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.