Monday, July 26, 2010

No Planes or Trains, only broken down Automobiles

Last Friday concluded the first set of training sessions for the internal savings and lending groups I will be working with for the next few months. The last session brought Flavien, Emmanuel and I to Kibumbwe, roughly 45 minutes to an hour (moto ride) away from Nyamagabe town. My first visit to Kibumbwe was nearly a month ago, when I first met the four ISLGs we are working with in the area. They gave me a very warm welcome with a round of applause after each sentence I completed in Kinyarwanda. The people, along with the fact that the heart of the “town” seems to be a soccer field, make Kibumbwe one of my favorite places to visit in the area. Other than the soccer field there is a health center, a sector office, a school, and a restaurant/store. Not much comes and goes in Kibumbwe, which was a point I understood in greater detail as the day wore on.

The ride to Kibumbwe was just like any other field visit. Emmanuel and I on a moto with books, pens, and paper strapped to the back end. When we arrived at Kibumbwe, instead of meeting in the health center, like we did last time, we decided to meet in the school. The second term has just ended, but children were around awaiting their grades. Instead of accompanying Flavien and giving my “motivational speech” I decided to sit in on Emmanuel’s session and watch his teaching style and his interaction with the ISLG members. He doesn’t quite have the dance moves that Flavien likes to bust out during his trainings, but his linear teaching style provided a clear and concise lesson on savings and lending practices. He also did a great job in handling the kids, who seemed to be taking shifts staring at the muzungu in their classroom.
As the day wrapped up, Flavien suggested I ride back with the car that brings the meals for the ISLG members. I didn’t mind, but was a bit worried since they were late bringing lunches because of car trouble. Nonetheless, I got in and away we went in a Honda Civic, which was weighed down by 5 people, 50 empty glass Coca Cola bottles, dirty plates and silverware and had little to no tread on the tires from what I could see. After bottoming out a few times on a road that was clearly not suitable for anything but a 4-wheel drive car or moto, we came to a screeching halt, before we started going backwards, on a very steep hill. The driver was convinced we needed to add water to the radiator (not sure I understand the radiator to steep hill relation), but I didn’t say anything. We parked on the hill and sat for a half an hour after getting water from a local stream. After two more failed attempts to make it up the hill, I decided to get out and call Flavien who was going to send Emmanuel to pick me up whenever they were done. After waiting for 15 minutes, a truck (with a good radiator) came by and asked I wanted a ride. I gladly accepted and away we went, bouncing over ditches and rocks that I don’t know how the Civic made it over in the first place.

As we were crossing the final bridge before Nyamagabe town, I heard a CRACK and felt the back end of the truck drop. The narrow beams, which were barely held together with bolts and screws, snapped underneath us, dropping the truck a few feet above the stream. The truck was surely not going anywhere, which amused most of us, but annoyed the driver who was busy running around trying to find a log to prop up the tires. Luckily, one of the onlookers was a moto driver, who was able to give me a ride the last 2 km to my house.

I forget sometimes that transportation here is far from a sure thing and arriving on time anywhere is not only a challenge, but also success (when it happens). We have another field visit to Kibumbwe in a few weeks which I’m sure will bring a whole new set of challenges. The first however is getting across the bridge that will hopefully be “fixed” by then. We’ll see!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Rwandaful Times, Vol 1, Issue 1

Has it really been a month since I’ve last written? My apologies for the brief hiatus and for those that have requested an update, I hope you like the new format. I think that somewhere between my writers block and the World Cup, I lost track of keeping notes and writing down my thoughts. I’ve realized though that my scattered ideas don’t always translate into a well written blog entry, so I’m introducing The Rwandaful Times as a happy medium. I figured I’d be able to touch on various areas of life here, while breaking from the traditional, coherent blog entry. I was going to announce it on ESPN “The Decision II” but thought this was a much better platform.

The Rwandaful Times

Local News:
Nyamagabe is receiving highly anticipated fiber optic cables, which will provide high-speed internet to the area. Despite the fact that that meant water was shut off in the region without warning, many people are excited for the opportunity to use high-speed internet. On what you might ask? Well that is to be determined. But hey, if that means I’ll be able to stream Seahawks highlights come this Fall, I’m not complaining. In the mean time, it’s providing jobs or at least paying lots of men with shovels that are struck with a confused look on their faces while staring at the red and yellow tubing.

International News:
Uganda has recently been added to our Peace Corps do not travel list which effectively means we cannot travel to 3 of the 4 surrounding countries. Good thing Tressa and I picked Tanzania/Zanzibar for our Christmas/New Years plans!

The 4th of July was celebrated in true Amerrrika fashion with hot dogs (yes they have them here), mustard (yes that can be shipped here), ketchup, and chips. Tressa and I invited some of our friends over for a 4th of July weekend which was a lot of fun. We all wore red, white and blue, sat up on my deck and cooked hot dogs over the kerosene stove while listening to music from home. It was refreshing and for a few fleeting moments, felt like we were sitting around a campfire back in the states.

We have moved past the Internal Saving and Lending Group (ISLG) assessment phase and have moved into the training (or in some cases re-training) phase. The typical day consists of arriving out in a village (usually at a school room or a local leader’s office) to greet roughly 60 farmers/merchants who have divided themselves into 3 ISLGs based on location, which is typically their village (umudugudu). Flavien who I mainly travel with now, outlines what ISLGs are, how they work and other big picture stuff. For the first few trainings, I’ve mainly played what I call the ‘motivational speaker’ role in which Flavien asks me to talk about benefits of ISLGs. Most of the time he just tells me when to start talking and will translate anything I need help with, which at this point, is still a lot of what I say. Unfortunately, discussing how and why to save the little money that many of these people earn was not in my Pre-Service Training Language classes. I’m confident that as time goes on however I’ll find my niche in these sessions. In fact, last week while attending a conference put on by CHF, we were taught new lessons in ISLG training, some of which Flavien and I both agreed would be great ways for me to be more involved in the trainings, while at the same time using Kinyarwanda.

The World Cup has come and gone, and although Spain won, Rwandans stopped caring once Ghana lost to Uruguay. I’m sure this goes for most of the continent, as many countries seemed to suddenly become general “African” supporters once the Black Star nation was “their” only hope. I’ll have to admit that I was a bit happier after Ghana lost. Hearing Rwandans chant “Yes We Can” after Ghana beat the US struck a protective, patriotic cord with me that was somehow ameliorated with a Ghanaian loss. In the end, I’m very happy that Africans are proud to have hosted the World Cup (although it was SA) and am lucky to have been here while it was happening.

Home Life:
I’ve recently found that American English is a great bargaining tool and have since struck two important deals. First, I agreed to teach my neighbor Joseph in exchange for Kinyarwanda and French lessons twice a week. Second, I agreed to teach my neighbor’s cook Manzi in exchange for dinner most weeknights. It’s a win-win-win situation for all of us and one that I’m hoping can last awhile.…especially the dinner deal.