Adventures at the Market and in Adult Education

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I have decided to start cooking for myself. There are many reasons behind this decision but the angle I used when proposing this idea to the nuns was not a matter of time or health but marital status. Instead of delving into the actual issues (like how I would like to consume meals prepared with way less salt and oil or that I would prefer to eat earlier) I explained that as a young single girl I really should learn how to cook. Once they realized that providing me with food was not only hindering my ability to grow into a competent young woman but also decreasing my value as a potential bride they jumped right on board with me cooking for myself.

I was a little nervous to navigate the market alone so I requested assistance. The nuns informed me that they would be no help at all since Rwandans tend to assume that nuns are rich so they wouldn’t be able to help me get good prices. The head nun who runs the vocational school offered to send one of her students with me as a chaperon and I gladly accepted so off we went today at 7 am. We didn’t make it too far down the road before she asked me if I had a bag and when I showed her my small sack she shook her head disapprovingly and we turned around in search of something else. After locating a large potato sack in the kitchen we once again resumed our walk to the market while she interrogated me about my marital status and how many children I have.

The market was a little overwhelming so I was really grateful to have help. We spent the first 15 minutes attempting to negotiate the price of bananas. The farmer could not understand why I didn’t need to purchase 60 bananas at one time and a small crowd gathered around to watch the white girl explain in Kinyarwanda that she only wanted 10 bananas. He sent his son out to find a scale so he could weigh 10 bananas and the whole thing seemed a little unnecessarily complicated. The girl who was helping me, Feresia, decided we should come back later once the banana man had figured out his prices so we continued on in search of tomatoes, onions, green beans, carrots, avocados, eggs, peppers, and pineapple. Along the way I also succumbed to the temptation to buy a cucumber from a very persistent farmer even though it wasn’t on my list. And yes- I was the only person at the market with an actual list.

I also ended up with way too many bananas (you can check them out in the photo) but hopefully I will figure out what to do with them before they go bad. In case you are wondering all those bananas were 1000 RWF, so less than 2 USD. Pretty impressive negotiating on the part of my chaperone. This is my loot for the week- the bag on top of the green beans has eggs.

Over all it was a successful trip however we did make a crucial error in packing the bag. Somehow the tomatoes ended up under the bananas and pineapple and sadly did not survive the trip home. Waste of money? Yes. A good lesson to learn in strategically packing food? Yes. Feresia arranged for a boy to carry my enormous bag back to the convent for only 100 RWF (600RWF=1 USD) and while I felt a little guilty about having a child haul my bag back for me it is completely normal here. A farmer helped him hoist the bag onto his head and we returned to the convent.

For my first meal I decided to keep it simple. I sliced up some carrots and onions, mixed in the green beans, and threw it all in a pot over the fire with a little bit on sunflower oil. I am happy to report that I still have all 10 fingers even after using a very sharp knife to slice up the carrots and onions. With the green beans you just break the ends off and snap them into smaller pieces- even I can handle this type of cooking.

While the veggies were cooking I boiled water for the pasta and managed to only scald myself with steam a few times. Once the veggies were finished I mixed them in with the pasta, added some spices, and voilà- my first meal was complete.

Now for the second topic of this blog- adult education. Last week my headmistress informed me that the local teachers want to have a session once a week so that I can help them with English. I was more than willing to do this but was slightly annoyed that they selected Friday at 5 pm as a meeting time. I was also rather annoyed that when I showed up to teach the only person at the school was my headmistress and some of my students playing volleyball. While I waited for some teachers to turn up I watched the volleyball game where I was occasionally chastised for not providing sufficient verbal encouragement and was given a demo from the boys on enthusiastic clapping. It was really funny to watch them using interjections I taught them last week like “Oh la la” and “Oh wow” throughout the game and then looking over to me for approval.

At about 5:15 Espérance, my headmistress, decided we would go to a classroom to study together. She brought a book along so we could work on pronunciation and I am pretty sure she just grabbed the first book she saw in the library. It was called No More Secrets and the first line was something like “I wanted that boy from the moment I saw him.” The first paragraph was dedicated to describing the boy’s “deep blue eyes” and “tanned muscular body.” Awkward. There was also a part of the story where the girl is fighting with her mother and makes a statement about how if she has to wait for a perfect guy to date she might as well become a nun. I was trying really hard not to laugh but since an actual nun was reading this story out loud it was too hilarious not to laugh. Luckily she thought it was funny as well. 🙂

About 5:30 some other teachers started to show up and I was really surprised that out of the seven women who attended my lesson only two came from my school. The rest were teachers from the local primary school, which is impressive considering they teach from 7 am- 5 pm, Monday through Friday. That is true dedication. They all showed up eager to learn, notebooks and pens in hand. It was so fantastic to teach a classroom full of quiet students who really want to learn and actually ask questions. Tonight we covered introductions and greetings which is a pretty basic topic but a little awkward when we covered how to discuss marital status. As I was writing the statements “I am married” and “I am single” on the board it occurred to me that I should probably include something like “I am a widow” but I decided to leave it off. Then a very cute older woman raised her hand and asked how to say in English that she was married but her husband was dead. As it turns out 3 of the 7 women are widows so I probably should have included that statement the first time around.

After class we discussed what topics they would like to cover in the upcoming weeks. I passed around a sheet to have them write what they want to learn and then clarified the topics before they left. Many of them listed writing as one of the topics to focus on so I asked what them what type of writing they wanted to study. I listed some possible genres on the board like poetry, letter writing, essays, and short stories. When I asked them to clarify which genres they would like to focus on they were quiet for a moment and then replied, “all of them.” It looks like I have my work cut out for me. I think a few hours a week of dabbling in adult education will be a wonderful break from packed classrooms of unruly teenagers.

And just in case you thought life in a convent is boring….

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