Saturday, September 28, 2013

Pen Pals Needed

I checked with the head mistress and I have the green light to set up pen pals if I can find English or French speakers willing to communicate with a girl from the school.  Since my role here is to help the students improve their English, obviously I'd like to find lots of English-speaking pen pals, but the students also study French so they could benefit from writing to my French-speaking friends. 
Since getting the green light, I've also made some progress on the pen pal list and I currently have a list of 21 girls who would like to have a pen pal.  Like I wrote in an earlier post, I've stressed to them that I would not be setting up sponsorships between them and people in America so they are not to ask for money.  It's strictly to communicate with someone in another country so they can learn about that country and practice a foreign language and also you can learn more about the life of a Rwandan.
So far I have two family members who are willing to be pen pals, which means I still need at least 19 pen pals.  If you want to be one, can you post a comment here or send me an email with your interest and your preferred method of contact? 
 As some of you might know, when pen pals are arranged through a sponsorship organization, usually the Americans send the letters to the organization, which then distributes them to the children and when the children write, the letters go through the organization also so neither party has the other's address or email address. Here that can work for a little while because I can receive your letters and send the girl's without revealing mailing addresses, but a lot of the girls on the pen pal list are in senior 3, which means most of them will be transferred to a new school in January.
Do you want to communicate through mail, which means I could give you a student's home address (for when she is on vacation in November and December) and give the student your address?   Would you prefer email?  Skype?  Do you prefer to not be a pen pal unless your contact info remains hidden.  If that is the case, I can look for a student in senior 1, 2, 4, or 5, because he or she will be here next year and I can be the middle woman while I'm here.
On behalf of the students, thank you!

Snapshots of Butare

No photo depiction of Butare would be complete without many pictures of the various markets at which Rita and I shop.  We spend the bulk of our shopping time at a four-story market: produce and grains are on the ground floor; backpacks, mattresses, and home supplies on second floor; various shops on the third floor; and used clothing and shoes on the top floor.  Today I shopped on the second floor to replace the hand mixer of Rita's that I burned out while making butter and then we moved to the ground floor for our week's supply of produce.  There are three pictures in this post from the indoor/outdoor market.
When we need products like rice, beans, oil, sugar, flour, and toilet paper, we go to a small store that is owned by the parents of one of the students at the school.  Somewhere in this post (putting pictures where I want them is more difficult with than it was in the past) is a photo of two of the French family's children in this little store.  On this day, Vianney, the one in the chair, scored a piece of candy from the owner.  You can see how small it is and how the shelves are loaded with things.  We stand at the counter and tell the worker what we want and they bring it to the counter for us.  There is no negotiating at this store (negotiating is for the outdoor market), but we've been told they ask a fair price.  Below is a picture of the spread from our trip to the market this afternoon.  Check out how huge the zucchini is in the background.  I've never seen a small one here so we finally broke down and bought one so I can cook with it and harvest some seeds for the garden. 
So that's the gist of our market experience.  Now to other views from the city, beginning with the roads, continuing with the Dr. Seuss trees, and ending with the Catholic cathedral.  The main road is asphalted and is in good condition.  I forgot to take a close up of the drainage ditches or trenches that run alongside every road here, but I was so intrigued by them when I first arrived.  Rwanda may not have the same infrastructure as the US or Europe, but I think they do a good job with the ditches.  You can see one trench in the picture with the woman sitting on the back of a bike.  Some of the secondary roads have cobblestone with dirt in between the stones and sidewalks made of bricks or stones also.  These roads and sidewalks are in good enough condition that I can walk by the light of the moon without fear of tripping over a stone or falling into a hole where a brick is missing.  The other secondary roads are dirt and with the start of the rainy season a week or two ago, these roads are in pretty bad shape.  Ruts form when cars drive on them when they are muddy and that makes walking at night more treacherous.  It's a good thing there are lights on most cell phones in case I find myself without my headlamp.  [Let me just say for the mothers out there, especially my mother, that when I walk at night, I am with other people.  And besides, Butare is safer than some cities I've been to or worked in in the United States.  To support my opinion, let me include a passage from the Bradt guidebook to Rwanda, "As a lone female traveller, I have experienced far less hassle and anxiety in Rwanda during my several visits than I have in many other countries. ... In Kigali (more dangerous that Butare in my opinion) I've spent a lot of time walking both in and outside the city centre and never felt threatened."]  In the two road pictures above, the top one is a cobblestone road that runs off the main road between the school and downtown and the second one is a red dirt road on the way to the cathedral.  Check out the bicycle taxi.  He probably uses his bicycle to take huge sacks of produce to the market and then rides people around.  That is one form of public transportation I don't plan to utilize. 

Now to the trees and the cathedral.  Here is one picture of a typical tree in Rwanda.  It is so weird to me; I am always reminded of something I would see in a Dr. Seuss book.  The green is at the end of the branches and even the green part is shaped like Medusa's hair.

The cathedral was built in the 1930s and it is the largest cathedral in the country.  I once asked a Rwandan what is the name of the cathedral, but he said he didn't know.  Everyone just calls it the cathedral, including the guidebook I referenced above.  The outside is beautiful, but the inside is quite simple, especially the sanctuary/altar area.  The church is shaped like a T so people can sit on three sides of the altar when the church is packed.  

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Great Shows of Hospitality and a Garden

One of the best words to describe my time in Rwanda thus far is "hospitality.The Rwandans and the ex-patriots I know are so hospitable towards me and Rita.  Here is what the past week looked like when it came to hospitality:
  • Tuesday: dinner with the religious sisters who live next door to us.  I
    Just 5 of 9 kids at the ex-patriot dinners
    told them they killed the fatted calf for us because they had baked fish (probably not common, at least not for Rita and me), potatoes, vegetables, and cake.  We joined them at 7 pm and didn't leave until close to 10 pm. 
  • Thursday: the weekly dinner with the French Fidesco family, an Australian family, and an American family.  This time it was at the American family's home and the mom, Christine, made vegetarian chili, cornbread, and cookies.  Yum!  Sometimes we ate by candle and flashlight because there was a lightening storm and the power kept going out.
  • Friday: an amazing dinner at the French family's house.  They had invited another ex-patriot, a British name named Nick, and Rita and I to dinner.  Nick brought Camembert cheese and wine, Segolene and Ronan brought out French pate and fish for dinner, and then it was all followed with candied praline cookies and Ile Flottante, a French dessert that translates into "Floating Island."  Everything was delicious and the conversation was good too.  We spoke about gardening and what seeds or foods are available in Rwanda and where we can find lentils and garbanzo beans (in Kigali, 2 1/4 hours away).
  • Saturday: I was invited over to the formation house for the Misioneros de las Corazones Sagradas (Missionaries of
    Three of the four kids in the French family:
    Louisia, Thibaut, and Vianney
    the Sacred Hearts), which is across the street from the school, to talk to Fr. Andre.  I didn't know what for, but it turns out he wants me to teach the novices (men who are in their second and third year of pursuing the priesthood) English about one time a week.  No problem.  Since I was there close to dinner time, he invited me to stay for dinner and said I could invite Rita.  So we joined the two priests and ~ 16 novices for dinner.  There was a lot of laughter among the novices as they egged each other to speak English, which wasn't an easy feat since there were Cameroonians, Congolese, and Rwandans.  Fr. Andre brought out Spanish cheese and chocolate and candy.  They also killed the fatted calf.  Afterwards, one of the novices showed us how to make yogurt.
  • Today (Sunday): after a morning Mass, the head mistress, Sr. Goretti, invited Rita and me over for lunch.  We got to eat meat (yay!), cassava for the first time (not my favorite), and banana beer (better than normal beer in my opinion, almost like wine and juice mixed together).  Afterwards Sr. Goretti, Rita, and I faced off in two games of Uno.
 As this week illustrates, the Rwandan people and the foreigners who band together love welcoming people into their homes.  This is a very social country and since I'm a social person who loves quality time with others, my love and energy tanks are often filled up.

Now switch to the garden.  Rita and I were busy bees yesterday and we succeeded in forming rows and  planting almost all of the seeds we plan to put into the ground.  Because we only had a hand spade and no shovel, I dug the trenches between the rows with my hands (the ground had been broken up and aerated the week before by men from the school) and Rita used the spade to move the cow fertilizer around into the trenches.  Once the rows were made, we got to work planting red onions, carrots, lettuce, parsley, cucumber, and cabbage.  I didn't take a picture of it yet, but I will soon.  We still have to plant corn, zucchini, and cilantro.

It's harder than it looks!  Notice the red clay soil.
I'm sure it was quite an experience for the girls who saw us working in the garden because it's not so normal for white people to do it when there are people who will do the work for only $1.  One of the teachers told me earlier in the week that we could pay a man to plant the seeds for us, but when I told him that we wanted to do it, he asked why we would do it when there are men who will do the work for hardly anything.  I wanted the satisfaction of doing the work with my own hands and it was a good amount of work. It took more than two hours of work and I have some pink skin to show for it, but it felt good to work in the garden.  I even transported water to our plot by putting a big bucket of water on my head like the African women.  I'm sure the girls who saw that thought I was crazy, but when in Rwanda, do as the Rwandans do, right? 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Videos from the School on YouTube

Since I arrived a little more than a month ago, I've been taking videos of the students as they dance and drum for special occasions at the school.  I put some of the videos from the 57th anniversary party of the school's founding up on YouTube, as well as a photo and video slideshow from the party I created for the school.  The slideshow also has pictures of the school property so you can see more of where I work.  If you watch the slideshow, you'll see all the videos that are posted.  If you don't want to look at the slideshow, you can watch the shorter videos individually.  Enjoy!  I know I do when I watch the girls perform.

Traditional Dance:;;;

Sunday, September 15, 2013

My House

I've been in Rwanda for close to a month now (I can't believe it's been that long already) so it's about time I start to show you pictures of where I live and work.  I won't include pictures of the school just yet because I'm finishing up a slideshow with pictures and videos from the party for the 57th anniversary of the school's founding and once it's done, I'll put it on YouTube and include the link on the blog.  So for now, here is my house.

The outside of the house from the north side.  Sisters live through the door at the end of the sidewalk on the left.
The view from the kitchen doorway.  You can see the bedroom doors; the left one leads to my room.
The view from the front door, which is unseen on my left
My room with my princess/tent bed.  Some nights I feel like I'm camping, complete with my headlamp to read with the light out.  To the left is my cabinet for clothes and valuable possessions.  To the right are two selves on the floor for books.

This shows part of what I call my "wall of joy."  A few days ago I was feeling a little low after a prayer group in Kinyarwanda and French and I found myself longing for people and groups that are comfortable and that I'm close to.  So I started putting photos of you all on my wall (the project isn't finished) and now it's my wall of joy.  I stand looking at the pictures and I remember all the good times I had with you and the love we share.  It makes me joyful.

This is the sink room, as you can see.  The door leads to Rita's room.

Jumping to the other side of the house, here is our kitchen.  The silver thing on the left is our water filter.  We boil, let it cool, and then filter.  We have two stoves, one gas and the other electric, but only the top coil works in the oven.  The fridge is smaller than those in the States and it's behind me.

Here is our humble bathroom.  Toilet in the first door on the left and shower in the background on the left.  No hot water.  I've started taking cold showers instead of heating up water and doing the sponge bath thing.  The first dousing with cold water is terrible, but after turning it off and soaping up, the second dousing isn't bad.

Lastly, the browner, elevated soil is my future garden.  I still have to create the rows.  Seeds should go in this week now that it rains almost every day, usually at night.  The wall to the left is the chapel. 
As you can see from the pictures, the house is quite nice.  The bathroom reminds me of a bathroom that would be found in a barn or camp building, but it works.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Life in Butare, Especially the Food

Butare (officially Huye but still called Butare by most people) is a relatively small town with one main, asphalt road.  I live along the main road, which you will see if you Google map "ecole notre dame de la providence, butare, rwanda."  I live in the stem of the building shaped like a P.  As you head south along the Rue de Kigali (I only know it's called that because of Google maps), you will see the sports stadium that is currently being rebuilt, the post office, and the Avenue du Commerce, which is where the four-story market is.  The walk to the market takes about 18 minutes.  Heading in the opposite direction on the main road, there is a Catholic parish that is less than 5 minutes away from the school, the Iglese St. Therese.  There are two Masses a day, 6:30 am in Kinyarwanda and 5:30 pm in French.  I mostly go to the one in French because it's later in the day and I know the Mass responses in French.  There is an English Mass at 6 am on Tuesdays just across the street from my house, but I haven't adopted the Rwandan hours for sleeping yet.  The girls get up at 5:20 and go to bed at 9, which is more in keeping with the daylight hours.

People have been asking about my shopping experiences and the food I eat here so I will elaborate.  I visited the market first with the mom from the Fidesco family in town, then with the local woman who works at my house in the afternoons, then with my newly-arrived mission partner (Rita) and the school principal, and finally today, just Rita and me.  I am not intimidated any more, or at least not currently.  I'm sure something will happen in the future where there is a misunderstanding, but that hasn't happened yet.  The key to feeling comfortable is learning some shopping vocabulary and having a notebook where I've written down price range for the food and what I pay each time.  When the ladies try to overcharge me, I say, "Urahenda" ("you ask too much") and point to what I paid last time.  Both times they brought the price down to what I paid before.  It really works!

As far as what we buy, every time there are vegetables, fruit, and bread, and then eggs, rice, beans, or pasta when we are running low.  Meat is expensive here, maybe the same price as in the States, but since we're not receiving an American income, we haven't bought any yet.  I should start eating more eggs for the protein.  Every trip to the market usually includes buying potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, avocados, green beans, and bananas.  There are more options for produce, which I've listed below, but these are our staples.  That's because the basic meal here includes a starch of some sort (bread, rice, potato, pasta, or beans), served with veggies cooked in a tomato-paste-based sauce and a cold veggie salad.  The sauce is good; I even ate a dish with lots of peas (yuck!) for lunch the other day because the sauce made them enjoyable.  I've also used the local ingredients to make food from home: a Chinese stir fry, a curry veggie stew, and an okay Mexican meal of rice and beans and corn tortillas.  It's not the same, but at least it's close.  Breakfast is oatmeal or bread and jam and/or powdered peanut butter.

The veggies and fruit available here are avocados, green beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, green bell peppers, cauliflower, zucchini, potatoes, sweet potatoes, lettuce, peas, Japanese eggplant, green bananas (plantains?), bananas, oranges, passion fruit, Japanese plums, pineapples, watermelons, and apples (but too expensive to buy).  Most of the fruit is pricey so we've settled on buying bananas and pineapple.

Meal times are more European than American.  Depending on when I start work for the day, I can eat breakfast anytime between 7-9 am.  There is a 10 am tea break where the girls eat their breakfast and the teachers and staff gather in the staff room for tea with lots of sugar and milk added to it, along with plain rolls of bread.  Lunch is after the classes finish at 1:50 pm, which means I eat sometime after 2 pm.  Dinner is whenever Rita and I want to eat, but if we decide to join the girls in the refectory for conversation and a meal of sweet potatoes and beans, that is around 8 pm.  My goal is to eat with them two times a week so I can have more time to share with them.

All in all, it's a good and healthy life.  I walk everywhere.  Except for the bread, the margarine, the oil, and the tomato paste, nothing else is processed before it comes into my home.  I'm eating tons of fresh fruits and vegetables.  The only strange thing is that I drink more soda here because Rwandans like to offer their guests something to drink and since I don't like beer, that leaves Coca-Cola and many flavors of Fanta.

I received a "yes" from the head mistress for the question of pairing you all up with pen pals at the school so if you would like to correspond with a student so she or he (there are 8 boys) can work on her or his English writing and reading skills, please let me know.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Every-Day Blessings

I already wrote a post today, but I have to write again to recount the blessings of the Lord.  As I walked into my house at 9:30 pm, I thought to myself, "Every day is full of blessings."  This is true no matter where one lives, but here in Rwanda I am really aware of it and it has to do with the joy I receive from being with the girls and the Fidesco family in town. 

The Fidesco family has 4 cute, young children and anytime I'm around children, I am happy.  I think it comes from looking outside myself as I listen to their stories or follow them into their bedrooms where they show me their toys and the like.  With a child, I don't feel the need to talk about myself.  Instead, I want to know what they are learning in school and what they have been up to that day.

With the students, it's a different setting but the same experience of living for others.  I leave my computer and my house during the day and in the evening to search for them and when I find them, they are so happy.  They surround me as I teach them how to play cards or they sweep me along with them into the dining hall, as they did for the first time tonight, and I share a meal with them.  I struggle to eat the sweet potatoes and beans offered to me, even though I'm already full from the dinner I ate in my house beforehand.  I answer their questions and watch them laugh because I am with them.  I promise to do all I can to eat with them every Sunday and secretly, I hope it will more often than that.  I end the night by teaching the song Sanctuary to another group of girls in the corridor between the dorm buildings and I walk the short distance back to my house completely happy and aware of the blessings of the Lord.  This is what I am here for.

Requests for the Girls

Today was the monthly visiting day for the families of the students so it was an exciting day for most of the students.  It also gave me a rare two hour segment of time when the girls were free and I was able to hang out with the girls whose families had already visited and left or whose weren't able to make it.  I brought a pack of cards with me to Rwanda so I taught some of them from senior 1, the youngest grade at the school, how to play Crazy 8's and Speed.  They aren't used to cards so the ordering of the face cards was new for them, but they picked the games up quickly.  I also taught them the song, Sanctuary, if you know it.
A blurry picture, but I like it because it shows how happy I am

While I was spending time with the girls, I had more than one ask me if I have any books in English they can borrow.  I did bring a few with me to lend to the girls, but they are already lent out so I had to tell them "no."  So this brings up the first request.  I ask you to send at least one book to the students through me so I can say "yes" when they ask if I have books they can borrow.  I think all they have here at the school are Danielle Steel and local books recounting Rwandan stories.  Those are fine, but they are small like children's books.  I would like to offer them some of the best of our literary tradition, which could include The Chronicles of Narnia, Jane Austen (preferably with a modern translation), and To Kill a Mockingbird, as well as inspirational non-fiction.  These are just a few of the books or type of books that came to mind, but as long as they are books with good morals or moral lessons, I can lend anything out.  One book series that originally came to mind as one that would capture their interest was The Hunger Games, but then I thought about it and realized that it's quite gory and dystopic, perhaps not the best for inspiring them to holiness, although I think Katniss has her strengths.  So no Hunger Games or the like, please.  My address is BP 130; Huye, Rwanda.

 The other request comes straight from the girls.  They would like to have pen pals.  It's possible they will ask their pen pal to sponsor their education, but I've communicated to the girls that pen pals and sponsors are distinct and that I would find them pen pals while I live here and perhaps sponsors when I return to the States.  So if you have a teenager at home or a class and would like a pen pal from Rwanda, please let me know.  I will see if I can arrange it (I just realized I haven't run the idea past the principal so I need to check on that before ensuring it will happen, but all the same, if you want one, let me know and I'll match you with someone if it is allowed).