Friday, March 12, 2010

A Day in the Life of...

I awake at sunrise, about 5:30- 6:00 in the morning. Rwanda has already come alive, and as I lay awake in my bed, slowing adjusting to and becoming aware of my surroundings, I hear a chicken balking, a goat bahing, my neighbors calling to each other, a radio blaring, doors creaking and slamming, water running, a baby crying, a car going by, the sound of metal on metal as somebody works close by. My mind is fully awake and already starting the day, my body soon to follow behind.
I slip my feet into my flip-flops, grab my soap, toothbrush, water and towel, and make my way through the house to the backdoor and out into the small, concrete yard. I splash my face with cool water from the spigot, lather soap in my hands, and then scrub and rinse. Using water from my bottle, I brush my teeth. The red dirt has already invaded every exposed surface of my body and I rinse my feet before heading back into the house to change my clothes. Needless to say, the red dirt sticks to my sandals and a trail of mud follows me through the house. I dress. Rwandans dress formally and conservatively every day, in the workplace and out. Being a Peace Corps Trainee, we are able to bend the rule slightly and dress a tad more comfortably. However, society still dictates that one must wear shirts that cover one’s shoulders and chest, and pants or skirts down to one’s knees. I sport a t-shirt, khaki Capri, and my flip-flops. Before heading out the door, I pack my bag for the day. In Rwanda, there are certain items one must always carry or else face the consequences of the decision not to. That is a lesson us Peace Corps Trainees learned quickly the hard way early on this week. I stuff my poncho, water bottle, flashlight, cell phone, keys, money, and supplies for school. The mornings and evenings can also be surprising cool, the temperature dropping quickly as the sun sinks behind the mountains and the stars emerge. I throw on a light jacket as I head out the door.
I live in a house with 7 other Peace Corps Trainees and 3 Language teachers. In a way, I feel like I have moved back into my old college dorm room, except being such a small group, we are much closer and much more involved in what is going on inside our walls. I have a small room to myself, with concrete floors. A single bed, a shelf, my trunk, and a basket are my only furniture. I hang my sarong towels and jackets on hooks on the wall. My shoes are lined up against the wall. My books staked and my clothes neatly folded on the shelf. My various supplies for life in Africa packed away in my trunk. At approximately 7:00, I hear doors opening and slamming and people walking by my room. I join the group gathering on my front porch. When everyone in the house is present, we begin the walk to school.
Outside our front gate is a dirt road that leads to downtown Nyanza. Our house is on the opposite side of town from our school. We follow the road to town. Our group draws attention from the locals. Cries of “muzungu” precede us while eyes follow us down the road. Small children dressed in their school uniform try to talk to us in English or Kinyarwandan, grab our hands and accompany us until the turn-off to school, shouting “bye-bye!” as they giggle and run off, not to be late for the school day.
From the road on the way to school, we see the Rwandan countryside displayed before us; small hamlets of houses and rolling lush hills as far as the eye can see. In the morning, the green and red of the Rwandan countryside is covered in a thick layer of fog and the air is heavy and wet. The air smells of the rich tropics, plant matter, and smoke from kitchen fires. Entering town, the bustle of the day overtakes us. Although the town of Nyanza is small, people are everywhere, on their way to some unknown destination or conducting their business on the street or dunking into shops along the road. Women in colorful traditional outfits, matching fabric from head to toe, balance goods on their heads and babies on their backs. Men in suits and ties walk with briefcases to their work. The marketplace is already noisy, people running with large loads on their heads or piled into wheel barrels, shouting at each other, and trying to get their stalls set up for the morning business. I hustle past. People stop what they are doing for a second to stare at the unusual group of muzungus in their unusual dress, greeting people in broken Kinyarwandan, and pretending they fit in. Then the chaos resumes.
At our school, we file into a room filled with long tables and clunky, wooden chairs. The tables have been set for breakfast- thermoses filled with coffee and tea, powdered creamer, sugar, bread rolls, honey, peanut butter, jam, butter, and on occasion, fruit, avocados, or eggs. As I finish dunking my last bite of bread in my coffee, I hear the sound of a wooden spoon being pounded against an upturned pot- the bell that signals us to begin class.
My homeroom classroom is located next door to our eating hall. The set up is basic; a table, a couple chairs, and a blackboard with chalk and an eraser are the only items in the room. There are 2 other Peace Corps Trainees in my class. Our teacher is a local Rwandan. Within these walls, we attempt to overcome the language boundary between us. Basically, my Rwandan teacher speaks in a series of jumbled sounds and we students try to decipher their meaning and mimic the usual pronunciation. Sample: Imyitwarire mibi y’umuntu umwe mu muryango ishobora kwitirirwa umuryango wose. Gusobanura mu Kinyarwanda nta gusoma amasano ari hagati y’abantu batandukanye bagize umuryango. Yeahhhhhhhhhhhhh. Kinyarwandan, the indigenous language in Rwanda, is the second most difficult language in the world, following closely behind Chinese. For example, the word for volunteer, umukorerabushake, is a mouthful, actually more like a couple. The day I learned this word, I walked around repeating it the entire day to ingrain it in my head. I thought it would be a very useful word to have down to a par. Furthermore, there are sounds in Kinyarwandan that us English speakers just can’t make. Check out these combinations of letters- mb, mp, nt, nd, mby, mbw, ny, pf, ts, shw, nsh - and then try to pronounce them. The letters signify certain clicking, clucking, and nasal breathing that doesn’t exist in English. I can’t tell you how many classes we have spent trying to master the unfamiliar sounds of the Kinyarwandan language, and I still say them differently every time. I have quickly learned to laugh at my hacking and gagging attempts.
I spend four to six hours of every day studying Kinyarwanda, but language is not the only focus of my days. I have other classes on the health care system in Rwanda; personal health, safety, and security; and culture and living essentials. These classes are hugely informative, and not only act as a mental break from the difficulties of language class, but will be incredibly useful once I reach my site.
When class ends for the day, I have a break before dinner, which I spend doing small errands around town, going for a run, hanging out with friends or studying. Dinner is usually served at 7. Typical Rwandan foods include goat meat, rice, beans, plantains, potatoes, peas, and carrots. Rwandan food is flavorful, but not necessarily spicy. Sauces are an important part of every Rwandan meal. One usually mixes items on their plate and spoons the mixture into their mouths.
After dinner, I walk home with the other members of my house. Depending on my level of energy, we hang out at home or I read, write in my journal, study and prepare for the following day. Nights here come early. After an early start and a full day, my mind and body can not wait for the comforts of my bed. I shut off my light, tuck my mosquito net around me, and wait for sleep to overtake me. I have never had to wait for very long.

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