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Friday, December 30, 2011

Before I Go...

It’s hard to believe, but I am merely days away from entering a country I’ve never been to before – Rwanda. It was almost a year and a half ago that I applied for a Fulbright grant to teach English in Rwanda and it was over 7 months ago that I found out I got the grant and then (after a long thought process) accepted it. Since that time, it’s always seemed so far away. “I have plenty of time to get ready – that’s in the future.” I’ve adapted that mentality so well that it was only very recently that I convinced myself that it is no longer the future but the present.

Before I actually leave, I thought I’d give a little background in the form of an FAQ. These are actual frequently asked questions, in rough order of popularity.

Why Rwanda? Since I visited Uganda in 2009, I have had Rwanda on my “to visit” list. At that time, I heard stories or Rwanda’s beauty, peace, and cleanliness. They also drive on the right side of the road which is a perk for people like me who have trouble adjusting – even crossing the street can be tricky. Since my first visit to East Africa, I knew I would be back. The region has that kind of effect. Yes, I applied specifically for Rwanda.

Isn’t there a genocide there? There was a genocide in 1994. It lasted approximately 100 days. Rwanda is now in a period of reconciliation. The conflict has ended and the country is peaceful today, but the effects are still present in various ways that I hope to learn more about.

What will you do and where will you live? I will be an “English Teaching Assistant”(ETA) at a university called ISAE (The Higher Institute of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry; ISAE for its French translation) and will live on its campus.

What language is spoken? The official languages are Kinyarwanda, French, and English. In 2009, it became mandated that English replace French as the language of instruction in schools and universities, making this an interesting time to teach English there.

How are the hotels? This isn’t really frequent, but it has definitely been asked.

I hope to use this blog to:
a. Shed light on what I hear is a beautiful and noteworthy country. Disturbing images of Hotel Rwanda (referenced above if that wasn’t clear) are very salient in many minds, and while these are important images, I hope to show something beyond that.
b. Share my own experience through stories and hopefully pictures.


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Some Final Thoughts on Oman

I have not written in this blog for eight and a half months and in that time a great deal has happened. In brief form:

1. I went home to New York for my sister Sarah’s college graduation.
2. I returned to Oman and resumed teaching the summer portion of the program.
3. My job ended and I had the chance to really enjoy Oman for a month. This included a trip to Salalah in the south part of Oman – a place which, since I first stepped foot on Omani soil, had been described to me as the most heavenly place on earth.
4. I returned to the USA and resumed a job as a research assistant at the New York State Psychiatric Institute.
5. I began packing for my next venture to Rwanda.

I did not want to begin blogging about Rwanda before bringing proper closure to my time in Oman. At the time of my last post, I was feeling a sense of not fitting in. I guess this was the closest I got to homesickness. The good news is that the feeling was fleeting. The truth is that by the end of my time in Oman, I felt right at home. Words cannot say I grateful I am for the time I spent in Oman. I loved my job and loved the people I met there. This includes my Omani family, my students, and my friends from Oman and all around the world. Since returning, I have subjected many to my musings about the good qualities of Oman. Luckily, recent news has made this job easy. I don’t know if my eyes are just more open to it, but I have been shocked at how many positive lists Oman (specifically, Muscat) has shown up on since I’ve returned home. Here is a smattering:

Lonely Planet Best Cities to Visit in 2012 (#2):

Mercer Quality of Living Report (Personal Safety Rankings) (#29):

Conde Naste Best Hotels for Honeymoons (The Chedi):

In this spirit, I thought I'd recall an old Nicholas Kristof article that initially helped convince me to go there in the first place:

It was interesting to see how many people from the USA and elsewhere were coming to visit Oman having lived there before. I was told that once to go, you always return. I can say confidently I will be one of those people. I thought about staying in Oman another year but decided instead upon the opportunity to go to Rwanda. I can only hope I will leave Rwanda with the same sense of fulfillment. First I need to focus on getting there. More on that to follow…