“Nice to meet you – we are going to devotion.”
Of course we are. Of. Course.
These were the words first spoken from my supervisor at Urwego, the bank I am partnering with during my three-month fellowship. I smiled and enthusiastically remarked, “Tugende, let’s go!”
Prayer? Worship? Please. This comes as no surprise to me. It’s Rwanda, y’all.
And so I’m back. I’ve been in country for about 5 full days. Somehow, I’ve managed to not really settle back in at all. Quite the contrary, I am just getting back in the swing of things. When my flight landed we headed directly to eat burritos. Um. Yes. By Friday I was visiting the market buying vegetables (I was absolutely enthralled with the available), Saturday found me at Chez Lando relaxing and catching up with old Peace Corps friends (still around from my Education group, ED3!), and Sunday had me running around 20K up those knarley city hills. Yep, I completed the Kigali half-marathon.
The start of the week led to Monday – my first day of work at Urwego Opportunity Bank – and Tuesday brought me back to the familiar red-brown dust after a day full of work-related school visits to villages in the far North with headmasters interested in using our loan product for school renovations.
It’s been whirlwind to say the least.
This past weekend I also had the fortunate opportunity to visit the home of my dear friend Alisha.
Alisha is a volunteer from my group who chose to stay in Rwanda a little longer albeit outside of Peace Corps. She arranged her own teaching job at one of Kigali’s top International Schools to teach an assortment of literature and English lessons. She is one of those people that was just meant to teach and so it makes me happy that she has remained serious in keeping herself in the classroom.
She also is engaged to a wonderful Rwandan man and they invited me to come see their own abode; they are located just on the outskirts of Kigali. What I liked about it was that even though it has a conveniently close proximity to the city, it has that “rural feeling” that I probably talk way too much about. She let me explore the yard and as I gazed out over her incredible view of the banana plantations I think I finally realized that, hey. I’m here. (And also my legs hurt like hell because I just ran a half-marathon).
I came back inside and we dived right into conversation. We tried to catch each other up from the last 5 or so months which can be hard to do when you like to describe the little things, as we often do. We were sitting there, in her living room, when she gave me one of the nicest compliments that anyone has ever told me. I’m not sure she even realized that it meant a lot – and in the moment, I’m not sure that I did either – but she said, “Heather, I know that you really see people for who they are.”
While I had been running and aching under that heavy sun, in my yellow MTN shirt, I had a good deal of time to think (I finished the course in about 2 hours and 15 minutes – not bad for what many called a pretty tough course) and I kept thinking about my upcoming first day of work, my travel here, and how all of these things had lined up to kind of make this happen. What do I have to offer?
Alisha told me. Thanks girl.
I reminded myself of this after 40 minutes on Monday morning waiting for a bus. Sure, I live in the expat neighborhood, but I am on a volunteer budget. It’s bus or bust for me. Dozens of people had already cut me, pushing their way through, and I had to bite my tongue not to get too frustrated with the equally agitated groups of people at the bus stop. See the best in people. See the best in people. Finally, I found one and made the trek to work.
To get there, I pass by parliament and cut off around the newly constructed convention center. The amount of construction that has happened in the handful of months that I’ve been absent is nothing short of amazing. We continue to swerve on some windy roads, passing industries and various offices here and there. Eventually, we reach down-town and I get off at a stop that is only about 2 minutes from Urwego’s main office branch, where I’ll be stationed for the next few months.
My first day went something like this: devotion, more prayer, debriefing meeting with my supervisor, research, lunch with my supervisor at a neighboring restaurant, and a marketing meeting for an upcoming radio spot. It was busy. And I liked that.
My main project points or “deliverables” as the business and developing world likes to call them are:
to develop a referable document that highlights the processes of our student loan program, to implement an online application form for the loan product, and in terms of assisting in operations, I will likely be making many site visits to assess the financial literacy clubs that are being operated by students at schools around the countries. By nature of the job description, I am best termed as a “consultant.” I am most looking forward to working with students but also open to all of the tasks as chances to learn, consider, and understand better HOW THESE THINGS WORK. That’s really why I wanted to come here in the first place.
I got a taste of that in only my second day. When my supervisor told me he would be out in the field making some visits to prospective clients who are headmasters looking to take out large loans for school projects I practically wrote myself the invitation and sent it off. Oh yeah, I totally invited myself to go. Which made sense, really. If I plan to effectively create a document that highlights the entire process of our program, it may be best to get a first-hand look with our clients. We had a lot of fun. We drove to the far North of Rwanda, near Uganda and the string of volcanoes that hold those mystical gorillas, and spoke with two headmasters. My supervisor demonstrated commitment and dedication to his job and I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to observe and just take it all in. Plus, we were back in the school environment, eating Rwandan food (always love the hospitality of this country), and getting “fresh air” as they like to say from the city life.
When over lunch a headmaster we had met with started singing “oh happy day, we have milk” to the tune of “Happy Day” I then proceeded to snort, laugh, and spit out a couple of the beans I had been chewing on from our slew of cassava, beans, potatoes, sauce, and meat.
Oh yes, I have arrived.