Friday, August 31, 2012

Friday, August 31, 2012

Well, some of you have gotten antsy, so I guess I'd better make an entry today! I returned from the week in Kigali yesterday and am once more settling down in my house in Byumba. The cows are hollering outside my window and all is well with the world.

The biggest change since my return is that I now have Miriam, my housekeeper, with me. She comes at 7AM and stays until 7PM, doing whatever is necessary to keep the household running. Currently, she is out food shopping. We made a list before she left (she is a fairly good English speaker) and I gave her 10,000rf (rwandan franks) with which to buy the food. I hope to have my first fresh milk when she returns. I realized after she left that we forgot to put tea on the list, but perhaps she will think of it. We talked of having tea this AM until I reminded her there was none. Just so you can complete your picture of Miriam she is quite tall and very softspoken. She was mesmerized this AM by my wind-up emergency radio--she alternated between serious listening and laughter when she discovered she had to keep winding it up to get any sound! She will stay with me to work (do laundry, clean, wash dishes, prepare food, and help with the garden I will soon plant). She will be here the five days of the work week for approximately $90.00 USD/month. And I will be so spoiled when I come back to the U. S. Apparently, it is almost mandatory that we have someone like Miriam who needs a job and we have the money.

In the middle of that last paragraph, Miriam returned from her shopping expedition. She brought at least 1/2 gallon of hot milk with her! She said they will heat it for you in the market. I have not had milk to drink since I arrived in Rwanda; I have only had small amounts in tea. So Miriam set about making Rwandan brunch. We had hot milk, bread and butter, and my small bananas. I was very hungry and I cannot remember when anything tasted so good--especially the milk!  She placed more of the hot milk in an oversized thermos that seems to be part of the table setting in Rwanda, and the rest will be placed in the fridge. I never realized I would miss milk so much! I haven't been able to see everything else that Miriam bought, but she is already busy preparing supper.

I also just went over to see my office on the campus (probably no more than 75 ft. away from the front door of my house!). It is very serviceable and right next door to Jerome. I won't actually start working until Monday, Sept. 3, but now I have the keys to my office. I will use my own laptop there, probably keeping all related documents on one of the very large thumb drive's Mike got for me before I left.

As for the week in Kigali, I might just as soon put it aside!! I got extremely motion sick on the bus going down to Kigali from Byumba. It's dramamine for me and my future on that bus! And I have to be able to sit by an open window where I can see out. I did the shopping I wanted to do in Kigali, thanks to friend Jeff Williams from Urbana, and his car. On Saturday, 8/25, we joined the rest of Rwanda in Umugandi, a once/month national community service morning. We were taken to the small town of the Minister of Health where they are building a new school building; our utlimate job, to haul rocks for the foundation!!  The local Rwandans carried the rocks on their heads, of course. It was a real hauling job, not just bringing rocks a short distance, and it was mostly all uphill. But we had a good time. After the rock hauling, we all met on a big grassy space, had some speeches by local grandees, and then some singing and dancing. The Rwandans can really dance. Then we went back to the hotel for lunch and some playtime in the afternoon (swimming for the kids and brave adults and relaxed visiting by the adults). Our final UIC workers have now arrived; they are a couple, she is American, he is Rwandan.s

I became very tired in the afternoon, so returned to my hotel a short walk down the street. I took a three-hour nap then ate supper at the hotel. After that, there is a 36-hour blur wherein I became very sick with a G.I. bug. Serena, it was truly a Series of Unfortunate Events! As the night wore on and I realized how much fluid I was losing, I wanted to notify someone that I was ill. (I was the only person at my hotel.) It turned out that my phone was dead and needed recharging, but I had not brought my charger from Byumba. I sent an e-mail to someone at the Clinton Foundation saying I was ill, that they never received. Finally, in the mid afternoon, someone from Clinton called the desk at my hotel to see if I were going to the Ambassador's reception in the evening. I told the person at the desk that I was way too sick to attend. That and my absence at all the morning orientation sessions tipped them off. By 4PM, the Chief Nurse from the Clinton Foundation and the head physician were in my hotel room!! I must attest, the Clinton Foundation does take care of its own!! Anne Sliney, the Chief Nurse, gave me flat coke and stayed with me for a couple of hours till I finally stopped wearing a path in the rug to the bathroom. She was my Angel of Mercy. And Joe, the MD, got my phone recharged. It took me until yesterday to really get over the whole sickness and I don't want it again; however, I'm sure it could happen just because I'm in a different country with different bacteria. One never knows quite where it came from. The next afternoon, I was invited to move down to one of the apartments so I would not have to be alone at the Top Tower Hotel. I felt much better being at the apts with others around.

The remainder of my time there was spent in orientation, a rather grueling affair to say the least. We are now supposed to be prepared for our work here. We had dire warnings about putting anything in our blogs about patients or specific health providers--nothing identifiable. And the nurses heard over and over that we are not to provide direct care to patients. We are only to support those who are providing the care unless it is a dire emergency.

Back in my house I am happy to report that I finally have hot water. I took a shower this AM and it was delightful. One never imagines how important these small things can be until there is none.

Observations: you can drive a car that has a left-hand or a right-hand steering wheel, but you always drive on the right side of the road. Getting in on the left side as a passenger is really weird!

At each fuel station there is a service person standing by each pump waiting to fill your car with fuel. You do not have to get out of your car at all. Remember when it was that way in the U. S.?  It gives people jobs.

The cows are hale and hearty. Now that Miriam can bring me milk from the market, maybe I won't have to have milk delivered.

It is now the "small" rainy season here which will last until late December. Apparently, Byumba is the coldest place in the country and I keep having people warn me of how cold it can get. So far I have not been impressed with the cool temps. We'll see what happens when it really gets cold!  They have not had to survive Chicago winters.

That's enough for now.

Miriam has promised to help me with my Kinyarwanda. We'll see how that goes, too!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

August 23, 2012

I want to add to something I discussed in yesterday's entry, when I talked about the rapid increase in life expectancy in Rwanda. Certainly some of that can be attributed to the work of outsiders coming in to help. But I have seen something here that I'd read about but didn't know really existed. The Rwandan people themselves are contributing a great deal to everything positive that is happening in this country. Since the genocide and its aftermath, the government has tried to instill in the people how important it is for every person to contribute to the betterment of the country. One young man remarked upon this to me and he was so sincere I believed him. But people do not have to discuss it. I have seen how the work men and women here at the school have taken on the necessary repairs to my house. And they just keep working till they accomplish what they set out to do--no whining, no posturing--they just talk with me till they understand the problem then go about working it out. And lots of the time, we do not even speak the same language, but somehow they persist in trying to understand me and vice versa till we each understand. There is a preponderance of younger people here and I see this mindset everywhere. I wonder if I will see it in the nursing students? Wouldn't it be great if our U.S. students had this ethos?

That's it for now.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

More cow stories!

Yesterday I went out to converse with the cows. The young man who cares for them was cleaning out the stalls, so they were free within the shed. I got as close as I could and the cow practically ran over to me. I was able to pat her face and talk with her. I moved to another place around the fence and she followed me there. Quite a girl!

Today I asked for help from one of the English-speaking women here; I asked where I could find whole milk. She paused a long time. Apparently it is not easy finding milk. Finally she asked if I would like the milk from my cow. I could hardly believe it! She said she would try to arrange it while I am away in Kigali.

Yesterday I went into the village to buy a couple of things. I also wanted to get up close to the front of the Byumba hospital which is really just around from the school. I walked up the road toward the hospital and was just standing there looking around. Next thing I know a woman approached to shake my hand. Soon I turned into a receiving line of one! A whole line of women suddenly formed, waiting to shake my hand. One elder woman actually put her arms around me a gave me a big hug. A friend of mine here in the compound told me that shaking hands with me was for them something akin to shaking hands with the president. That may be a little hyperbolic, but I am certainly being given a grand welcome. Children persist in coming to me to touch my hands or arms or to shake my hand. I was inside one store recently when I felt a hand caressing my head and hair--sort of petting me like a dog. I turned to see what I thought was a child, but then I saw a little shoe sticking out from her clothing. She was a very young mother. She unwrapped the binder holding the sleeping baby so I could see her. Then I asked if I could touch her hair--she consented and I did.

One of the workmen had asked me if he could bring a woman from England by to meet me. He came tonight with Heather who is working for the Anglican church as a youth worker. She said there may be as many as 5-6 umuzungu (white people) in Byumba. They must all be working when I go out exploring, as Heather is the first I've met. She said they get together occasionally and invited me to join them.

Another encounter. A native woman approached me speaking fairly good English. She also works for the Anglicans. She is a woman of a certain age, and immediately asked me if I had children. I replied  I had two, and two grandchildren. Of course, she was waiting for me to ask her how many children she had. She proudly stated she had five. I now realize I am a real failure as a fecund woman. No wonder this is such a populous country!

Here's an interesting fact: In Rwanda in 2000, life expectancy at birth was 39 years; in 2011, life expectancy was 58! It is amazing that could happen so fast. If you saw all the NGOs and educational and medical projects here, you can see there is a basis for the change.

One final report: Yesterday I downloaded my first e-book from the Oak Park Public Library. How amazing is that? I'll never run out of reading material while I am here.

I leave for Kigali tomorrow for some shopping and the big orientation program. I'll have my laptop with me, so can continue blogging and reading your mail.


Monday, August 20, 2012

Monday, August 21, Holiday in Rwanda for the end of Ramadan

OK, People. Finally got to photograph the cows! One was lying down so it was hard to catch her. The other posed beautifully after a few encouraging "moos".  You can just see the black and white hide of the shy one in the lower left corner of the first photo. The other one posed like a queen. You can also see that this pen is made from the wood at hand, not from what you'd get at Menards!

It is interesting how you are responding so positively to the cows in my back yard. They are good company. Jerome also asked me if I would like some goats. I would dearly love some--we'll see what comes of it! I don't know who gets the milk from the cows--possibly the patients at the hospital.

I am in good spirits today. I actually got a guard to bring me (oh, yes, guards are everywhere here--this was the guard from the school compound) a match box so I could light a match. (Some matches had been left here without a way to strike them! They are little tiny wax matches.) I lit the burner on my stove and began the process of sterilizing the ceramic cones that go into my water purification system. That's a big step. Once I get it all set up I won't have to buy bottled water any more. With fire, now I can even boil water if I wish!!

Enjoy the cows.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

I felt like the only white person in Byumba today.

Sunday, August 19, 2012 in Byumba

I moved to my home in Byumba on Friday. I have been trying to make a blog entry, but the internet service has been sporadic. Let's give it a "whirl".

One startling scene I observed just adjacent to the Byumba Hospital was a large yard filled with busy women. Jerome told me they were cooking for the patients in the hospital. Under a large shed with a corrugated tin roof are many wood stoves lined up. They seem to be roaring with flame most of the time and people are definitely cooking. The mystery is whether they are family members cooking for their loved ones in the hospital or whether there are regular cooks who are cooking for all patients. Can you imagine preparing a low sodium diabetic diet under these circumstances? There is also a lot of laundry being done inside this area with the clothes hung out to dry along the fence that encloses it. (I actually have a clothesline in my yard--quite a rarity, I think.--But my clothes will still be laundered the old fashioned way, by hand. I have yet to see a washing machine.)

I knew I was coming to a rural area, but was totally unprepared for the two bovine ladies in a shed just outside the fence to my yard. And, believe me, these cows do not “low” (remember, “the cattle are lowing, the poor baby wakes”?) they holler! I love having them here. They are like two nearby friends chatting with me through the day. They go out to pasture for part of the day.

When I can look out at the landscape from my yard I see beautiful mountains, layer upon layer, into the distance. And nearly every one of them is covered in small, terraced farm plots. I can’t always tell what is growing. Along the roadway to get up here, there were lots of rice paddies. Also, bananas and sugar cane. There must be avocado trees as they sell huge avocados in the market. These avocados are about two-three times the size of the ones we can buy in Chicago and are delicious. (Everything that grows here seems to grow 2-3 times the size one would see that same plant in the U.S.) 

I saw some honeysuckle and some day lilies on a walk this AM. It is comforting to see plant life that I might see in Oak Park.

I have slowly been unpacking. Just one bag to go. There is plenty of room in my house for my belongings. There is no hot water in either the kitchen or the bathroom. Not sure if this is permanent. I will ask Jerome. I could certainly deal with this, but a warm shower would sure be nice. 

I took a walk this AM down to a little village center near the hospital. Dirt roads with lots of rocks make me very careful. I found my tiny bananas and a couple of avocados to purchase. I was happy to find vendors so close by. They place their fruit outside in front of their stores, but I'm not sure what they have inside. I didn't venture in today, but will soon. 

I miss all of you. Please write if you have a minute. Just write to my regular e-mail address:


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Wednesday, 8/15/12

Just paid my VISA bill online. We can do it from Anywhere!!!  That particular bill will disappear soon, however, as there are so few places here that one can use plastic. And sometimes a pretty hefty fee is attached to using it. Now it's cash time, and BTW I am out of it!! I am still awaiting my first wire transfer and I'm getting a little concerned. Unfortunately, today is a holiday here (The Feast of the Assumption, I think) so my bank isn't even open.

I've actually had to open two bank accounts here. The Clinton people struck a deal with Access Bank so that some of the usual fees were waived, and there is only a $2.00 fee on this end of a wire transfer. That is where I will keep most of my money. However, by the end of last week the CHAI folks realized I had no way to get cash when I am in Byumba, as the Bank of Kigali is the only one that operates there. So I opened an account there so I can obtain cash at a cash station in Byumba--at a cash station that is frequently out of order and for which I must pay a fee for each transaction!!

I thought I would try to record for you some random observations from about town. I do not mean any of them to be derogatory, but just what I have observed with my biased American eyes:

Little boys like to touch my hands and arms! I have now had two occasions on which a young boy (6-9) has sidled up to me and either taken my hand or stroked my arm. They are grinning from ear to ear when they do it. I can only guess that they want to see what my skin feels like, but it may have some other connotations as well. I've talked to one other nurse here to which a similar thing has happened. I imagine since I am a short and old white woman I may be less threatening to the children. I am now waiting to see if a girl will approach me!

Being a pedestrian in Kigali is literally taking one's life into one's hands. I have described the speed and density of the traffic, and note that everyone in a car or moto-taxi drives with one hand on the horn thus making it quite noisy. And I've told you how I jump when I am in a car and see many near misses. Yesterday I had the "opportunity" to walk from Access Bank to Bank of Kigali in the busiest part of the downtown shopping area--about 3-4 blocks each way (I can never tell what a "block" is here,  as the streets all curve and there are rarely any intersections as I know them.) That was the most terrifying walk of my life so far! First, sidewalks are a sometime thing. You may be walking along one when it suddenly disappears into a construction site, or just stops. I have to look down constantly to insure my footing as there are many irregularities in the streets, curbs, and sidewalks. So I was looking down yesterday and almost got my head removed by a guy carrying two big four x eight sheets of wood on his head amidst all the pedestrians. He obviously thought everyone should be looking out for him rather than the other way around! There are also few traffic lights, and I have observed that they are only slightly attended to by the drivers. Running a red light is a common activity, at least among those who have driven my rides. This is all to say that pedestrians are on their own in crossing any street. It is much like it was in China; before you take the next step, look around 360 degrees as someone is surely coming at you from some direction! I am hoping upon hope that Byumba will be a little less dangerous; however I think the same rules will apply.

In Rwanda, people are the beasts of burden. I have watched at a few construction sites to see men slowly pushing huge carts full of bricks. (No cranes to lift the bricks up.) In the market men balance what look like 100 lb. sacks of rice on their heads. The human head is the most common means of conveying loads and sometimes I can hardly believe what is balanced up there.

The women who wear traditional dress set a fanciful variety of hats on their heads to match the dresses. The hats are made of the same fabric as the dresses and are folded or tied in unusual shapes. I hope to learn how to create some of those hats while here.

One final bit of information. If my $$ ever get here, I will be moved to Byumba; I am hoping that will still be this week. I will have about a week to get settled in my home. Then on Sat., 8/25, everyone on the project who is actually in Rwanda will gather in Kigali again--around 70 of us. Saturday is a community work day in which the whole country participates--The fourth Saturday every month. Then the 26th -29th, they will put us up in a place yet to be determined for the big general orientation. Once that is over, we officially go to work. There will still be some stragglers coming in after the orientation. Also, I'm finding that some folks are not staying the entire year. I do not know if replacements will come in their stead or not. That is not my concern. I will be glad finally to settle into my role and begin the work.

Enough for this time.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The traditional meal and the haircut

Yesterday I was successful in getting a haircut! Jerome took me to some friends of his who own a barbershop down at the City Center. Now I know where to go and how it will turn out! One major item crossed off my list.

Yesterday Jerome picked me up about 2PM. We went to his house for "lunch" and so that I could meet his family: there was Esther, his wife, Joshua, a six-year-old son, and Caleb, a four-year old son--two very lively boys. Jerome's nephew, Jan, was also there. Jerome said that traditionally a household is much more than one's own nuclear family. He likes to have nephews, aunties, etc., as many people as possible around.

Here is what we ate, and Jerome said this was a very traditional meal: White potatoes and bananas cooked together, greens (the name is not translatable but they were something between spinach and mustard greens), beans (like our kidney beans), a very small amount of meat, and a dish with dried banana, dried potato, and fresh sliced tomatoes. I think maybe I should not have eaten the tomatoes as I had a little reaction this AM!! For dessert we had fresh pineapple and, what else?, bananas! It seems I will be eating a lot of bananas this year. The small ones are plentiful here (about 4" long and very sweet) as is pineapple. there are also passion fruits, and some others I do not recognize but with whom I wish to become familiar.

I am adding photos here. I took them at Jerome's house with my iPad. They are not great, but at least you can see who Jerome and his family are. They are expecting another baby in the new year. Jerome was questioning me thoroughly about why I have only two children! He thinks that is not nearly enough.

More photos:

Sorry about the two photos. I just could not get them to turn horizontally.  After 1/2 hr. I gave up.

Saturday, August 11, 2012


P.S.  I think this will be the big adventure for my week to come--getting a haircut! I wonder if I can find anyone to cut it the way I like it? It's a little scary!
Saturday night, August 11, 2012

Just for the record, I am making peace with my bed net. And I did get two excellent suggestions for how to get up and out of the net at night: wear my headlamp to light everything up or use the light on my phone. Unfortunately, my headlamp is not yet unpacked! And yes, my new phone does have a light on it, so maybe that is my best bet for now.

Today, my big adventure was to complete and fax the request for a wire transfer from my Oak Park bank. I went to the hotel next door (where we go for breakfast) to get some help with the fax. Faxing four pages was quite expensive! Amazing. I asked my banker to e-mail me to make sure it actually got there. I soon heard from her that the fax, indeed, arrived. Sometimes I am still surprised at how our technology works--information going from Kigali to Oak Park! Now, if they will just approve the wire transfer I will have enough money to pay three month's rent this next week! (The rent for my three bedroom house will be $500.00 USD/month. Sure couldn't get that in the U.S.!!)

Most of the folks who got here early with me have now found housing. Many will stay in Kigali; my two MD roommates will move to Butare in the Southwest part of the country. The real difficulty seems to be around transportation. Most seem to be opting for cars, but those in a decent price range are hard to find. In the AM in Kigali, when our HRH people will be trying to get to work, you cannot even imagine what the traffic is like. Maybe I'll try to embed a video of the traffic in my blog. The roads are packed with mini-buses, taxi-motos, lots of people walking, and regular taxis, cars, and trucks. Kigali is a series of hills within hills, so you do a lot of up and down stuff. No one goes anywhere very fast. Many of my colleagues are wondering how they'll ever get to work on time.

Sometimes there are trucks carrying very tall loads: Jeff Williams saw a truck carrying about 12 mattresses of every hue stacked one on top of another. One wonders how they ever got them stacked up so high! And what would happen if they toppled? I saw the same sort of vehicle with plastic chairs stacked up at least six feet high. Come to Rwanda to see the sights! But they are not what you might expect.

My situation in Byumba will be very different. I will only have to walk about 25 feet to my workplace. No car necessary. I can easily ride the bus back and forth to Kigali when I need to go there. Jeff and Brandi Williams have a third bedroom they have already designated as my room for when I visit Kigali. I hope to be able to move on Wed. or Thursday this week. The HRH/CHAI folks will have a van to take me and all my suitcases up to the mountains--great service.

I spent a nice evening tonight with Jeff, Brandi, Garet (their son) and Baby, the dog. Jeff cooked a great supper for us and we talked and talked. I really like Jeff; he is down to earth and someone to whom I feel I can disclose anything. We compared notes on shopping, whether to hire "house helpers" or not (I finally told Jerome today I would like to have a "house person" for just the day time. I do not want anyone to live in my home), and how big all the beds are when we were told that everyone in Rwanda has double beds--we've all had to go out to buy larger sheets than those we brought with us. We discussed who he met while living at the Sports Hotel and who I have met at the apartments. We have each had a very different experience of Kigali even though we were all trying to accomplish the same things.

Tomorrow I will have lunch with Jerome Bushumbusho and his family. It appears that Jerome stays at the school at Byumba during the week and comes to Kigali to his "home" on the weekends. I had mentioned at some point that I would like to see his small daughters, so this will be my chance to meet them and his wife. Jerome said his wife speaks only French, so I will be put to the test. I'm really looking forward to a pleasant time in their home. Jerome is trying mightily to get me to go to church. Not sure we see eye-to-eye on that, but I may have to go sometime to be polite.

None of us have become ill in the past week. Earlier two or three went down with bad G.I. complaints. I know in Mexico they call it "Montezuma's Revenge" Anyone know what they call it in Rwanda???

I am still very tired at the end of every day. I wonder when this will pass? Maybe not at all. I think I will continue to have new experiences every day, and amazing new adventures. If these are what is making me tired, so be it.

Forgot one item. Last night everyone from the project was invited to a restaurant called "Heaven". One of the MDs arranged everything for us. We sat at long tables and had very good food. The highlight of the evening was a group of young dancers. They were all between six and eighteen years. They were earning money for school supplies. They drummed, sang, and did amazing dances. I'm sure this was our first view into what the indigenous people of Rwanda may have done for celebrations, etc.  I had nothing with which to take photos, but one would really only capture it with a video.  Maybe next time.

Many of you are asking for photos. I have not unpacked all my cables yet, so cannot hook the camera up to my computer. Tomorrow I will try photographing with my iPad to see how that works.

I'm getting under my lovely bed net and going to sleep. Bon soir.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Thursday, August 9, 2012--Kigali

Tonight's entry will be about one topic only: mosquito bed nets! When I arrived here, I was confronted with needing to sleep under a bed net for malaria prevention; I had never done so before. The round frame is suspended from the ceiling and all the netting flows down from there. You spread the netting out in a circle and tuck it in around the entire bed. At the beginning it seemed sort of lovely. It looks like something a fairy princess would have over her bed. As time has worn on, however, this princess is slowly becoming disenchanted. Once I'm inside the netting things are OK if I have remembered to bring everything in with me: my book, my iPad, etc.  If I haven't remembered I must crawl out again to secure what I need. The real issue is when I have to get up in the dark at night. I have to pull the netting up until I can get outside of it, then get back in again. Sometimes when I wake up in the AM, I have really made a mess of things!

If anyone has any good tricks about sleeping with netting, please let me know. I'm a newby at this, but will have to do it all year while I am here.


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Wed., August 8, 2012--Kigali, Rwanda

Five days since I made the last entry. Time flies, for sure. We stay pretty busy just trying to find our way around to stops in Kigali for shopping, food, or help from CHAI (Clinton Health Access Initiative). The CHAI group has been extremely helpful. They provide transportation, drivers, directions, and lots of information. Their office is not far from our apts. and is one of a long row of NGOs perched on a hill with a great view of the city.

Last Saturday I mostly just tried to stay horizontal. I was so tired from the trip and from the day of banking, etc. I could hardly move. I napped a lot and just laid low.

Sunday was busy again. Our main goal was the biggest open air food market. We were buying food to prepare for the entire group of us for dinner--about 20 people! The first scent to accost us was fish--rows and rows of dried fish. Not on our menu! As we worked our way deeper into the market there were lots of fruits and veggies plus rows and rows of piles of beans and rice. We all tried bargaining a little, but I am going to have to get a lot better at it. Fortunately we weren't buying anything too expensive anyway....

Preparing the dinner was quite a feat. All of us pooled the dishes, silverware, and cooking pots from our apartments to make it work. The dinner was cooked and held in the apt. I share with the two MDs. We had chili over rice and a big fruit salad. There was hardly a space for a body in the kitchen, but somehow it all got done. The kids all watched the Olympics and we were just one, big, rowdy family.

Monday was a big day for me. Jerome Bushumbusho, the person with whom I will work most closely this year (the director of the Byumba School of Nursing and Midwifery) drove me up to Byumba. The road is good most of the way; the only unpaved sections were being repaired. I could hardly take my eyes off everything that was going by. All the way up were farms on the sides of the hills: sugar cane, rice, and huge stands of banana trees looking for all the world like wind turbines with their multiple leaves standing up in the wind. The homes of the farmers are also up on the hills. You must understand, we were moving from Kigali which is at 5,000+ ft. to Byumba at well over 7,000 ft. Thus, these are not the Rockies, but they are no little hills. My ears were popping most of the way up. There was a sugar cane factory along the way, plus people, people, people walking and biking along the road. It was not easy to weave the car among them. People mostly carrying huge loads: big yellow containers of water, firewood, feed for their cattle, all carrying them on the bike or on their heads. Some had a little round piece they put on their heads on which to balance their load; others carried the load right on their heads. They seemed very at ease with this method of transporting goods.

Byumba is much smaller than Kigali, but still bustling with activity. Many fewer cars, people mostly on foot, carrying loads or going somewhere. Jerome drove through town and out the other side, as the school is a couple of miles outside of town. The school is really lovely. All the brick buildings are built in the same style--even my house which is just over from the administrative offices. My house is much bigger than my home in Oak Park--three  bedrooms. The rooms are big. They had really worked hard to have it ready for me; they even made up the bed in the bedroom designated for me. I was quite touched. They are renting it to me for $600.00/month USD. Amazing!

Jerome talked seriously with me about having a "house person" to help me and I have decided I probably will do so.  He/she will just come in for the day as I do not want anyone living in. It's a way to spread the U.S. wealth a bit and I'm sure will be a help to me as this person will cook, shop for food, do laundry, and be a presence in the house during the day if I am away. There is a guard at night for the entire school compound.

After looking at the house, Jerome and I went to his office and talked for about 2 & 1/2 hrs about his goals for the school and how he thought I could best help him. He has big ideas! I will need to think a bit and talk more with him about what is actually doable in a year. And I will have to hear more at our big orientation on August 26 about the CHAI goals to see of Jerome's goals fit with the CHAI plans.

Jerome lives in Kigali, but has a house at Byumba very close to mine. He was staying at Byumba, so he drove me back to the bus stop in town and I caught the 4PM bus back to Kigali. The bus ride was not so comfortable as the car. We all had seats when we began the trip but the driver made several stops to pick up more people. They filled all the jump seats and eventually we were packing people in places I never thought possible. There did not appear to be any shock absorbers on this vehicle. The young man next to me seemed to enjoy being plastered up against me a little too much as he would try to move even closer! I was hanging onto the strap for dear life! When we got to Kigali and pulled into the area where the buses come in, I was totally in awe. It literally looked like a circus. A huge, rutted, bare field with buses at crazy intervals, parked perpendicularly or parallel to one another, wherever they landed. Crowds of people hanging out, taxi-scooters trying to pick up riders, lots of color. Simon, from CHAI, was supposed to meet me there and I had a moment of panic when I had no idea where to look for him. I'm sure Simon is used to the place and he found me within a couple of minutes. Simon has been my rock on more than one occasion this week!

Everywhere I go there are lots of kids and lots of pregnant women. The women carry the small ones on their backs, winding a broad piece of fabric around the baby's body with the head and legs sticking out, then bringing the two fabric ends to the front and tucking them in. It's easy to see the babies are used to this as mostly they are asleep and very relaxed. I see the women wearing traditional fabrics and dress in Kigali, but much moreso in Byumba.

In Byumba, many of the roads were dirt. The color of the dirt is akin to the red dirt in Oklahoma, but with more of a light brown caste. I will be able to have a garden at my house if I wish. The seeds I stuffed into a sock when I packed were not confiscated; I wish I'd brought more. I hope I can get some more seed locally in Byumba. Jerome had a huge stand of peas near his house.

Yesterday, I had hoped to recover a bit from Monday but went shopping with a family who has a car. I bought a few things I know are not in the house (a collander, some dish towels). And contrary to the information we were given, the beds in Rwanda are not all double beds. Mine look to be about king size and extra long! The sheets I brought will never do!

I will not move to Byumba till next week. That is the soonest I can get a transfer of $$ all set up and Jerome asked that I pay 2-3 mos. rent in advance in USD. And speaking of rent, looks like the couple renting my house in Oak Park are bailing. He sent my property manager a huge list of complaints after they moved in and says something in my house is causing his asthma to flare. The sooner they get out the better. I saw the letter he wrote and it was not pretty. So back to square one. I will list with Sylvia Christmas again and see if we can do better. I'm not terribly upset; I just want to get another decent renter as quickly as possible.

So, the rest of this week will still be here in Kigali. Sometime soon I'll have my work visa. And sometime this week I need to get to the U.S. Embassy (within walking distance of the apts.) to register with them. They want to know where all the expats are!

When I walk along and can really look at the people who pass me, I feel the same way I felt in China. I never could have conceived, then, of the many different Chinese faces I saw. Now, I look at the variety of black faces and am amazed. Some people have scars on their faces, necks, arms, that appear to have been created during the genocide. I am definitely a minority person here.

I'm getting tired of writing. I'll try not to wait so long next time. It is very tiring to confront so many new and novel situations every day, but I think I'm holding up pretty well.  CA

Saturday, August 4, 2012

First days in Rwanda

August 3, 2012, Kigali, Rwanda

Greetings from Rwanda! I'm sitting in my bedroom in my apartment in Kigali trying to cope with very slow internet. But at least I now have internet and a cell phone on which I can make calls anywhere. I'm sharing the apt. with two physicians, one an Internist and one a Pediatrician. The apartment is quite large and there is room for all our bags in our bedrooms. We will be here for two weeks or less, depending on when we can move into our housing.

Jeff Williams and family from Champaign/Urbana, myself, and Tina Anselmi, a midwife from Baltimore, and her family flew into Kigali, Rwanda from Amsterdam on Thursday evening, 8/2. Immediately, one of my bags was lost! Turns out the young man loading my baggage into the waiting van did not put it in with all my other bags. It got left sitting in the airport parking lot. Fortunately, either an airport police or some very honest citizen took it back into the airport where I picked it up from the Lost and Found late yesterday afternoon. It was the bag with almost all my clothing in it and I was thankful and elated that I found it.

After 16 hours in two airplanes, I was beat when we arrived. All I wanted was to get horizontal and sleep, and that is what I got to do. I slept very well, too. Upon arising yesterday, I dressed and went for a walk. People seemed very friendly and returned my greetings. Some did a little wave right beside their faces. An elder woman walked toward me, stopped me, shook my hand, and chatted in Kinyarwanda, seemingly oblivious to the fact that I could not understand her. Eventually, she finished what she had to say, shook my hand again, and we walked on in opposite directions. I like to think she was greeting me as one elder woman to another and saying, "Isn't it a fine day to be in good health and to be out and about."

The project is paying for us to have breakfast at a nice hotel next door to the apts. It is a lovely buffet with made-to-order omelettes and nice crepes, fresh fruit, etc. We are on our own for food the rest of the day. Last night all the recruits who are here now and their families went out to eat Ethiopian food. We had a big table and about 24 people. Good food and lots of laughter. The kids who are here are a great bunch from a three-yr.-old up through high school. I'm really enjoying them.

Yesterday during the day we were taken by van and driver to shop for all necessary electronics so we could set up our computers, phones, etc. We also each opened a bank account. We can only deposit or withdraw US dollars, then we go somewhere else to get them changed into francs, the currency here. Of course you get many franks for each USD. I have two big stacks of francs here. We were assisted yesterday by one of the Clinton Health Access staff members, Simon. Simon is doing a two-year fellowship with Clinton Health Access. He knows Kigali well and speaks both English and Kinyarwanda, the local lingua franca. It seems most people speak Kinyarwanda, so I think I am more interested in pursuing that than more French. Anyway, Simon could communicate for us when salespeople could not speak English and he did a great deal of the purchasing work. I just had to keep handing him more francs!!

Kigali is set within a nest of interlocking hills. It is not like any other city I've seen. The vegetation is probably subtropical and reminds me of Southern California or Charleston, S.C.: different types of palm trees, many bright flowers, and lots of bougainvillea. When I was walking yesterday AM, there were lots of women street sweepers out cleaning the streets and sidewalks. That reminded me of China.
I really would not want to have to drive here--pretty scary like China, also. And lots of motor scooters. Rveryone wears a helmet. I do not see entire families riding on one motor scooter with limbs dangling everywhere as I did in China and Jakarta. I am anxious to get out to see more of the city. Oh, and the weather has been lovely. It seems there is usually a breeze and the temps have been mostly in the 70s. I can easily take this for a year!

One very nice thing happened yesterday. Jerome Bushumbusho, the director of the nursing school where I will work, was in Kigali for a meeting. Simon invited him to join us for our shopping. Jerome and I had an excellent visit and the upshot is that I will go to Byumba to see my house and the campus of the school on Monday. I quickly got a lesson from the Passport officer at the airport on how to pronounce Byumba correctly. It should be pronounced, beyumba, and the "be" is elided together with the "yum" so that it is pronounced as one syllable.

Today I have just rested. There was nothing in particular planned except breakfast so I have napped, read, and tried to get e-mail downloaded with only some success. I really needed the time out. I expect tomorrow to be pretty much the same. I'm convinced that not all of me has arrived here yet. I hope the rest gets here soon!

My best to whomever reads this.