The drive from Kigali to here took about two and a half hours and the scenery was beautiful. I had an idea of what it would look like after having visited the part of Uganda that borders Rwanda and my expectations were pretty much fulfilled. This part of the country is characterized by giant rolling green hills. This is a farming economy, so on each hill, there are plots of land carved out for farming and/or terraces built into the hills. Rwanda is nicknamed the “Land of a Thousand Hills” and the whole country is hilly. People even describe their homes based on which hill they live on. When someone described Kigali as “flat,” I laughed. But in comparison to the north, it is comparatively flat.
The university I will work at is called ISAE. (It’s a French acronym but in English it translates to the Higher Institute of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry.) I was a little anxious about arriving on the campus, but I couldn’t have been happier with the welcome. I was introduced to a few people at the university and they were all welcoming and friendly, but not in an overwhelming way. The director of continuing education, with whom I will be working most closely, did a great job of taking me under his wing for the day. We went into town to a few groceries and to start getting to know the place. At night, I was invited to his home for dinner. Also invited were my next door neighbor who is a female animal science teacher and another food science teacher. Over the course of dinner, I found out that this man actually spent the summer of 2007 studying at Cornell! It was funny to hear him talk about the buildings he worked in and lived in and to be able to picture it exactly.
That was Day 1. Day 2 was different because with the director having traveled to Kigali, I was on my own. I woke up and took a long time unpacking and organizing things. I made for breakfast some eggs and bread and butter and brewed a little of the Dunkin’ Donuts coffee which (along with peanut butter) was the luxury food item I decided to bring (even though I’m sure the coffee is great here). I was a little intimidated to leave my apartment. I cooped myself up for most of the day, intimidated by the prospect of going out and calling attention to myself. I admit it was silly, but I had basically decided that it was acceptable to stay in for one day and venture out the next. By 5:00 PM, though, I realized I was being ridiculous and that I should get out and go for a short walk around the compound I live on. I’m so glad I did! This campus is beautiful. Every walkway is lined with flowers. There is a constant red/purple plant interspersed with occasional yellow, red, and blue. The fragrance is the best part. You can see those giant green rolling hills in the distance.
The best thing that happened was that I met another neighbor, a Korean woman whose husband works at ISAE. I met her briefly – enough time for her to invite me for dinner. I had pretty much decided to make a peanut butter sandwich for dinner so I quickly and gladly accepted the offer of a real dinner. We had a very nice time. She has good English (though she doesn’t believe it), but is not fluent. So I got to taste some Korean food. Today, I had lunch with her and her husband and she gave me a tour of the vegetable gardens she keeps. Actually her garden is right outside my door. My Rwandan next door neighbor who I already mentioned is also great and she and the Korean woman are already friends so being with them together feels like being part of a little group.
So things are good so far and I learned a good lesson to take a chance and GO OUTSIDE. I think that comfort zones are only imagined. Something that seems uncomfortable when you think about it can actually prove totally comfortable once you actually do it. That goes for walking out the door as well as coming to Rwanda (and anywhere else) in general.