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!