Friday, July 8, 2011

10 Months

written July 5th, 2011

10 months from today I’ll be heading to Kanombe International Airport en route to the good ol’ US of A. As exciting as it is to think about reaching holidays that I can say ‘in a year from now I’ll be with family and friends’, it’s a bit unnerving to think about what lies ahead.
Before I start prematurely packing my bags however there are some pretty large items on my To Do List which remain currently unchecked.

1. Nyamagabe Community Library
Although we are days away (fingers crossed) from hearing back about funding to complete the rehabilitation of the library building, that approval will start a chain of events that will undoubtedly be time consuming and hectic. Starting construction, recruiting a librarian, receiving books, organizing books, figuring out a library system…the list will continue to grow. For sustainability purposes, community leaders are in the driver’s seat. As a PCV with 10 months left and 6 months already committed to the project, it’s hard to not want to reach over and press the gas pedal from time to time.
2. Camp GLOW and BE
Currently at square one with this project, volunteers including myself are starting to organize holiday camps for local students. Although this isn’t a new idea in Rwanda or for PCVs worldwide it will be new to Nyamagabe, where one of the camps will be held. Lodging, food, transportation, lesson planning, budgeting are all on the list of things to do at this point. All of this is starting now and must be finished for camps to start the first week of December. Ready. Set. Go.
3. Primary Project
Oh yea, I still have a primary project with AEE that I should be at Mon-Fri. Finding areas or projects where I can fit in and can actually contribute is a challenge in itself. Some weeks consist lengthy meetings with cooperatives to discuss problems they are facing, while others are spent waiting for money from Kigali to actually conduct these visits. Still, other days are spent going over how to do things in MS Word or looking up the equivalent French or Kinyarwanda word to help colleagues write their reports in English, although few know it.
4. Grad School
Send GRE scores, fill out the FAFSA, write personal statements and essay questions, email people about letters of recommendation. For some reason I don’t remember any of these tasks when I applied to college for undergrad, but these are weighing on my mind more lately. This could explain the recent influx of coffee consumption as well. With applications coming online in the late August-early September I’m taking the next month to focus strictly on essay writing. Good thing Modern Family and The Office won’t be starting back up for a few more months.
5. Language
My kinyarwanda is decent, although it can always use some work. Working with my French tutor two nights a week is making all three languages swirl in my mind. I’m going to mu muji acheter MTN credit. At least people will know what I mean here. High school French comes back to me at times which is promising, although it’s nowhere near a level I feel comfortable stating on Facebook that I know. 7 more months of language classes coupled with Rosetta Stone should get me there.

The 10 months leading up to Peace Corps, I remember thinking about what would define my volunteer experience. Would I be at a health center in Senegal, a school in Tanzania, or possibly in some office in Togo? (Yes, I had this dream). Here I am with 10 months left wondering how these events will impact my community, how they will shape my memories of Rwanda, and how they will define my Peace Corps experience. With 16 months down and 10 to go, I know how time can fly. I just hope this list gets done before I have to decide before chicken or fish on the flight home.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

1st Year Reflection

With one year down and one year to go, there have been quite a lot of lessons learned. Although I’d like to be able to say that after one year in the PC I’ve accomplished XYZ, things just don’t work that way. PC embeds into every volunteer’s brain that the first year of service is mainly to learn. Learn about the needs of the community, boundaries, available resources, and our own capabilities. We aren’t here to impose American standards or see how many schools we can build, we are here to learn about Rwanda, teach Rwandans about America and develop a sustainable relationship with a mutual respect. Through these relationships we challenge ourselves and the people around us to expand our knowledge, exchange ideas, learn new skills, and develop a mindset that focuses on progress. Although to date, I think my greatest tangible achievement is having my colleagues drink more water, because “it’s healthy and Ryan does it”, I’ve created a list of some humorous, serious, seemingly insignificant, and breakthrough moments in the past year.

1) Most Rwandans think that Washington state, is DC and that when you say you are from the West Coast, they think you know Snoop Dogg.
2) Development in one sector will undoubtedly affect another, for good or bad.
3) Trash bags = soccer ball
4) Baking powder can substitute for baking soda, but not vice versa.
5) Cleanliness is relevant.
6) A language with the word Imbangukiragutabara is not fair.
7) Interest rates on village savings loans are technically village savings rates.
8) Enrique Iglesias and Celine Dion should be ambassadors.
9) In Rwanda, L’s and R’s are interchangeable, for good or bad. ex Clap vs Crap
10) Positive personal relationships with a shopkeeper, a market lady, a sambusa lady, the bus ticket ladies, the sector leader, and my colleagues will be some of my fondest PC memories.
11) Hissing at waiters is acceptable in some parts of the world.
12) Free speech is a cherished right, but not by all.
13) The perception of development is a double edged sword.
14) I miss Papa John’s garlic dipping sauce as much as the actual pizza.
15) Everything is better with bbq sauce.
16) I can now identify sorghum, sweet potatoes, and cassava plants.
17) Humor and humility disarm.
18) Post conflict development is the most challenging and intriguing concept to me, and will hopefully be the main focus of my future studies and career.
19) Fiction books are nearly impossible for me to read.
20) Eucalyptus is used as firewood because it grows back much faster than other trees.

One year sounds a bit daunting and overwhelming, yet looking back it’s hard to see how so many experiences and lessons have been packed into the last 12 months. It’s hard to believe that a year ago today I didn’t know how much tomatoes cost in my market, what time Mama Amy would have spicy sambusa’s prepared, or where the best seat to watch football matches is at the local bar. Who knows what will happen in a year from now. Will the Nyamagabe community library be finished? What grad school will I be accepted to? I’m excited that I’ve reached the one year mark, but even more excited for the opportunities this next year will bring.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Produce what you can sell, don't try to sell what you can produce

Where has the time gone? A lot has changed with work and life in the past few months so let me get you up to speed.

Before leaving for vacation in December I found out that my counterpart was taking a job in Kigali and would no longer be working with AEE. I was surprised and somewhat worried about my role with my organization. He was the one who, from the first day, understood what it meant to be a PCV and how to incorporate me into the job activities. After returning from vacation to find out even more colleagues were taking new jobs, I questioned whether or not I should ask for a new assignment or direction in my work. However, my frustrations or worries were appeased when the new hire, my new counterpart, was brought in. He has hit the ground running, motivated, and understanding that we both have a lot to learn from each other. With his presence, I’m much more comfortable working as a PCV, co-facilitator, co-learner, working with the staff and our beneficiaries, not for them.

The direction of our work activities has also shifted, which has brought new and exciting activities to the work assignment. Continuing to work with the internal savings and lending groups and cooperatives, we are now in the business of monitoring progress, helping them with action and business planning, and organizing farmer field school trainings (coming soon!). To give you an idea of the challenges this entails here is a brief description of one of our coops and the issues they face. Coop #2 (we’ll call them) is a group of nearly 60 HIV positive members who are divided into 3 savings and lending groups, based on the cell or village they live in. Within their groups they save and lend with the money they earn from farming and selling items in the market. As a cooperative, they have 2.5 hectares of land in which they had planned to grow irish potatoes, sorghum and beans. The Rwandan government has subsidized these crops though so more people are growing them, which has reduced their sales and expected profit. Coop #2 then decided to switch to growing maize, but unfortunately the rains this year were not enough to produce a sizable crop to feed families and sell in the market. To make matters worse the maize they purchased was a hybrid (which was supposed to withstand harsher conditions), and thus they won’t be able to use the inputs to plant a second crop. In addition to growing maize, they would like to grow passion fruit (marakuja) for their own health, but face problems with the acidity of the soil. In order to buy inputs (lime) they need money, but without a crop to sell they don’t have many options. As you can see the list of challenges is daunting and overwhelming. Where do they start at solving their problems? What is our role in this process?

Starting with the organization of savings and lending groups was the first step. It will be the tool that, when run effectively, will help even small sums of money grow to hopefully buy the inputs they need. In order to make sure these inputs succeed though, we need to work with them on cultivating crops that they know how to cultivate (and cultivate well) and which are nutritious, profitable, and marketable. The rule of thumb, is produce what you can sell, don’t try to sell what you can produce. This will include a farmer field school training, which is not about teaching farmers how to farm, but bringing them together to discuss best practices, new methods, and helpful techniques. Simple methods such as using compost, which helps soil retain moisture and provides nutrients, is more than just throwing piles of food scraps in hole. Some farmers know this, while others don’t. If we can create a forum for this discussion, ideas and best practices will be spread faster, will be much more relevant to their land, and will decrease any sense of dependency on outside organizations.

This coming May, will be the one year mark since the program started which coincidentally will be my one year anniversary at site. I’m of course looking forward to saying I’ve lived and worked here for a year, but also to see the progress and difference one year can make. Development takes time, and I’m not under an illusion that anyone’s problems will have been solved. However, if even one of the challenges mentioned above can be addressed, I know this program is on the right track.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Last place, First

In the past few months, I’ve become more involved with a Peace Corps Rwanda project called Books for Peace, which is aimed at providing books to start or enhance libraries in volunteer communities. The project was initiated in Rwanda with the first group of health volunteers two years ago, in conjunction with the Books for Africa organization. For me, what first started as an agreement to take over a single school book order from one volunteer in my area, has grown into a 15 school project throughout my district of Nyamagabe. After meetings with the Executive Secretary of my sector (Gasaka) and headmasters around the district, this project is starting to take on a life of its own. My organization has noticed this as well, assigning me to an additional (unofficial) counterpart, Venuste, who is AEE’s Education and Health Services Officer. Sharing the responsibilities with me is a Peace Corps volunteer in my group who has been assigned to the organization Caritas, here in Nyamagabe. The journey is just beginning for this process, which I can already tell is going to be a long, interesting ride.

The first step in this process has been to visit schools and talk to headmasters and teachers about their needs. Riding the hype of one school in town which received books already, we’ve found many schools interested, ready to get books into their schools or libraries, and also ready to pay their part. In order to get books, schools must cover 25% percent of the cost in order to show community ownership. Although this seemed like a daunting figure at first it has turned into an insignificant hurdle, with most headmasters ready to cut a check by the time our meeting is wrapping up. Before leaving a school I always ask for a tour of their library (if they have one) in order to see what space, shelving, library system, etc they have in place already. Some schools have five books on an empty shelf, while others have a librarian on hand with 3 or 4 bookshelves categorized and numbered. These visits have proven to me that getting the books here is not the end to the means, but that much more will have to go into these schools in order for kids to benefit from these books.

Wrapping up this first step last Thursday was a quintessential example of how work gets done around here. Venuste and I had visited most of the schools around town so it was time to take a trip to the last few remaining schools near the edge of our district, about an hour and a half moto ride away. We got up early and hit the road by 7:30 in order to make sure we’d have enough time to visit all four schools, take tours, ask all of our questions, and get back to Nyamagabe before the rains of umuhindo (short rainy season) came in the afternoon. On our way out of town, we made one last stop at the gas station, which was apparently out of gas (Not a very good business model, eh?). Thinking that our trip may have to be postponed, Venuste unscrewed the gas cap, shook the moto back and forth, and confidently claimed, “We have enough.”

As we traveled up, down and around the hills of Nyamagabe, I was able to catch amazing views of the green peaks and valleys that surrounded us. Interruptions to the scenic route were only due to my urge to watch the rocky, rough road ahead of us. While we bounced back, forth, and side to side, I had a firm grip on the back of the moto 100% of the time, while my butt was actually on the seat around 50%. Before we knew it though we were in Musange, ready for a quick stretch, and then to our first meeting of the day.

Of course, we arrived at our first stop, GS Musange, only to find out that the headmaster we were supposed to meet with spent the night in Nyamagabe town, roughly 5 minutes from our office. His secretary told us he’d be back soon, and that we could wait for him if we’d like. Not knowing how long that would be, we decided to save time and walk the ½ mile to another school we were going to visit, to get our legs moving and to save on gas. After walking through a field of cows and hopping over a stream, we arrived at ESECOMU school, only to find the accountant there to bear the bad news that the headmaster of his school was gone as well. Should I be frustrated? If nothing else, I’ve learned that if these things annoy you too much, working in Africa is not your cup of tea. The accountant embarrassingly admitted that he did not have any tea prepared, but offered us a place to sit at his friend’s house nearby. After hiking up a small mountain, we arrived at a mud house surrounded by banana trees. We politely sat down and Venuste completed the customary questions about family and work that comprise Rwandan ‘small talk’, while Rwandan news was blaring in the background on the radio. After the brief exchange of pleasantries we were proudly handed a family photo album to look over while they prepared tea. Unfortunately, by the time the tea was ready, the headmaster from the first school we visited called and was ready to meet.

The GS Musange headmaster was eager to fill out the form and show us the school “library” which sits at the back of his office. He informed me that he knew of Peace Corps because he was approached to work with a volunteer from the new education group that is currently in training. He is securing a house for them now which will be ready to in January, after they swear-in. The PCT doesn’t know it yet, but a project will be waiting for them upon arrival, as sort of a welcome gift from us here in Nyamagabe.

After wrapping up our first meeting, we headed out to ESECOMU again to meet with the headmaster who had just returned. He too was delighted at the possibility of receiving books, and was proud to show us his library, which he unfortunately didn’t have the key to because the librarian had left with it. Peering through the broken windows, I saw four shelves, two of which were at such an angle, I do not know how they hadn’t tipped over already. In addition to new books, I think new shelving will be a topic in our next meeting as well.

Next stop was Kaduha, about 20 minutes away from Musange. Missing tea earlier and now approaching lunch time, Venuste and I stopped for a brief moment to have some juice and biscuits. It was important for us to get out of the public eye, in order to respect the Rwandan cultural rule of not eating in public. Finding an appropriate distance outside of town, we quickly munched down our snack and checked out our gas situation. Venuste shook the moto and once again declared, “We have enough”. So we were on our way.

At our first stop in Kaduha, we were once again faced with a missing headmaster. We were told he was at the next school we were supposed to visit so we quickly drove over in order to hopefully meet with both of them. Unfortunately, our informant was wrong, but we were still able to sit down with the headmaster of Group Scolaire Kaduha. The headmaster immediately was excited once I pulled out the Books for Africa paperwork, as he told me how he’d been in contact with the organization but hadn’t been able to get the school’s Parents Association to approve the spending. I was impressed by his willingness to take on such a large project as one school, but in the end it would have been very difficult and costly for him to do it himself. He asked me if I knew ‘Steven’ who works with BFA, and was insistent on showing me their email communication. Debating whether or not I wanted to use this opportunity to strike at the heart of the widely held myth that ‘all white people know each other’ and say no, I said yes thinking that I had actually seen Steven’s name before. My gamble paid off as the headmaster immediately was excited I knew Steven, and could now tell the Parent’s Association that the book program is real because the American said so. At first I was annoyed that my presence or appearance proved some validity to the program, but in the end if that means students receive books, I will gladly provide the muzungu stamp of approval.

The excitement was not enough of a distraction for the headmaster though, as it also reinforced the notion that he had to show me Steven’s email. I politely suggested we look over the book order forms again so that he might start putting the pen to the paper, but he nonchalantly put them to his side, while clicking ‘refresh’ on his Yahoo account. This continued for about an hour, while I awkwardly sat there, sipping my tea, while he furiously clicked refresh and told me the network must be down. My bailout option was gone as well, because Venuste was working with the accountant on budget issues related to the OVCs (orphans and vulnerable children) that AEE sponsors. Finally, the internet won, never bringing up Steven’s email and forcing the headmaster to once again look at the paperwork. He asked for a few days to look it over with his teachers, but will have the form delivered to our office on Monday.
Leaving his office, I was a bit annoyed and disappointed that we were only able to get to 3 of the 4 schools after coming all this way. In addition, what could have taken a few hours including travel time, had taken nearly an entire day. As I came to terms with the fact that we might leave one school out of this order, Venuste slammed on the brakes and hollered to a passing moto. It was the headmaster we had missed earlier, so we turned around and pulled up alongside him. Venuste gave him a 30 second speech in Kinyarwanda and then the headmaster turned to tell me he’d have the form in to me on Monday as well. The irony of sitting in one office for two hours while a headmaster clicks refresh on his email while another says yes without even seeing the book options brought a smile to my face.

A little further down the road Venuste stopped and unscrewed the cap for the last time, shook the moto, and confirmed once again, “We have enough.” I wanted to ask him if we should check again maybe when we aren’t parked facing downhill, but I just sat back, packed away our notes and was ready to hold on tight.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Dear Pen Friend

What would you say if you were given a piece of paper and told to write a letter to a student in a foreign country, using a language that you are just learning to get a grasp on? As part of my correspondence through the World Wise School program, I’ve decided to add an element to the cross-cultural exchange by asking the English Club at Sumba Secondary School to write letters to the American students describing themselves, their family, and their country. Now, after reading 95 letters, and hearing the stories about these students’ lives, I realize that this exchange is providing me with a new opportunity to learn more about Rwanda, through the eyes of Rwanda’s youth.

Most of the letters begin in the same way, with specifics about their height, weight, eye or hair color, and often their current marks or passing grade for their class. I’m sure reading 1.60 meters or 55 kilos will pose a small conversion challenge as it did to me, but for the most part, the American students will be able to relate. After these physical facts however, the stories of these kids’ lives that contribute to the heart of cross cultural exchange begin to take shape.

One letter describes being a genocide survivor, while another describes how during the holidays he and his brother must cultivate with their mom to earn schools fees for the next year. Stories like these are common across Rwanda, although each time I hear one it makes me sit back and think about the strength of these children and their families. Typically following the brief family introduction, the students move into their favorite subjects in school, and lastly, their hopes and dreams for the future. In just a few short paragraphs these letters take the reader from the information you fill out at the doctor’s office, to stories of survival, and finally to expectations for a better life.

I don’t expect the American students to relate to cultivating cassava, but that’s exactly the reason why I want these students to exchange letters. I hope the similarities and differences in the students’ lives and letters will provide a new learning opportunity, just as it did for me.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Three weeks. Two presentations. Two Lakes. Two countries.

Wow where has the time gone? I left September 2nd for a financial literacy training with AEE in Musanze, went to my in-service training (IST) the week after that, and followed those up with the post-conflict workshop in Uganda. Now I’m back home, slightly worn out form living out of my backpack, but ready to get back to daily life.

I won’t bore you with the minutia of the financial literacy training, because it was very detailed and in Kinyarwanda so I’m still not even sure of all of the content.

My IST was not only a chance hear stories of success and challenges from my fellow PCVs, but also a chance to see beautiful Lake Kivu. We were spoiled with great food, great views, and a chance to relax as a group while learning about possible funding opportunities, how to design and manage a project, and last but not least, how to report what we are doing to Peace Corps. On our second to last day, we took a group trip out to Amahoro Island, about 20 minutes from our hotel by boat. As small as the island was, it came equipped with a small restaurant and bar, a volleyball court, and a short trail which provided “hikers” with the chance to see the single monkey living on the island. While all that sounded exciting, my friend Jarod and I took to the water to test our lungs and our breast/crawl strokes by swimming to a nearby island. We made it there and back, but probably won’t be testing Michael Phelps anytime soon.

After IST, I made a quick trip home to get new clothes and then it was off to Entebbe, Uganda for a week-long workshop on Peace Corps’ programming and training practices in post-conflict countries. We hit the ground running from day one with broad questions of how to train a PCV to work in a post-conflict country, all the way down to the small details of what resources should be included when inviting someone to a post-conflict country. From regional advisors, to country directors, to volunteers, all voices were heard and all ideas were up for debate. The “Rwandan perspective” proved challenging for many of the ideas that people presented and continually became the last hurdle for ideas to be post-conflict worthy. For instance, when discussing how PCVs integrate into the local community, one may think conversations about family history, livelihoods, and education would be commonplace. What happens though when these subjects are not culturally appropriate to discuss or might go against government policy as can be the case in Rwanda? In addition, how do you convince a community that has been receiving handouts of food, medical supplies, and shelter to accept a volunteer who doesn’t bring any of these things outright, but merely wants to work with you on achieving these things by yourself? Post-conflict countries are some of the most aid-saturated environments there are, adding the challenge of integrating into one of these and convincing the community you are there to work with them brings forth a truly different Peace Corps experience.

In the end the discussions were challenging and thought-provoking, and probably could have lasted for another week or so. Time outside of the conference was spent enjoying the views of Lake Victoria, watching CNN World News, and making sure monkeys didn’t come into the conference room to steal food. One of the mornings, I woke up early to access the high-speed internet in the conference room, only to be distracted by a curious monkey who relentlessly tried to get his little hands on the mints on the conference room tables. I managed to close most of the doors, but apparently missed one of them, which I later realized by the same monkey jumping up on the table across from me, shoving candy (wrappers included) into its mouth. As I got up to scare it away, a hotel employee came running around the corner wielding a chair over his head. I’d like to think my clapping and “Hey Monkey!” scared it off, but it was most likely the metal chair that frightened the little candy thief.

It has been a great three weeks, but now it’s time to get back to work and reality…whatever that may be.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Rwandaful Times Vol 1, Issue 2

Local News:

The Rwanda presidential elections have come and gone with incumbent Paul Kagame winning by an overwhelming majority. His 2nd seven year term, which officially started last Monday, was attended by heads of state from many African nations and the American Rick Warren.

In addition to the fiber optic cables that have been installed in Nyamagabe, construction has begun on new, paved roads around Nyamagabe town. One of the roads happens to be in front of my house and office, which comes at the delight of many of my neighbors and colleagues. Although I will enjoy not having to cross the small “bridges” on my short walk to work or town, I’m not sure if cobblestone roads are the most urgent of needs in Nyamagabe.

International News:

During my Pre-Service Training (PST) I signed up to take part in the Peace Corps Coverdell World Wise School program, which links current PCVs to classrooms in the US. I recently found out that I will be pen pals with twelve 1st graders in Allen, South Dakota. If you have heard of Allen, SD before it is probably because it has been deemed ‘The poorest place in the US’. I really look forward to learning about the lives of these twelve children, as well as providing them with a glimpse of life outside of the States.

In addition to the first grade class, I will also be corresponding with a 7th grade class in Southfield, Michigan. I was extremely happy to receive the news of my pen pals in South Dakota, but wanted to have an opportunity to discuss and exchange ideas about the Rwandan culture and way of life with older American students as well. The 7th graders in Southfield will be studying Africa in their social studies class this year, which I think will be a great opportunity for this exchange. I was also excited when I received an email from their teacher who asked if it would be possible for her students to exchange letters with Rwandan students. I now plan on linking them with a classroom in my town, after completing a Needs Assessment scheduled in October. I hope I will be able to find a motivated teacher and classroom to keep up with this exchange throughout the year.

Lastly, this month I will be taking part in the African Region Post-Conflict Workshop in Entebbe, Uganda. Peace Corps is assembling staff members and volunteers from post-conflict countries including Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda to discuss issues related to programming, training and PCV and staff support. I’m looking forward to discussing the needs and best practices of Peace Corps Rwanda, and hearing about the other country programs as well


We have now finished the 2nd phase of the ISLG trainings which focused on the technical side of bookkeeping and accounting. During the initial assessment phase, many groups had trouble answering questions about their finances from the previous year and they had very few notes in their ledgers. Extra time was allotted to review and emphasis the importance of this bookkeeping as it allows the groups to hold themselves more accountable for their savings and lending practices, and helps AEE understand what areas the group may need additional assistance.

As the ISLG trainings wrap up Flavien, Emmanuel, and I will begin working with our cooperatives in the Nyamagabe district. The co-ops have been deemed “Pre-Cooperatives”, based on their size and income so we will be working with them on establishing themselves as “Model Cooperatives” within the next year. To attain this title, they will need to demonstrate a period of growth which coincides with developed business skills in marketing and accounting. The cooperatives activities range from making drums to selling honey, so our approach will not be the same for any two groups. I visited the drum-making cooperative on my initial site visit during PST, and I’m looking forward to meeting the other groups and tasting the “best” honey from Nyungwe Forest.

Home Life:

One of the frustrating aspects of being a ‘muzungu’ is that some people think our possessions are easily replaceable. Although I feel safe at home and generally believe my belongings are secure inside my home, items that I normally wouldn’t think twice about have been taken. It first started with a compost pile Tressa and I constructed at her site. Our plans were to start a garden, but when we found that the compost pile was stolen, we figured growing food wouldn’t be a good idea. Next was my wallet, which is an obvious target, but something I thought was easier to hold onto. Lesson learned: Being first in the push-pile to board the bus isn’t worth losing a wallet. Next was the wood behind my house, which has now included the gate on the fence as well. The gate provided access to the forest area behind my house and luckily is only the first hurdle to getting on the compound. The eight foot tall cement wall with locking metal gate is a little more intimidating and can’t be used as fire wood. I now know to keep small bills in my pockets, and to never leave a compost pile unattended for more than a week.