Sunday, February 15, 2009

WEEK 2 (Feb 8-14)

We have been studying Kinyarwanda hard and long. This week we were assigned “resource families” which are Rwandese families that volunteered to help us learn the language and culture. We meet with them for at least three hours a week. My “mama” is very nice. She is a secondary school teacher and has three kids. Her house is a couple kilometers from here and the last kilometer is up a VERY steep hill. Each PC trainee was assigned one family.
Second we went to one of the starkest genocide memorials in the country yesterday. Mrs. Wellman, please read this before reading it to the class.
We boarded a couple small buses and drove for about 40 minutes through some of the steepest areas I’ve seen in Rwanda yet. Not without car trouble though. The bus that I was in couldn’t do it. It broke down so we started walking. The countryside was beautiful and made it worth it. We arrived at the Murambi memorial and were given notice of what we would see and were given the option to decline. There were 27 rooms filled with the bodies of victims preserved in lye. You can see the expressions on their faces at their moment of death. The deaths of these people were oftentimes horrific. Many of the bodies were missing limbs, their skulls crushed or split or decapitated. Children were no exception. There were a couple adults clenching their babies. Many of the bodies still had their clothes on. Not a whole lot of people can make is through all 27 rooms. I don’t think anyone makes it through without crying. Some of you may be concerned of why this memorial exists. The idea is that the face of genocide has been veiled so many times before. They are trying to show the true face of genocide so that it doesn’t happen again. There is much more to this story but this blog probably isn’t the appropriate place for that.
Afterwards some of us went to a local park to play volleyball. There was a wedding that was getting ready to start at the church nearby, so another PC trainee and I decided to stay just to see the drummers that were setting up. We were sweaty and not well dressed but this very nice man offered for us to attend the wedding. We ran home to change and clean up and grab our cameras. When we arrived at the wedding there was a very awkward 30 seconds when everyone turned around and looked at the Muzungus (white people). We sat down in the back but an usher brought us up closer. This is actually normal in Rwandan culture. They are VERY hospitable even to strangers. We were offered cake and drinks that they wouldn’t let us refuse (hehe). It was the most exciting experience I’ve had in Rwanda yet! The drumming was absolutely INCREDIBLE and the dancing was some of the best dancing I have EVER seen!! Some very important people were there and we met a couple of them. Anyway, this blog entry is getting long. I miss my friends and family very much! I hope everything is good back home!

Thursday, February 12, 2009


On January 26th I flew into Washington D.C. for the Peace Corps staging event. The staging event was held the next day for the entire day. First we had general classes on the Peace Corps, Rwanda and our job titles. Then we went to the Peace Corps headquarters for a special reception where we met the acting director of the Peace Corps, Jody Olsen, and his Excellency James Kimonyo Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary from Rwanda. On the 28th, we received some vaccinations and departed for Rwanda in the evening via Brussels, Belgium.

We arrived in Kigali, Rwanda in the evening of the 29th and were welcomed the U.S. ambassador to Rwanda and some Rwandans holding a sign reading “Murakaza Neza Peace Corps!” meaning “Welcome Peace Corps!” The next day was to be intensive.

On January 30th, we received more vaccinations and had a meeting with the Rwandan Minister of Health. Afterwards, we went to the Gisozi Genocide Memorial in Kigali, which is the burial site of over 250,000 people killed in a three-month period during Rwanda’s 1994 genocide. As we laid individual roses and a wreath on the mass grave, I struggled to but could not fathom its magnitude. However, the memorial is not just a mass grave. There were many rooms filled with information on genocides of the past (i.e. Armenia, Cambodia, Bosnia, Germany and more). An entire section of the memorial was dedicated to the individual stories of 14 children who were murdered during the Rwandan genocide. There were huge walls that were lined with string and clothes pins, so that families may come and hang a picture of loved ones who were lost in the genocide. I suspect that I was not the first, nor the last to simply hang my head and cry.

However, what has been even more overwhelming is the hope for this beautiful country and its people to recover, reconcile and progress. I am honored to be in Rwanda during this momentous era. For these reasons, it is easy to lift my head once again and smile. I know that Rwanda will change me more than I will ever change Rwanda but one thing is for sure. I have completed my goal already. I have given my best shot at creating a better world and will continue try to do so. That is all I can do. Whether I actually help alleviate suffering around the world or not is not for me to judge.

After all that, we went to a celebration with the director of Peace Corps Rwanda. We met many other people who the director knows and whom work in Rwanda. I was exhausted, hungry, thirsty, sick, sad, ecstatic, and jet lagged. Yet, I made it through.

Finally, my first post. Enjoy, if you have any comments... feel free.

On January 31st, we left Kigali for Butare (now Huye) in the southern province. I will live in Huye for the next 10 weeks during pre-service training. Technically, I am a trainee now and will be sworn in as a volunteer in April… if I pass the training. We arrived in Huye and were met with more traditional dancers at the convent where we are staying. It is plenty big for us and more beautiful and accommodating than I was expecting (we have toilets, individual rooms, great food, our laundry is done for us, showers, our classrooms are sheltered and organized etc…) I want to mention that this isn’t a normal Peace Corps (PC) process. Normally, the volunteer lives with a host family during this period. I am not quite sure why our experience is different.

WEEK 1 (Feb 1 – 7):
We have busy schedules that involve about 2-3 intensive language classes in groups of 3-4 with different teachers each time. We get three meals a day and a short break that we can use to go to town. We frequently have technical sessions, safety and security sessions, and medical sessions that focus on specific subjects. We have Sunday’s off but most everything is closed.
Town is spread out and there are very few buildings taller than two stories (if any). Bikes, pedestrians, motorcycles, and cars all share the same space, which makes safe travel nonetheless interesting. Most people just walk. There is only one main road in town and it is paved. The rest are dirt/mud. The national university is located here too. I can get almost anything I need in town. Also in town, there are many children who beg for anything they can get. Their torn clothing and bare swollen feet is hard to cope with. Luckily, it is much more common to see relatively successful people who can at least feed themselves and their families.


I want to preface this blog by saying that due to the issues with posting information that can be viewed publicly I will not be able to express the complete truth about my experience (i.e. political views, or any sensitive information). Also, the internet here is VERY slow and limited, making it difficult to add posts or respond to questions so please excuse any delays.