A PCV’s rant on one-sided communication.

•January 5, 2012 • 3 Comments

I know I’ve slacked off in posting on my blog.  Several factors have contributed to the lack of communication.  Besides not keeping a journal anymore (that fizzled out after South Africa and came to a complete halt after Europe), I’m just not motivated to write.  I often think of things I want to write about and/or vent, but then I wonder, “Why bother?”  No one but other PCVs (specifically those in Rwanda) will understand, and very few outside of this country even care to understand.  I can make myself blue in the face going over the details of life here, but actually living it is a whole other story.  Trying to convey the physical but especially emotional difficulties of living here just don’t translate to someone who has never had a similar experience let alone the full-on two year immersion we go through as PCVs.

I will share my main frustration with life in relation to the one I’ve left behind (since I voiced some of my frustrations relating to Rwanda in my last post) which is the one-sided communication.  So you can’t understand what I’m going through here – fine.  But pick up your phone, punch in my number, and let me try to tell you.  Or at the very least e-mail/facebook message me.  If I can do it, so can you – and it’s about a million times easier and faster for you.  First is the issue of cost:  To call everyone – about 10 people, not counting my parents who actually call me – to wish them Merry Christmas for just 15 minutes each, I spend the equivalent of almost $100 USD when you equate it to a percentage of salary.  I may not have extravagant expenses here, but I’m not raking in the cash either.  And those phone calls to you all can mean giving up other things important to me and my happiness and quality of life here; simple things that you all take for granted but make my life less lonely and isolated.  We’re talking peanut butter and oatmeal here, not Western-style splurges like a nice dinner at an expensive restaurant or a trip to the salon/spa.  (Though I do indulge about once a month – not even that often now that I think of it – in a dinner out for something fancier than goat on a stick with a side of grilled potatoes.  And even that grilled goat is a luxury I don’t have very often!)

But it’s not so much the cost that bothers me, it’s the fact that little or no effort is made from the other side of the Atlantic.  And then you have the nerve to ask me why it’s been so long since I’ve called?  No.  How crazy is this: 2 years after living in Africa and calling everyone at least once every month, FINALLY two people ask, “Well, is there anyway to call you?”  Yeah, you just pick up your phone (or even use your speedy internet connection) and you punch in the number that’s been coming up on your screen once or twice a month for the past two years!  And even if you had to ask me for the number, it’s a technological marvel, but we have these new-fangled two-way phones here that not only dial out but also accept calls.  Imagine that!  Whatever, don’t make the effort; just don’t criticize me for not making pains on my end.

Anyway, there have been a few exceptions to my one-sided misery.  I want to sincerely thank LT for her continued communication through the post, Ness for a birthday-Christmas package this year, and Mags for the Starbuck’s VIA.  Also my aunt and uncle for their Christmas package.  Without those efforts, I would have felt completely abandoned.  (That’s not counting my wonderful parents who call me every week and send a few packages a year.  I REALLY appreciate all you’ve done for me since I made the decision to live in Africa for two years and support you’ve shown.)

So now that my service is coming to a close, how will I feel when I return to the States?  Hard to say.  I’ll likely carry back some of the resentment I feel now, but I’ll get over it.  After all, I care enough to schlep across the country and visit you all.  This post was more for me to vent since it likely won’t change anything.  Let it be a testimony to the plight of the volunteer and the frustrations we all share and understand but have a harder time being translated to those back home.

I can’t live in Rwanda for the rest of my life.

•December 9, 2011 • 14 Comments

Why can’t I live in Rwanda for the rest of my life? Let me count the reasons. There’s a list I’ve written to remind myself and show anyone if they get really persistent that I stay in country. When people suggest me staying these days, I give them my top two reasons why I can’t live here. Number one: I cannot live the rest of my life being called a rich, white, foreigner every day. Just not possible. I’m going crazy dealing with it for just two years, how can I put up with it for another 50? There are people who try to convince me that eventually everyone would know who I was and cease to call me a muzungu but I don’t think I will live to see that day. Sure, all of my neighbors and the people at my church and the shopkeepers in the village can and have all learned my name or at least not to call me a muzungu. But I still get called muzungu each and every day I live in Rwanda – and venture out of my house that is. If I never left my house I obviously wouldn’t have to deal with this issue or just wouldn’t hear them saying it out in the village. I know celebrities get recognized and mobbed by fans, but this is different. Fans know celebrities’ names and know that the celebrity is not going to invite them over to their house for dinner. The fans just want to say hello, shake their hand, maybe get an autograph. That kind of fame I can deal with: the little kids shout my name and run up to greet me and shake my hand all the time. That’s fine. It’s just when the idiots who are visiting my village yell out foreigner that I get upset. “Umm, ‘foreigner’ you say? I live here. Where are you from?” Rwandans think that when I say I can’t live in their country forever and always it’s because I miss America, my friends and family there, and the culture. While I do miss those things, that’s not it. I could be happy living in Europe or Australia or anywhere else where white people are accepted as part of the community. Take for example, my three weeks in Europe which were a blessed break from being called a foreigner – though I really was a tourist there! You cannot fully understand this point unless you live for over a year where everyone continues to insist upon calling you an outsider everyday in the country you consider home.
My second reason for not being able to continue to live in Rwanda is the fact that that would mean never finding a husband. Not that I can’t find a young man willing to marry me (there’s a long line of eligible suitors vying for my affections and I even get proposals from married men, too), but it’s just that in the culture here – at least out in the countryside – is that when you agree to date someone you are actually agreeing to marry them. In their minds, if they’re a “serious” person, when a young man asks a girl to be his “friend” he has observed her from afar long enough to know that he wants to marry her. And barring some catastrophe or untold secret that comes to light, the two will be considered engaged after just three months and the entire village will expect the wedding just as soon as the young man can afford it.
There are plenty of other reasons why I can’t stay here, but I figure those first two are more than enough reason to come back to America.

Welcome to my house

•March 11, 2011 • 1 Comment

Thursday, January 20, 2011

I want people to be able to “see” my house, so here it goes.  As I sit here in my home surveying my surroundings, with the cracked and patched concrete floors (that sometimes creak underneath as if ready to crack and crumble under the most careful step) and the mud brick walls painted deviled-egg yellow with various holes high above my reach no doubt where the previous owner hung hand-woven decorations with religious sayings (like any good Rwandan), I think how far I’ve come from the luxuries of even the simplest American homes.  There’s also the dirty partial footprints I’ve left anywhere from ankle to chest-high documenting the deaths of various spiders usually in my boda bodas, popular poor-man’s plastic slip-on sandals.  (Or in my case, poor-kid’s sandals as I have the largest children’s size apparent by the caterpillar design on the upper.)  My ceiling is a row of 2x4s painted with the white chalky clay and leaving little gaps for dirt, bugs, and hail to drop through.  There is an old, long florescent light bulb in the middle of the room that has either burnt out or is no longer hooked up to the electricity – or both.  Another small, coiled bulb hangs down like a bright white upside-down torch illuminating the room in the evening – that is when the town has power and I’ve bought my monthly “Power Token” code to enter into the box on the outside of the house.  Typically I let the room be illuminated naturally by the sun streaming in through my barred double window, the window in the front door (also barred), and the open wooden back door.  Even when the back door is closed a sliver of light is visible through a jagged crack in the wood.  Every morning I wait for the light to creep through the cracks of my room letting me know it’s an acceptable time to get up – somewhere between 6 and 6:30 A.M.  Some of the sunlight that enters my bedroom squeezes itself in between the cracks surrounding the small wooden square of a window which I never open.   Some beams pierce through the roof like lasers, finding their way through the roof tiles and then the gaps between the 2x4s.

But this is all a luxury compared to many others.  Their houses are the same mud walls but not always smoothed so that you can still see each individual mud brick and the mud in between acting as the cement.  The walls are left without paint, not even the white chalky stuff.  The floors are packed dirt, maybe with some small bricks scattered amongst the dirt.  There is no drop ceiling of 2x4s, maybe a stray mat, but usually just open to the roof whether that may be clay tiles or sheets of corrugated metal.  The doors have no handles, just a swinging latch to lock it on the outside with a small padlock and a sliding latch to lock it on the inside.  Their latrines don’t always have a door, sometimes there’s a piece of cloth or straw mat to offer privacy but sometimes it’s just left open.  And sometimes there is no real floor to the latrine, just a few 2x4s or small tree trunks stretched across the pit containing all of the family’s bodily wastes.  My latrine is luxury compared to these: I have a mud-concrete floor, a wooden door,  and a little trough that slants down into a pip that transports my wastes to the pit.

There’s obviously more to it, but those are the basics in terms of the simplicity of construction.  These are just some observations I wanted to add to the basic floor plan description I gave earlier when I first moved in.

Isabakuru ya musaza wanjye

•March 11, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Spent the morning at the office with a cup of coffee.  Went home med-day and had some pasta with a sauce made from the leftover ravioli tomato-meat sauce – it was good.  (So was the ravioli sent from Aunt Em which I devoured without even heating before the pasta.)  I went to Kavumu in the afternoon to meet with the headmaster at the time we had agreed upon yesterday morning.  But when I reached the school, all the classrooms were locked up and no one was in sight, least of all the headmaster.  I was about to leave when I heard voices coming from down below.  Turns out the S2 kids were there, my S1s from last year.  So I stayed until 5 P.M. helping them with the English dialogue they were given to summarize for homework.  Finally headed home stopping in Bugabo to chat with people and buy petrol first.  At home I debated and ended up making frites with the potatoes I had bought this morning.

On the way to Kavumu earlier I called Ty to wish him isabakuru nziza – a happy birthday – as he was on his way to work.  I ran out of credit just as I reached Gacaca so I popped into the bread store to buy more and call him back.  There was a problem getting my change: I was supposed to receive 800frw change but found only 700 on the counter when I hung up the phone with Ty.  (I had quickly entered the pin to the newly bought card to wrap up our conversation and wish him happy birthday one more time while the store owner was fishing for my change in a plastic cup.)  I think the guy (rural Rwandans aren’t known for their math, even simple addition and subtraction is often a struggle) miscounted my change but then the little boy standing nearby suggested I had pocketed the extra ijana (100 francs) while the shopkeeper wasn’t looking.  It was me who wasn’t looking.  It’s likely the boy had quickly scooped up a coin when I wasn’t looking.  Either way, whether it was the shopkeeper’s math or the boy spotting an easy opportunity, I was an ijana short.  I was going to leave, but then the shopkeeper grudgingly handed over the extra coin, all the while the boy insisting I had stolen the missing coin.  Great, now I feel like he thinks I’m a liar/cheat.  I wish I had just quickly walked away now forgetting about the last bit of my change.

I miss Dr. Boardman

•March 11, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Woke up, got around and ready to go, and left Maryrose and Trish lounging in their bed.  At the PC office I deposited elephants in Kelly’s and Emily’s mail cubbies and had time to check my e-mail and Facebook one last time before Julian and I headed to the eye doctor.  At least this eye doctor seemed to have more of a clue of what was going on, but even he wasn’t entirely helpful.  He said I had some scratches on my left eye (though at first he called them scars and couldn’t tell how old they were without dying my eye yellow and looking at it again) and gave me some antibiotic drops to use to make sure I didn’t get an infection.  He also told me to use liquid tears constantly, as many times a day as I thought of it.  Alright, now we might be getting somewhere.  But it was still disconcerting that he could help my vision with a different/stronger prescription.  He checked my eyes for astigmatism but said that wasn’t it.  Try as he might, no matter what lenses he put in the funny-looking, bulky specs, I still couldn’t read the small letter projected on the far wall.  So I don’t know if that means he’s nearly as stupid as the first lady I went to see about this problem or if there’s something else wrong with my eyes.

We had just finished the whole process and he was telling me about how I should use the drops when I started to not feel so good.  This episode turned out to be worse than the last and I was incredibly nauseous, light-headed, unable to hear as if someone had shoved a bunch of cotton in my ears or dunked my head under water, I was sweating like crazy even though the doctor said I felt cool to the touch, and while the chair I was sitting in was comfortable and I was able to lean back and close my eyes, I still wanted to be lying on the floor.  I was able to tell them I felt nauseous as that sensation began to get worse, and I ended up puking into the waste basket.  After that I began to start feeling better and knew I was okay; the worst was over.  But too late.  They were already bringing in a wheel chair and started hauling me off to the ER.  Luckily we were stopped at the elevator and I convinced Julian and the hospital nurse wheeling me around that I was fine and would not go to the ER nor continue to be in the wheelchair.  So I got up and walked back to the eye doctor’s office.  He told me I really should stop in the ER on my way out so they could check me out and make sure I was really ok and I told him I’d consider it – though he and I both knew I had absolutely no intention of following through with this plan.  So I got an appointment to come back Friday late morning and Julian and I could finally leave.  But first she called Cr. Elite and told him about my little episode.  He then ordered me to go back to the PC office and be monitored/watched for the next 2 hours.  Thanks, but no thanks.  Turns out I didn’t have a choice since the eye drops I needed were at the office.  By the time our driver finally picked us up from the hospital and we got back to the PC office, a good hour-an-a-half of Dr. Elite’s ordered time frame had passed.  (We could have taken public transportation or even walked back to the office much quicker, but Julian said we couldn’t do that and had to wait for our PC vehicle to pick us up.)  So Julian just insisted on taking my blood pressure first and then I was free to go.  But turns out taking my BP was easier said than done.  What nurse doesn’t even know how to take someone’s BP?!  She first put the cuff on inside out, then when it was finally on correctly left it tight for a solid minute when it should have taken about 10 seconds.  But then I was finally allowed to leave. 

I got a ride to my mujyi then walked to Nyabugogo to catch a bus to Kim’s.  Once at Kim’s she gave me a tour of the hospital before we headed home to cook some vegetables followed by a little Easy Mac and popcorn while watching “The Proposal.”  So at least the day had a happy ending.

Carols and Keys

•March 11, 2011 • 2 Comments

Monday, December 27, 2010

Woke up and headed into town with Portia and Gillian around 8:30.  They headed off to do other things while I went to Virunga.  I bought sunglasses on the way for igihumbi first since I broke my third pair of sunglasses in Rwanda.  I kept trying to call Dr. Elite, from 8 A.M. to 9:30 A.M when I boarded my bus.  I continued to try to get through to him – no luck.  And I was calling the medical duty phone, the phone used in cases of emergency.  If there had been something seriously wrong with me, I wasn’t getting helped.  He finally called me back around 11:30 A.M. as I approached Kigali.  Turns out he never made the appointment, though he had told me last week that the eye doctor had been rescheduled for tomorrow.  When he got back to me after that (I was still on the bus) he told me I had a room at St. Paul’s for the night but still no appointment.  When he finally made the appointment it was for Wednesday, not tomorrow.  Great.  So I came all the way into Kigali today for no reason.  But then I chose to look on the bright side and decided I’d just relax this afternoon and pit off Kimironko (the big market in Kigali) until tomorrow.  So I dropped my bags off at St. Pal’s (after waiting over an hour for someone to finally show up and unlock the reception office to give me a room and key) then headed into town.  I first went to the bank, realizing I couldn’t do all the shopping and eating I wanted with the money I had brought with me.  I know, 50,000 francs sounds like a lot of money and nearly twice the amount I need to get though an entire month at site, but once out in the big city, it’s crazy how fast it disappears.

At the bank I had some difficulty.  Portia had assured me that she had gotten money before though she had forgotten her checkbook; she just showed ID.  I tried that and almost thought it wasn’t going to work.  It was quite the ordeal and a lot of running back and forth all over the BCR, but I finally got some extra money to see me through the rest of my trip.  I was starving by then and headed to “cheap Indian” for dinner, though the menus were new and the prices weren’t as cheap as I remembered.  Oh well.  The paneer and naan were fantastic and definitely not something I can get or even recreate at site.

I then headed back to St. Paul’s.  I was tired so I thought I’d just read a little before going to bed.  But then I heard music.  Non-Rwandan-sounding music.  It sounded like English Christmas music.  I kept trying to figure out where it was coming from and would go to my door – even open the door and step outside – and strain to discern where the sound was coming from and what they were singing.  It wasn’t too hard to figure out they were singing “Angels We Have Heard on high,” but I still couldn’t quite place where the sound was coming from.  Finally I just got up and left my room completely to go search for these phantom singers.  I found a group of Rwandans singing Christmas music (most of which I recognized) in French, English, and Kinyarwanda.  Despite how tired I was, I sat down and stayed to listen and sing along (to myself) for the rest of their choir practice.  I wanted to cry because it was so beautiful, classic songs in four-part harmonies – even if some of the words had a noticeable British English accent.

When they ended (after they had me and the other two guests introduce ourselves) I went back to my room to get ready for bed.  I’m not sure what time I fell asleep, but I was woken by loud American voices maybe around 10:30 P.M.  I recognized the one voice and went outside to see who else was there and say hello.  It was Chrissy (the loud, recognizable voice), Edison, a PCV from Uganda, and a random European.  There were headed to the bar and I declined their offer to join.  So I went back to bed.  I was awoken again sometime later by someone knocking on my door.  It was Edison and Chrissy and they were locked out of their room.  Apparently Chrissy had lost the key and even retracing their steps all the way back to the bar didn’t produce the key.  They asked if they could share my extra bed and I said it was no problem.  They were very apologetic and quite embarrassed by their blunder.  So they started getting ready for bed, using the toilet one last time, taking off their socks and shoes when all of a sudden Edison reaches his hand into his shirt pocket and pulls out the key.  He had been so convinced (or rather Chrissy had convinced him) that she had the key that he never checked his own pockets.  So they then left, even more embarrassed, and I went back to sleep, this time undisturbed until morning.

Christmas at the beach

•March 11, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Saturday, December 25, 2010


It’s Christmas!  Though it does not feel like it.  It took a bit in the morning before I realized what today was and to wish Portia a merry Christmas.  For breakfast she had tea and I had igikoma, though the igikoma she bought in Gisenyi is definitely inferior to our mixture in Kayove.  I think she had too much maize flour in her mix.  This breakfast wasn’t quite the same as a full spread of eggs (choice of scrambled or sunny-side), toast, home fries, bacon, sausage, coffee, milk, and orange juice or maybe even including pinch cake, but oh well.  We then lounged a bit before getting ready to go to the beach since Gillian wasn’t due in until 2ish.  So we went to the Serena (the expensive muzungu hotel where Evangeline Lilly stays when she visits Rwanda) and read, sunned, swan, and I showered before she arrived and we headed up to town to fetch her from the bus stop.

We went back to Portia’s so Gillian could drop her stuff off and relax for a few minutes but then we were headed back to the beach.  It soon looked and sounded like rain so we quickly retreated to the Serena’s patio where we could have seats outside but a roof over our heads.  Rain it did and it made the air rather chilly.  We ended up eating dinner at the Serena then heading back home to watch “Pirate Radio” before bed and also each chatting with our families in the States and wishing them all a Merry Christmas.

So basically as long as I didn’t remind myself it was Christmas it was a decent day.  Earlier in the week there had been hail and Trude texted me saying it was the closest thing we’d get to a white Christmas here.  Forget the snow, I was missing being surrounded by my family and home-cooked American food.