The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily represent the positions, strategies or opinions of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee or the Agahozo Shalom Youth Village.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Mucaka and PICTURES!

     This Saturday I woke up at 5:20 AM and got ready to run Mucaka. This week we were set to run to Rubona. Still tired and not looking forward to running the mile to Rubona, my body wasn't being very friendly to me. One minute outside of the gate, I fell. But it's no paved road, so as soon as I fell I ripped one knee of my leggings. Shaken up and scratched, my girl, Gemima helped me up and I continued running. As we were running, I told her how rocky the path is and how I don't pick up my feet when I walk/run so I'm prone to falling. I got back into the zone and continue onward. After a few minutes, we had to turn around since it was about to rain. As I started running uphill back to the Village, I fell again. This time I was with Gemima and Olive, both sweet girls who helped me up and continued to run next to me, making sure that I was okay. Unlike the first fall, this time I ripped my second knee and got badly cut up. A bad start to the day, but at least I had my girls by my side to comfort me.
     I finally was able to get pictures so here they are:
My family on Barrett's birthday. 
The view of Lake Mugasera from the Community Center. A 5 hour adventure! 
Maize outside a house in Rubona, on the way to the Lake.
A cow that I spotted on my way to Lake Mugasera. 
Me at Lake Mugasera.
A Rwandan woman leaving her laundry out to dry in Rubona.
Barrett and I in the Dining Hall. 
Homemade challah. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Lake Mugasera

Carrots from the Kimironko Market
     This weekend was a really refreshing and event filled weekend. On Saturday I woke up bright and early, 5:30 AM sharp, to run Mucaka Mucaka. This week we ran inside the Village, which I prefer. It seems shorter than other paths, which is preferable since I’m lazy! After the run, while sipping on porridge, Barrett and I decided that we weren’t going to go to the farm this weekend. It was nice to have someone else affirm my conflicted feelings to the farm. While I recognize the value of giving back to the land directly, I find that I am relatively ineffective at hoeing and weeding. It takes me far more time to make progress than the students and I get extremely frustrated. I believe that I motivate and empower the students in other ways, that my lack of presence at the farm is relatively insignificant in the grand scheme of my participation in the Village. I wish that I loved to farm, but unfortunately I ain’t no farm girl!
Beans from the Kimironko Market
     After waking up at the crack of dawn to run. I decided to take a nap. It was really nice to rest, watch movies and eat challah throughout the day. My relaxing day culminated with Havdallah. Having participated in very few Jewish practices, it was really nice to do Havdallah, especially while surrounded by the beautiful view of the Village. I do not find prayer to be personally meaningful, but being surrounded by a Jewish community is.
     After relaxing all day on Saturday, I decided to join the Year Coursers on their hike to Lake Mugasera on Sunday morning. Having seen Mugasera every day from the Dining Hall in the Village, I decided that it was time that I ventured to the beautiful lake. And what a journey it was! The walk trailed through the rural countryside of Rubona. At points I felt like I was in the middle of nowhere with no clue as to how to return to Agahozo. It was refreshing to be able to just walk and not have to think about anything but also quite an experience to see the vast lands of Rwanda. After two hours of walking, we reached the water. It was truly beautiful! It was also rewarding to finally reach the water. Every time that we walked uphill, I had to stop conversing with other people and focus on my breathing. I think that the dry season has affected my breathing. Since I only breathe out of my mouth, I found it really hard to breathe on some stretches of the hike. For some reason, the trek back, albeit two hours, felt much quicker than the walk to the lake. We walked over a natural bridge that lay on top of a swamp. It was one of the most interesting things that I have ever seen. It was like a trampoline in that it bounced and moved with every step (but I would not dare jump on it). Not knowing exactly what it was made of made it scary, yet exhilarating to cross.
     When we got back to the Village, I ran to shower before lunch. I’ve learned to take advantage of every opportunity that I’m hot to shower. Cold water showers means you have to schedule when you will shower (oy, the troubles in Africa). When I got to lunch and saw Mugasera from the Dining Hall, I felt so accomplished. From the Village, the lake looks so far away. But a 5-hour, rigorous journey and you’ve made it there and back!
     After waking up early two days in a row to exercise, I decided that I’m going to start running more regularly. I asked Barrett if she was interested and she said she was in! I dread the anticipation of exercise but I love the feeing afterwards. I just have to focus on these breathing problems and then I’ll be just fine! So exercise, here we go! 

     P.S. Unfortunately my computer won't let me upload any pictures at the moment. Once I figure it out, I'll be sure to add pictures of Lake Mugasera.  

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Exploring my Judaism in rural Rwanda

     This week has been a pretty slow and rough one. This weekend my roommate had to abruptly fly back to the States since her dad was in a coma and being kept on life support until she got home. (I found out today that he passed away on Monday.) It was such a shock. I was scared for my roommate and didn't know what to say. As I went to the airport to send her off, I found myself more emotional than expected. Being so far away from family and friends is a really hard thing. Not to mention the constant fear that something will happen to a close family member or friend while you're gone.
     Dreading coming back to an empty room (my roommate took almost all of her stuff home, unsure of when and if she'll return), I decided to help Barrett greet the new month-long volunteers: Jewish youth from Year Course. Having been a camp counselor at a Jewish summer camp for years, I was excited to sort of take on the role on counselor while the students from Year Course join the Village. Instantly I felt at home. It was really refreshing to be with young Jewish youth who are so interested in learning about everything that surrounds them. After helping them find phones and exchange money, we returned to the Village for snacks and an explanation of the rules.
     After prolonging my visit home for the first time since my roommate left, I finally had to make my way back. The bed was still made, but everything of value was taken. All that was left was toiletries and towels. my roommate left some snacks on my bed which was really sweet. It felt weird to be in my house alone. It still does.
     But amidst all this change, confusion and sadness, Barrett and I have been supporting each other the whole way. I already feel like this experience has brought us both together. Having my support cut in half, both Barrett and I feel like we are each other's strongest supports. I am really lucky to have her! The most exciting development, is that Barrett is moving into my house, in the empty room across from mine. I am so happy that I won't be alone and we can be together more than we already are. Both of us have repeatedly expressed how happy we are!
     Hopefully once she moves in i'll feel more comfy at home. It's lonely being in a three bedroom house all alone! But i've been trying to keep busy, which is really important for me when I cope with things. I'll also be less bored as time goes on since i've taken on my roommate's job of Communications. With very little past Communications experience, I hope that i'll quickly learn what I need to do. It can't be that hard, right?
     But as for now, i've had little responsibility, so i've been helping Barrett with the Year Coursers. On Tuesday night I led a name game with the Year Coursers and the cousins. After the game we had a Q and A which I thought was very productive. One person asked what big challenges or rewards we've experienced so far. Immediately I told the story of Yvette and how quickly she opened up to me and felt comfortable with me. As I was speaking I felt myself choking up and getting emotional about how important our relationship has been to me (and I'm sure for her as well). It truly is amazing that after 1 week I was able to be a strong support for her. Another person asked how Judaism plays a role in our lives here in the Village and in Rwanda. I, of course, answered this question as well. I went on a lovely rant about how it's interesting to not believe in G-d or prayer in a country that is so G-d loving. I explained that for me, Judaism is about creating something meaningful in a cultural, emotional way and not a spiritual or religious way. I talked about the importance of dialogue and discussion as an ongoing process of understanding and exploring one's identity.
     After I spoke, a few people came up to me and explained that they wanted to find a time to talk to me to explore these very issues. One girl even came up to me and said "So, I think that we need to talk because we're the same person. Well maybe not the same person, but basically the same person." It was really cute. I immediately felt like I was back in my zone as madricha (counselor). I got to continue feeling like a madricha as I joined them on their day trip through Kigali: walked through the town of Nyamirambo, went to the Genocide Memorial Museum (this time for 2 hours instead of 40 minutes), ate a Rwandan buffet lunch (with fresh tree tomato juice!) and then went to the Kimironko Market. I look forward to continuing to be a resource for these youth during their stay in Rwanda.
Veggies at the Market. 
     I know this is getting long (I really need to be better about posting more regularly) so i'll tell you two really quick stories. The first story is about going to the clinic with one of my girls, Christine (she preferred to go with me over Mable so I felt very honored). We went to the clinic in Rubona which was very interesting to see: an outdoor clinic with lots of people seated, waiting to be seen. Things seemed to move very slowly. But, the crazy part of the morning was not that I had to wait 4 hours with Christine, but that for 1 whole hour we waited for the driver to arrive at the clinic to give her money to pay for the medicine. Let it be known that the clinic is approximately 3 minutes driving from the Village. The reason the driver was late: he was driving around staff from the Village to explore different sites for Tikkun Olam (repairing the world). I was shocked that the driver was not willing to make the staff walk and drive to drop off money for a sick child. I was even more shocked when he said that he couldn't pick us up because they were buying wood. Luckily Christine wasn't too sick so we walked back the 15 minutes from the clinic. It was pretty absurd!
     The second story is about the Tutoring Club. During the meeting, a student from Senior 6 who had been in the club last year asked me to explain what tutoring was. I was shocked that after a year of actively tutoring, he didn't know what it meant. I calmly explained tutoring and then he quickly responded that maybe we should cancel the club because it doesn't work and it's not worthwhile. I was appalled by his comment so I immediately went on a rant about the value of tutoring and peer-to-peer guidance. I left the club shaken up and frustrated. Fortunately, my mood changed very quickly: the same boy who seemed to denounce tutoring as a productive thing, requested that in order to solve the issue of not fully understanding tutoring, that I teach the students what tutoring is, how to be a leader and how to effectively make a difference. I was so happy that he had not just left the meeting with his negative perspective, but had actively requested that I partake in educating the students on the value of tutoring. I walked away smiling!
     More pictures to come when the Internet gets better.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Mailing Address

Just wanted to let you all know that I can actually receive mail here in Rwanda! Below is my address:

Maytal Schmidt
Care of Agahozo Shalom Youth Village
P.O. Box 7299
Kigali, Rwanda.

I know...I really need to start taking more pictures of myself. 

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Heroes Day

A beautiful view in the Village. 
     The day started off pretty rough. I woke up early with enough time to do laundry, eat breakfast and get ready for the day. I went to the Administration building to meet with Natan and Parisien at 9 AM sharp, only to find that they were not there. After contacting Natan, I decided to wait in my room and relax until Parisien finally showed up. Forty-five minutes later, both Natan and Parisien were ready to start setting up. Frustrated by their insistence on me being at Administration at 9 AM, rather than 10 AM (which is what I suggested and what ended up happening), I began the day. We went around the Village setting up the different activities. By a chance of good luck, everything was set up and ready to go just in time for the day to begin.
The Spider Web. 
     We structured the day so there would be two hours of games, discussion and an art project, followed by an hour-long presentation. (The night before, over e-mail, we were told that the activities would now only be an hour and a half. With no time to adjust the activities, we had to wish that everything would run smoothly). Every set of four families was given a core value. The activity and discussion were based around the core value.
     I decided to start with my family and check in with other groups after I saw that my group was off to a solid start. I introduced the day to my group and then we split into two groups, Barrett leading one activity, me the other. At first I was concerned because the students did not seem to understand the activity that I was explaining. Luckily, one student understood and was able to translate to the rest of the group. At the beginning the students didn’t seem to be enjoying the game, but quickly they were loving in! It was really wonderful to see the students smiling and laughing.
Some girls listening intently to the discussion. 
     Once I saw that the activities were going smoothly without me, I went to visit two other groups. Both were doing well and the students seemed to be having fun. I was relieved to see that things were running alright.
     When the activities and discussions were done (most people didn’t get to the art project since there wasn’t enough time) we went to the dining hall for a presentation. What I thought would only take one hour ended up being two hours. Intended to be spoken solely in English, the entire presentation was spoken in Kinyarwanda…with no translations! The length of the presentation even pushed back lunch by an hour and a half. By the end of the lecture, I was livid. Luckily I was sitting next to Barrett and Jennifer who were also extremely frustrated, so I wasn’t alone. You can imagine that when the presentation was finally over, I was clapping with sheer joy!
Me with Christine (L) and Claudine (R). 
     Relieved that the day was over, I headed back to my room to relax. Still unsure of how I felt about the day, I was excited when a student came to my house to talk to me. The student, Emmanuel, asked if he could have a copy of the activities that I planned for the day. I readily gave him a copy and then asked why he wanted them. Voted Mr. Core Values of his grade, he said, “Maybe I will use the games in my family and to reinforce the ideas.” Hearing this made me realize that the day was a success. While it was stressful and frustrating at times, it meant a lot that a student had recognized the power of the programming and wanted to replicate it for furthering the development and progress of the Village.
     I must admit that I lowered by expectations for the day. If I was on camp standards, I would not have been happy with how the activities ran, but because I was working with staff and students that did not speak English in a culture that does not embrace informal education and discussion, I had to approach the day in a different way.

The contrast of new and old in upcoming Kigali. 
The house in Kiyovu (with a sign for my bank in the back). 
Another beautiful view in the Village.