Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Saying Goodbye

The trips have been planned, the arrangements all made, goodbyes have been said to teachers, students and friends, things have been given away, and bags are packed.  It is time to go.

Today is my last day at site, tomorrow I head to the capitol city to begin the Close of Service paper work and get ready to leave Rwanda.  It seems surreal that this is the end, after spending the majority of the last five years in the Peace Corps, I now have to join the ranks back home.  There are no regrets I feel that I have learned so much and I have been able to see so much I am thankful for these two opportunities.  The people I have met the friends I have made and the skills that I have learned will continue on with me as I start the next part of my life whatever that is.

I have no idea where life will take me next which is both terrifying and freeing at the same time.  I am excited to start the next part because it is so open, it could take me on a path I never would have though of and the thought of another adventure excites me.

But first I have to leave behind Rwanda and Africa, maybe not forever, but for now.

Thank you all for your support throughout the last two years and I am sorry I am such a horrible blogger.


Friday, May 4, 2012


April Showers!!!
The first term is over and the second has started but I was able to go on vacation!!  April was a full month of travel and adventure!
The first stop was Zanzibar, Tanzinia.  12 days on a beautiful island, swimming, spice tours, laying on a beach visiting Giant Turtles, snorkeling, reading, and eating seafood at least once everyday.  The island is beautiful, the water was crystal clear and so very blue!!  We were there at the end of the tourist season, and many of the hotels had closed for the season, at one point in the East we were the only ones on the beach for as far as we could see.  It was so quiet and peaceful. 
My goal for the vacation was to eat seafood at least once everyday.  I accomplished that goal very easily, in fact I was an over achiever some days!  I felt it was my duty to try the wonderfulness that came from the Indian Ocean, so I did, I tried baby shark, barracuda, lobster, clams, tuna, king fish, shrimp, and octopus.  It was so good.  I was also able to have sushi for the first time in nearly a year and a half and I was in heaven!  It was so fresh and prepared so beautifully.  I love it when my food is like a work of art it makes me smile!!
So after a wonderful 12 days in tropical paradise I was able to see one of Rwandas true treasures; Mountain Gorillas!!!
I have been wanting to see the Gorillas since I first found out I was going to Rwanda.  They have done a really good job at protecting these animals and it was such a joy and honor to be able to see them.  I have seen Gorillas in a zoo but to see them in their habitat, with no fences or barriers and only our guides to protect us if something were to happen was exhilarating!!  They are a true thing of beauty and it is remarkable that they are still here; and now the population is actually increasing which is also amazing to see.  The Family Group that we went to see had the oldest Silver Back male and the newest baby to the population.  We were in such close quarters with the family that we were sometimes less than a foot away, at one point we were totally surrounded by the family and they were coming down the hill behind us and one actually walked through our group and we all held our breath as she split our group in half and waited until she passed by!  It was totally worth every penny and all the mud that we had to walk through to get to them.  They are truly amazing creatures and again I feel blessed to be among those that have visited them.

But April is past and school has once again started; so it is back to the grind, but this year it is about finishing projects and preparing to return home or somewhere.  The end is nearly upon us, and in about six months I will have had to decide where I am going next, but I think I will wait a little longer on that!!!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Yes this a new blog post!

Peace Corps round 2 has presented many challenges some I was able to overcome with little trouble, however some I am still trying to overcome.  I returned to the Peace Corps to try and figure out what I wanted to do with my life, and after one year I am no closer to figuring that out, which is one reason I am glad I have a whole other year to at least pick a direction.  Instead of focusing options, it created more options and questions. 
                The school year is now starting and I am hoping that after the few bumps we have had this week will have smooth sailing for the rest of the term.  I will again be teaching Biology this year as well as trying to start an English Club, and a GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) Club.  I am trying to stay busy and positive and I am very hopeful for a good year, and glad that there are things to look forward too.  I hope to travel to Tanzania this year, as well as going back to Akagera Park and Gorilla Trekking. 
                I hope to be better at updating my blog; I make no promises, but I will make an effort for you all.
                I wish you all have a wonderful New Year!!!!

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Art of keeping warm in Africa

The Blog
Disclaimer:  These are the thoughts and words of one Brittany Johnson and do not reflect the policies or thoughts of the Peace Corps. 

The Art of keeping warm in Africa

When thinking about moving to Africa you don’t tend to think about ways to keep warm.  Most of the images that come to mind are hot, dry savannas or deserts.  And for most of Africa that is the case, for many countries in Africa, during Peace Corps training they teach you how to sleep outside because it is too hot to sleep inside the house or hut.  This is not the case for Rwanda.  No, Rwanda is unique in many ways to the rest of Africa the first being its climate. 
Because Rwanda sits so close to the equator and because the many hills, mountains and volcanoes put the country at a much higher elevation than most African countries the climate here is one of the best you will find.  In the east it is flat, dry, and hot.  The East is far more similar to say Tanzania, than the rest of Rwanda.  The West and North however are a whole new ball game.  Most of the hills and mountains are in these regions creating many rainforests.  The north and west get far more rain and thus the temperature stays fairly cool for the most part.  This now takes us up to my site, the district of Musanze.
The town I live in sits at the base of the five volcanoes that share a border with Rwanda, Uganda, and Congo.  And it is beautiful, most mornings when I leave the house early I can see all five peaks of the volcanoes, and they are breath taking.  I can also see my own breath.  The first night, after buying mattresses, beds (that are still not put together), sheets (that somehow don’t fit my bed) and a nice blanket that has an ocean scene on it, I snuggled down into bed and realized I was cold.  The first night ended with me sleeping inside my flannel sleep sack with my new blanket on top of me, wearing sweats; and I was cold.  I was so cold that I didn’t want to get out of bed to get my sleeping bag because that would have meant giving up the warmth that I just barley started to create.  So I stuck it out the first night, and I did warm up a little and it was fine.  However, for the next night I brought out the big guns, my three season sleeping bag. 
This sleeping bag is rated to 15 degrees F.  And I bought right before I went to Romania, one of the best purchases I made for that trip.  I used it many times, at my site and while visiting other people.  But I expected to need it, Romania is a cold country and therefore it was a logical and wonderful purchase.  I thought about buying a bag that wasn’t rated so low for Rwanda, but didn’t want to spend the money on it, so I just brought it along with me.  Not thinking that I would need to sleep in side of it but maybe on it, or something.  But no, the second night I pulled out my sleeping bag, and unzipped it a ways leaving the end of the mummy bag zipped up a little for my feet, then I spread my sleep sack on top of the sheets and used my sleeping bag as a sort of blanket, so I was sleeping on the flannel sack, under my sleeping bag in sweats and a sweat shirt with my new blanket on top of it all and that is now how I sleep every night. 
Now it is all relative, for you all freezing in winter in America, you would think you were having a heat wave.  However, after living here for three months it is cold.  There are some days that the tallest volcano Karisimbi, will have snow on its peak.  Along with the two hail storms, this country stands in league of its own when it comes to Africa.  I feel blessed and lucky to be in this country and not sweltering in the heat like many of our neighboring countries.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Unexpected and weird things in equatorial Africa

 Disclaimer:  These are my thoughts and my thoughts alone; none of this is from Peace Corps and does not reflect the thoughts of the organization.  JUST ME!!!!

On Sunday December 19th 2010; a group of us went to one of the National Parks that is found in Rwanda.  The park that we went to was the one in the South of the country called Nyungwe (can't pronounce it? it took me two days to learn it).  This park is home to over 100 species of butterfly, and orchids; Chimpanzees, Collobus Monkeys, Leopards and many more. 

(insert:  this is a rain forest)

When we arrived it was a beautiful day, I was wearing capris, granted I have no other options, my keens and a cute t-shirt.  After a little discussion on price and hikes, half of the group went on a canopy hike while the other half (the one I was in) went on a hike that was supposed to take about 3 hours, and was a little more traditional of a hike.  So we started out and it was wonderful, getting the muscles going, up and down with switch backs and steps carved into the side of the hill.  We were at over 2500 meters so we were looking down at a lot of the rain forest, it was breath taking!  We even got to see some of the mountain monkeys when they said that it was unlikely to see them on this hike, it was so cool to see them in the wild, they were amazing!  About 1/3 of the way into the hike the clouds started to come rolling in.  Now I was well aware of the fact that it rains in the rain forest, so I came prepared with a rain fly for my back pack, two sweatshirts tucked away to keep them dry and a useless raincoat to sit on, during the long bus ride home.  When clouds form in this country, much like Hawaii, it is going to rain, there is no question.  And it is going to rain everyday re-gardless cause that is what happens in the rain forest.  Others, unfortunately, were a little less prepared, but rain never hurt anyone and we were in the middle of a rain forest so we trudged on.  The rain wasn't so bad, in fact in parts it was beautiful, the sun was shinning across a canyon and as you looked out you could see the rain falling on the canopy of trees below us.  It was absolutely beautiful, I would have taken a picture but I ran out of room on my memory card cause I can't find the larger card I have, it is quite possibly somewhere in my parents house, but I digress, the rain wasn't so bad, we were wet, but that is nothing new for us; we were dealing.  Then without warning, something hit my arm and stung.  I was starting to get cold but rain wouldn't sting like this.  At this point we are all looking at the ground and nearly at the same time we all said "Hail?"
Yup, it was hailing on us in the middle of a tropical rain forest.  Our guide up ahead thought that it was snow!  We asked him if this happened often, and he said "No, but it does happen, sometimes"  So here we are, soaking wet getting pegged by hail, and not a short rain/hail storm, this lasted about 45 minutes to an hour.  In fact we cut our hike short cause the trail was getting a little slippery.  I, of course, found out the hard way by slipping and falling!!! Don't freak out I wasn't hurt cause all I landed in was soft mushy mud, that was a blessing, what was not such a blessing was the fact that the mud stayed on me.  Caked on mud, I was covered, I slid about 2 to 3 feet, so from my butt to my knees I was covered in heavy mud.  It was quite comical for everyone else, and yes I did see the humor in the fact that I was soaking wet, freezing cold, being hit with hail, and covered in mud in the middle of a rain forest in Rwanda. It was a good thing that I had put a belt on that morning cause my pants were so heavy that they were sliding off of my hips.  All in all it was a great day, and I got to see my first wildlife of Rwanda, wouldn't trade it for, no not true, if you offered me a hamburger with steak fries seasoned and a milkshake I may have traded for that.....maybe.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Beginning

The Blog
Disclaimer:  These are the thoughts and words of one Brittany Johnson and do not reflect the policies or thoughts of the Peace Corps. 

Ok so I finally put my Blog together, don’t act like your shocked, yes I know many of you are rolling your eyes.  Anyway, I can’t promise I will write often, but I will do my best to keep you informed of the many crazy things that I do, case in point eating fried katydids!!!  Yup that happened, they kind of taste like pumpkin seeds!!
This first post is a mass post, and probably won’t happen again, so this post will be spanning  a time of about a month.  Sorry about that, but it should catch you up and get you all up to speed on my oh so exciting life!!
So enjoy the three or so page post……

Sunday November 7, 2010

I do apologize for not posting something sooner.  Even though there is internet and even wireless it is   not like I have it in my home.  But I will try my hardest to make it to the internet café a little more.
It is Sunday as I am typing this; we finally have an entire day off for ourselves.  I am eating peanut butter (yes I bought it here in Rwanda), and a Nutella wannabe, listening to music and forcing myself to actually type this.
Rwanda, the land of thousand hills, which is an accurate description of this country, is beautiful.  It is full of rolling hills and mountains.  Picture the Blue Mountains continuous and never ending in the distance; but in Hawaii!  The weather is just about perfect.  It is November and while you all wear jackets and sweaters I am in sandals, shorts and t-shirts.  The down side, we may get caught in a torrential down pour at any given moment.  But life is about trade-offs and if you ever find perfect let me know.   
We are living in a town called Nyanza.  It is a city, I guess, with a population of about 250,000.  There are now 68 of us in my training group, we started with 71 and three have left.  I don’t blame them or think any less of them, cause God knows I know how this feels and how hard it is and frankly I don’t want someone thinking less of me if I come to the decision to leave as well.  So I wish them all well!!
So 68 of us left going into week three of an eleven week training.  We are living all over the city, in about 10 different houses.  In my house there are 12 of us plus three language instructors.  We have four bathrooms, and one outside latrine, we do have electricity but no running water.  We take bucket baths and they are usually cold, unless we heat up water in the electric kettle then we have somewhat warm bucket baths.  Chances are that I will have to do this for the duration of my service here.  But it is a minor inconvenience in the grand scheme of things, and I will be able to add yet another useful skill to my resume:  Can use a minimal amount of water to bath, how very eco-friendly of me!
We go to training Monday-Saturday, we are served breakfast starting at 7am and classes start at 8am.  And we go until about 7pm when they serve us dinner.  After that we go back to our houses; our curfew is 10pm, and some of us go into town to hang out for some down time, but for me it is a twenty minute walk home so most of the time I go straight home after dinner.
Twice a week we go and have dinner with, what Peace Corps is calling a resource family.  Instead of having a host family, we go and have dinner with our reference family, and do other activities with them.  We are supposed to be a part of the family learning how to cook and clean and wash clothes and everything to help us become more integrated into the Rwandan culture.  My family so far is great.  They have two little girls, the mother is a teacher and the family has had two or three volunteers before me so they know what they are supposed to do and what they are supposed to help me with besides my Ikinyrwanda. 
When we aren’t in a language class we have what are called tech sessions; essentially teaching us how to be teachers, how to write lesson plans, telling us in every conceivable way that we need to learn to be patient and flexible.  Amazingly, no matter how many times they tell us that we will never fully understand that concept until we actually have to be flexible and patient.  However they are giving us a crash course in it by changing the schedule at every turn; so that being flexible has been the name of the game from the get go.
My resource Mom thinks that I am hysterical, her and her neighbor just laughed and laughed at me and with me for two hours tonight.   IKinyrwanda, not only is a Bantu language but also is a tonal language so that the meaning of some words change depending on how you use them.  Take the word, inkoko, chicken, if you say it fast it means chicken.  However, if you say it slowly and drop the tone of your voice a little lower, it means the basket they use to separate out pebbles from rice.  Also, they have 16 noun classes, compared to English that has 2.  So depending what the noun starts with determines the rest of the sentence, the verb, the possessive pronoun and the adjective all change depending on the noun; this also includes the numbers.   
You are all dyeing to know what the food is like right:  Ok every day we have a combination of the following; rice or pasta, potatoes or plantains (or both), a meat of some sort that you have to chew for five minutes, a tomato based sauce or a green leafy like sauce and a fruit, pineapple, papaya or passion fruit.  So basically I eat starch all day long.   It is probably a good thing that I have to walk 3-4 miles a day just to get to and from school.

Monday November 8, 2010

Don’t get to excited two days in a row is going to be few and far between.  It just so happens I was unable to get to the internet café today and have now gotten stuck at our center in a rain storm.   This rain storm includes thunder and lightning and is seriously right on top of our heads.  Kind of cool if I were sitting in a comfy chair, in front of a big picture window with tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich, or maybe hot cocoa and a book and wrapped up in a fleece blanket, not planning on a 20 minute walk home on some unpaved roads. 
I am hoping that in the two hours between when I am writing this, and we get served dinner the rain will at least taper off so that we aren’t completely soaked when we get back.

Saturday 13, 2010

Site assignment week!!!!  Thursday we were given our site location!  I will be living in the north western part of the country in the District of Musanze.  This district is located right next to the Volcano National Park, which just happens to be the home of the Mountain Gorillas!  On Monday I will be able to give you more information, because I will be going to my site!!  I am super excited to see another part of Rwanda and I am even more excited to see my site and school where I will be living and teaching for two years. 
The North part of the country gets a little cooler than the south and rains a lot more.  But at least I won’t have to deal with too little water.  But I don’t mind a little cold, because their idea of cold is nothing compared to ours.
Today in fact we are getting a little taste of the rainy season, as it started raining this morning (on my walk to school, I was drenched by the time I got there) and it hasn’t stopped raining.  So this is what we have to look forward to for the next five months.  Sounds like my rain boots will come in handy!!!

November 21, 2010

Sundays are usually for the most part our own.  However, after being so scheduled for the whole week sometimes we really have no idea what to do with ourselves.  Today I decided to write again, to catch up on the last few weeks and tell you all what has been going on.  We received our site assignments and already went on our site visits.
My site is located in the North Province in the District of Musanze.  When you look up this district, which I know most of you will, you will find that I live near the National Park of the Volcanoes.  In fact this is where you go if you want to go Gorilla trekking.  So yes I am living near Volcanoes, again, and have the mountain Gorillas in my back yard.
My School is a 2km away from where I will be living, which is about 40min one way (a little forced exercise!).  It is a beautiful walk, and I think I am going to enjoy walking it every day; well mostly, it does rain a lot and the road is dirt and rock.  So the mud boots that I packed will come in very handy!!!
I will be teaching Biology, at a middle school level.  I will probably have 40-50 students in each class, maybe even more.   This year is the first year where every exam has to be in English, so all of the lectures have to be in English.  Which is good for me, but since all of Rwanda has been using French in their schools and for their exams, it is going to be a hard transition.  Many of the students probably won’t know any English.  So that will be a challenge for them and for me.  But one I think I am up for, or at the very least willing to give it all I got!

December 14, 2010

Yes, I get that it has been a little while, but come on give me a little break it is just the next month; and besides that I am posting all of this at once so you get it all in one blog post; instead of having to wait a month!
Two weeks ago we started what is called a Model school.  This is a practice for us, and mimics what we may encounter at our schools in January.  Right now the kids are on vacation and the powers at be were able to find enough students from around the area to fill a school, so the 68 people could teach classes with upwards of 30-50 students per class.  No small feat for sure.  We were put into groups, animal groups my group is the Baboons!  And there are four teaching hours a day, my group only has four people so we teach everyday, other groups have more people so they were able to have days off; when you aren’t teaching you observe and then give constructive criticism at the end of each day.  It is tiring, trying to write a lesson plan each night, have technical training, medical and safety sessions and try to study Ikinryrwanda.  Luckily, it is coming to an end, for my group, this week.  And I will be able to focus a little more on the language aspect of training instead of the teaching aspect.  Model school has been good for me, I feel like I can go to site and be a teacher, one that is respected and knowledgeable and I know that I can write a lesson plan that makes sense and flows nicely.  In that regard Model school has been an asset, however, my language skills have suffered for it.  I am going to push myself in the next few weeks to practice and use the language that I do know and try and learn more before I take my language interview.

I will try and have more for you in a shorted amount of time, and hope to make this a regular thing, I make no promises at this point we will see how it goes!
Peace love and laughter my friends!
Make comments, ask questions!!!!