Friday, February 24, 2012

The Market and More

It's been a long while since my last post, so maybe some of you are very curious as to what I have been up to! So, due to some housing issues, we moved into town. Town is the busy part of Kigali where all the big businesses are, and lots of people around all the time. We are living in the Sulfo compound. Sulfo Industries is the company owned by Faraz and his family who also own EDD. We were very excited to move because termites were migrating into our house, and that is never good. We also lost water very often, which sometimes made it difficult to cook and clean. We were very thankful for the water when we did have it. Our new house has been very comfortable and we are surrounded by very friendly people who have all been helping us out. There is one woman who works as the accountant at EDD, her name is Sangita and she is from India. Her family has warmly welcomed us and they continue to help us find super markets and vegetable markets close by. So far, living in town has been very convenient, although our commute to work is about 40 minutes.

Our new place!
The center is doing well. The library is practically ready to be painted! The Harwood school trip arrived on Tuesday, and they are planning to spend Monday at the center building book shelves, painting the library, and varnishing the outside of the dinning hall. We are very excited for their helping hands to join us!

We revisited some street boys from Remera a few days ago. We had met with them about a month ago to speak with them about what their lives are like on a day-to-day basis. You can read more about that visit here: Patience is a Virtue. This time around, we brought some hand-me-down long sleeve soccer jerseys which were donated by Elena's cousin. Please read about it here: Blue and White.

Ok, now for the market! Elena, Elizabeth and I visit the market on at least a weekly basis. You would think that by now I should have everything I need. There should be no need for me to have anything more to do with the fabrics at the market. Anyway, to make a long story short, Josephine and her fabrics are nothing short of addicting. I think I have only visit the market once without purchasing a piece of fabric. I have a stack of fabrics amongst my other articles of clothing that are still awaiting their opportunity to be transformed into something beautiful. Every time we go to the market, I bring one or two of my pieces. I always hope that my favorite seamstress, Chantal is there. She comes in and measures me for whatever article I am asking for. So far I have four skirts, two pairs of baggy capri's, two dresses, a shirt, a jacket, and a traditional Rwandan outfit. 


It was a regular afternoon. We were on our way to the market on a wednesday after work to pick up some of our clothes we had left a few days earlier for alterations. It was hot, but not too hot. We arrived at Josephine's fabric stand to see if our things were ready. She greeted us with her usual "Hi, my sista."We tried on our clothing and found a few things still needed some changes. As we were waiting, I noticed her mannequin had a new outfit. It was a green traditional outfit that looked like it would fit me. I noticed a lot of things I liked about the shirt. The stitching was impeccable, and the lines were beautiful.

I like to make Josephine laugh, often, and in many different ways. There is usually music playing, so I tend to dance a lot. Other times I just say funny things. This time, I decided to surprise her. She was gone to check on our clothing, and I decided to undress the mannequin. The shirt landed over my own, and I sat on the counter like everything was normal. When she walked in, she began laughing. After a short while, she said I looked "so good." Then the long skirt found it's way around my waist. I walked out of her booth into the open court yard that is surrounded by other booths. Many people began to laugh and say "you look so smart." We sat around for a while as we waited. The outfit totally grew on me, and the decision was made quite clear in my head that this outfit would be mine, and I would pay 15,000 Rwandan Francs ($25) to keep it. 
Me and Josephine
The shirt was taken back for some alterations to make sure that it fit me perfectly. A zipper was added so I could easily fit it over my shoulders, and would zip up to fit like a glove.

Just as I though we were almost ready to leave, Josephine told me I forgot something. How could we forget about the head piece?! Josephine handed one of the seamstresses the remaining piece of fabric, and she began to drape it around my head, making sure it stood high into the air. I took another walk out to the court yard, and received many thumbs up and some applause, so I took a bow.

My journey wasn't about to come to an end. We still had a few things to do before returning home. The first on the list was traveling to Willy's house to meet his mom for the first time. We left the market and walked about a mile to reach the bus station. I have never been stared at so much in my lifetime. "You look smart" echoed my path as I made my way down the road. Apparently that means I look well-dressed. As we neared the gates of the bus station, the line of moto guys all stood up and began clapping (Willy's mom enjoyed hearing that story later on).

I suppose for many, or maybe all of the people I passed, I was the first white person to be out in a traditional Rwandan outfit. Many thought it was funny, and others appreciated my new look.

When we got to Willy's neighborhood, we were excited to see the look on his face. We saw him about a hundred meters down the road, stopped frozen in his footsteps with his hands over his mouth. He was shocked and absolutely loved it.

Willy's reaction...
Anyway, it was a pretty funny evening, and it was so nice to finally meet Willy's mom. She has been very sick lately and is recovering from a fall she took not too long ago. It was really nice talking with her and giving her something to laugh about. 

Mama Willy made sure she put her head piece on for the picture too
One last thing, Willy began secondary school last monday, and upon his first visit to a basketball practice, he made the team! They won their first game that Willy played in, and he had 9 points for the team who would win by 13 points!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Anything Can Happen in Football

Many changes have been occurring at the center. The ministers have been granted their power back, and there is a forcefield of happiness from the boys that spans the center. You can read more about the root of the events here: Elena's blog

As I have mentioned in previous posts, we have been working very hard with our class on respect and listening. We know their favorite game to play is football (soccer) and that is what they've been waiting for ever since we started the class.

This week, we planned to introduce the footballs. It has been something we have been working towards for four weeks now. On monday we re-explained the game of blob tag. We explained the steps very slowly through speaking using our vocabulary words, and through acting. To our surprise, they followed almost all the rules of the game, and practically everyone was wearing a smile. Since the game went so well, we had some spare time at the end of class. We decided to set up a relay race. We made two teams and had each kid hop on one foot to the end of the basketball court and back, where they would tag the next person to go. The team that finished first were the champions!

Part way through the relay, Elena came to me with a brilliant idea. This is how we would introduce the footballs. They understood how the activity would work, and everyone would have an equal amount of time with a ball. Since we had already planned an art day on Tuesday, we would introduce the footballs on Wednesday.

Tuesday came, and we made baggies of crayons for each table. We decided that there would only be six to a table to eliminate arguing over colors. To begin we gave each table one of our vocabulary notecards that had the word in English and Kinyarwanda, accompanied by a picture describing the word. The kids were to draw their version of the word, and on the back create whatever drawing they wanted. Many of them attempted drawing the same picture that was on the cards we passed out, but they were all different colors and all unique. They also each got a sticker, which they could incorporate into their drawing, or put somewhere else. Many of them attempted to draw what was on the sticker they received. They enjoyed having the freedom to use the crayons, which they normally don't get to use on a daily basis.

Finally, Wednesday rolled around. We had to strategize how we would transport the footballs without any of the kids seeing. We had to do this because if these kids saw the balls, they would completely disregard anything coming out of our mouths. We found a small duffel bag in the volunteer room, which would fit three of the four footballs. The other one was put in my green bag, along with the cones. We transported the balls from the teacher's room to the volunteer room while the kids were still in class. We had the teachers tell the kids to meet us on the basketball court. After some planning for the store room and a quick meeting with Rafiki, we brought the bags out to the basketball court. We set up cones for four relay teams; one cone on one end, and another on the far end. We planned to do a few different relay races, so we placed extra cones on top of each first cone.

To begin, we gathered the class on a grassy patch next to the court. We waited for everyone to be quiet, and began to explain. Since we had already worked with the concept of a relay race, it was a fairly quick explanation and demonstration. In order to keep their attention, we brought out a hackie sack. The hackie sack was exciting for them, and it helped them understand the concept of waiting for the person to get back with the hackie sack before the next person could go.

We split our class into four teams. There were some even numbers, but it didn't really matter to them. The first person on each team was handed a hackie sack. I said "ready, set, GO" and blew my whistle. The race went well. We gathered the boys' attention and explained to them we are going to use footballs. You should have seen the look on their faces. I walked over to my bag and pulled out the first ball. Our class, wearing huge smiles, began clapping. Elena pulled out the other three, and they were all so excited. Some were yelling out "Ahhh thank you!!" We told them to keep good manners and we would be able to use the footballs more. They were so well behaved, it made me speechless.

After one round of down and back, I put four cones between the first and last. The boys were to dribble through the cones in control. Every one of the boys kept their smiles on for the rest of class. With fifteen minutes left before lunch, I gathered teams one and two together, and three and four together. I told teams one and two to defend one goal, and three and four to defend the other. Once again, the boys let out noises of pure happiness and excitement. The boys took off running to the football pitch. There was no order of positions or anything, but it didn't matter. I went to the middle of the pitch with one ball and kicked it straight into the air. They were off.

One boy had a whistle, and he designated himself as the referee. He called corner kicks, goal kicks, and throw-ins, but no fouls. Anything goes in this game of football. The boys traveled with the football in what seemed like a flock of geese. There was passing, but for the most part, the game was very back and forth and every man for themselves. Each team had a goal, and they were both celebrated as you see in the World Cup, or other big football matches. One of the P2 boys, Renee, celebrated with a roundoff back-handspring.
Our referee!

A corner kick that would result in a goal for team one-two

Towards the end of class, I began to wonder how to stop the game and collect the ball once again. We figured we'd blow the whistle and hope for the best. If worst came to worst, I'd be the one to chase the ball down. The time came, and I blew the whistle three times, as you would hear at the end of any football match. Everyone stopped and looked. The boy who had the ball last calmly walked over and handed me the ball, and the boys were off to lunch. Anything can happen in football.

A Rwandan Valentine's Day

If it hadn't been for Claire, our houseworker, I never would have known Valentine's Day was quickly approaching. We came home from work on the 13th to our walls decorated in flowers with notes attached. This was my first reminder that the following day would be Valentine's Day.

This has been the most powerful Valentine's Day of my life. In Rwanda, it was explained to me that Valentine's Day is really only celebrated by couples. For most of the country, it isn't celebrated at all. Since Rwanda isn't such a materialistic society, Valentine's Day has a whole other meaning.

This year, I have not been surrounded by the materialistic advertisements, as everyone in the United States has. I have been lucky to miss out on the constant reminder from television and radio advertisements about Valentine's Day sales for that special someone over the past month. There has been no Valentine's Day fundraisers, no chocolates, no carnations, no roses, no cards, no jewelry. Just love, in it's simplest form.

When I was talking about this large difference with Willy, he was quick to say "no, I will get you a card, I promise!" I hadn't seen any Valentine's Day cards anywhere really, so I wasn't expecting anything Hallmark. But, to my surprise, he showed up to our house on the evening of Valentine's Day with small flowers for each of us that came with a note saying "I love you" in several different languages. He also brought a card. It was covered in plastic. He gave it to me and said, "I told you I'd get a card!" Since it was still wrapped in plastic, he hadn't wrote in it, signed it, or anything. When I showed him that the plastic was meant to be removed so you can write in it, he was surprised. He had no idea the card came with an envelope inside. After showing this to him, he signed his name at the bottom and gave it to us. It was the sweetest thing.

Willy reading the card we made for him.

Friday, February 10, 2012

How Would You Feel?

I was a senior in high school, and driving down the roads of Rwanda for the first time. I had heard of the infamous Kinyarwandan word "muzungu" meaning "white person." I was excited to hear it called out as our buss full of muzungu's traveled down the road. Everyone in our group had heard it called out already, and I still hadn't heard the exciting phrase. I finally heard the word called out, and it was a very young little boy who went running down the sidewalk as if he wanted to catch up with the speeding bus. "HEY, A MUZUNGU!" I threw my head out the window and waved, wearing a huge smile on my face. I thought it was so cute to hear this word called out by this little boy, and every time I heard the word, I smiled. I never thought of what the word really meant. I remember feeling sort of like a celebrity because everywhere we went we would hear this word called out with a sense of excitement and happiness. 

As three years pass,  I have had a lot of time to think about my experiences from 2009. One of the things that would always get to me was a feeling of arrogance. I remember always having my head out the window during almost every bus ride. I would be waving to everyone, and some, but not all, would wave back. I began to feel unhappy with my actions in 2009. I wish I acted like any normal person from the country would act while driving along in a bus. Yes, waving is friendly, but why did I have to wave to everyone everywhere I went? Why did I coax out the word "muzungu" by everyone possible?

During one of my long chats with Willy a few days ago, we talked about what it means to be called "muzungu." He asked me if I liked it or not, and I replied "no." I added "how would you like it if you came to Vermont, and everyone just called you 'black person?'" He said he would hate it. He told me that a few years ago, he realized the segregation and negative notions the word muzungu has. He understood how it would make him feel if he was white. Since his realization, he never called a white person "muzungu" again. He tells me that whenever he hears a child call a white person "muzungu," he gives them the "how would you feel?" talk if he had the time. He hates that phrase just as much as I do.

Race is something our country has battled in it's recent history. As a student in the education department, I have learned the importance of multicultural education and equality. I have learned to treat every person equally. It doesn't matter if you are a man, woman, black, caucasian, asian, indian, gay, straight, tall, short, fat, skinny, shy, or outgoing. In Vermont I feel like I fit in with the culture and with the people around me, but it's not because they are white. I feel that it is because I was raised to treat everyone equally. Everyone looks the same underneath their skin.

Upon returning from my recent trip to Uganda, I found myself questioning the phrase again. How is it that "muzungu" is one of the only words that a Rwandan two year old knows? Children always know the phrase "muzungu, give me money" whether they know english or not. This phrase is used by the young, the old, the rich, and the poor. It feels like it comes out of their mouths because it is a habit. Even if they really don't need money. What does it mean to be a "muzungu" aside from the color of your skin anyway?

In Rwanda, and in many other African countries, white people are looked at very differently than the rest of the population. They are often travelers, so they are the ones who have money. They come to aid and educate. They feed the poor. They caused the extreme divisions between poverty and wealth. They have the power to cause animosity and hate among people within a country. White people who have come into this country of Rwanda in the past have come in for reasons of power. Division between white and black is so obvious in this country. There is absolutely no way for me to blend in with the rest of the people here. Even if I had all the same beliefs as them. Even if I lived here in a small house with no running water or electricity my whole life, I would never blend in. I will always be a muzungu. A muzungu with all the stereotypes attached.

There are definitely times I wish I was black here. Simply for the ease of moving around in the market, or going for a run down the street, or catching a bus to or from town. Even though bus fares are a set cost and they can't charge anyone more, the bus drivers still go out of their way to call you over just because you are white. Sometimes I am embarrassed because I am white, only because I know of all the stereotypes that come along with the color of my skin. We are all the same to them. We are all tourists out to spend money in every way possible. We have the spare change to take a bike taxi for a mile instead of walking. We can afford to be charged double for a moto ride. We can afford to walk into a market and mildly bargain down to a price nearly double the actual cost. But really, I'm not rich by any means, and I can't afford any of these extra expenses. I can't be taken advantage of in these ways. I am here to expand my views, education, and understanding of world issues. I am here to make a positive impact on children's lives. I am here to learn from them just as they are learning from us. I am not a piggy bank for anyone to break into.

Now, when I hear the word "muzungu," I feel disappointed and frustrated. Why do I have to be called white person, even by adults? What is it that white people do over and over again that keeps the phrase "muzungu, give me money" alive? What can be done to eliminate this phrase? Why can't I just be another person walking down the street? How would you feel?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Run Forest, RUN!

I've been here for three weeks now, and things have been going great! I have a new addiction for fabric shopping (I am trying to quit) and a brand new hair style that I plan to keep around for a solid chunk of time. Also, things are coming along with the library project! We've begun cataloging all the books by genre and ability, and it is taking a lot of time. Rafiki gave us 100% control over the library project, and the store room project as well! That is great news because the only thing we have to wait for is the completion of the construction. Our English/PE class improves every day! They are beginning to realize that they get to play more games when they listen to, and follow directions. We add more vocabulary words every week, and they are starting to understand the rules of tag. The biggest hurdle of tag we are beginning to get over is "no puppy guarding."

 While we are working with the boys on their English skills, we are also teaching them games that we hope will stick around the center for years to come. Exercise is something that naturally occurs throughout the life of a Rwandan. Exercise isn't something they have to go out of their way to accomplish. Elena and I have been on a few runs together, and it's been awesome. Despite it's awesomeness, it's also made me think about America's  customs of exercise. Seeing someone running purely for exercise is a normality within the borders of the United States and other advanced, westernized countries.

Being white in this country makes you stand out a lot. Practically everywhere we go we hear "muzungu" (meaning white person) yelled out at least once. Now imagine what it would be like to see a parade of circus clowns wandering down main street. We get similar crowds when we go running down the streets of Rwanda.


It was a warm afternoon, around 4:30. Elena and I planned on running when we got home from work. Our walk home is all uphill, and we are normally in a solid sweat by the time we reach our gate, which is sometimes very difficult to open. It was a tough day at the center, and we were feeling pretty fried. As I lay on the couch, Elena walks into the living room all dressed in running attire. "I suppose this means I should go get dressed, huh?" I mention.

As I lace up my shoes, I begin to get excited for some exercise. I pull back my new dreadlocks with an elastic headband, and we're off.

We decide to run 15 minutes out and turn around. We've had a long day, and this should be all we need to get out blood flowing. We run up our rain-damaged dirt road to a main road. We instantly draw the eyes of anyone in our sight. As we travel down the sidewalk, we begin to notice the local children peaking outside their gates. Of course they yell out "A MUZUNGU!" We pass off a wave and move on.

We pass through multiple bus stops, occupied by people of all sorts including a few moto guys here and there. They are normally the ones who crack some joke in Kinyarwanda, making others around laugh and stare. We keep going. We hear conversation from people we pass. They give away their subject when we hear them say "muzungu" amongst a slew of words we don't recognize.

As we come to our 15 minute turn-around, I'm feeling good. We have traveled about a mile and a half from our home. Shortly after our turn-around, a man with clunky rain boots runs in front of us. We look at each other with a face that clearly says, "he's crazy!" He throws his hands up in the air as if he is dancing in celebration as he continues to run in front of us. We assume he is umusazi (crazy) or just drunk. Surely he'll tire in either case and stop to let us continue on our way. He begins to slow down, and just when we think he's had enough, he glances over his shoulder and jolts ahead again. He does this one more time, and this time I get the whiff. I turn my head towards Elena and say "He's drunk."

Our drunken tag-along creates even more of a scene. More people laugh. As we near the turn for our street, we begin to strategize about how we are going to make this turn without him noticing. To avoid a drunken man knowing where we live, we decide to slow down a little before our street. As soon as we round the corner, we lengthen our stride and fly down the hill of our street. We look back and see nothing. The plan worked, and we cruise down to our house with no one following.

We reach our gate, and it opens with no trouble. We instantly begin to laugh about our whole experience. With sweat dripping from our faces, we finish up with some sets of push-ups and sit-ups to round off our exercise. No three mile run in the United States could ever be as eventful as this one.