Just over a year after starting my application, I’m finally a Peace Corps Volunteer! It feels good to have made it this far! After our party with our host families last Saturday, the next few days were spent cleaning and packing to get ready for the final move.
As a thank you for hosting me for the last three months, I gave my host family some gifts that were mailed to me from the States. I gifted them some printed copies of pictures I had taken, a calendar with pictures of South Carolina, a bunch of books and stickers for the children, a vegetable peeler and can opener, and a miniature American flag. The family especially loved the pictures and calendar!
After opening their gifts, my host father led everyone in prayer, which requires a lot of singing here. The entire time they sang, Papa Marcel waved the little flag back and forth in time with the music. Afterward, he proceeded to hang up the calendar in the middle of the living room wall and stuck the flag right beside it in a crack in the wall.
Saying goodbye to the family Wednesday morning was hard. Papa Marcel gave a little speech saying that they were blessed to have me as part of the family and that they would come visit me in my new home. I also promised that whenever friends and family visit me from the States, I must bring them to meet my Rwandan family. I am very grateful to have had such a wonderful, welcoming host family. They made being away from loved ones back home much easier and definitely helped acclimate me to Rwandan culture!
After final goodbyes, we packed a Peace Corps Landcruiser ridiculously full of all our stuff. We looked like a clown car driving around with 5 people and all our belongings. Crammed in the back of the Landcruiser, it was nearly impossible to hear the conversations of the people in the front seat because their voices were so muffled by the wall of mattresses, suitcases, moto helmets, and water filters that separated us!
The next few days were spent in Kigali, where we slept at the Peace Corps Headquarters. I did some shopping for staple foods like oatmeal and honey to take to site with me. I also checked out one of the one of the huge markets, where I bought some beautiful blue and yellow igitenge (fabric.) I also visited an awesome craft co-op where I plan on doing Christmas shopping next year once I’m more settled and have more time to get a package together!
Saturday was the big day- our Swearing In Ceremony. The American Ambassador to Rwanda was gracious enough to host the event at his house. It’s a beautiful home, and the ceremony took place under white tents in the back yard, surrounded by gorgeous tropical plants. Speeches were made by soon-to-be PCVs in English, French, and Kinyarwanda, and our Country Director, the Ambassador, and an official from the Rwanda Education Board also spoke. Some brave PCTs also performed our take on a traditional Rwandan dance, which we had practiced a grand total of three times and never with music, so needless to say it was kind of a mess. Finally it was time to take our oath and swear in as PC Volunteers.
“I, Lauren Wright, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies, domestic and foreign, that I take this obligation freely, and without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and that I will well and faithfully discharge my duties in the Peace Corps, so help me god.”
And with our right hands raised, we officially became abakorerabushake wa Peace Corps! A nice reception followed the ceremony, and lots of pictures were taken of us in our fancy, local dresses. Every year, some of the host families are invited to attend the ceremony, and this year my family received an invitation. My host mama couldn’t make it, but Papa Marcel came. He found me after the ceremony, and with my teacher Olive’s help, he gave me a name in Kinyarwanda.
The name Umutesi requires a bit of an explanation in English. It literally translates to “the spoiled one,” but I was assured by multiple Rwandans that spoiled has a positive connotation in Kinyarwanda. As Jerome and Olive explained, it is good to be seen as spoiled here because it means that your family loves you very much and wishes you give you everything. Papa Marcel said that because I am as important to their family as their own daughters, they wanted to give me a name that reflected that. I was really touched by Papa Marcel’s and the rest of his family’s kindness, and I will proudly be called Umutesi in my new village.
And now I’m settling in to my new home in the Western Province. My school is a very nice boarding school in a decent-sized town. All the female teachers live together with a shared bathroom and kitchen. There is a man, Emmanuel, who comes and cooks all our meals for us. I’ve got all my stuff unpacked in my room, and I’m settling in easier than expected.
It’s pretty quiet because most of the other teachers have gone home for break. I’ve been mostly hanging out with Emmanuel and one other female teacher. Classes don’t start back until January, so I have literally nothing that I have to do until then. I wake up around 6 and go to bed around 8:30 and have to figure out how to fill my time during the day. Yesterday I went to town, met a few people, arranged to visit someone this afternoon, and watched way too many episodes of Modern Family.
I’ve made a list of 30 things to do during my first month here so I have a mission each day. They’re mostly small things like find the best place to buy tea in town and learn the shop keeper’s name, play soccer with the local kids, hike for an hour in each direction. Hopefully this gives me a sense of purpose in this month where I know only a handful of people and have nothing structured to do!
I’m off to work on Goal Two of Peace Corps: integrate and learn as much as possible about my host community!