​You know you’re in Peace Corps Rwanda when…

This experience is challenging me and changing me in ways I never expected,and I try hard to share those metamorphic experiences with you, but ​I don’t have something important to say all the time. Sometimes all I can do is look at where I am and who I’ve become and laugh. 

This is a list I’ve been adding to since PST. If you’re in the Peace Corps, especially here or somewhere similar, you may see yourself in these items. If you’re not, you can probably get a more realistic picture of my life from this than from any of my thoughtful posts.

Without further ado, you know you’re in Peace Corps Rwanda when…

  • You have strong feelings about the best types of pit latrine
  • You have a stockpile of paper bags because you know market vendors will charge you for a bag
  • You get really excited about balanced meals

  • You fear schisto but will probably swim in a lake at some point during your service
  • You have no qualms about someone sitting on your lap on the twege
  • Your fantasies include ice, berries, varieties of cheese, and cold milk that won’t give you TB
  • You can’t remember the last time you left the house in shorts and you feel marginally indecent in a sleeveless shirt
  •  “I’m so glad I’m not on a bus” is a sentiment you feel frequently
  • You no longer assume that a library will actually have books in it
  • You assume everything will start an hour or so behind schedule 
  • You have a favourite method of lighting your charcoal stove and are suspicious of any other way—bonus points if that method is not “bury a candle in it”
  • You’ve accepted that at some point in your service you will be on a bus with someone else’s vomit on you
  • You own multiple igitenge clothing items, probably in Western styles that no self-respecting Rwandan would actually make out of igitenge
  • You know all the best places for American food in Kigali
  • You’re semi-seriously hoping for a mild medical emergency so you can see South Africa on PC’s dime
  • Your excuse about why you’re not married/don’t have kids yet is so automatic you could answer personal questions in your sleep
  • You’ve found sneaky ways to get alcohol into your house without your neighbours noticing that you drink
  • You can discuss diarrhoea like a champ
  • You understand my village is exceptional when I say, “I’ve seen at least ten dogs,” and you know it’s really spectacular when I add, “And nobody throws rocks at them”

  • You either love or hate foods like isombe, ibitoki, and ubugari
  • You have the malaria symptoms memorised
  • You know that 7000 is exorbitant for a single burger, but you’re still willing to pay for it every time you go to Bourbon
  • You no longer equate free WiFi with functional service
  • You consider any trip under an hour to be “not bad,” especially if it doesn’t involve tweges
  • You don’t even question the presence of that 23-year-old in your Senior 4 English class
  • You skip work if it’s raining 
  • And you acknowledge your muzungu-ness any time you do have to walk through the rain
  • You’ve almost forgotten the existence of fridges
  • You know that every PCV falls into one of two categories: those who wear their giant PC-issue moto helmet and those who don’t
  • “Subiramo?” (“Repeat?”) is a staple of your vocabulary
  • You look at any rice sack as a potential teaching aid
  • You know that no event is complete without Fanta

Feel free to add in the comments if you think of more I’m missing! 

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No Problem

Ntakibazo. 

No problem. 

It’s the unofficial slogan of Peace  Corps Rwanda. The number of things that are not a problem in this country constantly amazes me. 

Transportation is ntakibazo. 

When the bus takes us to the wrong place, when we spend three hours looking for a ride home, when a friend can’t find a bus to her site and needs to stay with me for the second unplanned night, when a four hour trip turns into an eight hour trip… Ntakibazo. 

 Integration is ntakibazo. 

When I’m alone in a new village without matches or charcoal, when strangers come to the door and I understand only a few of their words, when I cannot find the market for two weeks, when anxiety paralyses me in my house until my neighbour comes to my rescue… Ntakibazo. 

Teaching is ntakibazo. 

When I don’t know what classes to plan for until after the first day, when I can’t understand my students and they can’t understand me, when there are no textbooks, when I don’t know the rules, when my timetable changes for the fifth time in three days… Ntakibazo. 


I’ve come to understand that the reason so many things are ntakibazo is that no matter where I am or what predicament I find myself in, someone will help me. This is a culture that believes in fostering community, in supporting one another, in cultivating a strength that comes only from unity. 
Transportation is ntakibazo because when I cannot find my bus, a stranger will walk me across the bus park. Because when I don’t know my stop, the driver will point it out for me. Because when I need to be somewhere and the bus schedule is off, two competing bus companies will collaborate to get me to the right place at the right time. 

Integration is ntakibazo because when I cannot find the market, my neighbour will take her morning to help me shop. Because when I stop by the umudozi—seamstress—for cushion covers, she will introduce me to her whole compound. Because when I feel like a stranger, the little girls next door will teach my name to every child on our street. 

Teaching is ntakibazo because when I am lost, someone will show me to my classes. Because when one day the students are terrified and refuse to answer questions, the next day a few brave ones will speak up. Because I feel out of my depth at every moment, but together we will grow and learn. 

The day before school began, our Ed8 group chat exploded with texts about our fears, our doubts, our incredulity at the total lack of communication and the total impossibility of our job, and my friend Claire spoke up:

Y’all, we can do this. It’s no more absurd than the first day of model school, or the way they rewrote the TPI the day before, or when PC told us we were responsible for making our way back from site visit with barely any language training about transportation. This is not even the most ambiguous, stressful thing we’ve been asked to do in this country. We’re all gonna be alright.

And she was right. 

Because Rwanda has taught me that no matter whatnot gets thrown our way, when you support one another, everything is ntakibazo. 

In General

Muri rusange… 

In general… 

I haven’t posted in a few weeks. Everything I want to tell you seems obsolete by the time I get it written. 

I wanted to tell you about finishing PST—about how I thought by the end of training I would feel confident and prepared and not like myself anymore but how instead I felt like I did the time the lights went off while I was in the latrine, leaving me in the dark with my trousers down and a family of cockroach was watching me. 

I wanted to tell you about seeing Nirere again—about how I had thought my umukozi was gone forever but how I stepped in the gate one night to see her sitting on the ground holding her baby, how before I left Rwamagana I got a chance to say murabeho—the goodbye you use when you don’t expect to see someone again—and how she hugged me and said something I translated roughly as “go with God,” and how it didn’t matter that I couldn’t entirely understand the words, because we understood each other. 

I wanted to tell you about leaving my host family—about how I never quite lost that anxiety that I was in the wrong place when I was around them but how saying goodbye felt impossibly hard anyway, how we exchanged gifts and hugs and promises to call, and how the little girls held onto me before I rode away in the back of a Peace Corps car. 

I wanted to tell you about swearing-in—about how solemn it felt with our right hands raised and phrases like defend the Constitution and Peace Corps legacy marching out of our mouths in unison but how the gravity of the situation dissipated immediately in selfies and conversations and overeating on the kind of food we won’t see again for months. 

I wanted to tell you about arriving at site—about how freeing it feels to have my own house but how terrifying it is to be alone in this beautiful little town full of staring eyes and muzungu-ing voices where I have yet to find the market or a tea shop. 

In general I wanted to tell you about everything. 

About how I spend my days in a house without furniture, slowly developing a routine, allowing myself to lie about reading or watching Friends if I’ve left the house at least once that day to talk to someone. 

About the first day here when it took me a box and a half of matches to light my imbabura for lunch and how I spent the rest of my matches without once seeing a successful flame that night. 

About the chicken that visits every day, appearing like magic in my backyard or livingroom—about how I followed it yesterday and discovered it squeezes through a drain hole in my compound wall. 

About how it doesn’t feel like Christmas here yet and might never, but that’s turning out to be okay. 

I wanted to tell you that some days I think I can’t do this—that it’s too much for me, that the feeling of suffocating every time I walk down the street is too strong and my communication skills are too weak and I don’t think I can actually help these people. 

But I also wanted to tell you that some days I think this is the best thing I’ve ever done, that my neighbour checks on me despite our language barrier, that a little boy named Gisa stops me at the end of the street to talk every time I go out. 

I’m general, I wanted to tell you that I’m still here and that right now here is hard, but it’s also good, and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.