Thursday, October 28, 2010

Flat Tires & Bad Internet

For most things in life, I would defer to a Rwandan/man…tilling a field…fixing a broken pipe…bucket flushing a toilet…changing SIM cards in a cell phone…but I’ve recently decided that there are two things I am just more confident doing myself: changing a car tire and fixing an internet connection.

Simply, I think I just have more experience with both. Most Rwandans haven’t really grown up driving cars or dealing with wireless internet. I’m not going to pretend that I have THAT much experience with either…but enough. This has become strikingly obvious on 2 occasions:

First, we were driving back from the health center when we got a flat tire. Elie pulled over onto a hill. He seemed to know what he was doing, so I felt that I shouldn’t say the obvious point: that you’d have to jack up the tire twice as high to get it off, since the flat was on the uphill…and that the jack would probably sink into the dirt. Ten painful minutes later, I suggested that maybe he should pull onto flatter ground, maybe on the pavement.

And then we ran into the problem with the bolts. In classic chauvinistic Rwandan fashion, the men could not let the women near the car to help. So I just watched as the tightened the bolts, and tightened them more, and more…and just continued to make it harder on themselves for once they finally got around to turning the bolts in the correct direction. Finally I broke down: “It’s an American car: righty tighty, lefty loosey – turn it the other way!” I only got skeptical, critical scares, but Rene did try the other way, and the bolts did come loose.

By the time we got around to putting on the new tire, I felt it might be best to hold my tongue and not point out that they should tighten opposite bolts to keep the tire aligned. But by the time we got back to the house, we were back to taking off the tire and re-aligning it.

Second, the internet never seems to work. Our administrator always calls the MTN guys who show up and walk around the house for a bit and then tell us that they need to check all our computers because one of them is creating a block on the internet (what?) and they blame my computer because I refuse to let a random person with no credibility take over my computer for half an hour. Finally, we set MIT grad on the mission to figure what was wrong with the internet: “well that’s strange,” he says, “the input was plugged into the output. It should probably work now.”

Americans: 2, Rwandans: 0

Other teams: 5 (6?), Bills: 0

Republicans: Tea Party, Obama: Daily Show

Monday, October 25, 2010

Two Fun Facts about Rwandans

1. Rwandans don’t get acne. They just don’t. Therefore, it is completely acceptable to point at somebody when they have a huge zit that they’re obviously trying to hide and say “what’s that?” No societal standards of pretending to ignore zits. None at all. In a 24 hour period, I had every Rwandan on our staff and every Rwandan on the house staff ask me what my zit was. Fabulous. (Life update: still getting acne at 22.)

2. I recently learned that “Rwandan time” is actually different than “American time,” or however you would call time that means midnight is 12am/pm. It turns out that conveniently…1am Rwandan time actually coincides with 1am EST. This is because in “Rwandan time,” the day starts at first sunlight, around 6am. Hours are counted from there, so 7am is actually 1am, one hour after sunrise/the start of the day. This actually makes sense to me, yet I only learned about it after 3 months of being in Rwanda. What’s coolest about it is that according to America-time, Rwanda is 6 hours ahead of EST  I’m now on east coast time!

Friday, October 22, 2010

My Favorite Language!

Nope – that’s not evidence of my badassness requiring bail out of a Rwandan prison, it’s actually the receipt that I have to bring with me when I start French Lessons at 9am tomorrow (yep – that’s Saturday morning).

After almost 3 months of pretending to understand French by smiling my way through conversations, every once in a while saying “ahh oui oui je sais,” I decided that, concretely, one of the best things I could do for myself in Rwanda would be to actually learn French. It would perhaps be the most transferable skill I could bring to another job (or at least that I could use to insist that another job let me travel).

So, yesterday morning, I jumped in the car with our logistics coordinator and went to go sign up for my French lessons… at the Ruhengeri Prison. Even though I’ve already written a blog about this, let me quickly reiterate the fact: prisoners in Rwanda are FRIGHTENLY unmonitored. You would never actually call the prison a prison, by any standard of the word. Our compound of a house if more secure than the prison: we have barbed wire, we have a guard, we have a gate that closes AND locks. The prison had…kind of a wall that separated the inside from the outside, but no physical gate…and one guard who sheepishly asked me if I had a cell phone on me. When I said no, he didn’t question any further.

When we drove up, a group of prisoners was hanging out in the parking lot, outside of the non-gated entrance and out of “reach” of the one guard.

While my first reaction was awe, I was quickly brought back to reality when Elie said hello to one and shook his hand. I followed suit. And then, the shock hit. I could not stop myself from thinking “you’ve killed somebody – maybe a whole family – with a machete. And now I’m shaking your hand.” Shake hands with the devil much?

Elie navigated his way through the prison, to the “classroom” building, where a group of men who were once professors, teachers, doctors gathered. The one who appeared to know English best (fluently) spoke to me: (Apologies to those of you that don’t know French, but this conversation is hilarious if you do.)

Him: Que langue est-ce que vous voulez apprendre? (What language do you want to learn?)

Me: *desperate glances at Elie to no relief* Umm…le francais? Je pense? You just asked me what language I want to learn…right?

Him: Ahh d’accord. Et en que jours est-ce que vous avez les temps pour apprendent? (Okay. And on what days are you free for learning?)

Me: Trois ans. (Three years. – I assumed he asked me for how long I studied French.)

Elie laughed and told me what he said.

Me: Ah…toutes les jours?

Him: Je vous donnez un examen. Qu’est-ce que vous avez fait hier? (I will give you a quiz. What did you do yesterday?)

Me: Hier? Umm…j’ai allé a la centre de santé…de Shingiro…pas la centre de santé de Kabere ou de Muhoza…y…et…j’ai teach Anglais a les…gens…people…et… (Yesterday? [I only said this to check if it sounded like “yesterday”…and to stall while I remembered how to construct past tense verbs…to those of you who know French…I obviously failed.] I went [using a 5 year old’s verb construction] to the health center…of Shingiro…not the Kabere health center, or the Muhoza one [blatantly trying to speak for longer by using English words in a French way]…[Spanish] and…and I taught English at the people…people [English…just in case he didn’t understand me] …and …

He finally stopped me there.

Him: Consolate (girl I live with) is much better than you are.

Me: Well yeah. She’s from Rwanda and she studied French in college.

Him: You can only join her class if you take personal catch-up lessons.

Me (to self): You mean come to the prison of genocidaires by myself without a phone to call anybody in case something happens? Fabulous. Can’t wait. This better pay off and some job someday better send me to France.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Some Pictures!

Making use of that digital camera I got for my's what Rwanda looks like:

Lauren, Travis (Zack's brother), Me, Marvin, and Zack at Volcana, a nearby bar -- that also happens to be the most expensive in Musanze. Convenient.

Marvin, Kelly, Me, Lauren at the convent overlooking Lake Rohondo. I may look like an idiot in actual athletic clothing...but I was much more comfortable than Marvin!
When we spend full days at the health centers...I have to get creative with my work space. Here I am after I turned a consultation room into an office!

A porch meeting with Zack.

Being an incredibly attentive English teacher for the nurses at Shingiro Health Center.
I'd like to describe my teaching style as "laid back" rather than "lazy" for sitting on the table and drinking tonic.

Trying to determine just how ridiculous I looked in my *new* pink aviators using my *new* digital camera as a mirror. Say hi to Peace Corps Brandon in the background -- both of us escaped to La Palme (hotel) to use the fast internet for the afternoon.

Pool and Cheating

I realize I’ve failed in introducing my co-workers through my blog entries. Partially, this is because I won’t give them access to the blog; partially, this is because you can just go to the website ( and read all about them.

But it is important for this story to know that one of my co-workers, Marvin, went to MIT. Because I approve of stereotypes and he’s real nerdy. Last night, I played pool with him and a few other co-workers. I couldn’t help myself but laugh as he tried to measure exact angles for the ricochets and everything. He took it so seriously! I just drank my Waragi and laughed as he crouched at table-height to inspect the layout of the land, despite playing on an uneven table with a cue ball half the size of a normal one, with no chalk and a pool stick half the length of a normal one to account for the walls being awkwardly close to the table.

I am happy to report that street smarts, not MIT smarts won out as he lost to one of the Rwandans on our staff.

And next, buzzed Eli was up.

I started off the game strong: my break (losers break?) did not even hit the triangle of balls. I quickly covered up this mistake by claiming that I thought we were shooting for the break, (If we were, I would have lost this too, as my ball came all the way back and hit the far wall…) and they let me try again. It was another five shots before I got a ball – the wrong one – in a pocket. And probably another five before I got one of my own. Near the end of the game actually, I think all but one of my balls were still on the table, and only one of my opponents’.

Just like my mother playing pong though, I was not worried. Because I knew that there was always that chance that the other team would knock over a cup and lose the game by default; or, in this case, that my opponent would scratch on the 8-ball. Despite most of the rules for pool being different in Rwanda (if you knock your opponent’s ball first, your opponent gets two shots in a row; there are no table scratches; etc. etc.) … you still lose if you scratch on the 8-ball.

Eli wins. Take THAT Marvin.

Eli feels the need to celebrate her win and rub it into the exacting-MIT Marvin by absolutely insisting that they stay for another game, despite it being very past her bed time (about 9pm) on a work night.

The next game didn’t go too much better. I might have gotten a few more balls into the pockets, but more by luck than by skill. The only better part was that I was starting to understand the rules so my opponent had fewer opportunities to have rounds of 5 shots in a row. But the landscape near the end looked pretty much the same as the game before: dismal for me. And then…I kid you not…my opponent scratched on the 8-ball! (Different opponent.)

Eli wins again!
I quickly checked my outfit…no exposed kneecaps and not too much cleavage…I can’t even credit these chance wins on my…skill.

At this point, I was making history at the bar. The longest winning streak is 4 games…and I’m not sure a girl has ever won a game. I’m being loud enough about the fact that I’ve won two games in a row and quiet enough about the fact that they were both by default that people in the bar are starting to think that this muzungu girl is a real pool player. Hustler. (Seriously hustling though, as the loser has to pay for the game.)

And finally, Marvin, who has essentially taken on the role of boring/responsible older brother (I don’t have one of these in real life, so I can only assume that’s how one would act), gathers me and tells me it’s time to go home. At the time I’m mad…but this morning and all day at work…I’m madder that he didn’t make me come home earlier.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Reality Strikes

Before coming to Rwanda, I was warned by a “veteran” to not ask anybody about their families “because you cannot assume that they have a family – after the genocide.” I’ve taken this advice to heart and, in general, assume that everybody I meet lost family in the genocide.

Forgetting that during the genocide, the perpetrators constituted 85% of the country.

First reality strike: it’s true that most people lost family because the genocide. However, the reason for this, more often is that their families are in prison for being genocidaires, than that their families were killed in the genocide. I had to use my hand to keep my jaw shut when I learned about this over dinner one night. Given the simple math, this is something I should have assumed…yet it’s just easier to think of everybody as being a victim in recovery, rather than a perpetrator in regret.

Second reality strike came when I actually saw these prisoners. Almost every blog or personal reflection I’ve read about Rwanda talks about seeing the prisoners in their bright pink jumpsuits and how they are a constant reminder of the genocide. Given that I live in and hardly ever leave my isolated-not-exposed-to-Rwandan culture compound, I had not come across these groups of prisoners that I’d heard so much about until this week. I was driving into town with a few co-workers to buy bus tickets, and our car was right behind a truck full of prisoners. A huge truck. Absolutely packed with prisoners in their signature pink jumpsuits.

I had similarly been warned that prisoners in Rwanda are remarkably un-secure. That guards hardly feel the need to lock doors, because life on the inside of the prison is much kinder than the hate and guilt on the outside. Even so, it was shocking to me to see this truck full of prisoners, remarkably unguarded. Not even a gate or a lock keeping them in. And despite the fact that they’ve all admitted to killing/slaughtering others, nobody on the streets seemed fazed by their presence.

For me, however, these two incidents – within 24 hours of each other – served as a harsh reminder of Rwanda’s brutal history.

For me, Rwanda does not personify “genocide.” It is true that when I first learned that Wyman Worldwide worked in Rwanda, I immediately thought of Hotel Rwanda. After that…I couldn’t think of much else. But since I’ve been here, I’ve encountered so few concrete evidences of it, that it’s easy to forget; and, consequently forget that Rwanda is not only a developing country, it’s a country in recovery. Realizing that “your father killed a man, or two, or three…or more,” makes it all a little more real, and makes life tumble into perspective.


Rwanda has a national law that every workplace must have “sport time” once a week. This is their way of fighting American obesity before it happens. It’s a good idea, but in reality it doesn’t quite work. CCHIPs usually just spends our sport time drinking together at a restaurant, being that it’s at 4pm every Friday.

Last Friday I decided to actually take advantage of sport time and go for a run – mostly convenient because I had a 6pm phone call scheduled with people back in the US.

The fun thing about running in Rwanda – besides the children that chase you and the calls about being a muzungu – is that there are road markers every kilometer. So, despite the fact that there’s no USATF to map the routes, it’s pretty easy to calculate the distance of each run. Plus, kilometers are so much shorter than miles that “just one kilometer more” is actually possible.

My plan, when I set out, was to run 6k straight and then flag down a moto to drive me home. I’d never done this before, but I thought it would be a good idea because all the pretty views come after the 4k mark.

It started to become less of a good idea when I stopped seeing motos on the way. By all meanings of the word, I live IN town, so I didn’t even realize how quickly rural and moto-less it gets outside of town. This started to worry me. Plus I am apparently slower than I thought I was – or the 6k marker was a lot further away than I thought it would be – because the time on my iPod was getting uncomfortably close to 6pm, when I had to be back at the CCHIPs house for the phone call.

But I forced myself along, refusing to quit. And then it started to torrentially downpour. This was absolutely the last straw. The time, the lack of a ride home, the rain – I decided that I would hitch a ride with the next car I saw. (Hey Mom and Dad, I’m being safe in Africa?)

Which is okay, because it turned out to be a mutatu, which is a local bus. I of course caused a complete spectacle, being a muzungu girl stuck in the rain, wearing a short skirt and all. And because of the rain, it was a PACKED mutatu. Like so packed that the money collector had to sit on my lap.

Oh shit. Money collector.

It wasn’t until this point that I realized…I had no money to pay for the mutatu ride. (Hey Mom and Dad, I’m being real safe in Africa?) Nobody in the mutatu spoke any English. My only way of communicating this unfortunate fact was tapping the money collector on the shoulder, pointing at the money, and shrugging my shoulders. This of course caused everybody in the mutatu to howl with laughter, but at least not with anger.

I tried to promise that I would keep money with me during future runs, but to nobody who speaks English, so I just quieted down and accepted my position as the charity ride that I was. (Hi Lucy!)

In talking with some Peace Corps girls later on, it sounds like the only smart thing that I did during this adventure was NOT offer my phone number to the money collector to “pay him later.” This was an idea that I considered, so thankfully I didn’t do it, because doing so would have confirmed to everybody on the bus that I am a prostitute. Great.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Milk and other gross things

With visions of osteoporosis in my mind, I force myself to drink milk every day in the US, in addition to taking calcium supplements.

I recently learned that the calcium supplements I’ve been taking in Rwanda have probably not been working, as I’ve been taking them with doxycycleine, which likely counteracts the effects of calcium…and of vitamins and minerals and iron supplements. This disappointment reminded me that I should update all y’all on some of the luxuries encountered in Rwanda: UHT milk.

According to Wikipedia “In June 1993, Parmalat introduced its UHT milk to the United States. However in the North American market, consumers have been uneasy about consuming milk which is not delivered under refrigeration, and have been much more reluctant in buying it.” Uh…duh.

Not only is Rwandan UHT milk strangely not refrigerated…it is also only comes as whole milk.

Let me re-explain my milk drinking habits in the US: I forced myself to drink one cup of non-fat Lactaid a day. And I usually rewarded myself with a cookie for doing this.

Room-temperature whole milk just doesn’t have a chance passing my lips. Plus there’s a lack of cookies in Rwanda. To combat this, I’ve started drinking warm milk, chocolate milk, and “chai” (warm milk with a tea bag in it…is that chai? I tell myself it is). Which has been okay, but not ideal.

I learned last weekend that low-fat UHT milk DOES exist in Rwanda. When I requested to our cook that he start buying that instead of the whole milk he said it’s too expensive. I told my mom this and she said that she’ll send me “milk money.” Thanks mom!

Tonight I made peanut butter-fluff-brownies. Obviously a cold glass of milk was a necessary companion to this delicious treat, and I have not yet received my first allowance of milk money, so UHT Whole milk was the only option. I stared and I started and I thought and I thought, and finally I decided that in order to drink the room-temperature UHT whole milk plain, I’d go halfies with cold water. And then, like all inquisitive children of my generation, I decided to Wikipedia what it actually was that I was drinking. I learned that UHT (ultra heat treated) milk is heated to 140C for 2 seconds during pasteurization, while fresh milk is heated to 74C for 15 seconds. Also, according to Wikipedia, UHT milk has the same number/amount of calories, calcium, and folate at fresh milk. Some nutritional loss of Vitamin B12, Vitamin C and thiamin can occur in UHT milk.

I excitedly relayed these fun facts to my housemates.

Zack captured my sentiments: “but it still tastes bad.”

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Muzehes and Biddies

Rwandans are ageless: all Rwandans between the ages of 15 and 45 look exactly the same. This fact hit me especially hard when the adorable “15 year old” that I sometimes play football with showed up on a moto one day and started chatting with me. As you have to be 21 to drive a moto, I did not even recognize him at first. Suddenly our relationship turned from fun football games to oh-my-god-please-stop-calling-me-please.
The one upside of this fact is that children less than 15 and adults over 45 are easily recognizable – if not distinguishable from each other. The latter are commonly referred to as “muzehes” (“old man”) – and, as I’ve spoken about in other blogs, just about every house “comes” with a muzehe. It seems entirely acceptable to call an elder “old man” to his face. I have yet to determine if this is because the word “muzehe” signifies respect, or because elders are not respected. The former, I’ve decided to call “biddies,” because that is what they are.

Each has a pretty strict dress code to adhere to:

Muzehes wear faux suede cowboy hats, oversized blazers, and tuck their pants into their rain boots. They also carry a thin walking stick. This is without fail. Sometimes they carry a radio with them too.

Biddies would be quite fashionable in the US: they wear their school uniforms (sweater vest, button downs, adorableness) and croc-like foam green sandals. (It is illegal in Rwanda to not wear shoes – a law that has created a challenge for my fondness of doing sprints without shoes.) Sometimes they wear one soccer cleat and one green sandal – while their friend wears the other cleat.

And each has a pretty predictable set of daily activities:

Muzehes walk. Sometimes they stop to listen to the radio with other muzehes, and then they continue walking. They all secretly/not so secretly have a drinking problem.

Biddies go to school. (Sometimes – I just learned today that Rwanda has a “shift” school system with half the children attending in the morning and half in the afternoon. They switch every week if you attend morning or afternoon. The smarter children take advantage of this system and just don’t go to school at all…but that’s okay because they have to be smart enough to figure that out.) And then they roam the streets in groups, looking for fun. They usually find it hidden in the form of burst bicycle tire and a stick, some string and old newspapers, or the closest muzungu (that’s me).

Similar to how every muzehe is associated with a certain house, every group of biddies seems to be associated with a certain muzungu. I’ve felt a little left out…in my first 2 months here…I did not manage to acquire a group of biddies. Every time I left the compound with another muzungu, their group of biddies would excitedly run up to them and hug them and then just kind of stare at me, as if to say “you haven’t said anything yet, but I know that you don’t like children and I can tell that the only reason you want me to hug you is so that you can have a cute facebook picture of hugging a Rwandan child. So…I’m not going to do it.”

But it turns out that my aversion to children, and their subsequent aversion to me couldn’t actually last that long. I’m not sure if it’s the biological clock, or the simple fact that I need a break from living with the same five people that I work with, but *gasp* the children have started to look legitimately cute and adorable to me; and me to them. As a consequence, I am proud to report that I have found my group of biddies.

Their leader’s name is Victory. Yup. Victory. He may not be their actual leader, but he’s the leader to me because he speaks incredible English. The only other name that I caught was Solonge. She’s the one with the volleyball sweatshirt (See blog: “so hot right now”). We first met a few weeks ago when I was doing a sprint workout down an alley. Victory challenged me. I was in a rare happy-with-children mood and decided to turn my iPod off, rather than turn it up louder. We raced. I won. My happy-with-children mood became happier. Victory (no longer a fitting name) went off to go get some boys who are “really good at sport.” They came back…we raced…they beat me. I forgave myself because I’ve reached “that age” when being 10 years older than your opponent in a physical is no longer an advantage. (I hope I could still beat them in a mental contest?)

Victory made me promise to meet them for sport in 2 days, at evening. Two days later I was not in a fun mood and really did not want to play with children. I poked my head out of our gate around 5:30pm and quickly receded at the first sight of a child. A week later, Victory found me: “YOU DID NOT COME PLAY SPORT!” “Yes I did…I swear…I was there at 5:30…” “YOU DID NOT COME! TOMORROW – YOU COME AT 17o’clock. I will see you there.”

I was stunned. But also excited.

And at 17o’clock the next day, I left work 5 minutes early to change into my sport clothing and grab a soccer ball and then ran back to the office to nervously ask if they thought the biddies would like me. I was greeted by “why are you actually leaving the office at the end of the workday?” stares, and quickly ran off to the children…hoping they might be more fun.

And they were! We played volleyball until it became too dark to see the ball. Our group ballooned to more than 20, not including spectators. The only downside was when one small bystander was hit with the ball and went running off, crying to her mother before I even had time to react. I felt like a bad babysitter or something. But the rest of the time was great fun; and I have since had many more enjoyable interactions with Victory and his biddies.

Since Victory lives 2 houses away from me, these interactions are mostly when I’ve stopped a run to walk home and he yells at me “you’re not doing sport right!” I’ve learned the final response to this: “So Victory, how are your grades in school coming?” Bahaha…I’m finally on the other end of the spectrum and can start getting enjoyment out of asking seniors in high school if they’re into college yet, or asking seniors in college if they have a job yet…

Today’s Work Frustration

In an effort to remind you that I do primarily spend my time here working, rather than just using my weekend adventures to cover blog updates for the rest of the work week, I figured I should start sharing a few more work stories. Hope this decision doesn’t bore you to death.
Today, as a team, we reviewed a PowerPoint on the success of CCHIPs’ nutrition program. The two people in charge of the program are going to present it tomorrow at a district meeting of NGOs as an example in their discussion of how to eradicate malnutrition in Rwanda once and for all.
Here’s the good thing: I am a huge fan of our nutrition program. By government order, all children under 5 must be weighed and tested for malnutrition/edema once a month. The next step for the government declares that all children who are severely malnourished must receive Plumpy’nut supplements…which is great and all, but they’re usually out of stock and even when they’re in stock, I think we can all acknowledge that Plumpy’nut is a short-term solution to a long-term problem.
CCHIPs foresaw this short-coming and designed a demonstration cooking and demonstration kitchen garden program, in addition to facilitating the national Plumpy’nut program. Mothers (by the insistence of CCHIPs – originally there was an issue because mothers were sending older siblings) of mildly and severely malnourished children come to the health center one day a week for a demonstration cooking. This demo shows them how they can cook a healthier, heartier meal using foods that are readily and cheaply available. The kitchen garden shows them how they can use their plots to grow a greater variety of vegetables. (One huge shortcoming with farming in Rwanda is that people are hesitant to do anything differently than they’ve always done it, and therefore don’t take advantage of the opportunities with multiple rainy seasons.) They then get a hearty meal, plumpy’nut for the road, and some new knowledge to bring home.
Observationally, this program has been wildly successful in decreasing malnutrition and decreasing relapse from children who “graduate” the program. I also love it because it’s sustainable, hopefully prevents future children from becoming malnourished, and empowers mothers to not rely on government hand-outs to feed their children.
Here’s the bad thing: Thanks to national priorities and goals, malnutrition has essentially already been eradicated from Rwanda, at least according to the books. When reviewing the presentation today, we ran into some incredible frustrations that make the CCHIPs program look less successful than it seems to be, and were very torn about what to do about this.
For example, following a government mandated emergency screening of all children under 5 in May 2009, the numbers of malnourished children severely dropped for every health center; but this is more because other health centers stopped monitoring children than the fact that the number of malnourished children actually decreased. And even the data for the CCHIPs health center is hard to interpret because it seems that there was pressure during the emergency screening to over-report malnourished children, (at the time, Plump’nut was widely available and widely sought after) making our data look more suspect as well. And finally, even though I want to have confidence in the CCHIPs data, something just seems fishy when the numbers don’t add up: when the number of children in the program one month, less the number of children that graduate the program, plus the new cases identified…doesn’t equal the number of children in the program the next month. We had to acknowledge that it could just be the case that the poorly educated community health workers combined with the poorly trained-in-Excel nutritionist don’t create the most reliable dataset.
So today’s work frustration consisted mostly of mulling over the nutrition data available and figuring how we could best, accurately portray the success of our nutrition program, especially compared to other health centers who appear to have been more successful at decreasing the number of malnourished children, even without any system or program in place. …and it’s times like these when I really find myself wondering: would I face such problems at a job in the US? Would I spend my days concerned about the accuracy of the raw data to begin with, before even being able to start any analysis? 

Monday, October 11, 2010

So hot right now.

Style in Rwanda can be described as: old meets older. By that I mean… Rwandans have found a chic way of mixing second hand market clothing with traditional Rwandan fabrics, keeping in mind that second hand market clothing is usually the clothing that isn’t sold within a year at Salvation Army. A common sight is a woman walking down the street, balancing a jug of water on her head, wearing a traditional Rwandan skirt and a shirt that advertises SPAM.

I often have to remind myself that, for the most part, Rwandans don’t know what the clothing they’re wearing really means. For example, when group of kids surrounds me and one of them is wearing a Eli Manning or a Buffalo Bills jersey (there are an unfortunately large number of Bills jerseys here…I guess nobody in the US wanted them??) – he immediately becomes my favorite in the group, for no more reason than his mom selected just the right shirt at the market to win over my heart. There’s also a man that’s often at the track wearing a lacrosse sweatshirt. I just wish it meant he actually had lacrosse sticks and that we could play together.

I’ve been slowly coming to remember this (after an interaction telling a girl that she couldn’t play pick-up volleyball with us because she actually plays and would be too good…only to eventually come to realize that the volleyball sweatshirt she had on was not her team’s gear), but last weekend, I spotted the love of my life: he was wearing madras shorts and polo shirt, collar popped in a bar in Kiagli. As I explained to the girls with me…you don’t pop a collar on accident. He totally knew what his outfit meant. They rolled their eyes and went along with me, and then pressured me into talking to him. I worked up the courage to tell him “You must know what your outfit means to me.”

I got distracted on my way over (it was salsa night) and by the time the screaming group of girls got my attention, the preppiest Rwandan in Kigali was out the door of the bar, and out of my boarding school clutches.

A few minutes later, one of the girls pointed out that a similarly dressed man had entered the bar. Oh no way! Two preppy guys in one evening! But I looked over in the general direction and was disappointed to see…nothing…just a few guys wearing bedazzled jeans and one wearing an Abercrombie polo…no idea what she was referring to as preppy. So my night ended in disappointment and a reverted back to speaking to the one other white guy in the bar.

Maybe it was for the better that the love of those five minutes of my life left the bar, but I believe I will always remember him as the one who got away.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

This is actually the saddest I’ve been in Rwanda

In every single room, we have international extension cords, which magically turn crazy Rwandan outlets into everything else. There are so many holes in these extension cords that I really don’t know what to do with them. I guess at one point, I heard something about voltage or surge or something, but these magical extension cords seem to work with everything even hairdryers…so I guess I assumed that this whole voltage thing didn’t really matter. I don’t understand what it means anyways. (Two years in a row, I consciously decided that I didn’t have to learn the electrical unit in physics because my other grades were high enough to make up for it.)

…onto the part where I cry:

I don’t really know why I asked for an iPod blaster for my birthday. 99% of the time I’m too embarrassed to show anybody else my music selection, and the 1% of the time that I’m not embarrassed, the other person usually has more country than I do. In fact, I recently came across the flash drive of all flash drives…it was loaded with music! To cover up my embarrassment of having a 12 year old’s maturity and iTunes library size, I quickly copied every single song on the hard-drive onto my computer. The next time I looked at my iTunes, I had more songs that had never been played than songs that had. In about 10 minutes, I more than doubled the size of my iTunes library.

…I’m really putting off this crying thing:

But for whatever reason, I did ask for an iTunes blaster. And then I was embarrassed when I brought it, still in its box, to my birthday party in Giseyni. Max showed up with a speaker that is larger than I am and with two computers of music selections. I hid my iPod blaster. Compared to the 2xme sized speakers, it was more embarrassing than my music collection.

And then it mostly just sat in the corner of my room, still in its box, for about 2 weeks, as I had the harsh realization that I had no reason to have an iPod blaster because I don’t really want to share my music with anybody and I’m perfectly happy listening to 5 songs on repeat for 2 weeks straight.

But tonight I couldn’t find my iPod charger. (Turns out Zack borrowed/stole it…so we can blame all of this on Zack.) I had an ingenious idea: I’d actually USE the iPod blaster and charge my iPod at the same time! So I plugged it into the magic outlet. And plugged in my iPod. And sat down to clean-up my desk while enjoying some smooth country music.

I had about 30 seconds to think about how wonderful this was, and to start thinking about how maybe I could start spending my nights doing GMAT study problems while listening to some soft music on my iPod blaster…when…pop. It just…stopped. It was such a soft pop that I didn’t really understand.

And the room started to smell funny.

And no matter what I did, it wouldn’t turn back on.

But I wouldn’t admit it to myself, until I complained to 4 other people. And finally one of them told me to check the back of it, and if it said a number less than 240V, then it just blew it out.


I guiltily looked at Amber, and thanked her for lugging the iPod blaster over here. And thank you Mommy and Poppy. I’ve never felt like less of a true ex-pat that understands all these things. This is hopefully my last/only story about not understanding voltage. But still…I’m not so happy I learned about it. I might have preferred to have learned it in school. Okay…off to cry at my stupidity now.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


I’m not going to claim to be a beer aficionado – Bud Light Lime is my favorite beer – but I do think that New Hampshire’s obsession with micro-brews gives me some expertise to speak on the issue. And, in my expert opinion, Mutzig and Primus are both terrible. They also both happen to be the only options in Rwanda.

Popular opinion seems to be that Mutzig is better than Primus…because it costs 100rwf (about 20cents) more, but I have not been able to taste this. Usually they both just taste like warm Keystone…because Rwandans also think beer tastes better when it’s warm.

Last night, my point was proven. We had a blind taste test between Mutzig and Primus.

Three glasses: 2 of Primus, 1 of Mutzig – or was it 2 of Mutzig, 1 of Primus? (And, as MIT grad and I discussed, did it make a difference to the probability of randomly guessing all 3 correctly if all 3 were the same, and you knew it?)

Of the 3 American staff members guessing, all 3 guessed differently…and all 3 guessed incorrectly…twice. Just to review this math: there was a 37.8% (6 in 16) of at least one person randomly guessing correctly. And yet, of all 3 that insisted they could tell the difference, all 3 were wrong.

I am vindicated.

When a Rwandan staff member showed up to this game, he took one sip of each and guessed all three correctly.

So maybe there is a difference.

Recent discovery: Mutzig and Primus are produced by the same company in the same factory.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Question: Is My Life Real?

Answer: I’m unsure.

I have asked myself this question and have given myself this answer too many times to be healthy. Examples of memorable occurrences include when I ended up being mentioned in The D (see and right before jumping out of an airplane in South Africa.

Most recently, I asked myself this question when looking out over Kigali from the porch of a house belonging to the Tony Blair Governance Initiative, dressed up in 20s flapper wear, and instructing a Mutzig representative how to properly tap a keg.

After a full 2 months in Rwanda, I have finally broken onto the Kigali social scene. The Hash helped. As did my birthday party (have I still not talked about that in a blog? Eek! Maybe that’s subconsciously on purpose?) at making connections with people living in the big city. I was warned when I first arrived that Kigali is a bit surreal in its muzungu culture…and only came to appreciate it this weekend with the “Last Days of Decadence” party thrown by the Tony Blair Governance initiative. Mutzing on tap (when properly tapped) was free-flowing, along with boxed wine and more hidden makings for “tails.” Out back was a grill with brochette and in the main room was a DJ and strobe lights. It truly was a frat party on coke. (Too soon.)

I wore the best outfit I could put together, which included none of my own clothing and flip flops…and was quickly overwhelmed by the CFM heels, the knees, the shoulders, the cleavage, and the sheer fabulousness of everybody else in attendance. But my small-town girl self is used to being underdressed, so I knew to just focus attention towards my other talents instead. Which is when I found myself behind the bar, tapping the keg and pouring beers for the other guests.

The debauchery ended quite early for a night in Kigali: about 3:30am, and we were in our cab ride back home.

The next morning proved to be the most ambitious I’ve ever felt about making a hung over breakfast of grease and eggs. Without any Bagel Basement (or bagels) near, I’ve been forced to learn how to cook an egg. (The shock! The horror! The…did anybody put money on that?) This hasn’t been easy, but I’ve at least mastered the scrambled egg by now, which is a skill I whip out in emergencies when Gabby is not around. Saturday morning was such a morning.

First, I could find no matches. I searched every cupboard, basket, and drawer in the kitchen for 10 minutes, and then searched Jess’ room (oh yeah…I was staying at a house rented by 3 other girls) for a lighter that she promised was in there…it wasn’t. Jess was not being helpful even though she lived there. She just lied down on the couch and instructed me that matches existed somewhere in the house. Eventually I found some in another girl’s room.

Then there were no pans. Whatever. I just used a pot.

No gas for the stove. You’ve got to be kidding me. I woke up Jess and she told me I had to go outside and turn on the gas to the house. Check.

No butter. Used vegetable oil.

Only 3 eggs. Rwandan eggs are small and I was cooking for two. Only 3 pieces of toast. One and a half eggs and one and a half pieces of toast is not enough food for me. Luckily, Jess was asleep on the couch. I ate one slice of bread and served our meal pretending there were only 2 all along. I also cut up an avocado because they cost about 20 cents so I felt no guilt eating it.

No grater for the cheese. Whatever. I used my hands.

By this point, the pot that I intended to use was SIZZLING hot. As in way too hot to cook anything without burning it immediately. Solution: I went outside to turn on the water to the house, and quickly ran the outside of the pot under cold water. It created a frightening amount of smoke in a house that was not mine and was not owned by the people I was visiting…but it did the trick.

Eggs cooked, bread toasted, avocado cut … perfect post-last-days-of-decadence breakfast.

And less than an hour later I was paying ~10usd for a burger at a hotel.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Facebook Continues to Be Creepy

I miss my ads for Reagan-onomics and “I like bacon” tshirts. An inventory of my current facebook ads:

Affordable MBA, MSc, BA
Study in the heart of London for many courses! Reduced prices for African students.

Get email
It is Free. Be a Proud Rwandan and sign up for Rwanda Mail e-mail.
Injira kuri ukoreshe Facebook kuri telefoni igendanwa yawe ku buntu. Iyi serivisi iboneka gusa kubakoresha MTN +250-xxx-xxx-xxxx
Maggie Bell, Brendan McVeigh, and 2 other friends use Facebook Mobile.

Make your radio online
Quality streaming service at a flat rate of 20$ per GB. Call us at 0788299369 [that’s a Rwandan MTN number] for more information. Any one (sic)* can have a radio now.

International news talking points.

Diplomas & Transcripts You Really Must Read This. [I think they must have tracked my blog about needing a diploma in English?] 

*Did you know that when you put (sic) after something grammatically incorrect, word removes with wiggly line underneath?

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Phantom BUZZ

I swear in the US there are some songs in which a recording artist accidentally didn’t silence his default Verizon ring tone…which goes off ringing in the background halfway through the song. These songs always make me look like a fool when I’m running because I start looking around for my phone, which is sitting safely on the table at home (or lost somewhere on campus), wondering why I can hear it ringing from so far away. (This confusion might make sense if I further explained that my “runs” don’t usually take me more than half a mile from 17RFR…and that it could be possible to hear a ringtone from that far?)

Even though these phantom ringtones still exist in the same songs, I am happy to report that I am unfazed by them in Rwanda. My cell phone with its default Verizon ringtone is stowed away in a safe place that I will never find. (But I can still listen to your voicemails! And I love when I get them – thank you for all the birthday ones!)

But I definitely rejoiced too soon, because it seems that, in Rwanda, phantom ringtones have been replaced with phantom MOSQUITO BUZZES!

1979 by Smashing Pumpkins. Listen to it. I swear to God there were mosquitoes stuck BUZZing in the recording equipment throughout the whole song.

Phantom mosquito BUZZes are much, much worse than phantom phone rings. One symbolizes a happy, exciting moment (omg did he call me back!?)…the other symbolizes itching, sleepless nights, and malaria.*And since I am a proactive mosquito killer, every time 1979 comes on (which is often because my selection of non-country music is quite limited), I find myself slapping my body and the walls before I realize that it’s just the damned phantom mosquito BUZZ again.

There’s no easy transition to this, but I just realized I’ve been here 2 months and have not yet explained: once a week, mosquitoes are the bane of my sleepless existence. They don’t come around frequently enough to justify using my mosquito net for preventive measures, or to force me to learn how exactly to use my mosquito net. The itching isn’t even that bad, it’s the BUZZING in the ears during my sweet dreams of swanky apartments in NYC that destroy my sleep. I try to ignore them. I try to cover my head with my pillow. I try as hard and as long as possible to not have to use my mosquito net, because I will inevitably knot it tighter when I first try to undo it, and then I will have to get out of bed and turn on the light to figure how to undo the knot, and then I’ll be fully awake and unable to get back to my sweet dreams. And once I finally do (this time to nightmares of human-sized mosquito attacks), I will toss and turn and get all wrapped up in my mosquito net. And then my 5:30am alarm will go off and I will be off to start just another day in Africa.

*According to all the old-timers here, it’s easier to just get malaria and live with the symptoms until it goes dormant than to take malaria pills. The choices of pills are: expensive ones, ones that give you psychedelic nightmares, and ones that don’t work because the strains around here are resistant to it. I, of course, have the useless one…but I still take them because they supposedly also cure acne (maybe my acne is resistant as well?). But malaria is an actual fear; just today, a Peace Corps girl in my area was evaced to the capital for her malaria to be treated.

Getting hit by a car is another real fear; just today, I saw the evidence of a biker being hit by a car. The fourth such incident since my time here.