Ndishimye kuba mu Rwanda!
I am happy to be in Rwanda! I am sorry that this update is so late but it has been rather tricky to access Internet lately. Things are going very well and I am happy to report that I had a very successful and productive visit to my permanent site last week. I am not allowed to post exactly where I am (it is a PC security rule) but my family has the name of the sector and village so feel free to ask them or if you are interested in more detailed information send me an email! My headmistress, Sister Espérance, met me in Kigali for a PC conference and it didn’t take me very long to figure out that she is awesome! She is very excited that I will be teaching in her school and we spent the majority of the first day getting to know each other and discussing the school where I will teach. I will teach in a secondary school that has three levels (S1, S2, S3), 216 students, and 9 teachers. Next year they hope to have 360 students and 14 teachers and they are in the process of building new buildings with hopes of developing into a boarding school in the near future.
The next day I had my first real exposure to the public transportation system in Rwanda, and while it was pretty chaotic trying to travel with my luggage and figure out what bus goes where, it was much easier to navigate with the help of Sister Espérance. The bus dropped us off at the edge of a dirt road that we walked along for about 15 minutes before we came to a small store on the side of the road. Espérance informed me that I would have the choice between two houses and I did not know at that moment in time just how important this choice would be! The first option was a sketchy building behind the small store, the bathroom was a tiny hole in the ground about 12 feet from my actual house, and the entire area wasn’t exactly giving me a warm and fuzzy feeling. The second option turned out to be a house that I share with another nun and is fantastic! I live in a compound with the nuns and while I don’t have a ton of space it is an ideal situation for safety and security purposes and very close to my school. I have one large room that is divided by a curtain and so far I have a bed, desk, chair, dresser and even electricity!!!
After seeing my room, Espérance took me over to the school to meet the other teachers and the students. It was exam week, so when I arrived the students were scattered about the courtyard frantically studying before their morning exam. I met the teachers (who are all very nice) during the first exam, and then I met the students. Here is how that happened:
My headmistress gathered all 216 students in a circle on the front lawn and I was forced into the middle of the circle to introduce myself. It was probably the most terrifying experience of my life! Before I could say anything Espérance informed the entire group of students that I was single with no children and from America. Marital status is a crucial aspect of any introduction here in Rwanda, and although I would have preferred that not be the first thing announced about me, it was bound to come out eventually. I did refuse to tell them my age because some of the students are as old as I am and that just seemed like information that they didn’t need. After an awkward introduction in a mixture of Kinyarwanda and English, two students carried out a large table to the middle of the circle. Earlier in the day I had mentioned to my headmistress that I was still looking for a Kinyarwanda name, so she decided that the students should choose! So they each received a piece of paper to write a name on, then all the names were placed on the table, one student selected five random names, and then I was allowed to choose from those five- it was quite the process! My name is now Uwineza, which means kind soul according to the nuns. A majority of the nuns now only refer to me as Uwineza and I am slowly starting to respond in a prompt manner. All the students cheered when my name was announced and then I was led back inside to meet more teachers. Everyday here is a new adventure!
My headmistress called a meeting with the teachers to determine what classes I would teach next year and she decided that I will be teaching Senior 2 which is about the equivalent of 7th grade (although my students will range in age from 11-22). At my school the average class is comprised of about 40 students which is awesome considering some of my friends will be in charge of classes with more than 60 students! There is no English club right now so that will be one of my first tasks and I was also thrilled to see a volleyball net outside my school so that will be a fun project to start as well!
One of the greatest aspects of my site is that there is a special needs preschool right next to my school! I am really excited to help out with the children and since I will only be teaching 15 hours a week I will have plenty of time to take on secondary projects. Some of the children who attend this school actually live with the nuns in the same compound as me so I was able to spend a few afternoons playing with them and that was lots of fun! There is also a health clinic and maternity ward that I am hoping to work with. I will live and eat with 9 Catholic nuns who are also hoping to improve their English so I will be very busy these next two years!
Kinyarwanda continues to be a struggle for me, although I am slowly starting to learn how to create sentences and understand questions when people speak to me. I enjoy practicing with my host brother and his friends and they are wonderful teachers because they are very forgiving when I make mistakes (and I can assure you that I make plenty). I have a language progress exam on Friday so there is lots of studying in my future! 🙂
I would like to also add here that my suspicion that Peace Corps has been hoarding my mail turned out to be very true! I received a call the other day to come up to the HUB to get a letter. This “letter” turned out to be 12 letters and two slips for packages waiting for me in Kigali. Thank you so much to everyone who has sent me mail, it was so much fun to read, even if it all came at once! I love to hear about what is happening back home so please continue to keep me updated!
Also- if you have any interest in visiting me here please let me know so I can keep that in mind when I plan my vacations. I have 48 vacation days but I can only really travel during the school breaks so it would help me out to know if anyone is thinking of coming out. On that note, you really should come because Rwanda is a beautiful and amazing country and I would love to have visitors!
Miss you all lots!