Monday, July 23, 2012

The Beginning of Goodbyes

Day 31
In the morning, we all trek to the primary school for English Club. When we reach the school, a few students are lingering in the courtyard, but the school is otherwise a ghost town. Most students are enjoying their break after exams last week, but 14 students still show up for English Club.
We wind them up with singing and Simon Says. Then, we break off into small groups and do a vocabulary contest. Each group has to list as many items as they can from a topic. When I write the topic “Animals” on the board, their eyes light up and they start to write furiously. Without an eraser, I’m forced to erase the board with my hand, which leaves my hands dusty and my pants smeared with white powder.
We’re amazed with the students’ knowledge. When we do verbs, one group comes up with over thirty verbs in two minutes. We also work on forming questions, which is initially very difficult to explain until Teddy helps us by translating. Before finishing the class, we take a small break and head to the courtyard where Big Dog teaches us a dance.
In a circle on the dusty ground, we hop around following Bog Dog’s lead. As dust puffs into the air, we giggle and pressure Big Dog to continue so Teddy and Olivier can film the spectacle. Then we head inside and finish up the lesson. Before we leave, we thank the students for being dedicated, and we mingle around the room giving hugs. Their small fingers wrap around us like appreciation. 

Then the students sing us a song:

We are the young women and men of Rwanda
We are marching with this
The path to education is singing and dancing with joy
we are uniting together for a better Rwanda

At our final English Club lesson with the Health Center, we ask questions of the students to assess our English lessons. Then, they thank us for our time, presenting Tim with a love basket, and us students with woven sandals. Some of the students stand up to thank specific people. Hassan thanks Tim for visiting him at his home and teaching him English, Isa thanks Lauren for taking the time to know him, and Claude thanks Brooke and Filimon who he is Facebook friends with. It’s difficult to say goodbye, especially when our students tell us they wish we could stay.
On a brighter note, we have the best dinner in the world! THE KENYAN CHEF, RONALD, MAKES US BROCHETTES FOR DINNER! Yes, brochettes! At first, we all get one, some of us none, and our faces are glum. But moments later, another mountain of brochettes appears. The crispy meat flakes and crunches in our mouths. Then, we wash it down with smooth pinkish fruit salad. We will never hear a goat’s cry the same way again.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Final Weekend

Day 28
It’s an easy Saturday with a free morning for working on homework. At lunch time, some of students stay at La Palisse and enjoy pizza, samosas (fried pockets of awesomeness) and Fantas.  
 Afterward, we meet with journalists, Rogers, and Olivier, who work with our original Olivier and Teddy. They explain the use of media amongst young people to open up discussions, since it’s a good way to deal with things. They promote peace and try to resolve prejudice in the media. They participate in the Amani Great Lakes film festival, have a magazine called Heza and a radio show called Heza. Four days a week, Heza radio has a 30 minute clip on Voice of America (VOA).
You can learn more about the youth media in Rwanda by visiting: and you might also see some videos of our group!
Day 30
Some students head to the Pentecostal Church, and Carrie and I head to the Catholic Church.
Without a translator, or a sense of direction, Carrie and I realize that we have no idea where the Catholic Church is. We call Rogers, who is in Kigali, and he calls Yvonne’s husband, who sends her son, Morris to find us. Before Morris finds us, we run into Bob, one of the children we see often in town. He’s waiting in line with his friends and their yellow jugs to get water when he sees us. He gives us high-fives and we ask him where the church is but he doesn’t understand. Then we ask in Kinyarwanda and he grabs my hand and leads us in the right direction.
I can feel my hand sweating in Bob’s as the Rwandan sun beats down on my back. As he leads us down a road, we see Morris ahead of us, waving his hands frantically. Morris speaks incredible English, approaches us and says, “I heard you were lost!”
As we walk up to the Catholic Church, a nice brick building with windows formed by absent bricks, we hear singing. When we enter, the congregation stares at us and we realize that the woman we were planning to meet is not present. We take a seat on a bench, which reminds us of the benches at Nyamata, and listen intently to the Kinyarwanda although we cannot understand it.
Then, a young woman our age approaches us and tells us she will translate for us. She’s wearing silly bands on her left hand and whispers the translation quietly. We are so thankful for her help. She directs us to receive the body of Christ and lets us know when we need to stand. We clap along with the songs, but the best part is sending peace to our neighbors. AMOHORO! Toward the end of mass, the priest asks us to stand up and introduce ourselves and our purpose in Gashora. They wish we could join them every week to help them praise God.
As we leave the church, I get to talk with one of the students from the English club at the primary school, Bacht, and he’s excited for tomorrow’s lesson.
(Others may also do write-ups of their church experience this morning so keep looking!)
After church and lunch, we head to La Palisse to work on homework until we have class. We reflect on what we’ll say when people ask us about Rwanda. We want to talk about the community, about the amazing Rwandan partners we’ve had (Lama, Cedric, Teddy, Olivier, Rogers, William), and we also feel that expressing this experience will be difficult. So, if you’re reading this, thanks for making things easier for us and staying informed while everything is going on!
The sun sets once more. We walk to our compound, swatting mosquitoes. We feel moths in the candlelight of our hearts. How will we say goodbye?

The Final Stretch

I apologize for how long it took for this update to appear. It's been an exhausting week! 5 days left :(
Day 21
When we crawl out of our beds at 5am, it’s still dark outside. Judy points out Jupiter and Venus in the northern hemisphere, explaining that we can tell they are planets because they don’t twinkle. Breakfast is rough, since we’re not used to eating so early.
As we load the bus, we get a burst of energy; Nicole dances in the aisle of the large van, her disco fingers pointing to the ceiling as we shove backpacks under seats and stack them in the back seat. We stop at the Nakumat in Kigali, use the restroom, and get snacks for the rest of the trip. Then, we all pass out in the van.
 Steve sleeping on the bus and using his Kinyarwanda flash cards as a pillow
In Butare, we visit the old palace of King Mutara Rudahigwa III. As we step up on to the cement, we look up at the intricate tiles bordering the palace. We remove our shoes before entering the bedroom of the King’s mother. In Rwanda, the king’s mother was always ruling by the side of the king.
Unfortunately King Mutara’s mother was moved to a different house when Belgians felt that she was affecting their relationship with the King and their position of power. When the Germans gave King Mutara the gift of a Volkswagen Beatle, which he was almost too tall to fit in, the car disappeared. It’s suggested that the Belgians poisoned Mutara for resisting Christianity; they asked him to follow the “king of kings,” which he did not understand because he was a king. He died just before he could move into his new palace, a large modern building with brick red roofing that sits on a hill above the old palace.
Inside the mother’s room, there is no furniture, because it was stolen during the genocide. This is also the case for the rest of the palace. In the King’s study, a chair the size of a futon sits to represent just how important the king was. Black and white photos of kings, sometimes standing with random muzungus, decorate the walls. We peer into a glass case filled with ivory presents which are also visible in an old picture of the original sitting room.
When we enter the bathroom, our guide tells us that he’s curious about how the king fit in such a small bathtub since he was around 7ft tall. A cell phone is plugged into the wall, “Is that the king’s cell phone?” we ask, laughing. The king’s toilet is said to be the only place that he went without driving his car.
After touring the palace, we tour a replica of a traditional hut palace. At the entrance, the tour guide explains that two guards used to stand at the entrance with spears and would only let a person in if given the proper signal from the king. Some people would wait for days, weeks, months, just to speak with the king.
Once the guests entered the yard of the king, they would stand in front of the hut where a clay barrier, painted white, separated them from the king. They had to walk around the barrier and bow in front of the king before speaking with him.
Inside the hut, straw walls separate the meeting room where fires were built. On one side of the hut, women stayed, and in the front of the hut, men stayed. The king’s room consists of a king sized bed and woven baskets which act as armoires. The bed is the size of four modern king sized bed. The guide calls the room “the king’s playground.”
Then we tour the two huts behind the main hut. One hut, where a girl was selected to stay at a young age, was the milk hut. The girl was not allowed to have male visitors and had to remain a virgin for fear that someone might poison the king’s milk. The girl had to work for the king throughout his entire reign, which sounds like no big deal, except that one king ruled for 42 years.
 The other hut, where a man was selected to stay, was the beer hut, where many men came to visit and taste-test the beer. Sounds like a great job! There were three types of beer: banana beer, honey beer, and a mixture of the two. The beer they’re talking about is so high in alcohol content that they taste more like wines. I imagine a crowd of young men sipping beer from gourd cups with hollow sticks and shouting.
“How did the milk maid remain a virgin with all of these rowdy men getting drunk next door?”
It was said that if the milk went bad, it was proof that the milk maid had sex.
Afterward, we visit the traditional cows. When we reach the corral, we see the rusty brown cows with their long horns pulling their heads toward the grass. A man, we’ll call him the cow whisperer, whistles for one of the cows to come to the fence. He recites a poem in Kinyarwanda and dances for us, pinching the cow’s skin as the cow stands majestic. He calls the cow to step through a gate and we rub his long horns and his dusty fur. When we leave, the cow whisperer hitches a ride with us. On the bus, he performs something similar to slam poetry in Kinyarwanda.
We head to Butare for lunch, where we find a Chinese restaurant. We order brochettes and rice. In other words, we eat Rwandan food in a Chinese setting. During lunch, Judy asks our Rwandan tagalongs if they have girlfriends. Rogers, Teddy, and Olivier do not have girlfriends. Somehow we get into a conversation about the role of a mother in marriage. In Rwanda, the mother has always been a force behind a man, as within the monarchy. The opinion of the mother, for some, reigns over the man’s love of his girlfriend.
After eating, we go to the national museum which displays traditional Rwandan culture. In history, Rwandans have always been pastoral and agricultural people. One room shows the different agricultural and pastoral tools. There were few hunters and when the people hunted, they rarely ate the meat, but instead used the furs of animals.
Another room shows several basket styles, their uses, and stories. One room shows an array of traditional clothing. The fur loin cloths are much different from the modern conservative culture in Rwanda. In one picture, a woman wears a calf full of iron anklets, and this shows traditional Rwandan jewelry which was eventually deemed to be unhealthy.
Another really interesting picture shows a woman holding her naked baby and putting a straw up to the baby’s butt. The title of the picture: “Washing.” Yeah. There is a lot to learn at the museum.
We don’t have time for a sit down dinner, so we head to Kigali and go to the mall which contains Nakumat. Some of us order pizza and burgers, though we realize that the pizza is the worst thing ever and there isn’t even sauce on it.
At night, we check into our hotel, “One Love.” It’s a slightly shabby place but multiple kittens are running around the yard, climbing up trees, and hiding under banana leaves. The showers have decent water pressure and the beds are rock solid! Then, we head  to a club in Kigali. Lindsey and I both get pick-pocketed and lose our wallets, our I.D.s our credit cards and money. Luckily, our passports are safe.
Day 22
In the morning, we eat breakfast which consists of some scramble egg and a piece of dry bread that tastes like paper. However, we get to meet with Judy’s friend Ariel, who has been a Peace Corps volunteer in Rwanda for two and a half years and was part of the first group when Peace Corps returned to Rwanda. She tells us to think about the bigger picture, about how building relationships and surveying the Gashora community is useful for the future. It’s an inspiring talk.
We ask her questions about family planning, and she tells us about the ABC teaching plan: Abstinence, Be faithful, Condom. She explains that some organizations, including her own, occasionally only teach A and B. Ariel is knowledgeable about Rwanda and even draws us a map of places we can shop and visit in Kigali.
We head to Kigali, taste some milk shakes across from the Nakumat which are made without a blender and contain the freshest bananas ever.  We say goodbye to Steve, grateful for all of the structure and support he provided for us in the first 3 weeks of the trip. Before heading to the hotel to settle in, we make a quick stop at co-ops, where we get a taste of bartering in Rwanda. Most of us decide to wait to purchase things until we have more Rwandans present to help us.
At the hotel, many of us nap because the previous night was rowdy, but Lauren and I swim in the pool, which is freezing cold.
“I hate it; I hate it,” I say, as Lauren, who used to be on a swim team, swims across the pool like she’s floating in heaven. She even jumps off the diving board, and I’m surprised because the ratio of men to women in the pool is about 15:1, so it’s a little uncomfortable.
We head to dinner and finally get a variety of food which we’ve been craving: Mexican! The restaurant, Meza Fresh, is owned by a man from Santa Barabra and attracts many westerners. The walls flash vibrant colors of green and blue, and a taco bar rests at the front. We stuff our faces with large burritos, tacos, and chips and salsa. In Rwanda, chicken is more expensive than beef, so many of us get steak. We take way to much food, but it’s so good.
After dinner we go out in Kigali again to a restaurant/club called the Sundowner. The atmosphere is classy with an outdoor seating area where umbrellas privatize discussions, a bar beneath an overhang, and a wood-fire stove for pizza. As the night goes on, people filter in from all over the world including: Brazilians who play on the Rwandan national soccer team, a Guatemalan and a Nigerian who are managers of Tigo, a phone company, and a Rwandan who works for Brussels Air.
Everyone is dressed smart, which in Rwandan means to look professional or nice, and the lights outside set a glowing atmosphere that leads to great networking and dancing with many brilliant and interesting people.
Day 23
In the morning we return to the co-ops where we spend an hour and a half haggling with owners for local art. Each room at the co-op contains similar items, so we feel that we need to look around for the best prices. As we walk down the row of vendors, Rwandas call to us, “Sister, come see.”   The shops are small and stacked with statues, baskets, pictures, and stone replicas. By the time we get in the van to leave, we’re exhausted from bartering.
We head to Meza Fresh for lunch because we know it’s a quick stop. SO GOOD. Then we head to a neighborhood in Kigali called Nyamirambo. The area hosts diverse range of people, sports a mosque, and colorful shops line the main street. It’s a quick tour, but it’s interesting to see another area of Kigali which is so vibrant.
Then it’s on the van and back to La Palisse in Gashora!
When we reach the hotel, most of us return to freshly made beds. Carrie however, calls a hotel worker to come and sweep her room, because bat poop speckles her floor. “Apparently they just had a little party while I was gone, a little fiesta,” she says, laughing.
Day 24
Today, we have our usual schedule, except it’s Carmelle’s birthday! At Covaga, the women stand up in a circle and sing “Happy Birthday” to Carmelle in Kinyarwanda and in English. She blushes, but claps along and sways her body in her typical two-step way. Her 21st birthday starts out well.
When we get to the Health Center we realize that we are replacing Steve. Those are big shoes to fill. We start the lesson by discussing our weekends and the students enjoy practicing their English. We review body parts by standing in a circle and taking turns saying one body part. One man says “goatee” and plays with the hair beneath his lip; Brooke rushes over to give him a high-five, because she taught him the word. Anyone who can‘t think of a body part has to sit down, but the only people that sit down are in our group!
We celebrate Caremelle’s birthday with a spongy cake after dinner smothered in frosting. Then we head to the Green Hotel, a local hotel that plays music, because Carmelle loves to dance. Unfortunately, the power is out and they can’t play music! This is the village. Despite the music disappointment, the stars are plenty.
Day 25
In the morning, Carrie and Judy measure the temperature of the solar dehydrator at Covaga and start some new experiments. They put thinly sliced tomatoes, bananas and mushrooms in the front middle and back of a few trays. The temperature is not where it needs to be in the morning or by 2pm, but the food still manages to dry successfully.
While some of us brainstorm marketing ideas at Covaga, a new nutritionist named Christophe from the Health Center takes Filimon and Carrie to three houses in Gashora, and shows them what the nutritionists teach the community about food and health.  He interviews the first woman on her daily diet which, thankfully, includes protein-packed beans and veggies from her very own kitchen garden.  Her children help with food preparation and eat with her as much as possible, which is great to hear, because that is not the cultural norm. The second woman struggles a bit more with getting a good diet, but with Christophe’s extensive knowledge, she will be helped.  Then, we talk to three young mothers sitting in the shade with their children.  Christophe asks the same questions and explains the importance of boiling water, especially for their children’s health. 
All the hosts are very gracious in answering Filimon and Carrie’s many questions.  It is inspiring to see a health-educated person working with the community in a hands-on fashion. We have a lot of hope for Gashora and the Health Center.
At Covaga, we brainstorm marketing ideas for Covaga which include: creating a catalog so that products can be sold internationally, product ideas, website ideas, and price ideas. Kristi leads the discussion and keeps track of ideas on a black board. Only some of the women are willing to participate, but all of them like the ideas we share.
We head to the Health Center where our students have prepared presentations about themselves for class. Hilarity ensues as each person presents and the rest of us ask questions. The Rwandan men ask us if we’re married, and when we say no, one man insists that he would like to marry us. When asked which one of us girls he likes best, he says he likes us all. We sit on the small benches, rocking them as we laugh and clap. It’s a riot!
After the Health Center, Carmelle, Carrie and I head back to Covaga for a potential house visit with one of the women named Vistina. We are unable to find a translator so we walk with her to the market. A smile spreads across her face for the entire walk.
Once at the market, we walk through the vendors and Vistina purchases pineapples, “inanasi,” she says, and we stumble over the word. Children start to close in on us, but a vendor shoos them away. Bright red tomatoes decorate a mat on the ground along with huge bunches of green bananas. Bees swarm around bags of white powder, which we think might contain corn-flour. One woman sells handfuls of tiny, silver slivers of dried fish. We leave the market with children trailing behind us and Vistina lugging three pineapples.
Day 26
In the morning we head to Big Dog’s house to build a kitchen garden. We follow a dirt trail up past some clay houses and stop, lost, at a crossroad. Then, through a forest of banana trees, Big Dog comes running, his small bright beneath the shade. When we reach his house, we meet his grandmother and see inside his house.
When we realize there aren’t enough sticks, a child, probably around age 10, climbs up into a tree and begins to machete the branches. I start taking pictures of him and am suddenly swarmed by children who want their pictures taken. Big Dog rushes to the rescue and pulls me to the back yard where we begin clearing a spot for the garden. 
 Harvesting local resources
 The Love of having your photo taken
Then, five or six bicycle taxi men show up to help. They clear the space and dig up soil from the front yard in no time. We watch as their hoes reach toward the sky and then crash down to dig up mounds of soil. Soon they’re cutting and sharpening steaks at an incredible rate, and we’re sitting beneath a banana tree in awe of their speed. 
 Rwandans are so good at what they do!
Children keep us busy, dancing with us and playing with us. I sit near the wood shavings that remain from when the men sharpened the steaks and I start to build a platform for a house. Children gather around me, curious about what I’m doing, and start to gather materials. I use a machete to sharpen small twigs, and we try to hammer them into the soil. The children gather large banana-tree leaves and we use them as a ceiling. When we take a picture of the kitchen garden, the children gather in with us.
 Lauren being entertained and entertaining 
 Carrie and children
 Twig-banana leaf house
At lunch time, Cedric makes a short speech because it’s his last day with our group. He has to return to school to finish up exams. He gives each of us a bracelet with our name on it to remember him by.
Carrie and I go to Vistina’s house for a visit.  Her husband, Hassan, treks behind us with his bike, their son Fils strapped on. When we enter the house we find a sitting area with a few chairs surrounding a small coffee table. The power has been out for a while, so we leave the door open so we can see. Children swarm the door, staring at us. Vistina tells them to go away and shuts the door. Moments later, children return saying, “Where are the Muzungus?” and Vistina says, “What Muzungus?”
Hassan shows us pictures from Vistina’s wedding. There are pictures of the swearing process, where the husband and wife swear to God and to Rwanda that they will not hurt each other and that they will love each other. In one picture, Hassan lifts Vistina from the ground, cradling her in his arms as she smiles, embarrassed, behind her hands.
Carrie, Me, and Fils
Hassan cuts us pineapple and we all grab a fork and dig in. Pineapple juice drips down our hands and on to the dirt floor. We ask questions about their youth and families as Fils plops down on a straw mat and shoves pineapple into his mouth. They give us each Rwandan names; Carries receives the name Mutoni, which means lovely and cared about, and I receive the name Keza, which means beautiful. Before we leave, we exchange information.
As we walk outside, we hug and take a photo. We look like a family. Hassan walks with us to the main road where we say goodbye. The sun starts to set as we return home, bright orange and sinking like a giant fruit.
 Hassan, Me, Carrie, Fils, Vistina, and Random child

Day 27
In the morning, we go to the primary school to visit Abel’s English Club. When we enter, we take seats in the wooden desks and join in as a Canadian, Correy, from the group “Developing World Connections” leads the children in singing Bingo. She then looks to us, to see if we have any ideas for the English club. We decide to play Simon says. We circle up, and though translating the game is difficult, once the children understand, we have a blast. We play other games, inspired by the children’s desire to learn, and their infinite ability to smile.
Day 28
It's Judy's last day, so several of us wake up early to go birding with her. The sun is glowing and king fisher's are staring at their reflections in windows when we meet her near the lake. She shows us some eagle nests which weigh massively at the top of trees. When we walk along the lake, we see the nests of weaver birds, a colonial species. Judy explains that the birds weave their nests at the end of branches to make it more difficult for snakes to reach them. We see a hippo footprint and Judy leads us around the La Palisse property, through their farming area, and up to a path where we see several mouse birds. It's a great opportunity to connect with Judy since she's been an important addition to our team. We miss her immediately as we walk to town and watch birds flit across our path.
African weaver bird nests

Hippo foot print
 Judy leading us sleepy-heads on a birding trek
Then, some people from the group meet with about 45 of the 56 bicycle taxi co-op members that provide transportation for Gashora.  Amazingly, after making their living pulling people on bike, many are in their soccer uniforms. They thank us for meeting with them, and we share how great it has been to have such great company on our rides.  They’re always smiling and having fun with the language barriers. They explain their co-op and their business scheme to create an office. Once roads are paved in Gashora, they wish to become Moto Taxis. They do their best to help each other out, and if someone doesn’t get enough business and is in need, they gladly share profits.  They pay a membership fee, and most of them are intelligent young men who had their education cut short. 
They ask how we like Rwanda, and Lama makes sure to explain that Americans work very hard to come on these trips, both financially and academically.  They jump at the opportunity to take a picture and are very gracious for our business. They ask Tim the usual question: “How many kids do you have?” He replies. “None; I’m a priest.” Even the bicycle taxis laugh.  He goes on to explain that there is less pressure in the United States to get married and having kids is more of a choice than a cultural duty.
Meanwhile, Lindsey, Brooke and I visit the primary school again. We sing Bingo, have all of the children talk about what they like (all of them like English lessons), and then we play a game in which a representative from each of two teams must come to the blackboard and answer a question with complete English. Although the teachers will be on vacation on Monday, the children are excited to see us for English club again.
Afterward, we meet at Covaga where we make friendship bracelets. The women sit close to us and try to learn how to make the bracelets. I lie down on the top stair and take a short cat nap, feeling safe because I know the women at Covaga will be sure that no one bothers me. It’s a short day, but we’re exhausted from the week, so after lunch, many of us nap.
By nighttime, we’re ready to go downtown. We go to a bar called the Good Samaritan which is paved nicely, is nicely lit, and has a television which replays one music DVD over and over again, complete with Whitney Houston and Celine Dion. “I wanna dance with somebody! I wanna feel the heat with somebody! With somebody who loves me!”
We order brochettes, more than ready to taste some delicious goat. What comes to us is nothing like we imagined. 15 shish kabobs rest on the table. Sara takes one bite, her face contorts and she returns the stick to the pile. Nicole, who has been waiting for brochettes all day, looks severely disappointed. Some of us pull a stringy outer layer off of the meat and place it on the table. “What is this!?” We soon find out that the meet is beef ribs wrapped in cow intestine. Lindsey eats an entire brochette, and Jon eats two and a half- the champions. 
 A disappointed Nicole
We stay out later than expected, trying to make up for the beginning of the night with weird shit brochettes. On the walk home, the fact that we’re leaving starts to set in; it’s our last Friday beneath the stars, walking down the dusty road hand in hand, with our flashlights making the leaves glow.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Seeing Nature

Day 17
In the morning, most of the group works on a kitchen garden for a genocide survivor, just a few doors down from the last garden. When they arrive at Yvonne’s for lunch, faces red, clothes painted with soil, they plop down in the white plastic chairs, certain that they’ll be drinking more than one Fanta.
After lunch, we go to Covaga for a final English lesson, but the group becomes distracted by the baskets. We’ve been holding in the urge to purchase baskets since we first arrived. We shuffle through the baskets on the shelves, pulling out bright colors, flower patterns, and claiming them as our own. We start thinking about better ways to display the baskets since it’s difficult to see all of them.
The days start to feel long in the Rwandan heat. We’re beat by the time we get to the Health Center to teach English, but when we converse with the students, we receive a jolt of energy. The students really want to learn. Before we leave, after an hour of class, my student says that the class time is not long enough; he needs at least two hours of English class!
At dinner time we get our favorite fruit salad, a pink mesh of banana, passion fruit, pineapple, and whatever else, that looks like the sunset as the day starts to cool into night.

Day 18
We go to Covaga to have a basket weaving lesson, but when we arrive there are only a few women in the building. We find out that one of the women, a woman that Sara has been working closely with, has lost her mom. We see a group of people walking to the funeral outside. In Rwanda everyone in the community attends the funeral.
The baskets are spread out on the floor of Covaga, colorful patterns waiting for tourists to come and buy them. We wish they were displayed like this when we went shopping!
After the English lesson at the Health Center, a few of us go to the primary school to interview the principle and learn about the English Club that has been created at the school. I get the opportunity to ride in to the primary school’s courtyard on the back of a really sweet ride, Rogers’ bicycle.
When we ride into the courtyard, dust being flung up behind us, my rear resting on a metal rack, children start to chase the bike. Rogers rides around the courtyard in circles. One child pries my hand off of him and a train of children trail off of my arm. I’m holding on with one arm, laughing, as Rogers sings a song to the kids. Eventually, the kids pry my other arm off as well, and I’m nervous that I’m going to fall off the bike when Rogers brings it to a stop.
This is the distraction we create every time we go to the school. We feel bad for the teachers, but the kids eventually return to their studies. Me, Brooke, Carmelle, and Sara sit in on a math class with the teacher, Martin. We help grade their algebra exercises and answer some of their questions.
We find out that there are two English clubs, one hosted by a passionate teacher named Abel on Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays. The teachers here work from 8AM-5PM, so for Abel to take time out of his day to host an English club really means a lot.
After going to the primary school, we head back to the hotel to go on a boat ride around Lake Rumira. As the boat leaves shore, the sun is just above the hills, glowing its usual bright orange. The boat glides near the shore and we cross our fingers, hoping we’ll see a hippo or a crocodile!
I hop on the bough of the boat with Judy, a really awesome woman volunteering here from Washington. She points out the different birds, the kingfisher, the fish eagle, and some weaving birds that weave nests in colonies along the shoreline. We pass floating islands of papyrus, and Judy says they look like fireworks.
The boat glides over a spot where huge bubbles are rising to the surface of the water, and I imagine that there is a hippo below us, ears twitching, and sausage-legs trudging along the bottom of the lake. Further around the lake we see something moving in the water, maybe there were nostrils, the trail was the shape of a long tail. We like to say it was a crocodile. Still, nothing is clear in Rwanda. 

Day 19
At breakfast time, we greet Kristi, a professor who will replace Steve who is leaving shortly. Her flight was delayed leaving from JFK and she got stuck in Belgium for a night before she could make it to Kigali. We have a lot to fill her in on, but we’re glad she’s here and that a warm and fuzzy professor has joined us.
Then, me, Lauren, Nicole, Carrie, and two freelance volunteers from Canada, Sarah and Cazia, go on a “hike” with Rogers. Although there are thousands of hills in Rwanda, Gashora is relatively flat. We hike toward a swamp area, where the green is so far beyond green, like the color of a crayon.  Trees line the walkway, and the swamp area hosts several birds, including herring. Umbrella trees shade the way as people pass on their bikes, hauling huge loads of bananas.
We walk to a river that runs up to Uganda. Rogers explains that during the genocide many Tutsis were dumped into the river. This goes back to the “Hamitic Ideology” that Tutsis were from Europe and Northern Africa, and it was believed that the river would take the bodies all the way back to Ethiopia where they belonged. Many Tutsi bodies were buried in Uganda for this reason.  We walk for about two hours, returning at last to Yvonne’s for lunch. 

Day 20
Today we walk to town to work on another kitchen garden. We understand the process now and can find things to do without Rogers’ help. Ray, a journalist from Los Angeles, helps us with the garden as well. We laugh as he attempts to machete a branch. It takes him 15+ whacks and it only takes a Rwandan 5. This is pretty typical. Carrie and I both attempt to sharpen the sticks, to turn them into pointy stakes, but it’s the same result.
Brooke becomes bombarded by children, almost resorting to a position as a baby sitter during the gardening. She says “I got your nose!” and “Aren’t you just the cutest!?” An education major seems fitting for her. Carrie and Lindsey take pictures of the process, step by step, so that people who can’t read can learn how to make kitchen gardens without the help of Rogers and William.
After lunch and a stop at Covaga, the group heads to the Health Center for a party celebrating all of Steve’s hard work. I was not present for the party, so someone else in the group will add a write up about it soon!
Before dinner, Olivier gives us a historical presentation of Rwanda before colonialism and during colonialism. Tomorrow, we are going on a trip to Butare, the original capital of Rwanda, to visit the National Museum. Time permitting, we will also visit a replica of the old palace, since Rwanda used to be a monarchy.  
We’re all excited to sleep tonight, but we’re even more excited to wake up (even if it is at 5AM) and head to Butare and then to Kigali. We’re hoping for some food variety (tacos!?!?); you really come to appreciate variety when you eat the same food every day. Time to pack!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

A Relaxing Weekend

Day 14
Today is the usual schedule, but no kitchen gardens so we have time to work on homework in the morning. We teach at Covaga and interview some of the women with the help of translators. Then, we teach at the Health Center. We have great conversations with the students; they tell us about their mornings which all begin around 5AM or 6AM with a breakfast of beans, rice, and cassava. It’s fun to get to hear about their families and jobs. We’re all exhausted from the busy week, and we’re glad it’s Friday.
We say goodbye to the Canadians at a dinner outside next to a bonfire. We speak over candles, and it African fried chicken (SO GOOD).
Day 15
Today, we have the entire day off. We take the morning to rest, read, and work on homework. At lunch time, we head to Yvone’s where we meet Rowan, a WSU student who worked with Covaga, and Ray, a journalist from Los Angeles. It’s great to have the day off, but we’re not used to finding something to do in such a small town. We survey the main street of town, a bunch of clay buildings lining a dusty road. What should we do?
Rowan tells us about a bar where he used to eat shish kabobs or brochettes, and drink beer after a long day of work. So we go there to hear stories of his travels. He tells us about how he chased a giraffe, and how it was the most awkward and majestic thing he’d ever seen.When they bring out the brochettes, several chunks of goat meat on sticks, we feel that we’ve finally found heaven. The brochettes are the perfect changeup to our usual diet here in Rwanda. 
As it starts to get dark, we continue conversing and ordering brochettes, which take about 45 minutes to make. In the middle of eating a fresh, hot order, a man pulls two fresh goats into the bar’s yard. We hear them crying and set our shish kabobs down. As we’re all worrying about the goats, Nicole says, “I’m more like, ‘Are those ones about to be ready soon?’” When we go to the toilet, yes a hole in the ground and a disgusting one at that, we see the goats tied up to a tree. This is Africa, no worries.
Rogers entertains us, as usual. He says he’s going into Kigali, and that he could run. Nicole, the cackler, says, “Let’s just run to Kigali. Let’s just do it.” Rogers says it’d take him about 4 hours to get there.
When we ask him how he felt about the Canadians, he says, “Old people, you know, they happen.”
This may sound brash, but in Rwanda, age is something you have not something you are. Therefore, it sounds funny to us, but could very well be a compliment.

Day 16
After breakfast we take bicycle taxis to the Gashora Girls Academy for church. My Vibram Five Fingers have the bicyclists laughing hysterically on the way to the school.
The service is unlike any other. Some girls stand in front of the room and sing, clap, and dance. Their voices are unlike any we’ve ever heard, and we can feel their faith in our skin as they close their eyes and tilt their heads toward the ceiling.
A few girls stand up to say what their thankful for. Many of them are thankful for the knowledge they are given, and thankful that studying for exams is almost over. They start exams on Tuesday and they go until Friday.
I receive a tour of their dorm rooms from a young girl named Marine. They look very similar to army dorms. Except their beds are all made with patterned quilts, mosquito nets hang above their bunk beds, the cement floors are spotless, and racks of drying underwear and uniforms hang from bedposts, their uniforms. When we pass by their living room, Marine says, “This is our living room; it’s a little messy because we’ve been studying.” Messy to Marine is a couple of pillows overturned.
During lunch time, we’re once again astounded by the intelligence of these women. They love movies, which they get to watch on Saturdays, and they especially love the scary ones. They love to read, and in English class they get to write stories and present things about themselves. It sounds similar to a foreign language class in the U.S. We enjoy corn for the first time since leaving home, and apparently, the girls love corn too. Even though they have more studying to do, some of them spend a lot of time chatting with us.
When we get home, we all rest, sit by Lake Rumira, and pretend to work on our final essays. 

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Gardening, Sweating, Teaching, Learning

Day 11
We meet Rogers and William at the Gashora Health Center around 9:30AM to help them work on a kitchen garden. When we get there, they have already cleared an area for the garden but the rest of the field is full of weeds, dead corn stalks, and patches of grass.
The aroma of mint fills our nostril with sweetness as we hack at the dirt with hoes. Children line up on the outside of the fence screeching “Muzungu” repeatedly as we work. In no time, there are several knee-high piles of weeds and the area is mostly clear, while our faces are red and our upper-lips are soaked with sweat. We pull all of the weeds into one pile, which takes a lot of effort, and then begin to help with the garden.
As mentioned in a previous post, the kitchen garden is a tiered structure that allows for a trickling affect with water. Plants with longer roots (like carrots, karoti) go on the top tier, and plants with lower roots (like spinach, epinari). Many Rwandans from the village come to help with the garden. Rogers and William, who are the force behind the kitchen gardens, hope that Rwandans will take up the old tradition of helping each other build gardens, and that they will take on the form of kitchen gardens, which can provide more types of nutrients.
The Rwandans at the Health Center bring us to a tree which can be cut back. The branches tumble to the ground and crack. They use machetes to cut the leaves off of branches and we haul the branches to the garden site where they are cut into appropriate sizes and chipped into sharp stakes.
Some people break-up soil in one area so that we can use it in the garden. Sticks are hammered into the ground in a circular fashion using a “Rwandan Hammer” (as Rogers calls it) which is a large rock. This makes the outline of the first tier. We line the sticks with plastic-like bags to hold in the soil. Using large buckets, and other bags which two people carry to the garden, we fill the tier with soil and move on to the next tier.
This process continues until we have to go into town for lunch and teaching English at Covaga. We wash dirt off our hands, arms, feet, necks, chests, backs, legs, and faces, and change into business casual clothing. Baby wipes, which we used to be extra clean, form a pile of brown on the bench. Wilson, the IT tech at the Health Center, is happy to see us change into more appropriate clothing since we will be returning to teach his staff English later in the day. He says that we are role models for the youth in Gashora, and that when young westerners come dressed inappropriately, it upsets the elders in the village, because the young Rwandans attempt to dress similarly.
Rogers, William, and some locals stay behind to work on the fourth and last tier of the garden.  In town, at Yvone’s we
After a review lesson at Covaga, we head to the Health Center to teach English for the first time. Steve Vanderstaay put together a great lesson and has worked very hard on all of the English lessons during the trip. We really appreciate all of his hard work, all the times he leaves dinner quickly so he can work, or the time he didn’t join us in Kigali. At the Health Center, the students are very educated and motivated to learn English. We nestle in between the students, tap our toes on the slick, white tiled floor, and watch Steve’s energy radiate through the room.
We begin by teaching them some basic verb conjugations for present tense, explaining that all of the conjugations are the same except for in the case of he/she. For example: I read; You read; She/He reads; You all read; We read. The students pick up on this very quickly and are soon translating sentences from Kinyarwanda.
Today marks the beginning of a lot of long days with multiple English lessons and a lot of gardening.

Day 12
Today, it’s back to the Medical Center in the morning to work on gardens. This time, we’re creating a spiral garden. First, men chop grass into small piece with a machete and place it in a pile. Then, soil is piled on top of the grass until the grass is no longer visible. While a few people pile the soil on, some people begin searching the grounds for large rocks which will be spiraled up the mound, to prevent erosion of soil.
We are having trouble finding rocks when Rogers appears with a stack of bricks. He brings us to the old Health Center, a dreary building where a room is full of old bricks. Thin, black wasps hang from the ceiling in pieces of hives. We quickly pile up with bricks and hustle back to the garden.
We bring way too many bricks. More for next time.
During lunch time, Steve brings up the topic of an island in lake Kivu called Iwawa, where orphans or street boys and girls were sent after the genocide for a sort of rehabilitation. The way in which the government took the boys and girls, which was without their permission, was scrutinized by Human Rights Watch. However, the children were brought to the island, educated, taught life skills, and given the opportunity for government loans when they went back into society.
Rogers becomes very passionate about the discussion, speaking in a preach, using his hands, as the veins in his neck protrude. I don’t have an exact quote, but he said something to the extent of: “Where was the Human Rights Watch during the genocide? They are so quick to criticize Rwanda from a distance, but they don’t come here and see the way things really are. The kids, they go to Iwawa as nothing and they come back with a life.”
Rogers also mentions how, after graduating high school, Rwandans are required to go to a month long service in which they all work together and eradicate any ideas about ethnic division. There are no Hutus or Tutsis, only Rwandans.
After lunch, we don’t go to Covage because it’s the 4th of July, which in Rwanda, signifies liberation from genocide. The women weavers are home, relishing in the security of Rwanda. We go to the Health Center again to teach English. On the way to the hotel, we see Lama pull up in a van. Tim told us that he would be coming to Gashora with a group of “middle-schoolers.”  Apparently, there was some miscommunication. About ten middle-aged Canadian Muzungus pile out of the van. We look at each other, confused. These are not middle school students. It’s just another example of a language barrier.

Day 13
In the morning, a few of us, me, Tim, Carrie, Jon, and Filimon take bike taxis to a house in Gashora where Rogers and William are working on another kitchen garden. This time, the garden is for a genocide survivor named Doritea, a 76 year old woman living by herself in Gashora. From her house which is on Lake Milayi, we have a view of the huge Gashora Girls Academy compound.
A couple of women and their babies rest on a straw mat in front of the house, but Doritea is not home yet. We get right to work. Filimon takes a machete and sharpens branches for the structural support of the garden. Carrie and I help place bags and hammer sticks.
Whenever a stick needs to be hammered, Rogers shouts, “Rwandan Hammer!”
When Carrie hammers the sticks, Tim says “Powerful woman technician!”
To fill the tiers, the men lift a wheel barrel full of soil and pour it in to the compartments lined with bags. Dust from the soil puffs toward our faces. Doritea arrives and when we’re almost done, we get a chance to sit with her and ask her questions about her experience with genocide.
She tells us that all three of her sons died, and that she was hidden with her sister by a local Hutu family who had power, though her sister later died. Though her face is wrinkled with pain, when she smiles, it’s like a flower reaching for the sun.
We ask her if she sees improvement happening in Gashora, and she says, yes, very much. When we ask if things are better now than they were before the genocide, she says things are way better. She also loves Paul Kagame, wishes he could be president forever and thinks that reconciliation is working very well in Rwanda.
She thanks us for helping her with the kitchen garden, since previously, her only way to get food is through other members of the community and her granddaughters who visit her. During the conversation, a baby boy crawls over, his bum naked, and hands Doritea a small chunk of maize. She picks each kernel out of the cob and throws them on the ground, as if to feed a chicken. The baby plops down, puts a kernel in his mouth, and stares at us.
He proceeds to throw the empty maize cob at us as though it’s a ball. In the middle of an intense conversation about genocide, we have a child, the future of Rwanda, doing what he can with his resources. This is the Rwandan way.
When we go to leave, Doritea walks us a little ways down the road and says goodbye, thanking us again, and clasping her hands around ours.
We join the rest of the group at Yvone’s for lunch where the middle-aged tour group from Canada eats with us. Then, it’s off to Covaga for a cultural exchange. The Canadians will join us and allow the Covaga weavers to practice their English.
When the Canadians enter, the women converse with them in English, “Hello,” “My name is…” “Nice to meet you,” “Would you like to see our baskets,” “Thank you,” “We have baskets, tray, hot pads, and bags.” We squeal! Our students do so well with their English and are incredibly bold about approaching the tourists and speaking to them. We give them high-fives and hugs, so happy to see them using what they’ve learned.
Then we all sit down, the women pat their straw mats, inviting us to sit with them and resting their hands on our thighs. These women, we’ve grown to love them. We appreciate our relationship with them, how they teach us Kinyarwanda and open up to us to learn English. We are surprised when they tell us their age because they all seem so young and full of life, surprised when they tell us they have six kids at home and walk 10 kilometers just to reach Covaga.
These women are amazing. They smile, happy to weave us into their lives. 

Please look back to day 5 to read a great description of recreation in Gashora, written by our very own Jon Kaimmer :)