Rwanda 101

I’d gladly scream it from the rooftops, carve it into my chest or traipse a sign up to the summit of Everest proclaiming it – I FUCKING loathe Rogers. Their distinct lack of customer service drove me to seething, breathless diatribes that made Hamlet seem positively sane.

…turns out Rogers ain’t so bad.

It took well over a week to finally get an internet connection – a week of pounding the Kigalian hills trying to find who offers internet services (ain’t no Yellow Pages), ascertaining when new hardware ‘may’ arrive, dealing with African bureaucracy, and the Rwandan art of queue jumping.

I have also been asked several times for a mailing address here. Rwanda doesn’t ‘do’ addresses, but instead particular landmarks are used as reference points. Initially this seemed like a whole new brand of crazy, but it works surprisingly well…just ask for the ‘Nyamirambo, Cosmos’ or ‘Centreville, BCK; and you’re laughin’. However, one must be careful not to be too vague – asking for ‘Nyamirambo, hair salon’ could lead you to be dropped off at one of the billion spit n’ sawdust salons that seem to exist here. So, if you’ve had a few too many banana beers don’t worry about remembering a street or a number…just remember the exact name of where you get your perm done.

The last week has been a rather surreal one. After moving into our new apt last week, we decided to spend the day looking around downtown Kigali. However you quickly realize the best laid plans never pan out here. After avoiding the ambiguous attentions of Danish Jan, we were accosted by our landlady who offered to drive us around and show us the sights. Naturally we took up this offer. First stop was the local Nyamirambo market. I won’t think a fish has even felt so out of the water. The market was in a poor part of town, and we very obviously didn’t belong. Our guide led us through the varying stalls whilst children followed us whispering ‘mzungu’ and every so often touching my tattoo. We were about to leave when a veritable monsoon hit forcing us to wait it out in the covered area of the market. It was a wonderful experience: conversing with the one market owner in our bellowed, butchered French above the rain-induced, metallic roar; watching kids dance in the rain; marveling at the red, clay-rich torrents of water rush past the market. My landlady advised I roll up my jeans lest I get the bottoms wet – she and her friend then started to howl with laughter. Turns out if you roll up your trousers more than once, it’s an indication you’re out buying a dog…crazy Rwandans. Also, interestingly, she told us that the market was to be closed that afternoon for a gacaca. This is essentially a public hearing where genocide perpetrators are expected to admit to their offences before a sentence is passed by the public. Often the victims’ families are present. You need permits to attend one of these, and we aim to attend one at a later date.

Next, our landlady gave us a brief orientation of downtown Kigali before going to the local supermarket…to buy electricity. Yep, you heard me right. Like the cell phones out here, most things are pay-as-you-go. This naturally includes electricity – so we live in constant fear of being plunged into darkness.

I also started work at the NGO on Wednesday. After safely navigating my way downtown on one of the matatus (wedged in next to my fellow passengers, hugging each other in a death grip as you hurtle madly along the potholed, pedestrian infested roads), I quickly found myself responsible for about 10 projects – such as organizing a women’s empowerment workshop, a typing class (ironic as I henpeck my way through this blog), arranging bank accounts for our 120+ students and a December outing. All quite daunting when you don’t speak the first 2 languages, know the city or anybody! Anyway, slowly getting to grips with it. After my first day, I decided to skip the minibus and try a moto-taxi (a motorbike taxi) thinking it may be less scary – only my underwear knows the truth.

Erin is also volunteering for ORI – for the next month she’s holding general English and debating sessions in the afternoons. To her great surprise about 30 students all turned up at once on the first day! The session was quite enlightening for both parties. In the course of these sessions she has been asked:

1) If she is ‘barren’ – we have told people we are married, and when telling people we have been so for 4 years, they are amazed we don’t have kids. Apparently great pressure is adhered by the family to get it on, with interest.
2) If she is worried about her husband running off with prostitutes…I mean…ok, fair question.
3) If she’s ever had an abortion
4) Why she would think of having a tattoo, and how long do they last for

The sessions have really been fantastic to be a part of so far. The students are very warm, open about their horrific past and speak surprisingly good English. I was also taking a few photos at the same time, and it was funny to see how initially the most shy students ended up being the ones who demanded having their photos taken the most and requesting hard copies!

Anyway, time to wrap up. We’re heading to the towns of Ntarama and Nyamata tomorrow – 2 towns where some of the single worst genocide atrocities happened – namely over 5000 people were killed in 2 churches. Today they have kept some of the remains as a constant reminder. Will be a sobering experience. Also intend to go chimpanzee tracking in Nyungwe National Park in 2 weeks. More on these trips on upcoming blogs.

Also hope to finally post a few photos this w’end…no, really.

Oh this just in…I finally found that elusive manna…real espresso!