Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Rwandom Rwanda

I just don’t really have the energy to do the long awaited photo post, especially with internet like it is.  When I have more time, when my job is done here, I will do.  I have lots now.  Speaking of job – I think I have 4 or 5 more days or real work at Gacaca now.  But, I will be here encoding videos until the 15th getting everything ready for the transcriber.  17 days left then home!

This will also be the very first Christmas that my husband and I will spend alone together, owing to lack of funds for travel.  On the one hand, I am bummed not to see family.  But on the other, I am sort of excited to be just us.

And my dog….I didn’t really think that I would miss my dog.  But it turns out I miss him desperately.  I can't wait to put my arms around his neck and keep him from desperately trying to lick me.

So, some stuff about Rwanda.  People run here.  I do not mean that they jog for exercise, though some do, or that they often just run from here to there because they are in a hurry, though some do that as well.  But…how can I explain this:

Remember when you were a kid and you and your friend were sitting in the living room and you wanted to show them something that was in your room but you wanted to stay in the living room?  You ran to your room and back.  Remember when you were outside playing and your mom called you in for lunch or whatever and you ran inside instead of walking, even though you could have walked?

Now remember how, somewhere along the way, you were taught to stop running.  Some of this was from direct orders:  no running in the house!  No running at the pool!  No running in the hallways!  And some of this was just from learning unconsciously about the norms around you.  Ever see someone run inside the sociology department?  Law firm?  IT department?  Grocery store?  No, you haven’t.  Not unless you work in a hospital or something.  Remember Star Trek, even?  They never freaking ran.  The universe is being sucked through a singularity in engineering and all the officers are walking as fast as their feet can carry them to the turbo lift (on that point, why not just use the transporter?  Anyway…).  Adults do not run in the USA.

BUT, adults DO run in Rwanda.  At my office there are about 20 total people working.  And sometimes, they run when they are going somewhere else in the building.  Sometimes people on the campus I am at are just running back from lunch.  For apparently no urgent reason, they run.  They run across the room to someone else’s desk.  This is so strange to me.  Playful though, I love the energy that it makes me feel to be near.  Additionally, I think this compliments the fact that Rwandese walk so slowly.  You can tell a muzungu with dark skin even amongst similar looking Rwandese because they appear to be power walking in comparison to those around them.  And the same is true of me.  Any walk any where is an act of bobbing and weaving through a crowd until I remember to just slow down.  Am I really in a hurry?  No.  Also everything is uphill everywhere, so...just slow down and try to sweat less.

Also, when it is the rainy season, it pours, in my life at least.  I am desperate to go home.  And my breath smells.  It's from the water.  When I first came here I noticed it on everyone else.  Now I can smell my own breath.  Because all water, though sanitary enough after being boiled, still smells awful.  I don’t know what it is but it seeps into your body and then seeps out.  I only feel better about it because everyone else smells that way, too.

So, on top of all that (if anyone says “first world problems” here, I will slap you) yesterday I felt something weird that felt like it was attached to one of my back top molars.  I was like, what could that be?  So I was digging into my mouth and picking at this thing with my fingernail when it came loose and came out.  I looked at it.  It looked like it could be, I don’t know, plaque or something.  Gross I though and got rid of it right around the time when I realized that there was now a GAPING hole in the tooth I had been picking at.  It took me a second.  Perhaps you understand right away…I’ll give you a moment while I tell you a story:

I have great teeth.  I was blessed with them.  My parents both had terrible teeth but in different ways.  Though my teeth were, like my fathers, designed to be so crooked, I was also blessed with braces at the right moment.  My teeth are a good color.  I have no problems with loosening and they don’t stain easily and they get whiter easily.  I don’t even floss.

When I was about 7 or 8 I went to the dentist and there were some problems in my teeth.  They filled the three spots and since then, apart from the receding gum line on my front bottom teeth as a result of a permanent retainer (I am supposed to have a gum graft – I can't think of anything more disgusting – at some point in the future when I am not traveling imminently to a developing country), my teeth have been perfect regardless of what I do or do not do to or with them.

Got it figured out now?  Yesterday I inadvertently pulled out one of my fillings.  REALLY?!  IN RWANDA!?  RIGHT NOW?!

I ran outside and told my friend who laughed hysterically.  Though I had to explain about fillings.  She says they are uncommon and that most Rwandese do not go to the dentist.  How then can you explain that fact that so many Rwandese I see have, seriously, sparkling white teeth and breath that only smells as bad as mine?  Maybe whatever that smell is, is good for teeth.  I doubt it.

Then I called my husband who has already made an appointment for me with my dentist.  What the hell!

Another thing, there is so much literature, and it is usually either literature or what passed for normative racial pseudo science around the turn of the 20th century, arguing about what darker and lighter skin means.  Let me tell you some of the things that having darker skin means in a day to day way:

1.     Blemishes just look like bumps and not so much like the PLAGUE that it appears on white skin.

2.     Woolier African hair doesn’t like to be dried out, my friend tells me, so while they do use something to clean it and it always smells and looks nice, they only have to wash it once a month and they think I am crazy for washing it every other day.  I explained that my grandmother’s generation felt differently about this and about the excuse to turn down a date because you needed to wash your hair.  She assures me that this is still a common excuse in Rwanda.

3.     Very dark skin refuses to obtain a so called “farmer’s tan” or “red neck” so prevalent in my own national heritage.

4.     Dark skin looks good in every single color.  Every single one.  Whereas I am a “winter”.  Really?  Pink is my best color and I basically refuse to wear it.

5.     And last but not least of this short weird and opinionated list, darker skin doesn’t show hickeys.  Why is this important to me?

Not because I have a hickey.  In fact, I have what is commonly called among the Irish a “strawberry mark”.  In fact, I have two of them.  One is directly on my forehead and comes from a long family tradition of weird forehead marks that only come out until extreme stress or bodily upset (as in crying for a long time).  My grandmother had what looked like a V on her forehead coming straight up from between the eyes up to her hairline.  We joked that this made her look more evil when she was really, really angry and therefore suited her.  My grandmother said it was a V for Victory as in her generation’s victory in WWII.  My mother has a check mark.  It's the same as grandmother’s except that she is missing part of one of the stems of the V.  And this is how we all know that my mom’s OK.  The joke was that when she was born, god came down to check her out and see if she was a bad egg but god said, nope, this one’s OK.  And I … I have a question mark.  Seriously, I have a question mark on my forehead.  This my mother loves.  She says that god came down and said, “I don’t know about this one…”

But this isn’t something I encounter often, not so much to cry about these days (knock wood).  But the second of these strawberry marks in on my neck.  If you look at it dead on it doesn’t look like much.  Like maybe I just scratched it a bit or something.  But at an angle, which is how most people look at this spot because it's on the side of my neck, and it seriously looks like a hickey.  It isn’t always there but sometimes it is there.  My friend was asking me about this…where did I get this “love bite” she says?!!?  Oh god, it's not a love bite.

In my department people have asked me, who I am close to, occasionally, how I feel about showing off my sex life in front of my students.  Seriously, it's not a hickey.  And being as white as I am (I am not so much white, either.  Even the famous, though you probably don’t know it, song from the very famous musical Hair says, “”I’m pink…” though I would say it was more like being depigmented (which in fact is the reality) and that I am more see-through than anything else) it's like I am hyper-colored.  You touch me and I change colors.  I scratch my face because the soft water here makes me itchy along with the changing humidity all day long and whatever I scratch looks like I have some skin disorder.

A couple more things while I am on a roll…

The day before yesterday I was walking into my office when a police officer came up to me.  He was tall and young and dark and good looking.  He carried, like all police, a loaded AK47 that always faces both at the ready and away from people, to the side and diagonally up.  We chatted for a moment, first in Kinyarwandan, what little I do know, and then in Icyongereza (eecheeyongahrezah or English).  Then he asked me out on a date.  I don’t mean to belabor the ethical problems with asking someone on a date while you carry a loaded automatic weapon.  But…what a racket this guy has!  I apologize in English and Kinyarwanda and perform all necessary, both female and general, performances of apology and humility and that of being flattered and appreciative and say, no, I am married.  Thank god I have this handy dandy ring on my finger.

Side note: even if I wasn’t married, cause this guy seemed nice and smart and good looking, I would have said no on principle because of the gun.

I’ll leave you with a couple of short lists (can you tell I like lists?  Huh?  Huh?!  This is seriously how my brain works) I am beginning and hope to continue.  List of my favorite Rwandan words because they look and sound absurd and are therefore really fun to say:

1.     Dodo (that spinach like stuff)

2.     Nyabugogo (a bus station that I frequent)

3.     Umudugudu (I think this is how it is spelled, the word for like the community or townships or villages or something along those lines)

4.     Gatandatu (the number 6, however you think to pronounce it, though it seems obvious, is probably wrong.  Emphasis is EVERYTHING in Kinyarwandan).

5.     Also, I can't remember the exact words right now, but Rwandese have no words that mean extreme version of descriptions.  Like, for the word tiny, you mean something like very little.  They actually say “little little”.  This is the same for very slowly, you say something like “slowly slowly” which results in repeated multi syllable fragments at the end of the same multi syllable word.  I like these words, they sound funny and cute.  The word for slowly slowly is gakegake which is pronounced gachAAgachAA.  I have not yet figured out the convention for when a k is a k and when a k is a ch as in Gacaca which is pronounced gachacha.

An addendum to my last post on sex, I wish I had this info before so I could have posted along with that one.  Hilarious condoms.  My friend here, who I have yet to tell you about and with good reason, though you will know more soon, recently went to a military hospital in order to learn more about HIV preventative medicines in Rwanda.  Here he received these, these best of all possible and most hilarious of things:


Quality military condoms!!!!  OMG, I still cannot stop laughing about these, be warned, the next bit is offensive but I can't help it:
1.     First, are they bullet proof?!?!!?  Protect your thing even when your government cannot afford Kevlar!  Foreign aid only cares about protecting the “little man”.
2.     “Are you armed?”  Ahahahahah!  Are you “third” armed?  Hahaha.  This is actually quite clever, underneath.  Are you armed?  Are you a man?  Do you have your “arms”?  Your “gun”?  Your “weapon”?  And if so, then are you “armed” with your condoms for your defense of your “weapon”?  If so, then you are a “real” man, the most manliest of men, a soldier.
3.     Are the actual condoms camouflaged?!  Protect your thing, have sex, even in the JUNGLE!  On combat maneuvers?  That’s ok, we have you “covered” during your “maneuvers”!
4.     “Protect yourself from HIV.  Protect the nation”.  This cracks me up.  Does the USA have propaganda condoms like this?  It should say, “Protect yourself WHILE you protect the nation”.  And of course, in true sociological advice from me, it should not say nation but state or country.  I can't help but think that just a slight change in the wording increased the incidence of rape during the genocide.  “Protect yourself, protect the “nation”” where nation means ethnicity.
5.     The comic book cover cracks me up.  There was an artist out there who came up with that!  Were they commissioned?  That’s hilarious!  If not, were they doing something else and then it was coopted for these condoms?  Equally hilarious!  It looks, as another friend of mine noticed, like the cover for an original NES game.  I think the game would be called “Arm your Johnson III”. 
6.     Also, my friend here reminded me about the enlargement of women’s “sex” here.  Maybe they have a “for her” version as well.  You could engage in your own personal battle of the sexes!
7.     What about all those stamps on the bottom!  These are so OFFICIAL!  Just like my bureaucratic letters that get me in places!  I LOVE IT SO MUCH!
8.     Did you notice that they were VANILLA FLAVORED!  Ahahahah!  It makes sense to flavor them nicely because you don’t know what people would use them for and it's nice to have nice flavors for your partner.  But really, that takes away from the hardcore “little” soldier aspect.  Really, it's in the upper right hand corner?
What do you think?  Any other good names for the NES game associated with the condom cover? 


  1. Game names: Call of Booty, Metal Gear Hard, Bionic Cumando, Smegma Man 2, CastleVEINYa, and Dildo Dragons.

    Vanilla huh? Shouldn't it be chocolate? RACISM!!

    Thanks for the vicarious panic attack I got from your tooth story.

    I am glad you are bringing your slutty-hickey-ass home but I am very proud of you for embracing this adventure.

    1. Sir! I shall have to challenge you to guns at dawn if you call my wife a slutty-hickey-ass again! And they shall have to be vanilla-flavored guns. Official, vanilla-flavored guns. Covered in latex (for the nation).