Welcome to Rwanda!

Today marks one week since I got on the plane bound for Rwanda! All the other Peace Corps Trainees (PCTs) and I agree that it feels like we’ve been here so much longer than only one week!

Staging in Atlanta last Tuesday was largely uneventful, and on Wednesday we began the long trek to Africa. The flights were fine but really long, and finally after 27 hours of traveling, including 17 hours of flying, we finally arrived at the Peace Corps compound in Kigali. We were welcomed by several current Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) and the next two days were filled with information sessions about medical issues, safety and security, how to set up bank accounts, and a brief language lesson.

On Saturday, we left Kigali and set off for our training site, which is about an hour outside of the city. The ride took us through beautiful, rolling mountains on very dusty, narrow roads. It was raining when we arrived at our main training site where we were to be introduced to our new host families. As our vans pulled into town, one child ran outside and started jumping up and down yelling, “Peace Corps has arrived! Peace Corps has arrived!” Soon many other children were lined up along the road yelling, “umuzungu,” or “foreigners.”

All the PCTs filed into a large tent where our host families were waiting on one side to meet us. Ceremoniously, each host families name was called followed by the name of their PCT guest, and both met in the middle of the tent and embraced and shook hands. It was very exciting and fun as everyone was clapping, cheering, and laughing!

So far living with the host family has been very interesting and enjoyable. I’m living with Papa Marcel and Mama Marie Claire. They have eight children, four of whom, two boys and two girls, live at home still. The children know some limited English from school, so most everything is done in Kinyarwanda. Mostly I just repeat words back since I don’t know how to say much at this point. Today, though, I managed to start stringing together some basic sentences! I also work on flash cards with Diane, and she enjoys reading through her Kinyarwanda-English-French dictionary with me. They are all patient with me, but they often find my mispronunciations of words amusing.

I’ve also lost count of the number of rounds of UNO I’ve played since giving them the cards. I apparently didn’t pantomime skip, draw two, or reverse well enough because those rules are always ignored, but oh well, they love it anyway. Maybe one day I’ll be able to clarify the rules!

Our house, like most in this village, has electricity, but it goes out intermittently at night. I live in the main house with the parents, and the children live next door by themselves. We spend most of the time in the yard between the houses, which is complete with kitchen and cow pen. At night it also becomes home to a chicken and a goat!

The house is on the side of a hill, with a beautiful view of the countryside. Down the hill along a very steep, narrow, and rocky path is the well where everyone gets their water. The first day, I grabbed my PC issued jerry can and accompanied my host sister, Diane, down to the well. Unfortunately, the jerry can is huge and weighs a ton when filled. I figured I would just carry it up by hand, but according to Rwandan culture, I was expected to carry the 30 pounds of water up the hill on top of my head. Needless to say, that didn’t go very well. I made it about half way before I was huffing and puffing and gave up. Luckily for me, my host brother, Damascene, was nice enough to help me the rest of the way.

Now that training has started, my days are split between language lessons and technical lessons. Language lessons are held in our villages, and three PCTs work with one teacher for several hours every day. We drill vocabulary and have so far learned how to greet people and to introduce ourselves and others. During the breaks from lessons, my teacher, fellow students, and I play volleyball with local children in the road. We have a blast every day and the kids are hilarious and cute.

When not in language lessons, all the PCTs come together in our main site where we learn about culture, teaching, safety, and medical issues. For example, Monday we had an information session about malaria and other febrile diseases, and I am proud to say I am now well versed in the symptoms and treatment of malaria, yellow fever, typhoid, and dengue fever. Friday we get to look forward to a two-hour session just on diarrhea and nutrition. (I know you’re jealous!) In more exciting and less disgusting sessions, we’ll start learning about writing lesson plans and will eventually teach in a model school for practice.

Overall, things have been off to a good and steady start. I really enjoy spending time with my fellow PCTs, and I look forward to getting to know them even better as time goes along. I want to upload pictures, but my internet is being impossibly slow. Miss everyone at home, xoxo.

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