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.

1 comment:

  1. Granted my trip to India was not a Peace Corps stay, but yes, it's funny to be stared at constantly. I figured in India there would be lots of tourists so people wouldn't be so shocked by "white people", but they were! So many little kids came up to us to practice their English, to ask where we were from & to take pictures with us. It felt very strange at first, but then I got used to it. At least you have the pleasure of making them smile when you speak to them in their language...a pleasure I did not have. Love reading the blogs...keep it up! Miss you!