We finally made it! After months of anticipation, I am finally here in Rwanda! Emily, Arron and I traveled together from Boston and arrived here three days ago. After decently long flights and a layover in Amsterdam (which was amazing, I very much appreciated the off-shore wind farms visible from the plane!) we were greeted at Kigali International Airport by Marcia who is our Boston College advisor, Sr. Anna who is the principal of Notre Dame des Anges and our supervisor here, and a small party of about four other priests and nuns. It was truly surreal to hop of the airplane and plant a foot on African soil for the first time, while taking in a breath of wood-fire smoke scented air. Much to my surprise, customs took approximately thirty seconds and we were quickly whisked away to the Pallotti Centre, which is a guest house where Emily and I are staying.
One of the most notable aspects of Rwandan culture is their hospitality. Upon arrival we were received to soft cheers of “Welcome” and ate a meal of hamburgers and fries, which was prepared especially for us Americans. Many of the people who are staying at this guest house with us speak French as a first language, but regardless of language preference, one can always expect to be greeted with “Boujour,” “Good Morning,” or “Mwaramutse.” Children have a tendency to look up and shout “Good morning!” regardless of the time of day, which is really cute! People here are MUCH more friendly than the mainstream New Englander, so I need to constantly remind myself to say hi to anyone in passing.
The first morning we were here, Marcia brought us to the bus stop to travel to Notre Dame. While walking to the bus, I experienced my first instance of culture shock; as soon as we exited the gates of the centre, the entire population on the street STARRED at the three muzungus, the three white girls. Other than the foreigners at the guest house, white people are a very rare occurrence around here, so it was difficult to escape anyone’s gaze. Children are especially prone to stare and shout, as they are extremely curious about people like us. When we walked by a primary school, almost every child on the playground shouted “Muzugus!” and chased us down the road behind the iron fence of the school yard. It is difficult to describe my feelings to such an event but it is certainly a mix of embarrassment, flattery, entitlement, and a sudden longing to fit in. However, I am rapidly learning to simply wave back, exchange a greeting, and continue down the road.
The school where we work has been incredible so far. When we walked to the school gate, we were greeted to more muzungu cheers (for the second time in one hour) and could barely step onto the school grounds before a flood of children bombarded us to give and receive hugs. The children, especially the little ones, are absolutely adorable and extremely well behaved. As we visited each classroom, I could see that the curriculum materials were limited, but this was counteracted by the fact that the children were attentive and very willing to learn. Even in the nursery school, there are no toys, but thirty-something children pack each room and listen quietly to the teacher’s voice. Yesterday afternoon I observed a fourth grade class of maths and social studies, and later assisted with teaching an after-school Sacraments class for children preparing for Baptism. Sr. Anna asked us to arrange something to teach, so I taught them the classic Christian song “Trading my Sorrows” because the English is simple and it has plenty of hand motions. The kids LOVED it! I was thrilled to watch them sing so eagerly with huge smiles on their faces. I’ll have to think of some more songs to teach them… I must add one hilarious note about the school: they have wifi, but no running water. This seems very counter intuitive in terms of technological advances, but rather normal in terms of African infrastructure.
Though I was originally terrified of walking down the street, I finally got myself to go out for a run this morning. Hills are ubiquitous, and flat ground is scarce, so I decided to begin my run by heading uphill. I ended up discovering a beautiful outlook where it is possible to see much of the city nestled among the various peaks and valleys. On the way home, another runner charged down the hill and ran alongside me while blasting “Rude Boy” on his iPod. In America this would be super creepy, but it was quite nice to have a running buddy! We could barely understand each other, but the simplicity of company stride-by-stride was all that we needed to communicate. I felt so much more relaxed about being out in the streets after that, so I am very excited for the next two months!
One last note about the title of this post. As you may have guessed, “mwaramutse” means “good morning.” I learned it on the first traumatic, packed-to-the-seams bus ride, to the entertainment of the men sitting next to me. So basically I’m fluent in Kinyarwanda now.