Friday, March 27, 2009

The Health Lesson and The Graduation

The past couple weeks have been pretty standard...pretty uneventful. My days are filled with language lessons, health tech sessions, and meetings about how to stay healthy and safe in our communities for the next two years. I have about three more weeks of training and then I begin my project in Rwamagana. I am very excited.

I have had some free time, but it has not been a lot lately. Though the last two weeks have been pretty tame, I have still been pretty busy. Yesterday, Thursday, myself and six of my fellow trainees visited an orphanage to conduct our first health Kinyarwanda. I had not visited this particular orphanage before. It was about an hour North of Butare; as always, the trip there and back was scenic.

(Pictured Above: A 'Muzungu' from America tries to speak Kinyarwanda to two and three-year olds. Also Pictured Above: Children laughing at the 'Muzungu' as he fumbles his Kinyarwanda.)

The seven of us arrived at about 10 am to begin our lessons; we were an hour late. This did not seem like it was too much of an issue to anyone because everyone knows how unreliable public transportation is in Rwanda. There are three main modes of public transport: 'imodoka' (small bus or car), 'imoto' (motorcycle...another word for motorcycle is 'ipikipiki'), or 'igare' (bike). The cars are really like very small busses...kind of like mini-vans, really. They pack these things FULL of people and do not leave until the car is COMPLETELY packed...sometimes this takes a while, at least that has been the case for every one of my experiences with an 'imodoka'; therefore, there is no bus schedule, really. This is the transportation I usually take for longer distances...for shorter distances, I do it the old fashion way and walk...walking is free, safe, and very healthy, so it wins.

Motorcycles are the quickest way to get around locally, I hear, but they are also the most dangerous. You wave an 'imoto taxi' to you, he gives you a helmut, and you jump on the back. (Special Note: Because riding motos is so dangerous, it is forbidden by Peace Corps to ride on one. I am not condoning this mode of transportation. Breaking Peace Corps policy, especially endangering yourself or others, is grounds for administrative seperation and, therefore, immediate termination of your Peace Corps service.)

Bikes are the same kind of concept as motorcycles, but you do not get a helmut and you travel slower. Therefore, they are generally used for shorter distances and are MUCH cheaper than riding a moto. Taking a bike looks like a pain for both the rider and 'pedal master', as I like to call him. Because Rwanda is so hilly, when you go up a hill, both the rider and the 'pedal master' get off and walk. Bikes and Motos are good to get to the hard to reach areas, I am told. The cars and busses drive on the main, paved roads only and the bikes and motos travel on both paved and unpaved (off-roading) roads. The government is trying to keep bikes and motos off of the main, paved roads because it is unsafe.

Anywaaaaaaaaaay, we had been preparing all week for these health lessons. We had three trainers with us; we were being graded on our language and presentation skills. The seven of us decided earlier in the week that we would divide the health topics and the classrooms between us so that we could maximize our time with the children and staff. This is how we divided the duties: Kate and Katie decided to work with the cooks to discuss the nutritional value of the meals at the facility; Edison and Sonia created a lesson that taught children about proper nutrition and educated them on how to say certain body parts in English; Meredith and Jessica prepared a lesson that demonstrated the importance of handwashing; being the 'odd man out', I presented a lesson by myself.

My lesson stressed the importance of oral hygiene; specifically, the children and I reviewed how to brush their teeth, what they need to use to brush their teeth, how often they should brush, AND what foods they should eat, and not eat, to keep their teeth, tounge, lips, and mouth healthy and clean.

Each lesson went very well. Personally, I did not realize that the children were going to be so young (2-4 years old), so I had to restructure my lesson on the spot. I had written my lesson in an advanced level of Kinyarwanda; the children were not at that level in their language skills, however. 'Childproofing' my presentation was not a problem; in fact, it made my lesson even easier for me to teach. Christine, one of the trainers, was with me and she gave me some advice on how to work with the children and tailor my lesson plan to their language level.

When we finished our health lessons we were able to play with the children in the schoolyard; there was about 30-40 of them total. This was my favorite part of the trip. The kids liked to be twirled, chased, tickled, ect. It TOTALLY reminded me of when I was in highschool and my youngest brother, Andrew, was very little. Playing with the kids on Thursday reminded me of the fun Andrew and I would have when we were younger.

After some time with the little ones we went into town to eat lunch. After lunch we returned to the orphanage to work with the older children. We want to return to the orphanage next week to give the older kids a lesson in reproductive health, so we thought we would use the afternoon to ask them a few questions and see what they already knew...we conducted a 'needs assessment' activity, if you will. It turns out they knew a lot...not everything, but a lot.

Anyway, before I leave 'The Health Lesson' portion of this blog entry, I want to tell you about something that made me laugh yesterday. Okay, remember a few entries before when I was talking about how people get some small amount of pleasure when I say 'hi', 'good morning', ect, ect in kinyarwanda. Well, when we arrived in the town that the orphanage was located, it was immediately clear that the people there were NOT used to seeing white people. Lots of stares...let me tell ya.

I was greeting people when I exited the bus, as usual, and I greeted this one young woman who responded by giving me a look of what I can only describe as terror...pure, honest terror. We could all tell that it really freaked her out that I said anything in Kinyarwanda. It sounds mean, but her face was PRICELESS. Hahahaha. I am laughing just thinking about it now. It gave us all a good laugh; I am sure I just caught her off guard.

THEN as we were walking up the road from the bus stop to the orphanage, we passed this elderly woman...very elderly...I mean you could tell this woman has seen it ALL. Anyway, I walk past her and I could tell she has seen a white person before...I could see it when our eyes met; she was not impressed...anyway, I greet her with a 'Muraho' (Hello) and she busts out laughing like it was the funniest thing she has EVER seen in her liiiiiiife. Hahahahaha. Seriously, she stopped walking and was doubled over with laughter. Hahahahaha. (Somehow her reaction was as equally hilarious to me as the woman I had scared with my perfect kinyarwanda skills.) I am sure I caught her off guard too. It was just really interesting to get such extremely different reactions from two different people in such a short period of time. Needless to say, the seven of us and the three trainers laughed all the way from the bus stop to the classrooms that morning.

Okay, back to business. We spent the entire day at the orphanage. (The staff and the facility were great; keep the staff and the children in your thoughts and prayers.) When we returned, I was EXHAUSTED. We had a health test as soon as we returned was rough. Once the test was over, we went out to celebrate Malcolm's birthday. Luckily for us, Rwandan night life is not very active, so bars and eateries are pretty empty. HOWEVER, because these places are not used to having people eat and drink this late (lunch is the main meal in Rwanda) and in such a big group, it takes FOREVER to order food...I mean, it takes like three to four hours, people. It was the same last night...meh, it was still fun. If my experiences are teaching me anything, it is to be patient.

Friday, today, we were invited to watch the graduation ceremony at the National University in Butare. Most of our trainers finished college a few months ago, but the ceremony was today. Our trainers are host country nationals and they are all in their mid/late twenties or very early thirties. It is NOT common for Rwandans to receive a college education; most people usually don't even finish secondary school (high school). When someone does graduate from college, however, they are generally in their late twenties or older. This is because there are a lot of breaks in their studies; these interuptions are caused by many things...mainly because of issues regarding money/tuition; needless to say, this ceremony was a big deal for everyone involved.

The ceremony itself was pretty ceremonies go. It was very similar to graduation ceremonies at colleges and universities in the U.S. The ceremony was outside in the soccer field, the graduates wore caps and gowns, the chairs were packed with proud family and friends, and there were about three to four hours worth of speakers. Seriously, the ceremony made me feel like I was back in the states; most of the speakers even presented in English. This fact did not surprise me at all because all of the courses are taught in either French or English and the government is making a big push towards phasing out French and becoming Anglophone.

There were some difference, however. I must admit this. Most of the differences centered on people's clothing; specifically, traditional Rwandan garb for females consists of colourful wraps and head-dresses. Many of the mothers were wearing this style of clothing at the graduation and it made the ceremony a joy...seriously. It was like our own little fashion show; 'people watching' is awesome, let me tell ya. I am coming to appreciate it more and more as each day passes. Anyway, the younger females were wearing dresses, scarves, and suits; pretty standard clothing from a Westerner's perspective.

The older men looked very Western in their clothing styles too. They were wearing suits, ties, shirts, etc that you would see in the states at any occasion. The younger men, however, had a different taste in clothing. They wore Western-styled cloths, this is true, but the style that was popular in the '80s and '70s. It was like going back in time, I'm tellin' ya. The ties were bright colors and were tied in full-windsor knots, so they looked very short. Shirts with flashy colours, big collars, and even bigger cuffs were all the rage at the was 'fresh', as they say here.

Please do not misinterpret me, though. I am in no way making a negative judgement on their style of clothing. The clothing is colourful and flashy, yes...maybe a bit dated for Western eyes, BUT it is conservative and respectful. There is NO flashy jewelry, everyone wears a belt, and no one is underdressed...EVER...unless you cannot afford fancy cloths.

Not to get off the topic here, but there are unwritten dress codes for men that can afford to dress least in the major is probably a bit different in the rural areas. Anyway, I have been told that: I cannot wear just a t-shirt ('umupira')...I have to wear a collared shirt ('ishati'); I cannot wear jeans with holes in them...I must wear nice, stainless jeans or dress pants (unless I am doing outdoor work); I cannot wear shorts...I must wear dress pants or jeans (unless I am doing something sportive).

Having a professional, respectable appearance is a big deal. If you are wearing anything less, you will get weird looks and those close to you WILL comment on your clothing (and/or the fact that you need to shave) me. Wearing these kinds of cloths, and taking care of yourself in general, shows that you respect who you are with, you respect the situation you are in or the event you are at, AND it shows that you respect YOURSELF. Honestly, this has been a big change for me; I am so used to wearing a t-shirt and shorts in this kind of weather AAAAAND a 5 o'clock shadow is no big deal in the states, right? Well, it is here. Anyway, I must admit that the fashion here is growing on me; I may come back to the states wearing some big cuffed dress shirts and some shinny (yes, shinny) jeans...who knows.

Back to the graduation...
The ceremony, a big event, is a time for picture taking and video taping, yes? Well, I did see SOME cameras and such, but not as many as I thought I would. This shouldn't surprise me, though. 'Electronic Stores' mostly sell only cell phones (and getting film developed here is VERY expensive). There may be a camera or two, even a television, in a shop/store, but they are VERY expensive. These items are the same price as they are in America, mind you, BUT people here are NOT making America money. Cell phones are very popular for those who can afford them, but other electronics are few and far between.

My host family has a television, but they keep it under lock and key; I have seen them bring it out ONCE. The director of the Health Clinic I will be working at in Rwamagana has a television. When I was staying with him at my site visit a couple weeks ago he had it out in the living room. His house was the largest house I have seen since I have been to Rwanda. Anyway, the television programming consisted of a few channels; RTV (Rwanda Television) is the most popular channel. The programming consisted of soccer matches, of course, and the news, which was shown three consecutive times in three different languages; first the news was reported in Kinyarwanda, then in French, then in English. It was the same stories and the same video feeds, just different reporters presenting the information in a different language. The news presentation style was very similar to that of BBC in that it was very world orientated, not just Rwanda.

Some of the other television channels programmed soccer matches (the most popular sport here) and volleyball games. There were some cartoons, but they are in French. There were a lot of public service announcements in Kinyarwandan too; these were scrolled down the screen and you could read about what was going on in each Province, District, Sector, and such; it was really neat. These announcements definetely made me feel like Rwanda sees itself as one large community working towards common goals; specifically, the goals of prosperity and solidarity.

There was also another channel from Cameroon and they loved it, which kind of threw me for a loop. I mean, the station itself wasn't anything spectacular, but it was just really cool to see that Rwandans have a genuine interest in what is going on in the world around them...not just in Africa, but the ENTIRE world. (Side Note: It is really cool how traveling opens your eyes to rest of the world. Countries stop becoming places you just hear about; you begin to attach people, events, and/or experiences to these places...the world becomes, somehow, more feel more connected.)

A final note on electronics and such...there are no IPods, computers are even less frequently seen then televisions, internet connections are almost exclusively found in cafes, television programming has a lot less comercials...and videogames...what are those?

Okay, I got off topic again. All-in-all, the graduation ceremony was great. There was even some traditional dancing, which is always fun to listen to and watch. It was great to be invited to such a special, meaningful event for our trainers. They are good people; I will miss them when I leave Butare in three weeks.

Saturday is going to be fun too. All the trainees are hosting their resource families at the convent/training center for a 'thank you brunch'. I have not been able to see my resource family much this week, but I am looking forward to seeing them tomorrow and playing volleyball with them on Sunday.

Well, I better be on my way here. More to come soon...amahoro.


  1. How will you get to keep up with The Office with the TV hidden so. Would they be averse to a DVD player?

  2. I love to read your blog, thank you for taking time to share your experiences with others.

  3. are you thinking in Kinyarwandan yet?
    also, since you have to wear pants often, does this mean you have plenty of swass? should we send you something for it?

  4. Emmetto! Great to keep up with you! I can't wait to see that style change, you will look hot man! Jaja! How would you be celebrating Holy week? Are there many Catholics around?

  5. Yo, Emmett here. Alrighty, let me answer your questions in turn here:

    Buying a television and a DVD player is pretty much out of the question. I have a few hundred dollars from Peace Corps for my settling in allowance, BUT it will not be enough for much technology. My house is pretty empty, so I will need to by some furniture and supplies with that money. 'The Office' will have to wait for a while.

    I am not thinking in Kinyarwanda yet, but I look forward to that day. I don't have 'swass'; it is a non-issue...BUT if you want to send me some 'banana hammocks', that will be cool. Hahahahaha!

    Rwanda is over 50% Catholic. I will probably attend service with my 'resource family'. Holy Week is a big deal here, BUT an even bigger deal is the 'Week of Mourning', which is happening this week too. I will speak more about this topic in my next entry.