Friday, December 18, 2009


(Pictured Here: Africa.)

Leaving tomorrow...VERY early in the morning...27 hour bus ride from Kigali, Rwanda to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Once we arrive in the city, we will take a ferry to ZANZIBAR!

Once we arrive, it is going to be sandy beaches and Indian Ocean sea food for two weeks, baby! I encourage everyone to google Zanzibar, Tanzania; it has a very interesting history AND the pictures are beautiful.

In other news, the PC trainees swear in tomorrow and become official PC Rwanda Volunteers. Congrats to my capable comrades.

It has been kind of a slow week here; busy with preparations, but slow as far as interesting stories and events are concerned. Anyway, please do keep us in your prayers as we PCVs are traveling these next few weeks. Happy Holidays to all and God Bless!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

PCT Site Visits, a Close Shave, and GLOW Camp

(Pictured Here: Dieudonne and Mugeni walking down the aisle.)

November 2009 closed out strong and December 2009 is looking AWESOME! This is becoming a great end to a great year.

Thanksgiving was pretty cool. A bunch of us PCVs got together and cooked at the Peace Corps office in Kigali. We had all the fixings: sweet potatoes, a turkey, and even apple pie for desert. Good times. Good times.

After Thanksgiving (on Sunday, November 29) I attended the wedding of two nurses, Dieudonne and Mugeni. As weddings go, it was pretty standard. Don't get me wrong, it was fun and it was AWESOME to see my two co-workers marry each other, but the wedding itself was normal and followed the same formula as the other weddings in which I have participated. However, I only attended the religious portion of this wedding. I missed the dowry ceremony, which took place earlier in the month; I couldn't afford to go to Gisenyi again, the site of the dowry ceremony.

Later that week, Peace Corps began scheduling some of the current trainees to visit me at my site. Their objectives were to live with me for a couple days, ask me questions, and get a general feel for living in rural Rwanda. I had three different trainees come at two separate times to visit me and each visit lasted about three days and two nights.

The visits went great, I thought. The trainees that visited me were good guys and I am sure they are going to do very well in Rwanda. These site visits are not standard practice, however. Usually, trainees are sent out to their sites for a week to see where they will be living and working for the next two or three years. Because these trainees have yet to have their sites finalized, Peace Corps Rwanda decided to send them to current PCV sites for a couple of days instead.

I am very happy these site visits happened. Not only did I get to know some of my colleagues a bit better, but our exploration of the countryside led to a few interesting stories. Most notable, I suppose, is the hair cut adventure that Scott, Kevin and I had last week. The long and short of it, quite literally, is that I had my long, golden locks shaved COMPLETELY OFF...I am talking to the scalp, people...bare skin! Ah! So the story goes a little like this...

...Scott and Kevin came to the Rwamagana country side (last Monday afternoon), where I live. I got their things in my house and we rested for a bit. After brief introductions, I asked them what they would like to do first. Kevin mentioned that he wanted to get a hair cut. Scott and I agreed that this was a good idea for us all, as we were all a bit shaggy looking. I was excited about this expedition because I had never had my hair cut in my village; I always went into Rwamagana city and convinced PCV Crissy to cut my hair. I have received hair cuts by Rwandans before...most Rwandans don't know how to cut white peoples' hair...I never really like the results...ha! HOWEVER, I did need a hair cut and I knew that I would not see Crissy for another two weeks, as she was leaving for Ethiopia the very next day. I figured I would just suck it up and get another Rwandan hair cut.

Kevin, Scott, and I walked next door to the barber shop. Though we only traveled a few yards, we already attracted a sizable crowd; it was time to see the white man get his hair cut! After briefly negotiating the price for our hair cuts, I volunteered to go first. I figured that Kevin and Scott would see me get my hair cut and decide if a Rwandan hair cut is what they really wanted; I just wanted to make sure they knew what they were getting into.

So I took a seat in the chair and I began making small talk with Kevin and know, just shootin' the breeze...trying to be a good host. Well, I was looking at them while I was speaking and I was NOT paying attention to how my hair was being cut. When I did get a glimpse of the left side of my head, where he was shaving, I noticed how much hair he was actually shaving off...I became a bit startled to say the least. Every time I have had a Rwandan hair cut, my hair was cut very short, BUT I still had some hair on my head; I figured that this time would be no different. WRONG! This hair cut was to the freakin' scalp! He was sheering me like a sheep!

At that point in the hair cut, I had two choices: I could have him do the same shaving job to the right side of my head and have some sort of bowl cut or something OR I could just get it all shaved off. Well...I just let him shave everything off and now I am bald. I have only now really started getting used to how it looks and feels. It sure is a lot cooler, that's for sure, BUT I look like a giant baby! I really don't care for the look and neither do my neighbors in the village; they openly laughed and mocked me...kind of a humbling day. The whole thing was still pretty funny, though.

Cultural Lesson Learned: Make sure the barber has a guard on his sheers before he begins shaving!

The next day was December 1, World AIDS/HIV Day. The health center I work at organized a village-wide party at the local group school to educate people about the disease and celebrate healthy living. The party was great! It began with some speakers and short sketches organized by the cooperatives run by HIV positive villagers. Later in the evening a live band came and played for a couple hours. This live act was complete with drums, electric guitar, and bass guitar; the first live band of this kind that I have seen in Rwanda. They were great! We danced in this little classroom for almost two straight hours. It was soooooo fun! After the dance party, the nurses got together with me, Kevin, and Scott and we had a couple of beers and goat brochettes. It was so well organized and so much fun.

After I dropped off Kevin and Scott in Kigali on Wednesday of last week, I went straight to the Red Cross Center in Kigali to help my fellow PCVs in organizing and executing the Girls Leading Our World (GLOW) Camp. The Camp hosted 80 girls, ages 14-20 years, from all over Rwanda for about a week. The Camp's purpose was to encourage and empower these girls to be leaders in their schools, communities, and, after graduation from secondary school, in all of Rwanda. The Camp had notable speakers talk about public health and nutrition, workshops about leadership and teamwork, and a bunch of fun events such as a dance party and a talent show.

I could speak more in depth about GLOW Camp, but it would seriously take like two or three blog entries to describe the week and what was AWESOME! AAAAAAAAAND, it was totally and completely organized and executed by PCVs; I didn't do much to help put this GLOW Camp together, but I did help execute it. I was a facilitator and I was in charge of escorting a specific group of eight (8) girls from session to session; I even taught a few health sessions to the girls myself. It was blast. I just got back from it and I am in a state of exhausted enthusiasm, if that makes any sense. I probably should have waited to write this blog entry, but I am going to Tanzania next weekend and I still have a bunch of things to do before I can go on this vacation.

Random Side Note: PCVs in Kigali found a place that is open 24hrs; it sells beer, Gyros, and other fast foods! This news is so incredible, you don't even know.

Well, that has been my life since the last entry. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone. Please keep me in your thoughts and prayers as my friends and I trek through Tanzania. Peace!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Hot Springs, Circus Performers, and...a Never Nude?!

(Pictured Here: Rwandan Circus Performers in Gisenyi.)

Wow! These past few weeks have been very busy; since IST, the time has just been flying by.

Since my last entry, Halloween has come and gone. A group of us decided that it would be cool to get together in Rwamagana and celebrate. Rwandans don't recognize this fun holiday, so we were on our own; we came up with our own decorations and costumes. It was rough. We didn't even have pumpkins! We had to carve green peppers. Ha! Okay, well, we didn't HAVE to do it, but Brandon thought it would sorta did.

The day before the party, Brandon and I decided to visit the market in Rwamagana and see what we could buy to create our own costumes. I ended up buying a 'fighter pilot' jacket I found. I decided I would slick my hair back, wear aviators, and chew gum...thus, 'Iceman' from 'Top Gun.' Brandon bought a bunch of Rasta clothing and decided to go as 'Rastaman.' Emily got REALLY creative with her costume and created a whole butterfly outfit which turned out really nice.

Malea and Tom came into town the day of the party and visited the market themselves. Malea already had a costume (a tourist), but Tom was still searching his heart, and the used clothing piles, for just the right costume. Tom settled on buying two blouses, one of which looked suspiciously like a cape, and wore them in such a way that his appearance resembled that of a street walker...I mean, a night walker...or...a walker of the night?...arg...he looked like a vampire (not a prosti-dude) is what I am trying to say here.

Malcolm attended the Halloween party too. He, like Tom, also took risks regarding his costume. Malcolm came dressed as a 'Never Nude,' a very fictitious and hilarious psychological affliction made famous by the show 'Arrested Development.' Kara and Crissy (overhearing Brandon's disgust for 'those girls back home that dress as 'sexy cats' every Halloween') dressed as 'sexy cats.' Brandon foolishly thought he would finally attend a Halloween party that had no 'sexy cats' in attendance...wrong!

It was a really cool night; the weather was perfect, the food was great, we had a fire going, and there was plenty of beer to be had. (AND...we had 'sexy cats!') Good times.

In work related news, the HIV/AIDS mobile testing units have finished their rounds. We tested almost 2,000 people, which is awesome; those people testing positive with HIV have been put into our counseling program and have started their ARV treatments. Some of these people have even joined some of the cooperatives (established by the health center) to raise money to help fund their treatments; these cooperatives mainly raise and sell goats. These cooperatives also serve a social function: as a support group for themselves and as an awareness group for schools, churches, and such. The newest health campaign was started this week: getting children vaccinated for far, so good.

Switching gears and traveling back in time, the last two weekends were pretty cool. On the weekend of November 6, Brandon got the urge to explore the country a bit. He asked me and Malcolm if we were interested; we said 'yes.' The three of us decided to go to Gisenyi. Gisenyi is a Rwandan border town (next to the Democratic Republic of the Congo [D.R.C.]) in the Northwestern part of Rwanda; Gisenyi is on the Northern beaches of Lake Kivu.

We arrived in Gisenyi on Friday night. The next day we began to explore the city. We immediately stumbled upon a group of Rwandan circus performers juggling and doing gymnastics. We stood around and watched them practice their performance for a while. After a good hour or so we went to see the DRC was was nothing as cool as seeing the Tanzanian border, though. (The Rusumo Falls were very cool!)

We were getting hungry. We decided we had to see ONE MORE sight before we ate lunch. This ONE sight was really the reason why we decided Gisenyi, of all the places to visit in Rwanda, was the best place to visit this particular weekend. Why did we think this? Because in the travel guides it says that Gisenyi is home to volcanic hot springs that, according to the residents, have mystical healing powers. We couldn't resist.

So we got to the hot springs and...they were cool, but...they were small, like puddles. I was thinking they were going to be these huge pools of warm water in the middle of some lush, jungle-like setting. I thought we were going to swim and I would be cured of the chest cold that I had been nursing that week. Wrong. The 'hot springs' were little, bubbling puddles of warm, sulfur-smelling liquid. They were neat, don't get me wrong, but I totally let my expectations run wild on this, I was let down a little. was still a fun trip, though.

The next weekend, the three of us (Brandon, Malcolm, and I) set out to the Southern part of Rwanda to visit some of our fellow volunteers and the new Peace Corps trainees at their training sites. We didn't have time to check out anything else, but, apparently, there are a bunch of art and historical museums in the town where the new training is being held; I saw the museums in Butare while I was completing my training, but I haven't seen the ones near the new training sites. Malcolm, Brandon, and I decided we would check them out the next time we were passing through that area.

Back to a work related update; the schools are on break now. My class is PACKED again! This time, however, it is not loaded with the 'movers and shakers' of the community as much as it is loaded with high school students on vacation. I still have a lot of older students, though.

My students are asking me for a break. I couldn't agree more. I really hope I don't jinx myself by announcing this, but me and a few of the volunteers are trying to get a two week trip to Zanzibar going next month. Zanzibar is a small 'island' off of the coast of mainland Tanzania, in the Indian Ocean, and I hear its awesome. The trip planning is going well; I am happy to announce that I have the tickets reserved and ready to go. Man! I can't wait! I really hope this works out. I'll keep you posted.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The October Post

( Pictured Here: Christine, Mediatrice, and Rosine [from back to front] test villagers for HIV at a local school.)

The October Post: Let's see what I got for ya this month...

I got my kitchen roof fixed...that's all done and paid for. The new one is holding up just fine.

Oh yeah! I wanted to mention something else regarding cultural norms about alcohol. Specifically, Rwandans have a big fear about being poisoned; all drinks (alcoholic or not) are opened in front of you to prove that nothing was put in the bottle. This is not news to me, really. I remember being in college and people telling me not to consume drinks that I didn't pour myself or that haven't been in my possession the entire night. In Rwanda, they are really serious about this...REALLY serious.

I have a friend at the health center I work at and her mother passed away about two months ago. Her death was drawn-out and painful; she was barely taking in any water and she was not eating at all. The community and her family (even her daughter, my friend and a lab tech at the health center) were convinced that a jealous neighbor poisoned her. They took her to hospitals in Kigali and Rwamagana, but the medical staff couldn't figure out what was wrong with her. It wasn't malaria, or T.B., or advanced AIDS, or anything else for which they tested her. The only conclusion people could come up with was that she was poisoned. (I don't know what the doctors said specifically; however, I had a pretty strong pulse on the community's perspective and they were were saying 'poison, poison, poison.')

What seemed to have complicated her treatment program (from my perspective) was that, according to the community, she had a specific poison that led to instant death if she was hooked up to an I.V.; so, she never got an I.V. Moreover, I know she was taking medicaion from the doctors she visited, but she was also taking medication from a local medicine man. I asked my friend what was in the drugs the medicine man was giving to her mother and she didn't know. I insisted that we find out; my friend's reply was that, 'he'll never share his secrets.' I tried another angle; I suggested we try to figure out who might have poisoned her. If we know the person who might have done this, we could figure out what poison was used. Depending on the poison, maybe we could alter her treatment to counter its effects somehow. My friend's response was that, 'we'll never know who it was for sure.'

My friend's mother passed away at the hospital in Rwamagana...she was 46 years old. (I didn't know the funeral was that same day, so I was unable to participate.)

9. Do NOT accept a bottle that has not been opened in front of you AND be sure to keep the bottle close to you as you consume its contents.

What are some other things that happened? Oh yeah! So, the Peace Corps Medical Officer (PCMO) for Rwanda was at a medical conference in Thailand and she was having a discussion with a representative from the US ARMY (I think it was the US ARMY; it was definitely one of the branches of the US armed forces) and, naturally, the topic of tropical bugs and illnesses came up. Well, she mentioned my experience with jiggers and the representative was very interested in having the photos she took of my feet; the rep wanted to have them on file to teach new recruits about local ailments and such. Anyway, the PCMO asked me if the rep could have the pics and I said yes, of course. I wish I had taken pictures myself, but it was just so gross. Maybe I'll get the ones that the PCMO took and post them so you can take a look.

Let's see...what else...what else...

Well, we have more volunteers in Rwanda as of this month. We have about 35 'newbies' and they are being trained to be English teachers. I was able to spend some time with them in Kigali when they first arrived. They seem very nice and they are very excited to be in Rwanda. I am sure they will be successful in Pre-Service Training (PST) and go on to be great volunteers; heck, about fifteen (15) of them are volunteers from Mauritania, so they have played this game before.

Volunteers from Mauritania? What?
Let me explain.

Sometimes a country that has Peace Corps volunteers becomes a little too unsafe; so, Peace Corps pulls out. When Peace Corps pulls out of a country, the volunteers in that country are given a choice to complete their COS (Close of Service) or continue their tour of service at a post in another country. Well, Mauritania (a rather large country in Northwestern Africa) closed about two months ago and fifteen (15) of this country's PC volunteers decided to continue their service in Rwanda.

In other news, the remaining Peace Corps Rwanda volunteers that I graduated with are organizing a bunch of different projects. Jessica is spearheading the 'Books for Africa' campaign which is doing really well. A handful of the other volunteers have been working hard at coordinating a G.L.O.W. (Girls Leading Our World) camp to empower Rwandan young women (high school aged). I am helping them with what I can, but I have decided not to take any serious leadership roles in these awesome projects. Things in my village are just too busy for me to be of any real help to my PC cohort.

Two weeks ago there was a national campaign for vaccinating children. The nurses at my health center were divided among the various make-shift health posts throughout my community; they spent the entire day vaccinating children and updating the childrens' growth charts. Because some of the nurses were spread throughout the villages working with the community health workers to get these kids vaccinated, the staff at the health center was nearly cut in half. I decided I would be of better use if I stayed at the health center and helped counsel patients - my standard 7am to 5pm day.

These next few weeks are going to be pretty busy too. Just a few days ago, the health center began visiting different village 'health posts' in my community to test people for HIV. (I don't know if this is a national campaign or just something the health center came up with on its own; I forgot to ask.) I have been put into the 'HIV Testing Mobile Unit' weekly rotation with the nurses to help record data and do some counseling; so, I will be doing that once a week for the next two weeks.

My first 'HIV Testing Mobile Unit' rotation was actually Tuesday of this week and it was...interesting. The nurses and I got a late start to the testing site because we had guests in the morning, so the staff meeting went a little long. Anyway, once we got to the site, we were able to test 107 people. That part of the experience was really cool...people wanted to be tested, which was good. After we analyzed the results, however, I became very...well...sad. Eighteen (18) of the 107 people tested were positive. (I wish I could tell you statistics like these are uncommon in my area.) We registered them in our counseling program and got them started on ARVs.

I do wish I had brought my camera to get some photos of the nurses working hard, but I suppose I can do that next week.

Anyway, that has been my month or so...

Man, I just read through this and I was wrong...a lot has happened over this month...(*side note: my stupid 'Check Spelling' application on the blog won't work for some reason so this entry is probably full of spelling mistakes and gramatical errors. Meh.)

Okay, I got a funny story (well, sorta funny) that I can close with. Kara, Brandon, and I were coming back from Kigali a few months ago; we had a meeting or something, I can't remember. Well, we got into the matatu (a swahili word used to refer to the taxi-vans) and Kara and Brandon took seats near the front. I sat in the back. (I like the back...right next to a window...its great...I don't have a good reason for this, I just like it.) The seat I had was in between these two big guys sitting next to a third big guy...I mean big. Behind our seat were bags of someone's know, bananas and stuff like that. Needless to say, we were cramped. I mean we were shoulder to shoulder, which is pretty standard seating when a person is sitting in a matatu, but I was being crushed between these guys. Anyway, instead of sitting with my shoulders up to my ears and burying my chin into my chest for the whole trip, I decided I would put my right arm behind the seat to give me more shoulder room.

About fifty minutes passed and most of the ride to Rwamagana from Kigali was finished. At that point I was looking out the window to my left and my right hand was casually toying with the bags behind the seat. All of a sudden, I felt a horrible pain in my hand.

I haven't been stung by a bee since I was in gradeschool. Well, the streak is over, baby. I never saw the bee that did it, but it stung like a dirty *expletive deleted*! Well, I was so shocked by the sudden surge of pain in my hand (which quickly shot up my wrist) that I brought my arm up without thinking. This reflexive action was executed in no careful manner; I swung my arm up so quick and with so much force that I totally slapped the guy next to me in the back of the head! (Ah! Sorry! Sorry!) Now I know why we were trained in Kinyarwanda! I was able to talk my way out of the physical beating that I was about to encounter as a result of this inadvertent provocation; not that I had practiced this scenario in training or anything. He was actually really cool about it; he seemed to understand that when a big ol' African bee stings you, it freakin' hurts!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Mighty Wind

(Not Pictured Here: The roof to my kitchen/storage unit!)

Two weeks ago I received a phone call from Malcolm, a PCV stationed in Kigali. He asked me if I wanted to go with him and Taylor, another PCV, to a party in Cyangugu. I was very hesitant to go. I wasn't worried that Cyangugu was an hour away from the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo) or that I would literally have to ride through a rain forest to get there; I was worried about the distance I would have to travel from my village.
I live in the East and Cyangugu is at the far Southwestern tip of the country. Rwanda isn't that big, I know, but I knew that if I went, I would be spending the better part of a day in a crowded car or bus. Moreover, I heard that traveling through the rain forest is a rough ride and makes people carsick; PCVs from the West have told me many stories about people vomiting all over each other. Needless to say, I was having my doubts about going. Malcolm did counter all my expressed reservations with the 'you only live once' card. (In the game of traveling, this is a trump card.) I quickly changed my mind and agreed to meet Malcolm and Taylor in Kigali to take a bus together to Cyangugu.

The ride was very long, but it was very scenic. I was 100% correct about what was going to happen; someone threw up. It was gross; I'll spare you the details but Taylor and Malcolm were sitting right next to the girl when it happened. I don't believe anyone was 'hit' in the ordeal, but it was pretty gross. ALSO I was 100% right about spending the entire day in a crowded car/bus. By the time we arrived at the party, I personally had spent TWELVE HOURS in transit. The trip was fun, though. We stopped at this one place that sold street meat, corn on the cob, peanuts, and bunch of other things. I had a little of everything; it was great.

The party was being held by an NGO (NGO = I will give them some anonymity here); a bunch of other PCVs from Rwanda were invited. These NGO people were the best hosts and hostesses in the world. They knew that their headquarters was a bit out of the way from our arrival spot, so they actually drove out of their way to come pick us up so we didn't have to hire a taxi. All we had to do was call when we got off the bus; we did so and they told us it would be thirty (30) minutes or so before they got to us. With that amount of time on our hands, we all agreed we could go to a 'bar' and have a beer.

I have learned many things about ordering alcohol in rural Rwanda. For example:

1. Only men are allowed to drink in public. A woman can drink alcohol in public; however, if she does it often she will develop a very bad reputation...specifically, she will be seen as a prostitute.

2. Children aren't suppose to drink alcohol, but they do; I have stumbled across a few drunk grade school students once or twice. They are not served in any of the bars, but who is to stop them from drinking at home, where there are gallons and gallons of homemade banana beer.

3. Children cannot be served in a 'bar,' but they can work there. Heck, if it is a family owned bar (and most of them are), they are expected to work there. When I mean work, I mean work: taking orders, closing tabs, and managing the place when the parents are out running errands.

4. There are really only two comercial domestic beers in Rwanda: Primus and Mutzig. I really don' care for either one, so I hardly drink anymore. There are many foreign beers, but they are expensive.

5. Beers come in 'small' and 'big' sizes. The 'small' size is what you generally see in America. The 'big' size is about 40 oz. The 'big' size is really the 'normal' size here. If you order a beer and don't specifically say 'small' or 'big,' they bring the 40 oz one out. If you order a foreign beer, which only comes in 'small,' they will assume you want the amount comparable to a 'big' beer and bring out two 'smalls.' I have ordered an Amstel many times and have been brought two; I always forget to say one only.

6. Ordering an orange Fanta is pretty much telling the entire room that you are a virgin. Apparently, Orange Fanta = Virginity. Naturally, orange is the best flavor in the world, so I have had to endure many jokes because of my taste for this delicious beverage.

7. If you are ordering hard liquor, be prepared to buy the entire bottle. No shots served here, baby; bottle service only.

These are really the big seven cultural notes I have made regarding alcohol.

Okay, back to the story...and the eighth lesson I have learned about Rwandan cultural practices pertaining to alcohol consumption.

So Malcolm and I are drinking a 40 oz Primus each and Taylor is drinking a Fanta. We are enjoying being on solid ground and not being around people about the throw up...just waiting for our ride. We figure we have got twenty (20) minutes to down our drinks before our ride comes. WRONG! Our ride pulls up almost immediately after we order! Apparently, our arrival was anticipated and our ride left before we called.

At this point, it was pretty easy for Taylor to finish her Fanta, but Malcolm and I each still had to finish much of a beer that we didn't really enjoy. No words were said; Malcolm and I just looked at each other and began chugging our beers like college Freshmen. BIG MISTAKE! The crowd in and around the bar began to make noises of disapproval and shook their heads with disgrace. One elderly man even began to lecture Malcolm, thinking he was Rwandan, in Kinyarwanda about how chugging beer in public is bad form. We said our awkward apologies, gave our bottles to the disgruntled barkeeper, and jumped into the truck that had been waiting for us to finish.

8. Under no circumstances is one allowed to chug a beer in public!


The party was great. The hosts gave us a place to stay and a ton of good food; they had a movie projector and a ping-pong table; they even had a dog AND puppies. I know this may not sound like big news, but Rwanda has almost NO dogs...NONE...I see no dogs as pets and no stray dogs at all. My dad raises and breeds Beagles for hunting and various gaming competitions, so the Reeb house has always had at least one dog since I could remember. It was weird to be in the presence of 'man's best friend' having not been around one for almost eight (8) months.

At any rate, I cannot rave enough about how well our hosts received us; seriously, it was good stuff. We had a dance party the night we arrived, they took us to a private beach on Lake Kivu the next day, we went swimming...and the goodness the food! Good times. Good times.

When the party finished on Sunday (it was a long party, baby) we all left for site. Malcolm, Taylor and I traveled together and experienced yet another person throwing up...gross. I was the farthest away from Cyangugu and it took me all day to get back to Rwamagana city...I spent the night in the city and returned to my village Monday morning.

Upon returning home Monday morning, I noticed that everything was in the order I had left it; everything was just fine. I decided to take it easy that morning and not go into work right away. I just wanted to unpack, eat, and read a little bit. I did all three; it was great.

The weather was normal. It was great reading weather for me, actually. I get this cross breeze when I leave my windows open and I always keep my doors blinded with this light colored sheet, so during the day my house has this soft, sleepy light. It is really relaxing in the late mornings and early afternoons, especially after eating a big meal. I take a nap at least one hour every day after lunch, in fact. On top of the eight (8) to nine (9) hours of sleep I get every night, I would say that I am becoming very well rested here.

At any rate, I was relaxing and about to nod off when a mighty wind blew through the streets of my village. This wind shook the entire house! It caused so much noise! For a minute, I thought a huge truck had had some kind of speeding accident. I looked out my window and saw nothing out of the ordinary; so, I started reading again and fell asleep.

About an hour later (around 12:30pm) I woke up and walked outside to use the restroom. The first thing I saw was a man on my neighbor's roof. Then I looked at the roof next to kitchen/storage unit roof. It was gone! Flat out disappeared, man! For a very brief moment I had this ridiculous idea that someone had took my roof. I was going to call out to the man working on my neighbor's roof, but I stopped myself from making any kind of scene. I looked over my fence and realized that a small crowd was hanging out by the well, waiting for me to come out of my house; they wanted to see how I'd react; we Americans, after all, are very loud, dramatic, and pushy.

I tried to look natural as I started looking around roof. I couldn't find it. Ha! I got changed and began walking to my landlord's house to tell him about the situation. Well, as soon as I walked outside my gate, there he was talking to the neighbor whose house on which my roof had landed. Apparently the mighty wind had taken my roof to the house just next to mine; that's where all the noise had come from.

Within a week, the roof was fixed; you can see the pictures on my facebook page. At the end of the week, my landlord told me the new roof, the repairs to the neighbor's house, and the addition to the bathroom roof, cost a total of 109,000 Rwandan Francs (just under $200.00 American dollars). He asked if Peace Corps could help with some of the cost; Peace Corps agreed. So this past week I have been trying to arrange a meeting with him to negotiate the amount of help Peace Corps is willing to provide.

Arranging a meeting has been pretty difficult, however; thus, this situation has yet to be formally resolved. My landlord doesn't speak English very well and I don't know enough Kinyarwanda or French to negotiate landscaping fees and charges. So, I asked Jean-Marie, a good friend of mine at the health center, to help me translate. He agreed...for the price of two Mutzig beers, which I readily bought for him...and he readily drank...I still have yet to sit down with my landlord, however. Whenever I am free, he is not; whenever he is free, Jean-Marie is not. I am pretty much ready to this thing at any time, but the other two parties appear to have strongly conflicting schedules.'ll all work always does.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Rusumo Falls and Wednesday

(Pictured here: Rusumo Falls)
Rusumo Falls was very cool. A few PCVs (Brandon, Tom, Malea, and Anna) and I decided to take a day trip to the Rwanda/Tanzania border (Rusumo) to check it out a few weeks ago. We couldn't cross into Tanzania because Peace Corps has very strict regulations regarding crossing borders; we needed clearance weeks in advance in order to step into Tanzania. Anyway, I posted a few pics on facebook...check 'em out.

In other news, the Director of Peace Corps Rwanda has asked each of us to write a story for the Peace Corps publication 'A Life Inspired,' a collection of short stories written by volunteers in the field. I have been trying to get something to him these past couple of weeks, but I am not happy with my drafts. I write something out, I edit it, and I am just not happy with what I produce. It would really be cool to have a story in this widely disseminated text, but I don't like anything I write. Maybe I will submit an old blog post...I dunno...I'll keep you posted. (I have been doing a lot of writing these past few months and, let me tell ya, I have a much deeper appreciation for writers and their craft!)

The classes are going well, though attendance is shrinking. I think my newness in the community is wearing off...*sigh*. On the plus side, I am getting along with my community members well and I am having to explain my presence less and less, which is okay with me. I have been giving my welcoming speech since April; I have had that thing memorized since Kinyarwanda!

*Maybe I should post two blog entries, but its easier for me to publish them as one.*

I heard about gacaca in training. Gacaca is the community-based court that was used in pre-colonial days and has recently been reinstated to process cases and trials concerning the genocide of 1994; the courts also hear the cases of people that are accused of minor offenses. There were so many offenders during those 100 days in 1994 that it would take a few high courts a lifetime to convict everyone that was involved. In response to this problem, the government revived the traditional community courts throughout the sectors to convict and assign punishment to perpetrators, thus speeding up the judicial process.

The gacaca court for my sector is generally held at the sector headquarters every Wednesday. These past few weeks, however, the court location has changed to the health center's front lawn. That means every Wednesday I get to see five (5) to eight (8) different court cases. When I say see, I really mean see...ONLY. I NEVER approach the open-air court proceedings any closer than I have to and I do NOT ask about what is going on during the trials; I keep my distance as much as possible.

Generally these proceedings begin in the afternoon and finish in the early evening; they are attended by the judges (4 or 5), the accused (5-8), the witnesses (varying in number), and community members (also varying in number). The stores remain closed Wednesday mornings to recognize the importance of the trials to be held that afternoon, but the crowd of community onlookers is never very big. The court cannot give out extremely harsh punishments, like death, but they do give out long prison terms and such.

(This style of judgment, gacaca, has its defenders and criticizers. I will not get into the philosophical discussion, but one of the defenders' arguments for this style of court and punishment distribution is that most everyone accused of taking part in 1994 will have had their case heard and, if guilty, will have served some sort of punishment for their crime. The officials in my sector say they will be finished with all local gacaca cases regarding the crimes of 1994 very soon.)

This last Wednesday was different than other Wednesdays, however. The crowd was rather large and instead of five (5) to eight (8) cases being heard, there was only one (1). When the trial started in the afternoon, I could tell it was important because a hush had fallen over the staff of the health center, which is usually loud and active regardless of what is going on. Nurses quietly treated patients, then went back to their office windows to watch the proceedings.

Curiosity slowly sunk in its fangs...I had to know what was going on, though I had a pretty strong hunch. I walked up to five nurses watching the case unfold from the window of the insurance office, the best office in the health center to hear and see the event. In a very hushed voice I asked the group what was going on. In broken English they revealed the story of the man whose case was being heard. Apparently he was one of the worst perpetrators in my sector during the 100 days of suffering in 1994. He confessed to his crimes and had been in custody at a local jail awaiting his trial. I will spare you the details of the trial...for many reasons. I will admit that I almost cried while the nurses were translating the testimony of the witnesses and the confessions of the criminal.

The trial went much later than normal. The nurses told me it was because of the amount of offenses committed...over 100...the accused said he lost count at 100. *slowly shaking my head* The judges needed more time to process the testimonies and confessions and agree upon the punishment. The judges were considering the strictest punishment a gacaca court was authorized to imprisonment.

I didn't stay for the ruling. I didn't ask about it the next day. I didn't pry to find out more about the court system and its history. That is not to say I was not curious, but it wasn't the time nor the place to ask. What I do know is that I didn't recognize him; I never recognize the people that are on trial and nobody ever talks about them specifically, like they know them.

I know how this must read; not very uplifting. I had to mention this, though. It was an important day for my community; I had to write something about it.

Monday, August 10, 2009 times...

(Pictured Here: Official Dowry Inspector and Comedian Extraordinaire)

The weddings were really cool. I would go into greater detail about them, but my feeble writing skills would not do them justice. HOWEVER, I would like to share a cool experience from each of the weddings.

I arrived 30 minutes late to the first wedding I attended, which was actually like two hours early! African time is much different then American time; so, I did a lot of waiting. (Don't worry, this isn't the cool story I wanted to share with you; just a side note.)

Hold on. Before I get further into my stories here, let me give you some background information about Rwandan weddings. The wedding begins at the house of the bride's parents. This first part of the wedding, the 'Dowry Ceremony,' comes before the Christian ceremony and is very traditional. During the Dowry Ceremony (bolding this term makes me feel like I'm writing a social studies book) the members of both sides of the family meet and discuss the terms of the wedding, which have been agreed upon before hand (so the discussions are pretty much for show). The main dialogue is between the father of the bride and the father of the groom, the heads of the two families.

The groom sits, waits, and watches as the parents and family members discuss. All the while, the bride is waiting in the house of her parents. Once all pleasantries have been exchanged, the father of the groom presents the father of the bride with the dowry. The dowry is generally a cow (though some families take money instead of livestock). If the dowry is accepted, then the bride can leave the house, be presented to the groom, and the marriage ceremony can officially begin.

At the first wedding I attended, a cow was the official dowry. Before the cow was presented, however, this random woman stood up, walked to the back of the house, and brought back some dried grass and banana leaves. She then started to burn them in a small pile next to where we were sitting. There was no flame; she was, obviously, trying to produce smoke only. The smoke began to rise, the crowd got silent, and the cow was led from its stable to the site of the dowry ceremony.

Once the cow arrived, an elderly man stood up and walked towards it. (When I say elderly, I mean ooooooold.) This guy was dressed traditionally (for his age), he moved with the support of a walking-stick, and walked a bit hunched over. He slowly moved up to the cow and began scrutinizing its appearance. He began inspecting the dowry gift to make sure it was an acceptable offering to the bride's family; the smoke had been produced to make the scene seem more mystical, so my sources tell me.

This guy was HILARIOUS. To be honest, I had no idea what he was saying. Ha! He spoke quickly and with a high, crackling, old-man voice, which totally added to the experience. He was cracking what I can only assume were jokes while he was inspecting the cow; he had everyone doubled over in laughter. Again, I really couldn't make out what he was saying, but laughter is I was laughin' it up right there with everyone.

So he finishes his inspection; he suddenly stands straight up and begins waving his hands and walking-stick in the air; speaking loudly and straining his voice. Everyone begins to laugh even harder and clap crazily. The dowry inspection was a success!

Now we flash forward one week...

...the second wedding followed the same format, except money was the dowry.

Instead of two hours early, however, I was like three hours would have thought that I learned my lesson, but that part of American culture (showing up at the time that an invitation requests you to arrive) has been hard for me to change.

Anyway, so we get to this wedding and it goes through the same motions as the first one. HOWEVER, after one of the longer conversations between the heads of the family, everyone sat and got quiet. Then the father of the groom stood up and made a few words...VERY passionately! He then clapped his hands once very loudly and began to dance...then EVERYONE on that side of the family started dancing. It was hilarious!

Everyone was dancing without music for like a minute, then the DJ put on some tunes. Apparently the dowry was the topic of the previous conversation...and it was approved. The scene was awesome, though. It was like something out of a Rodney Dangerfield movie...everyone just started dancing and music came on...seriously, if the DJ started playing Journey's 'Anyway You Want It,' I would not have been surprised.

Anyway, those are my wedding stories...kinda weak, I know, but that's all I got.

I just got back from In-Service Training (IST) at Kibuye, in West Province near Lake Kivu. I had a great time; it was awesome to see everyone. I posted some pics on facebook, of course. The only bad thing that happened was that I got a staff infection in my nose, so it got really big and red (that's what she said)...on top of that, my nose was sunburned! OUCH! I am recovering just fine, but for a little while I looked like I was transforming into 'Bozo'...I called the experience 'The Great Clowning!'

Monday, July 20, 2009


(Pictured here is Thacienne from her dowry ceremony held on July 26th, 2009. [Picture added to blog entry on July 31st, 2009.])

Ah! Busy, busy, busy. I haven't much time to type in full detail, but I'll give you some teasers:

-Saturday (07/18/09) I experienced my first Rwandan wedding...pretty cool, to say the least...

-I am the Master of Ceremonies for a Rwandan Ministry of Health/U.S.G. conference tomorrow in Kigali...

-Sunday (07/26/09) I have another wedding to attend...

-I was just notified that I have been selected by Peace Corps to help in the training of the new volunteers in the coming months...

-In-Service Training is coming soon...I get to present my work to my fellow volunteers in two weeks...I am thinking about doing five minutes of stand-up comedy too...we'll see...

So much to do; so much to prepare to come on the next on facebook soon...

Peace Out,


Thursday, July 9, 2009

For Pen Pals

(Pictured Left: My the background are the broken frames...*sigh*)

Thank you all for your packages, letters, and emails...keep 'em comin'! I updated the 'For Pen Pals' section of this blog a little; it needed it.

I am in Kigali again this week handing in some reports and getting some work done on the internet. Nothing to new is going on, really.

EXCEPT this one thing. So one day during this week I fell asleep on the couch. I got up at like 4am and made my way to my bedroom. I stretched out on the bed and was just about to fall asleep again when I fell through my bed's supports! I fell through the supports and right onto the floor! It was like something out of a sit com, really. I haven't gained any weight and I don't jump on the bed or anything...I have no idea how this happened. Anyway, when I return to site this weekend, I need to get my bed fixed. *sigh* Wish me luck.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Liberation Day

(Pictured here are some of the children from my health/English/art youth class enjoying the supplies that have been given to us by my generous friends and family in the states.)

Happy Fourth of July! Today is the birthday of the United States AND it is the day that the genocide ended in Rwanda. 'Liberation Day'! Today, therefore, is a big day for Rwandan Nationals AND U.S. Ex-pats. I hope everyone is having a great day!

I am so sorry for not writting sooner; I have been super busy AND the internet has not been working at the hospital, at which I have an office.

Before I get into the bulk of my entry, I'd like to say that I am officially done with my CNA...well, I am done with the first draft, but that is the hardest part, right? Also, I got some GREAT packages from Lockport Township High School and one of the school's most awesome clubs, Club Interact. This club is part of Rotary and its goal is to promote community service and internationl understanding. Thank you, LTHS and Club Interact for the great teaching supplies! I have already put them to great use and I am sharing the extras with my fellow volunteers here in Rwanda.

I don't think I have mentioned this before, but LTHS is a partner with me here in Rwanda through Peace Corps' 'World Wise Schools Match'. This program partners a school in the U.S. with a Peace Corps volunteer; doing so, enables the school to learn more about Peace Corps and the country in which the volunteer is serving. I was very fortunate to be partnered with LTHS! I actually graduated from Bolingbrook H.S. and I remember competing against LTHS students when I ran track and X-country for BHS. Anyways, they are a great group and I thank them for their packages and their support.

Okay, so on to the bulk of the entry. I realize that not everyone that can read this entry can access my facebook page to check out my photos. I have been posting photos as fast as I have been taking them and a couple weeks ago I posted a bunch of my house. HOWEVER, I realize many of you cannot see them. Therefore, I have included below a letter that I have recently sent to another American partner of mine, St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Bolingbrook. (St. Francis is my home parish in the states and I have stayed in contact with them since I have left. They are currently collecting supplies for me as well. Thanks, everyone!) Below is a letter that I recently sent to them; the letter is about my house and a bit about my life here in Rwanda. Check it out!

(If you can check my facebook, take a look. I posted more pics just now.)

Work here is going well. I am integrating into the community very well and I am beginning to get into a routine. I suppose ‘routine’ is not the best word to use; there is nothing really routine about my days here. Hahaha! I would say that I am becoming acclimated to life in Rwanda. Yes, ‘acclimated’ is a much better term to use. Haha!

Life in Rwanda is much more different than life in the United States. In the states, I had a routine that would only be affected by small things like missing a bus or getting stuck in traffic. These inconveniences, though annoying, would only delay me a few minutes to an hour at the most. In Rwanda, however, the time it takes to rebound from these ‘smaller’ inconveniences can take hours or even a full day.

For example, my daily activities depend mainly upon the weather. Case in point, today I expected to go into town and run some errands until I had to teach my health class tonight. However, as I look out the window right now, I see that it might rain. (As you are reading this letter, Rwanda has entered its dry season; however as I am writing to you, Rwanda is still in the thralls of its rainy season.) I dare not walk or ride my bike to town (eight kilometers one way); getting caught in the rain far from home is dangerous for many reasons no matter where you are in the world. I can take a taxi into town, but if it rains while I am in the taxi, the road becomes dangerous (the roads in my area are not paved and get muddy very quickly). If I take a taxi and the rain does not begin until I am in town, I am still presented with a problem because no taxi will drive when the roads are wet and muddy. Sometimes it rains for a few minutes and sometimes it is all day; depending on the situation, I might be stuck in town for the night and, therefore, will miss teaching my class.

After thinking through the several possible scenarios, I have decided to stay at home and run some errands here in my village. HOWEVER, the rain even affects my chores at home…especially my laundry. I do not have a laundry machine or any kind of appliance that would help me in my efforts to clean my cloths. I use a bucket of water, soap, and my hands. I hang my cloths on a line outside, so they can sun-dry. However, because it is rainy season, catching the sun becomes a full-day activity sometimes. I generally end up draping my damp cloths all around the inside of my house to dry while it rains outside. (Draping cloths around the inside of my house looks a bit comical; I don’t have much space, so from the outside it appears as though my house has become a market for selling ‘American Eagle’ and ‘A&F’ clothing. Haha!)

Please do not misunderstand me, I am not complaining. It doesn’t rain all the time here and even when it does, I don’t mind it. Also, I know I said my house is small, but it is a great house; I have no complaints. It is rustic according to American standards and relatively modern for Rwandan standards.

I say my house is ‘rustic’ for American standards (or for Bolingbrook standards, at least) because it lacks most Western luxuries. My house is one story and has four rooms: a bedroom, a storage room, a living room, and a dining room. I do have a kitchen, where food is prepared and stored, and another storage area, but these rooms are outside of the house in an adjoining structure.

The ‘shower’ and ‘toilet’ are outside the house too, father away from the other rooms. The shower and toilet are two separate rooms, but have been joined under the same roof in a singular structure; they have been combined to form one unit, separated by a wall. The shower is an area of space in which I take a bucket of water and wash myself and the toilet is a hole in the ground that is a few meters deep.

Though the house is rustic according to Bolingbrook , IL standards, it is pretty standard, almost modern, for Rwanda . I have electricity, when it is not storming, so I have been able to have some light, charge my cell phone (yes, they have cell phones here) and camera, and listen to the radio. I could even buy and use a television or a refrigerator, but these items are so expensive that the appliances would not be worth the investment.

The structure of the house is concrete, but the adjoining kitchen and storage area are mud-brick constructions. Every part of my house, even the shower/toilet area, is covered with a tin roof; this may not seem like a big deal, but I have seen some houses that are using dried banana leaves for roofing. My fence is, I think, the coolest part of the house; it extends all around the property line and is made of bamboo shoots that have been strategically planted to form a living barrier.

I don’t feel like I am doing my house justice in its description here. Hahaha! I enjoy writing, but I do not pretend to be a great writer. I have posted a few pictures on facebook; feel free to visit it, see some pictures, and hear more stories.

Thank you again for your thoughts and prayers!

Imana ibarinde kandi ibahe umugisha.
(May God keep you and give you blessings.)

Amahoro (Peace),

Emmett V. Reeb, III

P.S. Ah, ha! It didn’t rain today after all; my cloths can dry in the sun! Thank God for small gifts!

Monday, June 15, 2009

'They have arrived to assist, and we appreciate that.'

Okay, so I know that every PCV in Rwanda is posting the same thing on their blog this month, but whatever. The President of Rwanda spoke about his country's renewed relationship with Peace Corps...I thought it was cool, so I have included it below...just like every other PCV in the country. Ha!

I know I haven't posted anything in a while, but that is because things have been pretty tame. Moreover, I have been working on my Community Needs Assessment (CNA) whenever I have had the chance to get on a computer. Today, I took more of a breather to do more fun stuff on the internet; so I am catching up on all my personal work.

Check my facebook for photos!

Published by the Huffington Post.

Pres. Paul Kagame President of the Republic of Rwanda

Posted: June 9, 2009 04:51 PM

A Different Discussion About Aid

The United States of America has just sent a small number of its sons and
daughters as Peace Corps volunteers to serve as teachers and advisors in
Rwanda . They have arrived to assist, and we appreciate that. We are aware
that this comes against the backdrop of increasingly scarce resources, of
budget discussions and campaign promises, and of tradeoffs between defense
and domestic priorities like health care and infrastructure investments. All
that said, I believe we need to have a different discussion concerning the
potential for bilateral aid.

The Peace Corps have returned to our country after 15 years. They were
evacuated in 1994 just a short time before Rwanda collapsed into a genocide
that killed over one million people in three months. Things have improved a
lot in recent years. There is peace and stability throughout the nation. We
have a progressive constitution that is consensus-driven, provides for power
sharing, embraces diversity, and promotes the participation of women, who
now represent the majority in our parliament. Our economy grew by more than
11% last year, even as the world entered a recession. We have chosen
high-end segments of the coffee and tea markets in which to compete, and
attract the most demanding world travelers to our tourism experiences. This
has enabled us to increase wages by over 20% each year over the last eight
years -- sustained by, among other things, investment in education, health
and ICT.

We view the return of the Peace Corps as a significant event in Rwanda 's
recovery. These young men and women represent what is good about America ; I
have met former volunteers who have run major aid programs here, invested in
our businesses, and I even count them among my friends and close advisors.

Peace Corps volunteers are well educated, optimistic, and keen to assist us
as we continue to rebuild, but one must also recognize that we have much to
offer them as well.

We will, for instance, show them our system of community justice, called
Gacaca, where we integrated our need for nationwide reconciliation with our
ancient tradition of clemency, and where violators are allowed to reassume
their lives by proclaiming their crimes to their neighbors, and asking for
forgiveness. We will present to them Rwanda 's unique form of absolution,
where the individuals who once exacted such harm on their neighbors and ran
across national borders to hide from justice are being invited back to
resume their farms and homes to live peacefully with those same families.

We will show your sons and daughters our civic tradition of Umuganda, where
one day a month, citizens, including myself, congregate in the fields to
weed, clean our streets, and build homes for the needy.

We will teach your children to prepare and enjoy our foods and speak our
language. We will invite them to our weddings and funerals, and out into the
communities to observe our traditions. We will teach them that in Africa ,
family is a broad and all-encompassing concept, and that an entire
generation treats the next as its own children.

And we will have discussions in the restaurants, and debates in our staff
rooms and classrooms where we will learn from one another: What is the
nature of prosperity? Is it subsoil assets, location and sunshine, or is it
based on human initiative, the productivity of our firms, the foresight of
our entrepreneurs? What is a cohesive society, and how can we strengthen it?
How can we improve tolerance and build a common vision between people who
perceive differences in one another, increase civic engagement,
interpersonal trust, and self-esteem? How does a nation recognize and
develop the leaders of future generations? What is the relationship between
humans and the earth? And how are we to meet our needs while revering the
earth as the womb of humankind? These are the questions of our time.

While some consider development mostly in terms of infusion of capital,
budgets and head counts, we in Rwanda place equal importance to
relationships between peoples who have a passion to learn from one another,
preparing the next generation of teachers, administrators and CEOs to see
the exchange of values and ideas as the way to build the competencies of our
people, and to create a prosperous nation.

We will do this because we see that the only investment with the possibility
of infinite returns is in our children, and because after a couple of years
in Rwanda , working and learning with our people, these Peace Corps
will be our sons and daughters, too.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Rwamagana - My House and some of the Village

(Pictured above: My shower and bathroom unit; Pictured right: A neighbor's kitchen/storage area; Side Note: Some of the poorer people in the villages still live in these mud-brick structures.)

In other news:
*I am all healed up and going strong;
*I sorta kinda have an office at the district hospital, which is only a 90 minute bike ride (one way) from the health center at which I work and teach...yeah, I don't think I'll be visiting the office much...hahahaha;
*I just found out that my sector has approximately 19,000 people, BUT it has only six certified Community Health Workers (CHWs) helping the nurses at the health center educate people on HIV and AIDS...AND it has NO CHWs assisting the nurses in educating people about proper nutrition...yeah, I think I just found my primary assignment for the next two years: to train community leaders to become CHWs for HIV, AIDS, and nutrition;
*Today, Kate openly admitted that she wants a hug from me the next time we are together. If you know Kate, this news is totally crazy. I saved the text for proof.
*I am in Kigali again for meetings; the partner agency put me up in a hotel and I got to take a stand-up shower today! The water was ice-cold, BUT it was awesome...especially considering that I have been taking 'bucket showers' for like six weeks straight;
*Also, I got to watch TV at the hotel too...the shows were all in French, but it was still cool to watch TV;
*My radio at home is awesome...I have fallen in love with the 'Voice of America' station...

That's all I got for now...I hope all is well on your side of the ocean...more to come soon.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Jiggers: Nature's Pain in the Foot

(Pictured Here: A giant earthworm, possibly 12-15 inches long. This picture was taken before going into the jungle. I have included it here because both this picture and this blog entry showcase creepy-crawlers.)

Alrighty...I posted a few more pictures on facebook (Washington to Kigali to Butare to Kigali - part 2). I was also able to get some videos posted too. Yeah, a very productive day.

Why so productive, you ask? Because I have been in Kigali for two straight days and I am enjoying the fast internet connection at PC HQ. I will probably be here for a little while longer too, BUT before I get into that I want to give a 'shout out' to two people that have decided to move on from PC Rwanda and pursue other opportunities. These two people are remarkable individuals; they are great people and good friends. I wish them well on their journeys and I look forward to hearing about their future endeavours.

(...then there were 30...*queue dramatic music*)

These past couple days have been bitter-sweet:
I have seen two friends leave (bitter...our group is smaller by two people);
I have got to hang out with Mupe (sweet...he is such a pleasant person to be around);
I have had to leave my site for a while (bitter...I love Rwamagana);
I get to stay in Kigali (sweet...Kigali is as close to America as I am going to get for the next two years);
I learned that P.C. Rwanda may be receiving a new crop of volunteers before the year is out (sweet...these volunteers may be English educators);
I learned that my house and my feet are infested with Jiggers (BITTER).

Wait! Jiggers?! What?!

I will spare you the details...just google 'Jiggers,' there are plenty of articles about them. I had them pretty bad, but nothing like the horrible pictures that you may find on the web. I had about 50 or so and it took about 8-9 hours over the past two days to pull them out...ah, um, uh let me rephrase that...the better verb to use here is 'to carve'...yes...the past two days I have been in the nurse's office getting them CARVED out of my feet. Yeah, ouch!

Anyway, my feet are okay...a bit tender because of all the poking and prodding, but they are okay...there should be no far, no problem...if I had waited, however, there could have been trouble...big trouble.

I noticed them over this past weekend. I thought they were warts, so I called the PC Medical Officer (PCMO) and told her that I may need some 'Compound W' biggie...I was going to come to Kigali on the weekend of the 23rd to get a package and do some paperwork at PC HQ, so picking up the medication would be no problem. HOWEVER, the next day I noticed more of these 'warts' AND they started to burn and itch. I called the PCMO and asked to come into PC HQ in Kigali and have my feet looked at. She agreed...her diagnosis was 'Jiggers'...big, ol' African-sized 'Jiggers.' Grooooooss! The PCMO called her second in command and together they began the lengthy process of carving them out.

*Side Note: I must take this time to commend the medical staff of PC Rwanda. They have been, and are, working so hard to keep me, as well as the other volunteers, clean and healthy. They are great people.

'Jiggers' are transmittable from animals to humans and from humans to humans. I have been visiting a lot of people, so I caught them from one house/hut or another. Anyway, I have not looked at the feet of my neighbors, so I don't know from which domicile I contracted the little buggers. At any rate, I am glad I caught sight of them when I did; if you check the web, then you can see what long-term damage these things can do to someone...not pretty.

I disclose all of this information willingly...not to scare you (you shouldn't be scared...I am fine and in very high spirits) or to give you a bad impression of Rwanda (not everyone has these bugs). I am giving you all this information because there ARE several people in my village that are burdened with these insects AND these people do not have access to the kind of medical care that I do.

I ask that you pray for those people that are being tortured by these bugs and have little or no medical support. Extracting all these things is a long process and it is a bit painful, trust me. Moreover, getting too many of these suckers over a long period of time can be deadly to body parts. Keep the people that suffer from these insects in your prayers AND thank God that this is not a great medical concern in the states.

ALSO, keep the medical staff in your prayers too...the PCMO and her assistant spent hours working on me. People with a medical background, let alone doctors, are few and far between in Rwanda. They work hard to save limbs and lives every day. Keep them in your prayers.

Finally, if you are considering Peace Corps service, learn from my experience. If I have learned anything thus far, it is that keeping yourself as healthy as possible is KEY...especially your teeth, hands, 'special areas', and FEET.

In a country where traveling on foot is unavoidable, having strong, healthy feet is important. Contracting 'jiggers' can be prevented: wear closed-toed shoes; keep your feet clean (and I mean CLEAN, people...spend three times as much time cleaning them as you would any other part of your body); and inspect your feet at least daily. I was doing these things and I STILL caught these little terrors, BUT I acted fast and that has made all the difference.

I am going to spoil the surprise for all 'Peace Corps Hopefuls' out there; if you are in the Peace Corps, you will catch something...some kind of bug or flu or something...regardless of the precautions you take, you will be sick at least once...I promise you...BUT you need to be ever vigilant and take all the preventative measures that you can...AND once you are sick, get treated as early as possible, otherwise the consequences may be dire.

Anywaaaaaay, that's what's new with me. I am in Kigali for a little while and I should return to Rwamagana soon. When I get back I get to bleach my ENTIRE house, wash all my cloths, and begin recovery, fun, fun.

I'm sorry this entry was such a downer, but I hope it was educational and/or helpful to someone. I promise my next blog entry will have only good news. Hahahaha! So long, all. Amahoro!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Pictures! Finally!

(Pictured Here: Rwanda's beautiful countryside landscape. The hills get MUCH bigger than these...more to come...)

This entry is going to be short because I am spending most of my time today trying to upload pictures. Check my facebook page for the pics (Washington to Kigali to Butare to Kigali). The captions are not as funny as I would like them to be because I have a very limited amount of time today. Also, I have some videos to upload too, but I will do that later...I'll give you the heads up when I post them on facebook. other news, everything is going just fine. I am well on my way with my CNA and my PC reports...the 'English class' has become an 'English club,' and it is still very strong; I have over 100 students now! I have cut down my lessons to only 4 nights a week for like an hour at a time. It just gets too exhausting to teach every night after working at the clinic the whole day...PLUS I am trying to start up a health club with the children on the weekends, so I want some time to prepare lessons for them and get that project off of the ground.

I do have a funny story for you, though.

Okay, so two weeks ago (after I wrote my last blog entry) I went into the main market of Rwamagana with a couple other Peace Corps volunteers. (The market in my village is pretty small, so I go into the main, city market every once and a while to stock up on supplies...and see my fellow PCVs, of course.) Malcolm (another PCV from the East Province) was going to be in town visiting the Rwamagana crew (Brandon, Crissy, Kara, and I) and he told us he would meet us at the market once he was in town.

Once at the market, Brandon, Kara, and I picked up a couple of things and regrouped in the front of the market where Malcolm was waiting. We were about to leave when two little girls walked up to us. (These girls had their heads down and were speaking to each other, so they didn't see us.) As they turned the corner to walk into the market and, by consequence, into our little PCV group, one of the little girls lifted her head. As she was about to walk right into me, she looked up, and gasped in surprise! She jumped back a good yard or two with a look of pure terror on her face.

The little girl stared at me with such an intense look of fear, that I couldn't help but try to calm her down...I took a step towards her to introduce myself and as soon as I made a move to take a step, she made a move like she was going to run. I decided it best to stand my ground and not scare her any more than she already was.

At this point, Malcolm, Kara, Brandon and I were having a good laugh about her reaction to me. She watched in horror as we spoke with one another in English. I turned to the terrified girl and said a few words in Kinyarwanda to try and calm her a bit...this did not have the effect I was looking for. She did not respond to my greetings; in fact, her level of terror only increased! I could see on her face that she had a singular thought running through her head, 'Either this white man speaks my language OR I am understanding English right now!!! AH!'

She was not screaming out or crying at all, she just had a look of surprise on her face for 10 straight minutes. It was as if her body was stuck in 'flight-or-fight' mode.

I felt really bad for surprising her, but I couldn't help laughing. She just stood there, silently freaking out...and only at me for some reason. Rest assured that my PCV companions were laughing this whole time too...AND not just a chuckle, but deep, side-splitting laughter, which attracted attention from many people in the market.

Remember, I said there was two girls, right? Well the second girl just stood there staring at us as we talked to each other and her friend (or sister). She was curious about us, yes, but I felt as though she was not fearful in the least bit...she actually seemed kind of anxious to begin her errands in the market. She was just standing there waiting for her friend (or sister) to stop freaking out so they could leave. Neither of them said a word. They stayed in their places, silently reacting to us until we four decided it was time to move on.

I felt bad for laughing at the situation, but her reaction was so priceless...even today, I recall it and I can't help but smile a little.

Anyway, rest assured that I am not scaring every person I meet. The people I am meeting are being very kind and helpful. To be honest, I don't think this experience (Peace Corps Rwanda) could have started off an better.

Enjoy the pictures and, as they say in Rwanda, 'Imana ibarinde kandi ibahe umugisha.' (May God keep you and give you blessings.)

Saturday, May 2, 2009

...water bottle caps make pretty awesome candle holders...

Swearing-in took place on Wednesday, April 15th at the U.S. Ambassador's house; there were many great speeches given by Peace Corps representatives and Rwandan government officials. The ceremony lasted into the early afternoon.

(Pictured Here: Official Peace Corps Volunteers for Rwanda!)

(Ah! I miss training! Ha! What a great experience! If you talk to some Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, a lot of them will say that training was pretty intense and not ver fun. I don't know about them, but training was great for me. I had a blast, met many great people, and learned so much.)

Anyway, the ceremony was great and it even made the news! AND, not just the Rwandan national news, but the BBC!

I must admit, however, that the last few weeks of training at the convent were rough. I was really starting to feel the need to leave and get started on my assignment in Rwamagana.

Well, I got my wish. Here I am in Rwamagana and I am sooooooo busy with work. Not only do I have my assignment, but I have paperwork for the Peace Corps due soon too.

The CNA:

I moved into my house in Rwamagana on Saturday, April 18th and since then I have been working on my Community Needs Assessment (CNA) report for Peace Corps. The CNA is a great tool for me to figure out my place in the health center and the larger community.

I know it just sounds like more paperwork, but creating a CNA report is actually very interesting; it reminds me of what I was doing in my anthropology studies at UIC. Specifically, this report needs to outline evertything about the community...and I mean EVERYTHING!

In three months time (that is when it is due to Peace Corps), I need to detail the following aspects of my sector: history, geography, population statistics, education, health, communication, transportation, social issues, natural resources, organizations/groups, community infrastructure, government instititutions and programs, and much more. I even need to create a map of the sector...a full map detailing the important places of the sector and the sector's relation to neighboring communities..and how do I acquire this information, you ask? Well, there are no libraries, so I get to go around town and talk to people, observe interactions, and live life in the sector, baby!

It sounds scary, but it isn't as bad as it sounds. Merely conducting the CNA will not only acclimate me to my surroundings, but it will acclimate my neighbors to me. (Again, MANY people have never seen a white man me walking around their town is kind of strange for them.) At any rate, Peace Corps volunteers have been completing CNAs since 2003 and they have found them very helpful...the communities in which they are conducted find them useful too! Many communities, in which a Peace Corps Volunteer may work, do not have libraries, so CNAs act as a valuable source of information for community members as well.

With two weeks of information under my belt, I have already collected sooo much data. The report only has to be 5-10 pages, BUT I feel like I could write a book! I have to present my findings at 'In-Service Training' in about 10 weeks. ('In-Service Training' is when all 32 of us will get together and review how our first 3 months at site have gone; the report acts as a summary of our 12 weeks of work; the reports are collected and included in a country report to I hear.)

Wish me luck as I continue my CNA!

The English class:

During the first three months of my assignment, I am really only suppose to concentrate on completing my CNA. Well, the community had a different idea. Hahahahaha!

During the first week of work at the health center, I shadowed different staff members and assisted in various tasks, such as distributing medication, assisting in HIV counseling, and I even did some accounting/insurance work. The first full week was was actually a bit slow, but I focused on my CNA and got a lot of it done.

This past week, however, has been CRAZY! Since I moved to my sector here in Rwamagana, people have been asking me if I am going to teach English and, if so, when I am going to start. I kept saying, 'soon, soon.' Well, they were a bit more excited about learning English then I thought...let me tell ya about it.

I was sick on Monday of this week and I didn't go into work at the health center. HOWEVER, when I returned to work on Tuesday morning, one of my counter parts at the center gives me this list of people's names and says, in broken English, 'The sector director wants me to give this to you. He says that your class will be here at the health center from 5pm-7pm every weekday...starting today. I look forward to the first lesson this evening.'

I looked at the list...the director of the sector had recruited the health center staff (nurses and medical technitions), the primary and secondary school staff (teachers and head masters), and the local goverment officials to be my first students in the English class...the list had 70 names on it.

Yeah, I was a bit shaken, to say the least. Luckily for me, I had planned an English lesson over the weekend. HOWEVER, I was not expecting the class to be so large. Yikes! BUT! Then I say to myself, 'Self, there is no way that all 70 will show up.' Well, I was sorta right. On Tuesday, I had 44 students, but on Wednesday I had 55. On Thursday, however, I had over 70 students! (Friday was Labor Day for Rwanda; no work, no school). People were packed into this was so crowded that some people were standing outside and participating through open windows! It was amazing to see such enthusiasm and dedication!

The class is great, but with 70+ people in attendance, it has many problems. Specifically, I need materials! I need materials to share with the class because some do not have pens, paper, etc. AND I need teaching materials for myself. This class and its size has kind of caught me off guard; I am doing the best I can for now, but I am appealing to you, my friends and family, to help me out and send some stuff...if you can. At the very least, keep the class in your prayers as our lessons continue.

I do want to make this disclaimer. It is true that I am NOT a PC TEFL Volunteer and that I am a PC Health Volunteer. HOWEVER, this is what the community wants AND it doesn't mean that my English classes can't also teach them the importance of washing their hands, brushing their teeth, using mosquito nets, getting tested for HIV, etc., etc. Heck, my students are the community leaders. That means that the rest of the community turns to my students when they have questions. In the interest of being as effective as possible and creating something sustainable, I can't think of a better group to educate about healthcare. In this way, I don't have to go to each house and teach the same thing 100 times; I can teach it to the leaders in the sector and they will spread the lessons through their various social networks themselves...

...I dunno...we'll see how this all works out. The class still has some problems. With 70+ students, there are people at several different language levels. Some people are near fluent and others don't know the English alphabet. I'll get it all figured out.

The Rest:

Oh, man! I have so many stories already and so much more to describe to you! I have been writting like crazy! Hopefully things will calm down soon...I'll get into a rythm here and I'll get more time to catch you up. Here is a taste of some stories to come.

The House...

...I love it! It has a cool bamboo fence and it is crawling with lizards that eat the bugs...those lizards provide more entertainment then you think... running water, heat, or air conditioning, though...and, oh yeah, the electricity went out during a storm a couple of days ago. You know, water bottle caps make pretty awesome candle holders...

The Community...

...everyone is VERY nice and VERY welcoming...yes, I do get a lot of stares, but once you start talking to them, those stares quickly turn to fact, I met one guy named Isumail; he pronounces his name as 'E Smile'...hahaha...I have made many friends so far...

The Neighborhood...

...I live across the street from a 'bar' (not like a bar in America...hahahaha...I will describe it one of these days, its pretty cool...), next to the open-air market, 5 minutes away from work (the health center), and 10 minutes away from church...HOWEVER, it is a 90-120 minute bike ride from my house to the next biggest town...getting mail and checking internet often may be rough...BAH!

The Catholic Church...

...they think I am a priest...hahahaha...

...the Bishop of Rwanda is white and speaks Kinyarwanda fluently...he celebrated mass last was really awesome to hear and see...

The Health Center...

...the center is consists of 20 staff members, half of which are nurses...the staff is so much fun; they are a great group of people, really; they work so hard every day...

...approximately 2-3 babies are born each day at the center...I will have to describe a birth to you one of these days...

More to come...Amahoro!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Then there were 32...

It happens...

...people leave...

...the Peace Corps is not for everyone AND a lot can happen in 27 months.  

Statistically, 33%-50% of us will not complete our two years of service for one reason or another.

Originally, in D.C., there were 35 of us...

...we left D.C. as 34... we are 32.  

We have recently experienced our second and third loss, though they left as one.

Our thoughts and prayers are with them in their travels home and in their future adventures.  

As for the rest of us...

...we pack...

...we prepare...

...and we pray...

Dramatically Yours,

Emmett 'The King of Drama' Reeb, III

Thursday, April 9, 2009

April Fool's Day, Final Exams Week, and Three Months of Mourning

(Pictured Here: Random fanny pack photo.)
These two weeks have been busy. I want to touch base on some 'Topics of Interest'.

Topic of Interest: 'April Fool's Day'
'April Fool's Day' is not celebrated in Rwanda, BUT that did not stop the 34 of us from teaching our Rwandan trainers how to celebrate this glorious day devoted to practical jokes. First of all, one of us (Brittany) hid the class bell which is rung at the beginning and end of each class. (Well, the bell is less of a 'bell', really, and more of a tire rim from a truck...AND it is not really 'rung' so much as it is hit several times with a rock.) Anyway, one of us hid it and I was blamed immediately...unjustly so.

(I will confess that I do enjoy 'ringing' the 'bell' even when there is no class to be had. People come out of their rooms with books in their hands and confused looks on their annoys everyone else, but I get a big kick out of it. We are so well trained. Hahahahaha!)

Anyway, we also switched up our classrooms to confuse the trainers. There are nine trainers and, therefore, nine classrooms. We are divided among these nine classes according to language level and learning style. On April Fool's Day, however, we divided ourselves up randomly. Anyway, it was a fun day and it was a blast teaching the trainers about practical jokes and American humor.

The Training Director, Mupe (as we like to call him), got REALLY into it and started calling people into his office and telling them they were in trouble. Mupe is Congolese and has a VERY serious look to him; so, when he calls you out, your heart sinks. HOWEVER, Mupe also has a VERY strong sense of humor. He thought it was hilarious that we were freaking out when he was calling us into his office for a 'serious discussion'. (Side Note: He beat me in Chess that week too...twice. I WILL HAVE MY REVENGE, MUPE!)

Topic of Interest: Nyanza Orphanage
I returned to the Nyanza Orphanage last week. This was the orphanage to which I gave the oral hygiene lesson a few weeks ago. I returned last Thursday with some other volunteers to teach the older children about HIV and AIDS. This lesson went well, but explaining the specific medical terms in Kinyarwanda was VERY difficult. It was fun, though, and the students, I feel, learned a lot.

Topic of Interest: Language Final Exam
I took my final language exam on Saturday. What a rough test, let me tell ya. The exam was an hour long and it was ALL oral. My test was scheduled with Alphonse, one of the trainers, for 8:30 am on that Saturday. The test was structured as a conversation that touched on six topics/scenarios. We spoke about each topic/scenario for about ten minutes or so; NO ENGLISH ALLOWED...yikes!

I performed better than I thought. In fact, not to brag, but I was one of five people, out of the 34 of us, that received the level of ADVANCED on the test. (SWEEEEET!) After calculating all of our homework and tasks done in the language, I think like eight out of the 34 of us are going to receive an overall level of ADVANCED for the language portion of our training.

Topic of Interest: Peace Corps Final Exam
I took my final exam for ALL of Peace Corps training on Wednesday. It took two hours to complete, but I feel like I did strong. I know I have received a 96% on the Health Tech portion of the test and I am pretty sure I got 100% on the Medical portion of the test. Anyway, I get all of my final scores tomorrow when I meet with the Training Director, Mupe, and the Assistant Country Director, Biba, for my final 'training interview'. I feel strong; I am not nervous at all.

Topic of Interest: Next week in Kigali
I leave Butare early next week. I have to spend this weekend packing up and getting ready to ship out to Kigali; I spend all of next week there. In Kigali, the capital, we will shop for some supplies and enjoy each other's company while we still can.

Oh Yeah! I swear-in on Wednesday, too! That's right, I am technically NOT a Peace Corps Volunteer yet. (You remain a trainee while in training and if you pass all of your tests and receive strong recommendations from your interviews with PC staff, THEN you are recommended for service as a full PCV.) Anyway, the swearing-in ceremony is going to be held next week. I am looking forward to it; it should be quite an experience.

Topic of Interest: Three Months of Mourning
Tuesday, April 7th marked the official beginning of Rwanda's 'Week of Mourning'. On April 7th 1994, the genocide began and within the first week over 100,000 people were murdered. The genocide lasted 100 days and claimed the lives of between 800,000-1,000,000 people (the numbers vary depending on the information source). From Tuesday, April 7th until Monday, April 13th all of Rwanda remembers those that lost there lives, but the next three months will also be full of community events dedicated to remembering those that were killed.

In Butare, the week is taken very seriously, I know. On Tuesday of this week we joined the citizens of Butare in a walk across the city. The walk lasted about 30-45 minutes and ended at one of the mass graves. There was a Catholic prayer service held in honor of the men, women, and children that were killed in the city 15 years ago.

(The people that attended the event had to number in the hundreds. The crowd was silent, even walking through the streets. There was no talking and no laughing; there was very little crying even...every person seemed to be in deep deep recollection.)

During this week, all of Butare shuts down after 12 noon; people don't even walk the streets between the hours of 3 pm and 6 pm. The mornings are meant for work and the afternoons are meant to visit family and friends and/or attend various talks and/or movies (concerning the genocide, of course) that are being held at local, public forums. In an effort to respect the culture, its people, and the great loss suffered, the trainees have been respecting this 'Week of Mourning' in a very similar fashion. Specifically, we have classes in the morning, but after lunch we hold no class. Instead of afternoon class, all the classes congregate in the larger lecture hall here at the training center/convent and we watch movies in English that describe or recount the events that happened in Rwanda in 1994.

I answered a reader's question just now about Holy Week. Yes, the country is mostly Catholic; yes, Holy Week is very important in Rwanda. HOWEVER, this 'Week of Mourning' really dominates people's minds and actions.

Topic of Interest: Internet Situation
At any rate, that has been the past two weeks for me. I don't know what my internet situation is going to be next week in Kigali. I know that Peace Corps has many activities planned for us; hopefully, there will be some free time. At any rate, I go to Rwamagana at the end of next week and begin my assignment. With that said, I would not expect very frequent blog entries from me as I get myself settled in my new house and community...probably like one or two a month...I dunno, we'll see.

As always, you are in my thoughts and prayers; please keep the people of Rwanda in yours as well, especially during these next hundred days. Happy Easter! Amahoro, inshuti zanjye. (Peace, my friends.)