Tag Archives: rwanda

Friendliness: It’s not a matter of race

I’ve met so many people here, from so many different nationalities: Germans, Americans, Croatians, Canadians, Kenyans, Italians, Britons, Spaniards, Congolese, Zanzibaris, Belgians, French nationals (Frens? Frenchians?) etc. Most are tourists, some work here, some to visit, some for whatever reasons… goes without saying I’ve met lots of Rwandans too.

 

black-hat-white-hat-struggle

It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white

Let me break this into locals and foreigners:

Rwandans

Reception from locals is mixed. One time, I was hanging out with the Zanzibari (I’ve since learnt they are not called Zanzibarians) at a small café, and someone asked us if there are no jobs in Kenya/Zanzibar. Well, we broke it down to him: had we remained in our own countries, we’d have got better paying jobs (after lots of competition, of course) and we’d be in cities with vibrant social lives (read fun). Of course, we seem to be escaping competition and we have an edge in the rat race here because we are generally (sic) more qualified. We want to contribute to Rwanda’s development (at least that’s my dream) and I don’t intend to stay here forever, but when I leave I hope to have left a mark. We then told the guy who asked us the question that this is not a matter of just Rwanda but East Africa, let there be love among us. He was welcome in Kenya/Zanzibar anytime!

So far one of the challenges I face every day is trying not to scream when someone says: “but you look like one of us, how can you not speak Kinyarwanda?” Well, I have news for you: every black person looks Rwandan. There are black people in Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, Senegal… and they all don’t speak Kinyarwanda. I’m trying to learn it, you know, the basics. I even borrowed a book: English, French, Kiswahili and Kinyarwanda phrases that is so inaccurate (at least the Eng/Swa translation because I understand these two languages), I literally laugh out loud at some of the translations. Everywhere I go, whenever I tell people I don’t speak Kinyarwanda, they’re always genuinely surprised. “ You look Rwandan!” Then they tell me they’ll find me a Rwandan husband.

Well, some of the kids we teach conservation education have taken a liking to me. One time during recess, one of the girls wanted to take me to a market somewhere and buy me tea because she thought I’d be so hungry by the time the class would be over. Glad to know someone cares about me! I politely declined but they ask every time I’m in their class. Later, we had a broken conversation (as in, it was hard to understand each other), and she told me about her brothers and sisters, then asked me how many children I have, or if I’m married.

The other Rwandans I’ve met have all been very nice to me. My co-workers, I love them very much. Some others who are friends of friends, them too. The girl who works down by Volcana Lounge where I sometimes play pool. Some vets from Kigali.

The Other People in Rwanda

Well, foreigners sounds like such a harsh word, innit? Though I think it’s better than aliens!
By far, the Americans are the friendliest. I guess by the time they overcome the images ‘genocide’ brings into most minds, they’re pretty much open-minded and informed. So they’re not likely to say something like:

“Wow, you speak good English.”

It’s a miracle! A Rwandan who speaks good English!

Then when I clarify that I’m Kenyan, they sometimes nod their heads in understanding. Sometimes they’re still puzzled as to how an African (am using this term loosely, I think I mean a black African) can speak such good English.

So I’ve had some ask me, “pizza, you know pizza? We’re going to have that.” All the while speaking slooowly so I can get what they are saying. Other times, if I happen to hang out with some of them amongst other friends, they won’t speak to me directly and am like, why am I even hanging out? I love staying in my room listening to music, typing these blog posts…

But as I said, these are rare times. If someone actually decided to travel to Rwanda, they must be well informed and it’s always fun to interact with all these different people from all over Africa, and the rest of the world.

The question am sure you want to ask me is, how do I meet all these people?

Well, I live at a guest house. It’s quite small, so I get to meet all the visitors that pass through, staying for a day or two at a time. Then there are friends, and friends of friends, and friends of friends of friends… I think that’s what we Kenyans like to call connez (connections).

connections

Connections, see what I mean?

 

Parties, Funny Pets and Long Weekends

Last week, there were two public holidays in Rwanda. One was Heroes’ Day which was on a Tuesday (1st Feb) and the other was an elections day for local leaders, which was on Friday (4th Feb) so in the end, we only went to work for 3 days! How can I not love Rwanda if this trend of holidays continues?

So because Tuesday was a holiday, Kim threw his party on Monday night. Who is Kim? Oh, he’s a fun guy who sits on the board of MGVP. That’s the abbreviation of Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project, gorilla doctors who are partners of AoC, where am interning currently. Whenever Kim is in town, he throws a party and everybody is invited. Open bar and some finger foods, what more can anyone ask for on a Monday night? Suffice to say, I got home safe with albeit with little drama involving a captain in the Rwandan army, a cigarette and Amarula. Some stories are left untold, you know?

We went back to work on Wednesday only to learn Friday was a holiday. This time, I just chilled out. Read my book, Wizard of the Crow, by Ngugi wa Thiong’o. Worked on some long overdue report… came up with a nice format/template, now to fill in the information and acquire appropriate pictures.

Later on Friday evening, I went for a walk with my boss to see her friend. The friend (who’s a vet) had just acquired a new puppy, and they were debating on names: Strider, Aragon, Gollum or Rocky. The first three names are from The Lord of The Rings, FYI. The puppy’s a um… I forget the breed but he was only 3 months old. He’d traveled for almost a week, from Paris to Amsterdam to (I don’t know where) to Kigali to here…

She has two other dogs apart from Puppy (his temporary name though Rocky was beginning to stick.) Her 7-year-old daughter is a bundle of energy and she loves animals too. She took me round their place: they have a donkey, called Punda. He’s a cute donkey, little but that’s his size, he’s fully grown. She has a saddle and rides him sometimes.

Next… she showed me their guinea pigs. (Just for those who might be thinking so: they’re not pigs from Guinea but a cross between rats and rabbits.) I didn’t want to hold them at first but after a while, figuring out if they can’t harm a 7-year-old, what can they do to an over (slightly over) 18? So I picked one up, petted it and gave it a carrot. They love carrots. They’re just so cute, one is er.. I forget their names. I think  Mdogo was black and white, and Sir was pure white with sparkling red eyes.

 

A very cute guinea pig

A very cute guinea pig

This weekend, I also went for swimming at the nearby Ishema Hotel. You pay about 1500 Rwandan Francs and swim for the whole day.

 

swimming-pool

The Ishema Hotel Swimming pool. Image from www.tripadvisor.com

And after finishing Wizard of the Crow on Sunday, I went to visit a workmate. I’m doing rounds visiting everyone I work with during weekends, don’t ask why. I’m trying to build relations, friendships, you know? Anyway, he made me watch a longer than 1-hr tape of his wedding! (Yawn). But I only write good things about my colleagues, so the wedding was very interesting. No drama, nothing out of the ordinary, just a nice wedding. Then he handed me about 1000-photo album with guess what, just wedding pictures! I was thoroughly entertained. And well fed by my hosts.

Here’s to Rwanda.

Rwanda: The Positives

My last post on Rwanda had an error of omission, I only wrote about the things that bother me about this country but not what I love and I was reminded by a couple of readers. So here goes what’s good about Rwanda: Disclaimer: This is in no way an accurate guide to Rwanda. This is entirely subjective and based on my experiences here so far. The first thing I love about this country is it’s cleanness. I’ve never seen a cleaner EA country, never mind I’ve only been to Uganda and of course Kenya (of which am a citizen). They do not allow polythene bags in the country and as such there are no roadside eyesores that continue to rustle and float around in the wind. Yesterday, I finally saw Kigali in daylight and it’s manicured roads and pedicured sidewalks. With flowers, trees and that beautiful roundabout with a fountain in the middle. Wish I had carried a camera but maybe I can google a pic:

Kigali Fountain

The fountain at the Kigali roundabout. It’s beautiful

The second good thing about this country is its beauty. Oh I know, we say Kenya is beautiful, but Kenya is diverse. Some parts are beautiful and some parts you may not want to go. But Rwanda is made up of thousands (possibly) of hills and mountains. The roads wind up and down the hills and valleys and the views are breathtaking. The mountain gorillas can only be found in Rwanda, Uganda and Congo: at the national park that the three countries share though it’s called different names in the different countries.

 

Rwanda Countryside

Most of Rwanda’s countryside looks like this

The third thing is security. You can walk around at any time of the night, something you cannot do in Kenya. There are army patrols, police patrols and community security patrols. They do not harass ordinary citizens as they walk around at night, the way sometimes in Kenya the police can rough you up, ask you for ID and a bribe, or just a bribe outright. Another thing is Rwandans’ obedience to traffic laws and general rules of law. Kenya has to be one of the worst places to drive in, nobody follows traffic rules, not even pedestrians. Boda boda (motorbike) operators do not have helmets for themselves, let alone for their passengers. Here in Rwanda, it’s a rule to have a helmet both for the passenger and for the driver (cycler?) Lest I forget the friendliness of the people I have met so far. From the guest house where I live to the AoC place of work, from Volcana Lounge where I sometimes hang out playing pool to the market where I shopped. There is no hostility or impatience that you find so common in Nairobi. In terms of development, I’d say Rwanda is ripe for it. They have a Rwanda Development Boards that oversees all areas of development including conservation of the environment. Registering a business should not take you long and am sure they’ll proved you with all the information you need. The roads are fairly smooth and wherever they are starting to wear off, I’m seeing repair works going on (always a Chinese guy in charge, just like in Kenya).

Lowland gorilla

A low-land gorilla resting. He/she is actually in an orphanage which I visited recently at Kinigi, near the Volcanoes National Park