It was everything I didn’t expect and more, mainly because I didn’t know what to expect. This past week, looking back, was such a whirlwind of firsts and a glimpse into what my life will look like. Navigating the crowded the bus station in Kigali seems like nothing. From the regional bus on the main road, I took my first moto ride. I white knuckled it the entire way, fogging up my massive formula one grade helmet, bumping along dirt roads running parallel to vast tea fields and hectares of land. Traveling through the valley, you look to your right and left, to see steppe farming, primarily potatoes, banana plantains, and beans. And just like that, 45 minutes later, we arrived at the front steps of my health center complex. I stayed with my health center director (titulaire) and his family for the week, which is also just steps from the health center.
The health center
I received a full tour of my health center which consists of numerous buildings and divisions. My health center serves 15,000 people in neighboring villages. It has 10 nurses of varying certification levels, admin staff, a lab, technicians, a health insurance office, HIV wing, maternity ward, to name a few of the many services offered. While walking through the maternity ward, I greeted a woman who had given birth the night before and she handed me her baby. I have never held let alone seen a baby so young. Each month, the health center sees 40-50 new babies born. After lunch, the health center is quiet, as most patients and mothers come in the early mornings.
Tuesday had quite a different feel to it. Tuesday is vaccination day. Babies and children under 6 months come in for regular weigh ins and vaccinations. I helped weigh babies, learning the numbers in Kinyarwanda quite fast because I had to. I also filled in paperwork for new babies, measured those babies, but primarily spoke to the mamas about what I would be doing there for the next two years.
On Wednesday I went to Musanze, a town which is often considered the capital of the north. It’s about 2.5 hours away, including the moto and bus rides. Musanze is a popular destination because it’s at the foothills of immense volcanoes, close to the forests where the gorillas reside, and it has one of the few indoor markets (8 floors). Musanze is also home to the best coffee shop I have seen in Rwanda thus far, called Crema—so good, because in fact, I had a bagel & cream cheese, latte, and a muffin. The Dian Fossey gorilla conservation center is also in Musanze. It was founded be Ellen Degeneres in 2007 to protect the few remaining gorillas.
Thursday was also quite a busy day at the health center. Thursday is when mothers with malnourished children and mothers in the first category of income come for complementary feeding for their children. Similarly, on Thursday, I weighed children, mothers, and filled out forms stating they had received their monthly amount of porridge and dry milk, dependent on the age of the child and economic status of the family. I was also asked to give a talk in Kinyarwanda about the importance of a balanced diet. I think it was well received but it’s hard to tell.
On my way back to Rwamagana for the final two weeks of training, I stopped in Kigali for a very western lunch—a burrito and a milkshake. After a week of stewed plantains, beans and potatoes, this meal was much needed.
Just 12 hours after arriving back to Rwamagana, I attended an 8 hour wedding ceremony . It started with a lunch reception where friends and family gathered at the bride’s house. In the first part of the ceremony, attendees told stories about the bridge and groom and reminisced about their lives. We then went to the church for the religious part of the ceremony. We were there for about 4 hours, during which the bride and groom exchanged rings. I somehow became one of the photographers at the wedding. At the church, two couples were getting married at the same time, and there was confusion when they were saying vows, as they spoke into the microphone at the same time, often confusing the names. After many song interludes from the local civilian choir, we headed back to the bride’s family home for cake and Fanta (soda). I am glad I was able to be a part of such a vibrant and exciting ceremony, as it’s similar to weddings in the U.S but also different in many ways.
(For more photos from the wedding, please see the gallery section)