The End

This is long overdue. These are my final thoughts on Rwanda and being a Peace Corps Volunteer:

When I think about Rwanda now, I think about the colors. The bright, yellow sun, shining down from a clear blue sky, hitting a dusty, dirt road or black pavement, amidst the brilliant green of the banana farms. I see the women, dressed in vibrant blues, purples, reds, oranges – their multi-colored fabrics, called igitenge. I see the neon orange or green of the children’s sandals. The plump, or in some cases, very, very tiny red tomatoes sold at market.

I see my village. I see myself, getting off a bus or walking to the town center. I see the lady selling bananas, everyday on the side of the road. I see my bus guy, Mustafa. The village is a challenging place to live. There are no modern-day amenities. Out of my two cell phones, one did not have internet capabilities, or talking capabilities at the end, and the other took at least 10 minutes to load Facebook. I was not plugged-in or connected by Bluetooth to anything wireless.

Most people were very nice and more hospitable toward me than anyone I’ve ever met. Some people accepted me as a member of their family as soon as I entered their house. Some people called me munzugu, stared, pointed and asked me for money or asked me to be their wife. But with every day, I built my life there, and with every day, I slowly lost the life I left in the States.

The challenges of the village pushed me to accomplish things I never thought I could. I taught five classes of 40+ students. I spoke a language most people can’t pronounce the name of. I helped a cooperative expand and grow. I ran faster and farther. I tried to understand a complicated culture, and shared my own. I drank the “beer of men.” And I gave a few young girls more courage and more hope for their own futures. The challenges are, in many ways, what kept me there. I knew my presence was felt, whether or not it was always appreciated.

Now, I am home and rebuilding a new life for myself. I wish I was asked more questions about Rwanda, about what I did with the past two years. I seldom talk about it. My favorite question so far about Rwanda was “how was your trip?” It was much more than a trip, and a much bigger achievement than simply boarding a flight, seeing a few sights and returning safely home again.  The kids shouted “Sala,” the old mamas greeted me as “Uwela,” the students called me “teacher” – my trip was my life for more than two years. It was a surreal immersion into one place, one village, which shaped me as a person and gave me so much to be grateful for.

But most questions seem to be about what I plan to do, and I have few answers. I do have a plan, but putting the plan into action is proving to be more difficult than I thought it would be. And everything about America is much more confusing, even though I actually understand all the words people say.

I remember the day I left America to start my journey across the ocean with 37 other Americans I didn’t know. Chris dropped me off at the airport, with all four of my giant bags. The baggage claim man took them, and I turned to say goodbye to Chris and hug one last time before he drove away. I was terrified, but the only place I could go was inside the airport and board my flight. While I didn’t know where I was going really, I had a name of a country and the next few steps planned out for me. And if I did decide to turn around, Chris would have been there for me.

The night before I left my village, a good friend of mine came to spend the night at my house. We visited Mama Pasi. We ate a dinner of ibitoche, meat and rice. We drank Amarula and watched a show about the Chinese New Year celebration in Kigali on Rwanda TV. As we left her house, it was nighttime. The town center was quiet and only a few lights were on outside of the main shops. As per Rwandan custom, Mama Pasi accompanied myself and my friend from her house to the main road. We hugged; she looked at me, tilted her head, and gave one last Rwandan “yoooo” with a slight smile as I turned to walk down the deserted road. In front of me was simply a dark road framed by arching banana leaves. There is no turning around and I have no idea what is at the end.

At our last Peace Corps conference in August, the Close of Service Conference, my group of 37 had dwindled to 21. For three days we talked about the next steps and where to go from here. We were also asked to write a six-word memoir trying to capture our experiences in just six-words. I knew mine had to involve bananas, as my village was one of the biggest banana exporters in all of Rwanda. It also turned out to be the perfect way to describe my service.

Hidden in banana trees, beautiful lives.



Usually I type blogs a long time before I post them, this is the first real-time blog I’ve ever had. I don’t really have any stories to tell. I guess that is what makes the second year a little better than the first. The stories from last year just become life and it seems like nothing I do is that unusual anymore.

I’m taking a small vacation, for a week. My mom is visiting. We will go to the museums and to the lake to celebrate my birthday (complete with a funfetti cake!) Then we will go back to the village and meet the people. More than anything, I’m interested to know what has become normal to me, and see how not normal it is to others. I guess I should write a blog after my mom leaves, that will probably be more interesting.

So I’m sitting at our hotel, I spent the last hour scrolling through Facebook news feed even though I read like a total of five statuses out of 500.  I ate the breakfast provided, including bread in a toaster, otherwise known as toast, and pretended like I was going to do some more of my grant completion report. I still have two classes of exams to grade. Momma’s still sleeping, as people should be when they just flew 24 hours around the world. I’m also a freak now that has to wake up at 5:45 in the morning. I already ran, showered, ate and blogged — it is 8:15.

Today we’re going to the Milles Colliene hotel to use their pool. It’s the dry season in Rwanda, which means there is a negative percent chance it will rain, be even slightly overcast, or  be anything other than incredibly sunny. Rwanda really is a beautiful country, and I am really happy to share it with someone from home.

Being the dry season, a.k.a. summer, and it’s summer in most parts of the world, which means it’s also tourist season. Old people tour groups seeing all their is to see before they can no longer move on their own. Youth groups and young missionaries galore, changing the world in just three-weeks time — one of them just said the words “bartering with respect.” If you barter with respect, you’re getting overcharged. I just bought a jacket at the market, and not only do you have to lie, trick and schmooz the seller so he does not charge you $20 for used clothing, you also have to be picky and demand exactly what you want. The tourists are literally everywhere.

I don’t want to judge the tourists, I think in some ways it’s really great for them to come to Rwanda, or other African countries. It influences more open-mindedness about the world, especially for Americans, who sometimes live in a really secure bubble — separated from everything either by gigantic fences or oceans. What I’ve learned after two years is that you are not going to influence an overriding change in education or in culture. Some tourists who come to do “good things” can forget that … but that’s easy to forget when you’re having really great experiences with group-led activities involving one group of people in one part of a country. Living here, you see when that group of people goes back to real life, and the change that was there is almost non-existent.

It really is about the experience. Leaving a country after a two-year Peace Corps service or a shorter term youth or study abroad program, all you really need is just to feel good about what you accomplished, the people you met and how you interacted with those people. Whether or not that one student will ever be able to break free from village life, or even want to, is not as important as giving that student a week where they feel special and appreciated. But I also have a LOT more free time to really analyze what I’m doing, how it’s affecting others and how it’s affecting me. And honestly, that is probably the biggest difference between me and all the others who come.

**I just found this post from July. I thought I lost it, but alas, it is still here.


The dry season, as a friend of mine here so brillantly explained, is like a person who is slowly poking you. While four straight months of sunshine and dry heat probably sounds really enticing to many people in the eastern part of the U.S., it’s not as great as it sounds.

May is such a relief, after the April bucket rains pouring down causing my village to become incredibly, and unexplainably muddy. No longer does anyone have to worry about the rain to plan trips, to walk to the market, to make it to church or to run in the morning (that’s just for me.) The dry season poke is not even felt. Then it’s June. The dust fills the air like a factory spilling smog, people become much more cautious about their water usage and the only thing drying on the roads is sorghum seeds. The heat starts to become hotter. July hits and water starts to run dry. Even sorghum is in short supply. The heat is relentless and the dust at times is an equivilant to breathing in pollution. But July is only making it half way. There is no rain until the end of August. There is nothing to refill the water tanks. The fields are still empty. The poke is finally digging into the skin, hitting the bone as everyone just waits for the rain to start again. Toto couldn’t be more right when he sings “God bless the rains in Africa.”

The rains also bring the start of third term, Ed. 3’s last term as Peace Corps Volunteers. Some of the cultural eccentricities of Rwanda are a lot like the dry season … a gentle poke until it finally starts to hurt. But the things that are good about Rwanda always bring the mind back and at the end, many volunteers realize the good things about service have outweighed the bad.

With three months to go, and only a mere eight weeks of teaching left, the good Rwanda is easier to find and appreciate. Watching as our Girls Leading Our World students danced their traditional dance to a song called “Abana Beza” (Beautiful/Good Children), kicking up the dust that has settled in the classrooms is something so unique to many villages in Rwanda, and maybe throughout Africa. Looking through old photographs of the families I’ve grown to love here, finding out about their past, seeing where they started and where they are now. Realizing in these photographs, I know many of the main family members by name.

Living in a foreign country, it’s easy to forget that I’ve made a life here because it’s not my home. I left most of the things and people that made me happy before. Living through my first year as a volunteer, I wanted so much to already have a life here, as I had before, but that feeling didn’t really manifest until this year. My relationships with families in the village are stronger than they were. More people know my story, so instead of me explaining who I am and where I work, the villagers do it for me. The market ladies always greet me with a smile every Wednesday. But, it would take a year to feel at home anywhere.

 When I tell my village I’m leaving in November, I get the same response, the sad Rwandan “yooooooo.” Leaving this life in a lot of ways will be more difficult then when I left home. There are no more classrooms full of dust to kick up in the midst of a passionate dance. There is no random neighbor who can explain who I am or where I work (although that would be difficult since I don’t have a job!) There are no families who have accepted a stranger as a daughter in just a few short months of meeting me. While, obviously, I’ll have my real family, everything else and everyone else I’ve left have continued without me. Old houses of mine have new tenants. Friends have new jobs and new responsibilites. Pets I’ve owned have died or became much too comfortable in a different life. Jobs have not magically manifested.

Two years never felt that long to me until I spent two years in a Rwandan village. I had two birthdays in a foreign country. I had to create a new life only to leave it after two years and start over again. I’ve never been a volunteer who was passionate about extending, staying here would not be beneficial and just prolong the prospect of coming home. Starting a Peace Corps service is scary because one never knows exactly what they are getting into, but coming home is scary for the opposite reason — I know what to expect. 

Mama Pasi

Owning a beer distributer in a small Rwandan village is a remarkably good job. Mama Pasi and her family make a pretty good living selling crates of Fanta and beer throughout the general area. Their house is modern, blocked from the dirt path by a brick fence and metal gate. The yard is perfectly manicured, and the front porch has seats, perhaps used less frequently than any other outside seating area. The living room has two large couches and two arm chairs, complete with coushins of a yellow and white flower pattern. The coffee table has four small tables, serving as personal tables for guests and their Fantas. There’s a fake flower arrangement in the middle. The walls are adorned with photographs. There’s even a year-long Christmas tree that stands in the corner, decorated with garland and lights. In the other corner there’s a TV, along with a DVD player, which her youngest son, Patrick, would never leave if he had the choice.

The living room opens up into a dining room. A large table with six chairs is often crowded with guests during lunch and dinner. The quintessential Rwandan home always has some kind of armour or cabinet to hold glasses, plates, serving bowls and small jerry cans or water or ikivuguto, a milky yogurty substance, like spoiled milk, only kind of delicious. On the other wall is a refrigerator, which holds literally nothing except an extra Fanta or two.

Outside the dining room leads to a dark blue hallway, which opens to five bedrooms — one for the parents, one for guests and the other three for the children when they are home from school. She has four children. Pasi is the oldest. He is 27, just finished university and is helping his parents with their beer distributer business. He is the manager at the bar just a few blocks away. He studied biology in university and hopes to return to school to work in medicine one day. The next is Clarisse. An obvious Kigali girl stuck in the village. Last year she finished secondary school and requested for an early admission to a Kigali university. She is finishing her second year of university and lives in Kigali. Then there is Maleze. She is in Senior3 at a boarding school in Rwamagana, about an hour from Kigali. The last is Patrick, he is about 13-years-old, but does not attend school. He has a mental problem and schools in Rwanda are not equipped to work with most people like Patrick. So he stays at home, watches films and complains about having to take baths. He is very loved by the family, which is refreshing to see when some Rwandan families do not accept people with mental issues as their own.

They also watch after a young girl named Delphine, who just finished her secondary education and is waiting to hear from the government where she will go to university. Delphine is 19-years-old, born just a few months before the genocide started. Her family lived in a town called Kirehe, just a few kilometers from Mama Pasi. During the genocide, all of Delphine’s immediate family was murdered and her house destroyed. Mama Pasi found Delphine in the rubble and took her to raise her as her own — both of the families had been friends for a long time before. The land the house was on and the farmland was given to Delphine’s uncle until Delphine was old enough to run it herself. Now, the uncle won’t give it back. Her story is common in Rwanda.

Looking through old family photos of Mama Pasi and her family, Delphine is always there. And even now, Delphine is referred to as her daughter. The photos from before the genocide show a younger, thinner Mama Pasi. Her face is still incredibly recognizable. Her and her husband were married in 1984, and her first son born in 1986. Her wedding dress looked like it came straight from a vintage 50’s catalog. Long-sleeved and lace at the top. A simple straight line flowed into a small train. Before, she was a teacher in the village. Shetaught at the primary school that is connected to my school. The onion lady at the market remembers her as a teacher. Mama Pasi was her teacher. When she married, her and her husband started a small shop. There’s a picture of Pasi and Clarisse behind the counter in the shop with Mama Pasi off to the side.

She is now 48-years-old, not as thin as she once was, but still here in this village with her family. Her shop has grown from one room to a distributer with Braliwa, the distributer for almost all Fanta and beer in Rwanda. And not only does the family have one distributer, but two, along with the bar that Pasi manages. They live in a desirable location in the village and know almost every other family. Once, after being invited to a wedding of a fellow coworker, Mama Pasi sat down to talk to me about how that family is known for poisening and I should be careful at the wedding.

Their hallway opens into the courtyard where the multiple umukozi the family has employed live and work. In the two years I’ve lived here, they have hired and fired at least five umukozi, which are the house workers to help clean and cook. The kitchen has two wood burners and a small charcoal stove that is used outside. There is a storage pantry for the ever popular banana and any other vegetables or starches the family is planning to cook. Here in the court yard, I shared with the family my photographs during last year’s Hero’s Day holiday. I helped to cut the food for dinner. I learned to make a Rwandan spinach soup called idodo.

In her house, Delphine and I watch The Beat, a RwandaTV version of TRL. We have shared many meals, and she graciously cooked a Rwandan feast when my mom was visiting, complete with isombe, my favorite Rwandan dish. Everytime Patrick sees me, he greets me with a kiss on the hand, the only boy to ever do that and really mean it. She invites me to family events and I make sure to at least visit her once a week either at her shop or at her home. Getting to know her and her family is one of the best parts of my service.

And I don’t believe in … time

For the past two months, I’ve pretended it was May. I stopped counting April as a month once I booked a plane ticket to Thailand and reserved a spot to raft on the Nile River. As it is now actually May and I can claim officially that I am six months away from nachos, hot showers and so many dogs … dogs just everywhere.

Between trying not to focus too much on time, enjoying the rest of my time here and deciding what to do with my time after, my life is a lot like that Hootie and the Blowfish song, called “Time.” (Which, by the way, Kristen and I can sing in a pretty amazing duet.) I’ve started to let my mind wander to Christmas at home with a Christmas tree and presents, to Pittsburgh’s Haufbrau Haus beer hall and giant liter beers, to laundry machines and running water.

I’ve started to wonder how many more times I’ll have to carry heavy jerrycans of water or wash my clothes in a bucket. And I’ve started taking bets with myself of whether or not my school will have a celebration for my departure (either to thank me or to celebrate that I’m finally leaving.)

I like to think what Rwandan villagers would do in America. Flying home for the holidays, my first glimpse of the Western world was the Amsterdam airport. As I sat with my blueberry muffin and coffee, I tried to imagine a Rwandan woman, dressed in igitenge, baby on her back and giant bag of who knows what on her head, standing across from me. I tried to imagine what she would do, where she would go. I could only picture her standing there, staring, not moving.

While I was visiting friends in Pittsburgh, I tried to imagine a Rwandan landscape on S. 18th Street. Standing on my friend’s front stoop, I looked across the road, alive with cars no matter what time of day, to a forest of winter trees, power lines and giant billboards. I wanted to replace it with the rolling Rwandan hills, complete with banana trees, people and, of course, the unavoidable goat.

But slowly, even after only three weeks, where I was living for those 17 months started to feel like a dream – I knew I had left, but I couldn’t quite understand where I had gone. Even as I start to fantasize my life after Rwanda and to get excited about coming home, I am also trying to soak in what I’ve grown to love about Rwanda.

A friendly mwaramutse from Emmanwel, a security guard at the school. Mama Pasi asking where I’ve been when I haven’t seen her for just a few days. Holding the hand of the school accountant’s little girl as we walk down the street. Teaching those students who I know really want to learn. Chatting with students after class about the secret Illuminati cult, claiming members like Jay-Z, Beyonce and Barack Obama (I am not sure where they hear these things.)

When I leave my village, I want to remember it for what it is – a banana-loving, slow-paced, always somehow confusing place where people really just want to know where you’ve been, how you’re doing and when you’re coming to visit. But time is a funny thing; even just three weeks of life as a normal, American citizen made what I had experienced seem unreal. And just one week adjusting to life in Rwanda made me prouder to be American than I had ever been before.

While I believe that Rwandan woman I imagined in the Amsterdam airport would eventually adapt into a latte-loving, stroller-pushing, Western mom. Or that my friends and I could have just as easily been standing on a front porch stoop in a Rwandan village. I’ve started realizing that I don’t actually want these two places, these two times to overlap.

I want to appreciate America and be proud of our country in all its 24-hour shopping/eating/drinking glory. I want Rwandan women to continue carrying their babies on their back and Rwandan men to continue enjoying their Primus in dingy, one-room bars. I want to finish living my reality of buckets, screaming children and chalk dust until it becomes my dream. And to dream of margaritas, Christmas ornaments and beer halls until it becomes my reality.

The Saga of Alan

Last year, I acquired a cat. My friend’s cousin’s cat had kittens that needed a home. If he didn’t find a home for the kittens, he was going to take them out to the woods, where it would have been every kitten for itself. When I first got to my village, I was actively searching for a cat. But being pretty unsuccessful in my search, I let the dream die and accepted my cat-less life. I even started pursuing a new dream – purchasing a goat. So I was hesitant to take the cat, but agreed anyway. (And hence my dream of owning a goat has sadly died.)

 One day, after school, my friend and I took the bus to Nyakarambi, a bigger town (there is internet, oats and apples!)20 minutes away toward the Tanzania border. We walked to her cousin’s house, down the main street, arriving at the small red house with blue windows and pink flowers. We sat in the living room, drank the obligatory Fanta and then headed out back.

 The family had more than just cats to give away. We hacked down some papaya with a super-long machete, hacked down some sugarcane stalks with a regular machete and picked lemongrass for tea – called muchyaichyai, I think because it is mainly used to sweeten tea, which is called ichyai. Then, the neighbor children brought out the cats.

 I wanted a boy to avoid any kittens in the future, and according to the children, there was only one boy out of the four kittens. Using a box from an old radio/speaker type item, we packed up the cat. With cat, papaya, sugarcane and lemongrass all ready to go, we headed back to the bus.

 As dusk fell and faded into night, my new friend meowed for most of the 20 minute bus ride, leading to strange looks from the other riders. We took him to my house, opened the box, and there he sat – a real, living thing, I was now somewhat responsible for.

 The cat spend the first few days hiding inside, behind pillows, in blankets, underneath my backpack, wherever he could go and maybe forget that he was now all alone, in terms of cats. I had to carry him outside, so he would get used to being outside. I even, at one point, worried he wasn’t eating enough, force-fed him banana. He has not eaten a banana since that traumatic event.

 Eventually, he started to get more comfortable, and his true colors started to show. One night, while I was cooking, he went crazy, ran out of the house and straight into my stove, knocking over the omelet I was cooking and probably burning himself a little since it is fire. He had an odd, twitchiness about him; he often would fling himself into strange positions, or fall over randomly. He was not clever, as cats are often thought to be. I knew the names I had picked out, Albus and Gandolf, the cleverest of wizards, would not suit him.

 Then I left for three weeks to Zanzibar. Leaving my nameless cat with a neighbor and figuring if he was still alive (I was really not expecting to see him again) I would find him a name. But, three weeks later, there he was – alive and well, even a little bigger than before. And then he became Alan, lovingly named after Zach Galifinakis’ character in The Hangover, a little dumb but hilarious and loving all the same.

 Alan discovered a love for avocados and meows for at least 15 minutes every night to see if I’ll give him one. Whenever I would make tortillas, he would try to eat the dough, but not the cooked tortilla. He is almost always right under my feet, meowing away while I am cooking to see if he can get any food. He has his own food – he eats a small dried fish from the market called ijanga. No amount of gently kicking, pushing or throwing can deter him from sticking his head in everything.

 He found a love for climbing my tree and walking around on the roof. Cats are supposed to be afraid of heights, but little Alan really has no fear. I lock him outside when I go away for a weekend or during school, and I am almost always greeted by dead lizard and frog carcasses when I return.

When he was younger, he might go outside in the evening to explore, but he would always come back around 8 or 9 o’clock to sleep with me inside. In his older age, he’s turned into more of a daredevil, staying out all night and coming back at 6:00 in the morning. He runs promptly into the bed, curling up inside the covers. When I leave for school at 7:00, I have to carry him back outside while he makes the saddest meow. Once or twice, he’s stayed outside after I open the door and followed me to the edge of school property when I go on a morning run. He sits and waits and runs with me back to the house.

 Recently, I left his outside, as I always do, to go away for the weekend. Usually, as soon as he hears the door open, he quickly shows up. This time, however, I returned to my house on Saturday, but Alan didn’t come back until Monday morning. For a moment I was worried he was gone forever, and while that meant I wouldn’t have to find someone to watch him for two weeks in April, I was a little sad I wouldn’t have my little friend anymore. As annoying as he can be sometimes, he does entertain me. But there was also a part of me that knew he wasn’t gone forever.

 Even though I was hesitant to take him, hesitant to name him, and for the first month I had him, expecting him to die, I’ve really started to warm up to him. And I think, maybe because of all the avocados I give him, he’s started to warm up to me too. He knows his home is waiting for him when his nighttime rendezvous are over – the door is literally always open.

 Everyone wants to know what I will do with him when I leave, if I will take him with me, but the hassle it would be to get him to America is hardly worth the stress, especially on Alan. Alan is thoroughly a Rwandan cat and when I leave, he will make a Rwandan very happy.

 As my dean of studies just told me: “It will be a good gift. I wait for the gift.” 

Ubuzima Bwiza

Sometimes I imagine my life after Rwanda, where I’ll be, what I’ll be doing – and in almost every daydream I’m holding a hot dog or really appreciating the fact that I could very easily purchase a hot dog. The first three months I lived here, I missed food more than people. The comfort of the morning coffee in my favorite zebra-striped mug, the gooeyness of a grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup, an unhealthy obsession with nachos – I wanted food, the food I always had. But, like with everything else, eventually those cravings start to subside, life adapts to new norms and I found new food to appreciate. Certain meals shared with others are often the best memories I have from these past 17 months. And I will share some of those meals with you.

  • Christmas Eve dinner, not on Christmas Eve. After a nice day of shopping and an incredible nap while House Hunters was on, my mom and dad made me our traditional Christmas Eve dinner – ham, potatoes and broccoli casserole. It reaffirmed my love for ham. Thanks mom and dad.
  • Brochettes with grilled ibitoche and urusenda. Recently, my friend and I went to Mama Pasi’s house, where you will almost always certainly get food. This time was especially delicious. Urusenda is a home-made spicy sauce thing that is delicious on meat. The ibitoche balanced it all out so it wasn’t overwhelmingly spicy. And Mama Pasi appreciated my friend’s ability to talk way more in-depth Kinyarwanda than me.
  • Isombe with rice and chips. My favorite Rwandan meal. Isombe is a soup-like sauce made from cassava-like leaves mashed up in a giant mortar and pestle. After the leaves are mashed, they are slow-cooked for a few hours with animal bones, garlic, tomatoes, salt and onions. You put that over rice or chips or both and it is just so good. I tell everyone it’s my favorite meal hoping someone will make it for me.
  • Chicken tika masala and naan bread. So this is not Rwandan, at all, but in Rwanda I developed a love for Indian food. Maybe it’s all the spices when there usually are none, or maybe it is that I get to eat the food with my hands, or maybe it’s the naan. Naan has to be one of the best breads.
  • Chapati with a bean sauce. Chapati is something like a corn tortilla, only fluffier. There is one restaurant in Rwamagana that has the best beans and if you go early, they have freshly made chapatti. Put those two things together and you’ve got yourself a great meal. Plus, it costs a total of 50 cents.
  • Macaroni and cheese. This is one comfort food from home I would not have been able to live without. In fact, macaroni and cheese has become such an integral part of my diet that I am not sure what I will do when I finally run out of the cheese sauce packets. It’s a scary thought.
  • Salmon or Indian Dal burgers. A new creation of mine is to make salmon burgers or, when I don’t have salmon, which is most often, to make burgers out of Indian Dal. With taco seasoning and some other spices, it’s pretty delicious. Then I wrap those suckers in cabbage (there’s no lettuce) and put a slice of tomato and avocado on top. I finish it off with some siracha hot sauce as ketchup. (Perhaps the only useful thing I learned from Red Robin is to use lettuce as a bun.)
  • Fish with fried ibitoche chips and tomato sauce. One teacher at the school cooks the best food. This day stands out as one of the best meals. She made fried ibitoche chips coated in a tomato, garlic sauce with a small piece of fish, finished with an avocado on top. Every time I eat at her house, I make sure she knows I love her food.
  • Pop tarts, toast with apple butter, applesauce, chocolate, a beer and my house. After a good 20 hours of being on a plane, plane food and a whole lot of JFK airport, this is what I ate. It was no hot dog shop, but still pretty delicious.
  • Crepes. I love crepes. During training, we found a crepe shop, and while the crepes always took at least two hours, it was the first thing I found that did not make me feel ill on a regular basis. Because of this, crepes will always hold a special place in my heart.
  • Grilled fish, rice and a potato-coconut curry. Literally the best food I’ve ever eaten. Zanzibar is known for its spices, and coconuts abound, so when we found a random Zanzibarian to cook us a meal, we assumed it would be good, but I never would have guessed exactly how good it was. On travel shows, the host sometimes is at a loss for words to describe the taste, and that’s how I feel about this meal.
  • Christmas dinner in Rwanda. An epic display of traditional and non-traditional Christmas dishes, cooked to perfection and complimented by wine and dessert. Add in good friends, comfortable accommodations (thanks embassy worker guy!) and a wiener dog and you’ve got yourself a great Christmas away from home.
  • Chinelo’s birthday cake. Before Rwanda, I did not really care for chocolate, especially when it came to cakes. But chocolate cake with a home-made Paula Dean recipe chocolate icing now makes the list of one of the best things I’ve eaten. If only all the cakes in Rwanda were that good.
  • La Goulette chicken and ice cream. Nothing really quenches the hunger like a roast chicken with chips. It also helps that I feel more alive after eating an entire ½ a chicken because I’ve finally ingested protein. Then ice cream for dessert, yum!
  • Meze Fresh. The day Meze Fresh Burrito Bar opened in Kigali, I felt more at peace with the world than ever before. It’s pretty much Chipotle with super delicious pork. And tortilla bowls. Thank goodness that California guy decided to move to Kigali.
  • Mole sauce with cheese quesadillas. Rick Bayless makes a pretty great mole sauce packet. And Kim Baskin makes a pretty great cheese quesadilla. Mix those two together and you’ve got yourself a pretty great meal.

While I’m certain the amount of time I spend thinking and daydreaming about food is not healthy, and will certainly not be healthy when I have access to all the junk food one could ever want, it is rewarding – especially when I actually get to eat it.