Return to Rwanda

by Marcel

Hello all! 

I will be returning to Rwanda in less than a week. Paul De Marco, one of our senior residents, and I will be teaching in the CASIEF/ASAGHO program for three weeks.

We’ll be blogging the trip here, and look forward to your comments!

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Blood Can Be Very Bad

Well, we are leaving this afternoon – headed into a near 24 hr journey back to Virginia and I have to say, I am quite sad to be leaving.  I’m not really ready to go back.  Many of the times at the end of a vacation I am quite eager to get back to my routine, the comforts of my surroundings, and quite frankly my incredibly wonderful bed.  But we have developed our own little routine here, found some comforts – and the bed is not that bad.

We spent our last evening going to dinner with our driver Emmy at one of our favorite restaurants, “One Stop Café.”  I was soooo looking forward to their amazing cabbage, but apparently so was the rest of Nyamirambo because they were out for the evening.  We settled for chipsi-mayai (omelet special in Rwanda – basically omelet with tomatoes, onions, and potatoes), which was quite delicious.  Each of us opting for our favorite Rwandan beverage: Marcel – orange fanta; Emmy – African tea (spiced tea with milk); Kristi – ginger tea.  It was a warm, pleasant evening.  We sat outside watching the energy and pulse of a Friday night in Nyamirambo – lots of people just out on the street laughing, talking, and music from various places joining the conversations.

I have been trying to think about what it is about this place that has got a hold on me.  There a few things:  The people here are so very kind and gentle – appropriately suspicious, but then quick to come around to open and inviting.  Everyone we have met has been so enjoyable, easy to talk with, and very genuine in their “pleased to meet you.”  The people are not just good to us, but also to each other.  Marcel has remarked how in our month here, we have only seen one incidence of violence come to the hospital.  Now, I’m sure it happens and this place isn’t perfect – but in Charlottesville, there is always someone showing up who was beat up or stabbed.  And there doesn’t seem to be a lot of violence and hatred here.  In the villages, they all help each other out with their homes, their gardening, etc.  In fact, this morning – all shops are closed and no one is working in commercial businesses because it is “community work day.”  Everyone is supposed to go to their villages and help work on any community projects that might be needed to get done.  Kigali is shut down right now.

I will miss some things about the food, I have fallen in love with their tea, chipati, sambusas (samosas), and “very goods” – which are essentially an egg roll with spicy cabbage and peas.   The food is also very simple – which I like a lot.  It would be easy to be vegetarian here, which is also nice.

I like the idea of being in a place that is just coming to, it’s like watching a kid grow up.   There is a reason this is referred to as a developing country.  And there is such a dichotomy between the city and the villages.  In the city, they are trying to mount a modern feel – everyone uses cell phones, there are wi-fi cafes, clothing shops with western fashions, cars and moto-taxis buzzing around all day and all night, running water and non-dirt floors, push to use credit cards, and you can even buy your home elecricity on your cell phone now.  Contrasted with the majority of Rwandans who live in the villages and don’t even have power, they travel several kilometers daily with large jugs to get clean water at a well, dirt floors in mud plastered homes, daily life focused on acquiring sustenance – not wealth.  So here is a country with such divergent worlds, and even the city life still struggling to be modern – and it’s so different then what I am accustomed to, and I really enjoy being a part of it.  Not that it doesn’t come without its struggles and frustrations, the medical system has huge needs and gaping holes (and don’t even get me started on the internet!!).  But part of the excitement is, seeing or even being part of the needed changes, can make a remarkable difference and have huge impacts.

And finally, I have really enjoyed the purpose for which we came – teaching the residents.  I really enjoyed the interaction with the residents and seeing them learn from what we have taught.  Like I have said many times before, they are extremely bright.  They have incredible book knowledge – they clearly read all the time, but the practical application is where they need help.  And so talking to them and going through cases has been so great to see how they “get it.”  Our last day with them, Friday, Marcel gave an amazing impromptu lecture on reading CT’s with the mnemonic Blood Can Be Very Bad – and the residents did a fantastic job.  I like teaching and want to get better at it.  Being with Marcel and seeing him in action has been very good for me – because he is an excellent teacher and an example to aspire to.

For me, this experience has been incredible.  I have absolutely loved learning about the culture, seeing the way other people live and interact, trying new foods, smelling new smells (although there are lots of terrible smells here that I will be extremely glad to leave behind), meeting wonderful people, learning anesthesia, observing another medical system, interacting with the kids (black babies are way cuter than white ones), enjoying all the new plants and trees, sharing it with Marcel (who has been an amazing travel partner and friend) and just getting outside myself.  I think being here for a month is a good amount of time – any shorter and you aren’t able to get a good feel for how things run.  I think even more time would be better – but alas, I am still a resident and have some obligations to fulfill.  So for now, I will head home – back to the grind – with my memories and pictures in tow, and immensely grateful for my time and experiences here.