I am back in Canada after a six week stay in Africa! I have not yet recollected my thoughts of the entire trip, but short and sweet words include - my travel was of nothing but amazing life changing moments.
A brief description of my trip includes a 5 week stay in Rwanda and a 1 week climb of the tallest peak in Africa: Mount Kilimanjaro, which was most daring and physically demanding activity I have ever done in my life.
Due to the lack of internet connection, lack of time and general laziness - I had failed in my endeavor to blog on my travels. This has happened all too often, and I do feel disappointed in my lack of determination and persistence.
However, I did manage to write a few thoughts that I`d like to share. This first of these posts (there are only two, sadly) marks my one week stay at Rwanda, and my reflections of this wonderful country during that time.
It has been a week in Rwanda, and introspection has become a rarity.
In the morning, I am ushered to breakfast by 7am and then am immediately driven to my placement at Gisimba. There, is where I am surrounded and at times partake in the hyperactivity of toddlers as they play in dirt, fight without reason nor rhyme, and cry as often as they laugh. My role as a nursery teacher ends around noon, and most inevitably, my energy is spent and time to replenish is acutely needed. Lunch is conventionally two hours long, we have yet foud a “spot” for lunch, as our placement is located in a poor area where water seems like a luxury let alone subpar sanitary restaurants. Instead, we are picked up by our “designated school bus” for the trip, and taken to a comfortable place downtown to dine.
In the afternoon, we spend time with the Orphans. There are approximately hundred orphans at Gisimba, but most are away in private schools and some have school in ther afternoons. Hence, we greet a limited number of them. We are to set up a program of learning for the month, in which is still in the works.
The placement ends at 4pm, and from there on, there is a considerate amount of free time.
Such is the generic routine of my life in Rwanda.
The reason why I write that there is not much introspection, is because the daily life I have here is much akin to first year residence. There are nine students on this course, and we have all become relatively close in a short amount of time. Everything thing we do, is done together, in partners, in groups, and rarely as individuals. This has its advatnages and disadvantages. From one perspective, it builds relationship, team work, and we are able to bond and relate to this unique experience of being in Rwanda. What ever reflection we have, we are able to discuss, build upon and relate. However, there are hardly any alone time given to understand the emotional state of being, and deeply probe thoughts until it becomes fully formed.
Many times, because I am invovled in group activities, the thoughts thare are formed are fleeting and incomplete.
There are number of things I am taken back thus far on my trip, the most notable being the notion of fit with my particular placement. I have previously noted that i had never been entirely comfortable with kids, I often feel awkward and unapproachable, and there is an unprecedented premise to “act silly” around kids in order to relate; none of which are acts I take comfort in performing.
However, from the very first day at Gisimba, things proved to be rather different. These kids are creatures of extreme extraversion, friendliness and affection. Although I did have experiences of momentary awkwardness, I never felt the way I expected to feel: unattached, stoic and and being in a permanent state of distant appreciation. Instead, their contagious friendliness caught on, and I played with them all the same, resuming a chid like demeanor.
Teaching, however, is of a different manner. I have always known this component was to be difficult, I have never thought I would be good at teaching, and my intuition on this front was one hundred percent accurate. I teach the middle class, which are a group of 40 naughty 4-5 year olds, with the attention span of a goldfish. Having them stay quiet without distrubing their toddler neighbours are difficult enough, cathing their attention and instilling knowledge is almost an impossible task. This is compounded fact by the real dividing boundary of a language barrier - often I hear screaming fits of Kinyarwanda shouted at me, without the slightest clue of what they are referring to. Because of their limited english, I often times find myself shouting in a futile manner, as they stare back at me with zero comprehension. Needless to say, communication is proving to be quite diffucult.
My day mainly comprise of me drawing pictures that resemble numbers, animals, objects (or whatever it is that I am teaching them that day), and shouting english vocabularies at them with the intention that repetition will eventually prevail. The first 60 seconds prove to be the most effective, with the last 29 minutes proving to be an absolute disaster, without fail. They get bored easily, and the class inevitably erupts to uncontrollable chaos. Without the presence of another teacher, I will without doubt not have even been able to engage in the acting of teaching.
In between classes, the kids have recess and I am to play with them. This proves to be the most tiring activity; I have to manage the perpetual crying and fighting that is prevalent on the playground, while exerting considerable energy to keep the kids entertained. Many times i run blindly in empty space chasing kids in mild amusement, other times I’d divide the times round the monkey bars, lifting kids upon the bars only to have them fall down a second later. By the end of recess, I am inevitably left gasping for air with sweat soaking through my back.
Another difficulty is the morning routine of chanting nursery rhymes. I have been exposed to nursery rhymes as a child, but have mostly forgotten the majority of the songs I have learned. Since my chidhood was spent in China, most of the rhymes I learned were in Mandarin. As of here, I should probably explain that we as volunteers are expected to teach kids english nursery rhymes; a feat that have proven to be my worst nightmare. Not only do I lack knowledge in such a endeavor, I am terrible in “acting out” the movements that are accompanied with the rhymes. Most often, these are where my feelings of awkwardness preface.
Death is also a very common theme in the daily lives of Rwandans. Upon the third day of my placement, I met the orphans at Gisimba for the first time. There were a group of them playing soccer, and I was talking to an older boy as he pointed to a small boy not older than than 6 guarding the goal post, and said “You see that boy,” he mentioned casually, as I nodded subsequently. “His mother died today. She was very sick, and died of AIDS.”
Those words not heard often in the west, and here in Kigali, it seems the people here have become disencitized to death of close ones.