Monday, October 14, 2013

On Being Stared At

First, these are grand nuts.  They are small peanuts that are really overly toasted.  As a person who like crispy bacon and crunchy toast, the extra added carcinogens on these little peanuts are so delicious!  Like regular peanuts only smaller and more crunchy and with more of a grilled flavor which, in my opinion, accounts for their appeal given that they do not have as much salt as the peanuts I am used to eating back home.  A small handful and a banana can get you through the bottom half of a carb coma after eating a Rwandan lunch or dinner and can suffice for a breakfast or late night supper when needed.

I like the label, shown here.  They are toasted and distributed local but where the peanuts come from, I don’t know.  I am unaware of a big peanut cash crop market in Rwanda.  But also, I like that the only ingredient is salt and that there is a phone number.

Second, I am not going to use the names of people anymore in my posts without permission or unless I have already used them.  I think, upon reflection, that I have not asked permission to share their words or my private thoughts about them. 

In other news, Wednesday I went to a meeting at CNLG.  This time I dressed the part for a meeting:  a teal shirt, really nice and dynamic blue tie, swirly shiny silver hoop earrings, tight blue jeans with a nice belt and the boots that I would be wearing at home right now, black leather up to the knee.  My hair was in a neat ponytail and I had light eye makeup. 

I am not a person who often goes on about what I wear everyday, but in this case it's pertinent.  Wednesday was the day that I will always remember as the day I received the most compliments on my looks ever (weddings are exceptions, people will say you look beautiful even when they have internal, and often heinous, critiques and so you can't trust them on your wedding day…not that I am complaining.  If anyone had told me that I looked bad I would have just sat down and wept into my Pim’s cup).

Back to Rwanda.  Everyone at the house exclaimed that I looked so good.  And this was already such a treat.  But on the street, people were smiling and nodding at me as if with approval.  Two women told me that they loved my boots.  Seven total people, including one I already know, told me that the tie was so gorgeous.  Dinah loved everything I wore.  Three men told me that I looked just SO SMART!  So many were smiling and nodding in my direction.  A couple of school boys on their way home grabbed my arm while walking by.  They asked me where I was from with perfect English, USA says I, they asked me do I have Facebook, I lied and said no, they asked me if I have Twitter, I lied and said no, and then they asked me my name, and I thought, what the hell?, and I told them my first name an continued on.

Then I got my money from western union, finally, but with no fees. 

All in all, that is a pretty good day.  Sweetie? Can we move to Rwanda so I can feel better about myself everyday even if I have to endure a great deal of sweat to gain the compliments?  Rwandans know a good thing when they see it and, best of all, they are kind enough to share it.

And do you know what I said to each and every one of them?  Murakoze cyane!  (Thank you very much!)  I was walking on red tinted air (because that’s the color of the soil here…duh!).

Thursday, the day after all the compliments, was quite different.  Part of the day was sleepy and reading because of rain. Part of the day was good because I got good and some strange news about permissions.  And part was increasingly bad.  Mostly in my head.  When one is in a foreign environment, we protect ourselves, if we are educated, by being as open as possible.  These means that we “look to like” and tend to judge things around us with rose colored glasses.  But, no matter what new thing you are trying, like a new job or city or whatever, the honeymoon period always ends.  I think today I am beginning to experience the beginning of the end.

Today a number of Rwandans said to me, in addition to other compliments about how I look, that I needed to learn Kinyarwandan or that I needed to learn French.  I had a relatively long, perhaps 5 minutes that felt like 5 hours, with a drunken Rwandan at the closest local house store, “conversation” or whatever where he was trying, first, to tell me to speak in French and, second, trying to, drunkenly I might add, teach me French.  I am starting to really miss my husband, feel lonely for other friends and other things that are familiar (being constantly stared at anyway is wearisome), and feel just generally fatigued of learning things and then when I am not being bored and waiting for work.

On the subject of being stared at.  I now believe that I am able to relate more honestly to two other states of being utterly alien to my own experience:

1.     Being pregnant.  I have often heard those that are pregnant or who have been pregnant complain of having a lack of ownership over their own body why they are carrying a child.  People are more inclined to stare at them, make judgments of what they do, where they go, what they wear, what they say, what they eat and drink, etc.  People stare at pregnant women.  In addition, and apart from the truly obscene and offensive judgments I just enumerated, they lose all rights to the privacy of their belly.  People just feel free to touch them.  I feel this way in Rwanda.  Everyone is staring and wondering, always judging, whether harshly or favorably.  And people, usually young but sometimes older as well, touch me.  I really can't stand to be touched.  This is not just a matter of western culture, although it is that as well, but also even for western culture, I just don’t want you to touch me.  This, bizarrely, extends to being looked at.  I just hate being stared at by someone.  I feel like they are touching me.  I have to start regulating my breathing after a while because, just like when a hug goes on for much longer than you expected or are comfortable with, you begin to hyperventilate a little bit.  It's deeply unsettling and uncomfortable and this kind of anxiety causes clenching in the diaphragm which causes people to either breathe more shallowly or to hold their breath without knowing it.  I feel this all the time here, while walking up hill in 100% humidity in 85 degree weather for a mile.  I am usually just pouring sweat whenever I arrive anywhere.  The problem is, and it does actually get worse from here, that many go out of their way to touch me.  Yesterday, two older school age boys went out of their way to crowd me on the side walk and then PINCHED my arm.  I smiled at them the whole time.  This is the same crew who asked me if I have Facebook.

2.    Motos, cars, buses, trucks, and taxis HONK at me as they pass me on the sidewalk.  I thought maybe it was just my impression but after a week and a half I am sure of it.  They are honking at me.  Thusly, I think I can now safely say that I know what a “punch bug” feels like.

I don’t want to go home.  But I sure do wish that I had some of “my” people here (BnL, sweetie, and so on).  I heart Rwanda, but I will always heart you more.  I said before that familiarity breeds small mindedness.  I will foreswear that statement.  And yet, just a little bit of small mindedness can't destroy a person.

Tonight is quiz night!  That ought to help with some of the culture shock.  Lot’s more blogging tomorrow.

P.S. I am not pregnant.


  1. *I* know a good thing when I see it, too, but I won't share it. And yes, I would gladly move to Rwanda if I could land a job (get it? "land" a job? har har!) somewhere nearby, such as in Kenya or Ethiopia.

  2. I wish we were there with you too love. And it's not cold there, so definite moving possibilities.