My departure will be on Sunday, and I am relatively ready. Here’s what it means to me to be ready.
I researched my district in Rwanda, where 73% of the people are subsistence farmers and they sell an average of 13% of their crops. That means there isn’t a lot of cash economy. Seven percent of the people in the district get their water from a pipe. Two percent get it from a pipe in the home or the yard of their home and 5% get it from a pipe in the center of a village or town. Forty percent of the people in the district can get water from a safe source on a walk of 15 minutes or less (one way) so 60% have to walk farther than that or use water from an unprotected source. Most of the protected sources are springs that have been capped with a pipe arrangement so the water stays clean.
I read two books on the country and its recent history, meaning the 1994 genocide. I recommend both of them, A Thousand Hills by Stephen Kinzer and We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families by Philip Gourevitch. The genocide was clearly orchestrated but the UN and western countries tried to convince themselves it was “just” centuries-old tribal strife to justify staying out of it. In the time of the killings, people were rounded up to do the killing and those who didn’t participate were given the choice of killing the next person or being killed as a sympathizer. Besides the hundreds of thousands of deaths in a period of about 90 days inflicted largely with machetes by neighbors on neighbors, there was an enormous exodus to nearby countries. The refugee situation was murky with the losers in the military conflict fleeing as well, so that genocidaires in the camps continued to arm themselves and make forays across the border into Rwanda.
My take away lesson from this is that I don’t understand what it must be like to live through the aftermath. It isn’t possible to put all the killers in prison; it was a very large fraction of the population. It isn’t possible to try everyone although efforts are being made and have been made to try the leaders of the genocide. The government is intentionally a coalition of the two demographic groups (although they aren’t really distinct genetically) and pushes anti-genocide thinking and peace-making in schools and communities. It pushes anti-corruption. And its leaders have studied repressive systems like Singapore and Thailand as role models, taking the stance that until the situation is more stable it has to be controlled. Nearby regions, across the borders (Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda) continue to have some genocidal activity ongoing. It’s not done to ask about this recent history. If a person chooses to talk about it after getting to know you, that’s fine. It is still too raw and personal for many survivors.
As to my role, for the next year I’ll be teaching at a teacher training college. My candidates will be preparing to teach English and to teach other subjects in English. Rwanda has recently changed to English from French as the language of instruction in schools. I’ve been given a list of eight modules (courses to us) which I’ll teach, four each semester. It would be indelicate to state how many of these are courses that I’ve never taught before, but I have had a big push studying. I’ve watched a Great Course on Linguistics, fished around the internet for syllabi of courses similar to mine and bought some of the texts I’ve identified. I get them online from used book sources. Some arrived and were just what I was hoping for, but some were unfortunate. At this point I have a 50 pound suitcase of children’s books so that we can have some short and sweet, light and lively readings for relaxation and to celebrate our skills. Then there’s another 50 pound suitcase of professional books and teaching materials. That covers my allowance, but there’s also a 50 pound suitcase of clothes, bedding, and a couple of kitchen tools. I will pay for one suitcase of excess baggage as it’s still cheaper than mailing myself the books.
I’m grateful to relatives who will live in my house while I’m gone (thanks Adam and Corrinne), a friend who is managing a few things like my post office box and alerting me of action items (thanks Mary Dell), a retired friend who gave me a fabulous collection of ESL teaching resources (thanks Sarah), and the usual band of encouragers and soul mates (you know who you are).
Here are some predictions:
Peace Corps Thailand gave me the gift of greater compassion for myself and its conjoined twin, greater compassion for others. I suspect that Peace Corps Response Rwanda will have some gift of personal growth for me and I don’t know what it will be. My hope is to be open to it, whatever it is.
This experience will be fabulous and challenging. I’m looking forward to walking a lot, to studying my students in order to serve them well, and to building friendships with community members and other PCVs. I expect to be blindsided now and then, and am fully prepared to toss out the preparations I’ve made for my courses if it turns out I’ve misunderstood what they are to be like. The preparations were to give me some confidence at the outset. That’s done.
Into the mystery!