Friday, November 21, 2014

More Travel

Leaving kenya tim and I travelled to Istanbul, Turkey.  

My thoughts on Istanbul:

I really like the city, at least the part we stayed in. We were probably a two minute walk away from the Blue Mosque and Hagai Sophia. We'd wake up in the morning and have breakfast on the enclosed rooftop of our hostel and watch ships sailing by. Pretty fantastic. The city is huge though, beautiful, but sprawling. I don't think I would like it as much if we weren't staying in such a central location. We took an hour and a half boat ride up the Bosphorous Strait and really never left the city. Highlights of that trip inlcude I have now been to ASIA! Nick, from My first year of JVC, met up with us which was awesome. On one day, the three of us just did a food tour of all the street food before heading over to the BLue Mosque to check out the inside and hear the evening call to prayer from the square out front. I would definitely go back to istanbul, but not at the "high" season, it was crowded enough in the winter.

Next up we caught a bus to Sofia, Bulgaria. It was surprisingly easy. So far the hardest part of the trip has been locating the front door of our hostels. In Istanbul we stayed at the generically named "Istanbul Hostel" which was located in the middle of the tourist district filled with hostels, it made asking for directions very challenging. 

Sofia was nice, but cold. Tim and I had to spray all our clothes and bags with raid and then wash them from Istanbul and so for the two days we were in Sofia we were walking around in, sleeping in, and filing our beds with wet clothes hoping to dry them with our body heat. We were not successful and it was just cold. The first day in Sofia we tried to go to the mountain in the city, we were marginally successful except that it took us nearly all morning to find the right tram. The second day we wandered around, watched a changing of the guards, checked out some fancy churches and in the evening we went to the ballet "Sleeping Beauty" at the National Opera House. It was legit. He ballet was really good. The best thing about Sofia was how affordable it was. Food was super cheap. We went to the archeology museum for $2 and second row at the ballet cost a little under $20. 

From Sofia, this morning we caught another bus to Belgrade. Aside from pushy older Serbian ladies who sat in our seats and wouldn't move the bus went smoothly. Tonight we are headed to dinner at a resteraunt that apparently has opera singers serenading you while you eat. A day in Belgrade tomorrow and then if we can, the overnight train to Budapest tomorrow morning where, to continue our pretentious culture trend, we have tickets to a concert of the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra.

 The Hagai Sophia at night

 The blue mosque

Monday, November 10, 2014


I am currently on Kenya. Tim and I just finished a 3 day safari in one of the national parks. It was wonderful. We got to see tons of animals! Nairobi, as a city, isn't my favorite place though. 

An annecdote from the trip: we were touring around with another van through the park and they got stuck trying to cross a mostly dried up creek bed. Everyone in their van got out to help push and all three of the guys from our van plus the driver got out to help too. I and another woman just hung around watching the spectacle of all these people trying to push the van out of the hole. After many attempts, and many good ideas on the part of Tim, our driver, and everyone else being ignored, the other driver final got the van unstuck to many cheers from the spectators. So, everyone loaded back into their vehicles and we proceed to drive 50 feet down the grass to look at 2 lionesses and 3 baby lion cubs hanging out. Yep, we had been standing around in the middle of the open making a bunch of noise unaware of the fact that we were 50ft from being lion lunch. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Wrapping up

Well... School has officially ended. Grades have been handed out to the kids. The teachers took a trip to Gisenyi in the north together to celebrate the year. We drove to the border with Goma, to see it, had lunch, at a hotel, went to another hotel right on lake Kivu to relax for a bit, and then drove back to the city. It was enjoyable. The whole area is incredibly scenic. It surprised me that in a country the size of tiny Rwanda, many of the teachers had never been to Gisenyi before, despite the fact that it is one of the biggest towns in the country and is only like 140km from Kigali. Rwandans just really don't travel like Americans do. 

In our free time, Tim and I are planning our journey home which will include a brief stop over in Kenya before moving on to Europe. We also have been spending a lot of time at the market trying to get last minute tailoring done. Today we are heading to another town on Lake Kivu to relax for a day and have a chance to close out our time in Rwanda together, a mini retreat of sorts. It means that by the time I return tomorrow I won't have been to school for 3 whole days in a row. A record time away from school for me practically. 

The S3s started their national exams today. Tim, myself, the other teachers, and the school are all wishing them luck. 

I've included a picture of some of the stuff I've had made here. It is incredible to me that people, so many of them, sew so well. I took a picture of 2 dresses I liked to a tailor and said "i want it to look like this, but I want the back to look like this" and they did it just by looking at a grainy picture I printed from the internet and my measurements... And it fit. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

South Africa (second post for September 23)

Working backwards from things most recently happening to things that happened a month ago, I did, for those who missed all the hints and references, go to South Africa in a week in August. I flew down from Rwanda to meet up with a friend of mine, Mareike, who had worked with me at L'Arche Mobile during JVC round 2. I flew in late on Friday night and got just a few hours of sleep before heading off at 5 in the morning to go on a safari in Kruger National Park. The safari lasted 4 days and (felt) super luxurious, even though it was one of the most affordable one's out there. They cooked for us, we had a morning wake up call, a campfire every night, no dishes, warm showers, and a lot of fun. For some strange reason, no one else signed up for the same four days as Mareike and I, so while the group before us was a random assortment of like 8 people and the one after a group of 7, Mareike and I had basically a private safari. We spent some time with the other groups around the campfire as they departed and arrived, but our day activities were solo. The first morning we were going to be in the park, it was pouring rain and so the guide, I since there was only two of us, invited us into the cab of the truck (rather than the open back) where it was nice and warm and dry. We spent the whole morning in there driving around the park and hearing lots of stories from the guide that we wouldn't have heard otherwise. After brunch we moved to the back of the truck for better viewing. That evening we had a night drive, then the next day back to Kruger (keeping nice and warm up front until the sun came out) for the whole day. We saw lots of rhinos, some lionesses, giraffes, elephants (even a baby one!), hippos, birds, vultures, warthogs, zebra (who always, no matter what, turned their back to you) and tons of other cool things including two crocodiles wrestling. After the safari we returned to Johanesburg for a night before heading to the mountains of South Africa, the Drakensburg. I can't say much to the benefit of Johanesburg, that might be because of the neighborhood we were staying in or maybe it was just the city, but it reminded me a lot of certain places of Mobile with the fast food resteraunts, everything kind of run down, half the shops boarded up, that sort of thing. However, walking around, we did come across a super cool used book store run by a little old man with a very thick accent who clearly spends all his time in and out of the shop reading the books there, so naturally I had to buy something from him. That was probably the highlight of Johanwsburg for me. Then off to the mountains. They were beautiful, but they reminded me less of the mountains at home and more of like Montana maybe or a little bit a eastern Washington too. They were mountains because everything else around them is flat so they stand out, but they themselves weren't particularly peeked like mountains.They just rise suddenly out of the ground these tall rocks with flat tops. We went on a hike one day, but it was super cold so it was hard to enjoy. We had to scramble up this ravine at one point to get to the top and on the way back we climbed down these chain ladders and I thought my hands were going to freeze off touching the cold metal. The best part was the people we met on the hike. We were accompanied by 2 Germans and a French man and that night we all ate dinner together at the hostel and had a great time laughing and chatting. The next day Mareike and I split up. She continued South while I headed back to the city to fly back to Rwanda. 

My impression of South Africa was that it reminded me of home. They had granola bars! I ate granola bars! And fast food pizza. They had huge gas stations with a convience store, large restrooms, and a fast food chain all servicing it. They had, in some places, treated water you could drink from a tap, big grocery stores (though they were more European than American), and lots of industrial farming. But at the same time, lots of what looked like squatter villages to me. According to my safari guide, the average income just isn't that high, and social services work strangely. Apparently everyone can qualify for government housing (and you can tell what it was, small square houses in a development that all look the same) but if you take the housing, you have to pay for ammenities like water and electricity. However, if you live in a hut you can get things like electricity for free. So you'd see lots of thatched roofs or shanties simply because people choose to live that way. The people were really nice though. Two of my highlights were petting a cheetah and almost being run trampled by a baby giraffe. The pictures are all on my camera though, so I can't post them until I get home.

Monday, September 22, 2014


Well I promised to write again soon and never got around to, so.... my latest update. Last week was midterms. Everything at school was crazy. This term is two weeks shorter than the last two terms and so everything is being jammed super close together. Finals start in practically 3 weeks it feels like. In the midst of all that, the sports teams have been competing in an inter-school competition. The boys basketball team won their first game, but lost their second, the soccer team lost their first game, the girls basketball team lost their first game (but played with a lot of heart! I am super proud of them), and finally the girls volleyball team has reached the finals.... Thanks to the fact that the first and second team they were suppose to play both forfeited. St. Igantius, should probably stick to the academics for now. In other news, Tim made a piƱata for Spanish club (I helped with the decoration) and it was a lot of fun to watch the kids smash it to pieces. Though also bitter sweet because my (but lots and lots of Tim's) blood, sweat, and tears went I to creating that thing. 
We strung it on the basketball hoop and I blindfolded and spun the kids around while Tim worked the rope. When it finaly got knocked down, the kids dog-piled on top of one another trying to get at it. I am  thankful no one got hurt. In other news, Tim and I made Rwandan guacamole to go with dinner last night and we offered some to one of the kitchen workers, Baptiste. He was super skeptical of why we would ever mash our salad together and when we finally convinced him to try some, well... the look on his face was pretty priceless. It was pretty spicy because we put this Rwandan chilli called pili-pili in it and boy did it have some kick. More than that though, I don't think Baptiste had ever tasted cumin, which Tim had very liberally dumped into the guacomole.... Mostly life is just filled with school though. I spent the two weeks after my trip to South Africa trying to get caught up on school stuff because I had been gone for a week. Then I've been trying to catch up on my school work because of midterms. It is a never ending cycle. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Giver

As many of you know, I decided to have the kids in S2A read The Giver this past term. I'd like to shout out to Mrs. Bartlett of the St. Catherine's School library, Sherry from Seattle U, and my mom for helping make it possible. On a whim of mine, they hunted down 23 copies of the book and had them sent via Sue Jackles (also of SU -thanks for being the courier) to me. 

Not having ever taught a book before I didn't really know what I was doing, or what I was getting into. I love reading and remember being enthralled by The Giver when I first read it in middle school. My tackling of this project was solely based on my desire to pass a love for reading on to them. The textbooks the school has are awful, filled with moralizing tales of why it's important to study hard and be a good citizen. It leaves no room for creativity or imagination. They offer very little to enhance their minds or even capture their attention. I wanted to try a book, a real novel, one written especially for teens.

I am not sure how successful I was in the end. We took a term to read it. I had them read a few chapters each week and we had weekly discussions on the book, intermixed between grammar and vocabulary lectures so they wouldn't fall behind the national curriculum. 

A few of the kids finished the book in the first 3 days I gave it to them. One student in particular read it super fast. He proudly told me after a week that he was done, my response being "that's great, but we still have a lot of work to do with it." He is a student who was considered too "weak" last year to move on and is thus repeating this year. As the term progressed, he really stepped up his work and I realized that reading comprehension, summarizing, short answer thinking questions about the text were his thing. I was proud to see him go from the middle of his English class to the top, and while I don't necessarily think it had to do with English, I know the rest of his grades improved too. 

I enjoyed watching the kids struggle to think about the questions The Giver raises. Questions about utopia and dystopia. Questions about is having no pain worth the price of having no joy either? Questions related to the world in the book, that allowed us to reflect together upon our own world, it's similarities and differences. Questions about euthanasia and right and wrong. Questions about pain, suffering, and sacrifice. 

Some parts of the book I knew would be a struggle. For some the vocabulary of the book and the reading level itself were just too much. However, there were aspects of the book that challenged them In places I did not expect. One day about half way through the book I asked them how they pictured Jonas' world looking (Jonas being the protagonist). When I got a bunch of blank stares back, I asked if they could picture it at all. The response was "it is somehow difficult" (somehow being absolutely the favorite word of English speaking Rwandans). The first quarter of the book was mostly description and set up, though done subtly. I understood some that between the language of the text and subtulty of the description why there might be some confusion, but we had at that point talked for several weeks about the rules of the society, the lack of color, the "sameness" that existed in the world. I had, do have, such a vivid image in my mind of the world Lois Lowry describes that I didn't stop to think that perhaps the kids didn't or couldn't see it too. For many it was the first time they'd read anything remotely science fiction like, it wouldn't surprise me either if, for many, it was the longest book they'd ever read. They've had no practice and no reason to practice making the words come to life in their mind. They've not had to picture another world before, even when that world is based on our own. At Tim's suggestion I had them draw a scene to try to put them in the world. As the story progressed I could tell that they were still struggling based on the questions they asked: how can it be our world without color? How can you take the color out? How can you take away weather and hills? How come Father doesn't understand what he is doing? There remained a disconnect for many if them. For some however, it clicked. 

One student, the reader of the class who finished the book first in under 3 days, asked me when it was over if I could get him the other 3 books in the series. This is a common question I get from the few readers of the school whom I teach. When I told one boy who was reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe for fun that it was 1 of 6 books he asked me if I could get them the other 5. What I mean though is that being asked for the sequel makes me think at least someone on the class got something out of it, even if it was the one student I knew going in who would appreciate it most anyway. 

Because St. Ignatius is a relatively progressive school we, once a year, have parent teacher conferences. It was a daunting experience for me because many of the parents don't speak English and so I am relying on gestures, pointing at grades, and the student themselves to translate for me. The best moment of the conferences was a conversation I had with one of the parents of S2A. Talking to the Mom of the boy who rocked at reading the book, I was excited to find a parent who understood what I was trying to do. I think she must be an educator, especially judging by the fact that she spoke English okay, and her general attitude toward us as teachers, but when I mentioned her son's improvement and said that what we were studying in English is legitimately his thing, the book came up. This mother expressed her appreciation for the fact we were reading a novel in class. She made it sound as if she herself had read the book (perhaps borrowing it from her son) and she heartily approved of the selection. She is one of my favorite parents, clearly very involved in her children's education. She thanked me for the questions I have asked the class and how I am trying to make them think critically, showing me she looks at their work. It was nice to be recognized by a parent for that.

Doing it over again, I would certainly change things. I don't think I did the book justice. I had to rush the  through the ending. I am not sure I allowed them to think enough on it. I am not sure what I was trying to do entirely translated. I am not sure I asked the right questions. I would do more with vocabulary and comprehension, I would do more with quizzes and summarizing. Next time, if there is one, I think I can do better. On the flip side though, reading a novel in class (they were shocked they got to keep the books for a full term and take them home to read!) was a first for all of them, so they are in no position to judge if I was successful or not....

Stay tuned for more on my 2 week end of term break in which Tim and I, to the absolute horror and confusion of ALL the Rwandans we know, spent 3 days trekking across part of the country aaaaaaaaaand sleeping in a tent (a truely appalling idea to every Rwandan we've talked to). It may or may not come before I leave for South Africa on Friday, but if it doesn't happen before I'll just have lots more stories to tell when I get back....

Sunday, July 27, 2014

A preview

Break has officially begun for Tim and I! We have finished 2/3 of the school year, with only 11 weeks (of teaching) to go. In celebration, and in part because our Jesuit friends are all on retreat for the next few days, Tim and I are traveling to Gisenyi in the north where we will start a 3 day mini camino. We are planning to spend the next 3 days walking roughly 90 kilometers to another town called Kibuye all along the coast of Lake Kivu. In preparation, we bought a tent and gum to pass out to children we might meet. It is currently the peak of the dry season, but it still poured rain last night which is only a little concerning. The tent we bought.... Well.... It was the best money could buy here on short notice, but I expect to get very wet in it if it pours rain one night. When I return to kigali in a week expect more updates about the trip, the end of the term, finishing up the giver, etc.!