I'm going to write about my day, just today Thursday, November 5th so you can share my experiences. I woke up before 6 to the sound of the call to prayer at our neighbouring mosque. Sometimes I sleep through it, but most often I wake up around 6. It's a routine I can't shake even on weekends. I was in a rush because before I catch the 8am bus I must drop off an envelope to the YWCA for Charlotte as she is picking us up a modem in Kigali. I am carrying a big, heavy bag of resources for my workshops. I have slowly but surely been bringing didactic materials to the school hosting my first workshop. I will run the first workshop and then pack everything up to take it to the next location and then pack it up again for the third sector. Each sector gets a 2 day training. I drop off the envelope of money and catch the bus. Several of the usual beggars approach the window along with vendors. I pop my iPOD into my ears and face forward. I delete some numbers on my phone of people who have now left or returned home while I wait for the bus to pull out. The man beside me clearly wants to start a conversation but I don't as this usually ends in asking for my phone number so he can beep me or request something of me later on down the line. Since I ride the bus everyday, I have to manage who I chat with and who I don't. The bus leaves weaving up and down round each curve on the scenic road to Kigali.
I knock on the window at Kamonyi and hop off but for some reason today there are no motos in Kamonyi. I wait a bit and text Emile, the regular guy and soon enough he's there. The path we take off the main road to get to EP-Rubona is very bumpy and when we first dip off the main road it feels like I'm on a rollercoaster as it's almost straight down. I usually close my eyes a bit. We weave our way to the school, it's empty, I call the Headteacher and he sounds like he's in Kigali but says he's on his way. I sit outside the teachers' room and wait. Eventually I decide to stroll the grounds, say hi to the cow, admire the view, acknowledge the bathrooms are locked, etc. A young boy from Primary 4 shows up, he's the shepherd and has come to let the cow out for a stroll. The cow comes charging out of the stall and circles around until he is standing a few feet from me. Now, the VSO Handbook definitely doesn't say anything about what to do when a giant cow charges you. I kind of shuffle my feet and she startles away, does a lap in the yard and comes charging forward again, stopping about 2 feet from me. The shepherd boy is still running over to catch up to her, yelling something in kinyarwanda. Honestly, she was a bull minus the horns, I was a little intimidated. I kinda yelled something, the boy caught up and wrestled her rope to the flagpole. Crisis averted.
The Headteacher eventually shows up, we sit down to discuss who will cover what costs and the organisation process of the upcoming workshop. I am quite disappointed as the discussion veers towards "we have no money for transport, can't provide tea at break, cut the training time down or else the teachers will complain there isn't a per diem, what motivation is there for the teachers if you are only offering a small meal, it's the school holidays and you're making them come in.." I am infinitely frustrated because I am about to provide a free training and give each teacher many didactic materials along with model lesson plans, rice sacks to make posters, teacher resource handbooks and my time. I know why the teachers are frustrated, they don't get paid well and are often not paid on time and all the usual bull about how hard life is here. I get it. I am sympathetic. But why am I having to ask "Please will you come to this free workshop I am going to give you that will help you become a more effective english teacher and please come so I can give you many ideas for making resources out of found materials." When the Headteacher asked who else was running the workshop I answered "just me". He was surprised that I had made all 20 posters (with Emmanuel's help) and the dozen or so math manipulatives and prepared teacher handbooks for 100 and was preparing to run a workshop for two days, alone. I am struggling with the whole learned helplessness that exists here. Help me do it, fine. Do it for me, not okay. I want the teachers and Headteachers to participate in the process and I feel like sometimes they just expect NGOs to sweep in and do it. Working in particular with a low-budget NGO which seeks to empower people to do it for themselves, it is so hard to manage the disappointment associated with "I don't have resources for you. The resources I'm providing you are ideas."
I am the first volunteer to work in Kamonyi in this capacity so I have to make allowances for the fact that they don't completely understand how VSO works. Still, when I did school visits everyone was so keen. Yes!! Come and help us with our teaching, show us some ideas, we want to work with you. And now that the workshop is here, oh it's the holidays, oh we have to provide food during the training, oh it's not enough budget for transportation. The kicker today was on the walk back from the rural school to the main road. A very friendly lady came up and gave me a hug, a greeting and handed me her baby. I could tell, even in kinyarwanda, what she was asking of me. I gave a blessing and handed the baby back and as I walked away I clarified with the Headteacher what she was asking of me. Yes, she had no milk and was asking me to feed her baby.
We walk 45 minutes uphill back to the main road, I was very hot and very thirsty having not consumed anything since 6:30 in part because the bathrooms were locked at the school. I caught a stopper bus back to Gitarama, it can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 90 so I call Christi to say I might be late for lunch. At one of the many stops, a man approaches me with the usual box of candies, cookies and Kleenex. I buy two lollipops and give them to the two little girls who have been sneaking glances at me since I boarded the bus. They are very polite, smiling and saying "Merci." I meet Christi in Gitarama and we have a great chat as I pour out some of my thoughts on what comes next after my VSO contract is up in March. I am full of ideas! Any thoughts of coming home fill me with guilt as there are many more long-term humanitarians here, albeit working with significantly bigger budgets and very high-functioning NGOs. Thoughts of extending my contract however, when the day to day frustrations feel insurmountable, at the moment doesn't feel right. I look at the workshops I did with Unicef several months ago and wish I could do that everyday, 5 days a week. I feel like I am only using 10 percent of my abilities and the rest of the time I am problem solving how to just manage/cope/exist here. The living conditions are okay but I still miss normal food, having electricity all the time, hot water, carpet, shoes without holes, heat when it's cold, transportation that doesn't involve sitting in a squished bus in 30 degree heat, drinking something other than Coke or water, having clean toenails, feeling RESTED and seeing my friends!! Okay, I've poured it all out. I'm just really tired. Unfortunately, even in the capital of Kigali there are many things you just can't get here. Compared to other African countries that welcome tourists on a regular basis, Rwanda just doesn't have a lot of western style things. The treat of the week is a tin of Pringles. I can heat a bucket of water for a hot shower. I never considered myself a high-maintenance person but perhaps I need a little more than what's offered here. We just say that certain things are "forbidden" in conversation. That's how we rationalize the fact that we can't buy clothes here that aren't second hand donations from the West or since the rains have come we have to contend with a zillion flies inside and outside of the house. Rice, pasta and vegetables that you buy at the open-air market. The kids, love them like crazy, are sooooo filthy. Guaranteed that I got my amoebas, typhoid and half my colds from hugging, hand-shaking and high-fiving with them. Not that I'm going to STOP doing any of that :)
Okay, I digressed a little there and started outright complaining. I guess I needed that. After lunch with Christi I came home and was followed by three little boys. Asante, Mohammed and a third. I brought them inside the gate and Emmanuel and I played soccer against the three under 8s in the front yard. A head popped over the wall, it was a lady with a headdress asking if she could come visit. I said yes and she brought two friends over. As is the custom, I made tea and offered biscuits and Karen joined us for the kinyarwanda translation and to be neighbourly with me. After a fun game of soccer with the kids, I went to send them on their way but at the gate were 10 or so more. I tried to say no but saw JeanPierre looking very forlorn as he gets from time to time. It's as if he's had a very sad day, not sure what exactly that means but you can just see from the look on his face, something terrible is going on. I sent the three on their way but invited JeanPierre and his buddy Francois to come and challenge Emmanuel with their soccer skills. In a few minutes they were all giggles and smiles. The three ladies had been on their way to fill jerrycans so we suggested the boys just fill them from our sink. Eventually all five visitors leave and Karen and I are due at our neighbour Fils' house. We go there for a visit, mostly out of curiosity to see who is looking after this orphan. Apparently he lives with his two aunts, his mother's sisters who both study during the year in towns well outside of Gitarama; Nyagatare and Nyanza. Does this mean other than school break, he lives alone? Possibly. We leave Fils and get stuck playing Hokey Pokey, Ring around the Rosie and "Juck, Juck, Juice" (the way the kids pronounce "Duck, Duck, Goose") with the 20 kids and one or two adults who have joined in.
I am home a few minutes then head off to Tom's because I need to borrow some dice for a math game. There is a letter from Emmanuel, our guard. Now, if I haven't said so already, I am very fond of Emmanuel. He is 22, lost both parents in '94 and we have kind of taken him under our wings. We feed him, give him drawing materials, invite him inside as often as possible, have bought some Arsenal paraphernalia for him and he feels like a part of our home. He gets paid a teachers' salary which is double what VSO has given me to pay him monthly. I just thought if I could give one person some help, it should be him. The letter says in a very kind way about his family's history, being an orphan, having finished senior secondary school and his struggles as a young man... can we help him to build himself a house? I don't feel badly that he is asking, I would do almost anything for Emmanuel. On my walk to Tom's I meet Kate who would like me to come on Saturday morning to take pictures of her sister Bridgette for the memoir we have written together. We will take photos and I will get the story bound in Kigali. She will then send it off to her American friend and see what becomes of it.
The power goes out around 6pm. I am just very tired. I know there are moments today that I have enjoyed very much, like when Fils sang us a song during his visit. This parentless child has a beautiful voice and sang to us about Jesus providing for him. Watching Arianna, who is 4, do the Hokey Pokey or little Mohammed giggle as I grab his shirt, preventing him from scoring another goal in my front yard. I just get stalled when I think of what impact I'm having. Did I come here to play with the kids? I thought I came here to train teachers?
Allright, it's almost 8pm. I'm still in town at the Internet cafe- not for long as we get a modem on Sunday and I can start emailing/Skyping more.
What lesson can I glean from today? It's not about me, but sometimes it is. A friend told me enjoyment is a feeling. Can I not manage the extraordinary circumstances here so that I can feel good more often?
That's a little glimpse into my mind this day, the 5th of November. Thanks for listening.