Packed and ready to go! I leave tomorrow morning at 4am and my host family is going to meet me at the airport when I arrive in Kigali.
I’m so excited!
I asked my host-dad (hereafter known as Papa) what I might bring as gifts for my siblings, and his suggestion was a video game player for my brother and for my sister– maybe I could ask my sister here for ideas.
This has been troubling me, because I don’t want to help feed the “I’m a white benefactor bringing fancy things” stereotype/precedent, but it’s more than that. I don’t really think that video games would be a positive thing for my siblings. Sure, they’d probably have fun… but there are definitely better uses for their time. Games are pretty commercial, the players eat up batteries, and they are pretty anti-social. I’d rather spend time with them than have them playing games with a zombie stare.
Furthermore, I really want to avoid heteronormative gifts. I don’t want to get my sister jewelry or a doll or something pink just because that is a “girl” gift. If I got a video game player for my brother, I’d probably get one for her too. Hearing about this situation, my friends gave me an old LeapFrog Leapster device, which has the benefit of running educational games– a step in the right direction. But do I now need to find another? And two games? I’m not sure if I should just go in a different direction altogether.
One gift I decided I would get them are Mixels– Lego creatures that combine to create larger creatures. These are pretty cute, and will allow me to share my love of Legos with my siblings, who are likely to have never heard of them. My plan is to get all of the kits for two different colors, then periodically unveil extra ones during my stay.
I’m trying to think of other appropriate, more interactive ideas than video games that I could bring with me. Maybe something to read– like A Where’s Waldo, or treasured children’s book? A game we could all play? If anyone has any ideas, I’m all ears.
On the last Saturday of each month, communities in Rwanda come together for Umuganda, which can be translated as “coming together in common purpose to achieve an outcome”. These works can include infrastructure development, environmental protection, as well as community beautification. Rwandans between the ages of 18 and 65 are obliged to participate, and expatriates are encouraged to join in as well.
During my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer there were many times that I participated in Umuganda in various communities. I frequently was tasked with trimming the verge, which proved significantly more difficult than I would have expected– the tool I was given resembled the cerated baby of a machete and a golf club… by the end I’d be drenched in sweat and have only a small section of manicured grass to show for it. But I was a part of the group, and together we accomplished a lot– that was the point of Umuganda– coming together as a united front in order to dispatch projects that would be more difficult on one’s own. Or maybe to address things that concerned the community as a whole, falling outside of the realm of any one person’s responsibility.
Online resource Rwandapedia states that, “successful projects include the building of schools, medical centres and hydro-electric plants as well as rehabilitating wetlands and creating highly productive agricultural plots”. I personally observed school structures being constructed, some of the simpler ones being completed in an afternoon. I also watched as the steep side of the mountain down the road from my house was rapidly converted into terraced plots for farming. It was inspiring to see the community band together and accomplish so much in so short a time, even if this was only a once a month type of thing. I remember thinking how cool it would be if there was Umuganda in the U.S.
A recent piece on Huffington Post proposed just that. Noting that Kwibuka20 is encouraging an international morning of service called “Global Umuganda”, author Francine LeFrak’s company SAME SKY is hosting “Umuganda Under the SAME SKY”, focusing on clean-up projects at three parks– New York’s Central Park, Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, and Jersey City’s Van Vorst Park. For anyone unable to participate, LeFrak also provides a list of 50 acts of kindness people can do. These are nice thoughts, and I really, genuinely applaud the desire to bring Umuganda to the United States– LeFrak writes, “…we need to take an even greater responsibility to improve our community together. We can learn so much from Rwanda by reflecting on how Umuganda began as a ‘do good for your neighbor’ act and grew to become a national movement. When a country’s people come together [aspiring] to build a better nation, a greater nation results.” Amen.
I think LeFrak is mostly right. I dream of a world where people take care of each other and work harmoniously for the greater good. I want Umuganda Under the SAME SKY to bring this practice to America and plant a seed that can continue to grow– but I worry that it’s losing something in translation. Umuganda Under the SAME SKY plans on park beautification, which is a nice enough goal for a day of work, but it pales in comparison to what Umuganda is capable of achieving– at least in Rwanda.
There, local governance and local needs assist in rapidly enacting larger-scale projects. Schools can get new classrooms in a day. Sure, they might be imperfect edifices with windows that don’t seal quite right, and they may not have electricity at first (or for a while, depending on the infrastructure of the village), but this means that the school can better provide for their students– isn’t a ramshackle school building better than no building at all? Yet in the U.S., there are laws, regulations, and societal standards that prohibit communities from getting together to accomplish such works. Such a school would probably be considered a lawsuit waiting to happen, and wholly unsuitable for children to be in. Want to build a new, up-to-code school building in the states?– that costs thousands of dollars and will take months. Want to build a community farm or garden project? That often requires permits, land, and insurance. The United States is simply set up differently from Rwanda; it painfully restricts these beneficial collaborations, regardless of what communities want or need. LeFrak’s heart is in the right place, but our hands are tied.
I leave for Rwanda the morning of March 31, and while there are limitations, it pleases me that I will get to do my part to bring Umuganda to my own community before I go. I encourage my readers to do the same!
How does one pack for two years? This is a question that gets thrown around a lot by people in the Peace Corps community, and though I thought when I left for staging back in October of 2010 that I had it figured out, my experience serving showed me that there was some definite room for improvement. Even though I am not going to be a Peace Corps Volunteer this time around, I will be endeavoring to live like one. In truth I could probably leave about half of this stuff, but it’s easy enough for me to take all this while my luggage isn’t costing me anything extra. Hopefully this journal will still be informative and help people figure out what they want to bring to their own assignments.
MY PACKING LIST
Clothing: t-shirts (10), dressy shirts (1), long-sleeve shirts (2), pants (1 dressy, 2 dress-casual, 2 outdoorsy), socks (11 pairs), underwear (10), hat (1), jacket (1), raincoat (1), footwear (1 cowboy boots, 1 sneakers, 1 sandals), tie (1), sunglasses (1).
Outdoorsy Gear: sleeping bag, leatherman micro.
Electronics: LED headlamp, Canon EOS M, other digital cameras (2), Amazon kindle, iPod Nano, iPod touch, national geographic shortwave radio, travel alarm clock, iHome USB speakers, external hard drive, Nokero solar lightbulb, Nokero solar book light, charging cables for most of these things.
Books and Paper Goods: some nice stationery, journals, pens, pencils, stickers.
Toiletries: travel toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, soap, apricot facial scrub, rosemary and juniper shampoo, quick-dry towel, epi-pens, ibuprofen, a buff sponge, bandaids and anti-bacterial wipes, cough drops.
Miscellaneous: the yarn doll Sarah made for me, playing cards, a kalimba, cloth world map, cloth US map, A Day in the Life of California book (as a gift for my host family), a weighted hula hoop, condiment packets, ghost pepper and seasalt grinder from Brian and Heather, a clipboard, expanding bags (2).
Is there anything I’m forgetting?
Dear world, I leave for Rwanda this month!
Barring some miraculous sign, I’m going to be booking my flight to Rwanda this Saturday morning, first thing. I would be departing on April fool’s day.
Right now I’m in Modesto, where I’m staying with my friends and bosses, Brian and Heather, and their adorable five year old, Onyx. It’s a lot of work and a lot of fun, and it’s really nice to get to spend so much time with them before I take off again for the Land of a Thousand Hills. They are hoping to come visit me while I am there, too!
The final week of March I’ll be headed back to the bay area to see my parents and sweet baby sister for a few days, as well as to pack my bags and take care of any last-minute business. I’m hoping that I will have another draft of my thesis proposal submitted by then, but we’ll have to wait and see.
Recently I’ve been having dreams where I am back in Rwanda, and I wake with a big smile on my face. I am so ready to return, and really excited to see my family there again!
Life has been busy, but there’s actually quite a few things to report!
I’ve been putting off this post for a couple of weeks. I received an email from a Peace Corps placement officer about three weeks ago. She informed me that unfortunately, my application had been withdrawn from consideration– I am not going to be serving in the Peace Corps in the immediate future.
I sent an email to the placement office, asking if I could ask a few questions about my situation, and we set up a phone call for the next week. When we spoke, I expressed how at every stage of the application process I had been told I was a competitive candidate, and now I had suddenly been rejected without any requests for further information about me. What had changed?
The Placement Officer gently explained that while I was a competitive candidate, a combination of factors were not in my favor. For one thing, priority is given to new applicants; but most significantly, due to the way in which my first service ended, Peace Corps couldn’t overlook those concerns. My heart sank. Did this mean I would never be considered again?
Mercifully, the placement officer was encouraging. She told me that what Peace Corps wants to see is another, major cross-cultural experience (obviously, one that ends on happier terms). Once I’ve completed that goal, I can come back and reapply. She also noted that by that time I’m likely to have earned my master’s degree, which would help me stand out during the application process.
It’s disappointing that I’m not going to be serving in the near future, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t happen again. For now, though, Peace Corps isn’t in the cards. Stay tuned for news about my next project.