November: The Goodbye and Welcome Home Tours

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I’ve been home for 2 weeks now, and I’ve had lots of time to reflect on the last 2 years of my life. The highs were so incredibly high, and the lows were extremely low. But I learned more than I could’ve possibly imagined. I gained confidence in myself that I never thought I could have. I became strong and independent and proud of myself. I’ve gained incredible perspective about the world; how difficult it can be for so many people, and how much suffering there is in the world, but also about how much happiness exists in spite of suffering. I never knew that was possible.

I’m sure it’ll take my entire life to completely reflect on this experience. It will always be a part of me. I’ll take the mental image of my beautiful students, of my mountain top school, of the hilly paths around my village, everywhere I go.  Maybe I’ll write another post in a few months when I’ve had even more time to reflect. But for now, I’ll write about my last 2 weeks in Rwanda, and my re-integration into American life.

Packing My Life Into 2 Suitcases

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I’d never lived away from home before, aside from one year in a college dorm 20 minutes away from my family, which barely counts. I don’t know many people who can say their first experience living alone was in a rural village in Africa. But, here we are. I survived!

Peace corps volunteers often end up in giant houses, because there are pretty strict regulations about the location and characteristics of volunteer houses for safety reasons. I ended up in this massive 5 bedroom house with a giant living room and kitchen. It remained mostly empty throughout my 2 years living in it.

Cleaning it up was quite the ordeal. Somehow, over the course of 2 years, I acquired a lot of junk. Not nearly as much junk as I’d left behind in the States, but quite a bit. From gifts I’d bought for family, to books I finished reading months ago, to clothes I never want to see again, I had developed a literal room full of crap. And I didn’t want to leave it for the volunteer who is replacing me, so little by little, I gave most of my stuff away to some of my friends.

I managed to pack everything into two suitcases somehow. It was pretty miraculous! Want to know what was even more miraculous? My motorcycle taxi ride which included strapping both of the suitcases onto a motorcycle and somehow making it through the thirty minute uphill drive to the bus station without breaking or ripping the bags.

Graduation Ceremony

My last full day in my village also happened to be my school’s graduation ceremony for S3, the highest grade level my school offered. It was a pretty cool day. A neighboring school came by and all the students of both schools sang a lot of songs and did a lot of traditional dances. I got to see all my students graduate. These are the students I taught every day for 2 years, so it was pretty special to see. They all looked so grown up! One thing I’ve found that I like about being a teacher is watching my students grow, both intellectually and physically. It’s amazing how much people can change in just two years.

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The Last Morning

I was expecting a very quiet morning on the day I left. I had my motorcycle taxis scheduled to come at 12, so I woke up at early to do some last minute cleaning and packing. My neighbors came by to help me clean, which was incredibly kind of them. By 11am, to my surprise, pretty much everyone who lives in my village, plus a bunch of my students and co teachers, came by to say goodbye. About 30 of my students and I ended up watching Pitch Perfect and Pitch Perfect 2, their favorite American movies. I received lots of hugs, letters, and drawings. My heart was so full!

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Here are pictures from some of my hardest goodbyes:

 

The staff of my health post

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My neighbor Bonzu, one of my best little friendsIMG_8288

My next door neighbors Brian, Karine, Todori, Ishimwe, and Sandrine, who drew me some beautiful pictures the day I leftIMG_8612

Angelique, one of my super star students 

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My fruit seller at the market, Pacifique IMG_8157

My best friend RosineIMG_8269

Of course there were many more that I didn’t get pictures with. Goodbyes are hard, and some of these were made all the more difficult by the fact that communicating internationally can be impossible. But I appreciated every moment I had before I left.

Kigali

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The days leading up to the COS (close-of-service) ceremony, volunteers go to the capital city and have a bunch of medical appointments and meetings to tie up loose ends before becoming a returned Peace Corps volunteer. Other than some difficult goodbyes to friends I won’t see for a long time, the week was enjoyable. It flew by- before I knew it, I was on my plane heading home. IMG_8701

The Trip Home

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If you followed my journey from the very beginning, you know I had an interesting beginning to Peace Corps experience. My flight from NH to Philadelphia for our Peace Corps orientation was canceled. Then, I was rescheduled on a flight from Boston to Philadelphia, which got delayed. I showed up at the very end of the orientation, feeling like this travel disaster was some great sign that I should go home. I overlooked that feeling, obviously, and made it to Rwanda.

A few days before leaving Rwanda, I joked that my Peace Corps service would really come full circle if my flight home was canceled too. I was joking, of course.

As life would have it, that’s exactly what happened. My flight from Brussels to Newark was canceled after being delayed for 12 hours due to a snow storm in the northeast. Typical.

On the bright side, the airline put us up in a swanky hotel in Brussels and I got to eat at a delicious dinner buffet. The hotel room had a shower and a bath tub, complimentary chocolate, and the comfiest beds ever. It was honestly a pretty sweet deal, and I was happy I got to go home cleaner than when I left Rwanda!

Once I got to Newark, the rest of my trip was smooth. My grandma, mom, and sister met me at the airport and gave me a nice welcome home.

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Reintegration 

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Former volunteers had warned me that reintegration is difficult. When I went home for a week last summer, I didn’t find that to be true. And honestly, I haven’t found it to be true this time around either. Maybe some big mental breakdown is coming. But truthfully, the past two weeks have been mostly filled with hellos and hugs and gifts and delicious food and dog cuddles and I couldn’t be happier. Two of my sisters are taller than me and my youngest sister has mastered the duck face during my absence.

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What’s Next?!

In the next few weeks, I’ll be moving to South Carolina to start my MPH! I’ve got some medical issues I’m sorting out (having tests for Celiac disease and IBD- hopefully I’ll get my digestive system under control soon!!) and I’ve got to get some logistical things straightened out (student loans and insurance and banks and cars are so much work, I took my freedom in Rwanda for granted).

In the long term, I want to keep learning more about public health, building on the foundation of knowledge I developed in Rwanda. I’m not sure if I’ll continue working with malaria or HIV/AIDS prevention in the future. I’m open to learning about anything and everything I can! I’m not opposed to going back to Africa in the future for research. Who knows where I’ll be 5 years from now?

Thank You

Lastly, I want to thank you for reading my blog. Whether this is the first post you’ve read, or you’ve read every silly word I’ve written for over 2 years, I am so grateful for your support. Just knowing that I was able to share this journey with other people means so much to me. Joining the Peace Corps is something I’d wanted to do since I was in middle school, and I am incredibly appreciative of everyone who has supported me.

If you are interested in joining the Peace Corps, or know anyone who is, please send me a message! I am so happy to give advice or share anything about my Peace Corps experience with anyone who is interested.

Thanks again for reading! Enjoy these pictures of my trip to Akagera Park.

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October- The Final Countdown

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It is a strange thing, but when you are dreading something, and would give anything to slow down time, it has a disobliging habit of speeding up.”– Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

This quote has been applicable more times in my life than I can count. I used to have it written on my notebooks in college and it was my senior yearbook quote in high school. I remember the first time I read it when I was younger, and my accepting that this was reality: when you dread something, time speeds up. And the opposite is true too- when you’re looking forward, time slows down exponentially.

I wasn’t sure this quote would be applicable to my service. Overall, I’ve enjoyed my time in Rwanda, and I greatly appreciate the personal growth and myriad of things I’ve learned here, particularly in preparation for grad school. That being said, I’ve kept a daily countdown to my last day here since I arrived. I have never been more excited for anything in my entire life than I am to go home. I have dreams about grocery stores and Target and hot showers and having an actual kitchen. I’m looking forward to seeing all of my sisters and my grandma and my parents and my dogs and my aunts and uncles and cousins. I dream about eating food that is seasoned with something other than salt.

But simultaneously, in the last two months, I have developed the realization that this was, in fact, my home for two years. There will be times where I miss my solitude. I’ll miss my best friend Rosine and our evening runs, movie marathons, and cooking adventures. I’ll miss having the most spectacular view from my bedroom window. I’ll miss the times when the biggest decision I had was: should I do yoga or go for a run first?

So, although I’m not dreading leaving, I will say that time has started to speed up, coinciding with my realization that I do have some comforts here.

Two weeks from this very moment, I’ll be back in New England. Over the past few months, I’ve developed a weird habit of obsessively watching planes land. I live about 13 miles east of the airport, so I have a pretty clear view of the descent of most airplanes that land here. There’s a two hour window every morning and every night where 3-4 planes land, and I know which airlines they are and I know where they’re coming from. It’s strange to think that in the not-so-distant future, I’ll have the opposite vantage point, flying over my little village and waving from above the clouds.

Well anyways, this will be my second to last blog post. Here’s what happened in October!

End of School

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I’m not a good teacher. There, I said it. I came into this thinking I had a potential future in education. Well, thanks to two long years of struggling through teaching, I’ve realized that’s not true at all. And I’m eternally grateful to have learned that now.

Final exams started the last week of October, so the first half of the month was mostly preparation for those. We wrapped up phonics in third grade (although we didn’t finish the curriculum. Hopefully my co teacher will continue next year!) and I ended my music classes with a giant showing of Pitch Perfect from my laptop screen. That was pretty hilarious.

I’ve put together all my lesson plans for my music classes and I’ve got some contacts higher up in education in Rwanda that I’ve been in contact with. Im hoping that sharing my lesson plans can help some other teachers share music with their students. Teaching music has been one of the best experiences I’ve had here. Music was something I felt like I gave up on when I went to college. I chose language over music. I don’t regret that decision, as I wasn’t quite talented or driven enough to make it in music, and I didn’t want to go into music education. Now, I’ve had the opportunity to rediscover everything I love about music, and I’ve been able to share it with about 300 students, and hopefully the work I did sets the foundation for more students to experience music in school!

I also did one last RUMPs training with my leftover materials for the female teachers at my school. They absolutely loved it! One of them even announced that she was planning on trying it out after she finished sewing it. Probably a little too much info, but encouraging nonetheless.

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Site Announcement / Site Visit

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One of the most climatic moments of the end of one’s Peace Corps service is finding out the fate of your site. Will there be another volunteer after you? Will there be any others nearby? Or will you be the last volunteer?

I was the first volunteer at my site, and the next closest volunteer is about 8 miles away. Being the first volunteer, it meant I was pretty much guaranteed to be replaced. I’ve spent the last few months thinking about what this means: what furniture should I keep? How should I decorate this room? What projects should I recommend my replacement continue with?

The new cohort of volunteers arrived in September, and I met a decent number of them during some day trips to Rwamagana. My replacement is pretty awesome, I’d actually met her right after the trainees got to Rwamagana. She’s going to continue teaching music and she seems enthusiastic, and a great fit for my site.

She came to visit for a week to get a feel for what her service would be like. I showed her the market, the health post, the school, and some different roads to run on. She did a lot of observations and chatting with the principal. I’m happy to be passing off the torch to her- it’s time for me to go, but I’m happy the work I did will be continued.

 

Talent Show

 

I’ve organized a talent show at the end of almost every term of school. Talent shows are fun and exciting. I loved participating in them when I was in school, so it’s been fun to pass on that love to my students. I knew this talent show would be different, since it would be my last.

It started out with the typical: dancing, a fashion show, comedy skits, and marching. Then, my singing club performed Perfect by Ed Sheeran, and the classic Stand By Me. It was pretty magical to see how far they’ve come this year.

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Then, it took a turn for the emotional. My school’s secretary made a speech, recognizing me for all that I’ve done at the school, and giving me a drawing of the school and a picture of the staff. The students, all 2,000 of them, ended up chanting my name and I tried so hard not to cry, but I lost it. Then, it turned into a weird receiving line, where I probably hugged 200 kids in the course of 5 minutes.

A lot of my students were crying, too. We’d always been told that Rwandans don’t cry during training. I knew this wasn’t true- I’ve seen them cry at weddings and at the health center. But Rwandans are particularly stoic and private with their emotions. So seeing my students crying over me meant a lot. We took lots of pictures, despite the tears, and I went home feeling absolutely drained. I had no idea I meant so much to my school. I honestly didn’t.

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Getting Ready

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I started keeping a bunch of sticky notes on my door back in August. Each sticky note had a task I needed to complete before I left. As soon as I completed the task, I could take the sticky note down and throw it away. I started off with close to 100, now I’m down to 8.

At this point, I mostly just have to clean. I’m giving away some of my clothes to my female friends here. The volunteer who replaces me will inherit most of my possessions- furniture, leftover school supplies, etc., and I didn’t have that many things here to begin with. Although after hauling my suitcases around my house, I guess that might not be true!

Anyways, I’ll make a few more posts after I get home. I want to write about my last two weeks in Rwanda, about an awesome trip I took a few months ago, and about readjusting to life in the USA. Less than 2 weeks to go!

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September

Two years in Rwanda. Two entire years. Although some days it seems like I’ve been here forever, in retrospect, it has gone somewhat quickly. My cohort arrived in Rwanda on September 21, 2016. I’m sure we were bright eyed and bushy tailed. I remember being extremely excited once I got here. I remember walking through Remera and being mesmerized by everything.

Now, I’m pretty much just tired. Happy tired, for the most part. I feel good about what I’ve done here. I’m incredibly grateful for everything I’ve learned. About myself, about life, about people. But to be honest, I feel like I’ve aged about 5 years here. Both physically and emotionally.

Physically, my body is ready for some relaxation. There are constantly bags under my eyes, worse than usual. My arms and face are overly tan to the point where I think I develop a new freckle every day. My hair is thin and damaged. My nails barely grow. And I won’t even get into the amount my digestive system has suffered.

Emotionally? I’m pretty worn out. I’m tired of being a constant spectacle. I’m sick of being harassed by men every time I leave my village. I remember the first time a random Rwandan man asked me to marry him, and I thought it was funny. Now, about 200 proposals later, I’m exhausted.

And worst of all, I know that this disrespect for women is not something I will be leaving behind. I’m tired of hearing about what’s going on for my fellow women back at home (ibelievesurvivors !!!). Sometimes, it’s possible for me to view the numerous gender equality issues in Rwanda as a result of a lack of education. What’s the excuse in the USA? I guess I’ll find out soon enough.

But, I’m mostly happy tired. I’m fulfilled and my students are happy and my co teachers tell me how much they will miss me every day. I’m integrated and I feel relatively comfortable in my life here (except for the mouse that has decided to be my roommate. He can get lost ASAP). I don’t feel like I have anything else to give, so that’s a nice feeling. I’d heard stories of volunteers finishing their service without doing everything they wished to do, and heading home feeling unaccomplished. I’m glad that won’t be how my story ends here, although I can understand how some volunteers do feel that way!

So, here’s a summary of my second to last full month in Rwanda! It was a pretty crazy one.

24!

I celebrated the second (and last) of my two birthdays in Rwanda. Birthdays here can be hard. No family, no friends from home. But it’s possible to make the best of it! I had a wonderful weekend with my closest friends in Rwanda. We went on an adventure, which I will post more about soon, and we cooked a lot of great food. Fried chicken, French fries, green beans, and chocolate peanut butter cake!! It was so nice.

This year, my birthday fell on a Monday, which meant I would be ‘celebrating’ the actual day alone in my village. Mondays are my busiest day at school: I teach for 8 hours, then have debate club after. I expected it to just be a normal day. But somehow, my fourth grade co teacher remembered my birthday, and she planned a little surprise for me. She brought in flowers and taught our students how to sing Happy Birthday. At the end of the lesson, they sang for me in English and Kinyarwanda. I had tears in my eyes!

So, 24 has been good so far. I feel kind of old, but I know I’ve still got lots of years left. Let’s hope this continues to be a good year!

School

School has been about normal. I’ve been finishing up phonics in my third grade classes. My 10th graders sit for their national exams at the beginning of November, so they’re about to start preparing for those. This means my music class, which is a non-examinable subject, is not the priority. So, I wrapped up teaching them dynamics, tempos, and major triads. I really love those kids, and I will miss them a lot.

In my ninth grade classes, we started drama, which has been pretty amusing. I gave each group of 3 students a short plot to write a dialogue about, and the results were hilarious. Drama will be our last major topic in music class. I’m asking the students to write and practice skits to perform in the talent show in a few weeks.

Debate club and singing club are still going pretty smoothly! We’re preparing for a debate about whether or not it is possible to eradicate malaria. I’m very interested to see what my students have to say. In singing club, we’re preparing 2 songs for the talent show. I love how much these kids love to sing!!

Library

My school doesn’t have a library or computer lab for students, so the resources are extremely limited. When I first got to my school, I realized this was an issue. There was no culture of reading. No one even had the opportunity to read for fun. So when I went home last August, my family had collected some books and donated them to my school. I filled a suitcase with them and brought them back to Rwanda. They sat in my house for over a year, only being enjoyed by my neighbors. I wanted to wait until there was a safe place to put them before I brought them to school. Finally, a few weeks ago, my school had a small bookshelf and a table and benches built for our mini library. It’s pretty small, only about 300 books, but it’s a start! Lots of students have started spending recess and lunch breaks reading, and it makes me so happy. I’m planning on training a few students to be ‘librarians’, so we’ll see how that goes.

RUMPs

One of my last secondary projects wrapped up the other day. Rumps (re-useable menstrual pads) are a common project for PCVs here, and it’s something I’ve wanted to do since I first learned about it at the beginning of my service. It’s extremely difficult to find feminine hygiene projects in my community, and they’re expensive and pretty terrible for the environment. Rumps use recycled fabric, old towels, common sewing materials, and a plastic liner. As per the request of a friend, here is a quick overview on how to make them!

1. Cut out two pieces of fabric in the desired shape. Make sure they’re identical in size.

2. Cut out 2-3 pieces of towel, slightly less wide and long. You can add more for heavier periods, or less for lighter periods and a more comfortable pad.

3. Cut out 2-3 layers of some sort of plastic liner in the same shape as the towels. For my students, I used strips of rice sacks folded into quarters and with the edges melted together to prevent fraying. You can also use plastic bags, diaper liners, or any type of thick plastic sheet.

4. Sew the pieces of towel onto one piece of igitenge.

5. Sew the plastic onto the other piece of igitenge.

6. Sew the two pieces 3/4 of the way together, the towel and plastic facing outward. Make sure to sew the wings as well.

7. Flip the rump right side in (it was inside out before) and sew the last 1/4 together.

8. Sew a button onto one of the wings, ensuring it can fold under the plastic side of the rump.

9. Cut a hole in the other wing, making sure it lines up with the button.

Overall, the training went pretty well. Initially, I had asked some nurses from the health center to come and teach about HIV, birth control, and menstruation. Unfortunately, some stuff came up, so they couldn’t make it. Luckily, our rock star of a biology teacher took on the menstruation lesson, and helped me to teach the HIV lesson. Another volunteer, Zoe, also came to help me, which was super awesome. The highlight was that 5 of the girls I brought to camp last year, who had already learned how to make RUMPs, led the instructional part of the training and provided assistance to their classmates. They were incredible!! I didn’t have to do anything. I felt like I was handing off the torch to them, and it was a really beautiful feeling.

Coming Soon

The last week was pretty darn exciting. My flight home was booked, so now I know for sure that I’m actually leaving! It’s really happening! Just over a month to go.

I also found out I was accepted into grad school starting in January. I will write more details about that in my next blog post!

As I mentioned in blog posts from earlier in my service, I’ve developed some sort of gluten intolerance while here. I’ve been gluten free since August 2017, and it has improved my symptoms exponentially. I’m seeing a GI doctor when I get home for some tests and to figure out exactly what’s wrong. Unfortunately, this means I have to return to eating gluten in what is called a ‘gluten challenge.’ I have to eat the equivalent of 2 slices of bread every day for 8 weeks. So far, my symptoms have been relatively manageable so we’ll see what happens! It’s definitely going to make my first two weeks back in the USA more enjoyable- lobster rolls, anyone??

I’ve got about 6 weeks left in Rwanda, and I’m excited to make the most of them. I’ve got two more debates, a few more lessons to teach, and two exams to give. My secondary students are all getting ready for our final talent show the last week of October, which should be pretty awesome. I should find out in the next few weeks if a new volunteer will be replacing me, and if so, they will have the chance to come visit for a week. I’m definitely looking forward to that!

Well, that’s all for September. Two more posts to go!

August

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Is it seriously September already?! I think this has been the fastest passing month in my entire service, and I feel as though September and October will fly by too.

In-Country Vacation

As I mentioned in my last post, my vacation to Amsterdam didn’t end up happening for various reasons, so I stayed in Rwanda during my last school break. I had a nice day in Kigali, visited Sam for a few days, spent some time in Rwamagana (and saw the Tour de Rwanda pass by, pictured below!!), and visited Tai as well. I cooked what was definitely my best cake yet: chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting and dark chocolate ganache. Soooo good!!! It was a nice relaxing week. During the second week of the break, I did a lot of cleaning and organizing in my house. I also went on an 18 mile hike to the Nyabarongo River, which separates Rwamagana District from Bugasera District.

In Peace Corps, one cohort of volunteers typically gets ‘replaced’ but the new cohort of volunteers. My site has been approved for replacement, so unless there is some logistical issue, there should be a new volunteer after I leave! The new volunteers come to visit their future sites during their training in October, so I want my house to be nice and clean for them!

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COS Conference

COS, which stands for Close of Service, is the most common Peace Corps acronym in my lexicon at the moment. Each cohort has a week-long conference about three to four months before their departure. My cohort had our conference August 21-25, and it was in the lovely town of Musanze near the volcanoes, although the weather was pretty bad so I didn’t see much of them. Despite our rooftop yoga sessions, the conference was extremely overwhelming. There’s so much we have to do in our last 90 days! But it was nice to see people in my cohort that live far away, and it was nice to say goodbye to some people I probably won’t see again.

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At the conference, we were confirmed with our official dates of departure. The week of COS, each volunteer must have various blood tests and medical screenings, take care of some logistical things, and have a one-on-one meeting with Peace Corps admin. For this reason, the COS dates of everyone in my cohort spread out from November 15-December 12. But lucky me: I got November 15th as my COS date! That means I will leave my village on November 11th and spend a few days in Kigali before getting on an airplane and hopefully getting home November 16th. Please pray for warm weather for me, it’s gonna be cold! I’m going to be in NH for most of November and December, so please let me know if you’d like to meet up. I’m so looking forward to spending hours in grocery stores, blasting Christmas music on the radio, and cuddling with my dogs.

Start of Term 3

Although the end of my Peace Corps service is right around the corner, I still have a whole term of teaching to go. This past week was the first week of the term, and it’s off to a good start. I did reviews in all my music classes, and I’m looking forward to introducing them to some new topics this term (sixteenth notes, tempos, and minor scales, oh my). We also did review in all of my P3 and P4 classes. We’re working on phonics and spelling, which are my favorite language topics to teach. Because I plan on never teaching again, I’m trying to put the most into my teaching during these next 11 weeks. I’m also trying to hand off my teaching to my co-teachers, encouraging them to lead the lessons, rather than following my lead. This term, I’m doing Debate Club and Singing Club. Debate Club’s first meeting had over 100 students ranging from P6-S3. Our first debate is next week and the motion is: Computers are more important than books. I’m very curious to see what the students come up with, as most of them have never touched a computer, and my school doesn’t have any computers. They never cease to amaze me, though. In singing club, I’m teaching them 1 or 2 songs to perform at our end of the year talent show at the end of October. That should also be a lot of fun.

I’m starting the preparations for what is probably my last big project: a female sexual health workshop for my secondary students in late September. Hopefully, we’ll be teaching the girls about HIV/AIDS, birth control / family planning, and making RUMPs (re-usable menstrual pads). I’m super excited about this! I have two female teachers planning on helping out, and I am hoping to invite several nurses from the local health center to come and do the bulk of the lessons in Kinyarwanda.

Coming Soon

I guess that’s all I’ve got for August. As I said, this month FLEW by and I’m not exactly sure how. In the coming weeks, I’ll be celebrating my last birthday in Rwanda (24!!), celebrating my two year anniversary of coming to Rwanda, and continuing to simultaneously count down the days and cherish every moment left here in Rwanda. At this point, if you’d like to send me a letter or postcard, you can send it to my home address!

Also, if you are a teacher in NH, I would LOVE to come in and talk to your students about Peace Corps in November-December. Please  reach out to me! One of our jobs as Peace Corps volunteers is to bring back everything that we’ve learned and share it with fellow Americans, so I would love to do that.

Thanks for reading 🙂

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July

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July has been a really special month. Maybe it was the peak of my service. If so, I’m pretty proud. My cohort is just about to start our last 100 days in Rwanda, so it’s time to start wrapping up. Lately, I’ve done a lot of reflecting on my time in Rwanda, and a lot of consideration about the future too.

Rainy season also seems to be starting, thank goodness! It’s been overcast for a week, and it’s rained for the past two nights, and it’s raining now as I write this, so I’m optimistic. My entire sector (county) ran out of water last week, leaving everyone in my community with no other option but to pay someone to fetch water from the lake several miles away. For me, this is a no brainer- water is so important. But for some of my neighbors, it’s just not financially possible. So, my village is eagerly awaiting daily rain again.

In other news, I had another war with a giant spider in my house. Here is a picture. Pretty gross. I’m definitely looking forward to not seeing these anymore. I will say, my spider tolerance, though still not great, has improved so much throughout the past two years.

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This month, I also had the privilege of having Peace Corps come and video tape me teaching with my co-teachers. The videos will hopefully be used for training in the future. A lot of great pictures were also taken!

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Career Day

On July 13, I attempted the seemingly-impossible: a school-wide event involving visitors, a music performance, and a lot of organized chaos. And, without realizing it, I scheduled it for Friday the 13th. Luckily, all went way better than expected.

I wanted to do a career day from the beginning of my time here. My school has a pretty significant drop out rate from primary to middle school. It also doesn’t help that the nearest public high school is 5 miles away. So, the successful students aim for scholarships to boarding schools, and the majority of other students end their education early. I wanted to show them the different options available if they continue to study, even if it means walking really far or studying exceptionally hard.

I invited 10 guests of various careers- shop keepers, health center workers, a motorcycle driver, a local government worker, a tailor, and a member of Peace Corps staff who lives nearby. Although there was some expected tardiness and slight disorganization, it went really well. Some of the guests didn’t come, and then some unexpected guests ended up coming. Rwanda is always full of surprises. The guests spoke to all the students about their careers, about their education, and about how they use English in their careers. There was talk of continuing education, of ICT, of supporting tourism, and of global connectivity.

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Also, my S2 and S3 music classes performed American songs I’ve been teaching them this term, along with their own original choreography.

Overall, it was my favorite day of my entire service, and I’m so grateful that my school supported me in this event, and that my students were so receptive of all the information provided.

My Crazy Beautiful Awesome Students

Making close friends is something I, and many peace corps volunteers in many different countries, struggle with. Finding a social circle as an outsider is difficult, especially since we don’t often fit into the social norms of people the same age and gender as us in our communities. Most women in their early twenties in my community are mothers, farmers, or shopkeepers. There’s a level of reservation I can sense whenever I talk to them. And befriending men my age is also a slippery slope, because it’s very easy to give the wrong impression and have rumors spread throughout the village, or to quickly transition from a discussion of politics to a legitimate marriage proposal. Older people, I’ve found, are also resistant to develop a relationship with me, because many of them fear me, just as older people in America are often resistant to change and technology from the ‘young folks.’ In my first year of service, my social circle involved my kid neighbors, all under age 12, and relatively superficial relationships with teachers at my school. This year, strange as it sounds, my social circle has gravitated more towards my secondary students, mostly aged 15-18. They now accept me as a normal person, and seem to look up to me. Sure, our friendships are still relatively superficial and involve photoshoots, looking at pictures, watching Captain America and Pitch Perfect, and doing Insanity workouts in my living room, but it’s nice to not be alone so much in my village.

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Less Than 4 Months to go!

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Unfortunately, my travel plans in August were canceled, so I’ll actually be in Rwanda for the remainder of my service (in November, USA, here I come!!). But that means time to travel around Rwanda, another possible opportunity to have a day camp at my site (this time: volley ball and HIV camp, complete with free HIV testing and a condom demo!! We’ll see if it actually happens, there might be a scheduling conflict), and spend time with my friends, both inside of my community and out.

I was on a motorcycle ride the other day during sunrise and we reached the top of the hill and I could see all the corn fields and my mountain behind them and it was so beautiful and I wish I had stopped to take a picture. I realized in that moment that in the not-so-distant future, I’ll be in that exact same spot, overlooking my home for the last two years, for the very last time and saying goodbye. And it made me reflect on just how important this crazy adventure has been. How I’ve grown as a person (how many people can say they lived alone, like only American within a 7 mile radius, for 2 years in Africa), how much I’ve changed (became healthier and stronger, somehow developed a gluten intolerance, but pretty much conquered my asthma), and how much I’ve learned (I won’t even try to paraphrase this one). Anyways, I guess there will only be 4 more posts on this blog until I’m home. I’ll try to make them the best ones yet!

Thanks for reading 🙂

June

Dry season seems to be in full swing. Every time I leave my house, I’m guaranteed to come back with a layer of dust on my skin. The trees all have a brown tint on the leaves from the waves of dust when cars pass by. The air is hot and dry. 2 weeks ago, there were a few small rain storms, which is unusual. Last year, it didn’t rain at all between mid May and August. So I guess we’ll see what happens!

The market is starting to become full of fruits and vegetables again. This is my last dry season in Rwanda and I’m pretty excited about that. I love rain!!

This month has been a serious turning point in my second year of service. They say the second year is easier because nothing is new, but I actually think that makes it harder. There are no new things to discover, no pleasant surprises. The disappointments have added up and are more frustrating. And there is a clock ticking, reminding you how little time you have to accomplish everything you want to do.

That being said, I’m happier than I’ve been in awhile! I feel pretty comfortable in my community and school. I’ve got some cool things planned in the coming months that I’ll write more about later. Life is good.

School

This month, I’ve been teaching phonics to second and third grade, which I love, and I’m continuing to teach music for 8th and 9th grade. We’re working on a singing unit, so I allowed each class to choose a song to sing, and we will have a big performance at the end of term. Song selections included Story of My Life by One Direction, Perfect by Ed Sheeran, Let Her Go by Passenger, and All of Me by John Legend. Stay tuned for some fun videos of the performance

The same day as the music performance, I’m also planning a career day with different guests coming in to speak to the secondary students. I’m very excited about that!

In other news, our 7th and 8th grade English teacher got a job at a private school in Kigali, so we currently have no teacher for those classes. It often takes at least a month for a new teacher to be found, so in the mean time, I’m taking over half the 8th grade English periods. I’m also taking over extra 5th grade periods so that the 5th grade teacher can take over the other periods. This should only be going on for the next few weeks. It’s a lot of extra work, but it’s nice to feel useful!

Free Time

I’ve done a lot of reading, TV watching, and cooking recently. I had the flu for a week, and I pulled one of my hip flexor / groin muscles, so my running has gotten a little off track, but I’m hoping to get back to it soon.

I watched the second season of Thirteen Reasons Why, which I liked more than the first season. I also watched season 6 of Are You the One, which is the epitome of trash TV, but I love it. I’m currently reading Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, a gift from Sam’s grandparents, and I’m enjoying it so far! It’s nice to have time to read again now that I’m done studying.

I made a nice cake for Sam’s birthday, which I’m pretty proud of! I’ve also gotten pretty good at making homefries. I’ve also started using cassava flour for baking. I ended up with a lot of it a few months ago and I hated it because of its strong taste, but I decided to give it another chance. It’s got a nice texture, and when I mix it with rice flour, the taste is much more enjoyable. Being gluten free here has been an adventure, but it’s been almost a year now and I feel like I have it down pretty well

I’ve also been spending a lot of time with my friends. This includes both my co teachers at school, and my fellow peace corps volunteers. I’ve gotten into some really interesting political debates with my fellow teachers. I love hearing their perspectives on issues both in Rwanda and globally. It’s always good to consider other points of view, and they’ve taught me a lot about the Rwandan perspective of global issues. They’re also very into soccer, so we talk about the world cup. I’m pretty uninformed about soccer to be honest, but I’ve always loved Cristiano Ronaldo, so I agreed to join some other teachers in supporting Portugal. That being said, I’m not actually following the games at all due to my lack of connectivity and television access from my village.

One of the best parts about my Peace Corps service has been developing some of the most important friendships of my life. My cohort has lost about 20% of our volunteers for various reasons, but luckily my closest friends are all still here. From spending hours putting together an impossible puzzle to Harry Potter marathons, I’m so glad I’ve met so many amazing people. We’ve all been starting to plan meet ups for when we get back, which is exciting!!

Coming Soon

It’s crazy to think it’s July now! Our country director officially announced November 15th as the earliest date my cohort can leave, so it’s nice to have a concrete date to count down to. We have our close of service (COS) conference in August, so my cohort will officially choose what individual dates we leave.

In the next few weeks, we’ll be wrapping up teaching for the term, which officially ends the first week of August. We usually do 2 weeks of review, a week of exams, and then a week for grading.

I’m also planning one last trip to Europe at the beginning of August, so I’ll be getting ready for that too!

Well, thanks for reading! Happy fourth of July- eat some ice cream and watch some fireworks for me please 😎🍦🎆

May

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I’ve been here for a long time. That’s been my main thought process throughout this month. 20 months. Over 600 days. It’s been hard. It’s been beautiful. It’s been so transformative for me, as cliché as that sounds. It hasn’t been perfect or easy, but this is a huge turning point in my life in ways I couldn’t describe.

So, I was on a bus the other day and this guy asked me how long I’ve been here, so I told him, and he responded with, ‘You’re Rwandan now!’ But I’m not. I will always stand out here. I will always attract unwanted attention and I will never feel 100% at home. But I knew that coming in. And I’ve accepted it gradually throughout the last year and a half.

As I’ve said before, this is a generally positive blog partially because I don’t want to scare away prospective volunteers or worry my family, but also because my time here has been overwhelmingly positive. But I do want to be honest: I’ve never received harassment like I do here, and it is mind boggling how normalized it has become for me, and many of my fellow volunteers who also experience this. I worked in retail for 3 years before coming here, and nothing compares to this. The other night, some friends and I were watching old YouTube videos and we came across one called Can I Have Your Number. It’s about this relentless dude trying to get a girl’s phone number in a movie theater. I remember thinking it was funny when I saw it years ago, but now, it just makes me sad because I can relate to it. Nearly every time I get on a bus here, it’s a similar conversation where a random Rwandan guy will ask first about my marital status, then question me about why I don’t want a Rwandan husband, and finally pester me about not wanting to give out my phone number. The conversation ends with either me telling him my phone doesn’t work for Rwandan numbers or I just ignore him until he stops. And this happens so frequently it’s not even funny. I hate lying and I hate being unfriendly. I just want to have a casual conversation without feeling like I owe something.

I’m curious to see how I’ll react to harassment back at home in a few months. I feel like dealing with this has made me stronger, but also probably meaner.

Anyways, I’ve been thinking a lot about this and I’ve been trying really hard not to let it define my time in Rwanda. I’m sure ten years from now when I look back on these beautiful two years, it won’t be what I think of. But right now, it sure does make me look forward to getting home.

Despite a few of those interactions, May has been a pretty great month. Here’s what’s going on!

World Malaria Month

As I started talking about in my April post, it was world malaria month from April 25-May 25. I think it’s technically supposed to be April, but we postpone it in Rwanda to respect the genocide commemoration period.

So, most of my projects this month involved teaching about malaria. I had hoped to get involved with malaria education when I first found out I was coming to Rwanda- it’s one of the reasons I chose to come here- but I never expected to love it so much. It’s very easy for those of us in the developed world to ignore malaria, because it doesn’t affect us and seems so distant, but it is so incredibly frustrating to live in a malarious country. Malaria is completely preventable, usually treatable, and well understood in the scientific world. And yet, the mosquito is the most dangerous creature in Africa and we see malaria every single day. Last week, I was teaching fifth grade English, and one of my students fell asleep. I asked my co teacher what was wrong, and she told me the girl had malaria, but that her parents made her come to school because it isn’t serious. I was floored! One of the reasons malaria is such a big issue here is because of the attitude regarding its prevalence- many people think elimination is impossible in Rwanda and that it is just a part of life, or is God’s will. Obviously, we have to be sensitive to people’s beliefs, but I hate seeing children fall victim to ignorance of prevention methods. Obviously, there’s not much I can do to change this, but I try.

I did a whole 2 week lesson series in P5, did some grassroot soccer lessons, and went to two other schools to help with malaria education with other volunteers. I really love doing this kind of work, and it’s something I can see myself continuing with in the future.

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DSCN0589DSCN0591DSCN0598Permagarden Training

I got to attend what is probably my last Peace Corps training ever this month. It was about permagardening- making sustainable gardens out of locally found materials. These gardens are meant for families of malnourished children to help reduce the malnourishment rate. I got to bring one of my co teachers, Bertrand, and we all stayed at a nice hotel on Lake Muhazi. I like gardening a lot, and I’m disappointed that I haven’t gotten to do it yet here, so hopefully this works out! Bertrand and I are going to wait until the end of dry season to start making gardens in our community, so this will be one of my last projects in Rwanda. For the training, we actually built a garden at the hotel as an example. Pretty cool!

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Other Than That..

World Malaria month and Permagardening kept me pretty busy in May. I spent most of my time studying for the GRE, which I am taking for the second time tomorrow to see if I can boost my scores a bit, and starting to think about my life after Peace Corps. I also watched Thirteen Reasons Why, which was depressing but interesting, and most of This Is Us, which I absolutely love. I’ve also been running a ton! I’ve been trying to work my way up to 8 mile runs, which has been a struggle, but I’m making a lot of progress. Running for more than an hour at 6,000 feet is so exhausting but also incredibly rewarding. I’m looking forward to continuing my running when I get back to the States too. Running at sea level should be a breeze.

In June, I’ll finally be visiting Akagera National Park, which is Rwanda’s huge national park that I live very close to, but have never visited. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing lots of cool animals! I’m continuing to teach music, phonics for my little students, spelling for my older students, and I’m hoping to get my teacher trainings going consistently again. I’m also still spending one day a week at the health center, which is always the highlight of my week. I’ve met so many interesting things and I’ve learned so much already. Although I’m excited to get home and eat lobster in 6 months, I am trying really hard to enjoy everything I can about living here, because there are some really amazing things about Rwanda that I am so lucky to experience, and I don’t want to take anything for granted.

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