Saturday, 18 July 2009

10 Things

I’ve done since my last blog…neatly broken down into bite-sized chunks to help you better cope with the immensity of this entry.

1) Watched lots of movies.
I am worried about the fact that I have called them movies, because this clearly demonstrates that all the American influence around is actually damaging me. The American Embassy is not far from here. It’s like this gigantic palace that occupies its own distinctive position at the top of this hill, separate from all the other embassies that are scattered discretely among other buildings along the road. You wouldn’t even know the British embassy if someone didn’t take you right to the door and tell you this is the British Embassy.
But back to movies. I mean films. I don’t normally watch films, but oneday I made the excellent decision of having breakfast with some of the others in the guesthouse, who happened to be an international group so I could actually communicate with them. One of them is this mad South African guy (I hope he never finds this blog) who is like a techno-freak (he has these headphones that detect background noise and then send out like a reverse signal which cancels out the noise..) and he set it up so we could watch films on a projector. So for several nights we’d be up till like midnight or beyond watching stuff. Which might not sound too late, but then you must realise that over here my wake up time is 6:30 am. I have breakfast by 7 or 7:30 and am (supposed to be) in the office by 8. So it was a tiring week.

2) Spent a lot of time in the highly westernized Bourbon café.
Or hotels. Bourbon does awesome coffee. And they do like SALAD and stuff. One time Becky and I walked in and found a free table which happened to have two plates with leftover salad on it, and we simply had to eat it because our regular diet contains no salad or vegetables. It’s the one predictable thing in my day to day life here – I know exactly what my next meal is going to include: rice, chips (yes, together), beans and some kind of stew. With the frequent addition of boiled bananas, which is a traditional food here and really doesn’t taste like anything. People also EAT SO MUCH. People think they’re gonna come to Africa and lose weight, but it’s like…no. You’re going to gain weight. Cuz it’s not like you can eat small servings – you have to eat the chips AND the rice AND the beans AND whatever else is there, or else someone will ask: have you tried the beans? They’re very good. Which you know translates as: eat the beans. It becomes like a game to get out of eating. We develop techniques like carefully spreading the food out over the plate so that it looks more. Becky distributes her food to her boys, and I just skip entire meals and hope that people will think it’s because I’m not around. Because if they know I’m around…yesterday I wasn’t feeling well so I didn’t go to lunch, but I had visits from 3 or 4 people all highly concerned about my absesnce at lunch.

3) Achieved almost nothing at work.
Everything takes forever to happen here. I write some stuff, then I have to send it to be checked by the director, then wait for him to reply, or try to catch him in his office but he’s not there or he’s in a meeting. Or people just don’t know stuff, so I can’t get stuff done. Like they wanted me to update the website, but no one has a clue what the server address is, or the username or password or any essential information like that. Michel tells me to ask Claudette, Claudette gives me the email address of the guys who set it up in the first place, they tell me that Claudette has the information, Claudette phones some guy who says that Michel has the information. Eventually they inform me that they think it’s ‘moucecore without the final e’. For what? The server address? The username? The password? Added to that is the fact that I think they’re sometimes a bit stuck as to what to actually do with me, so they just find random odds and ends for me to fill my time with. So it can be really frustrating, but at the same time I really enjoy the freedom I have to be flexible and creative with my time and ideas.

4) Experienced Immy.
For those of you who don’t know, Immy is a Ugandan who worked at the church I went to in London for a year. Uganda borders with Rwanda, so Immy came to visit us here. We were supposed to meet her at 11am, which of course meant that she only arrived at about 4pm. I think Becky was especially comforted by how she’d stumble and struggle up and down the steep hills here, trying desperately to avoid falling into the sewage streams that run freely from the houses, or getting goats meat everywhere when trying to eat Brochette. Because it means that apparently its not just us westeners who are totally inept at these sorts of things.

5) Contributed 4 rows of beads to a pen.
I visited Becky at her centre of street boys one morning when they were all doing crafts, as part of their program for income-generation. One thing they do is this technique where they weave a pattern of beads like a case around pens. So one of the boys taught me how to do that, but it took me like an hour just to do 4 rows of beads, which covers only about a centimetre of the entire length of the pen.

6) Maintained a steady stream of colds.
I already told you about my laryngitis. Well that eventually evaporated, after 5 days of silence, but not before the most hideous cough I have ever had swooped in to take its place. One time while I still couldn’t speak, I went to church, and it was my first time at the church, so I was having horrible visions of the pastor asking newcomers to stand up, and then making us introduce ourselves, and that would have been an excellent way to be embarrased in front of the whole church, but thankfully it didn't happen. Instead I got a massive coughing fit right when everyone was silently listening to the bible readings and praying. And those coughing fits basically persisted for nearly two more weeks, making me a massive disruption wherever I went. A friend kept requesting for me to please die quietly. Anyway, now I have a brand new cold AGAIN, just in time to replace the cough that was nearly gone, leaving me in grave danger of actually being well. This one involves an excessive amount of sneezing. I have never sneezed so much in my life.

7) Evaded sunburn but not sunstroke.
I ended up at a hotel with Becky (these things happen), and was so careful to put sun lotion on so that I wouldn’t get burnt, but at the same time I was drinking mug after mug of hot coffee while sitting in the sun through the hottest hours of the day. I was not feeling too well by the end of the day.

8) Missed a wedding.
One of my work colleages, Claudette, invited me to meet her family, stay over at her place, and go with her to a wedding the next day. So I went to her place to meet her family. Her son, who is about 2, wouldn’t stop crying. I am apparently terrifying. But her daughter has this thing for mzungus, so she loved me. Although that might also have something to do with the fact that I gave her a sweet. I’m not sure. Anyway, so the next day the wedding ceremony was supposed to start at 2. We didn’t finish lunch till about 3. Then they decided to visit her brother in law who was leaving in a couple hours to go to South Africa for a year, to say goodbye. He wasn’t even there, so we left for the wedding. We arrived at the church at 4, just as everyone was leaving…
But it’s ok, because it seems that getting married is in fashion here at the moment, so I will definitely make it to at least one. As we were driving through town, we passed this round-about which is a popular place for couples to have their photos taken. As you drive round there’s one couple on this side having photos taken, then just passed that another couple, on the other side a third, oh and look – there’s another couple just arriving for photos as well. At the place we went for the wedding reception there were 2 other receptions as well. One in the hall, one in the garden, and one in this leftover patch here. The church I go to had 6 weddings that Saturday, and announced about another 6 for the upcoming weeks.

9) Eaten Ethiopian food and been shocked.
A friend invited me to an Ethiopian restaurant one night with some others. I invited Becky as well, and we tried to make our way there on the taxi’s. But at that time of day it’s kind of like rush hour, so you have to push and shove quite violently to actually make it onto one of these. Anyway, mostly thanx to Becky, we managed to force ourselves onto one of the buses. BUT in the process, her wallet was stolen. So she got off the bus to go find the police. In the meantime someone else stopped the bus and climbed onto it, triumphantly holding up Becky’s wallet. So Taylor and I were frantically trying to get it from him, get Becky or direct him to Becky. Becky managed to find her way back to the bus and get her wallet back, but all the money in it was gone. So she stuck around to get more information and talk to the police. We began to suspect that the person who had returned the wallet might have been complicit in the theft. Becky managed to get his number, so the next day she called me to tell me about this whole undercover detective plan they had come up with, where she would call the guy and meet up with him to buy him a drink to say thankyou, and then the police would swoop in and arrest him. Disappointingly it turned out that he was a genuine security agent, which was a bit anti-climactical.
Anyway, back to Ethiopian food and the reason I was shocked. I was shocked because Ethiopian food is spicy. Somehow in my mind African food is not spicy. So I have to ask: why is Ethiopian food spicy? In response to this someone told me that it’s because Malaysian food is spicy. This I did not find entirely satisfactory, as there is not that close a proximity between Malaysia and Ethiopia.

10) Met distant relatives.
I was in church the other day, and visitors were being introduced. Among them was announced a Teuling family from Holland. I’M a Tueling!! On my Dutch side. Which is supposedly my predominant side because I have a Dutch passport, nevermind the deceptive ‘Pillinger’ surname and the fact I’ve never lived there. So I was planning to go up to them after the service and introduce myself in Dutch and everything, and it was all going to be quite impressive, but then I remembered that I can’t speak Dutch, so I had to abandon that plan.

11) Received the same text every hour for 36 hours and counting.
On Thursday evening I received a text from a coursmate of mine in England just saying ‘results results results! Hope u got what u wanted :)’. But then an hour later I received the same text. The next morning I woke up and had a further 8 texts – one for each hour of the night. A day later and I am still receiving exactly the same text every hour, and I have now collected 36 of them. I thought it might stop after 24 hours, but now I’m concerned that I’m going to receive the same text every single hour for the rest of my life.

12) Felt the true impact of the void that would be my life without electricity.
I got back to the guesthouse one afternoon, to find there was no electricity. I cunningly decided not to use my laptop’s battery power, and save that for evening when it would be dark. So what to do with no laptop? I did some photography…I even did some drawing. Then it got dark. So I used my laptop until the battery went flat. And then there was just darkness. So I sat on my bed in the dark. There was nothing else to do…except sit on my bed…in the dark…

And at last I have run out of things to say.

Monday, 29 June 2009

From the Silence

Today I couldn’t think aloud even if I tried. After a nasty cold and a good deal of dust consumption I have totally lost my voice, so as of 2 days ago my conversations have been as silent as my thoughts. But today is also the first time in two weeks that I find myself in complete solitude – even the guesthouse I live in has been completely vacated. So I take this time to reflect.

It’s been a mad 2 weeks. A baptism of fire. It’s hard to summarise when so much has has being going on. So far it’s been a nightmare. But it’s also been immense.

After a very fragmented and hazardous flight(s), I arrived in Kigali airport on Sunday the 14th, and waited in baggage claim until Becky’s flight came in. We were greeted by, I think, anyone who has ever even heard of Becky, and were taken to the center where the 30+ boys that Becky works with live. There we enjoyed an epic celebration with food, gymnastics and traditional dance performances, and about 100 speeches by various important people who neither of us had ever heard of.
We spent the next couple of days with Becky’s adoptive family here, where I learnt that the phenomena of silent babies who tidy up after themselves and do as they are told actually exist. On Tuesday morning I was transported to MOUCECORE (stands for something in French that I can’t remember right now), where the director introduced me to everyone and talked through the various options for my stay. The idea for the first 2 weeks was to learn as much as possible about the organization, so I spent the following couple of days talking to all the staff and finding out all about what they do, and reading any information I could get hold of on the organisation. I also had opportunities to start exploring the local area. Without a car the only ways to get around are the ‘taxis’, which are basically over-crowded mini-buses, and motos, which are motorbikes or motorbike-like contraptions. But I’m lucky to live not far from the area of Kigali where all the embassies, hotels and important buildings are, so I have some luxuries within walking distance. Like one of the hotels that has become a regular meeting place for Becky and myself. I was also invited to a party at the British embassy, because apparently it was the queen’s birthday. It was very strange to find myself suddently surrounded by english people. I still can’t decide whether I like going there or not.
But this first week was a very trying one. For most people here English is their 3rd or 4th language, so communication has been a challenge. And people would mostly just chatter away in Kinyarwandan with each other, which left me feeling quite isolated. I also felt entirely out of place and out of my depth in the culture. Which was especially hard, as I was brought up in Kenya, so felt like it should be easy for me to adapt. Added to these was the fact that I could do almost nothing without help, because I didn’t know how anything was done, how to get around, etc. And if you know me, you probably know that I like my autonomy! So I won’t lie – my first week was miserable, and I hated it. But the challenges it leaves me with, will, I expect, be a great source of growth as I work through them.

Week 2 the rollercoaster intensified. After the first week I spent the weekend with Becky and her family, where I could get some much needed rest. I went to their church on Sunday, which was a 3 hour long service, the format of which went something like this: first the adult choir sings, then the congregation sings, then the children’s choir sings, then the student choir sings, then the adult choir again, then a solo, then the independent choir, then the congregation, then tagged on somewhere at the end is the sermon, before some more singing. After that Becky came back to Kacyiru with me and spent the night. The next morning we spent at the hotel, where I acquired some patchy sunburn from uneven and ineffective sunscreen lotion.
On Monday I also met the team from Burundi with whom I was to spend the rest of the week. They had come to MOUCECORE for a kind of training week, where they would learn all about the work here, and then travel all around the country to see and hear about how the projects have been implemented and what their impact has been. So we spent the following 4 days travelling all over Rwanda. First we went North to the volcanic area of Rwanda, near the border with Uganda. We went east the next day, somewhere not far from Kigali the day after that, and west on the final day. Each day was an intense program of many hours of travelling, visiting people and churches, listening to testimonies and stories of the impact of MOUCECORE initiatives, and in-depth demonstrations of the kinds of projects in existence, how they work and the material results. For example, I now know exactly how to create a highly productive banana plantation. I know I came here to learn about conflict resolution, not how to grow bananas, but what I’m learning is that even a conflict on the level of genocide is inseparable from the most mundane details of everyday life. Though I have learnt an awful lot directly about conflict resolution, too.
English is even less spoken in Burundi than Rwanda, so I had similar communication problems, but there were several who spoke English, and a few who actually spoke it really well. And despite a high frequency of conversation occuring in French or Kirundi, people really seemed to make an effort to talk to me in English or to translate for me. So it was actually very enriching to my whole learning experience to talk to these people from Burundi and learn some things about their own work, and how Burundi compares to Rwanda. I was sad that they had to leave this weekend, as I really enjoyed the time I spent with them, despite my fitting-in problems.

Well this is a very basic outline of my experiences so far. More will follow, fear not.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

First Thoughts

I feel that the first words on my brand new blog should be somewhat profound, but at 12:01am on the day before I leave the country, I think you must banish all such expectations. This whole blog thing is all quite new to me (I'm always several years behind everyone else in catching onto these things), as is the general practice of "thinking aloud". Though it's actually quite a poor title, because probably these words will pass from my head, through cyber space and into yours without ever being expressed 'aloud'.
I'm also anticipating the dilemma I'm going to have in Rwanda when I sit down to write an email to someone, and wonder whether it shouldn't be posted in blog form instead. People are going to be surprised when an hour or so after they've recieved an email from me they find a minimally edited version on here. Or I'm going to write a blog and then just copy and paste it into the email to save myself just repeating everything in paraphrased form in the email. How do people deal with these kinds of problems?
Well, I'm going to leave it at this for now, but you'll probably be 'hearing' from me soon when I blog again (and/or recieving an exact replica in email format).

Take care.