It’s hard to believe that it’s only been two weeks since I landed in Kigali. I have experienced and learned so much that it feels as if my time here has been much longer. Did I really take my first taxi-moto just 12 days ago? Was it only last week that I ate my first brochette? Did I really teach my first class just last Monday?
I know the answer to all these questions is yes, but at the same time, I’m inclined to argue that it is no when I examine how much I have changed in my thoughts and perceptions since I got here. I am not the same person. And as I continue to learn and live and breathe here, I know I will continue to change. Some of the changes are obvious – such as the increasing number of battle-wounds I bear from those vicious blood-sucking creatures we call mosquitoes, or the fine brown dust that seems to cover all my clothing, or even the red ink stain that won’t seem to leave my fingers after I grade papers. Others changes are more subtle – for instance, my nonchalance at seeing trucks of armed soldiers drive by, my heightened caution and fear of writing or saying too much, the whisper my voice takes when I have a question about politics.
The changes are there. I can’t pinpoint how they happened or when they occurred, but they’re there. Since it is difficult for me to thoroughly process and quantify the experiences I’ve had, I thought I would share with you some of the stories – perhaps this way, you too can share in my experiences and take from these vignettes what you will.
An afternoon walk in the neighborhood
Last week – It’s 1:00 PM and I have just returned home from teaching. I arrive by taxi-moto at the gate and Alphonse, one of the two security guards, opens it for me. “Murakoze,” I say, thanking him. He smiles and nods. Before I even head into the house, the wonderful aroma of fresh bread, mixed with basil, tomatoes, and goat cheese envelops me. Ah, Marie is here. I walk into the kitchen to see Marie removing the lasagne from the oven. “Amakuru,” I say. “Ni meza,” she responds. I drop off my bag in the bedroom, change into flip-flops and return to the kitchen to help myself to a generous portion of the lasagne, with a slice of bread on the side and one of those sweet, tiny bananas that Marie has purchased from the market. Delicious.
I have no other plans for the afternoon, so I decide to take a stroll and explore the little shops by the house. I grab some money and a hunk of stale bread to pick at and I head out. First stop: the little art store across the street. I navigate my way to the other side of the road (a greater feat than it sounds because all the smaller roads here are peppered with gigantic potholes and random rocks) and walk down the stairs. Just outside the door, a man is garnishing small clay figurines with black powder to give them a reddish hue. The owner comes out from inside and welcomes me. “Mwirirwe,” he says, “Tu parles francais? Italian? English?” “English,” I say. Turns out he is
fluent in five languages. I ask whether I can examine the artwork inside, and he says, “Yes, yes, yes!” but before I enter, he grabs my elbow and points at the bread. “Can I have some?” he says. Astonished, I say, “Yes, of course,” and hold it out to him. He breaks off a piece and immediately begins to eat it. It is very stale and crusty, but not a single crumb escapes him. I give him the remaining hunk, and he beckons two children from inside who devour the rest of the bread in a matter of seconds. I see their eyes staring hungrily at my purse. I wish I had more food, but I only have jolly ranchers. Those disappear immediately as well.
Next stop: the Mamba Club House, a restaurant and bar just up the street. As I walk past the pool and volleyball nets, the owner comes out and welcomes me. He is from Vancouver and he is living in Rwanda with his Congolese wife and two children. He directs me to a table by the pool where two Americans are lounging. They are from Atlanta, Georgia and they are living in Rwanda because the wife is temporarily working for a public health organization in Kigali. Two of the kids run out, and one of them, a six-year-old boy who is grossly overweight whines, “Daddy, daddy, buy me one these. I want a space person just like this one. I want this one with the wings and the spaceship.” The two parents laugh and the Daddy assures his son that he will purchase that exact action figure. The boy bounds off, his little white tummy bouncing as he runs through the grass.
I visit a couple more stores, buy some Iyange passion fruit juice (SO AMAZINGLY YUMMYLICIOUS) and some mini-bananas. Then, with the sun setting in the distance, I walk a couple minutes back to my street, wave at the art shop owner across the way and go inside.
WELCOME TO KIMIHURURA.