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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Happy Anniversary!

One year in Rwanda. I don’t know about you all, but I can barely believe it. I know a lot has happened - I’ve learned 1000+ Kinyarwanda words, the names and faces of 100+ students, and more than a dozen different ways to spice rice and beans - but it doesn’t seem like enough to have filled a whole year. Or maybe it’s that there are only two seasons instead of four to mark the passage of time. It’s late October, but it feels like June in California. I got sunburned walking home from school today.

To celebrate the anniversary of our arrival, I spent the weekend at my friend Brittany’s site near Kibuye. Four of us collaborated on the most amazing dinner I’ve had in at least a year: a green salad with raisins, crumbled gouda and homemade vinaigrette; wood oven-baked lasagna with garden spinach, tomato-garlic sauce and homemade paneer; and baked apples stuffed with raisins in a cinnamon-vanilla glaze. It couldn’t have happened without collaboration. The raisins came from an Indian mini-mart in Kigali, the gouda and apples from Gitarama, the cinnamon and vanilla from Zanzibar, the vinaigrette spices in a care package from America, the lettuce and spinach from a convent garden near Brittany’s house. International borders were personally crossed for the baked apples alone. I have to admit, sometimes I miss the convenience of American supermarkets.

I also miss baking. Fortunately for us, Brittany’s neighbor has a wood oven for making bread. I don’t think lasagna would have been possible in a Peace Corps-style convection oven.*

School will be out for the holidays until January. Most volunteers are going home for awhile, but I’m glad to be staying. There’s a new volunteer who will be installed just up the road from me in mid-December and she’ll want someone to spend Christmas with. I’m also looking forward to being a facilitator at the Kigali region’s GLOW Camp,** a girls’ leadership camp organized by Peace Corps volunteers. I’ll be staying in Bugesera for a week in November to help set up and supervise a camp of 48 girls from around the Kigali-Bugesera area. It should be awesome. We have a ton of great activities planned and we’ve scheduled guest speakers on topics ranging from career planning to health issues like AIDS. I recruited seven girls from my school to participate in the camp and they couldn’t be more excited.

All in all, I couldn’t be happier with where I am in my service. I have things to look forward to and accomplishments to look back on. I have a sense of what’s possible and enough time to put new projects in motion. I even had a weird moment the other night where I thought I might want to stay in Rwanda indefinitely. I speak the language well enough. I have friends here. I could have locally grown pineapple every day forever.

But then I thought…nah. I love Rwanda, but it isn’t home. And more importantly, two years is long enough to go without Chipotle braised chicken burritos.

*A “Peace Corps oven” consists of two pots, one larger than the other with water in the bottom. By placing the smaller pot inside the larger pot and heating both over charcoal, it’s possible to bake a variety of things in small batches.
** GLOW stands for Girls Lead Our World. It’s a Peace Corps initiative originating in Romania in 1995. The purpose of GLOW is to encourage adolescent girls to become active citizens by building confidence and developing skills such as goal-setting, health and life-planning.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Almost One Whole Year!

I can't believe it's been so long. About this time last year I was packing my bags and getting ready to leave Seattle. Have I changed since then? Has Gihara changed? Have I made a difference? It's hard to know. No one calls me "muzungu" anymore, but otherwise it seems as if I've accomplished very little. Then again, sometimes the most meaningful accomplishments are also the most subtle.

I don't know how many of you remember my post about the woman who always asked me for shoes. Lots of people ask me for things, but most people at least have the courtesy to say hello first. She never did. I assumed she never would. But yesterday I passed her in the road and she smiled and greeted me warmly.

It was the first time I'd seen her smile. She has an incredible smile.

Teacher classes never did happen this year. The teachers couldn't seem to agree on a good meeting time. No one wants to stay late during the week and no one wants to come in on weekends. I offered to teach English classes during the break, but no one wanted to come in then either. It made me think of the flowers I planted in front of my rooms. There were four separate plants, one of which I was sure would last because it seemed to be the best-protected. Last week someone stepped on it. It just goes to show, you never know which projects will come to fruition and which will fail to take off.

I'm actually kind of relieved that teacher classes aren't happening. Now I have time for more interesting projects. Next year maybe I'll turn the school's "book room" into a real library. Who knows. Lots of things are possible in a year.