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Lauren Galbraith
By Lauren Galbraith
October 5th, 2010

Lauren Galbraith of Nelson is currently in Kigali, Rwanda on a six-month placement in the land-locked, east-African country of Rwanda.

From September to February, she will be teaching, working and learning in the Biomedical Laboratory Sciences department of the Kigali Health Institute in the capital city.

It was through the Coady International Institute and St. Francis Xavier University that she received this internship, which is funded by the Canadian International Development Agency.

Galbraith, 22, graduated from L.V. Rogers in Nelson in 2006 and St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. The former Nelson Youth Soccer star and all-round athlete at LVR, will be sharing her adventures for The Nelson Daily.

Check Galbraith’s thoughts about her Rwanda vacation on the blog page.

Friends and Family. Sushi. Salmon. Multigrain bread. Running water. Fresh air. My university.

As I look back at one of my journal entries from the beginning of September, these are some of the items under a heading ‘Things I miss most about Canada’.

After having been in Rwanda for a month, almost 14,000 kilometers from home, my first impressions are endless and yet I find it quite difficult to paint the picture of what life here is really like.

As a foreigner, I will never know what a typical day in the life of a Rwandese is like, but I am trying to integrate myself so that, at least, I can learn. 

My placement at the Kigali Health Institute involved, for the first couple of weeks, a 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. work day which is short in comparison to the permanent employees who arrive at 7 a.m and don’t leave until around 7 p.m.

I was trying to organize an HIV education initiative and make lesson plans for the first course I would be teaching, analytical chemistry. Although these were very busy times, I found the most prominent lessons in Rwandan culture came outside of the workplace.

Conversations with people tend to revolve around asking what it is like in Canada, and the differences between there and here with respect to food, religion, politics, money and marriage.

Some people speak about the genocide in passing, as it has affected the entire population, but others are willing to speak about it in more detail. One of my co-workers, a beautiful woman standing at a mere 5-foot, is 24 years old and was left an orphan with two older sisters after her parents and brother were killed in ‘94.

Her sisters sacrificed their own education to work in order to pay for her post-secondary education, a fact that she feels guilty about. She told me about her friend who was left an orphan with no siblings because of the genocide, and explains how she feels blessed that she had her sisters with her.

The fact that she can step aside and feel as if her experience was not as bad as another person’s truly astounds me. Any ‘problems’ that I have seem vastly overshadowed when I hear stories like this one and, boy, does it make me appreciate my family. 

Contrary to popular belief, I am one of thousands of westerners in this city. Westerners like to fill the local ex-patriot restaurants and clubs, which tend to run at prices comparable to Canadian prices, and therefore have become a treat I only indulge in once in a while.

I like to stick to the places where locals go. Kigali is like a typical western, big city, in that there are people everywhere, but on the other hand is not so akin to a western city, for example the unconventional modes of transportation.

I take a moto-taxi to work, which costs about $1 CDN for a ten minute (exhilarating, I might add) ride, and a matatu home from work, which is about 30 cents. The difference between the two is that the moto is a dirt bike made for two (sometimes three), and the matatu is a bus crammed with thirty people and has the music blaring like a party on wheels.

Similar motives exist between the two: pass whenever possible in order to get to the destination quicker. As you can see, there are not many rules on the road. For example, I’ve seen less traffic lights in a city of about one million people than we have in Nelson.

I stumbled upon a women’s soccer team at a stadium near my house, and they are apparently the best premier team in the country, with the players making up most of the national team. I have to say that it has been quite the experience learning to communicate on the field in French and Kinyarwanda.

The team has quickly welcomed this foreigner, although I am very aware of the conversations that happen in Kinyarwanda at my expense, hence the laughing and staring at me. This is quite far removed from the old days of Nelson Youth Soccer.

At present, the political situation feels extremely safe from the eyes of a Canadian, demonstrated by the overwhelming crowd of support I stood in at the inauguration of Paul Kagame on September 6th.

One can see, however, through the likes of news stories about the recent findings of Burundian casualties washing up in rivers, that there is turmoil all around this country and undoubtedly within it. However, like any political situation in the world I can only speculate as to what is really going on.

Through all of these experiences, I feel like I am getting a unique view of Rwanda, but it is just the tip of the iceberg. Six months is barely enough to get my feet wet.

Now that I look back on that list of mostly material things that I miss about Canada,

I realize that there are many privileges that most young Canadians have that go unnoticed, such as running water, an extremely high standard of education and health care services, and endless opportunity.

Nelsonites in particular have it very good in this sense, combined with our unparalleled surroundings and way of life. I can now say that I am compiling a list of what I will miss most about Rwanda when it comes time to go home in February.

Having said that, I could really use a breakfast sandwich from Oso right about now…

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