Saturday, August 1, 2009

6 months

So I just returned from umuganda, monthly community work which everyone in the community is expected to participate in. This month,each village (there are many in the sector) worked on building houses.My job involved hiking up and down a lengthy and very steep hill to fetch water to make mud bricks. Since I lack the super-human strength most Rwandans have (probably due to the fact that I haven’t been hauling firewood and carrying jerrycans since I could walk), I was given a child-size jerry can instead of the normal kind all the other women had, and yet I was still exhausted instantly, trying to conceal my wheezing and sweating as I clamoured up the hill behind women who were barefoot, had babies strapped to their backs, and were still effortlessly balancing the water on their heads. After water fetching was over (not a moment too soon),the men who were building called me over to help them, whooping it up and yelling with delight as I slung mud balls (which are deceptively heavy) up to the men on the roof to use as plaster. Again, my lack of strength resulted in half the mudballs splatting back down to the ground, which then caused even more hysterical laughter.I also tried to carry some mud bricks, one of which I dropped and broke,so needless to say I served as more of an entertainment than a real contributor, but that’s ok. At least I made them laugh. Seriously, what little self consciousness I had before coming to Rwanda has been completely eliminated by being gaped at 24/7 and putting myself in ridiculous situations.I just accept how funny I apparently I look and roll with it.
What else has been going on besides manual labor, you may ask? School ended for the holidays in early July, and we had a big party with community leaders, parents, and pretty much the whole town to mark the school anniversary since reopening.Interesting events ensued, including meeting the District Mayor, who invited me to his wedding, and being forced to stand up in front of 500 students, parents, and other important folk to express my feelings in the traditional Rwandan style (LONG), so when I was finished stumbling through it in2 minutes, there was an awkward pause, followed by an enthusiastic applause that probably was the result more of pity than of anything else.It was a great day, though, and I really felt like a part of this community.
I also got to visit my sisters, nieces, and brother in law in Scotland, which was AMAZING-I surprised my sister for her 40th, and she was really happy. The trip involved a lot of beautiful castles, good food, and of course the obligatory cheesy imitations of Scottish accents, which seem to happen often in my family even when we are NOT in Scotland. Scotland was gorgeous, and it was surprising considering the circumstances that I suffered very few (if any) negative consequences of culture shock. I also returned to Rwanda with $200 worth of drug store essentials, 2 giant bags of peanut M and Ms (heaven) and some Scottish shortbread. If you know me at all, you know the m and ms and shortbread were gone within days of returning to Rwanda. The shampoo and lotion, however, Im trying to conserve.
Another wonderful event in my packed social schedule (*sarcasm*) was my friend’s kwita izina, or naming ceremony, for his newborn son. It was here I had my first taste of sorghum beer, which looks suspiciously like broccoli soup, and is drunk communally out of a big tub with long straws. Essentially it is the Rwandan version of a keg. It was not tasty, but I didn’t want to offend so I gamely continued sipping until I had a stomachache and couldn’t participate in the spontaneous stomp-clap-body shaking dancing which took place when the baby was carried out from behind the curtain. I was also officially christened with my Rwandan name, which is exciting. I am Ingabire, which means gift. This caused more stomp-clap body shaking dancing.
After I returned from Scotland last week, a volunteer friend was coordinating a camp for orphans and vulnerable children which I decided to help out with. It turned out to be really fun and a really great experience as far as cultural insight into issues like gender equality and HIV. My group of campers were between 14 and 20, and although we had a translator, she left the room on several occasions, leaving me and my friend to talk about such sensitive topics as HIV, STIs, and teen pregnancy in Kinyarwanda. We also had to show some pretty graphic photos of STI symptoms, and discuss the nitty-gritty of female anatomy in a culture where sex is not exactly at the forefront of every day discussion. I have to say, I am pretty glad I was gone the afternoon they did the condom demonstrations.It may have been too much to bare. Another awesome Camp experience was chaperoning the big dance, where I was repeatedly booty-checked by an over-enthusiastic male camper (SO indescribably hilarious) and got to dance to songs that took me back to junior high (think Backstreet boys and so on).
So, with Scotland and then helping with the camp, I was gone from site for about a week and half, my longest absence yet, and it felt like longer since I was out of the continent for most of it. It was nice to come back to the village and be greeted by my neighbors and others who upon seeing me, threw down their work and hugged me, saying “iminsi myinshi!Twarakubgiye!” Many days! We missed you! I was given a bag of corn and some milk as a welcome home present, which in my weary post travel state almost made me tear up.
Now Im sitting outside my house (I have to write all my blogs and emails by hand) thinking how nuts it is that this experience is basically 25% complete. Time is speeding up and Ive been thinking a lot about what I want to accomplish over the next year and a half. Its so difficult to set tangible and attainable goals when I am still working on fending off unwanted suitors and just figure out my rhythm of life here, and so much of my energy has been placed on social integration. So many goals and accomplishments cant really be measured or recorded in situations like these-some of my proudest moments have just been playing soccer or running with the kids or having my basket ladies teach me how to weave.Im trying to keep in mind two oft-spoken Rwandan phrases-ii hangane, meaning be patient, and buhoro buhoro, meaning slowly slowly, and apply them to every area of my my life here.
To summarize:
Number of “Youre SO fat!” comments this week: countless
Number of Beans and Potato Meals: 2 per day
Proposals: 2 (3 if you count the ancient drunk man that hangs out in the town center)
I hope everyone is enjoying the last month of summer!