July 19th, 2013

A day in Gisenyi. Lake Kivu and the hot springs!

The Last Melon…

I have been incredibly reluctant to write this blog post because it means that my time here in Rwanda is coming to an end. How does one go from being incredibly homesick to falling in love with the country within months?  I am starting to feel homesick for Rwanda! Darn culture shock for being right!

With only one week left of work in the hospital, my partner and I have WAY to much to get done. It’s not going to be easy and we are absolutely going to have to put in extra hours of work, but it is going to be absolutely worth it.  We FINALLY convinced the ICT people to remove their “storage’ (aka junk/piles of nothing important) from the new technician’s work room. This only took 3 weeks of cajoling and about four visits to the hospital director.  Now we can start working on fixing up the workroom so that the technicians have a place to do their work.  Our plan is to use much of the materials and scraps that are all around the hospital: old doors as the workbenches, old storage cabinets, and scrap wood into pegboards.  I am seriously praying not only does our plan and budget get approved, but that we actually finish our project next week.  We also have to work on our secondary projects and finish up the equipment we have been working on. Nothing like working under pressure. 

For our secondary projects, Astride and I have though about hanging up more line for drying clothes. It seems that even though there is a washing and drying unit in the hospital, people within the different wards are always using the bushes and grass to dry uniforms, rags, and other such items. We figured that buying some line for them would be a great use of our budget, since a little goes a long way!  We also want to get a bag or two of cement and fill a huge crack in one of the pathways right in the entrance of the hospital. Perhaps we will even add a wheel-chair ramp, but that is if budget and time allows for it. 

Last weekend the gang and I went to Gisenyi on Saturday.  We sat around at the beach of Lake Kivu and then walked for about an hour up and down the mountains to visit the natural hot springs.  There were many children near the hot springs that took us all around the island. We treated them with candy afterwards : )

Today I did some laundry for the last time. I have been planning when I am going to wear what so I can donate most of my clothes CLEAN! I also need to wash my shoes up real good before I donate them.  Not sure exactly when I am going to find the time to do that… There is an all girls orphanage right in Butare that I have already taken some items and am going to drop off the rest before I leave.  I hope one day I come back to Rwanda and see girls wearing Montour and RIT shirts. Would be very cool. 

I promise to write at the end of next week and update everyone on how much of our projects we were able to complete! Be home literally before you know it….


July 10th, 2013


The past week and a half in Rwanda has been, well, Rwandaful! I have done and experienced many new things this past week, especially the weekend that it totally flew by! Can you even believe I only have 2 and a half weeks left here?

Starting with the beginning of last week, the first new thing I did was taking my braids out.  Sad, I know, but they had to go! Far too tight and far too heavy. I was an African for about a week. That’s pretty good, right?

Later in the week I glued my very first official seal of approval on a fixed piece of equipment!  We were able to fix an infant incubator by replacing the battery. A quick but very important fix.  Incubators here are rare, so there are typically numerous babies per incubator.  When we returned this specific one, they were able to move a newborn from a baby warmer to the incubator!  It was awesome to see it being put to use the minute we returned it. Instant gratification.


My seal of approval on the first incubator we fixed!

I also started jogging regularly after work… up and down one of the many mountains of Rwanda. The pictures do not give it any justice, so let’s just say Montour’s cross country course has got NOTHING on the rolling hills of Rwanda.  People driving by on motos or in trucks always honk and cheer me on, it’s awesome.


The view on my way back up the mountain

Last Friday I took my very first moto! We were advised not to take them, especially in Kigali, but man are they convenient.  And fun too!!  Anything beats being squished between many people with bags on a bus.

Saturday I went to Musanze with the whole group of students and we stayed with the group of three girls who are living there this month.  It was SO much fun!  It was awesome to get us all together in a big group again.  So this was my first time in the Northern Province of Rwanda and my first time to see volcanoes.  We did not actually go to hike the volcanoes, but you can see them from most parts of town in Musanze.  I also had sugar cane and Ugandan Gin for the first time on Saturday.  I tell you it is a very, very good thing sugar cane does not grow in the US….  All of that was for our dear Rwandan friend, Alex, who we threw a party for.  He was so excited that we got him a cake that said “Murakoze Alex” or “Thank you Alex” because he has been such a great friend to us all.  Don’t think we would have such great experiences in Rwanda without him!

Volcano in Musanze

Sugar cane!!!

Sunday I quiet literally traveled across the country in one day.  From the Northern Province we went to Kigali and then from there back to Butare. About 5 hours total on a bus.  I was so ready to be back in Butare after that ordeal!  We made a quick (3 hour) pit stop in Kigali for some supplies that we needed to fix another incubator.  We quite literally found a “Hardware Store” in which we had to go through multiple other stores, passing women sewing clothes and such, until we got to people who knew what we wanted.  They seriously rigged these transformers to be the exact specifications we needed right in front of us. It was hysterical! And something I will NEVER experience anywhere else, I am sure of that.

Monday I fixed my first piece of equipment all on my own.  This was exciting because the first thing I checked ended up being the problem.  The machine is called a LensMeter and before opening it up I decided to check the fuses. Sure enough, they were missing?! Not sure how that happens, but all I had to do was replace them and it was working good as new : )  We also fixed two syringe pumps on Monday.  The first we replaced the LED light that indicates when the battery is charging.  The second was just a simple user error.  The nurses in the ICU were very excited to get their syringe pumps back in good working order.

Yesterday I helped install an entire endoscope machine and was very interesting.  Emanuel, our homestay host and fellow technician, loves to teach us the ins and outs of all the equipment.  Being that he’s been a technician at CHUB for ten years, he was very wise words to say about all types of equipment.  I am learning so much from him.

Today Astride and I moved every piece of equipment in storage from one room to another. Even the huge X-ray machine.  It took us about three hours of non-stop work but we finally got it done! The new work space for the technicians is going to be awesome, I can’t wait to finish it!

This weekend the group is going to Gisenyi! I am very excited to travel to yet another new part of Rwanda.  We will be near the Congo boarder, close enough you can see over into the country!

Love and miss everyone, but I never wanna leave Rwanda!!!


June 29th, 2013

T.I.A. – This Is Africa

Since I last wrote, we had been jam-packing our last couple days together in Kigali with many activities. Last Thursday, we went to the Inema Arts Center where we met Emanuel. He is an artist from Rwanda that now travels all over the world with other artists along with having this gallery in Rwanda.  The art was amazing! They even had a room of artwork done by children, most of which are orphans of the area. At around 5 pm that day, the children came to Inema to practice their traditional dancing, and we stood in awe at their talent. Absolutely amazing!

Emanuel posing with some of his own artwork at the gallery.

I made some new friends at Inema!

Friday was another day at CHUK Hospital in Kigali and the team was able to fix a few more items! Jamie and I were able to make an incubator alarm work by replacing the battery pack and taping a bottle cap to the alarm for added pressure.  Later that day we went to see a movie and of course in the middle of it the lights went out for about 10 minutes.  That’s when we like to say, “TIA, This is Africa!” Many events such as this happen and you just have to laugh about it.  Friday night we went to a few clubs with some local friends and had a blast! The Rwandans are crazy in the sense that they will start going out around 10 or 11 pm and stay out until 8 am! We had to call it a night at 2 pm like the Muzungus that we are. 

Saturday we spent the day by walking all around Kigali to Meze Fresh (the Chipotle of Rwanda), going to an incredibly large market, and then later that night attending a birthday party. 

Sunday the group headed out to the Milles Collines Hotel (from Hotel Rwanda).  We had lunch and sat by the pool for the majority of the day.  It was awesome to relax and hangout before going to our regional hospitals one last time. 

The Milles Collines Hotel and pool. Please direct your attention to Isaiah Washington in the bottom right corner in all white. He was in Rwanda for the gorilla naming ceremony. 

A HUGE Pointsetta-looking bush, just for you grammy : )

Monday we had off from classes so some of the girls and I decided to get our hair in all braids!  I did not get mine done on Monday, but on Tuesday after class.  Monday morning, however, we went to ABC, African Bagel Coop for breakfast and it was SO GOOD! I love finding these little places to eat around Rwanda and supporting their efforts.  The hair braiding took a total of 20 hours for the 3 of us!  It is SO worth it, however, because now I don’t have to wash my hair as often (which is truly a pain here).  I may have to take it out after a week or so, however, because my scalp is always hurting from all the weight! We’ll see though : )

Enjoying the 6 hour long process or acting?

Finished product in my new hand-made skirt! So Rwandan.

Wednesday night was the last night with out host family, and what did they want me to do? Kill a chicken for dinner… I tried my best but I COULD NOT get the knife to the neck of that poor animal so I truly didn’t do the murdering of the chicken, but I did do all of the other preparations.  After the head is cut off, the blood is drained.  Then the chicken is put in boiling water in order to pick all of the feathers off.  After that, it’s just like cutting any other chicken that still has bones and guts in it.  It was quite the experience.  I also present my host mom with her gift, which was a cute little candy dish/bowl, some tea towels and washcloths, candy, and a dictionary.  She was very, very excited!

Astride helping me prepare the chicken!

Christine ecstatic about her gifts!!

Thursday morning was departure time! Astride and I were off to Butare and the others were off to their regional hospitals! It only took about 2 hours to get to Butare from Kigali, so we arrived at our new host family’s home in no time! My host dad’s name is Emanuel and my host mother is Celine.  They have a baby boy of 3 months whose name is Darlin.  They are such a sweet couple and LOVE their baby, which is awesome to see.  Emanuel works at the hospital as a technician and Celine is a nurse in the ICU!  So every morning we are going to get a ride with them into work.  The walk isn’t too bad, however, about 2 km.  On Thursday Astride and I walked all around Butare exploring, we even stopped at the hospital to check it out.  On our way there, we stopped by the University of Butare, and what do you know, but about 20 monkeys were just hanging out by the entrance! It was hysterical!! We also stopped at Inzozi Nziza, a start up company that serves really good ice cream amongst other little things to snack on! I think Astride and I will be frequenting there quite often. 

View of Butare from our homestay!

Bunch of monkeys hanging out by the entrance of the university!

Yummy ice cream with mango and bananas on top at Inzozi Nziza

Yesterday was our first full day of work. I was ready by 6:30 am for breakfast and we left around 7:10 am even though both Celine and Emanuel said they start work at 7 am (TIA).  There was supposed to be a team meeting for the technicians that never happened (TIA) so we sort of started getting our hands on some equipment.  Then about 40 minutes later, Emanuel told us that there was an event going on as a Genocide Memorial, which would last for 2 hours (actually 5 hours) and that after was mandatory exercise for the employees (seriously, TIA).  So Astride and I attended the memorial for a few hours, went to get lunch, and then got started on inventory.  This is going to be the first and probably most useful task we can do for the hospital.  The director of the Butare hospital was recently fired and a new one set in place, only about 3 weeks ago.  When we met with him, he said we were the answer to all of his questions.  Hearing that made me feel incredibly motivated to get my hands dirty and help the hospital as much as possible! Another task we are encouraged to do is to create a plan to organize the technicians’ shops.  This is going to be hard work, especially because their workroom is across the hospital from their storage room.  I think that with a little push, however, all will be happy about a change and improving their workspace. 

All in all I am very excited about the next four weeks! I think that we will be able to accomplish great tasks and truly improve the state of the hospital!

How they store their broken and unrepairable equipment. Piles upon piles of stuff!

Just a fraction of one of the rooms used to store broken equipment waiting to be repaired. Looks like we will have a lot of work to do!

June 19th, 2013

Some of the better pictures from Akagera. Amazing to see how much room animals have in the wild.  Makes me sad that they don’t have that much room in zoos, but “Life of Pi” reassured me that animals in zoos are just as happy as in the wild because they don’t have to worry about predators or going hungry. 

I have been in Rwanda for almost four weeks now and I am starting to feel like a real Rwandan! On the buses and in other situations, we have been able to pick up bits and pieces of people’s conversations in Kinyarwanda—and they’re usually about us! Not surprising, but very funny.

Saturday we woke up at a wonderful 4 am to head out at 5 am to go to Akagera National Park for a safari! We saw many animals: birds, warthogs, zebras, monkeys, hippos, giraffes, crocodiles, and other such animals.  We unfortunately did not see any elephants, hyenas or lions. Oh well, just means I will have to go back!

Sunday we went to the Rwanda vs. Algeria futball game! It was a lot of fun, even though I am not a huge fan of soccer.  The president of Rwanda was even at the game! Everyone stood when he entered.  Another interesting even that occurred was that we learned not many people of Rwanda know their national anthem.  It was adopted sometimes around 2002, so I suppose not many people have learned it.  We are learning it in our Kinyarwanda class—it is very hard to sing.  I also learned that Rwanda booted a lot of their experienced soccer players to replace them with much younger ones, to give the youth of Rwanda a chance.  I think this is so great for the country, even if Rwanda doesn’t win every game.  All of the players are from Rwanda and about 20-25 years old, so a lot more nationalism is felt.

Monday I found out where my hospital assignment is for the second month.  Astride and I will be traveling to the Southern Province of Rwanda to a town called Butare.  This is actually the college town of Rwanda and the second biggest city next to Kigali.  We are not sure yet if we are going to have a home stay or be staying in a home provided by the hospital. So suspenseful!

Yesterday a woman we had previously met took me and a few girls to get fabric and then to a tailor to get fitted for skirts or dresses.  I am glad she took us because otherwise we would have been given the “Muzungu price.”  But I only paid 15,000 FRW for the material and to have a skirt made by next Tuesday! That’s only about $25 and I will have material left over to do fun things with!

Also yesterday, we have an addition to the home! Christine’s oldest son got sent home from his boarding secondary school for a week as punishment for eating food he wasn’t supposed to. It was quite hysterical at the time.  We had no idea—he just showed up!

Only 1 more week left in Kigali—we depart next Thursday morning!! I am getting very excited to be on our own and get to explore the country and the city of Butare, but also hoping the time doesn’t go too fast since I won’t see many of my team members again until the end of next month.  We are scattered all around the country and I think Astride and I are the furthest from the groups.

Love and miss everyone!



June 14th, 2013


Had a fantastic day at the CHUK Hospital in Kigali with the team! As a team we fixed roughly 7 or 8 pieces of broken equipment… in only 7 hours!  I cannot believe how much we have learned already and how applicable it all has been.  Today made me super anxious to get to our regional hospitals in less than two weeks. Time is flying!

Today I (with others) mainly worked on fixing broken incubators since they are so needed in the developing world.  A lot of the time they will place up to three babies in one incubator.  The main functions we look for are if it is heating properly, if the air probe is working properly, if the skin temperature probe is working properly, if all appropriate alarms are working (don’t wanna cook the baby!) and that the motor or fan are not too loud for the baby’s ears.  The first incubator would turn on but wouldn’t heat unless the fan was started manually.   Obviously this is impractical because the fan is on the inside of the machine and not easily accessible.  Thus it was determined that the start up capacitor, which gets the motor going, was probably a dud—and it was! Now that we knew the problem, we had to figure out how to fix it.  The hospital had spare 1 mF capacitors at 500 V, but the original was 0.27 mF at 500 V.  Thus, we decided to put three of the 1 mF capacitors in series so that the new capacitance value would be 1/C or 1/3… 0.33 mF! This was close enough to the original capacitance.  We soldered everything together and…. IT WORKED!  We were also able to fix the mechanism for raising the tray on the incubator by swapping parts around. It was almost as good as new and we released it to the floor.  There was one more incubator with the same problem and we followed the same procedure to fix it.


How we connected the three capacitors and tested the incubator before making anything permanent.

It turned on and was heating up!!

Posing with our working incubator!

Another incubator worked properly in terms of heating up but the alarms would not sound when prompted.  We opened it up to find that the actual sound device was broken.  We ended up opening up other broken machines until we found one that would work. Quick fix, but very important.  The nurses are far too busy to monitor an incubator’s temperature without the appropriate alarms. 

Then we went to a pizza place (SO good) for an early dinner because tomorrow (at 5 in the morning) we are going on a SAFARI! I am way too excited. Packing extra batteries for my camera and snack for the animals :)

I find out Monday where I will be working and staying for the second month!


June 10th, 2013

Photos from our canopy walk through the rainforest !


Muzungu! (Foreigner!) (something I hear daily)

With every passing day here in Kigali, I want my trip to be extended longer and longer.  There is just something about this city that is making me fall in love with it!  All of Rwanda, to be honest, has my heart. 

The people here are so welcoming and so accepting of us as a whole, and they want to learn everything they can about us and about the US.  One thing I have really noticed here is people are very focused on their education and on their prosperity.  I love seeing young people training to be BMETs (biomedical engineering technicians) because not only is that essentially what I am studying, but the work we are going to do in the coming month is going to be extended by the work of the trained BMETs!  Nothing is better than seeing education passed on. 

I am learning more and more Kinyarwanda and French as the days pass, and even more troubleshooting and engineering techniques. I KNOW that we, as a group, are going to be incredibly successful in the second month, and I am very excited to hear about everyone’s different experiences and hurdles along the way. 

The past couple days have been so filled and busy, I have barely had time to contact home (hi mom!).  Friday, the group of us traveled to the local, and very developed, hospital, CHUK, to get our hands on some medical equipment.  Some equipment was totally fixed and sent off the floor and other pieces not only had the problem identified, but we have gained the resources to fix the problem this coming Friday when we go back! Does this make me a real adult now? I kind of like it!!

Saturday we traveled to the Western Province to the Nyungwe National Forest (a real rainforest!).  Words cannot describe what I saw and felt in that 3 hour hike.  We walked all through the forest and then did a canopy walk where we were quite literally standing on top of the trees while others were still high above us on all sides.  The mountains in Rwanda are incredible.  For 5 hours we drove from Kigali to Nyungwe, winding up a mountain, then winding down the mountain, then up the next one, and on to the next.  To say the least, I was slightly carsick.  But the pure beauty of Rwanda kept me alert and overcome with joy.  I wish I was a better writer, but the only way I can put it was that I was becoming increasingly proud of the people of Rwanda and the country with every passing village.  Yes this is Africa.  No they may not have running water in their homes, or a refrigerator, or a car, but they have a spirit about them that touches me with everyone I meet.  Seeing the bins of water out for laundry, goats tied to a pole on the side of a hill, kids pushing a wheel with a stick, men pushing large loads up the mountain on a bike, women carrying twice their body weight on their heads with a baby tied to their back… this country knows the meaning of hard work and thus the true meaning of happiness.  I have learned more from their way of life in the past two weeks than I could possibly learn in a classroom. 

Me on top on the rainforest!!

Sunday we went to the Kigali Genocide Memorial and Museum.  This gave me the opportunity to learn a lot about the country and its history.  One of the most memorable quotes from the museum said: “They said never again after the Holocaust.  Did that exclude us?” Wow.  It’s very different for me being in a place that suffered such pain and destruction… in my own lifetime!  The people I live with now LIVED through the genocide.  The survivors and perpetrators populate the entire country.  It is a traumatic and terrible event that truly brings people together and sort of establishes a peace across the entire country.  I respect the country as a whole for being able to overcome its past and build itself up from the bottom.  Mind blowing. Amazing.

The rolling hills of Rwanda

We plan on going on a safari this upcoming weekend! Other than that, nothing here is new other than the fact, of course, I am in Africa! Waka wakaaaa


June 6th, 2013

My day in a nutshell: Built a power source and an LED flashlight from scratch with my partner, Astride, picked a banana off the branch perched in the living room (still waiting for some to ripen) and enjoyed a wonderful snack under $2 (precisely 1,100 Rwandan Francs). What a joy!!