Monday, August 30, 2010

A Bit of a Tribute

Two years ago today I embarked on my journey around the world with Semester at Sea. I have many reasons to thank Semester at Sea…it showed me Africa for the first time, it taught me to not be confident in foreign countries, it introduced me a group of amazing peers and mentors, it convinced me that I wanted to and should come to Rwanda this year. Fabulous…let’s stop with the sentimental bullshit and talk about other reasons that I loved Semester at Sea:

1. It loves me and gave me/Bray Bray a free Alumni Voyage because I recruited so many Dartmouth kids to go on the 2009 Fall Voyage. (And a few more to go in 2010!)

2. It boosted the “overall GPA” that’s on my resume.

3. It taught me how to sneak alcohol past a bag search and a pat down…which came in handy at the Country Music Throwdown Tour this year.

4. It broke my cockiness that “Eli Mitchell can handle anything” by showing me that I cannot handle rough waters. (Okay, so I don’t necessarily like that…but other people probably do.)

5. It allowed me to meet so many people around the world that I’ve stayed in touch with and now want me to visit them in Namibia!? (Again…could be good or bad?)

6. It gave me the opportunity to date a guy with my name.

7. It taught me a billion new card games. Okay…maybe only three or four…but all of those have come in handy when learning “Rwandan cards” which ranks the cards as follows: Ace, 7, King, Jack, Queen, 6, 5, 4, 3…no 10s, 9s, 8s, or 2s at all. If Ace of trump is played over 7 of trump, it’s automatic game over. Losing team flips and gets top card to decide trump. It’s scored by points, not by hands: the point values of the top 5 cards are 11, 10, 4, 3, 2 in that order…the other cards don’t have points. If you know how to play Eucher, Spades, Hearts, or that other game we played on SAS…you should now know how to play Rwandan cards based on these rules.

8. It made me feel smart for a term.

9. It made me feel incredibly ugly for a term. But I was also okay with this because I learned how hard it is to be a California girl and pretty all the time.

10. It taught me how to say “hello”, “no thank you”, and “cheers!” in 9 different languages. (I did not retain any of this knowledge though.)

11. It allowed for many adventures and heart pounding sneakiness. Oh hey SAS…ever wonder what happened to that 2010 sign? Lombard…how about some more Never Have I Evers? Or Neptune Day…great memories of being very drunk, surrounded by very sober people, and almost convinced to shave my head.

12. It introduced me to Weeds, one of my favoritest shows.

13. It forced me to start my blog :)

14. It taught me how to barter, bargain, and flirt in any language or culture.

15. It filled my passport with cool visas and stamps…requiring me to get more passport pages on another adventure to Americaland in Kigali! (Except for the $82 this is very cool.)

16. It made me come to terms with Obama, because at least he’s a good conversation starter.

17. It showed me the wonders and the powers of Wikipedia/wikitravel/wiki___ as an academic tool.

18. It taught me how to apply the IS-LM curve/3-pane model to any real world situation. Ah gotta love a deep appreciation of basic economic theory. (I felt that I should put something academic in here.)

19. It gave me the opportunity to buy my leather money belt, which has come in handy throughout so many other travels. I feel so much more confident when I look completely vulnerable and underdressed, knowing that I have a copy of my passport, important Amex numbers, and $100 in my belt. So sneaky.

20. It showed me Africa. Back to being sentimental I guess. But SAS, let’s be real…at times, you were a joke of an academic term. At other times, you actually really did teach me important lessons…about myself, about other cultures, about the way the world works, about the biologics of kwashiorkor. And you know I love you…it’s why I write back every time you reach out to me and why I never stop talking about you to others that want to go (Margaret Eldred…you’d best have the time of your life this spring!). But really SAS…I really love you. Because I’m now in Rwanda, which is awesome…and I’m 88 percent sure that I can confidently say that I would never have ended up here had it not have been for you. So…springbok shots on me? I’ll meet you at Mitchell’s in Cape Town.

It’s Cold in Africa

It comes with the territory of growing up in New Hampshire to be skeptical of any person who tells you that some place is “cold.” So, even though I was warned that Rwanda might be “chilly”, my geographic senses (the equator is a 2 hour drive on mountainous dirt roads – I’m going to estimate that it’s about the distance of Hanover to Woodstock, or NYC to Newark) told me otherwise. I should have known. I will take an excerpt from my blog post about my first experience in Africa:

"1. It’s fucking freezing in Namibia.
2. Those things jumping in front of the ship – they weren’t dolphins – they were fucking PENGUINS.
3. Like I was convinced that the captain made a wrong turn and accidentally brought us to Antarctica.
4. Because the fog was also so dense that you couldn’t even see the front of the boat.
5. And there was no Lion King music blasting from the country. Which I was really expecting would happen.
6. So, overall, it was the worst sunrise ever."

Let’s just lather, rinse, repeat to describe my current thoughts about Rwanda. And add that the rainy season has started and we haven’t had electricity for hours. I feel that I am being cursed for all my prior complaints about the dust.

Now that I’m four weekends in, I feel a bit obligated to tell you all about nightlife in Rwanda. Here’s a make-your-own-adventure of a typical Friday/Saturday night:

1. Beer at Dinner? (Dinner = homemade pizza)
a. No – Go to Question 2
b. Yes – Go to Question 3

2. Great! You held off for an hour! But you do succumb to peer pressure. Go to Question 3.

3. Amstel or Primus?
a. Amstel – Go to Question 4
b. Primus – Go to Question 4

4. Feeling a little tipsy and everybody starts to show up. “Everybody” includes the normal crowd of muzungus (Peace Corps Amy, Christian Griffen, French Max), muzungu friends of the muzungus, Rwandan CCHIPs staff (Rene, Doctor Nathalie, Placide and wife), and other Rwandans (neighbor Felix, district data manager Gaston, professor from local university…). Do you…
a. Play card games/drinking games/teach Rwandans Up and Down the River – Go to Question 5
b. Escape the madness and shower/Skype/watch a movie – Go to Option 1

5. Oh boy…it looks like you’re actually going to drink this evening. But what do you ultimately choose?
a. Straight beer, gotta love knowing how your body will react – Go to Option 2
b. Beer + gin + banana beer + whiskey + banana liquor + strawberry wine + anything fermentable…because it’s more fun and more “Rwandan” that way – Go to Option 3

Option 1: Stay in and read Atlas Shrugged

Wow Eli! You’re such a rager and represent the SD so well! I hope your new Rwandan friends can at least appreciate the irony of reading Ayn Rand while volunteering in Africa. If not, too bad, at least you’ll wake up at 6am tomorrow so that you can…do nothing because it’s a Rwandan work day and no muzungus can be seen outside of their compounds. At least, then, you got a good night’s sleep.

Option 2: Go to Volcana Lounge

The exorbitant prices at Volcana (by Hanover standards, not by African standards) keep it a little classier than other places. I’m not entirely sure why “lounge” is linked to its name…perhaps the owners are referring to the few couches on the sides of its dance floor? There is also a pool table in a back room and they make amazing/expensive pizza (also by Hanover standards). It’s a little far from the main drag and pretty damn pricey, so it’s usually pretty empty. This is ideal if we have a large group and want to listen exclusively to MJ on the dance floor, but less ideal if we want to have adventures of any sort. Few exciting stories have come out of nights at Volcana, and all those that have are somehow associated with the DJ booth and a muzungu physically taking over the music selection. Or stories of one in the group hustling another at pool (only the loser has to pay to play…it’s a great rule and slightly reminds me of pong).

Option 3: Go to Silverback Dance Club, where the magic happens

My first time in Silverback I was so offended and disgusted that I immediately retreated from the dance floor to the bar, where I always feel safe. I had to be dragged back to the dancing by Lauren, who insisted that this was NOT a Chi Gam dance party, and despite the fact that the guys felt comfortable putting their hands on my pants, they had no intentions/hopes/desires of getting in my pants. This explanation made me feel much better…and I soon came to fully embrace the Silverback culture.

For one, all the guys are very liberal with sharing their drinks, which are mostly flasks or fifths hidden under their jackets. I know I need to stop accepting drinks from strange men in a foreign country – but it’s just so much cheaper than Volcana that I can’t stop! (You will be proud to know that I did make the rule to only accept a drink if the guy has a sip first. I think this is a very reasonable, responsible, and resourceful system I think.)

Second, I’ve never been such a confident dancer. I do not know how I will ever transition back to the US. There’s just something about knowing that every guy in the club will dance with you (to the chagrin of all the prostitutes hanging around) that makes you incredibly confident in your dancing abilities. (Or maybe it’s the banana beer/wine/liquor hitting the system.) I have no qualms teaching my partner how to swing (at least that part you’ll be proud of, Poppy), or literally doing fast feet drills and pretending it’s a dancing move. You can be incredibly silly and nobody knows or cares. It’s a great work out.

Third, there are many adventures to be had. Last weekend I got lost on my way to the bathroom and found myself locked in the kitchen, unable to get out. My solution was to follow the door through to the back of the bar and to sneak out that way. But this did not go unnoticed and I was even able to serve up a drink on my way out! (We’ll add that experience to times when knowing Kinyrwandan would be helpful.)

So there you have it with a summary of nightlife in Rwanda…given these descriptions, I think it might be possible to replace some key words (“banana liquor” = “99 bananas”…remember that one Frances/Isabelle?) and you might think I was somewhere in America. Okay, maybe not Silverback. Silverback is quite uniquely Rwandan.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Being Useless

During lunch today, our cook (Gabby) was fixing a bike. I got really excited:
“Oo what are you doing? Can I help? Can I do it? Fixing a bike is about the only useful thing I know how to do!” [Thank you River Rye Lovec and “Happy F*cking Chain Day”…my favorite day during our bike trip.]
This might not capture it, but I was REAL excited to show off my skills. Life gets a little boring and repetitive when you’re completely useless. When you don’t know the language, you don’t know how to turn on the oven, you don’t know how to insert a column in excel with using only shortcut keys (and then deleting it), you don’t know how to drive stick…etc…etc…etc… So I was super excited (and proud!) to show off that I actually know how to do something.
Gabby wouldn’t let me help.
I grabbed the tools from him anyways, insisting that he was just fixing the brakes and I could do it.
Then I realized that he was actually installing a kickstand. I don’t know how to install a kickstand. I’ve never even ridden a bike that has a kickstand. Disillusioned, I was forced to just put the tool down and walk away.
Fast forward 3 hours.
I walk past my bathroom and there is water literally GUSHING out of the wall. Not out of the sink or out of the furnace thing…because that might make sense…just straight out of the wall. And if it wasn’t for the drain in the middle of the bathroom, it would have been very well flooded.
A quick analysis of the situation, and I decide that this is a big problem. Big enough to forego the chocolates that I was intending to steal from Zack’s room. Lauren is sitting in her room, right next to the bathroom, I rush to tell her about the MAJOR problem happening right next door. She seems unconcerned.
I do a mental run down of my options: fix it myself (ha), find Gabby, ask Rene.
Option 1: Even though living with Sarah Koo often forced me to act braver and smarter than I really am, (There’s a wasp and a snake in the basement? Hmm…let’s put them in a container together and let them battle it out?) I have never dealt with water gushing out of the wall.
Option 2: I made a fool of myself in front of Gabby at lunch.
Option 3: But I made a fool of myself in front of Rene too. And he knows English better so he’s better at teasing.
I choose Option 2.
It appears Gabby is not around. Check the bathroom – water is still gushing (What a waste of such good water pressure! I consider taking advantage and just showering in it)…and then I forfeit myself to calling Rene in for help.
I am apparently not too good at the damsel-in-distress thing because Rene takes his sweet time to respond to my urgent plea. I imagine that by this point the bathroom flood has reached my toiletries, or at least wonder if I can run and get some chocolate while waiting for Rene.
When he gets there, I am torn between watching and learning, or getting chocolate. (It was 3pm, I was getting towards cranky mood.) But ultimately, I am disappointed to see that all he does it turn off the pipe right under the sink…and then it stops. I hadn’t noticed that knob before and suddenly feel embarrassed and…you guessed it…useless. I think I looked quite pathetic really. I had obviously over-exaggerated the “flood” in my bathroom, and then hadn’t even tried/tested the most obvious method for stopping it.
My only savior here is that we then went to investigate Lauren’s room because it’s right on the other side of the flood and mysterious-water-gushing-wall (caused by a burst pipe in the wall), and it turns out that her closet has been wet for “months” but she didn’t feel the need to tell anybody. Literally, she pulled clothing out of her closet that was wet from water coming through the wall.
I may be useless and unable to install a kickstand, but at least I didn’t let a wet closet go unfixed or undocumented for months? 

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

First Package!

I just paid 120rwf (~20 cents) to pick up my FIRST PACKAGE! (Correction: another CCHIPs staff member did this, but I found the package and the receipt on a table in the project house.) It’s from Kat Smith and has 3 disposable cameras.
I can take a hint. You all want pictures.
Solution: the WWHPS/CCHIPs facebook page! At least it has some pictures of me rafting…and the rest of the staff before I arrived. You can search for “Wyman Worldwide Health Partners” on facebook, or just click on this link:
Thank you so much Kat! I guess this proves that the cheaper, smaller package method is more effective than mommy’s method? (Still waiting on those sunglasses, tuna fish, and chocolates.)

“Ndi umukorerabushake mushya wa CCHIPs.”

Oh yes…you’d best believe it…that above phrase is how I introduce myself. It means that I’m a new volunteer at CCHIPs. And you’d also best believe that I have no idea how to actually say it.
So begins the story of Eli Mitchell learning to speak Kinyrwandan, a folk language that describes relationships rather than creates new words. For example, the literal translation for “they are brothers” is “they are of the same womb.”
Honesty time: I was too slow to fulfill the Dartmouth language requirement. I only got HPs (~Cs) in high school French because I taught my teacher’s daughter how to play lacrosse. And I dropped Spanish 2 in college because my teacher told me I would not get the requisite B- needed to go on the Language Study Abroad. (Thank you, forever, Semester at Sea for still allowing me to see the world.) Everybody in my family is dyslexic and ADD.
I have absolutely no reason to believe that I will ever be able to learn Kinyrwanda.
Yet, tomorrow at 10am, we’re going to head out to the local jail for two hours where they teach Kinyrwandan lessons.
Just in case I become highly competent in that two hour block, I’m going to take the time now, to tell you why Kinyrwandan is so confusing to me (besides the fact that nd/mb/nyrw are considered pronounceable, the average word is 10 letters long, and there is no grammar to speak of): so far, it seems that every important word begins with an “m.” As a reminder: I’m dyslexic. All words that being with an “m” look the same to me:
Muraho: Hello
Mwarimutse: Good Morning
Mwirwe: Good afternoon
Muramuke: Good night
Murakoze: Thank you
Murabeho: Good bye
Muhezo: Old man. (Very important word, because they are referred to very often. I will have a separate blog about Muhezos.)
Musanze: Where I live
Muhoro: More specifically, where I live in Musanze. Note the similarity to Muraho.  
Muhabuha: close-by volcano (pronounced “Murabura”)
Makumyabiri na rimwe: 21…very important because it’s my age
Si mvugai: I don’t understand
…okay…the last one’s a stretch…but I think you get the point that every Rwandan word I actually know begins with an “m.”

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

3 Plus Week Point

At some point recently, I hit the milestone of “longest time ever spent in a single country (not the US).” I actually think this milestone was a week and a half ago, because I spent 2 weeks in France with my grandparents the summer after 6th grade. Above all, maybe this fact shows how particularly unprepared I might have been packing my bags for Rwanda for a year.
The second thing this fact shows, I think, is how quickly I’ve assimilated to life in Rwanda because the milestone passed so seamlessly, without me even realizing it happened. (Yes, sorry, this is going to be a reflective blog. They have to happen every once in a while amidst the humor. If your name is Isabelle Schless, stop reading now or forever live with the knowledge that I am capable of expressing emotion.)
Yes…I’ll be the first to admit that I’m living a pretty cushy life in Rwanda. If I was working 100 hours a week in NYC, I certainly still wouldn’t have my own cook or maid (unless I was living with my parents in the Dirty Jerz…love you mom). And I only today learned how to count to 10 and conjugate to be in Kinyrwandan because I haven’t had a need to know it. And our secluded compound was fittingly dubbed “Americaland” by the local Peace Corps volunteers.
But, if I focus on only material things, I might not be giving myself enough credit. I do, after all, currently have fleas.
I have been living here for almost four weeks; it has not been entirely easy; and I think I should give myself, or Rwanda, some credit for not even realizing that I passed the milestone mentioned. My conclusion so far is that Africa – and especially Musanze, Rwanda – represents so much of what I crave as a small-town, New England girl that I’ve been able to assimilate and appreciate, rather than criticize and isolate.
Rwanda is the most densely populated country in Africa, so Musanze is by no means a “small town”, but the simplicity of life is exactly what I have always imagined to still be hiding somewhere in the hills of New Hampshire and Vermont. It seems quintessential to me that people here recognize each other in a slightly bustling metropolis (driving back to Musanze one day, Gabby recognized a former volunteer’s mother from behind and pulled over to give her a ride), that everybody takes the time to fully great each other (“Muraho” “Amakuru” “Ni meza” is an obligatory part of any conversation – even if you are just asking directions), and that there exists an impressive level of trust (I sat next to a hitchhiker today on our drive to Kigali…whatevs).
Unfortunately/fortunately, so much of this attitude can be credited to the lack of modern technology. Children are not rushing home to videogames; they are creating games with sticks and yarn, forming deep friendships at the same time. Women cannot disregard their peers, who could create the community that cares for them/fetches water for them/prays for them in a time of need. I almost fear that along with incredible knowledge and incredible speed, the new fiber optic and electric projects will bring with them a spell that might break the community and the bonds. But it’s possible the community will survive amongst the people – that is why, at any rate, we muzungus will always be muzungus, forever recognized as outsiders, onlookers onto the perfectly quintessential community.
So, given that Hanover, New Hampshire seemed a little too large and overwhelming to me at times, it is only natural that I have already fallen in love with a country/district/village that embodies all that I have imagined a truly small town to be...except for actually being small, of course. 

Monday, August 23, 2010

Inventory of My Health

Given that I’ve been working in healthcare for 3 weeks, I think that it’s time to update you all on my health in Rwanda…and maybe explain the lax updating of recent. So, here we go:

Malaria: Not a problem in the mountains. Nobody else even takes their malaria pills. (I still take mine, along with 3 kinds of vitamins…which doesn’t compete with how many Cory Hoeferlin and Sarah Koo take in order to rough the harsh environment of Hanover, NH…but I think it’s impressive.) We have so much malarone left over at the house that I feel guilty and think we should just start donating it to the people in Kigali that do have malaria.

1 ½ Dislocated Shoulders: I say 1 and a half because I think each of them was a ¾ dislocation. The first was when whitewater rafting, but my shoulder only rolled out and then rolled back in. I didn’t really want to tell my mommy this, but it rolled back in improperly. I could tell because I couldn’t really use my arm for a week. The 2nd dislocation was on purpose because I knew that there was something wrong with my shoulder. So when I was drunk/stupid enough, I dislocated and re-located it by myself. Then I played Flight Control on somebody’s iPod for about an hour to ignore the pain. Eli Mitchell wins more hardcore points. (Fun fact: Of the 4 muzungu staff members, 1 has had shoulder surgery, and 2 of us have frequently dislocating shoulders.)

2nd Worst Hangover Ever: The 1st worst hangover ever resulted in me being admitted to the hospital twice and having to drive 5 hours back from Eldred’s paradise in Canada with a 105 fever. This hangover has resulted in puking and having diarrhea for…at least 2 days straight…it hasn’t quite stopped yet. The doctor on our staff (who doesn’t drink) just laughed at me all day Sunday when I thought it was a hangover. She had a little more sympathy when I was ordered to bed rest on Monday when we realized that I might actually be sick. Silly me for thinking a small bottle of Pepto would suffice for a year. It doesn’t even last a day!

Fleas: I kid you not…and it’s not helping animals win any more sympathy in my heart. If I ever have a child that wants a dog – well – I’m just not going to ever have a child that wants a dog. When I asked the doctor on our staff about my weird rash that seemed to be spreading, she said “fleas” so calmly that I assumed she was joking. It turns out that she was not. And I will apparently be scarred with evidence of having fleas for the rest of my life. Thank god I didn’t get any on my face. She’s going to get me antiseptic body wash, which just sounds painful. She also says the only way to get rid of the fleas is to get rid of the source: our dog Emi (only 2nd worst spelling I’ve seen for a dog’s name in my life…take a guess as to what the first one is, Mom). Since actually getting rid of Emi is not an option, you’d best believe she is below Ele (pronounced Ellie – okay so I gave away the first worst dog spelling) on the “dogs I avoid as much as possible” scale.

East African Black Lung Disease: Apparently the persistent cough is part of one’s rite of passage to living in East Africa. At least, hopefully, starting tomorrow…I will officially be “living” in East Africa. We’re off to Kigali again in an attempt to get passport pages and a visa! (That is, if my stomach is in the mood to make a 2 hour car ride.)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

HIPPA in Rwanda (not Hippos)

I am unfortunately very practiced in the rules of HIPPA/IRB in America. My Presidential Scholar project was delayed almost a year because of HIPPA approval, and SPAHRC (too embarrassed to tell you what it means…) never got to play with our own data because HIPPA rules just would never let us access any.

It’s just not quite the same in Rwanda.

Fortunately, this means that we were able to conduct a community and outpatient survey with absolutely no hurdles. Unfortunately, my understanding of the purpose of HIPPA, coupled with my respect for rigorous economic studies…meant that I couldn’t fully appreciate/accept how we were able to conduct such a survey so quickly, without any prior approval. Ultimately though, it’s pretty damn sweet Kelly was able to design, conduct, and analyze a community-wide survey in her 6 weeks in Rwanda.

I’ve since taken over the analysis and reporting of this survey. I could tell you all about our results and ensuing recommendations, but that would be boring. Plus, my partner didn’t quite adhere to the 10 page page-limit that I set for him, so yeah…you wouldn’t read it. (But I will point out that statistical significance also does not matter in Rwanda because there’s absolutely no data on anything, so any data is automatically considered significant.) Instead, let’s focus on the entertainment of the lack of HIPPA:

Despite our informal “consent” at the beginning of each survey that explained to the respondents that their answers would not affect the care or quality of care that they received, all answered that they are “very satisfied” with their care and had “no complaints” and “no suggestions” etc. (Definitely not the responses you would expect to get in the US…)

Except for one gentleman, who was quite honest in his responses. Apparently, he has some disease that the health center cannot treat, yet due to the strictly regimented Rwandan health care system, he must always first go to the health center and wait to be referred to the hospital every time his disease acts up. He was incredibly frustrated that the people at the health center could not just treat his disease. (Wishing I remembered what it was.) This, Kelly and I recognized, represented a failure of the current, bureaucratic system.

We didn’t get 2 sentences into our analysis before Dr. Nathalie (the 25 year old doctor on our staff who works one day a week at the hospital) cut us off: “That silly old fool! He said that!?! He has a card that states he can come directly to the hospital to receive care, yet he continues to go to the health center EVERY TIME. Silly fool, silly fool, he just wants to be cared for at the health center but refuses to recognize that they cannot treat him. Ugh, I’m going to have the nurses explain this to him the next time he comes in.”

And there you’ve got it…it may be incredibly cumbersome, but I think there may be a rationale to following the rules of HIPPA. 

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

An Ode to Uganda

(I had the idea to write this to the “tune” of “Oh Susannah” but then the power went out so I couldn’t look up the words.)

Oh Uganda, don’t you dare leave me.
You cost 50 US dollars to get to,
But you are so worth it, you see.
Chinese restaurants in Rwanda are so few.
But no, it’s not the same for you.
You have more than just Fang Fang,
Even though just that would be enough,
With its duck and soup and chicken PANG,
[That means kung-pow chicken]
And a carved watermelon, full of stuff.
[Which we got because we lied, saying it was somebody’s birthday]
After the food and more food galore,
You have so incredibly much more:

As the heart of Africa, you start the Nile.
But you also have monkeys and birds of song.
I cannot lie…your beauty is incredible.
My second night there, I actually wrote you a poem.
[Not this one…I tried to write a serious poem, but then got really upset that I don’t know how to write poetry (I’m no Alex Howe) so I gave up.]
Churchill was not lying when he called you a “Pearl”
[With an English accent, this rhymes with “Nile” and “incredible”…which also rhyme with an English accent.]
I dearly hope I’m not away for too long.

Your prices are cheap, your exchange rate good,
Your people even speak my tongue.
With no dry season, you always have mud!
[This is a good thing, I miss the rain.]
And your beers, better than Mutzig/Primus, create more fun.

Let’s get back to your beauty though…
I wanted a picture, so the moment would not pass.
I could not understand how the waves went to and fro
Just below that pond that my father would call “glass.”
A picture though would be unfair:
In order to see the scene you must deserve it.
Raft down Nile rapids you must dare,
And then not sleep, but go to the river and just sit.

Which results in complete awe of your beauty,
And your food, your language, and beer.
Uganda…if you were a guy I’d call you a cutie.
I am just so happy that you are so near.

Bragging Blog (because it had to come)

Thanks to Zack’s brother being here, we got to take a mini-vacation to Uganda. And thanks to an inconsistent skyping schedule with my parents, I never had to tell them beforehand that I was going rafting on the Nile’s Class 5, largely unregulated rapids. So here comes the bragging…my biggest conclusion from the weekend is that this preppy boarding school girl from New England might be the most hardcore our of our muzungu group.

First…the hostel. Backpackers Hostel in Kampala is quite possibly the nicest hostel I’ve ever seen – and we got a private room because it was so “nasty” to some in the group. I’ll give you that the toilets didn’t flush and that there was a cockroach half the size of my palm in our room…but there were toilets to flush (unlike Namibia), we had beds (unlike Malaysia), we were allowed to sleep boys and girls in the same room (unlike Montana), there were no drug paraphernalia scattered around the room (unlike Amsterdam), and there were sheets on the beds (unlike any other hostel – even though I did use my silk sleep sack). All in all, I was quite impressed. Unfortunately…the rest of the group was not. Two had never stayed in a hostel, one had only stayed in this one, and one always got a private room whenever she did. Positive points to the preppy girl for having experience with “roughing it.”

Second…the rafting. By no means should I ever go whitewater rafting. As a reminder, my shoulders have dislocated when turning around too quickly and when playing pong, let alone the numerous frightening times they’ve dislocated around water (one while sailing and both while kayaking). Yet, I’m again going to award points to myself for my ability to learn and for my previous “outdoorsy” experience. Apparently my summers capsizing canoes at our lake house (so jealous that my parents and John are there right now without me) and endless (ENDLESS) hours talking to Semester at Sea “Heli” about his summers as a rafting guide gave me the ease and confidence necessary to look like I knew what I was doing. …even though I was strictly instructed to tuck my arms in when flipping and was helpless at getting myself back in the raft, I think that my natural comfort with the water and my ability to properly paddle won me outdoorsy bragging rights points. Oh yeah…and my shoulder dislocated underwater (shocking) = more badass points.

Note the perfect form of keeping arms tucked in as to not dislocate the shoulder.
(Coincidentally, this is the rapid on which I did dislocate my shoulder.)
Finally…because we all learned in middle school that arguments with 3 points are ideal…I’ll give myself points for not getting wasted on the second night of the trip. Yes…I’m so hardcore that I don’t give into peer pressure. Bragging points? I’ll take it because it means that I was up bright and early for an omelet breakfast the next morning.

In conclusion…it’s really too bad that not everybody can be Eli Mitchell.
This is not photoshopped. This just shows how hardcore Eli Mitchell really is. 

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Big City

Spent today in Kigali, the big city, to get my work visa and some extra pages in my passport. I had perhaps my first ever exposure to true bureaucracy…from Rwanda and the US.

First, I wasn’t able to get my work visa because we didn’t have a letter from our project director stating that we are replacing two American workers who will be leaving in the next year. We had letters updating the “volunteer inventory” for the organization, and other letters stating what exactly our duties would be at CCHIPs, but because CCHIPs at some point stated it wouldn’t hire more than a certain number of volunteers, our project director needed to explain that 2 others would be leaving…even though those records should be on file at the NGO office as well? I don’t really know…I can’t understand French that well. All I know is: no work visa.

And THEN the Americaland embassy that I was *so excited* to visit only allows American citizens in on Tuesdays and Fridays. Ugh.

At the beginning of the day, I thought this excitedly meant that we’d get to go back to Kigali in a week! By the end of the day I realized that Kigali is largely miserable and I’m not too excited to go back in a week. It’s hot and dirty and dusty and not fun and expensive and tiring…and I am most definitely now sick, so I’m going to blame it on Kigali.

After failing to accomplish anything on bureaucracy lane, we ran some errands for CCHIPs, which included mostly picking up office supplies. Marvin and I gaped at the prices of chairs and desks at a furniture store and refused to let our office manager purchase a filing cabinet that we insisted would be cheaper to buy at IKEA and then ship over here. I think that was my only true contribution to CCHIPs today though.

Then we had some FABULOUS Indian food for lunch. (I was psyched when I looked at the menu and realized that it was the same as Jewel of India. I was not psyched that they described their saag paneer as “chunks of cottage cheese”…the Jewel description just says “chunks of cheese”…which is much more appetizing.)

I was asleep in the back of the car before we even left the city and woke up when we pulled into the CCHIPs driveway. Sorry there’s not too much else to report…but the big city was just exhausting.

Website Update: there was a HUGE spike in website traffic yesterday! Like TEN TIMES as many hits as normal! Unfortunately…90% of those hits were from “robots”, so I’m not convinced that anybody visited? I hope to change it on Tuesday so give me ideas!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Not a Normal Day

Inspired by Peace Corps Jenny’s blog (creatively titled “Not All Who Rwanda Are Lost” – she gets more points than “Eli Goes to Africa”), I decided that today I would do a “Day in the Life of…” entry to give you all a better idea of what exactly it is that I do over here. However, it turned out to be not a normal day at all. Mostly because I spent four hours at a funeral. I really wrestled with the idea of changing the blog to instead talk about the funeral. On one hand, not concentrating on the funeral might be disrespectful. On the other hand, I think it captures that no day for me is quite “normal”, especially because I wouldn’t be able to write a “Day in the Life” entry until next Tuesday…assuming that that turns out “normal.” So, with apologies to the departed:

6:05am – Decide that I’m too sick to go for a run and go back to sleep.
6:40am – Hear chirpy voices outside. The first staff members have started to arrive. Damn it.
6:45am – Drag self out of bed, put on pink pants and purple sweater (decide that my clothes need to compensate for my lacking energy), start boiling water for oatmeal and tea, wash face, make oatmeal and tea, grab backpack, walk across the driveway to the office with breakfast in hand.
6:55am – Arrive late. Sit and brood, wondering why everybody always shows up before 7am without fail.
7-7:30am – Realize that the only news of the day is that so far __% of the votes have been tallied and Kagame is winning by 9__%, so I spend about half an hour blitzing with Jen Argote who is watching very subpar, late night TV back in the states.

7:30-8:30 – Get a crash-course on website design because I’ve been promoted and now have permission to edit the WWHPS website without going through a middleman! (I think because the middleman charges $$ but we’ll pretend it’s because I’m brilliant.) Thank Hany Farid from the bottom of my heart as I don’t look like a complete idiot and even begin to navigate some of the html code even though it’s not necessary.

***CHECK OUT THE WWHPS WEBSITE @NOW: It will be changing in the next few days so I want feedback! Feel free to leave any (anonymous) suggestions in the comments section too! Thank you! (I expect to see a peak in site traffic today.)

8:30-11:30 – Discuss Community Survey Final Report. The community survey was designed and conducted before I arrived, but I got here just in time for the analysis and write-up. It contained the average (for a dev econ major who has read many surveys conducted in developing countries) gamut of questions about demographics, family, health center usage, and a few medical anthropology questions. Kelly, the DMS student who designed it, left on Monday – so I’m now working with Musanze’s former mayor on writing a final report. He’s a sociologist. I’m an economist. His report draft was 90 pages (double spaced). Mine was 3 (single spaced). We had a long philosophical argument about how long the report should be. He’s now a professor and I came to realize that I would, without a doubt, fail his class – but I forced myself to think of him as a colleague, not a superior…I was arguing for what I honestly thought was best, not about a grade. I hope and pray that we agreed on 10 pages with an extensive appendix. After the argument, I read through his report and then re-wrote my part to highlight what I thought were the most pertinent conclusions and recommendations.

10:30-12:30 – Meet with Lauren to discuss Health Center Assessments. These are the tools that we’re designing to actually measure our impact in our 5 project areas. Right now we can show how the health center improved, generally, but nothing that shows exactly what CCHIPs did. This is no good when looking to potential donors for support. The challenges of the HC Assessment tool is that it really forces us to define SMART (points if you know what that means) goals (as opposed to easy/vague ones). It also forces us to determine what the “ideal” is for many situations. Just to put it into perspective: the US hasn’t quite figured out how to measure MD performance…so how are we supposed to do it?

12:30-1pm – Lunch! Macaroni and cheese with sausage…mmmmmmmmmmmmm. (If you’re sending a care package, a 5lb brick of Cabot cheese + pepperoni both travel well and would be *amazing.*)
1pm-5pm – Change and go to funeral for one of our staff member’s brothers. The short summary of the funeral (remember I was planning a whole blog on this):
- Bright colors are still good. Just like the wedding…I wore black and stuck out.
- Muzungus are usually more interesting to stare at than the preacher.
- I LOVE JEANNE D’ARC (CCHIPs Project Director) who held my hand throughout the whole thing, whispered translations to me, and just in general helped me not look like an idiot.
- It was easy to look like an idiot because the funeral was outside, in a garden/field, where all the brothers buried the body. And then (I love this part) planted on top of it immediately…from death comes life…
- From my “compare this to situations I know” estimate, over 500 people were there. He died yesterday…I have no idea how so many people even learned about it in that time.
- I could figure out some words to the songs! Comeza = “go forward” because that’s what we say to moto drivers…therefore the chorus “comeza a dieu” = “go forward to God”! I sang along to those parts.
- Overall I was incredibly impressed with the community support and the process of the funeral. I think it was a great place for somebody to mourn and be comforted. People around me felt free to cry their hearts out…but then praise God in the end.

5-5:30 – Skyped with Mommy and Poppy 
5:30-6:30 – Football time! I wasn’t going to go because I felt sick, but then I heard the ball being kicked around outside and immediately felt energetic. We played with our Rwandan friend Patrick and a few others.
     Lowlight: On my own team
HIGHLIGHT: But we won anyways! (because we had more Rwandans on our team)
6:30-7:30 – Dinnertime! Rice and beans and lots of akabanga sauce. Fabulous dinner table conversation with Lauren, Marvin, Zack, and Travis.

7:30-8:30 – Decided to not watch whatever gory movie with the rest of the group…instead got excited and worked on the website. Then I remembered that I’m not getting paid, so maybe I don’t have to be working past 8pm? Simultaneously (slow internet) studied for the GMAT and researched potential testing centers. Help me choose: Kampala, Nairobi, Dar Es Salaam, Lusaka, and Addis Ababa are the closest. Ohhh where should I go?
8:30-9:30 – Mourned the loss of my kindle by writing an obnoxious email to my parents and another CCHIPs volunteer in the Upper Valley (begging her to bring me a charger when she comes back to Rwanda), and wrote this update.
10pm – Ummm…I woke up at 6…and I’m planning on waking up at 6 tomorrow (need to get in a shower before work…don’t know if you noticed no shower after soccer)…BEDTIME

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

My Brand New Haircut!

So I won’t be making a youtube video about it…and it might not make it onto the cover of vogue…but today I got a brand new haircut!

You see…the plan was for me to get a haircut BEFORE going to Africa. Something simple, that would be easy to wash and easy to maintain. We all know that showering is such a burden to me, that showing with a bucket just seems impossible. But then before I left, I got too distracted with going away parties and making myself look like a fool in EMS and Costco, that I just didn’t have the time to get a haircut.

So off to Rwanda I went with my long, split endy, unwashed hair, un-highlighted, somewhat permed hair.

I am proud to report that I showered more times in my first week in Rwanda than I did during the average week during Senior Spring. But I was still able to recognize that it would become a burden in the future, when I was not so energetic about showering and running and getting dressed and waking up early. So I jumped at the opportunity when Peace Corps Jenny appeared, professional hair clippers in hand, ready to cut Lauren’s (Dartmouth ’08) hair.

The five Peace Corps girls visiting Musanze for the weekend (they got it off for the election...apparently only CCHIPs has muzungu work days. I think a vacation might have helped us better appreciate the Rwandan culture) had set up a salon on our front porch by the time I got back from my run. (In my bitterness that it was a muzungu only work day, I left early to go for a run. It was a bad run…I went to the track to do a sprint workout and got those black dot things that happen before you pass out. Damned altitude.) The idea of a haircut was a very exciting prospect…so I quickly showered (hot water today!) and ran out for my place in line.

After the usual array of questions – Where do you part your hair? I don’t know. / How long do you want it? Long enough. – I shut my eyes and let her go for it. As happens during every hair cut, the snips of hair that fell to the ground looked a little longer than I was expecting, and she asked me awkward questions about my love life (nonexistent. Same with hers.). It lacked in the blow drying at the end that makes any crappy hair cut look amazing, but as I explained to her…I’m pretty enough without it.

Overall, I think it was very successful! As I explained to Jenny (not Fisher), it was definitely worth more than a $15 supercuts cut. As she explained to me, she was impressed I let a rando cut my hair when I was only a week into Rwanda. And then we agreed on the payment of one margarita to come at a later date.

Since I don’t have a camera, I can’t show you my brand new haircut…but this picture from 6th form kind of captures the new length and style (that’s right – she styled it too!).

My brand new haircut -- In 6th form.

Monday, August 9, 2010

On The Edge Of Our Seats – Just Waiting To Hear the Election Results

For those of you living in the Dartmouth/Upper Valley/American/Mosque-in-NYC/Lilo-in-jail bubble, Rwanda’s second democratic election since the 1994 genocide was today. Out of fear that the*barbed wire and security guard protecting our “Americaland” compound won’t hold up against mysterious stray bullets, I’ll just refer you to an article if you’re interested in reading up about the election: (I chose this one because it has pictures.)

Newest Apples to Apples perfect match: Predictable à Elections
(This actually happened on Friday night when we were playing Apples to Apples. It beat out the Expendable à Albus Dumbledore match.)

Most notably, because we didn’t want to leave the compound, the election gave us an opportunity to have a completely muzungu workday. I was excited to be able to wear shorts to work. Lauren similarly took advantage of the opportunity to wear a sundress.

I also enjoyed the English conversation. Don’t get me wrong, the Rwandans on the staff do their best to involve us uni-lingular people, but sometimes they just slip into Kinyrwandan and next thing I know everybody in the room is laughing. (And then they update me that one of the staff members kicked his new bride while he was sleeping on their wedding night.)

In fact…I was enjoying the day so much that I shouldn’t have been surprised when suddenly it was 6:30 and there was no dinner prepared…because there had to be a downside to Americaland truly being Americaland. One of the hungrier boys quickly volunteered to make dinner and, I don’t know why, but for some reason I volunteered too. I think that his confidence gave me confidence…at least that I could cut the vegetables while he did the actual cooking.

It wasn’t long before we both realized that neither of us could cook – we kind of grabbed the pasta, and then both stood in the kitchen staring at each other. And then he just walked away, leaving the girl to figure it out. Real nice Travis, real nice.

Here’s what I know about cooking: how to follow a recipe step by step, how to properly measure flour, and how to use the microwave. We have none of these in Rwanda. And no Isabelle Schless either! (This is getting too easy.) But I did have an appetite and blind confidence (of course). So before long, I was boiling water, simmering milk, melting butter, grating cheese, chopping peppers, and peeling carrots. I was also a mad chef – bossing others around the kitchen with my butcher knife (that I was using on the carrots) and sprinkling spices on top of all the dishes “to taste.” I laughed when asked how to test if the pasta was done, and pretended to know what I was doing as I lifted a spoon to my mouth (result: burnt tongue). All the while, I was wondering when was the last time I turned on a stove…and figured that maybe I helped stir something during Thanksgiving? But that didn’t stop me from lighting a match to start the gas stove when the flicker-thingy wasn’t working.

In short, I literally shocked myself with my ability to cook and improvise when driven by pure hunger. Thank you Mommy…I’m now thinking that all the years when I sat watching you in the kitchen, but never offered to help, did somehow pay off.

And if I may be so humble to say: I think the meal turned out brilliantly. There’s something in the combination of mushy pasta with burnt vegetables, overcooked milk, enormous amounts of crushed red peppers, and too much (I said it) cheddar cheese to compensate for the watery cheese sauce…that just works.

*At this point while writing this update (8:52pm), it was announced on the radio that August 10 (tomorrow) will be a national holiday to celebrate Kagame’s win. Another muzungu only work day tomorrow! Maybe/hopefully/definitely we’ll be going out to dinner.

Sunday, August 8, 2010


On Saturday, the nice people of the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project* brought us to see their baby orphan gorillas. I say “the nice people” because they usually charge 500USD for people to do this, and even limit the number of people who can go, even if they are willing to pay because they don’t want the gorillas over-exposed to humans. For us, they did not charge, and even asked if we wanted to go rather than waiting for us to ask them.

Such are the benefits of knowing the few other muzungus in Musanze.

While the original mission of MGVP is to perform veterinary…stuff…on sick/injured gorillas in the field, they have recently been called in to care for rescued orphan gorillas (that are confiscated from animal smugglers) because they are one of the few gorilla veterinary organizations in Rwanda/Uganda/Congo. They keep these orphans in a sanctuary for a few years before sending them off to larger sanctuaries that actually have the funds to care for them. (I guess even feeding a gorilla for a day is pretty expensive.)

In the blind enthusiasm that I’ve been practicing pretty much since I got here, I literally just jumped in the back of a car on Saturday morning, not really knowing where we were headed or what we would do when we got there. We travelled pretty far, picked up a few tourists, and then pulled up to a gate and parked. We were told that we’d all just climb to the top of the car to watch the gorillas. I was still pretty confused. And hungover.

I stumbled out of the back of the car and was immediately forced to cover my eyes from the glaring sun (left my sunglasses in America). It took me a few moments to realize that everybody else who got out of the car were staring, dazed, at a gorilla that was practically right above us! We climbed on top of the car and what we saw was amazing…in no way compares to the exhibits at the zoo (turns out the two tourists we picked up are zookeepers in their real lives and started telling us stories about girls falling into baboon exhibits, etc.)…there were about 10 baby gorillas RIGHT THERE. They looked pretty much exactly like the huge gorilla stuffed animal that I used to have (Kopper’s probably the only one on this list that remembers that).

Jan, the woman who brought us, could tell us all of their names and personality quirks. The coolest part, I thought, is that because many of the gorillas are captured at such a young age…they recognize their caregivers as their mothers. One of them literally clung to one of the two Rwandan caregivers that sat in the area all day to monitor them. (And even sleep with the gorillas when they’re really young.)

The only downside to this whole experience was that our entire group was hungover from the night before. I was stuck in one of the standing positions on the car and kept on having images of stumbling and falling off the back – which resulted in multiple awkward situations when I grabbed the shriveled stub of the armless zookeeper who was squatting next to me. And I probably handled it the best. One of the kids got the shakes and just had to sit down, facing away from the gorillas. And all of us needed a long nap when we got home at 1pm. I should add that the bumpy car ride did not help anything. None of us were in any shape to go out last night.

Rwanda is slowly becoming famous for its gorillas…but it’s almost prohibitively expensive for average people to go see them…so it was awesome that we got to do this for free…thank you Jan!

*MGVP ( was born of the same funds as the Jane Fossey Gorilla Fund when Jane Fossey died (she’s famous?). As their name shows…they perform veterinary stuff on gorillas. For the most part, their project sounds awesome. They have a few monitors who pretty much live with the gorilla tribes in the mountains and call in the trained vets (mostly US zookeepers on leave) to come operate if anything extreme happens. The vets come and perform everything in the field so that the gorillas are not “ex-communicated” from the tribe. Yes…this is playing with nature in strange ways…but it is also helping to protect some very endangered species. According to their website, there are 720 mountain gorillas left on earth…and not written on their website is that many of these are being hunted in the Congo.

It also served as the original financial sponsor for WWHPS in Rwanda…which means that we like them even more.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Train the Trainer/First Bit of Insight into What I’m Actually Doing out Here

The goal of WWHPS/CCHIPs (WWHPS = American NGO, CCHIPs = Rwandan NGO) is essentially to reform rural health care delivery in Rwanda at the Health Centre level. They do this by consulting with and improving 5 elements at health centres: community engagement, infrastructure, management (accounting), medical, and promotional programs. So…we do not run health centres (I love spelling it that way), rather we help existing health centres. For example, our team doctors conduct weekly medical training sessions at the centres, they do not actually meet with patients.

My job is to oversee the coordinators of the 5 elements. (Cool huh?)

Being a young NGO, we are only now developing a formalized plan for expansion. To make our model most sustainable, we are adopting a “Train the Trainer” (TTT) strategy – where our doctors will not only conduct weekly medical training sessions, but they will also teach the participants how to conduct similar sessions in the future…so that our doctors will be free to conduct the sessions at other health centres instead of continuing to return to the same one year after year.

Obviously, there are a lot of intricacies to and difficulties with TTT. For example, adults either don’t want to learn because they’re convinced they already know everything, or don’t want to learn because they are frustrated when they don’t know something. Because of this, a team from Oliver Wyman came out to Rwanda for 10 days in May to train all the CCHIPs coordinators on how to best design their TTT sessions.

I’m at a disadvantage because I missed this whole training session. So, during my downtime this week, I’ve been working my way through the materials that they went through (ugh…through which they went). I just came across the fun multiple choice test of determining my Learning Style. And I had to laugh. Because here’s a give-away that you’ve been placed into the correct category: You view all the “weaknesses” to a certain learning style as strengths. My “weaknesses” (and commentary):

1.       Low tolerance for messiness or ambiguity – So what? Things are bad when they’re messy or ambiguous.
2.       Convinced they are right – Well…I usually am.
3.       Irritated by anything subjective or intuitive – As people should be. Objectivity is the only way to prove that you’re right (which I usually am).
4.       Does not like loose ends – Obviously…loose ends are the reason projects fail.
5.       Impatient with open-ended discussions – Why have the discussion if there’s no goal in sight?

It is both scary and entertaining how accurate simple, multiple choice tests can be. I’m reminded of the incredible accuracy of the shape test during DAPA training, and the relationship test where I found out exactly why Jenny Fisher (there you go – not even that forced) was/is/will always be my big.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


Did a little too much to my body today.

After not exercising for possibly a month – unless you count teaching myself how to skull in Canada – I decided that it was time to actually go for a run this morning.  In an intelligent fashion, I did my background research and learned that I should not run at the track (because it grew a crowd) and that, in general, the girls don’t like going for runs because all the little kids run along next to you…and then make fun of you for being slow. This was the reason for my ambitious 5:30 wake up call. Which didn’t work exactly as planned…but I was on the road by 6:30am.

No children followers. And not nearly as scary/intimidating as I thought it would be. It actually went quite well…the only downside was that there was literally no place to do abs when I got back because the driveway is stone and all the floors in the house are concrete. Ouch.

But if that wasn’t enough…we ended our work day today with our first SOCCER GAME!

Here’s my opinion on soccer: I hate it. I have never ever been able to understand how you can both DO something with your feet AND run with your feet at the same time. Moreover, it’s boring. While I enjoyed having an excuse to start drinking at 10am with plenty of company during the World Cup…I prefer sports with a little more action. And I’m just really bad at it. As a general rule, I don’t like things that I’m not good at.

But alas, I want to make friends…so I pretended to be *so excited* when the idea of post-work soccer came up. I ran to my room and threw on my shorts and t-shirt from that morning (asking my roommate if I’m allowed to wear shorts in public), and jumped in the back of the car.

I was warned that we’d be surrounded by kids who wanted to play with us…so the teams wouldn’t be made out of just the 5 of us that were playing. So I was a little disappointed when we walked into the stadium and were not the immediate center of attention. In fact, we made it all the way over to a little plot with nobody to join in with us…1 league game and 3 pick games were already going. Sure enough, though, they did come.

Zack, who is now an expert at this, split up the teams. His strategy is to put an even number of big kids on each team and trust that they will kick off the little ones (I guess they’re less fun to play with?). The first half of the game, though, was still chaos. Except for the 2 other foreigners on my team, I had no idea who to pass the ball to. Not that it mattered, because I couldn’t even really direct a pass. At this point, it was probably worse than a game of 2nd grade soccer. Not only were we all following the ball around the field, but everybody was fighting for it because we didn’t know who was on our team.

Once the sun set though (~6pm), it became an entirely different game. Half the kids were called home, leaving only about 12 on the field. I was able to keep track of who was on my team…and they actually passed to me! Then they would quickly become disappointed with me. As an athlete with natural field sense, I often found myself open (or maybe I was just off-sides?)…so they’d pass to me a lot. I would then either kick the ball directly to the other team, or blatantly hand ball it. I did have a few flukes of luck that made me look good and encouraged me to want to go back, but mostly a lot of frustration that I didn’t have a stick in my hand.

Overall though, soccer was actually a really fun experience and I’m psyched to go back for more. Even though the 12 year olds could definitely have kicked our butts, they played down to our level (and then would dribble through us all and score a goal). They were incredibly nice—gave you a hand up if you fell down and shook hands with us all at the end. They were also really fun and lighthearted…using their little English to keep the game going (“1 minute!” “5 minutes!” “50 minutes!”) until it was long past dark (6:30pm)…we actually walked home in the pitch black.

And now, I’m exhausted, watching Team America, and gchatting with my 2 faves (hey guys). To further explain away my exhaustion, I’m just going to continue to blame the altitude and not try any of this again for another week.

My House/Compound!

Using the amazingness of modern technology, my impeccable sense of direction even without road names, and Google maps...I've managed to find a satellite image of my house/compound. Plus I bet you're all bored of my lack of pictures because I didn't bring a this is your break from my writing: 

Monday, August 2, 2010

Driving Lessons

On our first day in Rwanda, we took a walk around the “neighborhood” and saw the recognizeable sight of a crappy white car putsing by with a triangle wooden sign on the roof: “Ecole Conduit.” At the time, it was kind of comforting to see something so familiar in a place so different.

Two days later, I was cursing the damned Driver’s Ed car. It actually HONKED at me as I was stuck in the middle of the road!

Let’s back up…

Getting an International Driver’s License is a huge money-making scam. All you have to do is go to CVS, pay $10 for passport photos, and then go to AAA and pay $15 for a license. No test, no background check, not even a question asking if you know what side of the road they drive on in the country to which you’re going. Silly me, this gave me the confidence to think that I could actually drive in a foreign country.

For those of you who do not know me well: I can barely drive in America. I am constantly in a state of panic. I drive 10mph under the speed limit and cannot make a turn if I am not aware of it at least 500yds in advance. I will avoid driving at all costs if I need to parallel park. And I have let a very nice graduation present sit in the garage for 4 years because I refuse to learn to drive stick…especially if a hill start is involved.

For those of you who do not know Rwanda well: its traffic is somewhere on the scale between India and Vietnam. There are no sidewalks so there’s as much foot traffic as automobiles. In my three days here, I’ve already seen 1 person get hit by a car, and I’ve heard of another getting hit by a bus. (As a Dartmouth grad, I’m terrified.) It’s known as “The Land of 1000 Hills”, so avoiding hill starts is impossible. There is no speed limit, but cars feel comfortable passing you on the inside and outside, even if it means driving pedestrians off the roads. And automatic cars do not exist.

But I had the confidence of my international drivers license, the cockiness to uphold my tough-girl reputation (I’ve worked real hard these past 2 days on that one), and the fear of being stuck in the house for the next year because I can’t drive…so this afternoon I insisted on getting lessons.

Honestly, I think they started out well enough. Zack was sensitive because he learned how to drive stick on the main roads in Musanze…so he took us to the back roads to start. I also lied and said I’d never done it before, so everybody was real impressed when I was able to start the car. (Clutch in!) But then it all quickly went downhill…when the road turned uphill and I stalled twice in a row. And then Lauren took over driving. And she’s actually never driven stick…she stalled on her first two tries so I felt a little better about myself, but then Zack realized the parking brake was on (I actually noticed this all along, but I was basquing in the glory of not fucking up too badly, so I didn’t say anything)…and then she proceeded to not stall again…including the 3 point turn with the reverse uphill start, which was when the Ecole Conduit went ballistic on me. Sorry kid…I was just trying to make you feel a little better.

Also, three girl “mugunzos” (white people/foreigners/rich people) in a car are sure to draw attention at anytime, so you can just imagine the crowd that was running/biking/driving/honking/laughing along next to us as we were lurching up and down the hills. I might just have to settle with buying a bicycle.

Other things to note:
1. I actually do have a job! And I promise that I will tell you all about it…when I run out of adventurous stories to tell. But just a sneak peek: it involves writing more blogs!
2. I spent TWO HOURS on STATA today…so like…it was a good day.
3. I also learned an important lesson: if the toilet isn’t working, but you only peed, just leave it for somebody else to fix.
4. Between lunch, snack, and dinner, I probably ate 2 full avocadoes today. They just fall from trees around here.
5. My alarm is set for 5:30am to go on a run tomorrow morning before my first visit to one of the health centers. It’s 10:30 now. Night.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Introduction to Rwanda: A Wedding!

At about noon the day before my 10am flight I received the following (paraphrased) email from Zack Scott, one of the Dartmouth alums currently working at WWHPS/CCHIPS:

Hey Eli – Have a safe flight tomorrow! Just so you know, we’ll be going to a wedding immediately after you arrive in Kigali, so you should pack something nice in your carryon. See you tomorrow! – Zack

Oh. Okay. If nothing else, at least this helped top off my summer of weddings. Armed with little more than the series of advice that I’ve gotten from past Rwandan travelers (“Absolutely do not wear flip flops.” “It is disrespectful for women to not wear skirts.” “I live in jeans and flip flops when I’m there.” “They love bright colors.”), I decided to just bring a simple black travel dress and black sandals. I changed in the Kigali Airport bathroom, and drew a crowd as I flossed my teeth. Too bad I didn’t have any hair elastics, because at this point it had been 26 hours since my last shower (aka…it looked like I had just stepped out of the shower), and it was HOT in Kigali.

On the drive over to the wedding, Zack mentioned that the wedding started at 1pm. Since I was in a complete daze and thought it was still Friday, he pointed out the importance of this comment by saying that it was already past 1pm, but since the wedding would likely last 2 hours, he didn’t feel bad being late.

So now I was going to a wedding in a foreign country for somebody I didn’t know, wearing probably an entirely inappropriate outfit, and late. Great introduction to Rwanda.

Turns out I didn’t have much to worry about. Except for maybe the blandness of my outfit.

When we first walked in, nobody took notice because the 60 person choir was booming…for about 10 minutes. Interestingly, the choir was larger than the congregation. The building itself made late entrances easy because it was essentially a huge pavilion with a few walls here and there. But there were openings EVERYWHERE…so no huge, loud, wooden door at the back of the church that everybody could hear open. And we were not alone. By the end of the services, the congregation was at least 3 times the size of the choir. Every time I turned around, 10 more people had filtered in. I’m not even sure they all knew the couple.

Because the service itself was in Kinyrwandan (or at least I’m telling myself it was: I was hoping it would be an opportunity for me to practice my French…but I did not understand a single word), I had ample time look around and observe. Some key take away points:
• It appears to be socially acceptable to bare one’s shoulders, and strapless dresses are all the rave.
• My boring sandals are just not going to cut it if I want to be stylish.
• Also in terms of style…the brighter, the better. The groom was wearing a gold ruffly shirt (is there a formal name for that?) under his tuxedo. I took a mental picture for my future husband.
• It’s entirely socially acceptable to get out of one’s seat, walk up to the altar, and take some pictures of the couple during their vows. (Which translated into “I understand” rather than “I do.”)
• Weddings are a joyous events: one should definitely cheer intermittently throughout the service.
• English or not, I am never going to a Catholic wedding again. Sorry…but that was LONG.

I was a little too scared at the end to introduce myself to Piscine, the groom, who I will be working with for the next year. But when I do meet him, I’ll be sure to point out that his wedding probably rocked more than Chelsea Clinton’s.