It’s been a week since I arrived in Rwamagana to live with my host family after two days of orientation in Philly, a two day journey to Kigali from America, and three hectic days of orientation in Kigali. Last Sunday, September 23, all 39 of us piled into two buses and headed to Rwamagana from Kigali. After about an hour, we arrived at the Peace Corps Hub, where our host families and a number of Peace Corps staff members were waiting for us. After lugging our suitcases out of two large trucks, we all took our seats and waited for our host families to be announced. One by one, each volunteer and each host family were paired; volunteers, moms, dads, and children hugged each other while everyone cheered. Many families have had multiple volunteers, so they know the drill; they’re fond of Peace Corps volunteers, are used to strange American habits (craving privacy, going running, eating lots of fruits and vegetables..). My family is among these; I am their 8th volunteer. Besides a rug and a couple of hand-made doilies, the only decoration I’ve noticed in their home is a cluster of frames of their family with past volunteers.
My host mom (Drocelle) is a small, sweet, hard working woman with two sons, Hussein (13) and Sharif (9). Their father, Karim, isn’t around too often, because he’s a truck driver/farmer. From what I’ve gathered, he buys and sells tomatoes, which he transports in a big truck I often hear rumbling outside our compound at odd ours. A few days ago, he showed up late at night with 6 roosters; so far, two have become dinner and lunch…
Our house is small, simple, and fairly bare. There’s electricity but no running water, so we have water delivered in large, yellow jerry cans every couple of days. There’s no refrigeration, no flushing toilet, and no shower. Instead, we use a latrine outside, and a little room right next to it to take bucket baths. Every morning, I pour cold water into a bucket, grab some soap, wrap myself in a large piece of fabric called an igitenge (apparently that’s what people wear instead of towels to walk to the shower here—it covers you past your knees, which is important if you’re a girl), head to the ‘bath’ room (more like closet), and dump water on myself. Voila!
My host mom cooks on a small charcoal stove outside. She cooks and cleans all day long, constantly bending over basins, tubs, and over the Imbabura she uses to cook. She makes incredible food, somehow, using only one large, pretty dull knife- no cutting board, no countertop, no nothing! Since this part of Rwanda cultivates plantains, they’re everywhere; abundant at the market, and abundant in my diet! My host mom boils them with potatoes, and serves them with a peanut flour sauce or cooked vegetables. She makes rice, beans, cabbage with tomatoes, spinach, cassava, potatoes, pasta, and often slices up avocado, papaya, pineapple, and even watermelon. The fresh fruit here is incredible, as is all the fresh produce. We live about a 4 minute walk from the market, and I think she shops there every day.
As far as host families go, I’ve been very lucky. My family is not overwhelmingly loud or intrusive, they are warm and welcoming without expecting too much from me. My host mom has shown me how to wash clothes, mop my room, wash dishes, light the stove, peel vegetables, and cook some, too. My host brothers and I play cards and sometimes play outside, but they’re often studying or playing with their friends. They’re extremely well behaved and respectful, I can tell they’ve been raised well, with high expectations to meet.
It’s definitely a bit unnerving sometimes to be in such a densely populated place when you stand out so much. The first day I walked to the market with my host mom and brother, I felt incredibly awkward as the object of stares and curious looks. I’ve gotten somewhat used to it, but I sometimes wish I could walk outside without feeling like a spectacle. All in all, it isn’t so bad; as soon as we greet people in Kinyarwanda, they smile and return our greeting. People are friendly and helpful when you reach out to them.
So far, so good; training is exciting and stimulating, the volunteers are varied, lovely people, and every day we learn or experience something new! It doesn’t hurt that the views are beautiful, and the weather is ideal…