Thursday, September 30, 2010

Gates, Keys, and Breaking In

I’m like a lost middle child when I talk about where I’m from. I love pointing out that grew up and went to college on the same street that I was born on, but I’m also quick to dismiss my naivety by bragging that “my parents live in downtown Newark!” I usually use whichever background is most convenient for the situation: if I’m lost in the city, I’m just a small town country girl, and if I’m arguing a point in a classroom, I am sure to bring up my worldly point-of-view.
But, in Rwanda, it is becoming increasingly obvious that I am, indeed, from Hanover New Hampshire. Through and through.
For one, Kigali overwhelms me with its size. Secondly, I enjoy hiking. And finally, I have no idea how to use a key, a skill that is critical in Rwanda.
Everything  here is lockable. And everything that is lockable is locked with a key. I’m talking drawers, dressers, bedroom doors, house doors, office doors, gates, cupboards, refrigerators…I JUST SAID THAT REFRIGERATORS ARE LOCKED I DON’T THINK I NEED TO LIST ANYTHING MORE. Everything has its own key. For the most part, keys are kept in the lock and treated as any lock in America where you just twist and open. But, as a reference point, my high school didn’t even have locks on the bedroom doors and I once broke a window to get into my house rather than figure out the code for the garage or look for a hide-a-key. I cannot use even the simplest keys.
The key to the bathroom door always seems to fall out right when I slam it shut on my bolt for the toilet. And then I’m stuck in a pickle, deciding whether to pause and actually try to lock the door, or just leave it unlocked and hope nobody comes wandering in. This decision would be easier if the bathroom door stayed shut without being locked, if I had confidence that my key-abilities could get the door locked in less than 30 seconds, and if I wasn’t always suffering from some form of Rwandan gastro-disease.
Such are daily dilemmas in Rwanda.
Gates, also, have proven to be a problem. Pretty much every house that has a gate also has a muzehe or umakoze who is responsible for opening, closing, and locking the gate. After nightfall, it is necessary for this person to let you back in. In general, our muzehe has a sixth sense and has our gate open for us before we even turn down our little side road. But this is not always the case, especially when you’re walking instead of driving.
  1. 1.       Knocks just don’t seem to garner the same reaction time as does a loud Land Rover horn. I’ve had a few instances where I’ve played with neighborhood children at the end of my runs because I tried knocking on the gate in vain, and then I just give up and hope for a car to come by soon. Technically, I could take a set of keys with me on my runs…but I know that it would probably take longer for me to unlock the gate than to just wait for the muzehe to hear my futile knocks
  2. And then there was the time that Marvin and I came home in the car particularly late. We honked. And honked. And honked. And then we realized that Marvin is the houseman and has all the keys on his keychain. So he got out and started testing each key in the gate, which didn’t seem to be working. I only just pulled out my cell phone to shamefully call somebody on the inside, when I looked up and suddenly Marvin had leaped on top of the car and started pulling himself up the gate, and then over the barbed wire and spikes and landing safely on the other side. Only to realize that he still could not let the car in because the keys were not in the keyholes as they usually are. He was forced to go wake up the muzehe and get him to come and let us home. At that time, I was happy I had Marvin.
  3. Last night introduced a whole new challenge. I was coming home in the car by myself (I can drive now!) after dark, when the horn of the car broke. I realized this during the drive because horns are necessary in Rwanda to scare people out of your way and off the road. So before even turning down our alley, I had my cell phone out to call somebody to let me in. My cell phone was out of minutes. (I haven’t bought any more since I drunk-dialed the states last weekend and used up $10 of credit in 3 minutes.) I have long given up being a conscientious tourist and always traveling with a copy of my passport, my Amex emergency number, local currency, and US dollars…so I couldn’t run to the corner store to buy more minutes. I’m not going to lie; I was actually pretty useless when I realized how helpless I was. I sat frozen in the car, right in front of the gate, wondering what on earth I could do in such a situation.
It took me a full song to decide that I should inspect the height of the gate to determine if I could copy Marvin’s aerobics from the week before, and then another full song to decide if I should leave the car running or not while I went for the jump. I decided to keep it running just in case somebody heard it, knowing full well that I would be ridiculed for risking having it stolen. (My rationale here is that it took me a month to learn how to move a standard car anywhere, so no Rwandan thief could learn in 2 minutes.) Just as I was inching out of the car, Marvin, my night in MIT armor, opened the gate to inspect why a car had been running outside of it for 6 minutes. I bashfully explained that the horn was broken and quickly settled back in the driver’s seat in hopes that he wouldn’t notice that I was actually considering repeating his feat and jumping it.

    Sunday, September 26, 2010

    Update on the Visa Saga: Part 3 (4?)

    With my letter from Dartmouth stating a translation of my diploma in hand, I pulled my number tab and waited my turn at the Rwandan Immigration Office…much like people have to wait turns at meat counters at busy places that are not the Hanover Coop.

    Then, figuring, I’d beat the system, I decided to pay my fine while waiting for my number to be called. The accountant is maybe the only office at the Immigration building that moves quickly. I was in and out of there so quickly…showing them the text I got that said I had to pay a fine and then writing my name down on literally a scrap of paper for them because I didn’t have ID. (They asked for my passport, I laughed, they were only half serious.)

    Back up to the Immigration office. Number called. I pull out my letter and cell phone and show the text and the letter to the man behind the counter.

    “Ah you see you have to pay a fine” he informs me.

    I knew I would beat the system. I show him that I’ve already paid it, expecting that this is all that he’s actually interested in. Oh no, turns out the letter did not look professional enough. (Curse that US Embassy man who did not quite tell me how important a $50 “this is a copy of an illegitimate document” stamp would be.) Immigration man explains to me that Rwanda is a very official and international country. It will accept all forms in English and in French. Not even in Kinyrwanda. What kind of country would they be if they accepted diplomas in Latin? They’d be a laughingstock!

    No – you’d be a country that accepts students from the best colleges in the world.

    I ask what he suggests I do, if he won’t accept a letter from my college that translates the diploma that it wrote. And then I slyly put the receipt from the fine on top of the papers, again expecting that this is what he’s most interested in.

    “Go to the Italian Embassy.”

    “I’m sorry…why?”

    “Because they speak Latin in Italy, so they will be able to translate it at the Italian Embassy.”

    “Umm…Latin is not spoken in Italy…or anywhere actually.”

    “Well then go to the US Embassy.”

    “I just came from there and they told me they can’t help me.”

    “Well then go to the Vatican Embassy.”

    “The Vati –“ –I cut myself off, of course the Vatican has an embassy. Its embassies are probably larger than the Vatican itself.

    I stare at the man who I KNOW has accepted Latin diplomas before and quickly consider my options. I have nothing to threaten him with. If I don’t get a Work Visa, it’s not really at a loss to him or Rwanda. I’d like to think that in my year here I will develop some revolutionary filing system that will significantly improve health care and reporting in the country…but…let’s be serious…even if that was realistic, man behind the counter at the Immigration office wouldn’t know/appreciate/believe that. I cannot bribe him, because such an attempt would surely get me imprisoned or exiled. And I cannot flirt because English is his third/fourth/fifth language. He obviously holds the upper hand in this discussion.

    Gritting my teeth, I ask for directions to the Vatican embassy. “Right next to the USAID building,” I’m told. Irony.

    When I get up to walk away, I am immediately surrounded by three other people who are about to file for their work visas and are now worried because their diplomas are in Latin as well. I can offer no consolation except that, conveniently, the founder of my organization lives in the same town as my college…so he’ll be able to figure it out and get something professional to me.

    Instead of the Vatican Embassy we go to a hotel and watch a tennis tournament for a few hours. I might still not be legal in this country, but I think it was a good choice.

    Thursday, September 23, 2010

    An Inventory of Birthday Presents

    Because everything in my life must be a competition, I’ve decided to create some awards for my birthday presents:

    1. Most relevant to blog readers who will now be able to look at pictures instead of read words: Digital Camera

    2. Most confusing: A skimpy but cute and comfy leopard print dress. In classic Mitchell family fashion, I “wore what I got” and put it on this morning, after much worry about if it would be appropriate to wear to the office. I decided it was fine, so long as I didn’t leave the office. When my mom called me around lunch time to cry and check in with me, I told her that I was wearing the dress. “That’s a bathrobe” she told me. Hmm. At least I now know that a bathrobe is appropriate to wear to work.

    3. Most confusing to others: A framed picture of my family’s faces’ (including the dog) superimposed on another family’s picture.

    4. Most useful for anybody in Rwanda who appreciates country music: iPod blaster

    5. Cutest: Definitely a toss-up between the birthday cards from my little twin cousins and the hugs I got from Dr. Nathalie’s little cousins who got all dressed up and SKIPPED SCHOOL today because “their muzungus” were coming over to play and they didn’t want to miss it.

    6. Most made me feel right at home: Email chain with Lesley, Jargote, Skoo, KTL, and Frannie. Miss you guys!

    7. Most useful: Frontline flea medicine.

    8. Most made me want to cry: Letters from my grandparents about how each of them spent their 22nd birthdays.

    9. Most African: Witnessing two goats being slaughtered, hung up, and then skinned in preparation for the goat brochette that we’ll be having at my party this weekend. Only slightly more violent than killing mice when I worked in a research lab.

    10. Least surprising: The pants and skirt that I tried on with my mother and then gave to her to send over because they wouldn’t fit in my suitcases.

    11. Second least surprising: Surprise party thrown for me by the CCHIPs staff. It might have been a surprise, if it had not followed the same exact pattern of the surprise party the day before, when I had been the person in charge of keeping the guest of honor out of the house for the setup. We went to La Palme to use the internet and then had an “emergency meeting” back at the house. This also might have worked, had the internet at the house not been working, and the internet at La Palme working.

    12. Guiltiest: FB posts from Lizzi Blayney and Abbie Randall – THEY ARE SO GOOD AT REMEMBERING BIRTHDAYS – I don’t care if facebook reminds them about it – THEY ARE SO GOOD.

    13. Most classic Bray-Bray present: Lace tank-tops that are supposed to be cute sleepwear, but are mostly just impractical.

    14. Hottest: 17 Again, featuring Zack Efron.

    15. Best sounding: James, Nannie, Gramps, Uncle Dougie, and Grandma Susie all left voice mails on my US phone that I could listen to. I’m still holding out for the other siblings...but Justin Usle would definitely win if he called and sang Sweet Caroline a-la 21st birthday party at Murphy’s.

    16. Most heartwrenching: We were supposed to visit Dr. Nathalie's family to play with the children for a little bit after work. FIRST, I was given permission to drive the care. AND THEN, Dr. Nathalie's family actually cooked us dinner and everything and got all dressed up for our visit. It was actually adorable. Our cook had made a dinner by my request at the same time, so we thought that maybe we could do two dinners. This turned out to not be possible, as the family did not stop piling food onto our plates. I'm pretty good with rallying when it comes to overindulging in food, but this presented a challenge even for me. Oh yeah...and they invited over like the entire extended Musanze family so that they could all meet us. Absolutely adorable.

    17. Yummiest: Fried eggplant. Definitely a reminder of being at home.

    Monday, September 20, 2010

    English Diploma

    Here you go Jamie:


    To all who read this document greeting:

    Be it known that it has been decided to honor ELIZABETH BRAY MITCHELL and in accord with her merits
    To decorate her with the title of Bachelor of Arts and that we have bestowed upon her the fullest power
    Of enjoying all the privileges and immunities and honors which everywhere on earth
    Pertain to this same grade. Of which act let our official seal and names be for a witness.

    Conferred from the academic halls in Hanover, New Hampshire on the 13th day
    Of the month of June in the year 2010.
    ...Too bad the immigration office won't accept it because it doesn't look official enough. A man at the US Embassy told me that he could make a copy of it and then stamp that, saying that it's a copy of something for $50. "But won't they more care that the original is legitimate?" "No. They more just want a stamp on it. Why do you think we can charge you $50?"

    Sunday, September 19, 2010

    The Hash

    If I don’t return to America in a year, you can blame it on The Hash. The Hash is supposedly some world-renowned/known/recognized event that I only just learned about, but that everybody I mention it to seems to know. For the sake of having a blog to write though, I will pretend that you are as ignorant as I once was about The Hash. I will quote liberally from the Wikipedia article, because I think that it just so accurately capture some aspects of the Hash.

    First: “Members often describe their group as ‘a drinking club with a running problem.’” This is fairly accurate. On Saturday afternoon a group of 4 of us wandered to the Rwandan Development Bank parking lot as instructed by Kigali Life and eagerly awaited the mysterious convoy that would bring us to the even more mysterious event. The convoy arrived, we piled into cars and were off down some dirt roads to a bar right outside Kigali. Most members of the ~40 person convoy were already drinking. Drinking was interrupted for a 6k “run.” The trail, which changes every week, is designed so that walkers can catch up with the runners. By this I mean…there are fake trails that go on for quite some time before learning it’s fake…so the runners are the ones to test all these fake trails and back track, giving the walkers an opportunity to catch up and just be told (usually by pointing children standing right at the fork) which trail is the true trail. The 6k trail brought us up a mountain, through fields, through yards, through actual houses (actually that was just a bathroom break, not sure anybody else did that), over log bridges, and down rural roads. It was a great way to see the beautiful countryside, and it was a fabulous opportunity to run on dirt roads, wearing shorts, surrounded by partners in a similar crime.

    When we got back to the bar, crates of beer and water were already out and being aggressively consumed. (I guess it’s actually a race up at front.)

    The atmosphere quickly devolved into what can only be described as Meetings (sorority/fraternity/rugby) with 40-60 year old ex-pats whose respectable employers would not approve of their shameful behavior. (I should add here that one unforeseen benefit of participating in The Hash was the networking opportunities and the opportunity to be in awe of/admire/want to emulate some of the incredibly dedicated members of the ex-pat community. I got to speak with somebody who is working on HC filing for the Ministry of Health and to many other who have dedicated their lives to service and adventure. It was a great group of people that I cannot wait to see again.)

    Sigma Delts reading this, you would be proud. Wikipedia quote: “Hashers who wear new shoes to an event can be required to drink from their shoe. In some chapters the beer is further filtered through the persons [sic] sock.”

    Once everybody returned to the bar, we circled up and partook in the meetings ritual. Various members of the group were called out for dishonorable acts recently committed (sex on the run??)…they were then forced to the center of the circle, we sang a drinking song, and they chugged their drink. But of course, only “hash names” could be used. The names ranged from the respectable (Hostess) to the uncomfortable (Booby Trap – “you can guess why” or Tsunami – “you’ll learn why”) to the oh-my-goodness-I-simply-cannot-write-some-of-them-on-this-blog.

    I fit right in and felt right at home. Especially when they started singing “Why was she born so beautiful? Why was she born at all?” And I of course start screaming, along with the UK rugby player next to me “She’s no f*cking use to anyone! She’s no f*cking use at all! Sooooo drink bleep bleeper! Drink bleep bleeper! Drink bleep bleeper! Drink!” Awkward pause. The rest of the group did not sing /know the second part of that song. Whoops. But not really because it actually just made everybody like us more.

    And The Hash did not end there, we exchanged phone numbers and met up with everybody later on at a dance club. Definitely, I am excited for my new group of friends. After running in 10 hashes, you are officially hazed, named, and initiated. (I already offered up my newb name and my pledge name to them.) Unfortunately, it’s all the way in Kigali…but it’s also every weekend, so I think I’ll get 10 runs in throughout the year. Next one: Oktoberfest weekend when we all go stay in a hotel together and do multiple hashes over the course of the weekend.

    Final Wikipedia quote:

    “The Constitution of the Hash House Harriers is recorded on a club registration card dated 1950:
    • To promote physical fitness among our members
    • To get rid of weekend hangovers
    • To acquire a good thirst and to satisfy it in beer
    • To persuade the older members that they are not as old as they feel”

    !!!!!!!I love my new friends!!!!!!!

    Tuesday, September 14, 2010

    Eid ul-Fitr

    Given the hype that the NYTimes and the US Consulate warnings have been updating me about, you should all know that Ramadan just ended. Rwanda is a high enough percent Muslim that this was declared a national holiday. Note, not in the way that a national holiday would be declared in the US: technically, Ramadan ends the night of the full moon. For whatever reason, it’s difficult to predict the night of the actual full moon? (We looked it up, and no European website could even definitively tell us when Ramadan ended. The Americans on the staff were very confused because such decisions must be made and printed in our calendars years in advance.) This resulted in a bit of cat-and-mouse guessing-game of knowing that Ramadan would end sometime during the week of September 6, but not being sure when. All we Americans knew was that we would be texted about it the second it was announced.

    The natural resolution was, of course, to just assume every day would be a holiday: no point scheduling a meeting for Thursday if it ended up being a holiday, and same for Wednesday and Friday. In all these conversations, there was never a chance that the holiday would fall on a non work-day. And in my lack of blog updates, I never mentioned that Monday was a holiday for Kagame’s swearing in. It was a good work week.

    The holiday ended up being Friday. Per usual, I just expected “holiday” to mean “muzungu work day.”

    Not for Eid ul-Fitr.

    For Eid ul-Fitr seems to be as much a holiday for non-Muslims as it is for Muslims. (I feel the need to acknowledge my naivety here and quote from Alex Schindler’s facebook wall that “people travel to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home.”) Naivety acknowledge: Edi ul-Fitr is a holiday for non-Muslims just as much as it is for Muslims because it is their “religious duty” (something was lost in that translation) to host a celebration…leaving only non-Muslims to attend. So even we muzungus managed to secure an invite to some parties. The parties started at noon, drastically cutting short our muzungu work day.

    For those of you that understand this reference, I can only describe Edi ul-Fitr as doing a circuit of Muslim food parties. Lauren and I likened it to the pressures of having too many tails invites on one night, and feeling the need to make an appearance at every one. (I’ll call these Christmas party invites for the older crowd to understand.) “Making an appearance” is of course a euphemism for “taking shots”, in the same way that accepting an Edi ul-Fitr invite (which you must accept) is associated with piling one's plate with food.

    “Remember to pace yourself,” Natalie warned me as I served myself rice, and other kinds of rice, and meat, and beignets, and peanut stuff, and plantains, and maybe even vegetables. She reminded me that we had three of these parties to attend.

    “I sprint the marathon,” in informed her, and grabbed another beignet. (Miss you/NOLA, Jargote.)

    For fear of being the fat American, I did eat lunch ahead of time. But after observing how much the Rwandans served themselves, I felt no need to hold back. I only slowed when I asked three times what the girl across from me was eating, in hopes that I had heard “stomach” incorrectly each time.

    The party soon ended in an incredibly non-pompous fashion (at no point was I informed what I was celebrating, or was an English reference made to Ramadan)… and we were on our way to the next!

    The streets were filled with people making similar rounds. More Christian party-goers were coming into the first Muslim family’s house as we left, and we saw others from the first house walking with direction later on.

    While at our second house (where we were given plates and forks, even though everybody else ate off a communal plate with their hands – not sure if this was being generous or rude, but I accepted it), it started to pour in the classic way that it does during the rainy season. This confined us for long enough for me to hit a food coma (I guess I don’t sprint food marathons), and Natalie decided that she could forego her final invitation to cut our celebration short. I was silently thankful. Just smiling and not understanding the language, food, customs, religion, or reason for celebration can be an incredibly tiring activity. So the cutest children in the world (blog on that to come) walked us out to the main road and we were on our way home.

    On the way, it started to rain again. Lauren and I took shelter in a bar and split a beer…perhaps not the most appropriate ending to a Muslim holiday, but definitely the best way to avoid the rain.


    But ever since our internet at the house has been fixed, we haven't had any. And ever since the rainy season's gotten really started, the internet at the hotels has been frustratingly slow. So my blog postings are currently on a weeklong backlog of blogs (say that 5 times fast) written but not posted...

    Thursday, September 9, 2010

    Weekend Adventures

    I haven’t talked much about my weekend adventures yet, and I’ve already forgotten some of the things I’ve done, so to keep my mind young and fresh, here’s a quick overview with commentary:

    1st Weekend: Wedding, Sleeping, and Father of the Bride

    My only real memory of this weekend is that Placide and his groomsmen wore matching gold ruffly shirts and I thought I woke up really early one morning, only to learn that my clock was set to Eastern Standard Time and it was actually noon…but I didn’t realize this until dinnertime.

    2nd Weekend: Silverback, Eggs, Leisurely Stroll to a Convent

    My introduction to Silverback, before I fully appreciated how amazing it is. Amazing eggs cooked by Lauren by noon the next day. And then we pulled ourselves together to walk 3 miles to a convent that overlooks Lake Rhondo from on top of a cliff. Not a bad place to pray, or to awkwardly tell a priest that you’re not Catholic. This was also the only time I attempted to go to church, which I failed at because my Christian escort forgot that it was school holiday so there was only one English service.

    3rd Weekend: Whitewater Rafting in Uganda

    I think I talked about this enough…but I love Uganda and its food. And I kind of loved being hardcore while rafting.

    4th Weekend: Silverback, Giseyni

    The first time that I truly appreciated Silverback. And then the next night we rented a house in Giseyni, the “Hawaii of Rwanda.” No campfire, but lots of night swimming, Rwandan card games (good thing I was drunk enough that my competitive edge did not show), gazebo dance parties, and skipping stones. Led to my 2nd worst hangover ever, when I got a stomach virus for 2 days.

    5th Weekend: Party @ CCHIPs House, Volcana Lounge, Umaganda, Baking Extravaganza

    Lots of Peace Corps volunteers were visiting Musanze for the weekend, and we also decided to invite over many Rwandan co-workers and acquaintances. Good thing because it meant that we showed up at Volcana Lounge, which is usually pretty quiet and boring, with a large enough group to start a real party. The next day was Umaganda, which is a public service day for all Rwandans. Us Americans were constrained to our compound for the day. We did not suffer though: we took advantage of this time to make fried egg and BACON sandwiches with pre-cooked bacon that Amy’s mom mailed over (don’t care if that’s not safe/healthy/whatever…it was amazing), bacon/cheddar/chive biscuits, and oatmeal/chocolate chip bars. I was a very full little fatty by the end of the day. I’m pretty sure that we couldn’t even bring ourselves to eat dinner that evening.

    6th Weekend: Hiked Bisoke, East African Expo in Kigali

    Girls bonding weekend: We watched 10 Things I Hate About You on Friday. Three of us hiked Bisoke (3711m volcano) on Saturday. We all watched Slumdog Millionaire Saturday Night. And then three of us bought matching jewelry at the Expo in Kigali on Sunday. The boys spent the weekend at Giseyni…again. The only interruption to girls bonding was that a man joined us on our Bisoke hike. This was not too bad though since he had volunteered in Rwanda for 3 years after college, had met and married a Rwandan woman, had a nice camera and shared his pictures, and treated us all to a dinner of brochette and fries after the hike! On Sunday we proved that traveling as 3 girls continues to have its benefits, as we bargained with the owner of a restaurant in Musanze and got him to offer us free soup.

    Tuesday, September 7, 2010

    Randomness in Rwanda

    (Sorry for the long pause in blog updates. Our internet got “fixed” last Friday, so I haven’t been able to get online until today.)

    One of my more favorite graduation presents was a book. Not only was it my more favorite because it was given to me by my favorite person (hi KTL!), or because it was called “The Drunkard’s Walk”…but it also so confused and angered me one night that I ripped it into three pieces. That’s right…a book incited such a reaction in me that I tore it apart. That’s got to be the sign of a good present.

    I still brought a third of it with me to Rwanda—as I explained to KTL, so I could read finish reading it before writing my thank you note. (KTL, consider this blog your thank you note. Check.) Besides angering me, this mathematic-theory-paper-disguised-as-a-book also caused me to laugh at a few points. It delves into the theories of randomness and of probability, explaining at one point how Mac had to make its shuffle option LESS random because the general population thought it was broken if the shuffle randomly played the same song twice in a row. It also discussed the probability of a randomizer returning a list of zeros to whatever power, etc. etc. I liked it and I promise it is relevant.

    The set up: Celestin (former mayor) and I have already designed and gotten underway with our second community survey.

    [Side note: When planning our meeting to launch the survey, Celestin said he’d want to schedule it for the next day. I asked him if it would be possible…since over 50 people, including some local officials, would need to attend the meeting. After a slightly confused expression, Celestin said to me “oh yes yes, I see...I will have to check to make sure I’m not busy tomorrow…yes yes…I should make sure that this meeting will not interfere with my plans.” Not quite what I was asking…but I guess that his answer still answered my question.]

    Our plan was to randomly select 116 households from the health center’s catchment area. In my morning oblivion, I did not realize that the plan for doing this was to assign every household a number, to write all those numbers on pieces of paper, and then to pick 116 of them out of an envelope. I did not realize until the thousands of pieces of paper were cut and we were on our way to the health center, my laptop in my bag.

    “Wait one sec,” I thought to myself, “I bet Excel can do this.”

    Sure enough, all it took was searching the help for “random” for me to find the randbetween command. In a matter of minutes I quickly made a worksheet that chose random households by cell (bigger than a town, smaller than a county) and looked pretty too. The local authorities all accepted this method and were eager to hear which households were selected.

    Then they were confused why the same household was selected twice, twice. They thought my randomizer was broken. I just thought back to the iPod shuffle story, and refreshed the worksheet to get a new number.

    Then they were confused how two people in the room of 50 were randomly selected to survey themselves.

    My favorite, though, was when the carefully randomized process became carefully not random. After announcing the assigned households, a flurry of hands went up to explain to us that certain respondents would most definitely not answer the survey questions, were unknown to the surveyors, were out of town, etc. etc. And so continued the process of Celestin asking them to survey their neighbors instead…which resulted in even more people suddenly realizing that their assigned households would not be able to answer the survey…so they were re-assigned to question their neighbors…and then I was informed of the changes made.

    And so goes randomness in Rwanda.

    But at least it resulted in 116 completed surveys being returned to us by noon the next day. ..and we’re off to begin the analysis.

    Thursday, September 2, 2010

    Most Official Text I’ve Ever Received

    Direct transcript (including improper spelling of my middle name and of emigration):

    ELIZABETH BRAV MITCHELL, Your Visa application is being delayed: Reason: Dear our esteemed customer,you are please requested to bring a translated diploma and pay a fine of 20000frw.thank you!

    Immigration Officer.
    Passport number: 306282464 [Is that safe? Can somebody steal my passport identity?]
    Nationality: USA
    Telephone: 250782468532

    Directorate General of Immigration and Emmigration

    ...How do I explain to Rwandan authorities, via text, that a diploma written in Latin means that I went to a really good college?  

    Wednesday, September 1, 2010

    Second, Third, and Fourth Packages!

    Omgomgomg today is a very exciting day!

    I got not one, not two, but THREE packages from America! All three from 17RFR. As I was looking at the listing of items in the first package I saw "scarf" and thought to myself "that's strange...I never asked mommy to send me a scarf." And then I opened it and saw two wrapped items. (My birthday is coming up, fyi. I'm turning 22 on the 22nd of September. This is not the first reminder y'all will get.) To uphold my surprise at the second wrapped item, I quickly shut my eyes and tore up the list of the items in the package. And then I smooshed and shook and smelt the second present at an attempt to figure out what it is. And then, like a good 12 year old, I put them under my bed to wait until the Birthday Fairy comes on September 22 (that's my birthday, I'm turning 22).

    [Note here: As I observed to John this's awesome being the youngest because I know that James got "Birthday Fairy" presents for his 26th birthday this summer. That means I have at least 4 years left of Birthday Fair presents. Gotta be fair parents.]

    Other than that...there was a lovely assortment of powerbars and Cliff bars (fyi...definitely don't need them as much as I thought I would), 5 Hour Energies (definitely need those more than I thought I would), soap, sunscreen (only need it because I lost mine already), and a hairbrush (definitely have needed that). Oh yeah...and beef jerky and tuna and peanut butter and jelly. Gosh life is awesome. Mommy did a very good job of wrapping all the jellies and 5 Hour Energies in baggies, but forgot to do the same with one of the sunscreens, which was, of course, the only thing to burst. So the peanutbutter now smells like sunscreen. Yummy.

    I think that if you account for the fact that the packages were sent on a only took about 5 weeks for them to get here. Which really, is not as bad as the 2 months the Peace Corps volunteers were telling me it takes.

    Thank you and love you Mommy and Poppy!