds, or when the shy girl in the back raises her hand to finally answer a question.

Now don’t get me wrong, it is INCREDIBLY difficult to teach and my respect has grown by leaps and bounds for every teacher I have ever had. Teaching in an environment where “classroom resources” consist of a blackboard, chalk, my own creativity and maybe a pre-made rice sack (used for longer readings, diagrams, pictures, etc, you can buy a blank rice sack for around 15 cents) is incredibly difficult. Not to mention that we are teaching in a culture where positive reinforcement is a unique experience for students, rote memorization of notes is the only way to learn and creativity and critical thinking are rarely used by students or teachers. This is why it is so exciting to be here. I get to use the years of wonderful teaching I have witnessed and change the ways Rwandan students understand learning.

This was most poignant on the second to last day of Model School. I was teaching a double period (100 minutes without stopping) of S3 (rough equivalent of 9th grade) the active and passive Voice. Unable to contain my glee when my students understood how to use both, I couldn’t help but remember my year-long struggle with passive voice during Mr. Campbell’s IB English 2 class and out mutual joy when I finally wrote an essay without any passive voice. (Oh and Mr. Campbell if you are reading this, one of my students corrected me during the lesson, so trust that this did not go straight to my head). After I finished the lesson, we played a variation of Alge-ball, the game I played in my 9th grade Algebra 2 class, giddy when the students really got into it.

Now I am more exited than ever to have my own class at my site. I am excited to form relationships with my students, to have a curriculum to follow, and to test how creative I can get with them. Hopefully my love of teaching will balance out my fear and loathing of lesson planning, which is sure to be the bane of my existence these next two years.

New Address!

Hello all!

I promise that I will be putting up a post soon about Model School (of which we have finished one out of two weeks) but in the meantime, I have my permanent mailing address. This is the address you will use for the rest of the time I am in Rwanda, and please don’t send anything else to the old address (the one in Kigali). Go crazy with the letters and packages!

Taylor Harveycutter, PCV

PO 47

Musanze

Northern Province

Rwanda

Love and miss you all and I hope everyone has a wonderful and safe Thanksgiving! We PCTs are in the midst of planning an all out feast to take place on Saturday, can’t wait!