I have just finished teaching the first section of a four part pediatric physical therapy course to a group of physical therapists at the University of Rwanda in Kigali. Though not the highlight of the course from an academic or clinical point of view, I ended the first session by teaching the class the Hokey Pokey song and dance. The transformation of the class from a quiet, solemn, blank faced group the very first morning to a laughing, smiling, talkative group at the end of second day after the Hokey Pokey, was magical.
I am in Rwanda for 3 months working on a physical therapy project that aims to provide continuing professional development courses to Rwandan physical therapists and as well, to provide clinical mentoring to each therapist in their place of work. Our section of this course focuses on treating children with disabilities, and is the final section of a 15 month course funded by USAID and implemented by Health Volunteers Overseas (hvousa.org). I have an American co-teacher and two Rwandan co-teachers. Our students are serious and earnest, eager to improve their skills and knowledge. Each week, we teach for two days in the classroom and then spend two days traveling around the country to visit their place of work; sometimes they are modern district hospitals, sometimes small clinics at the end of bumpy red dirt roads.
Rwandans are lovely people. Their first words upon meeting you are typically “you’re welcome”. It took me some time to realize they were not thanking me for something, they were stating with conviction that I was welcome to be in their country, their city, their hospital, their restaurant. They are reserved, polite and gracious. As westerners, we obviously stick out wherever we go, but beyond the polite stares, we have been made to feel very welcome.
The capital city of Kigali is surprisingly modern, clean and nice. There are many good restaurants, coffee shops and modern grocery stores. We live in City Center, the business and university section of town atop one of the dozens of green hills that make up this city of 1 million. Though less than 2 degrees south of the equator, Kigali sits at an altitude of around 5,000 feet above sea level and so the climate is pleasant; neither too hot or too cool.
Our housing is a spacious and comfortable apartment which is a 10 minute walk to the University. Our closest neighbor is a Catholic boarding school which has recently begun their new school year and so the noise level has risen considerably in the past week. Typically the teenage girls are awake at dawn, gathering in their common room which is closest to our bedroom window, laughing and talking. But last evening, it was the sounds of their sweet voices singing that filled the air for several hours.