Saturday, May 16, 2009

Daily Routines

7:00- Wake up. Take a cold shower (there’s no hot water). Eat small breakfast, bread butter, honey and a small banana or orange (which are actually green, have seeds and are sour). 7:45- Ride bike to work (about 10 minute ride). Sometimes in a thick fog. I greet strangers along the way “mwaramutse” (good morning). Kids are on their way to school and say “good morning!” the entire way there. 8:00- At office with colleague. I have my own desk in the small office that sits on a big piece of property surrounded by banana trees. I don’t have much to do yet but sometimes I translate reports from broken English into proper English. I take note of ideas for building a health and development youth center here. In the office there is a wall with pictures of orphans in Rwamagana district, one ancient computer and some bookshelves with a bunch of books. 12:00- I ride home for lunch. Normally beans w/veggies and rice. 1:30- Return to work. 5:00- Off work. Go home or stop by a soccer game on the way and watch for a little while or run errands. 7:30- Dinner generally a selection of these (plantains, cabbage, carrots, beans, rice, corn meal, potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, spaghetti, onions). Study, read or practice guitar. 11:00- Sleep.

Cultural Notes #3

1. I mentioned shaking hands in a previous cultural note. But furthermore, if someone’s hand is dirty they put out their arm out and you are expected to grasp their arm as you would their hand.
2. Cooking indoors is extremely rare. My kitchen is outside as is everyone else’s. Most the time there is a small closet sized structure outside the house where the cooking is done.
3. Also, people cook with charcoal-like wood chunks in a small stove-like grill.
4. Queues do not exist here. It’s not that people “cut” in line there is just no line to begin with.
(How I learned: I went to the bank one day with customers sitting in the chairs with no obvious order. So I figured I would sit next to this nice old man and wait for him to go before I would go up. After about 3 people were served he became more anxious. Every time a customer would get up to leave he would start to stand, only to find that he wasn’t as fast as someone else. So he would sit back down and repeat. This happened about 5 times. He would get a little further each time. One time he even was in a full standing position and ready to pounce… but he was still beat. A healthy young contender he faced with no sign of remorse. The old man was finally served and I followed. You have to have cat-like reflexes to get served though. Unless you’re “opponent” is a nice hesitant old man (such as my contender). He never showed any sign of frustration though. Neither has anyone else. Only my abazungu colleagues and me.)

WEEKS 11-11 (Apr 21- May 4):

I have been here at site for a couple weeks now. I got my stitches pulled out and it’s healing fine. The first week was challenging. Mainly because I didn’t feel like I was making any progress or integrating in the community. My job description was vague and I began to miss everyone back home a lot. It is also difficult being an umuzungu (white person). People don’t discriminate but we attract a lot of attention. I began to avoid eye contact with people because I didn’t want to see them staring even though I knew they were anyway. I went to a soccer game in town, which was amazing to watch. Unfortunately it ended in a brawl between some of the players so I left. It was a great cultural experience. I met some people and felt accomplished. I began to utilize the attention that I was attracting to begin to introduce myself and meet people. I feel much better now.
After work one day I decided to go see my local resource family (I haven’t seen them since site visit in March). They gave me the warmest welcome I could possibly imagine. Afterwards, I ran into another PC volunteer who was on her way to a genocide memorial event nearby.
After dinner I attended the event. We were the only white people there. People gave their testimonies of what happened to them and their families. I understood bits and pieces, which went something like …entered house… brother… ran… killed mother…. A friend translated some of it later… horrific stuff. Around midnight I walked my colleague home but I returned to the event. Everyone was standing around a bon fire singing. It was a song about remembering their lost loved ones. It would be sung once and then someone would list the members of their family that were killed. (Cultural note: it is strongly stigmatized for people to cry, even women. A tough expectation from this country in particular.) They would say I would like to remember… The lists were very long sometimes. For some people the only thing that stopped the list was that it became unbearable. A few people had total breakdowns and left. I felt so weak being there. I am far removed from the entire experience and yet I could hardly hold myself together.
The next day I heard there was a soccer game at the cinema so I went. There wasn’t a single female there. It was packed with people (no fire standards here). One side of the room was for one team (Barcelona) and the other side for the other team (Chelsea). There were lots of good spirited yelling and teasing.
Lastly, I attended a meeting at the local health center with a bunch of community health workers. I had them very impressed with my kinyarwanda for a while but I knew it couldn’t last. They asked me to give a speech about family planning in kinyarwanda. I delayed as long as I could but it was inevitable. I stood up and bombed it. Oh well. Afterwards I had a meeting with PC and my organization staff. It went very well.
Until next time…