Site Visit

This past week I visited my future site location and I am very pleased with my first impressions of the school and town. On Monday, a Peace Corps vehicle drove us to the capital Kigali, where we met our headmasters. My headmaster seems very eager for me to be at his school, and he has already schemed up a list of potential projects for me to work on. He speaks decent English, but he studied French in school, so he felt more comfortable using French. Many of the teachers at my school speak both French and English, so I’m excited that my French will actually be useful here!
Tuesday morning, my headmaster and I traveled back to my site, which is located in a village in the Western Province. It was my first experience using Rwandan transportation, and I’m very glad my headmaster was with me to navigate. Despite a minor automotive malfunction, the trip went pretty smoothly and I enjoyed seeing a new part of the country as the views from the bus were gorgeous. The trip took around four hours and included two buses, a taxi, and a motorcycle. Our American vision of a bus and taxi do not match the Rwandan reality.
There are two types of buses: nice express buses for longer distances, which actually have leg room and mini-buses, which have three rows of seats that look wide enough for two people to sit comfortably plus a small fold-out seat. However, at least four people, if not five, cram themselves into each row, and there are two to three people squished in up by the driver. Taxis are more or less like the mini-buses but they make more frequent stops and there seems to be no limit to the number of people that squeeze in them. Moto rides are pretty much what they sound like and are surprisingly fun.
The school I will be teaching at is a boarding school that was previously an all-girls school. This year, the school began to transition from being simply a secondary school (equivalent grades 7-12) to a teacher training center (TTC) and consequently they started accepting male students. The gender ratio remains skewed, with around 270 female students and only 50 male. To transition to being a TTC, the school did not accept Senior One students, equivalent to American seventh grade. Next year they’ll phase out Senior Two or eighth grade. My headmaster said I will be teaching Senior Four and Five, tenth and eleventh grade, and I’m excited that I will be working with more advanced students and that I will have less strict national curriculum to follow!
The campus is formed in a square with a courtyard and basketball court in the center of the buildings. One side of buildings houses the recreation room, dormitory for female students, and computer lab. The front side has a few classrooms and administrative offices. Along the other side there are more classrooms, the dining hall, and science lab. The last building is housing for the unmarried, female teachers, where I will be living. The male teachers and students live together outside the main gates of the school.
My housing looks kind of like a motel, two floors lined with doors opening out onto the courtyard. Each teacher has one room, which has a bed, sink, table/desk, wardrobe, and shelves. On the back wall, there are huge windows, from which I can see two volcanoes in the national park where the gorillas live! All the teachers share a toilet and shower. Downstairs there is a large kitchen and dining area, where a very nice man named Emanuel cooks all our meals. Room and board costs 7,000 francs per month, around $12! That’s cheap, even by Rwandan standards!
During my visit, I met my future co-workers, observed the current PCV teach a few lessons, went to the local market, and took some long walks to explore the area. On one walk, I found myself walking with two children on their way to work in the fields. They were nice enough to share a hunk of sugar cane to munch on as we walked along. I also visited the library another former PCV started and met some contacts in the local community.
Visiting site helped alleviate some of the anxieties I’ve had over the past few weeks. It’s nice to know what to expect now and it was very helpful to get some pointers from the PCV I’ll be replacing. I think I will learn more in our technical training sessions because now I have some context for all the information they’re teaching us. Lastly, it was also great to get a break from grueling Kinyarwanda lessons. I was starting to get kind of burned out by lessons, but after the time away, I feel motivated for class again tomorrow.
Rwanda is such an interesting place to live, and I feel very lucky to have been placed in such a beautiful country. (I did not take my camera with me to site, so unfortunately I don’t have any pictures to share for the time being. I do have some video, which I hope to upload when I have a decent internet connection.) Sometimes, it feels more normal to be living here, but then some element of culture shock with catch me off guard. Culture shock seems to come in waves for me, and you never know when or what will hit you.
It has been amusing to observe the funny t-shirts I see walking around the villages here. As one PCV that we met aptly said, “Africa is where t-shirts go to die.” Another PCV gave the example of a man in his village that wears a pink sweatshirt with Tinkerbell and is oblivious to the fact he’s wearing a girl’s shirt. My host brother has a shirt from the San Antonio Water Sanitation Department, and I really wonder how in the world that made it here. I keep seeing one guy in our village that wears an Obama 2009 t-shirt almost every day. There are also a ton of t-shirts from random high schools across the country. If I ever see a Richland Northeast High School shirt, I’m going to freak out and take a picture with the person wearing it. And for you Big Bang Theory fans, I saw a guy in town wearing shirt that just said, “Bazinga!!”
If I had a nickel for every time I catch someone staring at me, I would be one rich umuzungu. For example, the other day walking to class I passed a group of women carrying water on a path below me. One of the women saw me and yelled, “Umuzungu!” I’m really surprised the other women managed not to spill all the water they were carrying on their heads because of how fast their heads snapped around to gape at me. Children line the streets as I walk past just to stare and shout umuzungu. Every day for the next two years, it will be a battle to try to break them of this habit.
It’s also pretty amusing to introduce myself to people here. In Kinyarwanda, there is no differentiation between L’s and R’s, and they are used interchangeably in both speaking and writing. Therefore, the name Lauren is quite a challenge for them to pronounce. I will now respond to anything that sounds remotely like Lauren: Roren, Lolen, Rolen, etc. Often when I introduce myself to a group, as soon as I get a few feet farther down the road, I hear them repeating my name and bickering about how to properly pronounce it.
That’s about all the news for now. Back to language lessons and training as usual. Next weekend we go back to Kigali to visit the Genocide Memorial, so I’m sure I will have more to report soon!

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4 thoughts on “Site Visit

  1. Glad you are enjoying yourself. Watch the mail. Hopefully you will have some soon! Let us know what to send! UNO! is the only thing I have heard so far. Love you. Keep safe!
    Aunt Alison XOXOXOXOX

  2. Bazinga! Awesome! Love your description of the t-shirts. Your new school/home sounds exciting – especially the views. Can’t wait for pics. Love you!!! Hugs! Darby

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