It has been a month since I posted last. It has been a wild and exciting few weeks. Today, I am reflecting on remote moto rides, football matches, playing the game Damu, and visiting the village where I will live for the next two years. Casual stuff.
After being in country for a month, I began to fall into a routine in my training village/regional town—football on the weekends, class and sessions during the day, and casual conversations in Kinyarwanda around town. Not to mention the occasional chance to have a beer with these gentlemen in the photo above.
I’ve started to make some great Rwandan friends in the area mainly from the game Damu. It is also called draughts—a British version of checkers that entails quite a bit of strategy.
Slowly I climbed from being known as the “umuzungu” playing Damu, to becoming “Lion” playing Damu, which is great progress. There are some really great guys who spend their days playing Damu on a stoop outside a “saloon” in the village. I made a Damu board for our training hub—I think some people are addicted and I couldn’t be happier.
The only game here more fun than Damu is football, and I’m officially also part of a team in a village football/soccer league, which has been an amazing experience. But more on that later in this post.
All of this was routine, but soon that routine was turned upside-down. It was time to meet the headmaster of my school and also to visit the village I will live for the next two years. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was excited to finally begin to dive deeper into this new life.
All the trainees met their counterpart teachers and headmasters from their schools at a small hotel and resitora near our training hub. I sat with my headmaster as we began to participate in some diversity sessions and other informational activities. At one point, he could not figure out how to explain to me in English that he wanted to visit his brother-in-law when we would travel together to our village.
He was consulting another teacher in Kinyarwanda on how to explain it all to me. I responded to him in Kinyarwanda that I understood, and his face lit up. “LION, you know! You are Rwandan!”
We were off to a good start.
After another day of sessions, on Sunday we headed out in a car to Kigali to take a bus from there to our respective districts. There were three of us Peace Corps trainees along with the headmasters of our schools.
It felt so good to be out of the village we have been in for the past month. Traveling across the beautiful Rwandan countryside was refreshing, and I began to get excited, knowing I would finally see my new home.
From Kigali, we took another bus, and my headmaster had the driver stop so that we could visit his brother in a nearby village. This visit turned into speeches and an exciting (and long) day of meeting his family—from grandparents to cousins to neighbors.
After spending the day visiting and grappling my way through conversations in a foreign language, we finally headed out on a smaller bus. From that bus we hopped on motos. Moto is the only accessible transportation to my village. It took roughly 30 minutes and we arrived safe and sound in a village of roughly 400 people.
It is a stunning place with low sloping hills, and the school perched on a hill above it all. There are three people who own motos in the village. Transportation will be an exciting adventure to dive into!
On the moto ride, I had an existential moment feeling completely blown away by the fact that I am here.
“This is where I live now. This is real.” The thoughts flashed through my head, and I couldn’t help but laugh. “What a life. This isn’t a journey. This is my life now. This is where I live now. “
I stayed with my headmaster’s family in the village, since my house is not ready to be lived in yet. It’s still being built, though the walls and roof are fully constructed.
The family was very hospitable, and I spent time hanging out with my headmaster’s children, learning more about the village in the process.
I ate pork every night while I was there, which is a huge luxury. It was not a luxury for my stomach on the way back to Kigali, but I made it through in one piece, which is all that matters.
Right now, there are many stories I could start to share about my village. But for now, I am just listening.
I am listening to their stories and finding out how I can learn from my school and my community. Here are a few photos of my village and where I will be living. My house is in the left of the photo below.
Sunday night I visited a village leader in her home, and drank banana juice.
We talked about religion, and after that I couldn’t really pick up on much of her Kinyarwanda. I told them my name was Ryan/Lion and the village leader and her husband looked at each other excitedly. They explained that they know a woman who is expecting a baby.
They are planning on naming the baby “Lion.” Such a strange coincidence but also a metaphor maybe for the beginning of my new chapter in this village? It might be a stretch.
After visiting my village, I took a moto about 50 mins south to visit my friend’villagr as well as her former and current site mates who are working on health and education projects there. In summary, some chickens were killed and a birthday was celebrated.
Afterwards, we headed to Butare to meet the other volunteers in the region and to spend time together. It was a much needed couple of days where I tasted actual iced coffee and ice cream. I could have cried it was so good. After a couple days in Butare, despite no monkeys sighted, it was still a successful trip and I jumped on a small bus back towards Rwamagana.
Umuganda: Bite Neza!
Umuganda happens every last Saturday of the month. It is when all Rwandans gather together to work on community service projects that help improve their country. I was excited for my first Umuganda Day and had the chance to help build/remud a house. O
We spent most of the morning slinging mud like it was our job, which it was in a weird way. After the mud throwing was complete, we surveyed the newly mudded house with satisfaction. It was a beautiful sight. I felt much more Rwandan after that day. Some of the friends I had made in the community seemed to feel the same way. Ofcourse, I am still an outsider, but working alongside them solidified our friendships.
Real Life Adventures: Weddings and Graduations
It has been exciting couple of weeks for my host family here. My host mother’s aunt got married last weekend, and my little brother Pachele graduated. I spent the weekend hearing speeches in Kinyarwanda and celebrated with my family as they entered some new exciting chapters. They have been such a powerful and life changing part of my time here over the last two months.
Pachele and my host dad have been two of the most cheerful and clever people I have met here. Their sense of humor is priceless. We were watching Lord of the Rings on my laptop, because Pachele was very sick. My host dad looks at me during an orc scene where Aragorn falls of a cliff. He turned to me.
“Bibaho,” he said with a straight face. (Bibaho means “It happens.”) We sat there in silence for a few seconds and then all burst out laughing at once. They are truly my family here.
My host aunts wedding was an exciting and new experience. One of the most poignant moments of the wedding was when the power went out during the reception. A choir was singing for the couple and they did not skip a beat as we sat in the dark and listened to the notes drift slowly towards the ceiling. It was a beautiful moment.
At one point, a boy came to the front of the reception to play a few songs on guitar for the couple. The first couple songs he sang were in Kinyarwanda. Then he said something, and suddenly everyone turned and looked at me. Then, I heard the words of his next song: “I’ll catch a grenade for ya…” American pop culture is everywhere. It is such a fascinating thing. I will be walking by a small hut on a rural farm in a quiet valley when from the radio inside the hut I hear “What do you mean, when you nod your head yes, but your really mean no…” Even Rwandan farmers have Bieber fever.
Besides the wedding and my brother’s graduation, I also saw the primary students’ graduation in the town, which was as adorable as you would expect. Rwanda’s next generation is rising up full of potential and I’m excited to be apart of that journey.
The Big Game
Last but not least, I have to talk about my football game this last weekend. This was our first big game, and dressed in uniforms for this one. I made it into the starting lineup and stood on the middle of the muddy and puddle covered pitch. Many thoughts ran threw my mind, all of the same nature: “I am playing in a district football match in Rwanda right now. How. did. I. get. here.”
I only played for the first thirty minutes, but it was an amazing experience. The ball would hit a puddle and be ultimately floating on the field as we battled to get it across the pitch and back into play. Roughly 80 people from the town and the surrounding villages came to watch. It was surreal. We won 2:1, and as the rain poured down, my team found shelter in a nearby bar where we drank fanta and our manager and coach gave speeches. Many players on the other team would give me a thumbs up and shake my hand, saying “fair play fair play!”
I also met a coach of another team, who is actually an Imam at the Mosque near the village. He helped train me a bit spontaneously and I might try and train with him every once and a while. He’s definitely a man of character, and it’s exciting to meet people seeking so passionately to find truth in their lives. I know what truth is and where I put my faith, but I don’t understand when people judge others off different opinions of religion. There are wrong and right answers, but everyone is searching for meaning. How can you ever find fault in someone for searching for meaning.
My next update will include lots more information—including a jam session in the middle of a dirt road surrounded by 25 Rwandan locals. But that’s a story for another day.
Food of the Week: Rollex
The Rollex is Ugandan street food. All you need to do is make some chapati, fry some potatoes, mix some guacamole, fry an egg, and put it all together. It is delicious. Perks of training underneath an avocado tree every day.
Tiffany and I have been cooking up a storm, so you can expect some occasional new recipes to be listed as I explore cooking over a small imbabura with limited ingredients.