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 :)