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Friday, December 31, 2010

Nzaba Umukorerabushake wa Peace Corps!

This week was the homestretch to becoming a volunteer. We had a series of exams on language, cultural knowledge, health, safety and Peace Corps policies culminating in the final LPI (Language Proficiency Interview) on Thursday. The LPI is apparently a huge stumbling block for a lot of trainees - basically how it works is, you go into a room with an LCF and have a conversation in Kinyarwanda and if you understand most of what's going on, you get to swear in. If you don't pull that off, you don't swear in.

Well, today I found I passed all my tests - including the LPI - with flying colors. I will be going to Kigali on Sunday with the rest of the trainees and staff and I will officially swear in as a PCV on January 3rd. The ceremony will be held at the ambassador's estate and a Rwandan television crew will be present - it will be quite an event. In a moment I'm heading off to a local seamstress to pick up my dress for the ceremony (hopefully it's finished!) but before I do, I want to make a brief statement in Kinyarwanda:

Icyumweru gitaha, nzarahira na nzaba umukorerabushake wa Peace Corps. Nzakora indahiro gufasha abantu wa Rwanda. Nishimiye cyane. Nzakumbura abariumu banjye na bagenzi banjye - nzabasura mugihi ndi mu Rwanda - ariko ndashaka kuba kuri site yanjye. Ndakumbura umuryango wanjye muri Amerika noneho - ni kubaberako ndi hano, kandi ndabakunda cyane.
My apologies to any native speakers who read this - I'm still working on my use of object pronoun infixes. Thanks all, happy New Year!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Noheli Nziza (Merry Christmas)

Merry Christmas, everyone! It's probably 90 degrees here but we're doing our best to get in the Christmas spirit.

Last night we took over a local restaurant and had a giant game of white elephant, followed by a talent show (a time-honored PST tradition) and dancing. We had some fantastic gifts with very creative wrapping - American candy and Nutella purchased in Butare, second-hand t-shirts and ugly Christmas sweaters from the local market, Rwandan jewelry, apples imported from Europe and so on. The talent show was also pretty spectacular. There was a fantastic rendition of a Flight of the Concords song, some spoken-word poetry, and some traditional Rwandan dancing. I and my friend Genevieve performed a duet, "Angel from Montgomery," and she accompanied us on ukulele. Overall, it was a success.

The last day of model school was also pretty awesome. Since it was the day before Christmas eve, I decided to spend the entire class period teaching my students about wassailing. Then I taught them a traditional wassail song. They got really into it - by the end of the class period they knew almost all of the words and had the melody down. I wished I'd had time to teach them a harmony. There are lots of church choirs in Rwanda, but schools generally don't have choral groups. I'm dying to start one as a secondary project, but we'll see.

I'm definitely homesick for my family today but all of the PCTs feel the same, so it's not so bad. We're going to celebrate today by baking spice cake and watching Christmas movies at the training center. I hope you all are having a great Christmas back home and I hope it's cold!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas Card Embargo

This post will be quick and dirty because I plan to update again after Christmas. I will not be sending any cards home because apparently there is some kind of embargo on mail going from Rwanda to the U.S. and Canada. I can still receive mail, I just can't send anything out. I've yet to figure out why - I tried Googling "Rwanda-U.S. mail" and came up with nothing. If anyone can find out what's up, please email me and let me know. The other trainees will thank you!

Also, as I may or may not have mentioned before, I have been posting a lot lately because there is free wireless at the training site in Nyanza right now. I still plan to buy a modem before I go to site in January, but it will cost me actual money to load blogger so I will not be posting as often - probably once every two or three weeks.

Okay, that's all for now. I miss you all and hope to talk to some of you over the next couple of days - and I'll let you know how the festivities progress here!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Umunsi Mwiza

Well, I'm 23! I had an awesome birthday. We took a field trip to Butare again so I got to have ice cream and it was just as magical as my first encounter with Butare ice cream. I will be dreaming about it every night at least until I go to Kigali for swearing-in, where ice cream can also be found. Supposedly. We shall see.

I'm starting my second week of model school and it's still going decently well, but it's not easy. We're actually losing students at an alarming rate because it's their vacation right now, so they're attending voluntarily (or their parents are making them attend) and our lessons haven't been interesting enough, relevant enough or comprehensible enough to maintain an audience. I reacted to this problem by reading through the national exam for S3 students and writing a lesson plan based on the content therein, namely social issues in Rwanda, summarizing passages and writing paragraphs. In theory it was a great idea, but despite my best efforts the discussion of social issues was awkward and the vast majority of my students have no idea what a paragraph is. I'm taking a day off teaching tomorrow to do a double lesson on Wednesday, and by then I hope to have some ideas for how to teach a lighter class on a similar topic.

On an entirely unrelated note, I had the opportunity to visit the Murambi Genocide Memorial last Sunday. It was my second trip to a genocide memorial - we visited one in Kigali but it was very different. I am willing to share any information of interest about either of them, but I'm reluctant to do a whole blog post about them because most of what Americans know about Rwanda involves the genocide. I also feel that the story of the genocide is not my story to tell, at least not in my blog. If any of you have any questions feel free to email me and I will tell you whatever you want to know.

I will say briefly - the Murambi Memorial is located in an old school building where Tutsis took refuge during the genocide and were slaughtered en masse by Interhamwe militia. The school grounds contain several mass graves and the old classrooms contain the preserved bodies of victims. The bodies have been mummified with limestone so they are pale and skeletal and not at all horrifying, just difficult to look at. Eventually there will also be an informational display like the one in the Gisenyi Memorial in Kigali, but it is still being constructed. I can't succinctly describe my thoughts on the memorial but I will say that I'm glad I went. I think it is important for us as educators to at least have some small awareness of what this country - and many of our students - have been through. Again, email me with questions if you have them.

One final bit of news - I got packages today! Thanks Mom and Dad - I'm so happy to have an advent calendar it's not even funny. Also, I got another letter from Grandpa - thanks to you too, I enjoy reading your letters very very much. They are a tiny oasis of peace in an otherwise overwhelming environment.

I'm still working on sending paper mail home. Ni hangane, everyone.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

You Can Call Me 'Teacher' If That Is Easier

Week One of Model School complete! It wasn't a total disaster and I count that as a small but significant victory. My class is wonderful - I teach 37 S3 (ninth grade) students for an hour every day and they are super sweet and engaged but also very shy. They're very reluctant to ask questions or to respond to my questions unless they're sure they have correct answers. As a result I've been seduced into teaching content that is probably way too easy - we spent most of the week drawing family trees and naming the different family members. I plan to step it up next week.

I've been surprised by what is challenging about teaching and what isn't. I have absolutely zero stage fright in front of my class, which is good - I definitely expected to shake like a leaf on the first day, and I didn't. I also thought writing legibly on a chalkboard would be difficult, but it's easy and surprisingly fun. The hard part is knowing what to teach (we don't have textbooks and the national curriculum is pretty unspecific) and how to teach it in a way that engages everyone and keeps class's energy level up for the whole hour. It's also hard to get a wide range of students to be responsive, in part because they're so shy about giving wrong answers. A couple of times I've tried calling on students who don't raise their hands - it works in the States, so I assumed it would work here. Wrong! If you try to force a response out of a student, you'll get a horrified stare and silence. Maybe with practice it will get better, but right now I'm not sure what to do about that.

It's also hard to know what name to use. In Rwanda, professionals are usually called by their titles and not their names - for example, a judge will be referred to simply as "Judge," and a teacher is simply called "Teacher," not Mr. or Ms. I have asked my students to call me Ms. Gelsey or Teacher, whichever they prefer. In general they don't refer to me by name but I want them to at least know who I am. I haven't bothered telling them my last name because the spelling is so confusing, but many of the other trainees have asked to be called by their last names, or modified versions of their last names. Model School is great for this kind of minutiae. It's an opportunity to see what works and what doesn't.

On an entirely unrelated note - I've been blogging/emailing a lot lately because there's free wireless internet at the training site right now! Internet access isn't perfectly reliable but it's pretty good, so if any of you want to try Skyping please email me and we'll set something up. I still plan to buy a modem before I go to site but I don't know how well it will work, how much it will cost to use or if I'll even have a a fully-functional computer by then, so I'm trying to take full advantage of reliable free internet while I have it.

One final thing - sorry I haven't sent any paper mail home yet! I've figured out how to do it, I just haven't gotten around to it because internet is free for me right now and I've had lesson plans to write. I guess I've also just been lazy about it. I probably won't get letters out in time for Christmas but at SOME point I'm going to locate my address book and send some.

That's all for now. Thanks for following!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Letters from Home

Hi all! There isn't much to report, but I did want to let everyone know that I finally received my first batch of mail from home this week. I got a postcard from Sonya, letters 2 and 3 from Grandpa, a letter from Mom and Dad with photos from our trip to Boston and my travel guitar. Thank you all so much for sending me mail, and a HUGE hug and kiss to Dad for building a case to send my guitar in and going to all the trouble and expense to actually send it. I love having it, not just because I can play it whenever I want but because I have something to share with other volunteers. Thank you thank you thank you!

Next week I will begin teaching model school and I'm freaking out. Model school is exactly what it sounds like - the training staff recruited kids from Nyanza to act as students so the trainees can practice teaching. Half of the trainees have already started model school but I don't start until Monday. It's been kind of nice having the extra time to plan lessons etc, but since I have no idea how much English my class will know I'll probably have to redo any plans I make now. I'm developing a much greater appreciation for all of my middle school teachers, I'll say that much.