Somewhere in the last eight months, I moved to Africa, went through ten weeks of training, swore to protect and uphold the Constitution of the United States, hated my job for four months, went to Malawi and Tanzania, changed my malaria prophylaxis several times, suffered from insomnia and gastritis, resolved to change my outlook on life and my job, and have now come to enjoy my job and life here.
I used to refer to Kigali as my new home, in fact I always refer to it as my ‘new home,’ but I am beginning to realize that after a certain amount of time, it isn’t new, it just is. This is my home. I have to remind myself that I am in Africa, because most of the time, I forget that my life is different, I forget that I am a Peace Corps Volunteer. To be fair, while my official title is PCV, my unofficial title is intern at an NGO/expatriate. And that’s okay.
As days go by, and weeks turn into months, I become more and more used to what used to be known as my ‘new life,’ though now it’s pretty much just life. Every now and then, though, something happens to stop me in my tracks and make me laugh out loud because after all, THIS IS AFRICA.
One day, as I was walking to work, a full-grown man ran up behind me and pulled my hair as hard as he could, then continued running, without even looking back. As I put my hair back in the ponytail, I contemplated running after him, just to yell or throw something at him. I was outraged for a good 10 minutes and held some severe antipathy toward Rwanda for the rest of the day. After thinking about it for some time, though, I guess it’s funny. I mean, he probably went back to all his friends and laughed about it all. He pulled the white girl’s hair and maybe he even won some kind of bet for doing so. Maybe he has always wanted to, and finally got the courage. Or maybe he was just a freak. Haven’t decided which yet.
Another day, I was walking with a friend, a random man walking near us said, out of nowhere, ‘where to?’ In that brief moment, I forgot that I was in Africa and I forgot that there is no sense of personal space or privacy in this country, and couldn’t help but get offended by the personal question. In America, we would never walk up to a random stranger and ask where they are going, or where they are coming from, or if they are married with children. It’s just not something you do. But in Rwanda, it’s a very common question – it’s a greeting. Living in the capital, however, I am greeted a lot less, and therefore I forgot about the abruptness of Rwandan greetings. I should probably learn to be friendlier, particularly in response to these questions.
I’ve been teaching my classes on HIV to the street kids every week, and every week it gets better and better. I am definitely enjoying teaching, though sometimes I dread it. The first week we talked about basic knowledge of HIV, the second week we did a game called ‘transmission runaround’ to test their knowledge of how HIV is spread and to address any questions they had. I read a statement like ‘you can get HIV from a toilet seat,’ and they would go to one side of the room if they agreed with the statement or go to the other side of the room if they disagreed. I was again impressed with their knowledge. Sometimes they would disagree with each other and then an argument would follow wherein they decided who was right and why. It was perfect.
The next lesson, we played another game demonstrating how HIV becomes AIDS and how ARVs prevent HIV from turning into AIDS and protect the body. Unfortunately, language is a big problem in this country. Even though I was working with a translator, it is very difficult to explain what pneumonia is to someone while they are trying to translate. I am pretty sure the students received the information as ‘sickness’ instead of specifically pneumonia. It is also very difficult to explain how HIV becomes AIDS when the word for HIV in Kinyarwanda is SIDA, and the word for AIDS is SIDA. It basically came out as, ‘you just get more sick.’ At some points during the lesson, I would say a simple sentence, and my translator would go on for five minutes, and I had to wonder what she was saying, and if it was accurate. It makes it very difficult to give lessons, but I suppose that’s the best we can do.
At the end of the last session, one of the students told me he wanted to see me dance. Well of course I wasn’t going to dance, so I told him that he should dance for us instead. So he did. Not only that, he danced and sang and clapped in the strangest voice I have ever heard. He went on so loudly for so long that the entire office was drawn outside to the classroom to see what the ruckus was. Eventually everyone was standing around watching and clapping with his song. I guess it was a good lesson. Next week I am going to have them show me what they have learned so far by creating a Rwandan soap opera or a rap. It’s been quite difficult to come up with lessons every week that don’t require reading or writing since most of these kids are illiterate, but I am doing my best.
We have been planning a graduation ceremony for the youth that we have trained so far (all 616) and it has been taking up quite a lot of time. I have written a press release, designed the graduation certificates for both the graduates and the trainers, created a program to accompany the pamphlets I already created, and am currently putting a slide-show together of all our pictures from the program. It will be a really busy few weeks as we get closer, but it is nice to be busy and recognize these youth, because many of them actually have found jobs.
I am beginning to prepare for my trip to take the GRE. I am quite terrified because I don’t think I am ready to take the test, though I am not sure I will ever be ready. I am also very excited though; to be back in London, have hot water for a few days, and delicious food. It will be a great trip, and just what I need to come back to Rwanda invigorated and ready to work hard. I think time will just start flying by when I return. Pretty soon it will be my 1-year anniversary, and I think I am ready for that one. I plan to lock myself up in my room to study until my test on 3rd November, and hopefully I can improve my scores a little bit.
I am excited for the coming weeks and months. I think I am finally getting into things here, and finally understanding what my life is about, and that is something to look forward to.