Hey hey! Here's a few things that have been happening around here in short story form...way too much going on for several blogposts (and I just worked 12 hours and I'm tired...)
Alice and Her Girl:
Today my co-worker Robert and I had the chance to travel 4 hours outside of Kigali (moto - bus - taxi to arrive, then taxi - bus - bus - moto home). Robert met Peace Corps Volunteer Tara at a Chinese restaurant in another town a few hours away and the two of them hashed out a few ideas for collaboration. Because that's the way things go around here.
A few weeks ago Tara invited us to be the presenters at a workshop focused on reading. Her main project has been revitalizing the local village library (most books seem to be locked away in this country for "safe keeping") and she wanted to invite local sector officials and teachers to learn about the value of reading, how to teach reading skills, and how to use the library. It was a great event that really shows how much of an impact Peace Corps has on their villages and how collaboration across US Gov agencies is beneficial for all.
Between my first and second presentations, I went outside the sector office where the workshop was held and just waved at people and wandered around. Eventually, I stumbled upon Alice sitting in the grass, leaning back in obvious pain. Alice is a primary school teacher in a rural area and she is very pregnant. She had been a great addition to my morning session, in fact, she was one of the few teachers with an english level to even understand me. I walked up to her and offered her my water, asking if she was ok.
"I was labor last night and slept in the health center. But this morning it stop and I had to come here because the teachers were coming to us. We need to have more more more lessons."
"What?? You were in labor last night??? You are 9 months pregnant and came to this workshop? WHERE IS THE HEALTH CENTER?" I started having visions of delivering a baby on the concrete sector office floor.
"You are good teacher, you know teaching. Please come back to have more more lessons."
"Alice, where is the health center? Thank you for coming here, but we need to make sure you and baby are ok!"
"Oh, just over the hill. I fine. Thanks for water."
"Is the baby a boy or girl?"
"A girl. I have 3 already. I mean 2. I have 2, this is 3. How many children do you have?"
I sank a little bit inside. I hate this question. To a Rwandan, me being almost 30, single, and childless is practically a crime. At the least I am a shame to my family. "I have no children...yet."
And then I walked away. Alice, 9 months pregnant, laboring overnight in the village health center, chose to come to the workshop because she knew foreign teachers were coming. When she didn't feel well, she went to sit in the grass outside. Alice has no cell phone. If things got serious, I assume we would get someone to drive her to the health center. Her determination and grit amazed me. My co-worker and I mused on the way home, "She came from the health center just to listen to us!" But that is the reality of rural Sub-Saharan Africa. Any chance to learn new skills, be given new activities as a teacher, or be exposed to new ideas is gold - because it doesn't happen often. I am encouraged by Alice not to have excuses when it comes to my own development. And the district of Muhanga will have a new baby girl very soon, with a rockstar mama.
International Pee Pee and Saving My Soul:
Peace Corps Tara was awesome enough to arrange a driver for Robert and I the 1.5 hour ride on a dirt road to the closest town where we could catch a bus to Kigali. (She literally lives in the middle of nowhere). Our driver's name was Thomas (Toe-mahs), he was young, spoke no english, and was only 15 minutes late which is practically early in Rwandan-time. We had a super early start from Kigali, and had stopped for tea on the way because we got to the city early (gosh darn American-time). Thus, while swerving along the mountain-side dirt road, natured called. "Do you think I should tell him to stop, what do we say?" Robert wondered. I leaned toward Thomas and said in my most grown-up ESL teacher voice, "Stop, please? He has to go pee-pee," pointing at Robert.
Thomas started howling laughing. "Pee-pee! hahahahahaha. You pee-pee!" He promptly pulled the car over and Robert hopped out. When everything was right in the world again and we were all in the car rattling our way toward our destination, we kept laughing. "How did you know to say that??" Robert asked me. "'Pee-pee' is international," I said, "And I used to teach pre-school. Pee-pee always works." What a great morning laugh for all of us.
When we met Thomas again several hours later after our workshop, we climbed into the car and were greeted with the same kinyarwanda church music we had listened to in the morning. I didn't even notice it, but Robert exclaimed, "Not this song again!" I laughed and we continued to zoom along the road in quietness until we almost reached the town where we would part ways. As we approached the town, Thomas pulled out a DVD out of his bag. On the cover is the picture of a Seventh Day Adventist choir (including him) and a large Jesus figure photoshopped coming out of the clouds above the choir - seeming to look down upon them in favor.
"I...sing...take...there America!" he said and pointed out across the abyss to "America".
Robert and I exclaimed how great it is that he sings, he didn't understand a word of it but he grinned so proudly, and then he parked at the bus station and we went to leave the car. "Is this for us?" I asked Robert. "I don't think so..." he said. I laid the DVD back on the seat and went to leave. Then Thomas yelled out, "You no??" seeming very disappointed. "For me?" I gestured. "Yes, America need."
And that is how I got proselytized to by a Rwandan village car driver. And you know what....I think he's right. America does need something.
Arabic-African Booty Alert:
Last week I was in Sudan, (long post to come - short version, It was fab!). On one of the days we didn't have to work, the other Fellows and I ventured out into the heat and dust to the National Museum of Sudan. The museum is heralded on Trip Advisor as "the top museum in Sudan!" which is quite hilarious because it might be the ONLY museum in Sudan. But I digress.
For a huge sum of 15 American cents, we each got to see old relics from the Eqyptian times, ancient jewelry and caskets of mummies and carvings. It was cool. I don't know hardly enough about that period of history - the ancient times when Sudan was filled with wonder. As I walked around the museum's first floor, eyeing the baubles and touching the stone carvings, a female museum worker approached me. "You have Arabic roots?" she said. I was so confused. "Um...no. I have red hair and blue eyes...I have European roots." "You no have African roots? she pressed on, changing the possible location of my ancestry. "No, I am very white. I think I am just American." She sighed, obviously disappointed, and I just kept walking around looking at the artifacts.
Several minutes later I approached a stone carving of a woman. Life size, round and curvy, her shadow was thrown against a purple wall behind her. I loved the shadow and took out my phone to take a photo of her. While I was taking the photo, the same worker lady came up to me. "See! See! This one! This is why you have Arabic African roots. You have our body. You body so good like her." pointing to the statue.
I chuckled whole-heartedly and finally understood her. This lady spends all her days looking at these artifacts and must know them by heart. When she saw me...a round, curvy white girl...she assumed since I had a body like the statue that I must come from the same part of the world.
"Thanks, girl. I'll take that as a compliment." I shook her hand, chuckled some more, and walked away.
Just a little slice of what has been going on in Africa! So many hilarious, meaningful, and interesting interactions.
More to come.
walk slow. xoxo.