The First Week

The trip so far has been great, though replete with challenges.

 

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My flight on Ethiopian Airlines to Rwanda. I thought I took this picture in Rwanda, but I was wrong.

 

Here was my first sight of Rwanda after landing. Except it wasn’t Rwanda. It was Uganda. I went all the way through the passport line and was about to withdraw 140,000 Ugandan Shillings from the ATM to pay the visa fee when, despite my 10 hours of sleep over 3 days, it dawned on me that I should be paying in Rwandan Francs. Whoops. The sprint back to the plane (as the stair car was getting ready to pull away) was a nice stretch after 19 hours in the air.

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The actual Rwandan airport.

 

Here’s the real first sight of Rwanda, from right outside the airport. The Kigali airport was has no jetways and only had one other plane deboarding when I arrived.

 

We arrived at IPRC (Integrated Polytechnic Regional Center) Sunday afternoon and were whisked away by our host families. Jonathan (another student) and I are staying with Augustine, his wife, and his two children. We were both exhausted, but Augustine offered to show us around the city so we ventured out with him. After an hour walk, we arrived in the town of Remera. The streets were dark by the time we arrived—the sun sets around 6pm here (it rises around 5am though).

 

Augustine wanted to meet up with one of his colleagues from IPRC who is also hosting EWH students (all students were staying with IPRC faculty). We ended up meeting them at a bar and watching the live music for two hours.

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Live contemporary music, sung in Swahili, during my first night in Rwanda.

 

What a first day! I was exhausted, but managed to stay awake during the moto-taxi ride (similar to a Vespa) back to our home with Augustine. (Don’t worry, Gram, I do not plan to take a moto-taxi again)

 

 

Here’s a quick rundown of some of the highlights so far. I apologize for the long narrative but I want to give a good description of the setting here before venturing out into other topics.

 

HOMESTAY:

The host families generally get up around 5, but I’ve only been able to get up around 6. Their housemaids cook our breakfasts and dinners for us, which we eat in the living room.

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The living room at my host family’s home.

 

For breakfast we typically eat some fruit (bananas or oranges), bread, and fried eggs. Dinner always comprises a starch (either rice, potatoes, or pasta), fresh beans, some vegetables, and plantains. It took a few days for my digestive system to adjust, but finally my appetite is almost back to normal.

 

Even though our host family is considered fairly well off, they don’t having continuously running water. Instead, their water supply only works during the early mornings, at which point they fill the bathtub as a reserve to be used for the rest of the day. I can’t use any of the water for drinking or brushing teeth, but I do use it for my ‘baths.’ Our home has two toilets; one is a hole in the ground and the other is a regular toilet that is connected to the hole in the ground. Flushing consists of dumping a bucket of water down the toilet.

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Jonathan and I’s bedroom, and the nets to protect us from mosquitoes while we sleep.

 

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The bathroom. The tub is filled with water here, and the tile around the sink is actually a shower. Unfortunately, due to the lack of running water, the showerhead is useless and instead all bathers dump water on themselves using a bucket.

 

Our hosts have electricity (when their isn’t a blackout, which happens multiple times a day but usually only lasts a few seconds), a television with cable, cell phones, and a small car. They have been incredibly hospitable, like all of the Rwandan people we have met.

 

CLASSES:

From 8:00-12:00 we take Kinyarwanda lessons from our instructor, Francis. Next week we will start learning French to prepare for our work at the hospitals. In the afternoons (1:00-5:00) we have a lecture and associated lab course on medical devices in the developing world.

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Day 1 of class.

 

Today, we built an ECG simulator kit with BMETs from Rwanda. The kit will be used to test ECGs. The BMETs (Biomedical Engineering Technicians) are local Rwandans that, through a 4 year program with EWH, learn how to fix medical equipment. Their training is similar to what I am doing this summer, but much more extensive and challenging. I worked with Abraham, who was awesome at soldering!

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Abraham and I after completing our ECG test kit. Yes, even hunching over I’m considerably taller than most Rwandans. And yes, they usually stop and stare, and then shout “muzungu!” (white person).

 

All of our classes are taught at IPRC. The school offers the equivalent of bachelors degrees in mechanical, electrical, and biomedical engineering, as well programs in plumbing and other skills.

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IPRC. The entire campus is gated and guarded. All of our homestay families live within the gated campus.

 

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Some classrooms at IPRC.

 

IPRC has wifi through a 4G connection provided by Airtel, one of the wireless providers here. But with all of the students from EWH and all of the IPRC students trying to access it, it’s practically useless. In my first three days here, I was able to check email twice, which involved sending 2 and reading 30. I recently purchased my own USB internet dongle from Airtel for about $50 per month that will give me 1.5 GB a day, which is why I’m finally able to do a blog post. However, I still couldn’t have a video chat that lasted more than a continuous minute.

 

 

TRIP TO TOWN CENTRE:

Aside from Remera, I have only ventured out to one other place. Some other students and I traveled to the Town Centre by bus to get to a working ATM (a lot of them don’t have any cash in them!). It also gave us the chance to buy some snacks at a grocery store. This is a building in the main business district in Kigali, which looks more like a 21st century American city. Amazingly, just a few blocks away there are residential areas that most Americans would consider inadequate for living.

 

Just about every street corner has a soldier keeping watch. They’re usually brandishing an impressively large rifle or shotgun (I don’t have any pictures of them at the moment because I thought it might be a bad idea to stop and stare). Luckily we’ve never seen them use it, and frankly it seems unlikely that they ever would—the people are very amiable and the country is one of the safest in this part of Africa.

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View of Kigali during the bus ride to Town Centre.

 

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Town centre and some of its modern buildings.

 

 

That’s all for now! Feel free to post comments or email me at neilerens@gmail.com

 

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6 comments

  1. Neil,
    Great post! This all sounds incredible and it seems like you’re having a wonderful time. I love the story about you getting off in Uganda, haha. Can’t wait to hear more when you’re able to post!
    Monica

  2. Neil — this is very exciting trip, I am keen to hear more about it! Good luck for the next few months!

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