Sunday, September 29, 2013

Sour Towels and Spinning Chairs

It has been a long time, a really long time.  Sorry.  I have been missing you. A lot has happened, but I haven't had time to blog.  I am working with kids pretty much every minute of the day, even when I'm off of my scheduled work, I'm being a mentor, or a role model, or the butt of some jokes about cassava bread and it's pretty hard to say this sentence to an orphan, "You know I would be happy to help you with that BUT I'm planning on sitting down and writing a blog post."
Where are we now anyway?  Well, there's one month left of class in the 3rd and final term of the school year. Kids are starting to freak out about the end of year exams that will occur in November.  Kids are starting to ask me several times a day if I am really going home in a few months.  I blink back tears at them and change the subject.

I am absolutely shocked that I have been here for 9 months now.  It feels like a snap.  The days are long and the months are short, which I guess is a good way for things to be.

I was planning to write a long post about the dry season and the dust and the heat and all of the grass dying and the earth being a cracked-over baked crumbly biscuit.  When you are running in the dry season and a truck goes by the dust is so thick you cannot see for a few seconds.  But the days got away from me and now it is the rainy season, so we missed that one.  Now it is cold (upper 50s /lower 60s) and rainy and everything is damp and muddy.  When I do laundry, it usually doesn't dry before it gets rained on and everything smells kind of musty. It's a classic 'grass is always greener in the rainy season' conundrum, because the pitch is nice but the football match is cancelled for rain.  When it rains hard the water pours in under the door onto our concrete floors and sometimes the roof leaks as well.  I am muddy a lot which bothers my girls, but not me so much.  Cold showers are more annoying to me when I start out cold from the day.

My English, which I am supposed to be teaching and demonstrating, has really suffered this year and I will be speaking like Tonto for a few months when I get home.  Sometimes, you just need to speak like the people you are speaking with to be understood and I have adopted some local ESL-style expressions that will make you look at me funny when I get home. I was going to tell you all about this too but now I don't even notice them as odd, so that milk has expired I guess.  You're probably seeing them in this blog post right now, so just give me a pass. Thanks.

Here's the annual report for Agahozo Shalom if you're interested in that kind of thing.  (This is a much cooler one than most annual reports, I promise.)

One awesome thing that happened recently is that I, with the help of an amazing future leader (Maxime from Steve Jobs Family) started a new group for discussing current events in English at dinner time on Thursdays. We have had really fun rousing discussions about Syrian air strikes, and Libya 2 years after the removal of Muammar al-Gaddafi.  (Gaddafi is a big hero in parts of Africa because he was seen as being able to stand up to the West and be a strong leader.  It was an interesting discussion to say the least. ) Next week is an update on the Kenyan Mall hostage situation.  We talk a lot about root causes and I love watching the kids formalize and solidify their opinions.  It is one of my favorite things that happens each week.

Every Friday at 6:30 PM is Village Time, which is like a variety show.  The kids put on songs, presentations, show a news cast and perform skits.  Two weekends ago it was "Cousins Village Time".  With a cast of 9, I sang, formed a human pyramid, performed in a cross dressing fashion show, wrote a sketch about holding your breath and performed another about a fake village quiz.  It was a riot and the kids loved it.  If you find any footage on YouTube I will deny it.  All the cousins worked really hard on the show.

In Eleanor Roosevelt Family, things are going pretty well. Our marks (grades) have dropped a bit from first term and I think this is just due to the material getting harder but it is a subject of concern for my Big Sister / counselor Erica and family Mother Daphy.  I think the girls will be fine.  We have had some trips to the health clinic, and a few pretty minor behavioral things to discuss as a family (who's turn is it to fill up the water buckets, some small thefts, etc.) but generally I continue to be amazed at the harmony with which 15 high school girls from vulnerable backgrounds live together.  They certainly get along better than I did with my family at that age.

For my 'day job' lately, I am working most of the time with Sr. 6 students on college essays, scholarship applications and TOEFL test prep.  There are 20 students who have been chosen to attend 'Application Boot Camp' with Elizabeth and me for one extra week in the village after the school year ends to apply for as much as we can together while they still have computer access.  That should be a crazy/fun/exhausting week.  It is an amazing honor to work with the top 20 seniors, all so accomplished and driven and so grateful and appreciative.  They are quite a cohort and I am really going to miss them.  I cannot imagine working in a high school and seeing this happen every year.  It's like my favorite TV series ending, but the characters are still out there.  What is McNulty doing now?  Is Marlo still in the game?  I think I will be reflecting fondly on these kids for the rest of my life.

Recently I attended a management planning workshop at Muhaze Lake resort to discuss plans for 2014. It was a difficult event.  Budgets are shrinking.  Hard choices must be made.  There is a big question here about how to get the students more hands on practical skills. In the Rwandan job market there are plenty of college graduates and even Master's degree holders that are unemployed but there is great demand for plumbers, electricians and skilled labor.  Our kids could improve their chances of getting work when they leave Agahozo by getting practical job skills, but this is a big philosophical question. How much healing the heart is there time for?  What is the trade off if art therapy is cancelled for masonry classes?  If kids don't want to learn tailoring or carpentry should they be forced?  I'm glad this isn't up to me and a lot of educators are thinking hard about their experience.  I can say there were a lot of strong feelings in the room and that I know everyone has the interest of the child at heart.

The aftermath of the workshop was completely shenanigan free, as you can see here:

Huge thanks to TG for my most recent care package which had much amazing junk food and a flash drive full of good 'ol television that I do not have to try an download unsuccessfully.  When I get some time I will be watching the new (still new to me) Netflix episodes of Arrested Development.  I cannot wait!  ( I had to ride a moto in the rain for an hour to get the package home and it was totally worth it.)

Here are a few random photos from the last month or so in the village:

There was recently a big competition at the school for the whole district. Kids came from 14 nearby schools. The categories of competition were 1) Traditional Poem, 2) Traditional Dance 3) Original Song 4) Karate.  ASYV won the dance competition and the top two spots for the original song.  Here's a pic of the Karate.  The kid does a test, like a dressage test, with no sparring and is judged on execution.  It was fun to see how hard the kids concentrate.

Here's my little yellow house and here's our new water tank.  Note it's location and also the location of the dripping downspout:

This happens sometimes too.  (More for some of us than others.)  This is Jerrod and Miki at Umuycho Bar, about a 20 minute walk from the village.  Jerrod brought his computer to play video games and have some beers.

These pretty flowers were blooming all over the village toward the end of the dry season:

Adelaide recently starred in a skit about Clara Barton at school:

Hey Food Network friends: I recently saw this on a menu, but couldn't bring myself to order it.  Probably a copyright violation, but international property rights are only so well enforced here:

Okay.  That's about 1/10th of what you've missed but I'm out of time.  Hope you are well.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

I would like to thank the Chinese...

... for introducing this new insect repellent which is very popular in Rwanda these days.

They are not kidding about Zanzibar: Part 2

(Sorry for the delay.  This is from early August.  We have not had much power, therefore internet in the village for the past few weeks...)

I cannot tell you how gorgeous the beaches of Eastern Zanzibar are and these photos really do not do it any justice.  I wanted to stay forever.  I asked about buying a house.  

View from my breakfast table

View from my front porch.  Amazing.

You know I am always into the fauna.  These little guys were all over the place I was staying.  They are adorable.

The beach on the east coast was so beautiful. The water was warm and clear.  I went for a lot of great swims.  Running on the beach was fun too. The seafood was delicious and I ate spicy octopus soup every meal I could. 

The weirdest thing, for me, having mostly gone to the beach in North Carolina was the tides.  High tide and low tide on Zanzibar were about half a mile away.  So at high tide, the ocean came almost to the steps of the place I was staying.  At low tide, standing on those steps you cannot even see the ocean.  You can go walking out on these sandy mud flats with some small tide pools for ages, walking toward the sea.  There were lots of sand dollars, star fish and sea anemones in along the way.  This leads to some funny images, because bars and restaurants that are beach front at high tide, are in the middle of a muddy wasteland at low tide.

Boats resting waiting for the tide to come back to them.

selfie on  a windy beach

my view from my seat on the tiny plane i flew in back to dar