What’s another word for ‘cock’?

My fellow bazungu, you may be happy in the knowledge that we have now survived two full months in Rwanda. Two months of: adapting to the African concept of time-keeping; regularly checking one’s faeces for worms; honing one’s skills to Matrix-esque precision to avoid being discombobulated by matutu drivers, who are too busy avoiding potholes to notice sun burnt mzungu; reining in my temper and burgeoning desire to defenestrate (go on peeps, you know you have to look it up) our landlord, dearest Mr Mukasa.

So it is with due aplomb and necessity that I will share with you an average day for me in Kigali. Enjoy…

03:06 – Shit. I have managed to entangle myself in our mosquito net for what must be the 5th time. I have yet to get used to feeling what testicles must feel like in swimwear.

07:00 – Rudely awakened by the disembodied, female voice that is representative of Nokia: monotone, annoying and frankly sounding rather put out at having to get your sorry ass out of bed. Most mornings I wake up early, dreading the voice of this canned employee who really needed to get laid (at least at the time of recording), and yet the masochistic side of me still refuses to turn the alarm off early.

07:16 – Arseburgers. We had optimistically turned on the water heater for 15 minutes for a hot shower…only to discover that the water has been turned off for the duration. Beloved Mr Mukasa, nay darling Mr Mukasa, has yet again turned off the fucking water. He insists that water is very expensive – an assertion I do not contest. However, despite our reasonable suggestion that he at least just turn it on for various periods of the day, let me just say this: Mr Mukasa is a wanker, and it’s just a pity his father wasn’t (think about it – you’ll get it eventually). His fascination with the cost of water is all the more comical seeing as he religiously has his servants wash his 2 cars every damn night. Clearly, image is more important than defecating.

07:18 – After going downstairs, through a system of trial and error of trying every lever and turning on the pump, we have water!

07:19 – Sprint upstairs and shower before the bastard turns it off again.

07:57 – Suppress a wee chuckle as I watch the BBC World Service weather report and see how much snow is being dumped in Montreal.

08:15-08:45 – Walk the 30 minutes from our Nyamirambo district into downtown Kigali. This is always guaranteed entertainment. In this part of town no-one expects to see mzungu, and so it is rather comical seeing You’re-a-long-way-from-home-Alice expressions and jaws drop as you saunter past sipping your low-fat, vanilla latte telling your broker for the last time to FUCKING SELL (ok I made that last bit up, but please allow me my comedic license). Nyamirambo is always bustling and apparently known as the ‘California’ of Kigali: for its liveliness, music and weed. As I walk through this chaos, I take in the fruit sellers, children fetching water, the throngs waiting for their matatus and the rag-adorned young children unabashedly taking in the stranger in their midst. The latter will often follow me for up to 15 minutes yelling a combination of Kinyarwandan, French and English: Mzungu (foreigner); faranga (money); manger (to eat) etc. It’s a little unsettling initially but you quickly get used to this attention. You feel saddened that you do not give them money, knowing that you’ll be marked as a walking ATM, and plus the fact that were I to give a 100 francs to every person who needed it on just my walk to work, I myself would soon be destitute. Furthermore, be it on the matutu or the street, you even have relatively well-to-do adults asking you for money. It is basically assumed that as you are white you have an endless supply of francs. Your protestations that you are volunteering or that you are a student are brushed aside, and money is expected.

However, it must be said that this is not very prevalent. For the most part Rwandans are very curious about us and friendly. There has been many the time Erin has been ‘serial-hugged’ by many children at the same time whilst the parents look on partially bemused, partially unimpressed.

On this walk you see what can best be described as the shanty towns of Nyamirambo and Nyakibanda that engorge one of the many Kigalian valleys. In the mornings, and especially on the way home at night as the sun sets, it is a strangely beautiful vision. The dark side of my mind also marvels at the level of organization it must have taken when the genocide began. For despite this vast, endless warren of huts, the extremist forces had detailed lists of who was Tutsi or a Tutsi sympathizer. This really brings home the oral nature of Rwandan culture. On a lighter note, we were chatting with another westerner who was recounting how all the Rwandans near where he lived knew who he was, where he’d come from, where he was working and how long he’d been here. Ultimately a very efficient, and not a little sinister, social network.

09:01 – ‘Start’ work by making ‘coffee’ (surely Nescafe in English means ‘anal leakage’) and by surfing the BBC website…explicitly the Africa section to see if the Congo conflict has yet boiled over into Rwanda or if the Uganda ebola outbreak has spread here yet…the normal, everyday concerns.

09:02-12:30 – My average work day can really consist of anything like: visiting the language schools to see how the students are doing in their English oral exams; planning typing courses (ironic as I hen-peck my way through this blog entry); negotiating computer lab prices; compiling the November/December budget; planning student outings; readying for the next upcoming student selection process and preparing student workshops. Most recently my colleague Saul, had to organize a 2 day workshop on sexual education. As part of this he had to scour Kigali for some suitable guest speakers. One of them was a devout Catholic priest. Thankfully Saul decided it would be wise to verify what he intended to speak on – I say thankfully because imagine our surprise when he wanted to talk about the wrongs of incest and…wait for it…bestiality. Granted these are 2 big no-no’s in most people’s books, and whilst we commended him on his good intents, we decided it best not to give anyone any ideas.

12:34-12:57 – Head over to a local restaurant. For the most part, Rwandans only eat one big meal of the day: lunch. They maybe have a glass of milk for breakfast and something light for dinner. Therefore the lunch buffet is a time to FUCKING GORGE yourself and to demonstrate the art of plate-stacking. It really is a sight to behold. These slightly-built Rwandans pile their meat, salad, and 10 types of carb into improbably mountainous and precarious Jenga-like columns. They dismiss our health-conscious portions as they settle into their inevitable food comas. I always think of the Monty Python Meaning of Life sketch: ‘Get me a bucket…I’m stuffed’ – cue projectile vomiting (is there any other sort other than projectile?). Many is the time too that I have eaten here and had the locals watch me pile on the pili-pili sauce onto my food. Pili-pili is the local chili sauce and looks not unlike tomato sauce. So often I have seen them chatter and laugh to themselves as I help myself, thinking that the stupid mzungu is about to unexpectedly experience 10 different types of ring-burn.

At this juncture I will also mention how Rwandans attract one’s attention. A polite ‘excuse me’, a wave of the hand or even a bloody burning bush (come to think of it) does not do the trick. So even if your waitress is one metre away, a full-blooded Sssssst! sound is emitted to garner attention. Now, being the polite young man that I am, I refused to undertake this particular custom for the longest time thinking it rude and unnecessary. However, you quickly find that if you adopt this stance you get ignored. Therefore the first time you succumb to this custom you discover a whole new Rwandan superpower. Suddenly people notice you and things get done. You can even Ssssssst! the moto-taxis as they whizz by and they’ll now see you and stop. Naturally this is something I will have to stamp out upon my return to genteel Canada – my Rotary Club membership would never get renewed. Ah the shame of it.

13:01 – Mildly avoid a dust-up between 2 cell phone airtime vendors by promising the latter you will buy from him ‘A la prochain’. This is a great phrase in general (again another superpower) when trying to shake off postcard, poster or tacky souvenir sellers. What’s more, what would I even do with a big ass poster of the Backstreet Boys (well maybe kindling) or our saviour, the main man J.C? People here are religious to put it mildly and so with our students the inevitable question rumbles around: “Are you religious?”. My first instinct is to shake them sane and to tell them to lie in on a Sunday morning instead with a hangover…but of course I don’t. One day I rather too casually stated: “Sure, let’s go with that.” This naturally prompted further inquisition as to what branch – i.e. Catholicism, Christianity etc. I asked them as to their following. To that response, I replied “Ah yes, I like that one too”. The subject was dropped swiftly.

15:32 – Erin is holding her thrice weekly English conversation and debate class. I try hard not to piss meself with mirth as the students with a straight face bring in a mix tape of Backstreet Boys, Celine Dion and Westlife songs, asking Erin to help them understand the lyrics. Just as I think I’m choking the mocking laughter, I have to run to the toilet as I spot one of the more macho students having ‘a moment’ during one particularly nauseating rock ballad.

On another occasion, and indeed the reason for this blog title, Erin was asked by one of her students what “another word was for cock?”. Erin, wanting to be the professional and helpful teacher replied, “Well, how about ‘penis’”. The student looked shocked and tremulously suggested that they did “not think that was it”. Erin then realized her mistake and indeed the sordidity of her mind…”Oh…I think you mean ‘rooster’”.

16:39 – Finally admit to myself that my meeting with one of the IT staff from the university is not going to happen. Punctuality in Africa as a whole appears to be non-existent – indeed if the person even shows up, then that is considered a bonus. In fact such was the case with this meeting with Jerome – he turned up over ¾ of an hour late from lunch and without so much as an apology launched into our meeting agenda. Again, after 2 months here I have slowly relaxed my time-related anal retentiveness and learned to EXPECT tardiness. Likewise, I no longer worry if I am, God forbid, 5 minutes late for a meeting. However, I will have to slap myself out of such a habit upon my return to time-obsessed Canada. I can see myself now walking into a meeting with PayPal or AirMiles late: ‘What? What!? I’m like, only 30 minutes late man…relaaaaaaaaaaaax! Hey! Ssssssssst! Where are the damn croissants for chrissakes!”.

Mind you, maybe tardiness can be blamed on another favourite Rwandan custom: the handshake. When you’re walking in the street or even at work if you see someone you know (hell, even if you don’t know them and they’ve even just scowled at you one time) then it is obligatory to stop and shake hands, if only for a moment before carrying on. However, it’s not uncommon to shake hands at least three times in any given conversation and otherwise is seen as impolite. This may also explain (well, along with my surfing for NHL scores) why I sometimes seem to not get much work done – with students coming in to the office every 10 minutes and the obligatory handshakes, I have forgotten what I was doing, and frankly my hands by now are too fucking sore to even type for all the greetings.

17:05 – Wait for the storm to pass. Although this is technically the small wet season, the storms are few and far between. However, when they do happen they are apocalyptic. You can see them coming down the valleys, obscuring the hills from view they are so laden with rain, the thunder reverberating ominously. Jean-Baptiste commented once on how Rwandans are fearless when jaywalking, but as soon as there is the slight threat of rain they go running for cover!

17:42 –In the taxi ride home, the driver asks us in all honesty how he can get a mzungu woman and so get a ticket out of Rwanda – we stifle our honest reply and pretend to not understand, not wanting to be responsible for the ramifications.

18:39 – We thankfully finish cooking dinner without running out of electricity – if you remember from a previous blog, this is also a pay-as-you-go service here. Also talking of food – another power you must acquire here is determining when you are hungry, but at least 45 minutes before you actually are. Such is the lackadaisical attitude to service here that often you have eaten the couple at the table next to you when the food comes.

23:10 – Bedtime. I bitch about having to remember to take our malaria pill every day. With regard to birth control, Erin tells me forthrightly to “Shut the fuck up”.

01:02 – So begins my nightly mosquito safari. Invariably at least one of the disease-ridden Dracula wannabe bastards gets past the netting. So it is Erin is often awoken to see her significant other standing up in bed bathed in light, naked and disoriented, exhausting his vast dictionary of expletives and questioning the mosquito’s heritage as he searches for it. Sometimes I have to hand it to the genius of the individual blood sucker. Sometimes the lil’ fucker is actually on the OUTSIDE of the netting, but SOUNDS like he’s on the inside. Thus, he whiles away the night 15 minutes at a time, watching the mzungu making an absolute tit of himself.

So there you have it – the standard action-packed Kigalian day.

Hope you all have a drunken 12 days of Xmas and I shall write again soon. Ta-ta.