Monday, June 29, 2009

Back-owed blog posts

Ok – These are a lot of back-owed blog posts that were written but did not get posted. Internet has been an issue on and off and when I have had internet I have not always been able to load these off the USB or I just had more important/official things to do. Sorry. Now it is up to those of you with time and strong eyes whether or not you would like to read them. The bonus is that if you get to the end, you are up to date and I will post again soon. Sorry again - Have fun.

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Those of you who have read my blog before know that I tend to stay busy rather than stay connected. In Rwanda, I most certainly stayed busy but being connected was not always an option. Either way, I apologize for only updating you now.

So for starters, thank you to all who wished me a happy birthday a bit ago. It was the first day of the conference and I only remembered my birthday the day before, so there wasn’t a big party or anything. I’m ok with that. There still happened to be a social hour planned for after that day’s sessions, and meeting all of the other teams and so many people in one day was enough of a gift.

I can't tell you all of the things I took away from this time in Rwanda. There is just far too much that will still take a lot of time to reveal its full value. The team that lead the orientation was personable, motivated, and did a great job of talking with each of us to get to know us personally as well as get to know our own goals so that they could help us as much as possible. The school visit was great - which you can read about at the end of this whole mess of a blog - and the time spent with other students was bitter sweet, start to finish, and I am grateful to work with such a great group. Don’t mean to gush, but this was quite an experience.

Outside of the conference, Stephanie and I took a trip to Gisenyi, a town in a northwest border, to see Lake Kivu and visit the NGO started by some new friends of ours. Gisenyi is most well known, today, not for its beauty but for its neighboring city, Goma, across the border in Congo. This is where many of the rebels were pushed into after the genocide. Goma is still over-crowded and in need of a lot of help. Attacks still regularly occur within fifteen year old refugee camps which act as breeding grounds for both healing and hatred of the Tutsis and Hutus.

While here, I found opportunities to speak with a few local people who where about my age. At 21, I was timid to ask about their family and their experiences, but both of the people who I spoke with the most were able to admit that they lost both parents and multiple siblings 15 years ago. What I couldn’t ask was how they managed to survive. Honestly, even if they were able to tell me, I don’t know if I could respond to hearing how one witnessed and survived the death of his or her family.

Still, there is a lot that is changing and advancing in Rwanda. The president is dedicated to his project 'vision 2020' which promises to make Rwanda a middle income country by 2020. Although we didn't get to talk much, I was able to meet him as well as representatives from the ministries of education in Uruguay and Haiti. I spoke with the man from Haiti and am looking forward to working with him and a Rotary club in Appleton on expanding an on going project there in Haiti.

I knew that we would also be visiting the house of the king of Rwanda, and while I knew that he hadn't officially been king since the early 60s I knew he was still active. What I didn't know was that he was active from the U.S. where he had lived for some time now. His house in Rwanda is a museum now. The bus ride was beautiful anyway and I loved the long drive up and down the mountains - only a couple close calls passing on curves.

It was a good two weeks, even with the cold bucket showers on days when the shower wouldn't work - at least some water did. A subtle transition into what was to come.

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Me and Stephanie were the first to arrive and tied for the last to leave. When we got to the airport, we saw the team of two from Ethiopia - where we happened to have a 13 hours lay-over. There were 100 people from different teams at this conference and I am bad with names - I have to admit that these were two that I had yet to learn. My first thought was, 'crap, we have to fly with them - how long can I hide that I don't know who they are?' Luckily, they didn't know our names either.

We talked for a little while before getting onto the plane. Nice flight, biggest exit row I've ever sat in, and pretty good food. Here's the best part - After we landed, me and Stephanie had heard rumors that we could get a free hotel. We thought we'd just have to pay for the visa. Well the visa was free, hotel was free, free transport to and from, and we happen to have two nice Ethiopians available to show us Addis Ababba (the city in Ethiopia).

Ethiopia is a place I would certainly like to go back to. We got a great history lesson from our taxi driver into town which helped prepare us for our night. We went out to a place to watch some cultural dancing. At first I thought they took us there just because we were tourists, but when I asked what Ethiopians do on a normal night, he looked confused and assured me that they just go and watch dancing. They take part in the dancing too.

From the look of the people and dress, to the style of their food and dancing, Ethiopia is an overt, cultural crossroads for Europe, Asia, the Middle East and all of Africa. In the states we have a lot of cultures that exist side by side, but here they fuse together. I'll admit that there was a lot of visible poverty where we were, but there was also a lot of construction - often a good sign. While in some areas that could put a culture at risk, I think that in this case it will only enable the mix that the culture already is to continue to grow.

It was a good night out and a decent rest in the nicest hotel I've ever stayed in. Next morning - bright and early - off to Dakar!

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[Originally meant for the team blog]
Orientation and School Visits
The conference is finished and, as you read this, Stephanie and I should have just arrived in Senegal. The past two weeks of orientation have been a wonderful opportunity to delve further into the goals of the OLPCorps program as well as develop a network of support to help us while we are on site in M’boro, Senegal.

The team leading the conference did a great job of working with the Corps teams - like me and Stephanie - to find out what our most pressing concerns and needs were to get us the information and experience that would best prepare us for our deployments. One of the most valuable experiences which I had was the school visit. Stephanie and I visited separate schools and those of you who keep up on the blog may have already read about her experience. While mine was relative to Stephanie’s, I was happy that we were able to get different perspectives on different situations since we have yet to see exactly what our own situation will be this summer.

Our first day at the school was teacher training. Although we believed the teachers had had some experience with the XOs prior to that day - that was mostly untrue. Still, the goals set for Friday morning were ambitious, working with a fairly advanced program, and the teachers picked it up much quicker than I had expected. I sometimes underestimate what people can do with minimal guidance and the support of their peers around them. Kinya-rwanda is a language I have yet to learn, but if I could work with one teacher who seemed to be getting it quickly, they would easily turn and help three others. In the afternoon we worked with other programs like Record to show them how to use other media in their classroom projects and it was incredible to watch them chuckling like children as they made videos and took pictures of their own, awe-struck faces. While it highlighted a number of things to be aware of as I begin working with teachers in Senegal, it was certainly a motivating experience.

Monday, I began working in the classroom with the children. I had the honor of instructing the kids how to turn on the XOs for the very first time. When working with someone who has never once touched a computer, it is interesting to see what teaching needs to come first. They were three of us Corps members and about 45 students, unfortunate odds, but it was a fun for the kids and us to work with Paint to develop basic skills for using with the mouse pad and learning to click, drag, and draw. Also, a circle indicating ‘record’ and a square to mean ‘stop’ is not common knowledge if you did not grow up with a VCR or DVD player. The kids picked it up very quickly though and I am sure that they will be working with the more advance programs very soon.

In the afternoon, we had to deal with some electricity issues but were able to resolve them in order to work with a math class. The goal was to demonstrate knowledge of fractions by creating images in Paint that clearly depicted things like ½, ¾, and 5/7. Once again, I was pleasantly surprised with the students’ ability to learn quickly and then share the knowledge with those struggling around them.

Sorry to make this long, but the time spent at the orientation was quite busy and also quite beneficial to the project that officially begins as soon as I land in Dakar in a few hours (I’m writing this on the plane). However, before I end, I would like to clarify something. There is blog called OLPC News that is in no way affiliated with One Laptop per Child. It seems official and they provide a good bit of necessary reporting, but, due to their lack of affiliation, fail to fact check much that they report and often misrepresent OLPC. While we have asked them not to report information from this blog, they did so anyhow since blogs are considered public. We ask that you consider this if you happen to come across their website, and remember OLPC News is not connected in anyway with OLPC or the separate group of OLPCorps.

Thanks for reading this long and we will be sure to keep you updated as we begin to work with the school in Senegal.

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Ok – This is the most recent thing – you’re almost done.

We spent a couple days in Dakar before the Peace Corps could drive us to our new home. It was a good couple of days and a gracious transition to the country - living in the capitol with a bunch of people from the US before moving to a small town not too near to anything. After that, the four of us got as many computers as we could along with our baggage and sweaty bodies in the back of a Land Rover and then bounced our war to our the town of M’boro.

We’re now in M’boro – the town of the school that we are working with. Everything has gone wonderfully so far. If you are reading the team blog – AfricaXO.blogspot.com – you already know a bit about our progress. We make it a priority to update that blog – not so much this one.

We thought we had a great house lined up but that fell through the day we got here. We then moved into a bed and breakfast that had just enough room for us all since the husband was away in France for four more months – then he called and said he’d be back in one day. So we moved to our, hopefully, final place. Stephanie has her own room and the four guys share a big one. We have enough mosquito nets for all and the school loaned us mats to sleep on. Water only works at night but if we fill enough buckets we have enough to bathe in the morning.

We started working with the school and have been really successful in getting them to invest in the program. This helps to ensure that, after we leave, they won’t let the program fall to the wayside. The school dug trenches to lay the Ethernet cord, they are putting extra outlets in each room, and we met with the head of Catholic schools in the country and who then agreed to supply the conduit so we can install everything professionally instead of just stapling it to the wall. Best part yet – electricity in town is free thanks to the phosphorus mine/factory in town. Life is good.

So we are still working at the school to get all this set up and training will begin in less than a week. Meanwhile, we live five kilometers from the coast. A taxi costs about $1.50 to get there so we decided to relax a bit on Saturday. After about 5 hours of swimming, we almost went home but ran into our friend the Peace Corps volunteer, Devin, who invited us to his friend’s house on the beach. It turns out we were sitting in front of his friends house earlier, we just had yet to meet.

We watched the boats fly by the coast and throw lines to groups of waiting locals. If you help pull in the net, you get a cut of the fish. We didn’t help, but fresh fish are cheap and within an hour of the fish arriving on shore, they were cooked over the fire and buried in onions and sauce. Eight of us around one big plate were able to pick it apart with our hands in minutes. It was the best fish I had ever eaten.

Normally, dinner is at one of a few small huts along the road and they all cook delicious, traditional food – well, I find it delicious, some in my group disagree. There are bugs bigger than I have ever seen but they still seem more afraid of me than I am of them. Lizards of few kinds chase each other around and up trees, stopping half way to watch me pass by – something like desert squirrels. The streets are made of sand which follows you everywhere, and although the heat is a constant reminder of the more-intense desert to the north, there are still plenty palm trees and mangos to show the more tropical area that exists to the south. Maybe since things are going so well I’ll have some time to travel to one or the other.

If you have made it this far you have earned the right, if you please, to ask me questions. Feel free to comment or email me and I'll try to respomd to you personally or blog about it - depending on the subject of the question. Thanks for finishing - now go do something more interesting!

1 comment:

CNewm said...

Delightedly read it all :) Hope you are well and I think about you often! Hugs!