Well, it is Thursday and I have been back in Buffalo for several days now. I would have written a bit earlier but I came down with a stomach bug and finally I am beginning to feel like myself again.
I know I was only there for two weeks, but I would like to go back again for longer , and would in a heartbeat (hint hint Professor Kahn).
I have a journal written with observations, quotes, thoughts, and notes from these two weeks. The biggest realization for me was the amount of cultural difference there is- in the way of life, transportation, language, body language, actions, food, religion's role in life, and so forth. This summer I plan on using what I have learned about East African culture from the Great Lakes Africa region and implement this into creating a more culturally appropriate resettlement and easier integration experience, to lessen social and cultural isolation in our families. Be prepared to hear about this in the future!
Personally, I will be adding French into my courses at Buff State, after realizing how weak my language skill was, and now seeing the necessity of French for my future.
This was a great experience, and one that I will be taking with me in my personal life and through my future career. Thank you all who have helped make this dream of going to Rwanda a reality, and I look forward to what the future holds for the teachers, family, and friends I have made there.
Another early morning! We left for Akagera, in the Eastern Province to go on a safari. Our driver was really awesome, and he let us play music on the way to the park.
On the safari, we saw so many different wildlife. My favorite was the hippos. Least favorite? Easily the tsetse fly. Those bites HURT! We stopped for lunch (fruit and sandwiches) and a halfway point and then drove back. There are so many zebra there, and we saw an elephant in the water (I think it knew Molly was coming. Elephants are her favorite).
The hotel was absolutely beautiful. The downside? Baboons. I am grateful my fear gave others so much laughter this week. I am fine never seeing these deadly creatures again in my life.
Dinner was wonderful. Solange, our guide, taught me some more words to pepper into conversations, and then after dinner we set up a little dance floor and had some fun dancing to salsa and bachata for the night.
I am going to miss this country, and it will be sad going back tomorrow.
I woke up early and took some breakfast. We went to Kimironko for a final time in Kigali for the market there. I finished up some souvenir buying and saw some friends one more time (we walked around the stalls together since she had to buy groceries) before leaving. Lunch was at a place similar to a Moe's.
I stayed back at the guest house after lunch and went to the church for a little while before we all sat together as a group and talked about the trip so far and reflected.
Before dinner we stopped for a master class at a coffee cooperative for women. It was very interesting to see the complexity coffee has.
When we returned after dinner, I met one more friend and we had a snack and soda before he left to go back home and I to bed.
We woke up in Cyangugu at 5am. Time to trek chimpanzees. I have a fear of monkeys so I was terrified. I was put in a trekking group with three other from our group (they had enough excitement for all of us), and we had a few people from Sweden and France. Our guide, Claude, was absolutely amazing. I stayed by his side and he held my hand for most of the trip because I was so scared.
Chimpanzees are huge and scary looking. The mountain monkeys we also saw (much too close for my comfort) are smaller, but still look like they can eat you.
I can live a satisfied life even if I never see a monkey again.
After we trekked, we had breakfast, and my group (the first to leave and get back) walked down the road. We saw bricks being made, a group practicing traditional dance, and some cute little kids who were eating fruits.
We departed for Huye once the whole group was together (more hills), and visited the Ethnographic Museum of Rwanda in Huye (Butare). It was very interesting to see the history of the people, and to read of and see pictures of the effects of colonization.
We took a group photo and as we were walking back to the bus there appeared a whole group of.....MONKEYS. Thankfully my roommate Tierra (my personal hero) chased them away so I could run with her to the bus.
We arrived very late into Kigali. My stomach wasn't feeling too good so I stayed back at St. Paul and didn't go to dinner.
Tuesday morning we met Muhanga District's Director of Education, and also the mayor. The Director spoke with us of how schools work in Rwanda, the challenges they face, and how schools are assessed. It was really interesting to hear the 'behind the scenes' of these schools. He also showed us some empirical data on their performance results, showing that they are one of the top performing districts in the country. This is absolutely wild, and helped me to really get behind their competency based curriculum, and also the importance of story based learning!
After we all met, we went to a village and helped with a youth group, who was helping create bricks for (I think) a home. After, we observed the cow donation ceremony. It was really interesting to see- how integral a cow is to ease the burden of poverty for families.
We all ate lunch with the mayor and then we left for Cyangugu. This 'Land of 1000 Hills' is no joke. We literally drove around, up, and over every hill. I felt so carsick. It was heaven when we finally reached the guest house.
\nToday was Pentecost. Lucas and I went to the Catholic Church up the hill. Instantly we were welcomed in. Some of the kids came and were curious upon seeing us. There was one child in our bench who hugged my legs for part of the service and wouldn't let go. His chubby cheeks were so cute. We left after the greeting and before communion as we had to get back to the hotel and then depart for Urukundo.
The teachers came slowly in, as most also were coming from church. We began by watching the English teachers (Travis and my group) show examples of there lessons. The topic we picked was 'domestic animals.' It was interesting to watch the teachers act as students and to see the antics their kids get into in the class. We worked on three different ways to bring the topic of domestic animals into storytelling. Mary (a teacher) noted how we were able to bring not only more proficiency in English to the lesson, but use it also to show the importance of Rwandese culture.
For our final performance in front of all, we took our theme and created a farm scene with cows, cultivation, and farmers. We then asked like a lesson, what everyone saw, to use new vocab words and then we departed for the day.
Our teachers made for our room a mass whatsapp group so we can share our photos from that day and to keep in contact.
We went back to the hotel to freshen up, and then returned to Urukundo for dinner and devotion. For dinner I sat with some of the kids, and we joked around and watched Lucas with his magic tricks.
Devotion we read from Psalms and the children gave us carved doves to remember them.
I was exhausted after the day, and tomorrow we have to be at the bus by 645 to get to the school by 7.
Here's to hoping those birds are quiet so we can sleep.
Today we woke up early and headed over to Urukundo. We were welcomed by the whole school with some songs they sing for visitors before we were placed into our classrooms for the morning. Travis and I sat in the class of a teacher we worked with. He did some games with numbers from 1-20, and then they reviewed a lesson on family members. Some students acted out an entire home scene, and the rest of the class had to describe what they saw. It was so much fun.
After Urukundo, we went to Kabgayi to visit another school. I attended an English lesson on....domestic animals! I can safely say I am a professional now at the words of domestic animals in Kinyarwanda and English, haha! Then, we sat in on a science class and learned about soil and cultivation. In the science class, the children acted out the entire process, and it was so much fun to participate in!
We stopped for lunch and then went to our final school. I wish I could say we remembered the school name, but the road on that mountain was rough, and I was more focused on not being carsick. However, Trevor and I were able to review two English lessons: on transportation and food. The lessons were so interactive and I was actually really excited to participate with the kids!
Overall, my experience with this day was a positive one. It is very humbling to see such well behaved children eager to learn, and teachers doing all they can with little to no resources. These teachers are so creative, and you can see the love of their profession, and love for their students. I wish I could have stayed longer (hint hint, Professor Kahn) in the schools to observe more.
That night was our last night at Mamas also. We put on the play of Goldilocks, with Travis playing the lead role. We finished some songs and then said goodnight to the kids and took a few pictures together. I miss my little man from there so much.
Dogs barking woke me up. I slept quite well last night. While watching the news this morning, I would not help but notice the amount of public health tips that kept popping up. I wonder if they were put into Kinyarwanda would they have more reach? But nonetheless it is good to see while watching the news.
The training today went so well. Travis and I were teamed up with the English teachers. It was exhausting, but we had such great connections and our sketch we created was so much fun. I am excited to work with them tomorrow and have them teach us a lesson as they would children. I cannot wait to see what we will learn! We all share lunch together and it was great to connect with the teachers and the children that joined us.
Once training was completed, we went and had a tour of the Urukundo grounds and then dinner with the children and staff. Govith, one of the farmers, taught me how to open passion fruit with my hands and gave me a lesson on farm animal names. It was such a delight to sit with him.
Devotion had some new songs- I will have to record them to bring back. It is just so pure and wholesome.
And now we are at the hotel to blog and wind down before tomorrow. Some of us are meeting to go to church at 7am so I need to be up for that.
This morning I woke up at the hotel in Muhanga to the loud screaming squack of what felt like a human being attacked until I realized it was the birds. At 5 am. On the balcony. Screaming into the room. So, I cleaned up up my part of the room, shooed them away and sat on the balcony for a while, then walked for a bit outside.
Our trip today was to a Mudugudu (comparable to a block club) on the outskirts of the city. There is a cooperative in the city of Muhanga called Azizi Life, and through them you experience the traditional village living and culture for a day from these various Mudugudus. When our bus pulled up, the women were immediately smiling and began to sing and dance to welcome us before they showed us their daily tasks.
We cut sweet potato, boiled water, shelled beans, cut dodo leaves to boil. When this was done, we grabbed two 5 litre plastic bottles and walked for about 20 minutes to the well. Along the grassy path were cattle and goats and a rooster. At the water spiget, which let out to a river, there were many children collecting for their families. Often a child's first chores in the home is to collect water and cut grass to feed the animals. I am just amazed at how young these children are and how it is safe enough for them to walk alone to this place. This pushed my mind to reflect how different our cultures on micro mezzo and macro levels truly are.
When we got back, it was time to help cultivate the land and cut grass. We only did a half an hour of work ( about 1/8 of the field....it is also a small field) before the women decided it was time to cut grass. I used the sickle a bit, bust wasn't very good. Fellow AFPer Janae was really getting into it and was just chopping away. The women LOVED watching her go. We formed rings from banana leaves to put on our heads to help us carry the grass back to feed a family's livestock. Spoiler alert: I pet a cow. It was the woman's dowry price from when she got married. They knew I was married amd asked if my husband paid a dowry for me. I told them that we just bought my gold band, walked and got married quick and he went back to work. She was amused bt this and gave me a hug and a big thumbs up.
We ate when we got back, and after eating the lunch we assisted in preparing, we went outside to make bracelets and balls from banana fibers.
There was this 2 year old there, Divine. She was absolutely adorable and so open and welcoming. It was sweet to watch her begin to assist in all of the household tasks at such a young age, and to observe her beginning to learn the banana fiber weaving. I held her for some of the time. She would hold my St Ann pendant I wear and go 'Yezu!' Before kissing it and then me on the cheek. Quite possibly the most endearing piece of the day.
Before we left we danced and sang some more, and it was a little sad for us to leave them.
These are steadfast and strong women, and this morning trip gave me much more of a cultural understanding that I hope to bring back in my work, and has taught me a lot about daily rural life in this country. I am very grateful to have gone today.
This evening we went to the Urukundo Foundation to meet 'Mama' as she is called, and have dinner with some students who live there and the staff. I sat with Govith, a farmer at the Foundation, and we shared a bit about planting. Eric, foundation secretary, was next to me and helped to interpret for Govith and chatted. We connected over our religious background and talked about our college studies and future career goals. Unfortunately he is in school in Kigali this weekend but will be back on Monday.
After dinner was devotional, and it was sweet to see the children learning the same songs I did growing up. Also from going to some Kinyarwanda speaking churches in Buffalo, I could even sing along to some of their songs (shoutout to Rwagasore!).
After songs, we did some team exercises with the kids, and performed a skit of the Three Little Pigs. The children danced for us and we all joined in towards the end. We prayed and then returned to the hotel.
Rwanda has begun to implememt fostering instead of orphanages, so I am looking forward to see how this has affected Urukundo and the country as a whole, and how this is able to fit in with their cultural norms and values. Luckily we have several days here to get a grasp on this new system.
Tomorrow we begin teacher training all day. Can't wait!
This morning we checked out of St Paul and drove to visit the Nyamata Memorial. The ride was about an hour from the city center, and as we drove farther and farther away, the more the transition from city to rural life. From the van, we could see people working in the fields by their homes - men hacking at the weeds with machetes and women picking corn, babies strapped to their backs.
One interesting observation was seemingly affluent homes and destinations (specifically a water park) and right next to it were dilapidated homes with children running around. It was a bit jarring to see the normalcy in this stark contrast. It would be interesting to stop and talk to them and gain new perspective if I am to come back in the future.
We reached the memorial and stepped out of the bus. The grounds were just as they were in 1994. Our guide had us all wait at the original gates leading into the church building. There was a large hole, where the perpetrators forced their way inside of the church. The ceiling and walls still had bullet holes and scrapes. In some places there were still stains from the hand grenades used. The clothing was piled all along the benches and in bags along the walls. The altar held shoes, pipes, and bracelets of the victims, along with spears, machetes, clubs, and sharp objects that were used. The air felt heavy. In the basement created after the genocide, they had on display skulls of victims, to remind those who come of how lives were lost brutally. Our guide in this part spoke of the sexual violence suffered by many women during this time. We went to the mass graves after and I could not bring myself to go down. Instead I reflected in the garden and the newly built church for a while after.
I spoke with our guide, asking how day by day he can be so unwavering and professional. His response: "I feel it is a duty to tell our history. It is difficult. But I pray all the time to God because he will protect me and the visitors."
Then began our trip to Muhanga. Several hours of winding up and down hills through the countryside.
The view from the room is beautiful, and I am excited for the next few days here.
I am honored to have been given this opportunity to go to Rwanda and look forward to growing from this experience, both professionally and personally. The Great Lakes region in Africa is of great interest to me, especially as a resident of the Great Lakes region in the United States. I currently work as a refugee resettlement case worker at a local agency in Buffalo. Conflict resolution and community building are two topics that are crucial in my work, and I am eager to both share my stories on those subjects and learn from the stories of others. Ultimately, through our collective stories, I hope to witness and engage in the solidarity that has developed in Rwanda since the mid-nineties. My hope is to bring that knowledge back to my work in Buffalo. The lessons learned can then be put into action by aiding in the development of programs that will have a positive effect on the families and communities that I serve.