Monday, October 19, 2009
Muraho! Welcome all to my Peace Corps blog! Here I will attempt to write the accounts of my two years here in Rwanda as a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV). I meant to start this blog right at the start of things and although lots have happened, its only been about two weeks since I’ve been here.
I am now in my second week of Pre-Service Training (PST) and its going pretty well. The language classes are a bit frustrating but with practice, like learning any language, I’m sure ill get better. The native language of Rwanda is Kinyarwanda, which is what we are learning. They also speak French and Swahili and very little English.
To give you all a background on why and how I got here…Kagame, Rwandan’s current president decided some months ago to transition from French to English as the official language used in schools and across the country. Because Kagame wanted the switch to occur swiftly, within three months all the schools across Rwanda had to switch from French or Kinyarwanda to English. You can imagine how difficult this was for the Teachers and especially the students.
So, because of such good relations between the US and the Rwandan government and the want for PC to come back to Rwanda, PC created an education program or group of volunteers, us. We are here to help the Rwandese people with their rapid transition from French to English as teachers and educators. It’s exciting to be part of such an important evolution in Rwanda. One of the reasons Kagame wanted to switch to English is also due to Rwandans want to become part of the East African Community.
It’s been almost twenty years since PC has been in Rwanda so we are a pretty new concept here, but are for the most part very well accepted and needed. The Rwandese people are desperate for interaction with anyone who speaks English so the can have an opportunity to both learn and practice the language, which for them is the gateway to success.
So..my actual job, the one I will be required to do among many other things is a secondary school teacher where I will teach English. Besides that I will probably spend a good amount of my time continuing to teach English to my colleagues, friends etc and become an active member in my umudugudu, which means village.
I have no idea where I’ll be living and in what conditions yet, and wont find out until probably the last few weeks of training, so there is some anticipation, but for the most part I’m trying to live in the present and learn as much as I can from PST.
The first two days we arrived in Rwanda we spent in Kigali, the capitol city. Those two days consisted with lots of introductions, meetings of most importantly the visit to the genocide memorial. Before visiting the memorial that day, I knew nothing could really prepare me for what I was about to experience. I knew about the genocide only through books, documentaries and historical facts, but never from first hand experiences.
The memorial in Kigali is a beautiful exhibition that presents the story of the war and the casualties of it in every aspect. It represents all sides of the war and ends by sharing the universal genocide incidents that have occurred all over the world and how Rwanda is trying to overcome the war.
This experience made me realize how powerful the war was, and I took a small step towards understanding Rwanda and its people. It’s amazing how quickly Rwanda has evolved since the genocide and a great inspiration for the world to see the country working towards reconciliation after such strong hatred.
Looking around this picturesque country you would never think that only less than fifteen years ago it was all ashes.
My biggest challenge will be trying to understand the Rwandese people in regards to their history. With the war having happened less than fifteen years ago almost everyone around me, were around during the war and have family members that were either killed or have killed. It’s frightening to know that our teachers, trainers, colleagues and soon to be friends are these people. I think this will be an obstacle in building close relationships with Rwandan people who are generally conservative as are many African nations. It will require a lot of tip toeing around when it comes to asking questions about family and getting personal, but I suppose in time some will open up and in time I will learn how to deal with this.
I feel very lucky to be here and I’m loving every moment of this. The past few days have been tough because we had some people think of leaving and we actually lost one person. It’s always a bit of a shock, but many of us know who probably wont make it through training. It’s always disappointing when someone leaves, but for a moment I’m also envious that he/she gets to go home and be with their loved ones. I think it takes a lot of guts to be here, but also passion, determination and strength. So, not to say you are weak if you go home, but maybe you just made the wrong decision in the first place.