Saturday, May 28, 2011

Missions Team to Rwanda

In 2 weeks, I will greet a missions team coming from Taylor University into Kigali.  I will brief them on major cultural issues and integration protocol for Rwanda.  I will help their choir adjust the pronunciation as they will be singing in Kinyarwanda, the local language.  They will visit my school as part of their tour to sing to the students and help paint a world map on the outside wall.
I am very excited to help host this team, and we are asking for your support.

 As you can imagine, a trip like this requires tremendous prayer and financial support, particularly during an economic downturn.  The team of 18 must raise $61,000.  This will cover all our transportation, food, housing, and materials.  If you can support us in a financial way, the entire team would be extremely grateful.   

If you support the Rwanda/Uganda team financially, you can either visit the following link ( ), or make a check payable to Taylor University: SCGE, and send it to

Taylor University: SCGE
236W Reade Ave
Upland, IN 46989-1001

Contributions are tax deductible.

Their Story :
In 2009, Taylor took its first team to Rwanda.  On June 11-29, 2011, we are going back to Rwanda with fifteen nervous and energetic students and three faculty ready to share the redemptive love of Christ. We will be working in Kigali, Rwanda with ALARM (African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries).  ALARM exists to empower the African church by developing and equipping leaders with the skills and tools needed to nurture and deepen the Christian faith for the transformation and reconciliation of African communities.  We will be presenting a conference to Rwandan youth on social justice, seminars to pastors and community leaders on God’s call for Biblical reconciliation, as well as providing training on microfinance, developing spiritual and educational programs at two schools run by ALARM, and volunteering at an AIDS hospital and orphanage.  In addition, we will be working with World Gospel Mission (WGM) in Kampala, Uganda.  We will be partnering with students from Kampala International University, working on a variety of mission projects throughout the city.

No mission trip, no matter how well conceived and planned, would be successful without prayer.  Please pray that our team will think, act, and feel more systematically about social justice, and mightily promote the redemption of Christ and the power of reconciliation to the people of Rwanda and Uganda.  Pray that we will be humble servants and an encouragement to all who work with ALARM and WGM.  Finally, please pray that we will be able to raise the financial support for this international justice mission trip.

In the midst of AIDS, poverty, and oppression, we earnestly anticipate seeing what God will do in the lives of our team and the people of Rwanda and Uganda.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

back from the brink

   Thank you for your patience and forgiveness for my absence. I got lost. Being lost is why I came on this journey to begin with, but it took 9 months to really grasp how I was lost, and just how lost I was. Everything was gone. Everything I knew about myself.

   After I got dumped (very kindly, and all for the best, but dumped none the less), I felt like I lost a really important lifeline. Looking at why the relationship ended called into question who I was and where I would go from there. Both of these issues were what drew me to Peace Corps in the first place (and, to be honest, for the same reasons) but where PC started as a place to get away from these issues, it was now the place where I had to confront them. I needed to withdraw and face my own demons for a while.

   After I started to recover, I faced the quandary of re-entry into y’all’s lives. How do I explain myself? Not only the disappearance, but the 9 months beforehand of grand plans and (what felt like) disappointing reports. Nothing I was trying had any forward motion. I had no real job, no language skills, one family I integrated with to speak of, and now, three months of no news to try and explain away or catch up on.

   Those of you who have known me long enough know I had braces for 5 years. Those of you who didn’t, yes, that says Five. My teeth weren’t that bad. It certainly wasn’t Planned to take that long. I didn’t know how to handle it on my own after my parents moved away. Finding transportation, getting myself to the office, dealing with payment and insurance (potentially – as I recall, I didn’t actually have to deal with any of that until we took them off…) was all too much and, frankly, not as important as the immediate demands on my time. I was resistant to going, and then once I missed an appointment, I felt really foolish. I couldn’t bear to go back to the office and face my ortho who would inevitably look down at me in the chair, list how long between meetings it had been this time, hold up my failure to my face and remind me of just how much of a child I still was. I think he was hoping to inspire me to come on time, but this presentation scared me away for longer and longer periods.

   At this point, some of you will have seen the parallel. All of you have been so supportive and encouraging throughout this whole endeavor – I felt like I had failed you because I had certainly hadn’t accomplished anything of significance. And after such a long pause, I felt foolish in trying to explain it all.
Thank you – for not giving up on me, for praying for me, for sending packages and emails to check in even after I disappeared. Specifically; thank you to Union Church – I got your Christmas package and just seeing your address on the box warmed my heart. Thank you to Aunt April and Stephanie for writing updates with your life so I don’t feel left out or behind – you both claim they’re not worth much because it’s just day to day news, but being able to be a part of your lives especially after I disappeared out of them was a life preserver and a huge encouragement to return. Thank you to Josh who, although is as bad as me at keeping up with people (or maybe because of that similarity?), gave me a safe place to dive back in to socializing and told me that he would rather hear bad news than nothing at all.

   Which brings me to my third stumbling block. I was increasingly frustrated with the content of my posts – not only was I not living up to my own eagerness and promises, but I often struggled to find positive experiences to share at all. I still can’t post anything too critical of my host country or administration on here, but there was a stretch where I was searching for reasons to stay, and none of what I came up with had to do with my actual Peace Corps experience. I started writing this post on the plane on the way back to Rwanda (those who weren’t aware, I went back to the states for 3 weeks to see my family and regroup). I thought about what this blog should look like from here on out – no promises, no goals, reports of what was currently happening and at least 1 positive anecdote per post – and spent the next 2 weeks looking for a positive story to add. Losing some close friends certainly wasn’t going to make the list (I love you guys and I’m still very proud of you!); neither was the inanity of the beginning of school (we’ve been in session for 3 weeks and I Just finished making the schedule for classes and teachers – at least 50-60 hours working on it); I was exceedingly frustrated that my time at home was simultaneously way more than I wanted and way less than I needed; and just as I started to build my spiritual life and started praying that I would be a person slow to anger and quick to forgive, someone pissed me off to the point that I almost punched them – I’m going to need some of you to inform me on how in or out of character this is for me, I can’t tell anymore.

   Point being – I will probably always find reasons and excuses not to post, but I don’t want to. I can’t promise any kind of regularity in timing or content, but I Will continue to share my life with you as I can. I will probably be including more of how God is working in my life and where I see him in this whole experience, and I Will try to find positive anecdotes to share with each post.

   I’m glad to be back – in Rwanda, online, as me. I apologize for leaving you all hanging and am, again, extremely grateful for all your support.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

if you don't teach, what Do you do?

After almost 6 months at site, we were all gathered together again for IST (In-Service Training). Peace Corps booked us our own hotel at the north border of Lake Kivu in Giterama. Those of you on Facebook have seen the beautiful pics of us chilling and swimming. Those of you who aren’t, check out my photobucket album ***HERE***
In fact, everyone should check it out because it is pics of All my life here. Anyway, in honor of being with Americans again, I shaved my legs. There seem to be 2 paths of personal care for girls here – some are Way more girly here than they ever were in the states to compensate for the lack of other life delicacies. Some of us don’t really see a point in trying too hard. Because we’re in AFRICA.
This hotel was an architect’s manifestation of that MC Escher painting of discombobulated stairways. It was beautiful, but very tricky to get around. We were fed 3 meals and 2 tea times a day. Best part – there was so much cheese…

The training had good parts and useless parts. I am truly grateful for the transfers we have because they bring so much perspective to everything. Being a new program, everyone is eager to get things up and running – jump-start programs and get ‘Peace Corps Rwanda’ off the ground. This ends up putting a lot of pressure on us as we are all still fairly new volunteers. There’s no database of funding. There’s no contact list. Many of us are truly reinventing the wheel here. Heck, we’re Inventing the wheel. It was nice to hear that in most PC programs, volunteers aren’t expected to do anything for the first 6 months. We’re acclimating. We’re integrating and adapting to new environments and trying to stabilize emotions with wildly fluctuating digestive issues and stark living conditions. It’s ok if you haven’t changed the world yet. First 6 months is learning to live here, second 6 months is focusing on your primary goal (for us, that’s our teaching jobs and working at school). Second year is when you begin to push into extra projects and getting the ball rolling for the volunteer who will replace you.
It was nice to hear that I’m doing ok, instead of worrying that I’m not getting anything accomplished.

Returning to “the dark ages” (as Jenn calls it) was a bit trying. After so much food, amenities, and contact with culture we could understand, it was a little rough to get back into the groove. Especially because up North we had district exams and therefore we only had 2 days of school. Slowest week ever. Ever. I used the free time to adapt textbooks from our BFA shipment for ESL lessons and Rwanda appropriate content. (I’ll get to this more later) Ok, I used most of the time to hang out with Jenn. But I did get a surprising amount of work done. The more I think about it, it really was 2 weeks of nothing. I only had one day of class the following week, and then went to the middle of the lake for Mark’s birthday.

This celebration coincided with the beginning of the World Cup. My Rwandan counterparts are having a little trouble grasping the idea that I don’t actually care about soccer. I did manage to sit down and watch one game – US v UK. Somehow, there were 2 British girls at the hotel where we watched. When they didn’t seem to take any interest in their national anthem, many of us started singing “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” over it. When USA was presented, all 14 of us stood with our hands over our hearts (I did have to explain to a few that they couldn’t really salute if they weren’t in uniform) and belted the Star Spangled Banner at the top of our lungs complete with a cheering finale. I fell asleep during the second half of the game, but it was kinda fun to cheer for something for a while.
I also got 5 sips of ice cold Dr Pepper that weekend to wash down the pizza we made.
Please take a moment to consider all of the wonderful things in that sentence. Truly.
I was a happy camper.

On the way home, I met one of the most amazing people I think I will ever know. Rita is a Canadian ex-nun in her 70s who started working for the church because she wanted to be in service around the world, and left so she could have more freedom to do so. During her years working for the Church, she spent ~12 years as a tour guide in Israel – during the 60’s and 70’s (including both wars). She can tell you more about the Holy Land and make you care about it than any book on the area. She also worked for the government building relations in the Arab section. She has taught ESL in countries around the world and works with the indigenous tribes near her home in Saskatchewan. She is in Rwanda for 3 months helping with a small ESL class here, but travels around on the weekends looking for other NGOs she can support (even if just verbally, emotionally, and by making contacts with people around the world). We rode the bus back to Kigali together and she let me stay in her room at the guest house for the night. I felt so rejuvenated after talking to her – I wish I had written down some of her stories, but I think maybe she’s the kind of person that God gives as a small gift when you need her the most and is difficult to share without meeting her. About a week later, she came to visit me at my site so she could see a village and we walked all over (no, seriously – probably walked for about 8 hours with her).
We went into Byumba where she introduced me to a VSO volunteer who lives and teaches there until the end of the year. Another blessing – Shala has a keyboard. I have always maintained that playing a keyboard is not nearly as satisfactory as playing a Real piano, but it’s amazing what you can get excited over when you’ve been deprived long enough. Shala uses music to help teach English and composes little ditties to reinforce her lessons. I’m also excited to have another contact in the area to bounce ideas off of – and another native English speaker to have conversations with.
Shala lives at the Anglican guest house next to Florian. I met Florian in the middle of May when Michele and I saw 2 white boys walking around town and followed them until we could make fools of ourselves and get their attention. (it’s amazing how possessive we PCVs can get of our areas – other white people never come out this far, and when they do, they’re either passing through like the “End The Cycle – Bike Through Africa” chick, or the missionaries who come and perform services, drop money, and then bus back to Kigali) Florian is a German kid who is taking a working “vacation semester” and creating his own study abroad program here to supplement his studies in psychology. He is how Rwanda is using group therapy to help overcome the trauma of the Genocide. We’ve met up a few times in the last month and I really enjoy talking to him. Unfortunately, his program doesn’t last very long and he’s going home soon.

The only person I can remember meeting that Wasn’t enjoyable is recorded ***HERE***
This is Jenn’s new blog, but this particular entry has a lot to do with me, and she tells the story better than I do, so go read it. =)

Current Projects
I was always a little annoyed with the amount of hype that “critical thinking skills” received in the American education world. It felt so natural and intrinsic to me that I didn’t understand why it had to be pushed so much.
Shameless plug – thank you SO MUCH mom and dad for teaching me how to think and instilling a value for education and thought in me. Thank you for doing everything you had to make sure I had the best education possible. Thanks for wearing out 2 dictionaries at the dinner table and for never Actually answering my questions but making me figure it out myself (correction – y’all pulled off a nice balance – mom answered, dad did the puzzle thing until we all groaned and threw our heads on the table).
I am now aware that my personal family culture made the public education push for critical thinking skills unnecessary. Rwanda education has had (historically) NO understanding of, education of, or use for critical thinking skills in schools. Now they are entering the global community, this includes being exposed to all sorts of crazy education philosophy. Some things like “there is no such thing as a stupid student” are not exceptionally helpful, but CTS are CRUCIAL. And still mostly non-existent.
This has become my number one goal in my minimal teaching hours.

S1 –
There was 1 student book and 1 teacher book of Scholastic’s “POWERFUL VOCABULARY FOR READING SUCCESS – Grade 4”. This is not only not enough to share with 2 classes, but the book is (naturally) designed for American students and very ethno-centric. Some vocabulary like “apartment” is really not urgent to teach out of a list of 15 words. Also, the lessons are written expecting that all the students will have the workbook sitting in front of them that they can write in. I am adapting the content and lesson styles to be appropriate and useful for Rwanda. When I am finished I will post all my work for the other PCVRWs to utilize, including an introductory explanatory page.
The following is excerpts from this intro and can give you an idea of what my work looks like.

These lessons are designed to build critical thinking skills and focus on learning vocabulary in and through context.

The structure is as follows:
• List of Vocabulary words and definitions
• Lesson Objective
• Introduction – including grammar rules and examples to prepare the students for what they will be focusing on.
• Detailed instruction including suggested teacher activities, modeling the critical thinking skill, and student activities.
• Practice using new vocabulary and employing test-taking skills. Also includes verbatim teacher modeling of these skills
• Application requiring students to produce language and involving graphic organizers and expanding into higher levels of Blooms Taxonomy.
• Alternative Learning Styles Activities employing art, physical interaction, and group interaction.
• Highlighted grammar application (like sentence structure), composition practice, and cross-curricular application that can be drawn out of the general lesson
• Assessment / review that focuses on test taking skills.

S2 –
We also received ~40 student textbooks on spelling and word parts.
Building lessons off a textbook requires creativity when you’re not changing the main purpose alongside it.
The fine Education program at NCC taught me that students learn better when they understand Why they are studying what they are. So my first lesson was simply based on explaining the pieces of the book, why I chose it, and how it would benefit the students. We talked about Critical Thinking Skills; Improving Vocabulary, Spelling, and Pronunciation; Writing Skills – form and punctuation; and Test-Taking Skills. I employed Total Physical Response to designate what we were doing with each activity. I had all the students point to the eyes, mouth, head, jazz hands, and spread arms to represent ‘look / speak / think / write / expand’.

But, studying the pieces of the words won’t do you any good when you don’t know how the words work. Our first step was to create a simple, clear table outlining the parts of speech and their functions.

Each unit has its own theme:
• Unit 1 – Silent / Sounded Consonants
• Unit 2 – Greek Roots pt 1
• Unit 3 – Number Prefixes
• Unit 4 – Words from Names
• Unit 5 – Homophones
• Unit 7 – Consonant Changes (verbs to nouns)
• Unit 8 – Greek Roots pt2
• Unit 9 – Noun Suffixes
• Unit 10 – Words from Spanish
• Unit 11 – Confusing Words

Each lesson uses the same pieces:
• Key vocabulary – words they need to understand instructions - ex. Have in common / similar / related / Match / Rhyming / Context / Compare / Contrast / Replace etc…
• Look – focus on the theme
• Speak – read the words aloud – 2 or 3 times
• Think – analyze the words by theme
• Write – give basic idea of the word without exact definition – copy into notebooks
• Practice – word clues / analogies / rhyming / context / classifying / synonyms / appositives / riddles / phonetics
• Expand – using and producing language in a more realistic setting
o use in curriculum – journalism / music / astronomy – mythology / biology / word capitals / geometry / deserts
o pictionary / hangman / code breakers / dictionary usage / thesaurus usage / analyzing a text / using dialogue in narrative / write a narrative / subject-verb agreement / paragraph analysis / punctuation proof reading

PC – There is a Content Based Curriculum project that I will write about in the next blog. I think y’all have enough technical info for now..

THANK YOU!!!! Gena and Ryan Camire – peanut butter is always useful and I’m excited to try and crochet with plastic bags!
John and Joy Hosier – the magazines have been a great breath of levity in my reading collection. I think I also fell in love with Mental Floss…
Brad and Kristen Ediger – another new favorite – Relevant will definitely be something I look up when I get home. And the treats were perfect.

Ok, we’re getting to that point of saturation again.
Happy July 4 everybody!! Enjoy some fireworks for me!

Friday, May 28, 2010

8 months, for super serial?


How am I supposed to keep up with all this? I have 15 topic points and I can’t even remember what one of them was about. I think it was when I had to plug my hard drive into African computers to print something and it came back with literally hundreds of copies of a virus. SO glad sean taught me about Microsoft Security Essentials.

I tried to write an entire post full with legit Africa observations (culture and daily life and things) and it turned out to be Way more of a rant than I intended, so I’m gonna try and clean it up a bit before I send it out.

Until then, you still get to hear about what’s going on to/around me.
The last weekend of April was a little crazy. 4 people went home including one of my roommates from training. The weather mourned their loss too as it Poured all week. We made luau-flavored kabobs and fun-fetti pancakes that weekend (check out the pictures on facebook). It was pretty classy. Made for a great May Day.

Despite my calorie gorging weekends, I have managed to drop down to a size 8 in my jeans. To make sure this was more muscle building than just slow starvation; I copied some P90x files from my friend and added abb work-outs to my morning schedule.
Yes, I know. Shush you. I am not on a perfectly consistent routine yet, but I’ve worked out 2 weeks of the last 3 and I fully intend to make this a permanent pattern.

My parents called the other day and asked about my ‘community’ English classes, and what was ‘keeping me’ from getting those going. My completely honest (and reasonable) answer was that I was too lazy and selfish. If I forced myself out of my comfort zone and gave up more of my weekends, I could probably set up a time for public classes and they would soon quickly be over-run by varying levels of adults who mostly don’t really need to learn the language since it’s not like they’re helping their children with their homework anything.
I have always worked better on a small scale – tutoring v teaching, organizing v cleaning, few friends v large parties. I figure my ‘community’ is my host family. After that large shipment of books, I spotted one that I had loved as a child and grabbed it to take home and use in my nightly English lessons with Bosco. 3 pages into “Sylvester and the Magic Pebble”, I knew it was the right idea. The flow of a language is much different in a textbook for ESL than what natural speakers would read, and honestly, much more enjoyable. Bosco loved the new vocabulary he could pick up, especially when I pointed out that often writers will repeat ideas in a sentence, or he could use the pictures to help him remember certain words. He also loved that All the characters were animals. He thought it was hilarious that the neighbors were chickens and the police were pigs. My favorite part was his automatic ‘critical thinking’ jumps. He made inferences, predictions, made the story personal (what would you wish for if you could have anything?), and was Really excited to see how everything was going to play out in the end. That my friends is when the joy of teaching really hits you.
In return, I was so happy I started singing more. The babies have colds because of the changing seasons - turns out, the “dry season” really means “cold season”, we’re all very chilly and wearing lots of layers. Anyway, they both climbed into my lap one night and I sang them to sleep – every soft sweet song I could think of. Best night in Africa.

Side-bar – CONGRATULATIONS!!! To Andy, Casey Megan, Kelsey, Elise, Matt, and all the other high school and college graduates. Also to PCV-RW/H2! All those letters mean the new class of health volunteers is officially sworn in and at site. We got 2 on the north with us, one living with Jen and one in the main town where we have our post box, cyber cafĂ©, etc. American day that weekend was a blast – total of 6 girls on moto parade out to Scott’s for – check it – Mexican seasoned food (burritos). Avery and Devin fit in rather well and we’re excited to have our crew growing.

However, first day Michele and I went to visit Avery’s house, I lost my phone. That is, one minute I had it and the next it was gone. It’s very possible it was stolen, but I don’t really even remember where I had put it – pocket, bag, hand only? Who knows, but my number is now different and has been changed on facebook. If you have the inclination to call me and need my number, email me and I’ll get it to you.

I am officially working in all 4 secondary classes. My S1s are incredibly eager and willing to try and make mistakes. My S2s vary between stubborn and sullen. One class can be coaxed to participate sometimes, but other times they seem a little lost. My other S2 class is like teaching in opposite world. Quite a few of them are Really smart, so I know it’s not because they don’t understand what the program. But if I say ‘don’t talk’, they either read on top of each other or confer with their friends (standard, I know, but when combined with the rest of my list here…); if I say ‘discuss this question with your desk partner’, they stare mutely at the desk; if I say ‘read and discuss’, they copy everything into their notebooks; if I say ‘take notes’, they blink a lot. I can’t even get them to answer if they understand me or not. Last week, I was inclined to say “you’re killing me Smalls!” every minute or so, but I felt it would be tragically underappreciated. (to those of you who are a little lost right now, find someone between the ages of 23 and 33 and ask them about a baseball movie called “The Sandlot”.)
My co-English teachers are actually doing really well keeping up with our syllabus and taking time to plan lessons with me. The other secondary teachers are warming up more to asking me to help explain / translate things.
I have made an official schedule of when I will be at school so the teachers can find me for language questions etc. We’ve also started language classes for the teachers. We start with a short focus on phonetics and pronunciation, and then I walk through some vocabulary. The questions they come up with stemming from even simple topics like ‘family terms’ can leave me a little confused sometimes, but it’s nice that they’re really interested in learning. I’m working up to including current event articles and pushing for more language produced by the teachers than by me.

Bits and pieces:
I finally gired someone to help me with my laundry. Washing everything by hand is just becoming overwhelming and I do Not have the self motivation to do it. Most stuff isn’t too bad, but when you add in the jeans, sheets, and towels, it wears you out! And I’m getting scars on my knuckles… so she comes over once a week and washes my over-wear and sweeps up the paths and the yard. She’s very good at what she does, and she’s working to support her 3 kids as she is a widow.

I’m still working on keeping my budget and came very close to empty this quarter in my bank account. But I could NOT resist the Batman: Dark Knight UNO deck. #1 – it’s UNO. #2 – it’s Batman UNO. I’m very excited to incorporate UNO tournaments over our American weekends. =D

Picked up another package from the CA Fam a few weeks ago – awesome drink mixes and pics of my beautiful cousin. Thanks again guys!

Ok, last section. There is an NGO that supports sending books to Africa and only asks for money to pay for the transportation costs. Clever people that they are, it’s called Books for Africa. (I think they hired the guy who came up with Coke II to help them) They coordinated with USAID and there was a pallet of books (a little over 20,000 I think?) that needed homes and MINEDUC didn’t really know where to send them, so all the ED PCVs were asked if their schools could use some books. Most of us jumped all over this and we received our shipment of ~350 (+/- 50) books a few weeks ago. Some people have been enjoying helping their librarians stamp books and find room for them in the libraries. Some people have been looking for primary schools to share the books with. Some of us (myself included) have been trying to figure out how to get a library started at all. We don’t have rooms, we can’t afford shelves, and our teachers are really too busy to take on the extra responsibility of running a library such that the books don’t just get stolen. I’m excited as this represents the true first Secondary project I could be involved in. It will take a while, but there is some funding opening up at the end of the summer that I can apply for to get this started. In the mean time, I’ve contacted the other schools in the area to see if they would be interested in also receiving books. Now, as the first shipment was coordinated with USAID, our schools didn’t have to pay anything and the books were delivered to us. Standard procedure involves a group of schools so they can split the books and the 20% of the cost they have to raise. There are about 14 schools involved in this next round and we will all be contacting people from home to help donate for the rest of the cost. (again, standard procedure) if you want to help, I’ll provide the info as soon as I have it.
This was actually a big step for me to get other schools involved. I had to step out of my comfort zone and go to other schools and try and communicate with a new set of teachers who don’t speak English very well and pitch the idea while explaining all of their responsibilities if they participate. I don’t have to write the whole grant proposal, but all the volunteers who are involved have to help.
Anyway, it's my first official active project and i'm very excited.

next month:
- this week's training experiences
- cool people I've met here
- stuff that hasn't happened yet.

thanks for reading!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

my friends like to torture me. but i love them anyway.

It’s been nice, jacking the school computer. Bosco charges it for me during the day at the World Vision office, and I pick it up in the afternoon and use it. This enables me to do things like; type up my favorite passages from the books I’m reading, fill out the survey for our mid-service training, watch almost every DVD that has been sent to me. ;D
One would think I might do something productive, like write more blogs, but I find myself in an odd position. I feel like I have been very busy, but I can’t really tell you with what. And I’m not entirely sure what I have to show for it. This must mean I’m adjusting – experiences no longer stand out, I’m caught in the day to day activities and feel like they’re important.

I had to re-read my last entry to see what I had shared with you; where I left off. Looks like it was right before exams. I enjoyed helping write the exam for the S2s, which they say was way to easy. You can tell because most of them passed it. I am endeavoring to push them harder this term – they just act like they don’t understand what I’m saying. During exam week, I also got to participate in one of my absolute all-time favorite activities – organizing books. I flipped on an upbeat music mix on the borrowed ipod and stayed in the library for hours. We received our new books in the last week of April, via a truck that was entirely too large for the transport. They are mostly children’s books donated from America and it’s nice to see some familiar characters – so far I’ve seen Sesame Street, Lamb Chops, Veggie Tales, and Barney. A lot of these books will be good to expose the younger students to more English early on. A lot of these books will be like alien literature. I was excited to see some ‘baby’s first word’ books as they are easily translatable (pictures), but the words are “telephone; traffic signal; car; stove; kitchen”; none of these things exist to my students.
We also received boxes of elementary textbooks for math, reading (literature), and science, complete with accompanying teacher’s guides. I hope I can help the teachers learn enough English by the time I leave to use them even minimally.

Some of my friends went to Kampala and had a great time river rafting and bungee jumping. I was anticipating taking off more time after break, so I opted to stay in town and see if I could get some work done. Also, I wanted to be available to my community to see how this memorial week would go down. My friend Penny went to her opening ceremony and stood for 4 hours as they went through speeches and lectures and dances. But, I think that her site, like mine, was too far north for much genocide activity. I checked with my host dad and he suggested that since I wouldn’t understand what was going on anyway, I might as well stay at home. I did a lot of laundry and picked up around my house for a few days. I hope y’all don’t mind, but I really don’t have a lot to say about memorial week and the 1994 genocide (as they all refer to it, date included). Some other PCVs have great blogs about it here:

I’ve been learning about genocides since 5th grade. I have done extensive research and taken semester classes on the Holocaust; I have studied the Rape of Nanking, the Killing fields of Cambodia, Stalin’s massacres; I have been involved in discussions of the definition of genocide that reach even to the slow eradication of culture and population of the Aborigines in Australia and the Native Americans of the US. All my reactions have been honed to see these things clinically and academically. I can’t force myself to shift now and take these things personally, even when I see people with scars and maiming injuries on a regular basis. The strongest emotion I can name is a reinforced desire for good education and the coming of the Kingdom. The world will be warring on every level and every scale because we are all filled with sin. People emotionally separate themselves from others across the world enough to invade their land for conquest; people use jealousy and desire as reasons to hate their neighbors and their brothers; people allow fear of the unknown to breed distrust and blind spots of new cultures they encounter whether tribes sharing a nation, ethnicities sharing a city, or students sharing a lunchroom. We can combat this on an individual level, and in a way, we all have that responsibility. But people will find reasons for their anger and their violence if they want one.

Wow, totally wasn’t expecting to write about that, but there you go. I guess I can’t avoid it forever…
ANYWAY, after a few days of hiding out in my house, I went to Kigali to hold a room for a friend returning from her vacation (at midnight) and work with electricity and interwebs at the PCV office. Actually, Penny and I had very clear objectives to accomplish – and then everybody else showed up too and we ended up being the social creatures we are. Not that I’m complaining – it was Great to see so many people and share in our own culture for a while. Oh yeah! And we met the sweetest girls from Norway who had just finished volunteering in Tanzania and were traveling through East Africa. Just in case you were wondering – the world really does want to know if American HS is like One Tree Hill and OC. We were also kinda celebrating being in Rwanda for over 6 months. That means 1/4th of my time here is already gone.
It’s the trimesters, I’m telling you, they make time fly.

But you know what Didn’t fly? Most of the planes in Europe. Because of a volcano in Iceland. Seeing as Sean was in London on business / convenient layover on the way to Rwanda, he was also stuck. We are both dealing with this by acknowledging that God had the timing to bring us together before I left for Africa, he must have a reason why Sean wasn’t supposed to visit me in April.
One that I can see would be to keep Sean from getting fleas, as they back en force. I don’t think I’ve mentioned them here yet because I didn’t want an audience of you going ‘ewwwwww’, but I’ve decided it’s time you knew. There are fleas everywhere in Rwanda, and they seem to gravitate towards me. None of my other friends have been plagued by them since training (and the only girl that I knew had them there slept in the bunk above me). Over last weekend I fumigated my bedroom with my sheets and all my clothes. Twice. While I am sitting here in bed writing this, I have just been bitten again. Twice. It’s getting to be quite a burden.
Also, I think I’m breeding crickets in the house. Not sure why or how. Not that they bite, but they are annoyingly loud. And there are a LOT of them.

When we established that Sean would Not be coming, I decided that I had already scheduled a bunch of free time, so I should take advantage of it. I went to spend a few days with Jen (who has electricity and internet and PANCAKE MIX and maple syrup) and we had a blast together over the weekend. We watched episodes of Avatar – the last Air Bender, Bones, and a variety of movies we now have on disc and hard drive. Monday I spent picking up the mail and bumming around the house. (more on what was In the mail will follow) On Tuesday I was already bored, so I went to school just to see what was going on. Turns out, there was a problem with the class schedule, so I decided to use my nifty-difty spreadsheet skills to make a new one (and fit myself in where I wanted while I was at it). I used Wednesday as an opportunity to day trip into Kigali (learned that if I want to do that, I have to start pretty early to get anything actually Done). Thursday was truly productive, as I showed the schedule to the teachers (who love that they didn’t have to remake it themselves) and planned out 2 weeks of lessons with both language teachers.
Friday I left in the morning and went up the mountain to see Michele. I have decided that when people start talking about something difficult or unlikely, I will now come back with “yeah, well try taking the good road to Bungwe”. Because there isn’t one. I was taking the alternate route she told me about, hoping it would be better than the straight vertical road up the mountain. Well, this was more horizontal, but it certainly wasn’t flatter. I was carrying stuff for my whole weekend (including things to leave with Michele) , so after this hour long moto ride, my back was sore. I have also debated whether or not it counts as a moto ride or a flight considering how much time my butt was on the bike and how much it was in the air. Consequently, my entire rear region is bruised, and my arms are sore from trying to hold on so tightly. To top it off, the helmet was so loose that it bounced around on my head, mostly succeeding in bruising the vertebrae on the back of my neck. But we enjoyed a chill afternoon and sang 2/3 of the hymnbook Saturday morning. After which I took the moto down the mountain the normal way, and headed over to Scott’s for American Saturday with Pad Thai and Tommy Boy. It was pretty classic. And since this was, again, the weekend, I went with Jen back to her place and we made more pancakes and watched more TV. Including the Christmas episode. Point of fact – not a good idea to let 2 girls in Africa watch the Christmas episodes of American TV. Unless you feel like you too need a good cry. Finally, I got word that Sean had made it safely back to the US. Which, all things considered, was still a good ending to his travelogue. Monday morning I went back to school to check in and discovered that the schedule I made still had some “problems” in it, but I had just enough battery in my computer left to fix it that evening.
This week I also started my official teaching schedule – S1s Tuesday morning, and S2s Wednesday morning. Both classes went fairly well, although we’re 3 textbooks short of a class set. Hoping to pick those up sometime soon. I think it will be good for the students to be reading more and will save me time from writing things on the board.

On an up note, in the mail I got a box which was half of my birthday present from my sister. Those of you who don’t know her are missing out. Those of you who have sisters you adore have an inkling of how much this has made my last week. Those of you who don’t know Me very well are about to learn a lot about me based on what makes me excited here. Those of you who are sick of my repetition can just deal. =)
First and foremost! Char sent me books. Not just any books, mind you, but some of the world’s best classic children’s literature. 2 sets of Reader’s Digest novel collections including Alice in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass, Huckleberry Finn, Call of the Wild, Madame Curie, David Copperfield, The Prisoner of Zenda, and others. Also, she sent a beautiful copy of ‘The Wind in the Willows’ which has become my absolutely all-time favorite classic children’s book second only to ‘Peter Pan’ which is simply not allowed to be demoted. Coming soon on , extensive descriptions and exposition on why I love this book. For now, let me just say that I have never read such beautiful descriptions of the countryside, the seasons, friendship, and the emotions that tie them all together. ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’ sounds like a tragic inversion of this book. The images portrayed here could Never be captured in a photograph or even an illustration.
My second favorite thing in the box has to be the cookies. Oreos, chips ahoy, and Nutter Butter. I’m very proud that they’ve lasted longer than a week, but they probably won’t last two. Nutter Butters – graham cracker cookies with sweet peanut butter. It doesn’t get much better!
I’m also excited about the seeds. It’s almost the end of the rainy season, so I will probably have to wait a few months on starting my garden, but that’s ok. It’ll probably take me that long to clear a patch of earth. I have determined – weeding the garden, actually pretty fun – de-rocking the garden, pain in the butt. Fortunately, most of the big rocks are on the surface, but all the dirt has a gravel-like quality to it.
Finally, to support my odd spurts of creativity, I now have a nice, large box of colored pencils. Not that I have much to color here, but it’s nice to have them available.
But the thing that made EVERYTHING adorable in this box was that my sister put post-it note memories on every item: remember when we used to eat peanut butter popsicles? remember when we used to color on every trip – planes, car rides, anything? remember when I wasn’t allowed to have 2 cookies unless I finished an entire sandwich? Yes. Yes, Charlynn, I do remember. And those memories make me very happy. =)

That actually rounds out my last month. Sorry if the blow-by-blow was tedious, that’s now life goes sometimes, isn’t it? And like I said at the beginning, everything is starting to run together. I’m hoping it will continue to as I have a solid schedule now. The only thing I’m becoming bored / annoyed with is doing my laundry by hand. It’s annoying, and I just don’t want to most days. But that means things pile up, and we all know that’s not good either.

Miss you guys. Miss TV. Miss washing machines. Miss eating meat more than once a week. Love that I’m in a place to miss these things and appreciate them all the more. Especially the people. =)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

"I put my hands up, they're playing my song..."

Hey guys!
Just in case you didn’t notice on facebook, I have started another blog that has NOTHING to do with Rwanda. Well, mostly nothing. It’s everything I’ve been thinking and writing that I probably wouldn’t have thought or written if I weren’t in Africa, but it’s not About Africa.

Suffice to say, it has been engaging enough that I have been sitting here at the computer for the last 2 hours and completely forgot to turn on my borrowed ipod (yes, ipod #2 is being bratty – it’s also suicidal) and have only used the interwebs for minimal research (like who wrote that book I read about traveling the English coastline?).

Ps. Apparently this is the blog entry of the ‘ – ’. I’m in love with the dash today. And emphasizing words with capitals. =D

I have been to mass a few times here – the weekends I’m not visiting friends or bumming around in Kigali. Mass is a popular option here for PCVs because it’s usually only about 2 hours long as opposed to the 3-5 hour protestant services. You may think that 2 hours is a long mass, but you have to take into account the dancing and special gifts section. 80% of the prayers are sung, and transitions between pieces of the mass are all accompanied by traditional dancers. They also take 2 offerings because people who don’t have cash to give bring baskets of grain or beans or the like and these need to be collected carefully. I usually spend my time counting the panes of colored glass in the windows or trying to day dream without falling asleep. Helps that I’m sitting on a very short, narrow wooden bench with no back.

New PC Trainees are here! It’s the second batch of Health PCTs and WOAH are they different from my group. I was invited to go down for a session on gender roles and relationships and Michele and I stayed for the weekend. We were planning on hanging out with the newbies during their breaks, but they were all busy – studying. All of them. Apparently they do this all the time. They are all so eager to be here and many of them have very specific ideas of what they want to do with their time. We had a great time conversing with many of them and I made friends with the girls who are now in my room. They’re awesome. I’m excited that they’re here and we’ll see how they space out this many PCVs across such a small country.

I like trimesters here almost as much as I did in college. It always feels like school is almost over. Of course, this is annoying when you haven’t accomplished what you want to, but it also makes the year fly by. I have drafted a syllabus / curriculum for the S1s (Secondary, level 1 = grade 7), S2s, and even S3s next year that I’m hoping to teach. I have re-written S1 and S2 a few times because it took a while to make them understood. I have finally worked out a schedule with the S2 teacher for when I will teach and how we will plan it and what the lessons should focus on. It’s only based on this that I could plan next year already – the S2s that pass, I’ll know what they learned. The S1 teacher really Wants to work things out in detail, but he is in charge of pretty much everything at the Secondary level – registration, collecting funds, organizing the other teachers, being liaison with Head Teacher – there is an official title for this job, but it’s in French and I never really paid that close attention. I’m hoping that over the break we will be able to work out a plan.
During exams, I have my own plan – I have officially started my first ‘secondary’ project. I’m going to organize the book room behind the head teacher’s office. I suppose it could be called a library, but it’s more the resource room – all the textbooks are here and they’re all mixed up by subject and level and even language (some are in French and some in English and some in Kinyarwanda). I’m excited to be able to put my organization skills to use to help here.
Part of the reason I want to get this room organized before next term is my school is in line to receive some textbooks from the Books for Africa drive. It’s not going to do us any good for these books to sit in their boxes collecting dust like their predecessors. Also, my school was recommended for the official hand over with media coverage and everything. If the Rwandan news and MINEDUC and USAID people are going to be here, I want them to be able to hand the books over to a place where they will obviously be valued and used well.

After exams next week, school is on break for 2 weeks. In the middle of these 2 weeks is Memorial Week (April 7-14) where the entire country has community events and mourning periods. I may be invited to participate with my community, they may decide that I can’t really relate to what they are dealing with and I may be politely excluded for a week. Dunno yet.

On the last day of break SEAN ARRIVES. Unfortunately for him, the first ~4 days will be getting dragged around to meet everyone in my neighborhood and learning what it’s like to travel and eat Rwanda style. That’s what he gets for landing on a Saturday night. =) the next weekend (starting on a Thursday) will be more relaxing and chilling in Kigali.

After Sean leaves, I am embarking on a HUGE experiment. I am going to try and stay at my site for 1 month. People may come and visit me, and once a week I can go to Byumba since this is really just an extension of my town anyway. But I will not go to American Saturday or Kigali overnight or indulge in ‘escaping’ my life in Rwanda. I want to use this time to brush up on my language (which has dwindled terribly), focus on my spiritual journey here and seeking guidance, and possibly work on my creative expressions more. I will also be available to my school for meetings and trainings on the weekends, which will probably be good.
Pray for me! I will probably spend more money than normal on phone credit and may be calling some of you from time to time…

Ok, I’m sure there’s more, but I want to get this posted before they close tonight.

Love y’all!!

Friday, March 5, 2010

new address

ok folks, here it is

Charissa Knighton
Peace Corps
BP 50

that's it!