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One month in!

Today is the official one-month mark of me living and working in Kigali. It’s hard to believe 1/12 of my time here has already passed – in some respects I still feel like I’m fresh off the boat and in others I feel like a local. It’s been quite an eventful and exciting four weeks. Here are some of the highlights:

– I taught my first English class yesterday! I’m responsible for guiding the new students through a 10-week English discussion course during their intensive orientation period before they enter university in January. Stay tuned for more details on teaching and Generation Rwanda in my next post.

– This morning I went running for the first time in Kigali. I kept planning to go earlier throughout the month but I was either busy, tired, too full, too hungry, or just lazy. So this morning I got up early, determined to greet the day with some sustained aerobic exercise. Jean de Dieu, the guardian of my house (guard/cleaner/”house boy”), suited up and joined me to show me the good routes around Nyamirambo. He doesn’t speak a word of English or French, which was convenient because we were both pretty winded from all the hills. But it was so invigorating to be back in the game.

– During my first week here, I was walking around downtown Kigali when an old man stopped me to tell me in French that I was “beautiful like a ripe banana.”

– I recently hiked up Mount Kigali, a mountain set back a bit from my neighborhood, with some Rwandan friends. They took me up to the peak, called Mera Neza, where we saw the site of the ancient Rwandan king’s palace shrouded by evergreen-esque trees. The vistas from the peak were breathtaking: the quintessential undulations of the “Land of A Thousand Hills,” valleys, gorges, snaking rivers, and all of Kigali and the nearby city of Gitarama.

– I’ve befriended the local chapati/brochette man in my neighborhood, who gives me between double and quadruple times my order of food (the price usually comes out to around 17 cents a chapati or brochette). My theories are either that he’s trying to fatten me up to make me his wife or he’s just trying to secure a dedicated client through excellent customer care. Perhaps somewhere in between.

– I know all the names of the 26 new students! I have also met about 20-30 of the older students in the program. Though I must admit I only know first names, which are much shorter and easier to pronounce than multi-syllabic family names. I’m still getting used to the fact that people provide their family name as their first name and their given name as their second name. (So it’s not uncommon for me to hear “Hello Stein!” But more commonly I’m referred to as Helen, Hélène, Heraina, and, if I’m lucky, Helaina.)

– As expected, I’ve become very comfortable with the sight of cockroaches scurrying around the kitchen and the sound of mosquitos buzzing around my princess-canopy netting.

– Last weekend I explored the local Nyamirambo market with Caitlin and Mary, where we bought some beautiful fabric. I’m going to have mine made into a skirt and perhaps a shirt or purse. I have a feeling that all of the space in my suitcase that was filled with toiletries and Luna bars will be replaced with fabrics on the way home. They are all so exquisite.

– I have drastically improved my enunciation and drastically decreased my speaking speed. My first goal in teaching is being understood!

– This past weekend I went salsa dancing at a bar in town with Caitlin, Mary, and some students. Who knew there was salsa in Africa, right? One of the Generation Rwanda students is a salsa teacher there so he gave me a few lessons throughout the night. Although I felt like a bumbling fool (partially because I was still wearing my work pants and partially because I have a natural tendency to bumble), it was a great way to spend a Friday night. It goes on every week so it might become a regular thing!

My goals for the next month include: blog more about the details of Generation Rwanda and the work I’m doing, find a piano in Kigali, make running a more regular thing, go to the famous nightclub Cadillac, learn enough Kinyarwanda to have a three-minute conversation, and explore parts of Kigali that I don’t yet know.

I miss you all and I hope you’ve had a good month!


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Feeling dirty?

You’d fit right in here. Dirt seems to follow me EVERYWHERE. In my neighborhood most of the streets are dirt and when it hasn’t rained for a few days, the wind can be a dangerous force. Somehow a thin veil of dirt covers about half of everything I touch – the porch, the floors, the walls, the bath, the table, my feet, etc. (Bread can sometimes be extra crunchy around here, but I’m pretty sure it’s just larger salt granules or seeds…)

I just emerged from an epic 2-hour cleaning session since I figured there’s no better way to repent for my sins of the past year than to cleanse my environment. I really am my mother’s daughter because, as much as I hate to admit it, I kind of enjoy scouring and scrubbing. (Although I have yet to be found attacking the stove with a toothbrush at 2 am, anything is possible.)

Here’s a picture of the water after I did laundry by hand using the very high-tech basin method…(CAUTION: not for the faint of heart.)


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The countdown…

In about 3 days I will be landing in Kigali, Rwanda to embark on my Princeton in Africa fellowship. I’ve been spending the past week in a frenzy of organizing, packing, reading up on Rwanda, seeing friends and family, eating all my favorite foods, and mentally preparing myself for the exciting year ahead.

Through this blog I hope to keep all of my friends and family up to date with what I’ll be doing in Rwanda over the next year. The plan is that I will be working as a Student Services Assistant for Generation Rwanda, which may include any of the following tasks: assisting with new student orientations, teaching English classes and occasional computer workshops, advising student organizations, monitoring the student library, and other related tasks that come up. I’m really excited to start working on such important initiatives with an organization well-known for its unique approach to education and leadership development. The organization’s mission of helping orphans and other disadvantaged students pursue higher education really resonates with me, being a recent university graduate myself.

I also hope to use this blog as a general repository for my reflections and perceptions of Rwanda, development, living as a foreigner, the politics of the Great Lakes region, reconciliation after the 1994 Rwandan genocide, and life in Africa. So pretty much whatever happens to be on my mind. In addition to the important work I’ll be doing with Generation Rwanda, I’m particularly interested to see what the political climate in Rwanda is like, given the country’s recent presidential election. As I go along, I’ll try to weave my knowledge of Rwanda’s troubled history along with my insight into the country’s now much-improved situation that many people look to as a beacon of success and development in Africa.

After a summer full of anticipation, I’m looking forward to arriving and getting settled in. Once I know my local phone number I’ll be sure to post it for all of you to have. If you’d like to receive an e-mail notification whenever I post an update so that you don’t have to check this blog sporadically, you can enter your e-mail address in the box in the right column. And please feel free to comment throughout my blog. Internet permitting, I hope to post updates once or twice a week.

I miss you all already and I hope you have a great year!

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