Friday, January 30, 2009

Of Ants and Men…

Ok, time for my weekly update. Though calling it a weekly update might be a little misleading. Once I get into my routine, I have a feeling that I won't be able to stay interesting if I post every week. Whatever happens, I'll try to find the right balance between being an interesting, good read and just letting everyone know that I'm still here and the ants haven't carried me away yet.

That seems like a good enough segue into one of the latest happenings…

So the other morning, on the way out to take a bucket shower, I noticed a thick trail of ants leading into my house. "Strange," I thought, and since it was early in the morning, I ignored them. When I returned and tried to have breakfast, however, I was sorely disappointed. The ants had found there way into my cupboard and were in the process of devouring my bread. Others had attacked my pineapple (uncut fortunately, thus still salvageable) and a few had even got into the sugar, despite the fact that it had a lid and was quite well sealed. Breakfast was not entirely ruined, you'll be glad to hear, as the ants had left the bananas and passion fruit unmolested. I think I need to invest in some sealable containers. I can't afford to lose a half a loaf of bread every other day. It's too bad they don't believe in refrigeration here either, eh Europe Nerds?

It's too bad my resident gecko (whom I've named Chas) doesn't eat all the bugs. I'm not really sure what it is he does around here, besides hiding behind my calendar. He really needs to start pulling his own weight…

As for teaching, I've now received my new and possibly final schedule for the year. I'll be teaching 24 hours as week, with classes being either one or two hours at a time. I'm teaching English to S1s, S5s, and S6s (equivalents of grades 7, 11, and 12) and biology to S1s. Unfortunately, I've lost the class of S2s that I had been teaching for the last two weeks, which is very disappointing. I'd already become invested in it and was just starting to get to know the students and what level their English is at. Now I have to start all over again with several new groups.

In regards to language and communication, I've begun speaking a bastard-language that I've dubbed Franyarwanglish. As you might guess, it's a rough mixture of French, Kinyarwanda and English. A typical conversation with someone on the street (when they don't just start laughing) goes something like this:

Rwandese: Hello! Good morning.
Me: Mwiriwe. Amakuru?
Rwandese: Ni meza. Ca va?
Me: Oui, ca va. I'm good. Thanks.
Rwandese: Something in Kinyarwanda that I don't understand.
Me: What? Pardon?
Rwandese: Repeats Kinyarwanda.
Me: Desole. Laughs nervously. My Kinyarwanda very bad. Tres mauvais.
Rwandese: Something with the word Kinyarwanda.
Me: Yego. I try. J'essaie.
Rwandese: Peace.
Me: Peace. Umunsi mwiza!

I'm hoping that as time goes on, there will be less English (and less me not understanding them) and that I'll be able to switch to plain old Franyarwanda.

This weekend I've left Rusumo and headed off to Kigali, where I'm using the Internet as much as possible, and visiting some of the other volunteers. It's not too long of a bus ride, and it’s nice to get back to the city and see friends. I won't be able to do this all that often, but it's good to get out of the quiet, rural setting and back to an urban environment.

Well, that's all for now, thanks for reading!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Andy finally, a couple pictures...or not

My Gecko friend at the mission in Kigali.

Ok, so I was only able to get this one picture to load. It just so happens it is the lamest picture I was going to post. Great. I guess I'll try again later.

My humble abode in Nyakarambi

Obama Watch Party – Still early in the night. By the end, we'd more than tripled the number of people in the room. It's definitely a moment I'll never forget – watching a candidate I'd worked for getting inaugurated President from halfway around the world. Rwandese see in Obama the same sense of hope and intelligent leadership that so many others see from across the globe, and the possibility of the US taking a positive lead in improving the lives of those in the developing world seems real once more.

Rusumo, or "I can see Tanzania from my house!"

Many things have happened since my last blog post, so I’ll do my best to update it thoroughly. I’ve left the capital, and am now residing in a small village, which is called Rusumo by those in Kigali (referring to all the villages on the road from Kibungo to the Tanzanian border) and called Nyakarambi by its residents. We have a bus stop, a petrol station, a couple restaurants, a few stores and electricity from 6 pm to 10 pm. Every Wednesday, the population triples, as a market springs up right behind my house, bringing people and goods from all across the area. It’s a great time to stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables for the week (like pineapples, bananas and passion fruit) or to buy clothes, school supplies, kitchen utensils, anything. The closest internet that I am aware of is in Kibungo, the largest town in the area, but it’s a bit of a bus ride from Nyakarambi. I’ll have to get into some sort of routine with this so I can keep up on my correspondence and my blogging.

My living arrangements consist the back half on a house. I have two bedrooms (so I welcome visitors! Please!) and a living room with some chairs, a table and a desk. (Due to their respective sizes, however, the desk functions as my dinner table and the table is an acting desk.) Unfortunately, there is no running water, so the toilet is an outhouse (not bad during the day, but it swarms with cockroaches at night) and the shower is a small room with a bucket. (I’m actually getting quite proficient at the bucket shower, if I do say so myself.)

I teach at a high school in the next town. It’s a bit of a hassle to get to every day, but so far I’ve been taking a moto (motorcycle taxi) each morning and walking a mile to the bus stop, then busing back after school. It’s been working so far, but once the rainy season hits it’ll get a bit messier. Also, we almost hit a cow a couple days ago. This week I’ve been teaching English to S2s and S5s (the equivalent of Grade 8 and Grade 11), and I might be picking up an S1 biology class and possibly a class entitled “Entrepreneurship”, which I believe to be basic economics. The kids are great, as are the other teachers, who do their best to speak in English when I’m around. I’ve discovered that, so far at least, I really enjoy teaching, but I despise lesson planning.

Everywhere I go, lately, I’m followed by cries of “Muzungu! Muzungu!” You see, the children around here don’t see whites very often, so it’s a bit of a novelty for them to see me walking back from school or around town. On my second day here, I went for a walk from one end of town to the other, just to check it out. I got out to Eastern end, and all of a sudden about 20 kids materialized, saying “Muzungu!” and “Bonjour! Comment ca va? Amakuru? Good morning, teacher!” (They all just seem to assume I’m a teacher.) Then whenever I tried to answer them, in any of those three languages, they would bust out in giggles. Another time, I was walking back from school, on the phone with one of the other volunteers, when I noticed I had a group of about 10 kids following me, with their heads craned at an awkward angle. It took me a while to realize they were trying to listen to what the person on the other end of the phone was saying.

Of course, it’s not just the little kids that laugh at me. I always try to great everyone I pass in Kinyarwanda, usually saying “Mwaramutse” or “Mwiriwe” (Good morning/good afternoon). I occasionally follow-up with an “Amakuru?” (How are you?). People seem to really like this, and they usually crack a smile and return the greeting. However, little old ladies seem to find me talking in Kinyarwanda to be one of the funniest things imaginable. They tend to burst out laughing, reply in great detail (which I don’t usually understand) then say things to their friends (of which I can usually only pick out the words Muzungu and Kinyarwanda). I imagine the novelty will wear off eventually, once they’ve seen me around enough, but for now I’ll just have to get used to people yelling “Hey Whitey!” at me.

In regards to the modified Palin quote in the title, I can’t actually see Tanzania from my house, just from my classroom window. Does this still qualify me for national office?

Speaking of which, Tuesday night was quite interesting. I had planned on listening to Obama’s Inauguration on the radio (probably Voice of America or BBC) but a local restaurant with a generator hooked up their TV, managed to find CNN and invited people to come watch it! It was quite an event. We crammed 30 people into a tiny room, the Mutzigs and Primuses (local beers) were flowing and those who knew English were translating for those who didn’t. The room erupted into cheers when we first saw Obama, then again when Biden took the oath, when Obama took the oath, and several more times during his speech. Whenever Bush appeared on the screen, the crowd broke out into chuckles and jokes. Even here in Africa – pretty much the only continent where he is viewed more positively than negatively – his incompetence and uselessness is clear. All in all, it was a great night and it’s wonderful to be able to say “President Obama!” (And no, Jenny, Diane Feinstein is not Obama’s wife.)

(And did anyone count the number of times I used parenthesis? Is 15 too many, Dallas?)

Oh, and btw, just to make all of you who are stuck in the frozen climes of North America jealous, I had corn on the cob yesterday. And it was gooooood.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Gang

Here is the whole gang of us teachers (minus Scott who is the photographer) at the start of orientation. Look how full of hope we are!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Oh, and for anyone interested in sending me letters or packages, here is my address:

Andy Janes
c/o Jessica Smolow
Kigali Post Office
PO Box 4875
Kigali, Rwanda

Oh, and when I say this is my address, I mean it is a PO Box in Kigali. Apparently I will not be able to receive mail in Rusumo, and will have to either come back to Kigali for it, or rely on other people picking it up and bring it too me.

Please don't let this stop you from sending me things, especially letters...

Genocide Memorials

Monday was a very intense day for us: we took in both the Kigali Genocide Memorial and the Nyamata Memorial. These were incredibly powerful Memorials about the 1994 Genocide, and are important symbols of Rwanda’s dedication against genocide and genocide ideology.
I’ve been to Dachau (a concentration camp in Germany), the Holocaust Museum in DC and a slave fort in Cape Coast, Ghana. Both of the Rwandan Memorials, being so much more recent and taken in one day, affected me more.

The Kigali Genocide Memorial is done in a similar style to the Holocaust Museum. It chronicles the factors that led up to the violence, as well as the violence itself and the aftermath. It included pictures and video footage, and vivid descriptions of killings. Near the start I noticed that the displays often used the word “we” rather than “they” to describe the victims, which made it even more personal and effective. The Memorial also featured a section on other recent genocides, portraying the Armenians, German Namibia, Nazi Germany, Cambodia and Serbia/Kosovo. Each section features information on how justice has or has not been served, emphasizing the importance of attaining justice here in Rwanda.

Nyamata is a town about 45 min outside of Kigali, and in 1994, as the violence was starting, people began to gather at the local church, thinking it a refuge. This was not the case. In a short period of time, 10,000 people were killed in and around the church. There were only 5 survivors, all of them children. The killers found the church an easy target, they threw grenades inside, they cut and shot and burned and buried alive.

Since the end of the Genocide, the church in Nyamata has been turned in to a memorial and a burial site, with over 41,000 people interred there. The mass graves at the back have stairs down into them, where you can see row after row of coffins, skulls and other bones. If enough bones could be identified as belonging to the same person, they would be given a coffin; otherwise they are lined up in rows on shelves. By the description, some might compare it to the Paris Catacombs, but I can’t stress how different it is. These people were deliberately and brutally tortured, raped and murdered, and it happened less than 15 years ago. I cannot describe how powerful and how sad the graves are. However, inside the church is even more moving. On all the pews and all over the front and back, virtually everywhere except the aisle, were piled what looked like rags. They weren’t rags though; they were the clothing of the people who were murdered there. Hats, shoes, shirts, pants, everything.

These Memorials are extremely important. It’s probably cliché to write that people need to see this most brutal of human undertakings, but it’s also true. We need to remember our solemn promise after the Holocaust: Never Again.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


Hello all! I’ve had an exciting few since I’ve last written. We celebrated my birthday here in Kigali, with Indian food and a cake, then partying and dancing at several places, including a club called KBC. I want to send special thanks out to some of my new Rwandan friends who took us around and made sure I had a great time!

On Friday, we headed off to Butare, in the South, our first trip outside of the capital. The bus ride itself was fantastic; I wish I could describe the scenery (or that I had taken some pictures...). It was hill after hill after hill, all with tiny farms and banana groves, and lots of little towns along the way. Butare itself is relatively large for the area, and home to the National University and the National Museum. I visited the Museum, and got to explore a bit of the area, but the most interesting time was spent at an orphanage just outside of Butare. It looks after 107 kids, many who are HIV positive, and it provides medicine, good meals and school supplies for them. We taught games to the kids and they taught us even more. It’s been supported by a group called R-VCP or the Rwanda Village Concept Project. It’s mostly a bunch of National University med school students who have set this thing up with various European groups helping out. They support the orphanage and some clinics, and you can find out more at The guys from the med school are really great. They are really motivated, and are doing an amazing job. Plus, they took us out on Saturday, and showed us a very good time.

Random comment: Obama is huge here. Everywhere I look I see Obama stuff. Café Torero (the internet café) has Obama posters, and I’ve seen several Obama bumper stickers at various bars and hotels. I’ve also seen a bus with an American flag and Obama printed across it, several t-shirts, and an Obama mini-mart (although that might actually be a family name, not referring to the President-Elect). Everyone you talk to here loves him, and many of them stayed up all night on election night to see him win. BTW, I can’t wait for Inauguration Day. I’m going to where an Obama button to school and hopefully catch some of it on the radio (if I can’t find a TV).

I’m back in Kigali now, but not for too much longer. We head out to our schools on Saturday, so once that hits, I have no idea about Internet access, or frankly, about anything at all. Hopefully I’ll get on again before that, but we are going to be crazy busy with teaching practice, lesson planning and all sorts of other fun activities.

Unfortunately, I’ve been having problems uploading photos, so you’ll have to wait a bit longer. I haven’t actually taken very many either, but I’ve still got time…

Thursday, January 8, 2009


Muraho! Amakuru? Ni meza, murakoze…

So, things are going well here in Kigali. Training is flying by, and we only have a little more time here in the capital. If there was more time, I’d love to be out exploring more, but then I wouldn’t be getting trained. Small tradeoff I suppose. Plus, I should have time during my vacations to visit.

Training has been a variety of things, including teaching training, science training, cultural training, and intensive Kinyarwanda training. (Above translation: Hello! How are you? Fine, thank you…). We had four hours of it yesterday, and another four hours today, and I believe we are scheduled for 3 tomorrow. The language stuff has been my favourite of the sessions so far. It’s such a complex language, with pronunciations that I can barely even attempt. In a year the most I think I could get would be passable, but I’m going to try.

As for living arrangements for the rest of the year, they are getting narrowed down. A mailing address will be going up soon, I just have to confirm it. Only problem is that it will have to be sent here to Kigali, then I or someone else will have to pick it up and bring it to Rusumo. Kind of a hassle, but I expect I’ll get used to it. The other news is that I may have electricity, at least, at times. That's a big deal, especially since I didn't think I'd have either electricity or running water. Of course, I still going to keep my expectations low as the likelihood of a mistranslation or misunderstanding is quite high. Regardless, I'm getting quite excited to get there!

Today we stopped by both the Canadian and American Embassies to finish up some paperwork. The difference between the two was quite noticeable. The American one was quite the fortress, with strict security, built off away from everything else, very much on its own. The Canadian one was off on a side street, walled off and guarded, but it was much simpler, and frankly, they seemed much nicer. The downside was the Canadian government is just beginning to switch everything over to online registration for Canadians abroad, and the system is still full of bugs (i.e. we couldn't even access the website), whereas the American system seemed pretty well settled down.

In other news, I'm getting a good handle for the transportation system! I've now taken taxis (most expensive, but the only one you can really use with a lot of luggage), motos (much cheaper, basically you hang on to the back of a motorcycle or moped and weave through the streets like a crazy person) and matatus (extremely cheap i.e. 30 cents US, buses/vans that actually run on time and to most places in the city). It's a bit confusing at first, but once you get the hang of it, you can get anywhere for not too much money! Of course, with a bit of walking as well. Have I mentioned that Rwanda is called "Land of a Thousand Hills"? I should have calves the size of small sheep by the time I'm done here.

Saturday, January 3, 2009


Hello from Kigali!

Sorry it's taken me so long to put up my first post!  We all got here safe and sound, and we've been working on getting accustomed to, well, everything.  But it's great!  I love this city.  It's in way better shape than anything I saw in Western Africa, and honestly, the main streets are about as clean as those in Paris or Glasgow!   There are good roads, working stop signs that people obey, running water and good power and buses that run on time!  I'm going to have to enjoy this while I'm here, because I have no idea what Rusumo is going to be like.

Currently, we're staying at a Catholic Mission, which is good (and cheap), where we spend most of our time in training.  We've had several speakers on various issues, and we've had a bit of time to explore the city, though not as much as I'd like.  I've also been able to try some pretty good foods, including goat brochettes (sticks of goat meat!).  Also, lots of bananas.

New Years Eve was incredible!  We went to an East Africa party, with Mutzig and Primus beers and live music from artists from Rwanda, Uganda and other parts of the region.  The music was great (as were the beers) and we stayed and danced until late.  Well, some of us did.  Many people went home earlier, but I was part of the last three to leave at 2:30 am.  It doesn't sound like much, but remember.  We had arrived in Kigali one day earlier after about 17 hours in the air.  I didn't sleep more than 30 min over those 2 days.  But the dance was fun, we danced with each other and with Rwandans and generally had a great time!

Unfortunately, I haven't really taken many pictures yet, so it will still be a little while before any of those go up.  Sorry.

Also, random facts: my room is home to at least 4 lizards, possibly more.  I'm not complaining, they eat bugs and are actually quite cute.

Almost no one smokes in public here.  I haven't seen a single Rwandan smoking.  I love it!

People here are incredibly friendly.  They love it when we try to use our pitifully small Kinyarwandan.  Mostly they laugh at us and tell us it's great.  I've been trying to say Muraho (hello), Amakuru (how are you?) and ni meza (i'm fine) as often as I can.  If not, I try french, which I think I'd have a good chance of picking up if I stayed in Kigali.  However, I know my school is anglophone, so I don't know if there will be much French spoken in town either.  It's so close to the Tanzanian border that it might be mostly english speaking.

Turns out, I'm terrible at journaling.  I was planning on writing every night, then putting the entry's together for a blog post.  Didn't happen.  I've written about 3 entrys, mostly less than a page.  Thus, I'm blogging in an extremely random and train of thought manner.  If you have any problems with this, feel free to leave a message.  Maybe next time it will be more logically laid out.

As of yet, no address for my place in Rusumo.  I'll post it as soon as I know it.  I really am looking forward to getting letters from some of you, and especially that wedding invitation (you know who you are...).

Thanks for reading, I'll try to do this semi-regularly, and if you have any questions, let me know and I'll try to answer them either privately or on my next post!