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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

First 24 Hours

Well I have officially completed my first 24 hours in Rwanda and I have to say I am not disappointed. I realized as I was traveling that the only thing I was really worrying about was lugging my bags from the baggage claim. Oddly enough, this tends to consume my mind when traveling to a new place with lots of luggage. I guess it was the only challenge I could predict for sure. Maybe it’s a way of pushing other fears out of my mind. Anyway, I successfully overcame this hurdle and after that was, greeted by someone from the US embassy. To my surprise, shortly thereafter, an old Rwandan friend, Yves, who I had met in Uganda in 2009, appeared in front of me. I was not expecting him at that moment but I have to say it was very nice to see a familiar face! I was dropped off at the hotel I am staying in for the next 5 days, and though I was tired, went out with Yves to see a really tiny bit of the city and get something to eat before going to bed. The small act of seeing someone I knew worked wonders for making me feel like I belonged in the country and I was immediately comfortable. In fact, I felt—and still feel—like I’ve been in Rwanda all along. I can’t put my finger on it but there’s a kind of naturalness to being here.

Today I woke up bright and early for my first day of Fulbright orientation at the US embassy. By bright and early I mean that I woke up at 5 and finally got out of bed at 6, even though my alarm was set for 7:30. I woke up to the nonstop (and pretty) sound of birds chirping and I guess that convinced me that I couldn’t avoid getting up to look at my surroundings any longer. It was beautiful of course… though I know I ain’t seen nothin’ yet! I got to the embassy for orientation, which was particularly welcome since I missed the first orientation in New York due to being in Oman. I feel satisfied with the day and I feel like I’ve learned a lot about Rwanda, including my first Kinyarwanda language lesson. The Rwandan and American people leading the orientation really helped to make it a good day.

I learned a lot in particular about the education system in Rwanda. If you want more details or deeper thoughts, just ask. The most important thing to note is that in 2009, the Rwandan government decided to switch the language of instruction in schools and universities from French to English. There were a variety of interplaying reasons but one of them is that Rwanda joined the East African Community (EAC), which includes countries where English is widely spoken: Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania (and Burundi which is French-speaking). In the past, English was taught as a subject. To put this in perspective, imagine taking Spanish as an elective in primary school and high school and then one day all of your classes from math to history are in Spanish! Since university study lasts 4 to 6 years and this policy was enacted 2 years ago, older students had their primary and secondary education in French and also passed their national exam in French and are therefore not used to being taught in English. From what I understand, some students really struggle. And it is not just the students, but the teachers, too.

I think it will be interesting learning about Rwanda. Hopefully I will be able to share some of the lessons. But for now, the day has been long so for now I will say mwirirwe (goodbye!).

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