Saturday, February 28, 2009

Thanks, Beckz!

(Pictured Here: Our classrooms in Butare. [Picture added to blog entry on 11/19/2009])

Ah! I had another language test this morning. It was a bit more difficult than the last. I have not gotten the results back, but I have a feeling that my place near the top of the training class may be slowly slipping from my grasp. I just need to work harder, that's all.

Anyway, the test was rough. It was only ten minutes long, but it was the loooongest ten minutes of my life. Ha! The language instructors brought some of their friends in to have 'conversations' with us in kinyarwanda. There was no study sheet for this conversation exam. During the exam, you could try to take control of the conversation and shift it to topics you knew a lot about, but the instructor and his or her friend did a REALLY good job of staying in control.

At any rate, when I met with my instructor and her friend, they immediately turned on a tape recorder and began conversing with me in Kinyarwanda. They were asking me about what I did yesterday and I was instructed to respond to everything accordingly. Easy, right? Wrong! The past tense of this language is the hardest tense! The infinitive form of a verb is completely transformed once it is conjugated into the past tense...and these verbs are hard enough as it is, trust me!

Heck, the language itself, though beautiful when spoken properly, is very difficult. Do you know how to say 'Where is the bathroom?' Well you spell it like this, 'Urwiyuhagiriro ruri hehe?' Come on, man! That is impossible to pronounce! Haha! And sometimes I REALLY need to use the bathroom, BUT I want to be polite about it...some things have to be sacrificed in an emergency and, in this case, politeness goes out the window. Instead, I raise my hand and announce, 'Ndashaka kunnya' (I want to poo). This phrase is much easier to remember and say, trust me; plus, I get some laughs. Ha!

Okay, I got off topic...speaking about things in the past is NOT my forte in this language. I understood everything during the test, but my reaction time was slow and I am pretty sure I butchered the hell out of the verbs I tried to conjugate...hahahaha! Oh well, I think my language instructors are planning another test next Saturday. This time I won't say, 'Byerekane!' (Prove it!). I think I will go ahead and keep my pride in check this time and NOT give them a reason to make my tests harder. Haha!

This week was pretty tame. I am excited about tomorrow, though. Some of the team and I are going to a national park to finally see some monkeys. That's right! I have been in Africa for a full month and I have NOT seen a monkey yet! The nationals say that the monkeys pretty much stay out of town and hide in the more rural areas of the country. With that said, one of the team members came up with the idea to visit this park, so we are doing that all day tomorrow.

Okay, onto some cultural facts I am learning. Before I go any further in this entry, I want to thank Beckz for an awesome idea. Specifically, she and I were talking about blog entries this morning and she gave me a great idea. Each Trainee in our group has a language/culture training manual. She suggested that I use some of the "Cultural Notes" in the book to describe some of Rwandan culture and language. With that said, I am going to use a few of the CNs and tie them into some of the experiences I have had over the past few weeks. Thanks, Beckz!

Cultural Note:
In Rwandan culture, people like to hug each other cordially during greetings; the strength and length of the hug depends on the degree of familiarity of the people who are greeting each other.
Emmett Note:
Rwanda is the land of a thousand hills AND of a thousand hugs! Another thing that people like to do is use their left hand to hold their right arm while they are shaking hands. Doing this is a sign of great respect. I love doing this when I meet people on the street. It gets a couple of giggles; they like that I know how to properly greet a person.

Cultural Note:
In Rwandan culture, families are normally large and extended. They are not only comprised of the father, the mother, and the child(ren), but also extended family members.
Emmett Note:
This is not the case for my 'resource family'. I did visit them once when they had a relative passing through town, but I have not met any of their extended family. They do have a houseworker, however. I don't know YET how houseworkers are viewed by family members, BUT employing someone to do your cooking and cleaning is a pretty common practice in Rwanda. There are NO refrigerators in the typical household and ALL family members work if they can, so it is more of a time saver to hire someone to help with the cooking, housework, and baby-sitting. The houseworker at my family's house is about my age, I think. He is a nice, young man; he is well mannered and always has a smile on his face.
I have heard that my living allowance will be more than enough to employ someone to help with the housework and cooking at my permanent residence. I know that Peace Corps Volunteers have employed houseworkers in the past to help them with chores, but I also know that a lot of people have conflicting views regarding this practice. With that said, I am going to research this a bit more before making a move one way or another. Hiring someone to help me with my language skills is something I am interested in, however...we'll see.

Cultural Note:
In Rwanda, it is very important to know if the newborn is a male or a female because of the importance given to a male child. Today, things are changing little by little because of the promotion of gender policy in Rwanda.
Emmett Note:
Families are also getting much smaller. There is a big push to encourage families to have three children or less. The country is predominately Catholic so clinics and such are encouraging citizens to exercise several different kinds of family planning and behavior modification; specifically, abstinence and condom use. Abortion is illegal in Rwanda.
It is a great badge of honor to have many children. Child birth is supported whole-heartedly, by everyone. However, the process of child birth, especially in the smaller villages, is complicated because, many times, the nearest clinic is not very near at all. Moreovoer, there are some traditional practices that complicate the process of birthing a child. I don't know specifics about these practices yet; the little information I do have was given to me by a local nurse and she didn't get specific.
The birth of a child is very important, but the naming of the child is just as important. The parents will wait a few days or a week after the birth of a child to give it a name. This is a common practice in several cultures; this is mainly because if the child was born weak it may die during this period of time. HOWEVER, if the child is born strong and without complication, it will most likely live past this critical period.
At any rate, the naming day is cause for a great celebration. All naming input is taken from family and friends by the parents. A name is decided upon by all parties and the child is formally included into the family and the community. I have yet to attend a ceremony of this nature; time will tell if I will be afforded the opportunity to attend and maybe even have my input considered! Emmett is a strong name, that is all I am sayin'. Ha!
I visited a clinic on Wednesday, got a tour, and was able to speak to one of the nurses for a little while; that is how I got most of this information. The clinic I visted serves 100 people a day with a staff of 12 people; half are health practitioners of some kind (nurses, doctors, etc.) and the other half are administrative or janitorial staff. The facility was GREAT. I could tell that the staff are dedicated professionals. Please keep the staff and patients in your thoughts and prayers.

Cultural Note:
In Rwandan culture, wedding ceremonies are attended by both invited AND non-invited guests. The invited guests have to give some contribution like money, beer, etc., BUT the non-invited guests do not have to give gifts.
Emmett Note:
Wedding crashing is the norm here! Awesome! I have not gone to a wedding yet, BUT a few of my teammates have...invited and uninvited. I will wait to describe a Rwandan wedding until I see one for myself. I do want to share with you the fact that kissing between the bride and the groom at the wedding is not practiced. In fact, kissing in genereal is not practiced (publicly, at least) by Rwadans at all...ever. One of the trainers here said that he never once saw his parents kiss in front of him. Honestly, this doesn't surprise me. Rwandans are very conservative; conservative in regards to American standards, at least.
Another cool note is that for a man to wed a woman, he must first buy a cow and offer it to the bride's family. This cow should be of high quality. If the cow is accepted, the bride's family agrees to the man's proposal and the marriage is allowed to conitnue. Though this seems to be a common practice today in Rwanda, the 'bride to be' gets the final say (in most cases) regarding whether or not she wants to marry the man.
Wow! I just scrolled through this thing and realized how much I wrote! Hahahaha! Sorry, I just have so much information to pass along. I need to cut it off here though or else I will be here all day and spend all of my amafaranga! Hahaha! More stories and cultural notes to come. Stay Tuned!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Resource Family

(Pictured Here: My Resource Family's son, Bruno. [Picture added to blog entry on 11/19/2009])

It has been quite some time since I have blogged...sorry, everyone. BUUUUT I have this Saturday afternoon free, so I thought I would spend some time, and some 'amafaranga' (Rwandan Francs), at a local Internet cafe to catch you all up on things... we go...

These past few weekends my cohort and I have been visiting various cultural centers and genocide memorials throughout the southern part of the country. Last weekend proved to be a particularly powerful experience. We visited a memorial located at the mass graves of an estimated 50,000 people...close to one million men, women, and children died in the genocide of 1994.

I don't mean to start my entry off on a down note, BUT I really took some time to think about whether or not I was even going to mention any of this at all. To be honest, I don't know how much I should talk about the memorial, the genocide, or the local courts (gacaca) persecuting the genocidaires. I don't want my descriptions to be fact, as I write this entry, I feel as though I should be very brief on this topic and quickly move to the next. With that said, just know that my experience last weekend was very powerful. I appreciate our trainers' efforts to educate us on ALL aspects of Rwandan history and culture: the centers, the memorials, the nature walks, and the personal accounts.

Okay...on to lighter topics...I am about one third done with training. I had an exam last week in three areas of language: basic conversation; naming objects; and describing my family and friends...I received two 'excellents' and one 'very good'...I am happy with my score. I have another test next week. I don't know much about this test except that it will be conducted by members of the community and NOT by my language instructors...the instructors promise that this next test will be challenging. I said 'Ni Byo?'...a subtle way of telling them to 'prove it' in Kinyarwanda. Hahahaha!

Oh yeah, so a couple weeks ago I was matched with a local family here in the Butare area. This family is my 'resource family'. Most Peace Corps Trainees live with 'host families' while they are taking language courses and such. I have not been afforded this opportunity, which is totally fine, BUT I really wish I did live with a host family. Specifically, I wish I lived with my resource family.

When I wrote my last blog entry, I hardly knew the family, so I didn't mention them; we had just met a few days before I wrote the entry. Since then, however, I have had several opportunities to spend time with them. Specifically, I visit them every Tuesday and Thursday evening, after my last language class. It is about a 30 minute walk to their house; they are right off of the main, paved road. The family is very small, but still pretty young. The mother and father have to be around my age...I suspect they might be just a few years older, if that. They are both teachers; he teaches technology and math at the university and she teaches at a school for the blind and deaf. They are amazing people...not just because they speak 3 languages almost fluently, but because they are SO helpful and welcoming.

On Tuesday and Thursday evenings, I go to their place and we review some of the more difficult concepts of my daily language lessons. Sometimes we review my lessons over some fresh bananas, passion fruit, and/or avocados picked from their trees. Their instruction is fun, but my favorite thing to do at their place is to play with their son....this kid is hilarious, well mannered, AND he is super smart; he is only four years old, BUT he has a very extensive vocabulary in Kinyarwanda, French, AND English...well, extensive vocabulary for a four year old...I am impressed. Anyway, he likes to teach me Kinyarwanda too and is proving to be a very good instructor. I can definitely see him following in his parents' footsteps.

Sundays with the family are the most fun. After mass on Sunday, I play volleyball with the them and their friends. The league plays at a boarding school down the street from his house; playing at the school is great for many reason. Not only do I get some much needed physical exercise, but I also get to exercise my conversational Kinyarwanda. The students from the school come out and watch us play...they get a big kick out of watching the 'Muzungu' (white man) play volleyball...

...this leads me to a tangent I want to explore. Specifically, I find it very interesting that so many people have never seen or met a white person before....I knew I was going to get stared at a lot, but this is craziness...hahahahaha! Seriously, people will stop what they are doing and just watch me. I will go for walks into town and the surrounding villages and people will just stare at me...not menacingly, but out of pure curiosity.

Most times, however, it goes beyond staring. I have walked past houses, churches, and schools and people will run outside to see the 'Muzungu'...hahahaha! Most will just run out and stare, but the most curious of the children will run up to me and strike up a conversation...(hand holding is big in Rwanda...when you are speaking to, or are traveling with, someone it is a very common practice to hold their hand; this takes place regardless of age or gender...this is one of the cultural practices that I am getting used to seeing, but am not really getting used to doing.) Anyway, so these little kids will run up and hold my hand, talk to me in broken English, teach me some Kinyarwanda, and provide me company all the way to my destination.

My favorite thing to do to onlookers is surprise the hell out of them with my language skills. Specifically, when I catch people staring I like to wave at them and say, 'Muraho. Amakuru?' (Hello. How are you?)...then they shake their heads out of surprise, like I just woke them from a day dream...hahahaha...they get this look on their faces that says 'Did that Muzungu just say something in Kinyarwanda? What the hell?'...hahahaha...once they realize I know some of the language, they smile, laugh, and say, 'Muraho. Ni meza. Murakoze;' (Hello. I am fine. Thank You.)...those people not in a hurry will stop me to have a conversation...others walk on, but continue to look over their shoulder in amazement. Hahahaha! I love it!

Anyway, I know I got onto like four tangents there, but the point that I was getting at is that the students at the boarding school that watch me make a fool of myself playing volleyball every Sunday give me much of the same reaction when I speak with them. It is great, though; each time I say hi to someone and they smile, laugh a little, and respond in kind, I know I am brightening his/her quote Cameron, '...and a good time was had by all.'

Well, I must be off now...friends and family, I love you those of you freezing out in the Midwest, please know that my sunburn has faded to a nice tan...oh, it still snowing in Chicago? Hahahahahaha! Until next time...peace out.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Has it really been two weeks?

(Pictured Here: Kigali. {Picture added to blog entry on 11/19/2009})
It is hard to believe that two weeks ago I was in D.C. I can't explain it, but I feel as though months have passed sounds weird, but I mean it in a good way. At any rate, I have survived the 17 hours worth of plane rides and my SEVERAL shots. I am now into my second week of training, which is going VERY well.

I am having a blast! The Peace Corps trainers are Rwandan nationals; they are extremely knowledgeable and are representing their culture and language very well. My classmates are equally as fun and interesting; we are quite the cross-section of Americana. The people of Butare, the city in which I am training, are very kind; they are very eager to learn English and they are even more eager to teach me Kinyarwandan. It is unfortunate that I am not using my French as much as I was expecting, BUT Kinyarwandan is holding my interest just as much as my French studies...AND Kinyarwandan is proving to be more of a challenge, which I appreciate!

I don't have my notes on me right now, but here is a taste of the language for you:

Nitwa Emmett. Ndi umunyamerika. Ndi umukorerabushake wa Peace Corps. Niga i Kinyarwanda. Ndashaka kuba umwarimu.

Translation: My name is Emmett. I am American. I am a Peace Corps volunteer. I study Kinyarwanda. I want to be a teacher.

My stories for you at this point in time are pretty tame; my days (6 out of 7, anyway) are filled with language, health, and safety classes; these classes are very helpful, but they afford me minimal contact with the locals. However, there is an hour in the afternoon and two hours in the evening that are available for us to explore the city. A few of us get together during this time and check out local shops, the market (which is craziness! Ha! Yeah, those open markets you see in the is totally like that!), maybe go for a drink, or we play volleyball...nothing crazy.

The countryside is BEAUTIFUL! Everything is so green; the hills are rolling and alive with flora and fauna; and the goodness the weather! Rwanda is the land of eternal spring! It is sunny, but not too rains, but only long enough to refresh the air and restore the vegetation's healthy, green glow...there is a breeze, but it is NOTHING like the unforgiving Chicago winds...ha! The breeze here is just strong enough to cool you off and (God help me, its true) the breeze is always at your back, gently moving you to where you need to go.

So yeah, so far so good...the only complaint I have is the internet, which is slow and unreliable. With that said, I will get some pictures up on my facebook page once I get some more free time and a more reliable on the look out. I hope everyone is doing well and I'll speak with you soon!