Muraho means hello!
Wowee! One week ago I was still in the USofA. If I consider all the people I’ve met, hours of transportation endured, friends made, birds heard, sights seen, countries visited and times I’ve nearly been killed, it seems like it could have been months ago. Having spent so much time in transit, I am so looking forward to being in the same bed for the next week. A quick recap of the week:
Monday: Trip to the airport and dinner. Lovely night spent in airport luxury (sleeping upright in a hard plastic chair. Where were the lounge chairs?!). Best part- dinner in DC (thank you, Bobbie!)
Tuesday: Took my first trans-Atlantic flight and looked down on Spain’s streetlights. There weren’t too many places which had left their lights on as we left Europe behind. I did not sleep on the flight, especially after one especially heart wrenching patch of turbulence. Best part- European night lights.
Wednesday: With a Velveta omlet for breakfast, I watched the sun rise over the clouds as we descended into Addis Ababa. The Ethiopians I happened to chat with were very welcoming, telling me I had to return to Ethiopia- it is the capital of the African Union! I would love to go on a visit for the food at least! (Oddly the only food offered at this international airport lobby was in the London Cafe…?). Several hours to kill in the airport, but I feared if I were to lay down, I would miss my flight.
I did not miss the flight and made it to Rwanda perfectly on time. After stumbling through the customs line and remembering the giant baggage scanners of past flights, I was surprised to hear someone calling my name as I rounded the corner after finding the cases of shoes. Lori! It was so great to see her waving to me and to be whisked away from the dreary airport business. I was an exhausted mess. She was wonderful, tolerating my scrambled mind. We had several very interesting chats which were impossibly difficult for me to process. She holds many strong opinions on these people and this land, having been living here in Rwanda part time with Jean. Jean will be my host the nest two weeks and is as lovely as the name implies.
Lori also introduced me to moto[rcycle] taxis. We went on an invigorating ride to exchange money. The streets are full of motos swimming chaotic streets of pedestrians, other motos, car taxis, buses, trucks and personal vehicles. Rwanda uses francs and went at a rate of 6.73 to the dollar. So a 1000 franc moto ride, is about a dollar and a half. That also means the 100US dollars turned into 67,300 francs. And it means avocados are about ten cents apiece! Guacamole for breakfast, lunch and dinner, please. Best part- motos!
Thursday: We ventured to meet Stephen, the man behind African Road. He is a fabulous man and I look forward to hearing his thoughts on the work being done here. Again, not much sleep, so I groggily chatted with one of the translators, Alice, who then came with us to do some shopping. Shopping for clothes that is. That is a very intimate excursion, here, apparently. Street vendors are illegal, meaning the open air markets I adore are non-existent here. Meaning a shopping center will pack as many rudimentary stalls into an arena as possible, making for TINY shops jam packed with items and many, many people who all want to be the helpful person to provide what you want. You can’t know what life in Rwanda is like without shopping like a Rwandan, right? Let’s get into it.
Hustled into a stall, all sorts of items thrown into your arms, hoping to accurately grant your wish [and take your francs].This is how I think a vendor’s thought process must go: Hey, you look like you have money. You also look like you could wear pants. How about trying on some skinny jeans? Since you took them out of my hands, you’re interested in buying them. Look, I have them in green, pink, blue, yellow and red. You’re not trying them on yet. You wear shirts, maybe you’re interested in a blouse. Look at this blouse. See, it stretches, too! Go try them on. No? Skirts, then? Look at this skirt…. Which continues until you either make a purchase or leave.
So through the curtain into my oh-so-private “dressing room” I go. Considering it’s made of pressboard, I just hope there are no unnoticed gaps. Thankfully, Lori worked as my curtain, holder. A full time job at this establishment. The vendor was sure he could find something else I might like and was insistently thrusting new items in through the curtain. There were several I liked, so the two Rwandan ladies who were accompanying Lori and I (Alice and Paninah- vice-president of the youth leadership) went to bargaining. Which was very intense! Nearly came to blows several times. Nearly. Mostly just intense talking I couldn’t understand, forcefully taking clothes from one another, tossing items around, eye rolling and shaking heads. Entertaining, and I got some new clothes out of the deal!
Our victorious bargainers joined us for lunch. Buffet style is normal and we indulged. Salad of lettuce and cucumbers, pasta salad with raw beets, rice and fried rice, posha- a corn flour thing cut into squares?, cassava, matoke which is plantains mashed and steamed in banana leaves, potatoes- mashed and fried, fried sweet potatoes, beans, “soup” which was poured on top like a salsa or gravy or something, plantains cooked with tomatoes, carrots, onions and spices (fantastic!) and a cauliflower stir fry thing which was also very yummy. Plus fried or boiled meat of your choice and bananas for dessert. Super tasty stuff! On a completely different note, when I tried asking Google what the plantain dish was called, found a recipe which is basically spicy peanut butter on avocados. This may be my new favorite food and I haven’t even tried it yet!
Post lunch, we went to the big market with our bargain shoppers. The fruits all taste better than anything- I don’t even like bananas and I’ve had at least one every day. Also lots of passion fruits I’ve yet to sample and tree tomatoes which look awesome on the inside! Then the ladies wanted to look for shoes. There were a few alley ways and lots of handy crafts as well. Pots and masks and banana fiber goods and all sorts of things, but my absolute favorite was the isles and isles of cloth. The traditional African gowns are not traditional unless they have fabulous patterns on them! So many different flavors and, although most of them probably come from India, it was my favorite part of Kigali to date.
Friday: Up at dawn. Partially because I still hadn’t adjusted to the time change, partially because our bus for Uganda was leaving early. So Lori and I took off to meet Paninah, three other youth leaders and the president of the women’s co-operative to get a bus into downtown. After a crazy transportation mess, we made it, just barely, onto the Uganda bus. We made it to the border before noon, had to get off the boat, fill out Departing Rwanda forms for the customs man, -walk over the border, fill out Entering Uganda forms for the customs lady who also wanted fifty bucks and fingerprints and a photo, get back on the bus and descended from the mountains into Uganda. There were street vendors waiting to greet us and the rubbish was immediately notable (plastic bags are illegal in Rwanda). You know that horrible dark purple tint some old, cheap imported cars have? Apparently sightseeing is also illegal because all the bus windows were coated with it so there were only about two seats with good views. Exhaustion having finally captured my body, I napped some on the bus and had nearly a full night of rest that night. Aye! Transformative sleep! It was beautiful. Best part- the herds of long horned cows grazing the African plains.
Saturday: Late breakfast (as is typical) and we were driven into town where we met Stephen Clemy at Kitega Community Center. He is an Inspired Individual who is consumed with improving his community. He is my new favorite person/role model/hero. And he may hold his position for some time because he is Awesome! Disabled kids in Uganda are, quite simply, treated like dogs. Kitega Community Center is a place where these kids are taught how to care for themselves as well as they can and learn basic handicrafts when possible. But he didn’t just want to improve the quality of life for these kids. No, this guy transforms their lives by giving them roles in their families. He doesn’t take them out of these situations. Kitega Community Center gives them skills they can take home and put employ instead of just locking them away in a dorm somewhere. This, in turn, changes the community’s perspective on these mental and physical disabilities (nearly all of which can be traced back to malaria infections) from a baby possessed by an evil spirit to a human being. It is not possible for me to imagine a parent capable of tossing dinner scraps out the back door to one of these “possessed” kids. Possessed with a love bigger than most of us are capable of, perhaps.
So we got to meet some of the Kitega kids when we arrived.
As if that’s not enough world changing for one lifetime, David Clemy hasn’t stopped there. One of the community leaders, Brian, told us about Vicoba (village community banking) which has also been exceptionally transformative. It begins with a 12 week course, starting out teaching people “how to dream again,” be leaders, save money and culminating with a model of fulfilling these dreams. Essentially, they come together as a local community to fund one another’s dreams. It’s beautiful! At the end of the course, these Vicobas are set up where individuals buy at least one share per week, saving up shares until they have enough to apply for dream funding.
Applications are evaluated by a selection team from the community. Vicoba members are also a bank of knowledge and experience. This means those loans which are approved have been considered by members with expertise who have a good idea of the resources necessary for success. It felt like we were given a mirage of a spectacular system. I keep imagining how it could be applied to our Hillcrest boys. Could they come together and save their own money to start their own enterprises once they had moved on? Possibilities! I may need to come back to Uganda for one of these 12 week training courses ;)
Tea was served, then out to see a farm where they are Farming God’s Way. Quite simply it is a no-till, organic method. We also witnessed its Vicoba, out on a sugarcane plantation village and saw some of the houses it had funded. And, of course, they showed us their treasury box. 3 locks so all the committee members must agree on the proposed loan with one side for weekly dues and one for visitor donations.
I feel like this needs a “This donation was proudly made possible by Contributions Like Yours”
We came back and saw examples of the disabled children’s handicrafts. I kept playing with those adorable handicraft-ers.
4pm Lunch was delicious. With avocados straight from the trees on cow pea dahl and rice. Matoke, of course, eggplant stir fry and beans. There was a group practicing for the next day’s festival. Somehow we all ended up dancing with them in this odd belly dancing Lori calls the original twerking. We had such a great day. It felt good to finally have the opportunity to move around at least a little bit. I’d be optimistic if I said I’d been on my feet more than 20 hours at this point, quite nearly a week after leaving home. So that was definitely the best part of Saturday.
Sunday: Festival for Kitega Community Center and the local Vicobas.
So we sat around all day, watching their presentations (none of which I understood), were taken to the volunteer headquarters for lunch (apparently fostering community interactions does not extend to the muzungos (white people), so we ate our outstanding Purple! peanut sauce over white rice (sadly, I’ve never seen brown rice served), potatoes, pasta, beef and bananas. More dancing and dramas and dancing and singing and who knows what all. Our team was finally burnt out on all of it (only two of them spoke Ugandan), so we all wandered down the road with a young girl in tow.
Thoroughly fried tilapia and chapits and cassava pancakes back to volunteer headquarters for dinner. The youth leaders kept telling Lori and I we were supposed to eat ALL of the fish. Head and bones and fins and everything. It sorta reminded me of cuy, in Peru, when it was deep fried beyond belief and you just crunched into it. Not too bad, but I wouldn’t go for it again anytime soon. Especially when dinner (at 9pm) consisted of fried pork bits over rice and matoke. Nothing wrong with getting fat on vacation, but fried everything isn’t my idea of fun new culinary treats. There were many goodbyes to many little faces that night. Best part was watching the kids playing with the bubbles. Or randomly getting a stinky, sweaty hug tackle from the most beautiful disabled girl. I love you, Irene!
Monday: Slept in a bit. Had a sit down round table with David for all the team’s questions to be appropriately translated and addressed before heading into town. Several of the team had never been outside of Kigali and were very excited to see Kampala.
Remember that selling things on the streets is illegal in Kigali as well as the fact that Kampala is several million people larger and some of them were a bit overwhelmed. Two of them were extremely happy to spend the afternoon shopping. I was excited for the first opportunity to really MOVE since arriving. Several hours of walking and you’d think I’d sleep like a rock on the bus. Except my seat was double booked… To the back of the bus, muzungo. Something fun about the roads here is they come with speed bumps in sets of three or four, or one nearly roadblock sized. And when I say really fun I mean PAINFULLY awful. Either this bus was aged and all the padding had been destroyed from years of driving over these, or the rat I think may have been living back there had chewed all the stuffing out, because it was like riding on the fender of a pickup. No, on second thought, there was at least some stuffing. At least enough to retain whatever liquid the seats previous occupant had deposited there.
Loud, painfully tail-bone breaking, smelly, cold from the wind and having a damp bum, plus the unease that comes from wondering what sort of liquid I was sitting on [I’d be able to smell something that wasn’t water, right?] and not getting lots of sleep made for the worst travel experience of my life. But I did have friends at the front of the bus, don’t think it was urine and didn’t have to go home to a doghouse. Things could have been worse. Best part of the day (because we didn’t get off the bus until the next day) was walking town with three kids I didn’t share any language with.
Tuesday: Recovering. Naps. Processing. Writing a 6 page blog (sorry!)