It’s been a week since I got here. It’s only natural I compare Rwanda and Kenya in almost every conversation I have. In Kenya this would never happen, in Kenya this is how we do it, in Kenya we do this, we do that, we hate this, we love that…. I hope my workmates are not tired of me yapping all day. I try to keep it to a minimum and to avoid saying just how better we are than them, because we are not. Our technology may be better, the education system may be way ahead, but in the end we’re all just people. Equal yet not equal.
Three things bother me, actually, four things bother me about this country. I love Rwanda so far, but it has a long way to go. Eric, a colleague of mine, told me he listens to East Africa Radio and they always ask, “Rwanda mtaweza kweli?”
The first thing that disturbs me is people’s reaction to white people. Don’t get me wrong, if a white person goes to a remote village in Kenya, everyone is bound to get curious and a little excited. It’s allowed. But here, it’s a little too much. My host (the guest house owner) told me sometimes when she opens the gate, she may find adult women who stop walking to just stare at her. One time they even formed a semi-circle and just stared until she’d closed the gate.
When Julie and the rest of the team, I included, drove up to Rushubi Primary School to prepare the classroom for lessons this year, all the kids in the playground stopped what they were doing to run to her. They had surrounded her so much she could hardly take a step. Some of the little kids were falling over and getting stepped on; it was almost a stampede. Whenever she’s driving, kids who know her shout her name, which is great, and she honks at them. Those who don’t know also call out, mzungu, mzungu and ask for something. Most kids almost always wave, at first I also waved back till I realized, oh, I’m not included in the waves. So now I don’t wave back.
There is always an association in people’s minds of white people and an unlimited amount of money, which is common all over the world and more so here.
The second thing that bothers me is the newness of things. When I first came here, I was so excited to see almost everything looks new. The roads, the buildings, the fences… when we drove through the countryside, the farms looked like they hadn’t been around for long, the houses looked like people had just begun to live in them. It’s been only 15 years since the genocide so this should not surprise me, the country is still rebuilding. At first it was exciting to see how new and organized everything looks, but now it just makes me a little sad. I like the way there is a permanence to old things. An assurance that since these buildings have been here for so long, they’ll still be here many years to come. If you go to our home in the village, where my grandmother still lives, there’s a feeling that we’re all totally settled and the place has been and will always be there. With new things, you can only hope that they’ll last, that just maybe this is the last time they’ll have to rebuild.
The third thing that has me sleepless at night (let’s just say it’s not the source of the sleepless but I think about it whenever am awake) is the education system in Rwanda. This is the third week of January and schools have not yet opened officially. Can you imagine that? While in Kenya, it takes two days for kids to settle in school and learning to start, in Rwanda, schools don’t even open on the first week of January but on the second, and even then kids may not turn up for school for almost two weeks. The primary 8 results are not yet out (by the time am typing this they’re already a week late) and like Kenya they determine which secondary school you go to. The laxity with which they are taking their education is just disturbing.
The standard of education needs a lot of improvement. Rwanda switched to English as its official language but hardly anyone speaks it. The teachers themselves don’t know it very well, so sometimes they teach in Kinyarwanda. Kids in primary five can hardly understand what you’re telling them in English, let alone express themselves beyond, “my name is….” and good morning, good night and bye.
The teachers looked like a sad lot to me. Okay, maybe not sad but there is no enthusiasm in them. If you’re teaching kids, you have to be motivated. They’re paid so poorly ( I don’t know the exact amount, will try to find out) and there may be salary delays. Teachers all over the world may be underpaid, but any government that knows the importance of education should realize that a motivated teaching workforce is the key.
The last thing that bothers me is lack of openness. The fear of the police. The way there are some things you can’t talk about. The way you can’t criticize Kagame. He’s a great man but he’s not perfect. But these things take time.
I just hope there is some way I can contribute towards Rwanda’s development. It needs the support of the rest of East Africa.
Onto Lighter Matters:
I have had some good times here. Remember the cute guy who came to stay at this guest house with his parents? Well, he came with his American girlfriend who’s of Chinese/Japanese origin. Sad, right? I don’t think the gf considered me a threat so we spent the second night chatting with him before dinner. He has the heaviest American accent I’ve ever heard, it’s like he swallows all his words. He was reading some book about Rwanda in ’94 and he’d put a thumb we he’d stopped so I told him I’d give him my bookmark.
At dinner time, we sat next to each other and I noticed how well toned he looked and his hair is like golden (it’s some shade of brown, I think). After dinner, his parents retired for the night and they live in Kigali. They offered me a place to crash if am ever in town, they’re sweet people.
Then we also left to go to bed and since our rooms are next door, cute guy (his name’s Matt) came into my room and I searched among my books for the bookmark I had. It was written something like: from someone who loves you or crap like that and I thought it’d give a strong hint. I couldn’t find the damn thing!
Anyway, he said it’s the thought that really matters and thanks and then he gave me his card with his number and email. I asked him what he does for a living and he said he’s a personal trainer and massage expert. I told him if am ever in Oregon I’d give him a call. I’d certainly do with a massage, LOL. Then he gave me a long goodnight hug, sad I may never see him again.
The following day, as they were leaving early in the morning, I woke up to say bye and gave Matt a bookmark I had improvised. You know those decoration cards you find in new wallets? I never threw mine away so I scribbled my number at the back and gave him the bookmark.
Time will tell.