Wednesday, November 30, 2011


I left Ngara on 11/29.  Since I had all my luggage with me, I opted to arrange for a taxi to pick me up and take me to the border.  The long way on tarmac road costs 45,000 shillings ($30), and the short way on dirt road costs 30,000 ($20), versus 3000 ($6) for a shared taxi.  The disadvantage with the shared taxi, besides less security for your belongings, is that you have to wait in Ngara and at the transfer point in Benako till the taxi gets at least six passengers.  This can take up to an hour at each point. 

The hired taxi took me straight to the border at Resumo on a dirt road through villages and fields.  We had to stop once to change a tire.  The bridge over the river was out, so we had to take a car ferry.  I saw the driver pay for the ferry, but I don't know how much it was.  In the end, I don't think he made much profit.  He was very nice and waited for me at the Tanzania border till I got through immigration, then took me down the long hill to the Rwanda side and got someone to help me with my luggage.  Normally I just have my daypack, but this time I also had a large duffle.  Both the Tanzania and Rwanda immigration offices are up steep stairs, and I was happy to be able to leave the luggage in the car until I was ready to go to the bus.  I had to pay for an extra seat on the bus for my luggage.

I got off the bus at Top Tower Hotel in Kigali. I had limited cash and knew they would take my credit card.  The banks in Rwanda won't take my ATM card and I found out in Uganda that a cash advance on my credit card is very expensive.  I had planned to ship some stuff home from Kigali, since my bag was getting too heavy to get on a plane without extra charges.  I went to where the internet site said the FedEx office was, but it was not there.  I asked several people who pointed me in different directions, but I never found it.  Luckily the baggage allowance to Johannesburg is 30 kilos, so I had no problem.  Top Tower gave me a free ride to the airport, so I ended up with about $30 extra in Rwanda money.  I didn't find out until I got to the airport in South Africa that none of the exchange offices there will take Rwanda francs.  The ATM there did take my card though, so I was able to get some South African rands.  

I had thought to take the airport train to Sandston, where the major tourist hotels and business center are, but the internet showed all hotels were over $200.  The tourist information desk at the airport was very helpful and found me the Airport Transit Guest Lodge in Kempton Park for $60 a night.  This turned out to be a house in a leafy suburb not within walking distance of anything.  The family had added a row of rooms with baths and a swimming pool in the backyard.  The brother in law of the owner provided transportation to and from the airport.  For an extra 100 rand ($12) he also took me to mail my package at the PostNet and dropped me off at the Festival Mall.  The mall did not look like much on the outside but was pretty big on the inside.  I didn't recognize any of the store names except Bata shoes, but some of the brands were familiar.  I later met a representative from Columbia Sportswear at the hostel who worked out of the European headquarters in France.  He said South Africa is the only African country they deal with, since it is the only one with a high enough income level to afford the imported goods.  There was a multiplex cinema at the mall with American movies, but nothing sounded good.  I went to a chicken place for lunch.  I expected a good piece of chicken, since I asked for a breast piece.  It had a little more meat than the chicken in Ngara, but not much.  I think that is what a real chicken probably is like and the meaty ones we get in America are probably genetically engineered.

The package of clothes, kangas, and papers I sent home weighed 3.7 kg (less than 10 pounds) and cost $226 to mail.  They ship it to America then it goes into the US mail system.  It should take 3-4 weeks.  If I had sent it by a regular shipping service it would be well over $300 but take only 2-3 days and have tracking.  I will not be home for awhile and there is nothing critical in the box, so I opted to save the money.  I am leery of what it will cost to send my duffel bag home when I continue on after my Tanzanian safari with just my daypack.  I have already left clothes, shoes etc in Ngara, Kigali, and Johannesburg.  I thiink most of my clothes will be staying here.  There are a lot of poor Africans who I am sure would love to have them.  My students in Ngara wanted my black shoes and several people have already asked for my tennis shoes.

Friday, November 25, 2011


This night I had a combination birthday/going away party at our new house.  I went to town to buy ingredients and Bree made cabbage salad and coconut rice.  I bought rolls at the supermarket (a rare find) and cut up a pineapple for dessert.  The most expensive thing was the coconut milk powder, imported from Thailand, at 14,000 shillings (about $9).  Twenty bottles of beer and 5 bottles of soda cost 35,000 shillings ($23).  The 12 rolls were about $2, pineapple 70 cents, cabbage, onions, tomatoes, peanuts, rice, and noodles all cost about $10.

I had given written invitations to 3 of my teachers, since we have a finite amount of seating.  We have a couch and 4 chairs, plus four chairs for the dining table.  To my surprise, 15 people from my school showed up, including the school secretary and headmaster.  They all came together from school.  I had the teachers help me get four chairs from our old house.    I sat on a side table.  Mama Caritas and the 3 Mzungus from Womencraft (Vanya, Ellie and Nancy) came a little later so we were only short about two chairs, and people took turns standing.  Lucky I decided not to invite the missionaries.  I cut the rolls in half and there ended up being enough food for everyone, since Bree likes to cook in large amounts anyway after having worked in a soup kitchen in New York.

We had speeches and the teachers gave me two kangas as a going away present.  I got cards and candy from the Mzungus.  Breana gave me a beautiful shawl.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


Today is special because it is my birthday AND Thanksgiving, although they do not celebrate it here.  I gave out my final exam results on Monday so I am finished with school.  Breana is still going because she is Teacher on Duty this week.  She refuses to punish students so she mainly just sits around and takes care of any issues that come up.  She had a problem with two of her best Form 2 students not going to one of their final exams.  Their black shoes had gotten all wet so they wore other shoes to school and were told to go home because they were not in uniform.  They didn't have other clean shoes so borrowed some from other students.  This was discovered so everyone was going to get punished.  From what Breana has witnessed, punishment at that school ranges from a slap on the hand with a stick to getting severely beaten up.  Breana talked the teachers into not punishing the students but the students didn't know this and were afraid so they hid and missed one of their final exams.  These can't be made up, so they will not go on to Form 3.  These are bright, articulate kids from single parent farmer families and work after school and on weekends to pay school fees.  Their lives are seriously damaged because they wore the wrong shoes to school.

All of a sudden, we have tons of grasshoppers jumping all around.  They are about 3-4 inches long and kelly green in color.  Breana said that at her school all the teachers and students were out catching them.  One of the teachers cooked a batch and brought them to school.  She brought some home for me to taste.  They remove the wings and legs and fry them in butter and salt.  Like anything fried, they tasted like a good snack food.  I killed a couple that had gotten in our house and Poa ate them for me so I did not have to pick them up.  He has been staying outside more because he loves to stalk things and there is plenty of food out there.

We moved to a new house in the compound a couple of days ago since they could not fix the plumbing in the other one.  For the last two weeks we have had the sewage backing up into the shower pan every time we flush the toilet, which only happens a few days a week due to lack of water.  The smell was pretty bad.  In our new house, the septic line runs downhill and Bree has banned toilet paper in the toilet (sounds gross but was standard practice all over Ecuador), so we should not have the same problem.  This is basically her house, her rules, since I am leaving soon.  She will go on holiday in December but return for the next school term.  Our new house is a little bigger, with a separate kitchen and lots of cabinets.  We have our same double hotplate and still no running water, but at least we are getting almost daily deliveries of buckets now.  The water pump in town and the pump in Afriline are both still having problems.

Breana made us a healthy Thanksgiving dinner of scrambled eggs, rice, cooked spinach, sliced tomatoes, and toast.  That was the best and healthiest meal I have had in a long time.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


There was a shirehe (festival) in a field near downtown on Friday to celebrate the 50th anniversary of independence.  There were booths with food, health teaching, crafts, etc around a central area, with a stage built on one end.  Concern (the water NGO) and Womencraft (the basket making NGO) both had booths.  My students had all come from school that morning to sing on the stage.  I missed that, but many students and teachers were still there in the afternoon and greeted me as I walked around with Ellie and Vanya.  Eventually Breana and the 3 German volunteers from the Diocese joined us.  I was walking across the field when I suddenly got the symptoms I now recognize immediately as dehydration, having been there before: nausea, dizziness and blurred vision.  I was probably seconds away from passing out when I hit Ellie in the back and told her I was going to faint.  She immediately found a plastic chair for me to sit in and I put my head down between my knees.  Vanya gave me some water.  Breana found one of her teachers to give me a ride home, but he was going somewhere else first and would come back "in fifteen minutes" to get me.  Not trusting this, I had Vanya find me a picky picky so I could go home right away.  I drank a lot of water and lied down.

The next day, Saturday, I felt better but not quite up to going to Vanya's birthday party at Garden Pause, a bar with many little thatched roof open rondavels near town.  Beer would be the main sustenance at the party, and I didn't need diuretics.

On Sunday, I got out of bed in the morning and immediately fell on the concrete floor.  I did not lose consciousness, but suddenly the floor was just there.  I crawled back in bed and was assaulted by vertigo.  The room was spinning even with my eyes closed.  Not a good feeling.  I drank more water and eventually went back to sleep, which seemed the safest option.  When I got up again I sat on the side of the bed for a minute before standing and immediately reaching for the wall opposite my bed to lean against it.  I was determined not to fall again.  I left the room, holding on to the walls in what I think of as "the Marge walk" after seeing my mother in law do this many times in the past.

I almost had Bree take me to the hospital, but dizziness improved after I drank some water with about 3 tablespoons of salt in it.  I thought of all the people who have problems walking the trails to the Grand Canyon because they drink plain water when they need electrolytes, which they are washing out of their bodies.  I could not walk on my own at this point, and decided to see how I felt the next day.  I think the saline water gave me diarrhea, because that persisted all night until I took some pepto bismol the next day.  Diarrhea is not a good thing when you have little water and can't flush the toilet.  Meanwhile I was not eating much, since there was no power to cook and little food in the house, not even bread or cookies.  Breana was gone most of the day and ate out.

On Monday I felt a little better.  I texted an Australian doctor I know who works occasionally at the Diocese hospital in Murgwanza and asked her if I should go there or the government hospital which is closer to where I live.  She was homeschooling her kids that day and would not be there, but suggested I go to Murgwanza because the lab was better.

I had a picky picky get me and take me to the hospital.  The driver, Justin, was very helpful and came in with me and got me through registration and told me where to sit.  I was glad to have his help, since all the signs were in Swahili.  The hospital has a one story building of offices built around a central open area.  There are 3 windows as you go in the front door: for registration, medical records, and payment.  There are benches in the central area and along the walls where people wait to be called.  I waited about 20 minutes to see a nurse.  She took my blood pressure, which was fine, and ordered blood tests for malaria and anemia and a stool test for parasites.  I asked for blood tests for electrolytes, especially sodium and potassium.  She checked with a superior but they would not do it.  I was shown to another outbuilding which housed the laboratory and got fingerstick blood tests for malaria and hemoglobin.  After going back to the main building to wait another half hour, I got my test results, which were negative for malaria.  My hemoglobin was 11.5, which is OK but a little low considering I was taking an iron supplement.  I got a prescription for electrolyte salts and waited at another building about 45 minutes to get this filled.

After 24 hours of diarrhea, I was unable to give a stool specimen.  I took the bottle home and brought it in the next day.  Breana had recently been treated for parasites, and I wanted to be tested to make sure this was not contributing to my poor health status.  Happily, it was negative.

My total bill was 3000 shillings for registration (about $2) and 600 shillings (40 cents) for 6 packets of electrolyte salts, of which I used only two, since the diarrhea had stopped.  I was at the hospital about 3 hours the first day and one hour the second.  I saw a doctor on the second day, who told me they would do a blood test for parasites if I still had dizziness after 3 more days.  I was told to eat a lot of fruit.  The treatment was basic but effective.  The minimal diagnostic testing is very different than in the USA, where they do a ton of tests to rule out everything under the sun.  I would have felt better knowing my blood tests (i.e. CBC and metabolic panel) were OK.  I feel better, but not 100%, so I just hope everything is OK.  This is not the place to get seriously ill.

Saturday, November 12, 2011


One of Breana's students gave her a live chicken so the guards have been watching it for the past week while she feeds it rice to fatten it up a little.  She wanted to kill it herself but the girls in the kitchen said she was a Mzungu and couldn't do it right.  They slit the chicken's throat and helped her defeather it and prepare it.  She put rocks in the bottom of a big pot and put the cut up chicken in a smaller pot inside the big one, making a kind of oven.  She had to cook it at a neighbor's house, since our power was out again.

Meanwhile I cleaned house and cut up some pineapple and cabbage for salad.  The power came back on after 7 p.m., shortly before our guests arrived, so we didn't have to eat by candlelight.  Ellie from England brought a spinach and potato dish and Vanya from Croatia brought homemade pizza.  Two young male German missionaries brought Pringles potato chips.  Two Tanzanians also came: Gloria, an engineer from Concern, and Mr. Daniels, the assistant headmaster from Breana's school.  I don't think potlucks are part of their culture.  With so many people, I only got a bite of chicken, since they are undersized to begin with.  It was an occasion, though, and quite an experience for Bree.  We are so far removed from the whole process in America.

After we ate, Poa deposited a really smelly bowel movement right in front of my closed bedroom door, and everyone took that as a signal to leave.  Thanks, Poa!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


Walking to school in Ngara can be pleasure or torture. 

 I live in Afriline, an old UN compound from the time of the Rwanda genocide in 1994 which still bears the letters UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) on the front gate.  The compound was not built for the poor refugees, but for the foreign administrative staff.  As such, our house is solidly built of concrete with a large porch along the front and a metal roof.  The vegetation in the compound appears to be mostly imported, wtih lots of grass, flowers, and eucalyptus, hibiscus and fruit trees.  The compound faces a cliff on one side, looking out over a valley.  Otherwise it is surrounded by banana fields and a village.

The infrastructure has not fared as well as the vegetation.  We have large floodlights throughout the compound that are turned on at night.  Unfortunately the power is often out, and we have the darkest night I have ever seen, even when the stars are shining.  I usually get up at 5:30 a.m. and enjoy a little morning coffee while trying to get on the internet, which is often not successful.  If the power is out, I reset my alarm for 6 a.m.  At that time I get up with my flashlight and try to dress, brush my teeth, and eat a couple of wheat biscuits or a hunk of bread to fortify myself for the day.  When we got here in July it was still pitch black at 6:30, but now we have daylight so I can walk to school.  Before I  took a motorcycle to school and could leave a little later.

It takes me a little over an hour to walk the 6 km to school.  It takes a little longer coming home because it is uphill.  The first 20 minutes is on a dirt road through houses and banana fields.  Where the dirt road meets the main, paved road to town there are a few small shops and open air produce stands.  Traffic is light, with a few cars, bicycles, and motorcycles.  They follow the British system here and drive on the left.  I haven't seen any sidewalks anywhere around here and walk on the side of the road, which is full of dirt, pebbles, and sometimes mud.  My feet never feel clean, even when I wear socks.  Some of my students pass me since they walk faster, smile and say, "Good morning, Madam!"  Other people of all types greet me.  Small children yell, "Mzungu!" (white person) to get my attention then say, "Good Morning" or Good afternoon," and often get the time of day wrong.  Goats and chickens graze on the side of the road, and occasionally someone herds a group of goats or cows along.  The banana fields continue behind the houses that front the road, and you see old, young, and in between people carrying huge machetes, which can be a little disconcerting.  

As I near Ngara proper, I pass a gas station, mosque, the bank, the post office, several churches, and an internet cafe.  After about 40 minutes of walking I am "downtown,"  which consists of several dirt streets of small shops and a couple of large, old, open sided UN tents which house the market stalls.  There is also a transportation area where taxis, motorcycles and buses can be found.  Most of the buses leave between 6 and 7 a.m, except the through bus to Dar es Salaam on the coast, which leaves at 1 p.m.  It is 8-10 hours by bus to Mwanza, the nearest city in Tanzania, and about 26 hours by bus to Dar.

my favorite chapati vendor

I pass town and Paradise, the only Western type restaurant building in town, although it only serves African food, buffet style.  I take a shortcut through more banana fields and come to Ngara Secondary School, which is just past the city limits.  At the entrance, students are often getting "punished," which can mean doing chores or getting hit.  Other students are often bringing water to the school on buckets on their heads from the water source across the main road as part of their daily tasks.  I am supposed to be at school by 7:30 to sign in the log book and start classes at 7:45.

I am fortunate not to have had much rain in the mornings, but the afternoon rains can be brutal.  Most people take cover and laugh at the crazy Mzungu getting soaked despite using an umbrella.  The top of me stays fairly dry, but it takes about 3 days for my shoes to dry.  We have no heater, clothes dryer or hair dryer to speed the process. The rain can last 20 minutes or all night.  All traffic seems to disappear when it rains, so there is little chance of getting a taxi or a ride.  The "heavy rains" are supposedly in January and February, one reason I am not planning on staying around after this term.

The periods last 40 minutes, but all of my classes are double periods of 80 minutes, which are better if you are trying to actually teach something.  I had good training at my TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) course in Argentina and am comfortable teaching.  I have only taught adult foreigners in the USA, but I believe the students here are more polite and attentive than American students.  They stand up when I enter the class and say "Good Morning, Madam."  I try to start with a game or other activity to engage them before starting my subject for the day.  We have no textbooks so I write a lot on the blackboard and am full of chalk dust by the end of the class.  The chalk box says "dustless,"  but don't believe it.  The students have exercise books for each subject that they take notes and do exercises in.  Sometimes I catch students studying exercise books from other classes and I just close them and say "English."  Each class has an assigned monitor who keeps track of attendance and erases the blackboard for me.  I teach 2-4 double periods a day Monday through Friday.  Mondays and Fridays are my short days when I finish at 11 a.m.  The teachers get free chai (hot tea) in the staff room at that time and we can buy mendazis (like fried donut pastry) for about 10 cents apiece.  Students serve the tea and also do other chores, such as cleaning up the offices, classrooms, and school grounds.  There is no such thing as a school janitor, but there is a night guard.

When I finish my classes, I walk home, often stopping on the way to pick up food or other things I need.  Lately vendors have been putting their little charcoal stoves along the road and selling grilled corn.  I usually like it but they put it directly on the grill it instead of leaving the husk on so it is very dry and not so good.  I have had a couple of outfits made by a seamstress in town so I visited her several times.  Almost everything here is fresh and without preservatives so food, including bread, needs to be purchased often.  The eggs here are small and have light yellow yolks and runny whites, which seems odd to me, but Breana figures that is probably the way they are supposed to be without chemical engineering.  A man at the end of my road sells hot chapattis for about 12 cents apiece, and I often get a couple of those for my lunch.  We do eat a high carbohydrate diet here.  Many days, especially if the power is out and I can't cook or wash produce or dishes, that is all I have.  On the other hand, we have access to wonderful fresh fruits and vegetables all the time.  I don't feel comfortable eating them raw, though, unless I wash them in hot water first.  I think the food and water in Ngara is pretty safe, but I am leery of the exception.  

Saturday, November 5, 2011


Can't believe I made a last minute decision to come to Kigali again this weekend.  That makes it 3 out of the last 4 weekends that I have been here.  An expensive and time consuming trip, but I just couldn't face not knowing when or if we would get anymore water.   Our last bucket we bribed a bicycle boy to get  from a local restaurant that has a water tank.  But we don't think the owners were happy about that.  Some of our fellow teachers have tanks but are hesitant to give any water away because the tanks are not getting refilled.  Tanks at Afriline, where we live, are absolutely empty.  The situation will apparently right itself when they resolve the pump situation and the rainy season comes to fill the tanks.  Worldteach has offered to let us move to alternate housing if it is within the budget, but there really is nowhere to go. They are giving us an extra allowance due to the escalating cost of water.  It is normally 500 shillings a bucket, but we paid 2500 for the last one.  Even with conservative use, a bucket lasts only a couple of days.

I felt absolutely decadent this morning here in Kigali when I took a bubble bath!  I haven't washed my hair since last week when I was here.  I am saving that for Sunday before I head home.  But I did scrub my body and put on lotion.  I had multiple layers of dirt, I am sure.

It took about a week, but Breana is better.  The hospital never figured out what was wrong with her, except that she didn't have malaria.  She is still waiting to see the Australian doctor, who was in Australia of all places for a quick vacation.  One of the other volunteers in Mbeya region is in the hospital with typhoid.  She apparently wasn't boiling her water because she had a fancy filter.  Bad move.

I turned in my questions for final examinations.  The kids and I are just starting to feel comfortable with each other and make some progress.  I lost about 20% of my classes due to nonpayment of school fees.  We had a three hour parents meeting and a lot of them said we should punish the parents, not the kids, but there were apparently some kids in the past who went through all four years without paying anything, so they have cracked down.  I will miss these kids when I go, but the living here is too hard.