As promised, here is the blog post about questions that you all have and questions that have come up frequently in conversations. I thought it would be fun to share them all with you! There might even be questions that you never even thought of. I also might’ve missed questions, so please keep asking them.
Where is Rwanda?
Rwanda is a small country in East Africa. The surrounding countries are Uganda to the north, Burundi to the south, Tanzania to the east, and Democratic Republic of Congo to the east. Rwanda and Burundi are exceptionally smaller than the countries around them.
What is the local currency and exchange rate?
The local currency here in Rwanda is the Rwandan Franc (RWF) and the current exchange rate as of February 7th, 2019 is 898.51 RWF to 1 US Dollar.
What language do they speak?
There are two major languages in Rwanda. The international language is English and the local language is Kinyarwanda. However, prior to the Genocide against the Tutsies in 1994 and for several years after that, the country was considered “Francaphone” and the international language was French. This means that much of the older generation has some understanding of French and less of English. I have also been told that schools will be moving back to teaching French and both English and French will be offered in schools. The part of the country where I stay also has some influence from Tanzania so there is a scattering of Swahili spoken. Another fun fact is that news networks all have a sign language interpreter on screen.
Where do you live?
I live in the Eastern Province, in the District of Kayonza. The house that I stay in is off of the main road through Kayonza. Our house has clay brick walls and cement floors, so it is a little unfamiliar but is definitely not unlivable. If you would like to know more about the house, please see the blog post called Home Sweet Rwandan Home.
What do you eat?
So, here in Rwanda the diet seems limited when compared to what many people of means would be accustom in the US. The main reason for this is that the US imports a lot of the things we eat because we cannot grow those things in our climate, and we have the capital to do so. A Rwandan diet consists of things you can find actually growing here in Rwanda. These foods include: rice, beans, bananas, avocados, green beans, peas, corn, carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and cassava. There is limited meat consumption depending on where your located, but the meat available is beef, chicken, goat, and pork. Some people also eat rabbit and guinea pig, but this is less common.
What is transportation like?
There are many different kinds of transportation, as few people actually own cars. The most basic form of transportation would be a bike taxi. Bike taxis are usually meant to get somewhere in the town you are in, so maybe from the market to home or vice versa. Then, there is the motorcycle taxi that is referred to as a moto. Motos can be used for longer journeys, anywhere from 10 minutes to a full hour. At the YWCA, we use motos to get around when we are out in the field and I am always impressed by how those drivers maneuver those back roads. The next level would be these little buses that are really just like 15 passenger vans (and we fit way more than 15 people in one of these things). These are more for moving in between cities and they can function similarly to a city bus because they stop more often to let people on and off. The next largest bus would be what I have seen called a coaster. These buses are more spacious and hold more people and they are used for longer travel. When I travel to and from Kigali, I usually take one of these buses and it takes me about two and a half hours. The largest buses are similar to coach buses and they are for cross country travel and even inter-country travel. There are buses that come to and from Uganda and Tanzania. If I were to travel to Huey, which is clear on the other side of the country, I could take one of these buses.
What is Kitenge?
Kitenge is a traditional African fabric. It has its origins in being used by women as a wrapped skirt, a head wrap, and a baby wrap. Today, kitenge is worn by all people. The fabric is always very vibrant and has all different kinds of patterns. The fabric to strong and has a waxy texture when it is new. There are many tailors all over Rwanda that work with kitenge and have been able to create clothing that is modern while still respecting the tradition. In Kigali, there are many places to buy kitenge, and the two that I have been to are the kitenge warehouse and the market in Kimironko.
What is the weather like?
The climate in Rwanda is pretty consistent. We range from 50 degrees to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. There are two main seasons in Rwanda, the rainy season and the dry season. The rainy season takes place during what would be considered winter in the US and the dry season would be what we consider summer. I am personally a huge fan of the climate because it means I can always wear sandals 👍😊
What do you do in your free time?
One thing that is very different from what I am used to in the States is that downtime is definitely more abundant. That is not to say that I am less productive, I just spend my time in ways that wouldn’t seem as productive to people in the US. Spending quality time with friends and family is a huge part of the use of free time. This could be as simple as sitting in the sitting room with some tea and biscuits to sharing a meal with a group from church. My personal hobbies include reading 📚, crocheting , watching movies with the boys 🎬and exercising 🏋️♀️.
Why is the Young Adults in Global Mission Program in Rwanda?
The Young Adults in Global Mission program attempts to create a more global church connection with international church partners. Here in Rwanda, that partner is the Lutheran Church in Rwanda (LCR). This program is fairly new, but it is grow rapidly. The main goal of a YAGM is to support the mission of the LCR by offering services and skills on a voluntary basis. This means that my job description may be hard to nail down, but it is always and adventure.
What are the clothing expectations in Rwanda/LCR?
There aren’t that many expectations as far as clothing is concerned. For myself and the other YAGM who are female, there is an expectation that we wear skirts to church functions, but I believe this comes for from a place of expecting modesty than a strict expectation about dress. As far as Rwanda is concerned, there is a lot of what would be considered western fashion influence. Though people are allowed to wear whatever they want, I have noticed the same theme of modesty. For instance, I have rarely seen a Rwandan woman wearing shorts and I have maybe seen a Rwandan man wear shorts a handful of times.
Do you have television?
There is satellite television available in Rwanda and there are many households that have a television set. My home does not currently have one, but I believe that many of the other volunteers do. There is also Rwandan television programming including news and soap operas. However, a lot of Rwandan television content is also available on Youtube. For instance, we watched the Miss Rwanda 2019 pageant on a live stream on Youtube, but it was also broadcasts on the satellite television options.
Why are church services so long?
This is an interest question that I have gotten a few times. I will answer it in two ways, first the events that take place during the service and there estimated length. Then, I will share a few thoughts on why the services are able to keep people’s attention for so long.
The church services in Kayonza start around 9:00 am as people start to gather at the church and there is praise music and dancing as people arrive and greet one another. The church service officially starts at 9:30 am, but there is a little wiggle room because many Rwandans do not follow time as strictly as westerners. The first portion of the lituregy takes about 30 minutes. This includes all the parts that many Lutherans would be familiar with, things like the creed, confession and forgiveness, and the readings for the day. The next part transitions into time for each choir to perform. We have 3 choirs in Kayonza and each one will sing 2-3 songs. This generally brings us to about 11:00 am. There is more literagy and time to introduce visitors. Then, the sermon is given. The sermon can usually last anywhere from 45 to 90 minutes depending on who is preaching. After the sermon, we have time for more singing, there is more lituragy, and the offering is collected. This also takes about 30 minutes so that puts us somewhere between 12:30 and 1:00 pm.
I think that there is a major teaching aspect that is included in the church services especially in the LCR. In many Lutheran traditions back in the states, the churches have been an established part of these communities. Many people are Lutherans because their parents and maybe even grandparents have always been Lutheran. We are put through Sunday school to learn the basic teachings of the bible and when we are of age, we go through confirmation to affirm the promises made at our baptism. Because of this, many people use church as a tradition to help worship and center themselves. It also creates a community that people can be a part of. All of these things are true for the folks in the LCR, and the church is very new. The church is on its second generation for the most part and there is still a lot of teaching that goes on as part of the church service. In this way, sermons can also function as a lecture of sorts to help people become familiar with their bibles and their faith. Add that to the literagy and the emphasis on community and it creates an atmosphere where people feel good about spending the whole morning together.
What is the education system like?
I want to put a disclaimer on this that I do not work directly with the education system, so most of my knowledge on this is anecdotal at best. I also have a few colleagues here that are working with the school system so I have some information from their experience as well. The education system here in Rwanda is split into two main distinctions, government and private schools. I have come to understand that the two can be very different experiences. Private schools fall under all sorts of religious and other organizations, and the tuition tends to be significantly higher than government schools. Because of this, the private school tend to have more resources for students and there is more opportunities to learn French and English. Government schools are also supposed to be teaching English, but there was a transition period where many educators were not well-equipped to teach in English. This is slowly becoming less of an issue. However, both schools usually start at Primary level 1. Primary goes through level 6. Secondary, also sometimes called senior, is after primary, and Secondary Level 1-3 are considered Ordinary Levels (o-level). These years consist of a continuation of a generalized coursework. Secondary Level 4-6 are considered Advanced Level (a-level) and students pick 3 subject areas to focus their studies on. Some combinations include History, Economics, and Geography (HEG) and Math, Chemistry, and Physics (MCP). There is also an option for private preschool that has three levels. 3 year olds can start in Baby Class, then move up to Middle and Top Class before they start P1 at age 6 or 7.
What is internet/cellphones like?
Access to internet and cellphone data is pretty ubiquitous in Rwanda. I have yet to be in a private dwelling that had wi-fi, but most cafes, hotels, and workplaces have some sort of wi-fi. We are given a cellphone as part of our program and we are stipend money to buy data every month. The phone is also able to be used as a hotspot if need be. I get pretty good 3G coverage in Kayonza and I even have a second sim card for my phone from home that has data enabled. Data is also a privilege and many people don’t use it on a regular basis, so it is not always the most reliable way to communicate with other Rwandans. For this, calling is most efficient and texting is also pretty reliable. There has been a big push by the Rwandan government to create an infrastructure that supports cellphone usage for many different things. This includes a mobile banking service through the major cellphone networks that allows you to take out money, but also to send money and to use your phone to pay for things like water, electricity, and even school fees.