Thursday, August 22, 2013

They are not kidding about Zanzibar

Part 1: Stonetown

Sorry.  This is cliche.  I was ready for Zanz to be touristy and not all that it's cracked up to be and it so exceeded my expectations.  Really beautiful.  Really nice.  Stonetown is cute and quaint and has tiny twisty roads and fun shops.  Immeasurable stray cats and weird tall rangy chickens. 

View from the Ferry on the way in from Dar

The view from my hotel rooftop in Stonetown.

The view from my hotel rooftop + me

There are 'ruins' like this everywhere in Stonetown

And lots and lots and lots of stray cats

I think I would really get a kick out of the Zanzibar Weightlifting Association

S.U.Z. - I am looking up if they have any master's programs that interest me.

weird tall chicken

I love this location.  Final slave market site in Africa, Restaurant, Youth Hostile, Beauty Salon and Art Gallery.  Oh and Anglican Cathedral. Just that.  That's all.

More stray cats. Everywhere.

Stonetown was a fun, walkable little town with lots of cafes, restaurants and shops.  Bill Clinton happened to be in town with the CGI while I was there and I ended up having a sundowner drink on a fancy hotel rooftop right next to Chelsea.  You can get there on a 2 hour ferry (air conditioned) from Dar that has pretty views, or you can take a tiny, tiny plane (more on that in the next post).

Most of the 'roads' in Stonetown are too narrow for a car to pass and wind around in a labyrinthine fashion.  I enjoyed playing hide-and-seek with myself, getting lost and then getting back to my hotel again.  As you plan your visit, you don't really need more than 2 days in Stonetown because you need to get to the beautiful beach! (See next post)


You know I get sick of cold showers and communication barriers and rice.  I am so sick of rice.  And I get a little cranky about doing my laundry in a bucket and all the dust in the dry season and all the rain in the rainy season.  And then out of the blue, I get the biggest compliment of my life.  Literally.

I bet there are teachers working crummy jobs for no pay in some American public school system for 20 years that deserve something like this a thousand times more than me, but the trick is that I am working with the best kids, the absolute best kids.  Rwandan kids, at least these ones, are not 'too cool for school'.  They don't have sarcastic senses of humor or a need to distance themselves from authority to be cool.  (Is every high school teacher reading this booking a one way plane ticket right now?)

So here at ASYV, we are running a little competition for the seniors.  We are inviting about 20 students to stay for a week after finals and the National Exam for 'Application Boot Camp'.  A lot of our kids won't have access to computers or native English speakers after they leave ASYV so the more work they can do applying for scholarships before they leave, the better.  There are 122 seniors, and they'd all like to stay, but we can't help everyone intensely, so we are going to select about 20 kids to work on application essays and collecting transcripts and letters of recommendations and whatnot.  The competition for the selection process is fierce.  They all want to stay and do this.

The application for ABC is one essay from the common application (... actually last year's common application but that is a long story) and one essay question from the Mastercard Scholars program.  The thinking here being whoever is selected has a good start on the applications we want to work on at the camp. The first essay you can choose from topics like a fictional character that impacted you, a national issue important to you or a person that influenced you.

Immaculee asked me if I would help her correct the English in her essay.  I said yes and we made an appointment.  I like Immaculee, and she's a great student, but she's a quiet kid and I don't know her that well.  We don't eat together or hang out outside of class.  I  didn't think I had made that big an impression.  Then she gave me her essay and I just started to cry:

     I am influenced by an inspiring woman who is always helping young adults to find their destination of the future. Her name is Courtney Kelly. She is an American of 37 years old from New York. She has been an IT business worker for 14 years after her graduation from university. After that, she decided to change her career into other thing she felt that she was more passionate about. This is helping Rwandan teens in Agahozo-Shalom as a volunteer, where I met her teaching English in class preparing for TOEFL. She influenced my life, thus I became a new person.
     First and foremost, she influenced me in social life. She used to help people in different domains such as teaching them English, advising them and this taught me to help others. Now I give any kind of help to my classmates and this gave me a good name in my class. Next, in social life I am influenced by her kindness and being flexible. I use to be a hard person; I never joked but through observing how Courtney is humble and how she jokes with people I decided to change my behavior.
     Second, I have been influenced in education by her support by teaching English without any reward and knowing that it is a hard issue to handle because English in the village is a problem but she never gives up. This influenced me very much. Right now I can express myself in English and I learned from her to continue what you started. Now I love teaching others. Additionally, I had been influenced to be motivated in studying because I saw her one day very sick but she came to teach us English. This made me to love school now I cannot miss school, even at any circumstance.
     Furthermore, I have been influenced in the domain of health.  In fact, I was a kind of person who cannot do sport, even running 10 meters was a problem. Now my mind had been influenced by her because she does sport without thinking on other factors like being a woman or making herself tired. Right now I can do sport, even run a long distance. I reduced the fat and my circulatory system is functioning well therefore my I am healthier. Above all, I used to over work and getting tired every time I had head pain because I did not know how to plan for my day. Influenced by how Courtney plans for her day, now I am the best organized student in my class. I do not feel any stress or any more head pain.

     All in all, my life has been influenced very much and it is obvious, her kindness, her confidence, her hard work and her flexibility made me special and a changed person, not only I personally, but also many people in the village. I can estimate and say that we take her as the only meat in the sauce.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Visiting Honorine

I have so much to tell you.  It's been a while since we had time to talk.  This is the start of the third term and everyone made it back safe and sound this time to the village.  I can't believe I'm 2/3rd of the way done with my year at Agahozo.  It really has flown by.  I feel like it's almost time for me to go back home and there's still so much I haven't achieved.

Let me tell you about my visit to Honorine's home in Gisozi, a Kigali suburb near the Genocide Memorial.

Of the 15 girls in Eleanor Roosevelt family, only two 'went out' (left the village) on this 'break'.  As mentioned in a previous post, due to changed academic requirements for sitting for the leaving exam, 9 of the girls in my family had to stay through the break and study for what will amount to be a Junior High graduation exam.  Four others stayed and participated in an amazing 2 week theatre program that they absolutely adored.  Honorine and Agnes were the only two to have already completed the required exam and were not in the theatre program.  

I visited Honorine at her home on the first day of the vacation.  She has an amazing adoptive mom who would be the subject of a CNN Hero documentary or at the very least an episode of Extreme Home Makeover anywhere but Rwanda, but in Rwanda her story just blends in, as not that extreme.  Josephine has no biological children, but has 16 adopted children with no other family or guardian.  They all live, when not at school, in a very modest, tiny home.  When I visited most of the other kids were still at school, so I met one younger brother (8), one younger sister (15) and Josephine.  She speaks no English but smiles and hugs a lot and was happy to read to me from her Kinyarwanda Bible.  The family has no income and lives entirely on donations (mostly informal).  Josephine was a baller and when the kids turned on pop music on a tiny radio to dance, she got up and danced her heart out with them.  (Of course I had no choice but to join in.)

I couldn't believe how small the home is and there really isn't space for everyone to be inside at once, but somehow it works.  They really enjoyed the photo session so I took quite a few.   Below is a small fraction. These are taken in a common courtyard area a few paces from their home.

Josephine, Honorine and two of her siblings
At one point Josephine literally ran back into the house and came back with this ID card.  No one could explain it to me but they all asked for it to be photographed and to be photographed with it.  I think this is someone who has passed, but I don't know the relation.
The document
Zoomed in on this ID card at their insistence

Family Portrait?

Honorine takes a photo

Josephine, Honorine and me

In some ways this was a tricky visit, because Honorine doesn't speak that much English and she was the only one who could translate.  There was a lot of smiling and nodding and hugging, but not to much to say.  I could tell that Josephine was a gracious and welcoming host, that Honorine was proud to have me there and that everyone was very friendly.

When Honorine came to pick me up at the designated meeting spot, she was so excited.  Then the whole way through the dusty walkways up to her neighborhood, about a 30 minutes walk, she held my hand and smiled and giggled while the residents stopped what they were doing to see what the Muzungu was doing in the area.  I was glad to see the type of living conditions she had and honored to thank Josephine for taking care of so many abandoned children.  She is a true inspiration.