First day at the Learning Centre


A view of Kigali

My first full day in Kigali:

  1. I wake up late, completely jet-lagged and tangled in my mosquito net
  2. Run to the “shower” which is really a(n unpredictable) trickle of lukewarm water from a rusty faucet head. No curtain. Seriously consider chopping off all my hair to save time.
  3. Take my first taxi-moto for 400 RWF to Novotel (Laico hotel). SO TERRIFYING the first time because they go SO FAST, but I’ve grown quite accustomed to it! (JS – you better be learning how to ride a motorcycle, because I’m going to want to learn when I get back!!!)
  4. 10-minute walk to the Learning Centre at Solace Ministries

    Hotel des Milles Collines, also known as "Hotel Rwanda"

  5. Meet Moses Kiyendeye, the school director, who informs me that he wants me to teach the Beginner’s class, but if I am adamant about teaching Intermediate I will have to co-teach with Eric, a local Rwandan teacher. This comes as a total surprise and I decide to observe the Intermediate class and see whether this will be feasible. Moses introduces me to Eric, the Intermediate class instructor.

    A local Rwandan artist's studio

Summary of subsequent dialogue with the class:

Me: “Hi! My name is Lydia. I am a student at Northwestern University which is close to Chicago in the United States. At the university, I study English, African Studies, and Education. I will be teaching at the Learning Centre for the next two months, and I am very excited to get to know all of you.”

Students (sample): “My name is William. I am twenty-six years old. I am single. My favorite food is meat. My favorite sport is soccer.”

NOTE: 1) Apparently it is customary in Rwanda to be very open about one’s relationship status even when first meeting someone 2) Nearly all my students specified that their favorite food was “meat.” When asked “What kind of meat? Beef? Chicken? pork?” Most responded: “ALL meat.”

Me: “Do you have any questions for me?”

Students: “Are you single?”

Me: “Yes, I am single. Happily single.”

Students: “Are you married?”

Me (confused): “No, I am not married. I am single.”

Students (confused): “You do not have a husband?”

Me (confused): “No, I do not have a husband. I am SINGLE.”

Students (confused): “Then why do you wear that ring on your hand?”

Me (dawn of realization): [I explain that I wear a ring on my left hand ring finger because it is angled to fit on my left hand and it doesn’t fit on any other finger]

Students (indignant): “But you are not married! [They explain to me (again) that you can only wear a ring on your ring finger if you are married]”

Me (at a loss): “…”

Eric intervenes and begins the lesson.

I sit in the back and observe as the students listen to a recording and then answer multiple choice questions. Eric seems like he has a good handle on the class, but the teaching materials are … not ideal. The recording is an interview of a food critic who discusses how restaurant owners do not realize that customers often value “ambiance and quality of service” over “efficiency.” The subject of the dialogue includes terms such as “manual dexterity” which seem impractical and unnecessarily challenging to these intermediate students – many of whom have trouble even formulating complete sentences.

I went on a safari and walked up to a giraffe!

I find that Eric does not always follow the teacher’s manual that he is using. For instance, when the students are asked to give advice using the structure “If I were you …” Eric tells the students that their responses should follow “If I were you, I will…” His explanation: since “If I were you” is “past,” the following clause must be in “present.” The English major in me indignantly wants to cry out “It’s ‘If I were you, I would’” but I remain silent. I realize that it will be very challenging to co-teach and that it will give me little opportunity to use the curriculum that I have prepared.

After class, Moses expresses again that he would prefer for me to teach the beginner’s class because the intermediate class already has Eric as an instructor. I accept the proposition – but not without reservations – obviously, I do not speak Kinyarwanda and teaching the beginner’s class will require a very different curriculum from the one I have prepared. I tell Moses that I will observe the class on Friday and see if it is feasible.

I am so overwhelmed by the unexpectedness of the situation and distraught over my inability to do anything about it. I talk to Ioana, a volunteer who taught English at the Learning Centre last summer. Ioana listens patiently and says to me, “Don’t expect anything to go the way you want it to. Because it won’t. You just need to be ready for anything and take things as they come.”

These are the wise words that have kept me going.

A Kigali sunset from my front porch

Although I was initially disappointed about the situation, things definitely brightened up in the afternoon. The students have English instruction from 8:30 AM to noon everyday, and from noon to 2:00 PM, they take classes in baking, computers, or music. I spent a wonderful two hours helping students to play their first C-major scales and I was reminded once again why I love teaching. It is so gratifying when you can witness a student’s mastery of a skill or concept and get to share in the moment of success.

So that concluded my first day at the Learning Centre. Afterwards, I met up with some friends and drove around town, attended a Belgian citizens’ party, ate dinner at a Chinese restaurant (yeah, my first real meal here and I couldn’t eat anything except for plain rice. MSG-allergy = :(), met up with some Congolese musicians for drinks, and finally, bed.

URUGENDO RWIZA (Have a good night!) from Kigali 🙂