Friday, February 26, 2010

The Rain Down in Africa

So I suppose the rainy season has started. It rains usually really hard for a couple of hours, and then sometimes stops. It’s raining now, while my laundry (half of my wardrobe) sits outside on the line. I’m usually not outside when it rains, but I have been before.

One fine Sunday I was innocently heading out to buy some fruit, when I felt a couple of drops. Knowing what was coming, I decided to head over to another volunteer’s house to wait it out. But en route down it came. At first I tried standing under a overhang, but the rain started blowing at me, soaking me completely. Trying to make a run for it, I got slapped in the face with buckets and buckets of rain – I literally felt like I was drowning, until a Rwandan had to practically pick me up, since I was utterly useless at this point, and shove me into a shop – where everyone stood bone dry. There the kind owners gave me a towel as I waited out the storm. I always buy my bread there now, and somehow they always remember me.

The weather is just so unpredictable. Some days I’ll wake up, it’ll be slightly cold so I’ll wear pants and a sweater, but then it’ll pour, so I’ll need rain gear, but then by the afternoon it’s sunny and in the high-eighties/nineties so I’ll have to rip off my sweater and change my pants into capris while I sweat all over the students.

The good, and bad, thing is everything stops when it rains. Other volunteers have been told not to even bother coming to teach when it rains. The biggest problem is the tin roofs make the rain incredibly loud. Rwandans smartly stop what they’re doing, take cover and wait. Remember that one time when I was in kindergarten and I told my grandma I didn’t go to school when it rains, she let Meg and I have the day off? Well little did you all know, but I was just living the Rwandan lifestyle that I would soon enough come to enjoy.

PS – I went to the orphanage again on Sunday and my little boy was wearing a dress with a pretend baby on his back. Only I would fall in love with a confused, cross-dressing three year old.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Time I Wore Sweatpants

Rwandans dress up. So if you come here, don’t think you can walk around looking like American WT, because you can’t. Rwandans dress very nicely – dress pants, collard shirts, not really jeans. Normally I wear nice pants or a skirt (below the knee, of course). But around my house, I’m my relaxed self in sweatpants, short shorts, tanks, whatever I feel like. But again, I’m in the comfort of my own home.

In DC I think this comfort extends to my neighborhood as well, and for those who don’t know, I live near the zoo so it’s quite crowded with tourists. But, I frequently will walk around my block and surrounding area in big gray sweats and a gray t-shirt, sometimes tucked into boots, sometimes a non-hooded overly large sweatshirt - usually pairing this with a jazzy clutch that I used the night before. Since it’s my neighborhood, all you tourists can take a good look.

This does not translate to Rwanda. And I learned the hard way. The one and only time I wore sweatpants in public was last Saturday at 6pm. After having worked all day, I came home to get ready to go out. So I showered and got right into my blue sweatpants and blue t-shirt, my normal monochrome outfit that I wear in the comfort of my own home. I wanted to put on music, but I realized I forgot my power cord at work, so I called my friends to have them drop it off on their way back from work. They said they’d meet me in 10 minutes on the “corner” of my “block”. So out I went in my blue on blue combo, and I waited on the street. Well, they were longer than 10 minutes. And I felt ridiculed. People pointed. Literally pointed at me. Normally, I’m used to people looking, but this was shock and awe at my attire – almost as bad as the time I wore the tank top. And then, of course, I ran into a student (because how could he miss me in this getup). I explained that I don’t normally lay around in sweatpants on a Saturday (lie), and that I was in fact going out…but that I better not see him out since he had exams! That’s right, lecturing in my sweatpants. I was outside in said sweatpants for maybe half an hour or so, but that’s all it took.

I will never wear sweatpants in public here again. Ever.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Orphanage

I have an addiction. I’ve been going to a local orphanage to volunteer with kids – they’re about three years old. Not only do I look forward to going, but afterwards, I am in such a low, just missing them. But once I walk back through those gates, I feel better! It’s an incurable addiction that’s making me want to be a single mother in DC. Rest assured, adoption laws are insane, and I’m not sure my 23 year old maturity and finances would make it past screening #1. Otherwise, I’d be bringing home an addition to the family.

I literally walk through the doors and have crowds of children cheering and running towards me. I obviously melt at this point, and pick up two in my arms. All the children want is to be held and hugged. They fight over my attention, and it’s hard to tell them not to hit each other when a nun sits in a corner with a stick, used for discipline. Since there are so many of them, they really just want individual attention, so get jealous when they have to share my lap with other kids – I can usually fit three of them on my lap, one jumping on my back, and two hanging on my legs.

I have a little favorite. He sits and waits patiently when I’m holding other kids, just waiting by my side until my lap is free. A lot of the kids cry when I put them down after holding them, but he doesn’t – he just sits and waits his turn. He even gave up the prized seat of on my lap, closest to my body, when a little girl was crying. It really is taking all of my strength not to smuggle him out and into my DC house (which does have a sun porch mind you). I guess I just have to settle for twice a week hugs.

In sum: PLEASE ADOPT! These kids are so adorable and amazing and really deserve great homes! And thanks to everyone who has adopted and to my fantastic friends who plan to do so!

Monday, February 15, 2010


In an ironic twist of fate, no sooner did I write the food non-sick blog post, but the time bomb exploded: I got sick this weekend. I had a pretty good run, no sickness for a whole month - that’s longer than I last in the States. I will spare you all the details but know it wasn’t pleasant. Here’s a glimpse at my day:

I woke up around 7am, ready to train my graduates. In pain, I went into work, but was soon sent home as apparently I looked “green”. Back to bed I went, and I woke back up in the afternoon still in pain.

Thinking I needed a malaria test (and how many times in life can you really say that), I rose from my bed slowly only to discover I was too weak to walk. In a very theatrical movement, I properly dressed myself, but I was too hot to wear a t-shirt or sweater, so out the door I went in a tank top. Gasp. (In Rwanda, people dress very conservatively, no thighs or knees, sleeveless being just ok). I got more than my fair share of stares in my long skirt and tank, moto drivers stopping to gape. It dramatically began to rain on my way to the clinic, and as soon as I got there, I realized it was closed. Fighting back the tears, I sickly made my way back to bed for a unisom-induced 14 hours of sleep. Afterwards, I awoke feeling better, and after a dose of cipro I felt much better.

How did I get sick? Well, well, well it wasn’t the food. Apparently one of my roommates didn’t think to filter the water properly. So I was poisoned (and how many times in life can you really say that).

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Kigali Delicacies

I think the food here is great. I’m not sick of it and I’m not sick from it, so really, given my track record, I can’t complain. I’ve been frequenting the infamous Rwandan buffets for lunch – which, for $2-3 you can pile your plate as high as you want. The catch is you can only go up once, so Rwandans use some sort of, what I can only believe is magic, to pile their plates ridiculously high.

I also eat a lot of brochettes, which are beef or goat pieces in a kabob form. There is no nice way to eat it; it’s basically being oh so ladylike and ripping meat off of a stick with your teeth. Luckily, they give you toothpicks afterward.

I eat a lot of omelettes as well; my personal preference is to eat them with potatoes cooked in, which sort of tastes like fries in them. Conor – if you’re reading this, which you should be – you’d be in heaven here. There’s also the traditional samosas (a pocket of meat and onions), chapati and chips (fries) galore.

Prices here are not what you would think. In Africa, you can live cheaply, but I’m not dousing myself in champagne and caviar every night. Some restaurants are more expensive or comparable to DC - $10 for a drink, $20 meals…I don’t think so.

I have a place down the street from me that I go to ohhh once a day, at least. Samosas and chapatis are 100 Rwandan francs each, which is about 20 cents. So I can eat dinner or lunch for under $1. Plus, the owners are so friendly, and I can practice my Kinyarwanda. So for now I really enjoy the food. I am realistic in knowing that I’m a ticking time bomb when it comes to getting sick, but for now I’m perfectly satisfied.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Rwandan Nightlife

I know you were all waiting for this one. I went out to a Rwandan club this weekend. And it was faaaaantastic. The new volunteer Tim (he’s a kiwi for a little background) got here this weekend and already has made a Rwandan mafia of friends that I have leached on to. The day started extremely somber as we visited the genocide memorial. It was as hard as you would think it would be, if not worse. After laying around the rest of the day (because really what else do you do after that), eating brochettes and drinking Primus – tough life, right?-, we hit up a local bar before going out. After that, we went to Car Wash.

The best part about Car Wash is not only is it a nightclub, but it’s a fully functioning car wash by day. Talk about efficient, Rwanda! Due to the rain, the crowd was mostly dispersed, but that doesn’t mean a dance party didn’t ensue after a couple muzungu song requests were made to the DJ. More Primus and dancing later, we, of course, motoed back home. Motos are by no means expensive, but what bothers me is that I’m convinced that I can fit on one with another person. After forcing Tim to request in French that the moto driver let both of us on one and naturally getting denied, I sulked onto my own moto for the fun drive home. Maybe it’s my Africa skinnyness, but I know I can fit two people on one. I think it’s a law that you can’t, but one day. One. day. In sum: I will be frequenting a Rwandan club every weekend I don’t travel. Watch out Kigali.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

More on the Motos

I’ve been riding motos everywhere – they’re the easiest way to get around. My drivers always range from people who completely try to rip me off to some who can be waned down to a normal price. Sometimes, while flying down Kigali’s hills, a driver will take out his phone to text or answer a phone call – which is weird because I didn’t think you had an extra hand when driving a motorcycle. At that point, I scream OYA OYA (NO, NO) because as everyone reading this blog knows, he’s driving precious cargo.

As there are no street signs, getting around is tough, not to mention the language barrier – I greet the drivers in Kinyrwanda, bargain in French, give directions in a mix of Swahili and Spanish, and then talk to myself on the moto in English. Multi-lingual much?

My moto driver the other night was quite the gem. He didn’t put up a fight when I proposed 400 Rwandan francs for the ride (which is about 80 cents), so I gladly hopped on. It wasn’t far, mostly because I may or may not have been taking the moto in order to avoid walking up a huge hill – this tired body can only do so much. After helping to adjust my helmet, my driver so generously offered me a bite of the ear of corn he was eating at the time. Famished as I was and as good as street corn is, I declined. I was unsure what he was going to do with the corn, as there are no garbage cans in Kigali that I can find, but I soon found out when he tossed it onto the ground as we ran through a red light. On top of it all, when I got home he only charged me 300 francs! And who said chivalry was dead.