What a vacation! After a long three months of training and some time at site, a quick trip away was a much needed break. My travels started on Christmas Eve when I began my trek to visit friends farther west towards Lake Kivu. My friend Matt was nice enough to host all the Ed 4 volunteers living in the Western Province. Matt’s house is high up in the mountains with a gorgeous view of Lake Kivu.
Christmas Eve was one of the most entertaining holidays I’ve ever had. Matt’s village is huge (it has street lamps!) Thinking we would have a relaxing evening out, we headed to town to eat and get a few drinks. Before we knew it, we were caught up in a huge dance party with a bunch of locals! As soon as we entered this particular bar, the owners pushed the tables aside and started blasting American rap music. I have to assume a previous volunteer had done this before because we were totally caught off guard, but we went with the flow and had a blast! We six Americans were greatly outnumbered, but it was a blast dancing the night away with some very friendly Rwandans! My white girl dancing skills were no match for these guys’ moves! We stayed out late, and I like to think we worked on PC Goal 2- share American culture.
After Christmas, I traveled back with my friends Elisabeth and Liz to visit Elisabeth’s site. Elisabeth has a duplex-like house that she shares with a neighbor. It’s a very cozy house, and previous volunteers decorated it with photographs and wine bottle candle holders, so it has a very homey feel. We three gals spent the weekend hunkered down on the couch out of the pouring rain and watched entirely too much Battlestar Galactica. We also cooked a ton: mac and cheese, French fries, sweet potato fries, lentil burgers, coleslaw, cookie dough, and much more. It was so nice to be able to cook and enjoy American food again. It made me realize how much I miss cooking!
From there, the majority of volunteers from my training class met up for New Years in Kibuye, a town directly on Lake Kivu. Our hotel, Home St Jean, sits on a hillside directly on the lake. From three sides of the hotel, there are gorgeous views out over the lake. The next three days were filled with pizza, swimming, and sharing stories from our brief time at site.
The highlight of the trip was New Year’s Eve day. We rented two large boats to take us out on the lake for the afternoon. Our tour took us out to Napoleon Island, accurately named for its resemblance to Napoleon’s hat. Our guide informed us that a colony of almost 4 million bats resides in a cave on the island. He led us on a hike across the island, where he roused the bats so that they were flying directly overhead so close you could hear their wings beating loudly! It was pretty amazing to see so many bats so clearly. They were huge! If I had to guess, their wingspan must have stretched to at least 10 inches.
The rest of the hike took us to the top of the mountain, which offered stunning views back to Rwanda on one side and out to the DRC on the other! The region is simply gorgeous- steep hills and mountains that plunge down into the calm water. To cool off after our hike, we took a dip in the lake before heading back to the hotel.
The chance to travel around the country was wonderful for several reasons. First, I cannot believe how beautiful this country is, and I enjoyed gazing out bus windows, admiring the scenery as we wound our way through the mountains. Kivu is a must see attraction for anyone who visits Rwanda!
It was also really interesting to see how different all our sites and villages are. No Peace Corps experience is exactly alike, so it was nice to see what other people’s services are like. For example, Matt’s town is big with more amenities, whereas Elisabeth’s is tucked quaintly away on the top of a mountain. Their houses are large with some garden space, but on the other hand I live in a building much like a dorm at a boarding school. Matt can see Lake Kivu from his porch; I can see volcanoes from mine. I look forward to visiting more volunteers over the years to see what their sites are like.
Being away also made me realize how easily accessible my site is. My market town is directly off a main, paved road, and it takes me a 45 minute walk on level ground or a 10 minute moto ride to reach the road where I can catch a bus. The other sites I visited were well over an hour’s moto on unpaved, mountainous roads. Once off the dirt road to Elisabeth’s site, I had to take a 30 minute moto ride up a windy, steep mountain to up to her site. After days and days of endless rain, it made for one scary moto ride back down the mountain when we left. The thick mud made the moto slip all over the place and made it even more difficult to cross the narrow log bridges along the way! It is not a trip for the feint of heart. I didn’t realize just how convenient it is to get to my site, something I am very grateful for!
So now after a wonderful vacation, it’s time to buckle down and get ready for school to start. Students arrive Monday and classes start Tuesday, but I have yet to meet the other teachers or see a finalized schedule of classes. My headmaster just informed me he wants me to teach mostly computer classes, which has thrown me off a bit because I anticipated and was trained to teach English, so I’ve been spending a lot of time reading Excel tutorials so that I know the material! I’m starting to get nervous about the start of school, but I will be glad to finally find a routine and really settle down here at home!