Wednesday, December 11, 2013

School’s Out Forever!!!

Soundtrack for this post:
Lulu Rouge - Bodycodes

A little while ago I went to a performance / graduation ceremony at a primary school (which is like elementary but see below for exceptions) run by the so called Meg Foundation.  First, I have to mention that EVERY single time I didn’t ask about the trip to some thing or place, it always involved multiple buses, lots of waiting, lots of walking, and ALWAYS what turns out to be a HIKE up some hoary hill threatening to roll me down every moment because I never wear the right shoes.  This time, it was all in the extreme heat of a clear equatorial midday.  You know, because I dressed for a graduation performance at a school and not a day of hiking!  I didn’t even bring my bag with my water.  Thus, the water that was brought by the Germans and that they allowed me to drink out of sharing with them utterly saved my life.

I feel particularly sentimental about this moment with the Germans today, because today I said goodbye to them for what I hope will NOT be forever.

Anyway, Meg is an English woman who came here years ago to start to help people.  She was formerly like a headmaster at a school or something.  There are also many other people working there from all over including an Austrian/German friend you will remember.

When we arrived we were shown to the patio under the porch of the main building.  This was strange and uncomfortable.  The porch isn’t big enough to hold tons of people.  So, it only held teachers and officials and ministers and….muzungu.  They showed me to sit there JUST BECAUSE I am muzungu.  (I just typed “they showed me to sit…”  this is Muzungu-RwEnglish or something.  See my post script for an explanation of this weird pseudo language).  It was really strange to be treated with this kind of respect and honor for no reason.  In the center there was a wide space where all the performances and other ceremony took place.  On the other side, and important for later, under the trees, sat all of the students and family on small benches and chairs designed primarily for those who are 5 years old or younger.  They were really crowded in there.  As the whole thing began it was impossible NOT to feel like I was the one on the “stage” as the audience sat watching us.  I mostly hated this seating arrangement because the bulk of the performances, though not the speeches, were facing US and not the actual AUDIENCE.  How dumb.  We are not that important.  Parents are more important for showing students off.

The Meg Foundation is basically a network connecting donors and those too poor to afford primary school fees.  There is some exception to the recently adopted 9 year and previously I think 5 year, school plan that is meant to make school free for a certain number of years.  Just another reason why so many love Kagame.  But just like my scholarship, free isn’t really free.  There are books and fees etc. and who knows about the quality of the education.  Additionally, most schools public schools are boarding schools and some families cannot afford to send their children away for school as their work in the fields or wherever is part of the family income.  So they must supplement.  Meg and others connect those in need with aptitude to those with money and a passion for childhood education.  They learn most of the things that we normally learn in school plus English and the basics of muzungu culture.  Sharing and personal possession are a big part of this. 

For instance, as a side note, when I came here I started getting texts of photos from a good friend of mine of the main characters of all the African movies that Americans know about.  The funniest one was from the film The Gods Must be Crazy (and The Gods Must be Crazy II – if you haven’t seen either of these get them…RIGHT NOW!!!!).  I thought they were sort of funny and also inappropriate, you know, thinking that all Africans are like pygmies living in tribes in the Serengeti or something.  But, I have come to learn something on this topic myself:  a muzungu teacher recently told me that Rwandese children are really like that tribe in the Gods Must be Crazy (if you haven’t seen this, stop, right now, see it and its sequel RIGHT AWAY!!!!!! I’m not kidding!):  they just take things from each other.  Like, as the student is writing on their assignment, the student next to them will just take the pencil out of their hand to use it.  This doesn’t really seem to bother each student, but it really bothers the teachers.  Hehe.  Ok, so more about the school and the performance:

The graduation part was for three sections of the school:

1.     Students who have completed their education and are on their way to secondary school.

2.     Women who have come back to begin to learn how to read and all the basics having missed primary education for whatever reason based on earlier policies and poverty and access (most of those now living in the “suburbs” though more appropriately called “villages” surrounding the core of Kigali only came here within one generation).

3.     Very young students who used to be a part of the school who are now no longer allowed.  This is a complicated thing.  There is a man who is in charge of when children of a certain age can be in school.  By this I mean the actual hours per day they are allowed to be in school.  Part of watching the performance that day was also watching an extended and performative argument between Meg and the teachers and students and parents and a representative from the Ministry of Education.  This minister attends all such “graduation” ceremonies.  It kind of reminds me of the mafia, like you have to invite your “godfather” to the wedding of your daughter.  Or, whenever I would go with my aunt when I was younger to a rally of the Gypsy Motorcycle Club and, in Texas, local chapters of the Gypsies always have to invite the Banditos motorcycle club/gang to their rallies as a sign of respect because Banditos “own” Texas (compared with the Hell’s Angels who “own” like California and…I don’t know, Sweden (but really, Sweden, it’s true – didn’t you see the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo?)).  So, the thing is that this guy said that this kids of a certain age can no longer attend school in the afternoon, which for some other reason, is the only time they can attend.  So they can't attend AT ALL.  His reason?  I am not kidding when I repeat what I was told:  he says, everyone KNOWS, children can't learn in the afternoon.  Really?  Really?!  I wish someone had told my parents that growing up.  (Just kidding, ADORED school.  Learning is the foreplay to experience, to life.)

Anyway, the performance.  First there was traditional Rwandan dancing by the younger and older students.  Everyone was so proud.  First, it is traditional, and second, they can make money doing this later.  It is considered a real skill, which was obvious to me watching it, I cannot imagine how much they practice, and also because they are universally adored.  Troops like this are hired all over the country for events ranging from a US Embassy party to other school graduations.

After the performances the students put on different skits.  They are designed as little moral fables plus a way for them to practices common English words, phrases, and pronunciation.  One had a girl with a basket on her head carrying paper fruits to take for sale at the market.  She keeps sitting under a “tree” and saying she is hot and tired.  Other children keep coming out with masks of different animals on their faces and stealing the fruits from her basket.  This happens over and over.  The girl with the basket is easily the most popular person in all the skits because she has a cute face and LOUD voice and she keeps saying “no problem”, a phrase ubiquitous in Kinyarwandan as, I before mentioned “na cyabazo”! where it was not meant to be placed in the script.  It cracks everyone up.

Another skit has students going to school and then a group of “bad” kids with cigarettes (pencils) and beers (Fantas) and stealing food from someone with a basket of amanzis (I think, they are like fried bread lumps that are less sweat than doughnuts but the same basic concept).  They steal that breads from the person and then forget that they still have to do their lines with all the food and Fantas and cigarettes.  They easily stole the whole show!  The moral was that you should not shirk your studies to go and “make money” before you are old enough with the bad kids.

There were more skits that I remember well, but, frankly they won’t translate well in this written format.

After this came some speeches.  Mostly this was teachers and stuff saying really wonderful things about all the students.

Then came the “graduations”.  Adult women, then children who are no longer able to go (see above), and then the older children who have completed their grade and are going on to a higher school.  Meg gives them all gifts.  She gives them a dictionary each and lots of the school supplies and even books they will need in the next grade to save for them the fees.

After this there were more speeches.  The most important one was from a guy from the Ministry of Education.  He talked FOREVER.  Right as the sun was shining on all of us in the audience.  It was uncomfortable.  Meg leaned over to me and told me that this was usual.  She said, “you give the man a microphone!”  This is really customary in Rwandese culture as I have found in my time here.  If you give an official the chance to make a speech, they will talk FOREVER and they will repeat themselves many, many times.  I could talk about this for a long time but will save that for something in the future I think.

About halfway through the speech, some officials there begin to pass out Fantas and candies to the muzungus, which was extremely polite because it kept us from becoming faint all sitting in the sun listening to this guy forever.

After this the audience got up to give a fair number of speeches about education in general and about Meg in particular.  Many, many families and women gave gifts to her.  Many people were crying.  One women who had no legs below the knees got up and gave a long speech that was extremely religious.  She was arguing that god was working through Meg and a number of other things.  I can tell this because my “education” in Kinyarwandan is largely useless in that it came from a missionary.  So I know many religious words.  For instance, Imana iruvuga (god is speaking).

Last, they turned up the music and brought back out the men playing drums and the women with the high pitched traditional singing and all the little dancers came back out and it was much less a formal choreographed thing and considerably more audience friendly.  Individuals “battled” in their dances or danced with partners or shone in their own spotlight.  The audience was COMPLETELY ramped by the end of this, partly from the sheer nervous energy of waiting through all those speeches and partly from the extreme joviality and skillfulness and charisma of those little dancers!

Then, oh joy of joys, just as your feet are bounding the ground and your hands are beating out the rhythm on your thighs because the music pumped you up so much, the little dancers dispersed and ran and grabbed all the muzungus and ministers in the “place of honor” in which we sat and dragged us all out to dance with them!!!  Yes, there are photos, even a video, of me dancing with these kids.  May these never come to light.

After a while they let us go and then the music switched from traditional to a stereo, in fact there was a popular local deejay sitting in the honored place with us wearing REALLY cool clothes, who then turned the music up and the ENTIRE PLACE rushed the “stage” area and began dancing.  My favorite was a very old Rwandese woman who I think maybe should have been a dancer as a profession instead of whatever it was she normally did.  Anyway, the whole scene devolved into a crazy family dance party.

The party went on for a while and was really, really pleasant.  We shook hands with a million children and women and grandmothers and fathers and some teachers and ministers who thought we were also important because we were sitting in the “place of honor” with them and are white.

A child comes and asks Martin if I am his mother.  REALLY?!  I think I am 2 years older than him.  But, as I have found in my time here, Rwandese can tell about muzungu age just about as well as I can tell about their – almost not at all.  You know, I know if they are 2 or 10 years old.  And sure, I can tell if you are 30 or 50, with a general error of about 15 YEARS!

Then we were given, even while the party continued, a short tour of the facilities which include many classrooms, a courtyard, a nursery, and a fully functional kitchen and bathroom.  During this tour, a rather pudgy young girl grabbed my arm and looked at me sincerely in the face and said, “You are really big.”  I had no idea what to say to this because everything about the context and her presentation of this exclamation confused me.  So I said, kindly, in response, “Yes, and you are very small.”

Then we began the SLOW TRUDGE down the everlastingly high hill this place was at to go back to the bus stop.  Like most reality, there really is a natural climax and a denouement to most experiences.  And like most reality, there is the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Meaning: reality is decidedly and always GRAY.  There is nowhere else I have experienced this so vividly than in Rwanda, as I have often pointed out in my posts.  There is always something morbid.

On the way down the hill, even as I considered what that girl had said to me and its meaning, a man who seemed to be celebrating the children was EXTREMELY drunk.  He didn’t come near the Germans, I suppose because it seemed that Heike is obviously with Martin.  But he came right at me.  He began to push me with the hand that was holding his beer, with a straw sticking out of it.  He pushed on my shoulder and looked blearily into my eyes and said many things that I didn’t understand.  Most of what I understood were two words: muzungu and umugore (woman).  He wouldn’t get off me as I walked haphazardly across rocks and gouges in the road from the rain which clearly had sewage in them.  I kept saying “oya…OYA”  (no…No!!).  Finally, I gently pushed him back because anything more than a gentle push would have knocked him down the hill.  People on the sidelines were laughing.  He kept calling after me as we continued down the hill.

Just as we came to a particularly hairy part of the journey downward where I had to be really careful, because when I am not warned of a veritable up country hike somewhere in Rwanda I tend to wear inappropriate shoes, some kids called out to me.  They said, “Hey, BIIIIIGGG mama!”.  I was very irritated by this point and so I turned and pointed at them with my finger, rude in this culture, and said, “I HEAR YOU” with the most intense eyes I can conjure.

And this is important, because I do not know what it means when children call me big, though I do know of adults (and for adults it is a good thing) but more importantly Rwandese do NOT know what it means when muzungus get angry.  Rwanda has a very emotionally repressed culture.  In general, I do not observe them smiling or laughing, except in close company, and they do not express feelings, though they give compliments easily.  They also do not get angry.  I have, a few times, in the course of my work seen a muzungu from England, in particular, get VERY angry at having to wait for Rwandese bureaucracy.  When they yell, Rwandese cower.  I have yelled exactly once here in front of a Rwandese and it was not AT anyone but TO another muzungu about something frustrating me.  My Rwandese friend, who I have NOT told you about, was very, very concerned for me and what I might do.

When I get home I am in a foul mood and do not know how to comprehend all these comments on my weight or the drunk guy.  Eventually, over a week later, I asked my friend here.  She told me that usually being fat is good and it means that either you have a successful husband who loves you and feeds you a lot or that you yourself are successful and feed yourself a lot, or both.  It is a compliment.  Every time the Peacecorp worker I know goes back out to the villages, her lady friends there tell her “You are getting fatter!” with great ebullience!  But, from children to a muzungu, maybe is teasing.  But based on how I explained all of their facial expressions and the way they said it, my friend tells me that she thinks the children were just exclaiming, narrating what they see, instead of making a judgment on me.

So, now, after all this gray, I will leave you with two things.  First, PHOTOS!  All of the photos are big but that doesn't mean you can see them well like this.  I think if you click on them you can see them in higher definition.
Oh my god I want that woman's collar!  I know its so small and she is in the background, way background, the women with the yellow collar and head thing, and you cant really see it here, EVEN if you click on it.  But when I come back in April, I am going to buy that style of shirt.  The fashions here are OUT OF THIS WORLD!  The drummer is the big guy in the light blue.  The girls are dancing here.

 The woman at front with the blue dress with yellow and orange thingies is Meg.

 I took multiple pictures of this woman in green giving the speech to Meg.  First, because what she said was beautiful as it was quietly translated to us behind these fences.  Second, look in closely, and this is maybe a weird thing to say, but she had the most BEAUTIFUL nose I have ever seen.  Her nostrils, the shape.  They are upward.  As people say that others have "almond" shaped eyes.  This woman had almond shaped nostrils.  Like a lion.  I was mesmerized.



Some of my friend's students.  They made papier mache "planets" of the solar system over balloons and eventually painted them.

This might be my favorite photo, though certainly not my best memory because it is so very rarely that you can capture what you love on film at the right moment and even less often, in Rwanda, that you can show that videos of your favorite moments to your friends back home.  Some of the kids trying to "rehearse" like their slightly older dancing compatriots.  I cannot describe to you enough what watching, in particular, the boys was like.  Just like the Wodaabe of another African country whose males are the ones with makeup and who strut and dance for days to get the women.  To see a little of what I mean and the charisma and BEAUTY of males in other cultures (muzungu culture beware because I think they are gorgeous! (Though, husband, have no fear because you will always be the most beautiful to me...) also I use this video in my courses to discuss gender and culture and beauty (why can't men be beautiful and women strong!!!  Freaking Greeks and their artistic and cultures heritage (and by that I mean our interpretation of them, you know those statues were painted!  The Greeks were NOT WHITE!!))):

And adorable little lady!!!!

More girls dancing.

A gorgeous little couple dancing.
The most popular boys dancing!  Oh how I wish I could have captured this well.

Smart kids "posing" for the picture.
The young dancers with their trainer from the all important cultural dances in Kigali.  But, where the trainer comes from, though important, is another story.
A semi decent shot of the loud and super charismatic "na cyabazo" girl from above.

Second, a quote.  During one of the speeches by Meg, she asked the crowd with included younger and older students and their families a question: why are our families’ heroes?!  The studied response by the ENTIRE crowd was completely amazing: “Because they didn’t abuse our right to study!!!”  one of the major issues here is that younger children and women and all those in need of an education work.  I don’t so much mean that they work outside the home making money in a business.  That, like the USA, is mostly illegal.  But they also help their families with the housework, with the gardening and farming, with childrearing, and with selling things that the household grows or makes on the street.  It literally costs the family to have a child in school even though the school may or may not be free.  The result is this increasing understanding running through different veins but coming also directly from the Ministry of Education: that education is the RIGHT of the young.  And that by keeping them from school you are not letting them achieve full citizenship.  I loved the romanticism of this.  That the parents and families of successful students are also to be congratulated because they didn’t “abuse the right to study”.  As a person who loves studying and learning more than anything than my husband, this makes me swoon.

P.S. If you thing my turns of phrase are getting a little strange, you should hear it when I actually speak.  Living among even so many English or French speaking Rwandese REALLY affects how you speak if you wish to be understood.

Monday, December 9, 2013

How to Know You’re a Eurocentrist (not redneck though maybe that too)

So, weeks ago when I mentioned that Nicole and I were creating a list.  Well, this is it and plus and minus things:

1.     You don’t know that you shouldn’t use too much toilet paper (it doesn’t go down well and there is never enough and you should really bring some with you everywhere)

2.     You think it’s normal to eat meat for every meal (it’s expensive and you don’t know where it’s from or how old it is.  And when you are here, you WONT always want to eat the “mystery meat”; it is not that it is not definitely from a cow or a rabbit or chicken or whatever, but what part it is and the logic used for cleaning in (is that large heart ARTERY! THAT RUBBERY TUBE THING!!??) or how long it waited in a non-refrigerated environment to get to you.  Best to do like they do and BOIL EVERYTHING UNTIL IT'S A ROCK but with an excellent sauce!)

3.     You take water for granted (it’s the most valuable thing in the world.  And though often cheap, it is often very expensive, here, for the most part, I have drunk the “tap” water.  It comes in two forms: rain water going into the large rubber tanks or rain water coming from the nation water plant into the large rubber tanks.  As I read from many international “muzungu” sources including PeaceCorp and the US embassy, etc, it is OK to brush your teeth and shower in this but you should NEVER drink it.  Strangely, my PeaceCorp friend has been drinking it for years.  Two thing about this: first, she thinks that she like me, had “amoebas” already for a long time, this is code for “DYSENTERY” btw.  Second, even Rwandese think she is crazy.  There are only two ways to drink water:  the first is to boil the water.  Everyone has these rather larger (1.5 liter) “tea kettles” that they use to boil water for almost everything.  Though they can still result is a seriously rancid smell (though I have mentioned before the smell comes from EVERYWHERE) and also a really visible “cloud” as muzungus call it in the water.  It literally took me over two months to see the “cloud”.  Once I did, and long after I had both had dysentery and my breath even smells like that rancid smell, I stopped drinking the “tap” water and switched to “bottled”.  So, that is the second type.  “Bottled” water comes from the Huye province.  Go ahead and look it up if you want to know what I have been drinking.  Like the milk here, it is irradiated at high temperature and therefore is strange.  It is sold in large 5 liters jugs.  I have been drinking these for 2 or 3 weeks and, in terms of price, they are quite cheap compared to any smaller vessel.  Though, they are really difficult to drink out of.  But, as I have found, even these freaking STINK like everything and everyone else here.  I miss American or European, even Vegas, which I consider the worst USA water, and so does the American Medical Association (any water that results in surgery (it has too “soft”, meaning it has too much magnesium or something and results in kidney stones at a record rate) is bad water).

4.     You think the West invented or is the only place that enjoys fine alcohol (alcohol is universally adored.  It’s not a western invention and everyone responds the same way when drunk: happy, angry, sad, but generally ebullient, and always annoying to a sober person)

5.     You take federal drug or food regulations for granted and then say we should have less government (is that water really ok?  Is that milk really ok?  By that I mean, is it ok to drink milk out of a plastic sack that has never been refrigerate and does not ask you to refrigerate it and does not go bad and is therefore a higher temperature pasteurization process plus irradiation even though it only comes from 5 FLIPPING MILES FROM HERE?!  Is there manure on that tomato?  Will you get salmonella from that meat?  Even though you buy an avocado from your farmer next door, you look at the avocados from your own tree and wonder why I have worms in mine and you don’t and then second guess this whole assumption? I am only saying all this as an expert on freaking dysentery, which I think gives me some real experience to say...anyway…some things about food hygiene.  Also, have you ever found what could be part of the heart valve of a cow you are eating and could also be a rolled up piece of skin and could also be a part of a MEDICAL TUBE in your food and wondered about it?!!!!)

6.     Really?  You have air conditioning?

7.     Really? You have electricity?  All the time?

8.     REALLY?! You have internet?  All THE TIME?!

9.     When you think you will die without hot water.  (Actually you will.  Everyone SINGLE time you pour freezing cold water over your head about 50 times at 5am on a 50 degree morning, you die a little.)

10. When you wear everything that you want to wear whenever you want to wear it.  Because you can and either someone else does your laundry or because you have a washing machine.  (Here, you wear something until it smells or is visibly soiled.  Because laundry is expensive either in time and supplies or in money for someone else’s time labor and supplies.  Additionally, I have recently found that I am committing a Rwandese faux pa.  Here people do their only laundy….in the bath!  They have only a few pairs of underwear and they wash it when they bathe.  I have been having my friend do my underwear with my laundry.  I was ashamed when I learned this and told her.  She says, na cyabazo (no problem!) and for two reasons; first, I am her muzungu friend and she understands.  Second, she says I am the cleanest person.  (REALLY?!  I have never felt dirtier in my life.)  My clothes are never “dirty”, she says.  Really?!  I tell her yes, but I sweat all the time and Rwandese don’t!  She agrees, but says that sweat is not so dirty.  If you sweat then you wear them one time all day and wash them.  But because Rwandese who don’t do really hard work, that is those in the field, don’t sweat so much, they wear the clothes over and over again and so they are really dirty.  I don’t believe her that my clothes aren’t dirty, but I am always grateful for her grace.  In fact, though this is so hard to put as a parenthetical moment, it is because of her that I have really experienced, first hand, the meaning of both the terms “grace” and “peace” because she has both in abundance.  In fact, these characteristics in her both “surpasseth all understanding”). 

11. You think that “sand” is not a normal part of your diet.  (If you are at a restaurant or at home and you chew one piece of “grit”, you think nothing of it.  But if you are at home and you are eating your own washed lettuce and you get even TWO pieces of grit, you throw it out.  Because you know you didn’t wash it enough.  If you get TWO pieces of grit at a restaurant you send it back, because you know THEY didn’t wash it enough.  If you are in Rwanda and you go out and you buy a package of pre-contained pasta yourself and give it to your cook and they cook it and almost every SINGLE bite contains grit, you think nothing of it but, if you are a muzungu, you worry a little about your teeth in the long run and consider the amount of blackness / redness (claylike) that you pull out of your nose every day.  And then, you say, oh well…and just keep eating.  Because EVERYTHING you eat is full of grit of some kind.  You stop asking yourself within the first week exactly what the grit is.  It could be bone or gristle or sand or clay or fingernail…you can't care.  You know it's been boiled and you just stop caring and remember home fondly knowing that your cook, because you should KNOW, is a good one.  And I KNOW mine is a good one.  And yet, every day, I eat sand.)

12. You think that mosquitoes at twilight will crawl all over you in the “nice” months and eat you up and leave giant welts all over you that will itch for days but a nice frost in the northern states will rid you of these pests but also rid you of the use of your yard.  (Actually, mosquitos are a sort of mixed comparison.  First, in Rwanda, there are no real “seasons” even in the ways that a Texan might think of them.  There is the short rainy season and the long rainy season.  The dry seasons are hotter and drier, of course, and predicate the necessity for heavy drapes in most houses.  But!!!!  There are more mosquitoes in the cooler and rainier seasons.  But!!!  They are almost ONLY existent in the twilight hours (2 hours between 6 and 8pm here.  Second, there are WAY more mosquitos here.  You think you might be carried off?  I mean this is only comparable to Louisiana or something.  Third, and on a strangely positive note, the mosquitos here are really small and make really small bites.  I mean, they are all over you, but they leave a small bit that itches, and I am not kidding, ONCE.  You scratch the lump and then the lump itches no more and then it goes away.  Again, on the negative: well, there really are a lot of them but they are only in those hours for sure.  But really, these are the smartest mosquitos in the WORLD.  I live in NY and have also lived in FL and TX.  They are similar in all three places but the seasons kill them off in NY and so that is nice.  But, I have also lived in Alaska.  There, the mosquitos are NOT designed for small mammals but for the abundant large mammals that live there.  Deer and moose and bears.  Thus, the mosquitos in Alaska are HUGE and they leave HUGE welts that itch for DAYS, but they are also the largest and dumbest and slowest things alive.  All you have to do is pay attention and swat them away or grab them.  But here, not a chance of swatting them or grabbing them.  They are too small and almost look like what we would call gnats.  In addition, Rwandese mosquitos are also attracted to light and heat in a way that I have not experienced in the USA.  So, as it turns out, my computer, while I am encoding data 24/7, is usually a sufficient decoy.  And, though I get tons of bites every day, they itch for the first time and then never again and the welts go away RIGHT AWAY.  What polite mosquitos.  Last, and the most severe negative, of COURSE, they carry freaking MALARIA!!!!  So, I am taking malaria medication once a week.  This particular variety has the effect, while not of the stomach variety for which I am infinitely grateful particularly because of my history of stomach problems….hallucinations!!!  Thus, I often think that there are mosquitos around me which are not actually there.)

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Power of Prayer

My friend recently came to me to ask me to do something important that I never do: would I pray for her sister!  Why!!! I asked what is happening!  She says that her sister’s employer, who is a tech guy from Pakistan, recently lost 2 million RWF (Rwandan francs).  This is about 3 thousand dollars and like a fortune for almost ANYONE in Rwanda.  When this kind of sum is lost, everyone near the person, who is of “lower” status, is in suspicion.  My friend was beside herself with worry.

I asked her a bevy of questions about her sister and the nature of her employment and, basically everything she had already asked her sister.  The problem is, though Rwanda is quite secure in terms of prevention, if someone does steal something they can just disappear.  So, it is common practice in Rwanda to detain all those under suspicion.  My friend asked me if she should call her mother and said that she thought that she shouldn’t.  I told her I agreed, don’t call you mum.

My friend was just waiting for the phone call saying that her sister was being taken away.  She didn’t even want her sister in the prison.  I can understand that.  All day long I look at men either convicted or accused who were in prison and who are so thin, they are just so thin.  I understand it too.  It's not that Rwanda is cruel, Rwanda is just SO POOR.  How can they give good meal to prisoners when some of those of their people still have no milk or meat?  I sympathize.  And, honestly, from what I have learned here, given what it has, Rwanda takes better care of both its prisoners and its poor than the USA.  Given what it has.

And it came to pass that, three days afterward, this Pakistani guy said that he thought he had “lost” the money.  That is, he left it in a car and it was stolen by a stranger from there.  This was “corroborated” by investigation by the police because usually if a Rwandese were to steal such a large sum they would run but none of his staff had run, including my friend’s sister.  In fact, even as the police were investigating, this man said that he was sure it was not her.  Thus, all are in the clear.  Crisis averted.

I am ecstatic for my friend and her sister, remember my friend gave up her chance at an education to give it to this sister.

In the end, the question was….did I pray for them?  Don’t be stupid…

And the song for this post:
P.S. I love you....

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

It was a Dark and Stormy Night and….Keksy DESERVES the Cookies

Just a bit before Nicole left, we decided to go to a restaurant.  We wanted a dinner out.  We remembered a place that our friend pointed to and said it was their favorite restaurant, or so we thought.  So we tried to go there.  We sat down just as the rain began to REALLY pour.  They brought us a menu and we ordered drinks.  The waiter came back and told us that a few things on the menu they don’t have.  We told them, of course, that is ok.  We will just try to order things and they can tell us what they don’t have on the menu.  Great says the waiter!

So, we wait for a while and think we know.  I ask for item 4 or something, the quarter chicken and chips.  They write it down.  Then Nicole asked for sambusa with chappati and beans and peas.  They say they have no sambusa.  Oh, darn.  Well, do you have the beans and peas?  Nope.  Oh, well do you have chappati and greens?  No chappati.  Ok….well what about chips and greens.  No greens.  Really?  (It was round about here that we started laughing and couldn’t stop as the whole thing progressed.)  But chips?  No chips.  Now wait a minute, I ordered chicken and chips before.  But you have no chips?  No chips.  OOOOOOKKKKKKK.  Let’s start over.  What DO you have?  Eggs. 

They have…eggs. 

REALLY?  Ok.  We finish our drinks and leave for a much nicer place around the corner where we both have the best brochette we have had in Rwanda, her fish and me lamb, and that is really saying something.

It turns out that our friend who was the one to point at, seemingly, this place, really just meant to point in that direction and the real place was still like a half mile away.  We find this out because Nicole and I take my friend out for dinner before Nicole leaves.

But, what about the inexplicable service and menu at this other place???!!!  I asked my friend if this had something to do with being a muzungu.  She said no, that this just happens sometimes.  What the hell?!!?!?!  It was really hilarious though as the questioning progressed.  The restaurant with no food – LOL!  They regretted it as more and more people “poured” in to get out of the rain (no pun intended).

This happened to be the same night that….

OK, so we arrive home after dark after this dinner and are a couple of beers in and feeling happy and full and tired.  The Austrians and Keksy were still here, Keksy needed a number of things as soon as possible to decide whether she can come eventually to Germany or Austria or Europe anywhere:  many vaccinations and she needed to be chipped.  All of these were an issue because she was still so skittish and afraid.  Even though I spent so much time with her and she behaved, she would still nip at me if I touched her flank, her sore ear, or tried to put the collar on her.

So, the night when the Austrians paid extra to have a vet come and do this at the home was like a nightmare.  First, it was already dark.  Second, they needed to put on a muzzle.  I tried to hide in my room.  It didn’t work:

1.     It was actually a stormy night.  REALLY?  This night has to be thundering?

2.     The power then went out.  It was totally dark.  We didn’t even have a candle, only our cell phones.

3.     The muzzle and collar were on but the Austrians could only cope while the power was on.  So the vaccinations were given already but not the chip which is the harder, the more fiddly, and the more painful for the dog.

4.     The worst is because it would be more painful for the dog, and the Austrians knew it, they were really freaked out and so the dog was more freaked out.  We couldn’t even give cookies because she had the muzzle.

5.     In turns out that both the Austrians have super big problems with shots and had already endured the dog getting like three.  They were already feeling pretty lighted headed.

6.     Although they have both had dogs before, they haven’t had big dogs like me and didn’t feel as comfortable with a stray like me.

7.     Seriously, the veterinarian only had one arm.  I’m not kidding.  He was the one armed vet…

So…they called me.  My stomach turned.  Damnit!  I didn’t want to be a part of this nightmare! 

I come out and give my advice:  We need two people holding lights.  We need one person behind Keksy so she can't back up.  We need one person holding the collar to keep her head still.  We need one person holding the fold in the neck so the chip can go in.  And then we need the vet.

We want to wait because Keksy is totally freaked out.  I advise against this.  She is freaked out now, I said, you should get it over with.  We need to get the muzzle off soon because she will need water and her heart is maybe already taking a lot from being so sick and malnourished and now so scared.  So I tell them, I know this is bad, but it will really be like 15 to 30 seconds of something more terrible than what you feel now and then it will be over.  She can't bite you so the only thing to fear is your own sympathy.  You can't take the pain for her, so end her fear as soon as possible.  We all agree.

I grab the scruff.  Heike is behind, Martin holds the collar, Nicole and Evode hold flashlights, and the vet uses his ONE FREAKING ARM to FUMBLE FOREVER with the syringe.  It wasn’t his fault, he did great.  It was done in about 45 (eternal Keksy writhing and bucking and screaming) seconds.

Then, of course, we couldn’t get the muzzle off because she was too afraid.  In the end Martin undid the buckle and she pulled it off herself.  Then, she got like an entire box of cookies.  Good Keksy.  She is now on her way to Germany and then Austria with her new found family.  If there were ever a dog that didn’t belong in Rwanda, this is it.  If there were ever a luckier creature on the planet to find such good people, I can't imagine…no…I don’t want to imagine it.

After traveling from here to there trying to find a place to live, the Austrians found a place that will accept Keksy.  The only issue is that there are some children at this place and, like most stray and afraid dogs, Keksy doesn’t like kids.  My dog also.  They lunge.  It's not whether they cause damage.  Usually it's just a dominance display and not real harm, but that is almost always enough for parents.  I understand where they are coming from. 

The latest update is that they actually found some lovely German girls here who wanted, together, both a pet and a guard dog and so have muzungu standards about keeping a dog.  They will be staying for just over a year.  When they leave they have agreed to “sponsor” the trip for Keksy from Rwanda to Germany.  All of the tests will then be done and Keksy should have all the right paperwork.  But, they can't keep her in Germany.  This suits the Austrians just fine because they now do not feel that they can live without her.  So, the Germans will sponsor the trip as if Keksy were their pet and then the Austrians will actually have a year to save up the money to pay for Keksy’s shipment over airlines.  It's really nice when things work out.

Also, the bunnies are huge and have now adult proportions just in a small size.  There is an agreement now between the house here and some farmer from the USA or something but who lives in Rwanda to take the bunnies away from here.  Not sure when it will happen.  Hope it's soon, those babies are really crammed in there.  They no longer live off the mother but eat real food.  It's super cute.  They are let out much more often so this increases the Narnia like aspect of where I live.  There are cute bunnies EVERYWHERE you look.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Happy Belated Thanksgiving!

I was considering the triple meaning of Thanksgiving in the USA the other day, before the holiday.  This came in handy as, not wanting to spend the holiday alone and wanting to share the best of the three, and of course the most abstract and generalizing of the three, meanings, I invited favorite friend (you know her) out to an “expensive” dinner with me on Thursday.  I asked her about a week before.  She wanted to know the meaning of the holiday and I told her this should be our Thanksgiving dinner discussion when we went out to dinner and she said she thought this was an excellent idea.

I took her to Sol e Luna.  For three reasons:

1.     This is the place I know most well and that we could even walk to.  But, in the true spirit of the holiday, I asked a driver to take us instead thinking that this was even a part of the treat for her.  I have little to give but this I can give.

2.     I crave the pizza there like crazy.  Seriously, this is the best pizza I know outside of Rome, and I have said this before.  So, even if I were at home I would be craving this pizza.  I even knew which one I would get…

3.     She loves the pizza there as well, though it is not a part of her Rwandese flavor pallet.  She still wants it.  She told me she has eaten there twice in the 8 years she has lived in Kigali.  The last time was two years ago.  I said this is TOO LONG!  She completely agrees.

So, we go on Thursday evening for this dinner.  She perused the menu of 89 pizzas and got uncomfortable.  She asked me what she should order.  I asked her what she remembers getting before and based on this I advise her, she should get the 04 – Nobile pizza with ground and spiced beef over oyster mushrooms and onions and garlic and tomato and tomato sauce with goat and mozzarella cheese.  It is one of the more expensive items on the menu.  She LOVED it.  I knew she would.  I told her the name of this “flavor” of pizza means lord, like king.  She seems proud of her taste as I tell her she should be.

I order the 26 – Beatrice.  “Ground” or more like shredded, to the extent that you can, salmon over tomato and goat cheese and mozzarella and tomato sauce.  I ask for shredded basil on the top even though it will cost extra.  They come and tell me that they are out of salmon.  I could have cried.  I got “thon”, tuna, instead.  The pizza was good but you can never substitute tuna if you want salmon nor the other way around.  My friend asked what Beatrice means.  I tell her it is only a muzungu woman’s name but explain that the origin is in Latin, which necessitates the basic history of the west in order to explain, and that the base root of the word means “good” as in “beatitudes”.  She likes this and thinks that yes, she is noble and I am good.  I feel pleased.

I order a glass of the house red wine, the cheapest, and I end up drinking three glasses.  She orders an orange Fanta but sips some of my wine.  She has not had a good red wine before.  I explain to her before to ready her tongue.  That this is not like other drinks.  She said she tried another alcohol before but that it made her tongue feel weird.  So this time I prepare her.  How do I do this:

Rwandans do use vinegar for things.  Various things.  Like cooking cabbage or for a salad.  But while Nicole was still here she and I went in on the price of balsamic vinegar, which is REALLY expensive here.  My friend thinks this is the best vinegar and is complicit in me drowning my salads in the stuff.  So, I tell her, think of the taste of that balsamic vinegar.  It's so good, right, but not something you would like to drink.  She agrees.  I tell her that red wine is similar and even has a similar preparation process but that it is sweeter though not sweet and therefore is best served with food.  I tell her especially with her beef she should take a bit of food and then a sip of the wine and enjoy it.  She says, then why don’t you just put it on the food instead.  Hmmm, she really is so smart.

Anyway, she asks me shouldn’t I drink more, at the end of our meal, because I cannot eat more (she thinks I eat too little!) and at Thanksgiving, as she understands it, is a time of excess.  I agree but it's too expensive and three is plenty.  Then I explain about body weight and drinking, particularly in public.  Again she tells me I am like a soldier.  I am coming to really appreciate her comparison of me with a soldier.

Anyway, I explain to her over dinner about the three levels of meanings of the American version of Thanksgiving.  First, what children are taught: the lie about the pilgrims and the “founding” of America.  She argues that wasn’t it a war that started America?  I say yes but that was the founding of the government, the USA and that was about 150 years later.  I tell her what children learn and what they do in elementary (primary here) school in the USA for the holiday – arts and crafts!  She thinks this is so nice for the children and also for the story.

Then, I tell her the second version of the story that people generally learn, but in not so many correcting words, in high school or so, though nowadays usually in college in my generation or older: the truth.  Genocide, disease, religion (freedom and oppression on both sides), etc. and the history of the Native Americans.  I explain that it was like the Twa.  They were here before the Hutu and Tutsi.  I explain that it is like the Hutu coming in and saying, yes we are friends, and then stealing their land and giving them diseased blankets because they believe that the Twa are savage and from the devil because they do not believe in Jesus.  She gets upset, and rightfully so.

Then I explain the third level of meaning.  What does Thanksgiving mean now?  It means to be so thankful because you make WAY too much food, usually of a Native American variety and I talk about turkeys and how many people they can feed (she thinks there ought to be more turkeys in Rwanda) and all the rest.  She says it sounds delicious.  And also alcohol or games or whatever and family and friends.  The tradition is all to get together and to thank god and each other for what you have.  Both in terms of food and drink and time but also to be thankful for each other.  She says that she thinks that Rwanda should have a holiday like this.

At the end, I thank her very heartily for being my best friend and confidante in Rwanda and for taking care of me just like she cares for her own family.  She thanks me for being her friend and for being so “giving” in her words and also for taking her for dinner. 

When we arrive home I ask her to translate for me to the night watchmen here, with whom I have shared so many silent (he doesn’t speak like ANY English) and yet meaningful moments, about the basics of Thanksgiving and then to thank him personally for me for all that he does here.  He shakes my hand rapidly and heavily and says repeatedly, after this translation, “murakoze, murakoze, murakoze, cyane cyane” (thank you thank you thank you much much).

I walk back to go to sleep in my room and at last my friend gives me a big hug and says to me, “You know how I love muzungus?  Well, I love Americans best.  And don’t ask me why, because you are always asking.  Good night.”

She is right.  I am always asking why.  But, I am happy for this.  I am thankful to both of my parents and the rest of the Mitchells in particular for encouraging my questions.  Those questions led me here.  And I am happy.  Thanks.


The soundtrack for this post includes the following song, in particular my aunts will like it I believe:  The Avett Brothers – The Weight of Lies.  Here is the link on youtube:

What I most thankful for about being in Rwanda, apart from my friend, that I was truly running to something for the first time in my life and not also running away.