Sunday, June 13, 2010

Yolanda's Visit

Pictured here from top to bottom.
Top: Yolanda teaches 'La Loteria' game to my evening adult English class, which, temporarily, was the evening adult Spanish class.
Second down: The tea fields of West Province.
Third down: A racecar flooring it down the main street of my village.
Fourth down: Zebras from Akagera National Park in East Province.
Fifth down: Umulisa, a nurse at the health center, prepares for her civil marriage in Kigali. This ceremony was held about a week or two before Yolanda came to visit.

These past few weeks have been pretty busy. It is time for an update, my friends.

Yolanda came to visit me in Rwanda from 05/28/2010 - 06/12/2010. Before I begin telling you what we did, I want to thank everyone that made this trip possible for her. Thank you to the friends and family members that encouraged her to visit. Thank you to the people who gave money to Yolanda to help my community. Thank you to my fellow Peace Corps volunteers who helped me to welcome Yols and show her a good time. Thank you to the people of Rwanda, especially those in my village, that opened their country to us. And, of course, thank God for our safe travels, clean water, and delicious food. God, thank you for putting Yolanda in my life; she is a great friend and has blessed every life she has touched.

Yolanda's visit.

Yols arrived on the night of 05/28/2010 at Kigali International Airport. We took a taxi from the airport to a restaurant called 'Heaven' to have a beer and to grab a bite to eat. 'Heaven' is a pretty expensive tourist place, but I encouraged her to enjoy it while we were there. Once we got to my village, we would be in a whole different world.
From 'Heaven', we went directly to the room I reserved for us at St. Paul's (a hostel located in downtown Kigali). I could only get one night, though; these summer months are a popular time for tourists to visit Rwanda and St. Paul's was booked for the rest of the weekend. This was no problem, though, because the next day we would be on our way to Akagera National Park in the East Province.

We met up with Malcolm in Kigali the next day, then traveled to Rwamagana city and stayed the night with Brandon. The day after that (Saturday), we all went to the park and made camp. Camping, as always, was a blast. One friend in particular, Miles, really made the evening a memorable one...hilarious guy. Hilarious.

I didn't think that going on a safari the next day, right after camping, would be the best idea. After camping (and drinking - let's be honest here) you're tired, you smell, maybe your back hurts from sleeping on the ground, and so on; all you want the next morning is a shower and a cup of coffee. You do NOT want to get up at dawn to travel a bumpy road to see animals. I tried it before in January and I just remember falling asleep in between animal sightings. I had fun, but I missed the view.

After camping, we packed up our gear and Yols and I made our way to my village. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of that week consisted of touring the village, visiting some neighbors, and giving her a sense of what life is like for me and the community. Yolanda was great about everything; she even helped out at the health center AND she taught Spanish to my adult English class in the evenings.

Everyone that met Yolanda loved her. The only problem she and I had in my village during the trip was explaining to my neighbors and co-workers that Yols and I were NOT married, nor were we dating. They just couldn't understand why a woman would travel so far to visit a male friend. I figured we would run into this kind of confusion.

In Rwandan culture, men and women visit eachother, but they generally don't stay over night if they are not family. If a man does stay the night at a woman's house (or vise-versa) and they are not related, it is implied that their relationship is sexual. Before her visit I even explained to my students and the staff of the health center that Yols was a friend...ONLY a friend. They said they understood, but when they met her they began to bombard us with questions regarding 'our relationship'.

Some people even thought we were married and that our marriage contract was for only two weeks; many Rwandans think that Americans sign marriage contracts for various amounts of time - 2 weeks, 6 months, 5 years, and so on. When the contract is up, the two people split up and marry other people. (We have our incredibly high divorse rate in America to thank for this little piece of misinformation.) It was bearable the first week, but people just kept pushing it and I was getting a bit frustrated with the questions and comments towards the end of the second week.

Moving on.

Before Yols came, she asked that we accomplish three things while she was visiting; she said that if she was able to do these three things, she would consider the trip to be a success. These activities included seeing a market (we finished that one right away), going on a safari, and attending a wedding.

Like I said before, going on safari is difficult if you were partying the night before. So, I decided that on Friday, the 4th of June we would rent a car, get up super early, and go on a big game safari in Akagera. We did it and it was awesome. We couldn't get close to the giraffes like I did before, but we got some great photos of zebras and hippos.

Oh yeah, I have a side note for you all. So the last time I went on safari I listed all the animals I saw (I am not going to do that here because I pretty much saw the same animlas), and there was some confusion about the type of giraffe I saw. Well, I got the answer for you. The giraffes in Akagera are Maasai Giraffes. These giraffes are actually not native to the area; they were brought in from Kenya.

Yeah, Yols and I had a VERY knowledgable park ranger accompany us on our tour; he was full of bits of infromation about the park and its animals. The most exciting pieces of information (to me, at least) was that the park is planning on introducing Black Rhinos to the area AND the park rangers want to start giving night tours so people have a better chance at seeing the predators.

Anyway, after the safari, we returned to my village and began making preparations for the wedding the next day. The wedding was for Emmanuel and Nikuze; Emmanuel is an accountant at the health center that I work at. I invited a bunch of Peace Corps volunteers and friends from other organizations to come out to my village that day, see the wedding, and hang out; I got a couple of takers.

The wedding was to begin at the local Catholic church at 2pm, or so said the invitation. Yols and I went to the church at 2pm that Saturday afternoon (06/05/10) and no one was there. I totally should have figured that we would be on 'Africa Time', which means the wedding wouldn't begin for another 3 hours. So we returned home to wait. During those next couple of hours Malcolm, Brandon, Chrissi, and Kate showed up; an hour after them Miya and her friend arrived.

We had a couple of beers at the bar that Rutambi's dad runs/owns and spent some time catching up and hanging out. Well, it started getting late and I heard from some of my neighbors that the wedding was over but the reception was still in swing at the groom's house. Jean-Marie was in town and he was happy to walk our group to Emmanuel's home. The reception was fun and when it was finished JMV walked us home and we all made dinner - a delicious stew of everything we could find!

On a side note, JMV told me that he has a new job in Kigali. I forget the name of the organization, but they are flying him out to South Carolina for a week of training. He is VERY excited.

The next morning we woke up to the sound of hundreds of people in front of my house. We all went to my front gate to see what the deal was. We soon learned from Rutambi that a Rally Race was taking place this weekend. Racecars were flying down the the dirt street through the main part of town and turning left on the street towards Rwamagana city - so pretty much right in front of my house! We stood out there for a couple of hours and watched the cars go past; we got showered with dust.
Another side note. It was a very exciting day for Rutambi because he got to see racecars, meet my friends, AND play video games for the first time ever. He was VERY excited. So excited, in fact, that he asked his dad to give us a gift - a whole vine of banana bunches!

After the race died out, we had lunch, and said goodbye to our guests. Yols and I then began to clean the house from top to bottom. Everything was covered in dust!

The following few days Yolanda and I helped out at the health center during the day and taught Spanish in the evenings. Yolanda was a great teacher. She taught them numbers, greetings, and the 'La Loteria' game, which is kind of like the Mexican equivalent of 'BINGO'. The game is a great learning tool because there are pictures that explain what the words mean. We gave out notebooks, pens, pencils, and crayons to the winners. We had a bunch of stuff left over at the end of the class, so we just gave the rest of the items out to the teams that didn't win. The class enjoyed it very much.
The class loved her. Seriously, they loved her; they pooled their money together and bought her some going away gifts. They were so happy to meet her and learn some Spanish from a native speaker.

On Wednesday she said goodbye to my village and we traveled to the West Province to visit Kate at her site near Nyungwe National Park. We spent a day and a half walking through tea fields and the jungle. We didn't see any animals, but we did get an awesome tour of a tea factory from Kate's host mom. We also made 'umugali', a traditional bread made from casava, for dinner with a delicious meat sauce. It was pretty awesome for our first time making it.

On Friday (this past Friday), we got on a VERY crowded, very hot bus and headed North from Gisakura, Kate's site, to visit Mark at his site. Mark's birthday was last week and he invited us to go to Lake Kivu for his birthday. Kate, Yols, and I took him up on his offer and went to see him and the lake. We met up with a bunch of Peace Corps volunteers at Kibuye, had some beers, and watched Mexico and France tie their opponents in the World Cup.

The next day (yesterday) we got up early, went to Kigali, finished packing everything up, and said our goodbyes at the airport.

All-in-all, I think the trip went well. We got to do everything on Yolanda's wishlist and we didn't have any sicknesses or unpleasant events. Yolanda did get all chewed up by mosquitoes, though (yeah, sorry 'bout that, Yols), and there was a time or two we thought we were going to drive right off the side of a cliff when traveling from Kate's site to Kibuye...but we lived.

Yeah, it was great. I tried to write down everything I could remember, but I am sure I missed something somewhere. I will probably be updating this entry as I remember events and such. Yols, help me out here. What am I missing?


  1. Your blog is really wonderful, Emmett. It's so detailed, it almost feels like I'm there, seeing and feeling everything that you do. I can only imagine. All of your adventures (and Brandon's) sound so amazing, even the bad parts. I can't get enough.
    Hopefully we'll meet when all of you return to the US. Take good care of yourself!

  2. You got it down my friend! I think you covered the main stuff! Good job! Very good blog entry. And again, thank you for everything you did for me! It's not easy being a host, and you did awesome :-)
    Now, as I sit on my desk looking at the screen, I wonder what part of Rwanda you're at and what you're doing! I want to be there so bad, and not here lol

    Murakoze cyane Emmetti!

    UZAMUKUNDA Yolanda

  3. My teammates and I are students at the University of Pennsylvania, and part of a research team under the mHealth Alliance of the United Nations Foundation (UNF). Two of us are ex-Peace Corps Volunteers (Togo and Dominican Republic). Our goal is to study how mobile technology can address maternal health issues in four countries, including Rwanda.

    We will be traveling to Rwanda from August 23 – 27. We would be very interested to meet with persons or NGOs in Rwanda responsible for maternal healthcare projects. I would be very interested if you have any recommendations and contacts who are doing this kind of work already.

    Please forward this onto any other volunteers or people you may know that may help us while we are visiting.

    Thank you so much and it has been so much fun reading your blog - it takes me back to my own PC experience (minus the safari)!

    Caitlin Dougherty
    University of Pennsylvania, School of Nursing