In my last update, I talked a bit about the path that led me to the Peace Corps and the basics of the three-month training program that was my day-to-day life. For a while, most of that remained unchanged. After returning from visiting my final site outside Nyungwe National Park, I was back to the grind of daily Kinyarwanda lessons; classroom management sessions, and any other miscellaneous bit of training that the Peace Corps deemed necessary for its education volunteers.
I mentioned in my first post how the community-based training program, while undeniably effective when it comes to integration and language acquisition, can quickly leave you desperate for just a small taste of the familiar. As soon as we had the chance, we all embraced that ideal wholeheartedly with the help of surprise birthday parties, pumpkin carving for Halloween, a massive collaborative Thanksgiving dinner, and most recently coming back together for Christmas and New Year’s celebrations.
Admittedly, some of the days have felt long and drawn out, but it’s amazing how fast the weeks have flown by. As I write this, my training has finished and I have been officially sworn in as an official Peace Corps Volunteer. After three months of training as a group, we are now scattered around the country in the communities that we will be working in for the next two years. The whole transition is a somewhat bittersweet. While I’m experiencing a freedom that I haven’t had for what seems like an eternity, it also means separating myself from the people, both in my host family and training group, that I’ve grown close to over the past months. In addition, as an education volunteer, I was installed on site during the holiday break. This meant that for a while there was little for me to do but hang out in the school offices or walk around and introduce myself (a bit of a challenge since most of the people in the community assume, at first glance, that I’m the same volunteer that has been working here the past two years).
On top of the conflicts that come from simultaneous feelings of freedom, boredom, and missing friends, I’ve been finding that my site is in an unusual limbo of classic Peace Corps life and unexpected luxury. I can start my day with a bucket bath and hand washing a load of laundry, followed by browsing the web in my school’s modern offices. I can then head up a partially eroded hillside staircase past a couple troops of baboons and struggle to light a charcoal stove in order to cook dinner. I can lounge in my tile-floored house and watch a movie, only to be woken up in the middle of night to chase mice out of the room.
To be clear, none of these are meant as complaints; just the opposite. I was all set to be handling all these things and more, but my assignment here is most definitely not what I was expecting from the Peace Corps (in the best possible way). Just walking around the campus is an experience in itself, with forested hills stretching into the distance as far as the eye can see.
I cannot wait to get started with my work here, although that still seems to be a long way off. While the semester for the rest of my colleagues started last week, I’m here to teach at a school for conservation and environmental management that has the students completing internships around the country for their first month. As a result, I’ve got a nice, long, and quite possibly cabin fever-inducing chunk of time off before I can begin teaching in February.
Thankfully, I’ve been able to stave off boredom by traveling for the holidays, visiting friends and getting to see a bit more of Rwanda in the process. The festivities made it a little more like home with the help of cheap Christmas decorations bought in the capital, a tiny plastic tree, and a can or two of white foam marketed as ‘fake snow’ (a surprisingly good substitute for a white Christmas, once you get past the lingering soap smell in the air). But now the holidays have come and gone and everyone is getting to work for the New Year, so it’s back to site for me. With any luck I’ll be able to find some projects to pass the time and supply me with some good stories moving forward.
Scott Jenkins grew up in Ridgewood, NJ and graduated from NYU in 2012 with a degree in Anthropology and Linguistics. His passion for travel, adventure, and helping others led him to apply to the Peace Corps in September of 2012. He was invited to teach in Rwanda, where he is currently serving for the next two years.