Feb 9, 2016

5 month switch up.

The story is long and dramatic. But the blog post won't be. 

Last week, at the 5 month, half-way point of my fellowship, I was granted funding and permission to move from the goat field to the city. Several of my superiors masterminded and worked to grant me this funding and approval. I am thankful for the kindness and understanding of my bosses, who understood that my situation was unique in its crappyness, but also recognized my true desire to be here and keep going. 

Mushu and I have a one bedroom apartment in a wonderful and convenient part of town. I have a kitchen. I have tile floors. I have a hot water heater, a flushing toilet, and electricity 95% of the day. 

I'm so pleased, and relieved, and guilty. I feel so guilty for being happy having creature comforts. 

But for now, I am resting in my bedroom. Safe, comfortable, and surrounded by conveniences that make me feel better prepared to do my job. 

Kibungo will be one of those things that I am really, truly glad it happened. 
And really, truly glad it's over. 

Photos of moving day:  

the boys and mushu having a final pow-wow

goodbye, goat boy! we love you! 

the last ear scratch 

Mushu throwing a fit 

We both will miss our yard! 


best friends saying goodbye

Cheers to 5 more months of a fellowship in Rwanda, without evacuations and commuting!

walk slow. xoxo.

Feb 5, 2016

Little Pen Pals: A Teacher Collaboration Story.

I know some awesome teachers. 

One of those incredible teachers lives in New York and spends her days teaching little minds. (A job I envy! My pre-school assistant days many years ago were fabulous.) 

My friend Jennie and I decided to have a pen-pal program with her little people and my big people to give American students and Rwandan students a chance to ask each other questions and create a platform for curiosity and understanding. Her school's culture theme this year is Africa and lucky us...I live in Africa. 

Around Christmas I received my first batch of letters from the little souls, describing their Christmas holiday traditions ("We eat a big dinner" and "We have a Christmas tree with lights") and asking questions of my students ("Do you celebrate Fourth of July?") The hand written letters accompanied by drawings are sweet and show my friend's dedicated teaching. 

As things would have it, nothing in Africa really goes as planned. The english club I helped to start at my university is defunct (nothing can be sustained if students don't care about it themselves) and I knew any random students I could muster up would not have the english skill set to read questions and reply. So I wrote back myself. 

Last week the students received a care package containing a Rwandan flag and a traditional cloth doll. I answered their questions, ("We don't celebrate American Independence Day, but we have our own rwandan national holidays, etc.") Perhaps these items, a show and tell from Africa, could be more sincere of an exchange than letters from students? I don't know, but it was the best I could do in my weird educational arena here in Rwanda. 

Seeing photos of the little dudes playing in New York with a doll I bought at a market in Kigali made my heart all warm and squishy. Seeing the Rwandan flag hoisted by an American preschooler made me feel that perhaps if we start international exchanges early, than we can create a generation of curious and open souls, and combat misunderstanding of Africa in general, (that it is a poor and/or dangerous place - which is in general not true). 

One of the lesser discussed benefits of fellowships like mine is the exchange that happens with people back home. That perhaps Americans and educators/students in America, more specifically, can benefit just as directly from my being in Rwanda as a Rwandan student or educator. There are benefits on both sides of the ocean. 

I love knowing so many great teachers around the world. Collaboration is one of the best ways to be a successful educator; no one can be great at this job alone. We need each other for facilitation of ideas, support, and implementation of activities like this one, however small. I believe teaching to be an incredibly noble (and often thankless or misunderstood) profession, one that extends back into my family for generations. This little activity gave me great satisfaction and joy. As I hope it did for our little friends in New York! 

Thanks for playing teacher with me, Jennie. You da best. 

walk slow. xoxo. 

Feb 3, 2016

teachers training teachers.

Last weekend I had the pleasure of joining my fellow fellow at a training about an hour outside Kigali. He asked me to present on "teaching without materials" and didn't let me know much else about the audience except that they were mostly primary school teachers from rural areas. 

I prepared a lesson on using newspapers as an authentic material, but then on the drive out to the training, changed my mind and presented activities that can be done using only paper. What made this training cool was that we had 2 Fellows, 2 Peace Corps Volunteers from the area, and a Fulbright Professor in attendance. This collaboration was awesome. I loved seeing the PCV's presentation and hearing the Fulbright's perspective on our presentations, since she is so seasoned and wise. Having 3 English Language outreach programs working together in one room was dynamic! 

There were 30 teachers in attendance and we spent 5 hours getting to the nitty gritty of competency-based lessons, teaching with no materials, and using active lessons in the classroom. Teaching teachers is harder than I thought. Not only are there cultural barriers and language barriers, but also motivation barriers. 

I have found in my life abroad, that many times teachers have not actually chosen their profession, but that they were sent down the education path because of lower test scores. Test low on the national high school exam, but high enough to get into college and you automatically major in Education (or English). (Same in China). This means that while there is heart, and purpose, and most of the time - desire, there might not be the pedagogy or understanding of what a teacher's role actually is. If you are a teacher because that's just the lot in life given to you, where does the drive to find your role come from? A teacher's role is not to write notes on the board for students to copy. A teacher's role is to build skills in their students, to open their eyes to new ways of doing life, and to teach students how to think. Introducing these concepts into classrooms abroad can be entertaining at best and daunting at worst. 

But it's all in a days work. 

Luckily, the teachers at this training were energetic and interested. They participated with earnest and I truly think the day was successful. 

Enter the classroom with me....

our fearless leader 

Add caption

who's that girl? 

demonstrating activities with only paper! 

inside a nursery classroom 

lunch is provided for all attendees

lunch line

using a mattress corner as an eraser! amazing! 

walk slow. xoxo. 

Jan 27, 2016

No TV, No Problem.

Last week I had the chance to assist my friend in her Women's Leadership course that is affiliated with the upcoming American Corner in Kigali.

I love when I get to visit with the women in the class. They are politicians, journalists, businesswomen, teachers, and refugees. They are smart, classy, open-minded, and dress like they are walking a cat walk. They bleed fun and interesting into the classroom.

We sat in small groups and had the ladies interview the visiting teachers. It was during these interviews that one of the most hilarious cross-cultural discussions of my entire life abroad occurred...Read and laugh and ponder...

Student: Because you are white and with your size you could be married in 2 months here.
Me: I don't want to marry someone because I am white, I want to marry someone because we are a good team. I can't use my color as an advantage that is crazy.
Student: But with your size! You need an African man!
Me: I know, my two ex-boyfriends are African.
Me: But...why about my size? Why do African men like big women?
Student: Because they don't have TV!
Me: ... *puzzled face*
Student: They don't know skinny girls exist!

* exploding laughter on both sides *

Well. That's settled.

(And quite deep if you think about it...lack of exposure to television/media makes a more realistic ideal woman within society...hmm).

walk slow. xoxo.

Jan 16, 2016

Lipstick: An Ode.

In the 9th grade I asked my mom if I could start wearing makeup. Some girls had started wearing mascara and I was jealous. I wanted a painted face, too. 

Because my mom rocked at momhood, she came up with a plan to satisfy me without letting my youth be cast aside...I got to pick out my very own  Mary Kay lipstick from her catalog. My mom's Mary Kay lady was the 8th grade home-economics teacher in our town. I was told I could pick out any shade I wanted and we would call my former teacher to make an order. 

Dusty Rose was the winner. A soft - yet bright enough for my still evolving personality - pink. 

I remember when my mom gave me my very own black bullet of Dusty Rose. I had waited so very eagerly for the order to arrive and when it did, it symbolized something very meaningful to me - I was a woman. I could paint my lips pink. 

And that I would do. Every morning at the back of the bus stop where I would hide until it was time to climb onto the school bus. I thought the kids at the bus stop were dumb, so I would stay in the back by the bike racks until it was time to go. I would pull my Dusty Rose out of my backpack, proof that my mom loved me and I was indeed a fabulous 13 year old lady, and smoosh it all over my lips in a clown-like fashion. 

My lipstick made me happy. 

It still does. 

One of the saddest parts of coming to Africa was that I left most of my makeup at home. (Go ahead and judge me, haha). I chopped off my hair, switched to wearing glasses, and only brought the "essentials" of my collection. This has made me feel a bit.....dowdy.

So, when my sister asked what I want for Christmas this year I went online to see what lipstick would make me feel better. A few weeks later, my co-worker returned from her Christmas holiday in the States with my sister's package...Mac Red Lipstick. (thanks, Jennifer!) 

Wearing this vibrant orange-red on my lips just makes me feel better. It's like I'm looking at the troubles around me and saying, "I still care enough to bring my best, most colorful self." Last week when I returned home to find that my water tank had run dry, I went to my cabinet, pulled out my lipstick, painted my lips and sat on my couch and sulked. A few hours later, I took off my lipstick and went to bed. It's a long-standing habit of painting my lips as a mechanism for "making up" for a negative feeling or experience. It's ironic and humorous. 

I in no way think a woman should paint her face. Instead, I find that it is one of the benefits of being a woman - I can choose to manipulate my natural looks as a form of expression. Even if that expression is, "I haven't showered in 5 days, here are my hot pink lips." 

A few days ago I found the connection between 13 year old Jessica applying Dusty Rose at the bus stop and 29 year old Jessica applying Mac Red in rural Rwanda. Some habits don't go away as we age or change. I'm dealing with African struggles the best I can...and sometimes the best I can means putting on lipstick and sitting alone. 

Bring it on, Africa difficulties...I've got my best, brightest, most long-standing ammunition. 

no shower, no problem. 

walk slow. xoxo. 

Jan 15, 2016

Uganda: The Trip

You know you are truly alive when you’re living among lions.” 
-Karen Blixon, author of Out of Africa

Uganda itself was a wonderful change from Rwanda. I have begun a love affair with Rwanda, but one cannot deny that living in its political landscape and only 21 years post-genocide is incredibly heavy. Getting away is necessary to come back and love it again. 

I initially wasn't too thrilled to only be crossing the northern border into Uganda - I had hopes of South Africa or Dubai to get really far away from our tiny landlocked country. When discussing with my friend, though, we decided Uganda was the best bet because of finances and flight schedules. What a great decision it ended up being! While similar in terrain, Uganda is vastly different in society and culture. 

Because of their interesting historical ties to each other and different paths towards a similar goal, Ugandans and Rwandans have very differing opinions of each other. When in Uganda, when i told people that I live in Rwanda the response was a downtrodden face of pity usually accompanied with an, "ohh," sound. When pressed further they said something along the lines of, "Rwanda is opp-ress-ed/stifled/backward/etc." When I returned to Rwanda and told people I had been in Uganda they either had family in Uganda or came from Uganda (historically huge diaspora re-entry population post-genocide) and wanted to know where I had visited, or they reacted with, "Uganda is so messy/crazy/chaotic,etc." 

And you know what, both are right. 

For an expat, being in Uganda was like a breathe of fresh air. There is street food (illegal in Rwanda), there is music on the streets, people laugh at everything (Rwandans are understandably stoic), moto taxis don't have helmets and can carry two people, it was ALIVE. This freedom also brings more worries of petty crime and social unrest - but that is the cost of freedom of expression. In Rwanda, I don't worry about petty crime or unrest - but that is because any opposition to the way of the land is...taken care of. We are under control, quit literally. This is the cost of rapid development. 

My take away from Uganda was that I should never judge a country by its proximity. Two different lands can exist side by side. Also, that a traveler should take note to listen to the people where he/she is traveling and get their perspectives - though taken with a grain of salt understanding historical and political leanings. It was all so interesting. Uganda is beautiful and vibrant. Uganda is friendly and delicious. Uganda is messy and loud and chaotic and tumultuous. 

I loved it. If given the chance...GO!

Have some pics...

Lake Victoria 

my fabulous travel buddy

pork for sale 

Where the first Tarzan was filmed 

Lake Victoria 

fish eaten with our hands - delish! 


a little Christmas spirit 

at the equator 

meat on a stick sold to cars 

where Lake Victoria and the Nile River meet 

Jinja Town 

Street food!! A travelers dream!
I never thought I would be spending Christmas with another redhead in Uganda. But life is full of surprises! 

walk slow. xoxo.

Jan 5, 2016

Uganda: The Safari.

You know those, "How did I get here," moments? 

The times in your life when you pause to take stock of the scene around you and narrate your life to yourself so that you truly believe that it is you in that moment? 

I had several of those moments while on safari in Uganda. I was in what seemed to be a constant narration of my life..."Jessica from homogenous, suburban Florida who grew up at swim lessons and summer camp is now taking photos of hippos in Uganda and sleeping in a tent surrounded by warthogs..." 

If you ever find yourself in Uganda and want to take a budget safari, I highly recommend Red Chilli Tours. We had a great experience traveling from their home base in Kampala to Queen Elizabeth National Park - 6 hours away! (ugh). Our safari companions were from all over the world and were so much fun, the tents we slept in at the park were comfy and cute, and the animals did not disappoint. 

Seeing giant living things (that could crush you) wandering around their natural, preserved habitat is humbling. Several times I thought to myself, "It's just little us in this little car and that elephant is in charge." It was so great to have an experience where animals were in their total glory. I kept thinking how the earth is so complex, how the circle of life *cue Lion King reference* is happening all day every day. The world works in such harmony of life and death and existence. The animal world shows us that. 

We saw a pride of lions from far away, several elephants, buffalo, antelope, hippos, tons of birds, flamingos, warthogs, and crocodiles. 

Come on safari with me....enjoy the pics...

our safari tent! couldn't sleep because warthogs wandered around at night. 

after safari Nile Special beer on the Nile River!

elephant selfie

super zoom - super cool. 

crater lake

our international crew: holland, farrow islands, uganda, america, china, germany, denmark...

"Africa gives you the knowledge that man is a small creature, among other creatures, in a large landscape." - Doris Lessing

walk slow. xoxo.