I took a bus outside of Kigali to the town of Nyanza to begin my Peace Corps Pre-Service Training. While staring out the window, admiring the countryside for the first time, I realized that my first week of pre-service training was going to be full of new experiences. I wanted to share a few with you.
First time seeing the Rwandan countryside. First time eating traditional Rwandan food. First beer in Rwanda. First time getting caught in a monsoon without a rain jacket, poncho, umbrella, or rain boots (Never to happen again). First time being the only muzungu in town. First time taking a bucket bath. First time meeting my host family mother. First time eating a tree tomato. First class in Kinyarwandan. First time in the market. First word in Kinyarwandan (“Muraho”, meaning “Hello”). First time wearing a watch. First time using a pit latrine. First time walking to class. First sunburn. First time seeing an eggplant tree (Who knew eggplants grew on trees?). First time visiting the lake in Nyanza. First time feeling like I understood some Kinyarwandan. First time washing my hair in the spigot outside my house. First bad class in Kinyarwandan. First time eating boiled, mashed plantains. First time drinking Fanta. First time running in Rwanda. First night out in Nyanza. First time meeting my host family children. First time entering a store. First full night of sleep in Rwanda. First time seeing and hearing a goat being slaughtered. First time buying something in the market. First time being able to greet people in Kinyarwandan on the street. First time feeling homesick and lonely. First breakthrough in learning Kinyarwandan. First time bargaining in the market. First time eating goat meat. First time feeling genuinely happy in Rwanda. First mosquito bite. First vivid, malaria medication induced dream (Something about flying monkeys and mountains of starbursts). First spider sighting (I screamed). First true laugh in Rwanda. First time meeting the Mayor and authorities of Nyanza.
As I was sitting with the other trainees during our meeting with the local authorities of Nyanza, something one of the training directors said in her speech struck me. Here I am, speaking about all the firsts I have had this past week, when I realized that it is not only my first experience in Rwanda, but the first year the Peace Corps has returned to Rwanda since the program was closed in 1994 because of political instability. The training director pointed out that the fact that the United States is sending Peace Corps Volunteers into the country on their own is a sign that the United States considers Rwanda to be stable and safe. She said that the United States bringing the Peace Corps back into Rwanda is a sign of promise, hope, and peace for the country and its people. After reflecting on these parallels, I came to the conclusion that my first experiences are not only my own, but part of the greater experience that is the Peace Corps’ first efforts in Rwanda since they left in 1994. My experiences will shape my individual service and life after service, but also influence the experience of the Peace Corps in Rwanda years after I have departed. The pressure to make my first experience successful is increased by the fact that I not only owe this to myself, but to future Peace Corps Volunteers working in Rwanda. I hope that if I were to follow up on this idea of firsts, my blog would read “First success in Rwanda” because the implications reach far beyond my own satisfaction to imply “First successful year for the Peace Corps in Rwanda.” That is a sign of promise, hope, and, as always, peace, for the future of Rwanda.