Last Update from Rwanda

A lot has happened since my last update. I’ve sort of fallen into a daily routine which has contributed to my project in many ways and has also made grown quite fond of Rwanda. Falling into a routine is quite helpful in terms of time management but at times it feels like I’m not really “living” and enjoying the full benefits of this fellowship. In hopes of not becoming a creature of habit, I’ve been taking several steps to balance my time here, learn new things and enjoy myself. Anyway, here is breakdown of what I’ve been doing and learning with my time in Kigali. Also I have added some photos for those who are likely going to look at this post just for pictures.

Making a booklet: Along with a fellow volunteer, I’ve been collecting narratives to help my host organization make a booklet on what it means to be part of the LGBTI community in Rwanda. While this process is quite fun and stimulating for my inner anthropologist, the reality is quite challenging and at times frustrating. First of all, finding people who identify with the LGBTI community isn’t as difficult as it seems but getting their narratives is a pretty frustrating. Sure, language barrier is a common problem but getting people to show up to a scheduled meeting is PAINFUL!! As you have to endure waiting times and tardiness that doesn’t even make sense. Nevertheless, Martin and I have managed to gather a decent amount of interviews that highlights a lot of the unsettling realities people of ‘alternative’ sexualities have to face. Although the booklet is far from completion, we’ve made a lot of progress I’m pretty proud of. Together, we collected about 12 narratives from LGBTI community members and key players in LGBTI organizations in Rwanda. The title for the booklet is still being worked out but it might be something dramatic like “A people condemned”

Teaching Peer Educators: I thought my teaching days were over after being a teaching assistant in my last two semesters of college (still feels weird to be a college graduate). I was actually surprised when I was asked if I wanted to lead some sessions in the training session for student peer educators on topics relating to sexual reproductive health. When Ronah (the program organizer) informed me, I thought I was at least going to be able to pick my topics but nope! I was in charge of covering puberty and menstruation (yikes). I mean puberty is an easy topic but what did I honestly know about menses? Well nothing really but with the help of Helen (head of peer educators), I managed to brush up and learn even learn how to teach the students about regular and irregular menstrual cycles. When the day came to teach, I actually did well than I imagined, I was able to maintain their attention for the entire 45mins which is something that was hard to do when I was a TA. At times the conversations spiraled out of control with the kids asking a lot of questions, some of them really thoughtful, others pretty ridiculous. I think my favorite was when one kid asked me “What’s a guy supposed to do if he doesn’t want to have unprotected sex but the girl wants to and he also doesn’t want to be a disappoint her?” haha!!

Learning how to drive: I was bored one time and I had the inspirational moment that I no longer wanted to be among the list of NYC millennials that do not know now to drive. Feeling determined, I bothered my colleague Josephine until she took me to a park behind Amahoro stadium where tons of eager driving teachers are gathered. After being heckled and sticking to our budget, we managed to strike deal for two weeks of driving lessons which sounded pretty straight forward at that time. Well I can definitely tell you that those two weeks were the most fun/frustrating two weeks I’ve had in my 5/6 months of traveling. First of all, the driving teacher doesn’t speak any English and his assistant has an incredibly limited English as well. That was totally fine since driving in mainly a case of figuring out mechanics. My first lesson was honestly ridiculous because after being shown how to start the car and move to gear one, the diver suggested we get onto the road. I was like “Dude you do realize that I don’t know sh*t about how this car works and you want me on the road in that traffic? Hell Naw”. But we got on the road anyway and I drove around the stadium twice before entering the park again- thankfully!.

In the days that followed, we drove around in the park and I learned a few more things every day, although I’d have to often get someone who spoke English on the phone to ask them a question for me. I think I usually spent half of the lesson laughing and being confused with the way the teacher said certain things. For example, he “slow acelele” instead of “slowly accelerate”, “levance” instead of “reverse”, confuse left and right, the list goes on and on but honestly those were my favorite moments. The biggest issue was trying get those two to arrive ON TIME!! We had agreed on meeting every day at 5pm by the market in Kicukiro Center but on a regular basis I often ended up waiting for 45mins for them to arrive. What made it even worse was I’d ask “why are you late?” or “why didn’t you tell me ahead of time you were going to be late?” and they’d reply “OH IT’S OKAY” – like whaaaaaaattttt do you mean?????!!!” (Insert the angriest expression of confusion and laughter here because that’s how I felt every time). Anyway, I am glad to say, I can pretty much drive now and if I can make it through crazy traffic in Rwanda, I can pretty much survive driving anywhere.

Learning to have patience:I don’t think I’ll ever understand time in the same manner as most Rwandans do but I’ll definitely appreciate they’ve shown me to have patience. I often catch myself in a “new York” state of mind where I do things quickly and usually expect everything and people to be at the same pace as me. The reality is quite different no matter how adaptable one is so I’ve been forcing myself to “slow down” and I think I like the difference I’m seeing. Not only I am learning to understand people better but I am also able to listen better and be more empathetic. I’m sure I am going to be kept waiting in my upcoming travels but I’ll be ready- I mean I’ll be slowly dying on the inside but somewhere in there I am sure I will learn more lessons about being patient.

I’ll be moving to Ethiopia very soon to continue my journey. I can’t fully envision what my time in the de facto capital of Africa is going to be like but I’m excited. I will definitely be having my much needed coffee/caffeine fix after having Rwandan tea for the past two months. I keep dreaming about injera and teff bread so yeah I might be gaining a few pounds as well.

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