Two weeks of training down, ten more to go! This week went by much the same as last week; the days felt long, but the weeks pass in a blur. I feel a lot more tired this week, but I think that’s just from how hard my brain is constantly working while trying to process Kinyarwanda and adjust to the culture.
So far, things are still going really well. I like my host family and we get along well. They are a very conservative family. On my first Sunday here, I wore pants around the house, and my host mother kept pointing to other women in skirts and giving them the thumbs up. Then she pointed to my pants and wagged her finger at me. Every night before bed, they gather to sing prayers together, and it turns out my host father is a leader at church. Last night, it was just Mama, Papa, and I praying before bed. During one of the prayers, Mama fell asleep, and Papa and I just started giggling. When she woke up, she was so embarrassed but laughed with us. I don’t feel so bad anymore about occasionally starting to nod off myself.
I went to my first Rwandan church service last Sunday, which was quite the experience. It lasted three hours, which is fortunate because other PCTs sat through five hour services. All the visitors to the church stand up during the service and introduce themselves. Luckily for me, Papa Marcel had the microphone at that point so he did all the talking for me so I just had to stand, wave, and then take a seat at the very front of the church. The pews at church are wooden benches that are about six inches wide and have no backs. They are also about a foot off the ground, so needless to say, they are not designed to be sat on for hours on end. I was definitely ready to go home by the end of it, but it was entertaining at least to watch all the lively singing and dancing that goes on in African church services.
One interesting aspect of the service was the offertory. Most people gave coins, maybe a couple hundred Francs, but those who could not afford to give money brought goods like tomatoes, eggs, or avocados from home. At the end of the service, the goods were auctioned off to the congregation so that everyone could contribute monetarily to the church.
This Saturday was our first Umuganda. The last Saturday of every month is a required community service day in Rwanda. We were told that all adults are required to come out and work on whatever community project the local chiefs have designated for that month. This morning, I woke up expecting to go to umuganda with my host family, but it turns out they decided not to go. They said something about being grandparents, so maybe that makes them exempt, but I’m not really sure. They stayed at home to make banana juice instead. I headed into town expecting to find tons of people working, but when I arrived, I found out that all the other PCTs’ families and the majority of the town had bailed on umuganda too. There were only 50 people max there, nine of whom were PCTs.
Our work for the day was to help build a dorm for teachers working at the local schools. We were carrying armfuls of bricks down from a huge pile at the top of a hill, to the construction site at the bottom. It made for a long, hot, and dusty morning. It was still nice though because I haven’t really exercised since being here. I’m sure I’m going to be super sore tomorrow!
I’ll be interested to see what umuganda is like at my site. All the PCTs agreed that we were somewhat disappointed by the event. We had anticipated it being such a great activity to get the whole community out to better itself, but the turnout was really underwhelming. Hopefully in the future, we’ll have a better experience with it.
One of my favorite parts of day here is in the evenings when Mama and Julienne are cooking. After class, I normally grab my books and sit on a stool in the courtyard to study while they start getting dinner ready. Some nights I finish and join in to help peel and cut vegetables, which can be frustrating since the knives here are as dull as rocks and lack handles, there are no cutting boards, and the power likes to conveniently cut out for several hours at night, starting around 6pm. However, I do enjoy sitting outside in the cool air beside the charcoal stove, listening to them talk and chiming in when I can. It makes me think of going camping and watching the fire at night. I like that “mountain TV” exists in Rwanda, too! When the sky is clear, you can see so many stars. It’s truly spectacular. At some point during the evening, beautiful music plays from the mosque down the street, and the same music wakes me up every morning at 5am.
Speaking of cooking, the food here is generally pretty good. For breakfast every morning, I have a fried bread ball, the name of which translates as doughnut although it’s nothing like American doughnuts. It’s pretty tasty nonetheless. For lunch on school days, we go to a restaurant, which is really a neighbor’s living room where she cooks us tons of food like fried plantains, fries, beans, carrots, green beans, and some sort of sauce. It’s always really delicious and filling. Then for dinner, we always have a sauce/stew type dish of tomatoes, carrots, onions, beans, and a green I’m not familiar with called idodo. Really only the starch changes at dinner. Some nights we have stewed plantains, other nights rice or sweet potatoes. Rwandans don’t seem to use any spices other than salt, so I’m looking forward to breaking into the herbs I brought from home once I’m at site. The avocados here are twice the size of avocadoes at home and are to die for. The pit alone is about the size of my fist. The pineapples, too, are incomparable.
Although I really enjoy 95% of the food, there are some things that are just bad. The worst I’ve had is this dish of cassava flour mixed with water to form this sticky, gelatinous ball. You then tear off a small piece and dip it in soup. What really gets me is the little bits of sand somehow get in it, so it is really gritty between your teeth. Another delicacy that I have so far avoided but figure is probably going to be served to me eventually is cow intestine.
I haven’t had any of the famous Rwandan bourbon coffee yet because it’s hard to find since most of it is exported. (My host mother is a coffee farmer though.) If locals drink coffee, they only drink Nescafe. Mostly they drink tea with tons of sugar. The first night I added a teaspoon of sugar to my tea, but my host mom reached over, took a sip from my mug, spit it out, and added several more tablespoons of sugar. If the sugar can’t completely dissolve into your tea, you’re not using enough. Another common drink is boiled milk with, you guessed it, several tablespoons of sugar mixed in.
As far as training goes, everything is going well. Language lessons are exhausting, but I feel like I’m making some progress. Buhoro, buhoro, or step by step! We started some of our technical training lessons this week, so we’ve been talking about the Rwandan education system, school hierarchies, and educational materials available here, etc. Next week we jump in with lesson planning! I think we have gotten 6 new shots, but I’ve lost track: two rabies, meningitis, typhoid, Hep A, and Hep B.
That’s about all the excitement for now. I feel like things are starting to fall into a rhythm and I’m starting to feel a bit more at home.