Some of the other Fulbrighters and I felt a little itchy in our respective home bases and ventured out West to Musanze and Gisenyi last weekend. Olivia and I are still waiting to start classes after several postponements and the other two, Bethany and Mike, wanted to get out of congested Kigali for a breather.  We also met one of the other Fulbrighters, Megan, who teaches English at a university near Musanze. She has been in Rwanda since January and has been a godsend.  She hopes to extend her contract here, giving all of us who are still settling some hope for the coming months. We may very well be in danger of falling in love with this mystical country, but who knows what lies ahead exactly?

The Western region is filled with dramatic upheavals of fields, cloud-topped volcanoes, winding roads and very chilly weather. Our only wish was to enjoy a beach party on the sands of Lake Kivu and work on our tans the next day.  We achieved our goals famously (apparently a couple muzungus in swim trunks and bikinis can draw a gawking crowd).

Our Token Male/Big Brother at the Beach with His New Congolese Friend

But echoing the climatic scenery, the area was full of unease. At night and just a couple of kilometers away, the crest of the volcano burned dimly red through its cloud cover. Lake Kivu, itself, is not only famous for its beauty but is infamous a huge asphyxiating Carbon Dioxide bubble that lies in its depths. And not to exclude human disasters, Gisenyi abuts Goma, divided by a turbulent political boundary with the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Despite all these anxiety-inducing potential disasters, many NGO’s and visitors continue to feast their eyes on the fantastic terrain. One NGO organizer that I spoke to related the atmosphere of the area as consistently bubbling with political and natural tensions, allowing many people to continue on with their daily work with few disturbances. I was only able to note the superficial tension during my brief weekend there but that distinct feeling just added to the majesty of the place. The feeling reminded me of the cultural personalities of some of the places/people that I’ve already met: an easily observed beautiful or friendly surface with a well-protected and isolated depth, shrouding convictions that sometimes bubble to the surface.

Click to get the full panoramic view!

Mind you, I am not trying to come from a place of criticism, but of misunderstanding. I am constantly reminded in this place of how little I really know. Rwanda has many more lessons to teach me in the coming months.

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Co-authored with my fellow Fulbrighter, Olivia.

  • Spa water– Like any good international travelers, Olivia and I have been filtering our water with our handy ceramic filter. Unfortunately, such filters also have a tendency to leave our mouths feeling rather chalky. We are lucky, however, to live in an area that has a surplus of cheap vegetables. To stop the chalk, we put some cucumber slices in our water bottles and voila! The chalk vanishes. Plus, it reminds us of expensive living and spas. We are fancy gals after all.
  • Running water– When water runs from the faucets, rejoice with the purist, gleeful laughter and a couple “Alxumulilays” or “Alleluias”.
  • African Buffet– For each traditional lunch buffet, prepare to create Mt. Kigali on your plate. You are only allowed one trip per price of admission (1500 RWF or about $2.50)
  • Deux Verres– When invited out for a coke or beer, be prepared to drink two. Disregard your overfull stomach.
  • Acceptable Attire– The acceptable attire for life as a pseudo-camper/out of the closet is as follows: oversized t-shirts, Chacos or shower shoes, sport watches, cargo pants, and Buffs. All around, we make for an attractive pair.
  • Power Outages– A lack of electiricity makes for many romantic candle-lit dinners.
  • Bug Nets– We always wanted those princess canopies when we were younger and now we put them up every night.
  • Dish Washing– Are you sure it’s not already clean?
  • Red Wine– A cup a night, we don’t sleep as light. (Best boxed, three weeks old and mixed with apple concentrate)
  • Weight Gain– Colleagues act as a critical mirror and remind you that if you continue at this rate, friends and family won’t recognize you upon your return home.

Olivia and I’s first meal in our new kitchen: pseudo-eggplant parmesan and boxed red wine

Rwanda is sometimes called the “Land Where God Lives”. But nothing has made that more evident than my living situation for the next 9 months. Olivia (my English Teaching partner-in-crime) and I live in a compound-like convent, one of many in the country. The five nuns (Verena, Francoise, Agnes, Micherand and Drosara) run an old folks home and small farm in the convent/compound. Their generosity has known few bounds in welcoming us to Kibungo. They have invited us for dinner our first few nights here (when our gas stove and refrigerator had still not arrived); have helped us prod our sponsors at INATEK for proper furniture and other living accoutrements; and have given us fresh milk and eggs from the farm. Now that our kitchen is all set up with a fridge, gas burners and electric kettle, Olivia and I have enjoyed cooking beans, peanut sauce, rice, steamed vegetables and several other dishes in the evenings. Cooking here as become a great way to unwind at the end of the day, but the more intensive practice may lose some of its romantic luster as the months pass. In general, moving in to our new home has taken some time as we slowly accumulate home goods from our sponsors. We are also adjusting to the wonderful world of bucket baths, spotty electricity and very rarely running water, but that’s all a part of the adventure.

A welcome present from Bernadette, a local girl who helps us with cleaning.

All the nuns speak a fair amount of French, so communicating with them hasn’t been terribly difficult compared to the rest of Kibungo. The residents of Kibungo seem to only speak the ever challenging (one of the top 5 hardest languages in the world) Ikinyarwanda. Olivia and I’s futile efforts to communicate in French or English in town have made the need to at least learn some of the basic mouth gymnastics of Ikinyarwanda. Most of the letters and single letter sounds are similar to English or French, however, the challenge comes with different letter combinations. For example, Rwanda is actually sounds like “Rgwanda” in Ikinyarwanda because of the “Rw” letter combination.

Our cozy living room

Classes at INATEK (no, I haven’t destroyed a wayward copy machine or fileted a fish on my desk…yet) have been postponed a week to accommodate some administrative mishaps (no director for the Language Center or the promised additional full-time English Teacher). My classes officially start on Monday, however, this weekend I plan to sit in my colleague’s English classes over the weekend. INATEK has both weekend and night classes to accommodate their students with jobs during the week. The Weekend Program is particularly popular and each of my colleagues’ classes may have as many as 150 students. Luckily, I will teach a rapid-fire Day Program with only 50 to 70 students. I’m only slightly terrified.

A hillside view near Kibungo

Wiersema.David

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