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Meagan Kelly

 

Meagan Kelly's Blog

August 10, 2007 — Counting down and counting memories 

I have only 24 hours left in Rwanda.

On the one hand, time has flown by. Sometimes it feels like yesterday that I saw my first market, first moto, or made my first bargain. On the other hand, it feels like I’ve been here for forever. How can it be humanely possible to see and do so much in less than two months?  But I will be brutally honest. While there were many days I have on top of the world here, there have been days filled with terrible homesickness. Those days, I would have hopped on a plane right away if someone handed me a ticket.

I’ll also admit I’m excited to go home and spend time with friends and family. For a while I felt guilty about that. I’m so lucky to be here, why do I want to leave? Do I not love this place as much as I thought? But then I got to thinking that is not it at all. I don’t think wanting to come home is necessarily exclusive of enjoying living in Rwanda. I love it here and can’t wait to come back one day. Rwanda has taught me many things, and I’m sure it could teach me many more, but I’m ready to take what I’ve learned and apply it to my life now. I think I’ve learned the most about myself. I feel the most independent I have ever felt. I feel like I can do anything. I’ve already been thinking about all the other countries around the world I want to visit.

Even though I’m already fantasizing about life back at home (mmmm turkey breast on a deli sandwich), there are at least a million things I’ll miss here. I have been ridiculously shutter-happy on my camera, but I’m afraid that one day I’ll start to forget. So I thought I’d write some things down too. Here is a list, in no particular order, of a few of the sights and sounds of Rwanda that I will miss.

  • the landscape-they don’t call this place the land of a thousand hills for nothing. I love gazing out the windows when taking the bus out of town. Absolutely stunning.
  • the smiles-I love saying “Muraho” to people walking by. They always smile and say it back.
  • the moto-you may have caused a painful burn and several trips to the hospital, but I love you anyway. I love the feeling of the wind blowing past, the vibrations of the motor, and the sound of your revving engine.
  • the roads-I’ll miss walking up our dirt road everyday. I tripped on rocks a million times, and I’ll miss that too.
  • the colours-everything is so bright here. There are so many things in yellow and blue, the colours of the national flag. I love the colour of the fabrics the women wear.
  • the handshakes-Rwandans shake hands all the time. And they hold their handshakes for a while. It was weird at first, but now I love it.
  • my mosquito net-not only does it protect me from malaria, but it also makes me feel like I’m royalty sleeping under a luxurious canopy.
  • the children-I see them everyday on the way to work. Some of them hug me, others shake my hand. I’ll miss that feeling. I’ll miss the smiles of the kids in the villages who have next to nothing and are as happy as can be.
  • the fries- I don’t eat fries at home, but here they are delicious. I’ll never forget the grease oozing out the fry into my mouth.
  • the basic cake-I came up with this name for my favourite baked good. I don’t know what it’s really called. It tastes sweet but not too sweet. It’s basically the perfect palette for any cake…hence the name basic cake. I ate them all the time.
  • the fanta-my favourite is citron (lemon.) Kinda like sprite, but better.
  • the adventures-Oh the weekend shenanigans. I’ve pretty much been all over this amazing country. I’ve even been outside the country. As exhausting as it was, I’ll miss the non-stop escapades.
  • the buses-they’re way to cramped for someone who is 5’10’’, but they grow on you. I’ll miss seeing the buses decked out in 50 cent paraphernalia and logos of their favourite soccer teams.  I’ll also miss the chaos of the bus station where the men literally yell out their destination (“Remera!Remera!”) and people push each other to get on the bus.
  • the music-Oh Akon, how I used to loathe thee. But now I’ll always think of Africa when I hear your music. I’ll miss hearing traditional Rwandese music too. Thank god for MP3 players.
  • the language-I’ve been pretty impressed with my Kinyarwanda and French, though I’m sure I’ll lose it one day. I’ll miss hearing little kids say bonjour or mwaramutse. I’ll even miss hearing “Cent francs manger?”
  • the animals- how can I forget those gorillas? Or those animals on the safari?
  • the pollution
  • the stores-the little mom-and-pop ones like the ones down the street from our house. I’ll miss seeing their shelves stocked with everything from chipate to toilet paper.
  • the hole-in-the-ground toilets- okay so I won’t miss these that bad. But it’s not about the toilets themselves, but the fact that they remind me of my time in Rwanda.
  • the sunshine-sometimes it gets a little hot, but for the most part it’s the perfect weather here. The sunsets are stunning, especially from our porch.
  • the red floor in our house- our painted floor made our feet very dirty, but now it will feel weird actually having clean soles.
  • the soccer balls-the little balls made out of banana leaf or twine that the kids play with in the street.
  • the markets-Nyabagogo, Kimironko, Rwamagana…I only saw a few, but I’m already an addict. I’ll miss the piles of used clothing, the mats filled with shoes, the women with heaps of beautiful fabric, and the shouting at the muzungu.
  • the bargaining- it’s like a game now…be it for a moto ride or a scarf. Sometimes I bought stuff just for the fun of bargaining. I’ll miss saying “eh eh eh eh” like a Rwandan when they don’t give me the price I want.
  • the “muzungu” calls
  • the street vendors-there were always little boys in the crowded areas with wooden crates of miscellaneous goods….my favourite thing to buy was the milk biscuits. Then there are the guys who try to sell you maps or socks.
  • the money-I’ll miss using francs…using such large numbers fools me into thinking I have more money than I do.
  • the geckos- all sizes big and small! The little guys are not only cute, but eat all the cockroaches! (I’ve only seen one cockroach. Go geckos go!)
  • the dirt- the red dust gets all over our feet, our legs, and our clothes. But it’s a constant reminder of where we are. Dirt just isn’t the same at home.
  • the people-I’ve made so many friends here. I’ll never forget their kindness.
  • THE MEMORIES –just like the hills, there are thousands.

Goodbye Rwanda.

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August 9, 2007 — Leaving The New Times behind

Today was my last day at The New Times. It was the first day I felt like crying about leaving Rwanda.

The people in the newsroom are some of the most caring people I’ve ever met. They always make sure to come over and shake hands with me and ask how I’m doing. It never fails, every morning. I love being in the newsroom, if not for the journalism, for the people. Today I took pictures with everyone and got their email addresses, and that is when it hit me. I may never see them again.

Then I realized I have not written about working at The New Times. I put if off for a long time because, to be honest, I felt like I did not have anything interesting to talk about. For the longest time, I just sat and edited stories. I didn’t work with reporters. I just read line after line after line and made changes. Sometimes, I didn’t have any stories to edit (they are busy people which I understand).

I didn’t feel like I was making an impact for a while. I was okay with that because I was still adjusting to life in Rwanda, and I liked being around people like Richard, the features editor. But I knew this would not make for an interesting blog. Plus, I was just so floored by how different the journalism was that I needed time to assess how I would work here. I thought I would wait until later to write about the paper.

Sure enough, now I feel like I could talk about The New Times forever. Towards the end, I really started to feel comfortable with the reporters. When I first started, I did not want to come in here like a bull in china shop telling reporters what was wrong with their stories. But I did want to help reporters somehow. So I took other intern’s advice: make friends. Then, if I was lucky, and if they asked, I could tell them what I thought. In the end, I enjoyed working with everyone, and I think that I is why I feel good about my work here looking back on it.

I worked with reporters in the feature and business sections. Features at The New Times are much different than at home. First of all, they are very long (longest I edited: around 4000 words). Second of all, sometimes they are just informing people about an issue, with no news peg whatsoever. I once edited an 800 word feature written by a doctor on rheumatoid arthritis. Business is a good section, with Rwanda’s growing economy and all, but there are a lot of technical stories filled with statistics and ministers’ quotes.

At first, I wasn’t quite sure how to go through a story with the reporter. Even though I had become their friend, I didn’t want them to think I thought of myself as a know-it-all. But eventually I got the hang of it. I learned how to pick my battles, be a good communicator, work in a team, and make concessions.  There were quite a few times that I really felt great about editing.

For example, I worked with one reporter, also a university student, whose feature story had tons of potential. It was about residents living near Akagera National Park who were upset because wild animals were ruing their land and killing livestock, and in some cases, injuring people. He had all the right elements: the residents, officials, and even statistics that showed the number of wild animals ruing land or livestock has been increasing. The only real problem was he had quite a bit of opinion in the piece because he was very knowledgeable about the issue (he had studied it in school). I told him it was great he knew about the issue, because that means he can do a better job of the story. However, I told him he needs to get an expert to substantiate what he already knows. He really took it to heart. He said he was thankful that I pointed this out to him, and asked how he can differentiate opinion from hard journalism. I told him, and the next story that I edited had no opinion, and had, in general, improved. I was so proud.

Other times I was telling reporters about more simplistic journalistic concepts like using “says” instead of “said” and getting rid of the use of “The New Times has learned” unless the story really called for it. To a normal person, they would think that’s not big deal. But seeing a reporter make such a small change in a story put a smile on my face.

Don’t get me wrong, there were many times I was frustrated. The New Times has a lot of things it could improve on. But I’ve learned there are legitimate reasons behind those problems that aren’t easy to fix. For example, though the stories are often way too long, many reporters write lengthy pieces because they are paid by the word. Stories are often missing the voice of real people, but that’s because people do not trust the media after what it did during the genocide. Plus, the deadlines can sometimes be as early as noon because it has to get to the paginators, then the printer, which I think is slow and is on the other side of town. This makes it hard to get the time to interview people on the ground. The paper also runs a lot of stories highlighting government initiatives, missing some of the harder hitting pieces. But it’s a government owned paper . . . what’s more important? Publishing a controversial story or keeping the job that feeds your family? Let’s not forget that the internet is incredibly slow, and sometimes the power goes out. We complain about how hard it is to put together a paper at home, when really we have no excuse if The New Times can do it.

Still, what I’ve noticed about this place is that they know what they need to improve on and they are trying their best. The editor, David, holds a meeting every week where his speech usually includes a lecture on accuracy, fact-checking, and having people trust the paper to give them the truth. David is always eager to get copies of CP style and is urging reporters to read their copies. The paper is in the works of making a policy manual. They are putting out a Kinyarwanda version of the paper to get more readers. A few times, they’ve tested the waters and published some controversial stories slightly out of sync with their editorial line. The stories aren’t perfect, but they are a step in the right direction.

Today I shook hands with everyone for the last time. I think that’s what I’ll miss the most about working at The New Times: the morning routine of shaking hands, practicing my Kinyarwanda, and laughing with the reporters and editors about my Rwandan adventures. I love handshakes here. It is so much more personal than shaking hands at home. It’s going to be weird going back to the hum-drum way we say hello.

I felt like crying when I realized that, though I want to come back, I may never see this country again. I may never see the people at The New Times, who have been one great part of this experience.  So thank you everyone. Until next time, I hope.

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August 8, 2007 — Bounce in my step

Rwanda is great for a girl’s ego.

Two months ago, when I first arrived at the New Times, I was wearing a skirt and a colour-coordinated tank top. One of the reporters told me I looked “smart.” I awkwardly said thank you, not really sure what she meant. I thought she was telling me I looked intelligent. I was flattered, but a little confused that someone would say that when she just met me. 

Then the light bulb went on. Oh, she is saying I am dressed well! Aw, how kind. For the next few weeks, I got a “smart” comment almost everyday.

Then I got a little lazy and stopped wearing my nicer clothes to work (hey it’s hard to strattle a moto in a skirt okay?). I still got a few compliments, but not half as many. People at The New Times are dressed impeccably: trousers, dress shirts, sparkly blouses, high heels and everything. So for my last week, I took it back up a notch.

On Wednesday I wore my yellow and brown sundress. Our housekeeper told me in French I was dressed nice, as did our cook. That wouldn’t be surprising back home, but what happened next was. When I was walking up the hill on the way back from grabbing a bottle of water, a woman drove by, put on the brakes and peered out the window. Guess what was so important to tell me? I was well dressed.

That amused me, but I guess even in Canada, some people stop their cars to take a closer look (especially men haha). But then I had four women on the street the next day tell me I looked ‘smart’. I felt like breaking out into a John Travolta strut!

It’s nice to get some recognition. Looking good is hard work, right ladies?

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August 6, 2007 — On partying Rwandan-style

The North American party scene has nothing on Africa. To be frank, clubs at home might as well be Chuck E. Cheese.

I’ve been out to the both clubs in Kigali, Cadillac and KBC, quite a few times during my visit. Let me give you a glimpse of what it’s like.

The first difference is when they party. It’s incredibly late (or rather early, if you want to be technical). In Canada, my friends and I head out to the club around 10 or 11 p.m. If we went to a club at that time here, it would be absolutely dead. People start trickling in around midnight, things pick up by 1 a.m., and the club is in full swing by 3 a.m. The morning we left for the safari at 5 a.m., we passed by KBC and the place was still packed. Unbelievable. While it is incredibly fun to party all-night long, it’s also incredibly exhausting. At midnight, the last thing I want to do is go out. I’m forced to take a nap, then drag myself out because I’m in for a good time guaranteed, whether my tired body knows it or not.

Cadillac was the first club I went to. It’s like something straight out of an 80’s movie. The floor is carpeted, with glow in the dark “Cadillac” written all over it. The place is loaded with black lights, so it’s only natural everyone is wearing white. It’s tacky, but I love it. KBC is a little less colourful, but the black light is of course a fixture in a Rwandan club.

Let’s not forget about the music of course. I have one word: AKON. I have no idea why this man is so popular here, because he’s really not that huge in North America. The most played song is “Nobody want to see us together-but it don’t matter no”. I hated Akon at first (he and his squeaky little voice) but he’s grown on me. Now I won’t’ be able to listen to Akon without thinking of Africa. It seems other favourite artists include Shakria (Hips don’t lie!) and Celine Dion (I never thought I would hear this woman in a club). Basically, it’s a lot of reggae, East African tunes, and North American hip hop. You’re always on your toes when a Rwandan DJ is in control of the speakers.

And with music, comes dancing! Rwandans have some serious rhythm. I can’t even describe the dancing. They hold nothing back. Sometimes they sing along (which is funny when they don’t know English). They have moves I’ve never even seen. It’s so fun to watch when they get in a circle and start battling. Although, sometimes it gets pretty steamy between the guys and the gals. Or even guys and guys. Yes, that’s right. It’s not uncommon to see two guys dancing together quite…eh-hm… suggestively. It’s not sexual or anything, just an example of the physicality of the culture. By the way, everyone is dancing, which is how I like it. This is not like at home, where you have the shy people hiding in the corner with their beers. You don’t have to have a friend to dance with either. At KBC, there’s a set of mirrors on the wall and I’ve seen quite a few people literally dance with their own reflection.

Primus, Mutzig, Amstel, and Guinness are the beers of choice. Or Fanta and a shot. This can get quite dangerous as alcohol is cheap in comparison to home, at a buck or two a beer. 

Being a muzungu makes for quite a night at Cadillac and KBC. We might as well be glowing in the backlight (come to think of it, we probably do). So much staring! And people are always trying to get us to dance with them. They don’t give up easily either. I’ve had people poke and poke and poke, until I finally have to yell at them. But I’ve had some pretty memorable times taking my turn in a circle of dancing Rwandans. Having been a dancer since I was 3, I was determined to give these guys a run for their money.

One night at KBC, Andrea was standing to the side with a Rwandan she met earlier. He told her some people don’t like dancing with muzungus, because usually we’re not that great. But then he pointed to me on the dance floor.

“But she, she dances like an African American!”

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August 6, 2007 — Wet ‘n Wild on the Nile

I have officially travelled down one percent of the Nile. That’s right-the Nile. 30 km out of 3000 km. It was the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done. Hands down. But I loved it.

When I heard that I could whitewater raft down the Nile, my eyes nearly popped out of my head with excitement. But later, when those five foot rapids are hurling themselves at you, you start to question your sanity.  I’m not completely positive if I would do it again, but I certainly don’t regret it.

But first let me start with my impressions of Uganda. It’s quite different from Rwanda. First of all, it’s a lot dirtier. I suppose they don’t have people sweeping the street and picking up garbage everyday like they do in Rwanda. Still, the country has a lot of character, especially the capital of Kampala. There is a spectacular skyline of high-rise buildings, loads of traffic, and plenty of street vendors selling everything from fruit to sunglasses, even at night. In Kigali, things are usually pretty dead by that time. I wish I could have spent more than a couple nights in Kampala. It was so lively.

After a restless night of sleeping amongst a whole lot of bugs, and a bus ride to Jiinja, Andrew and I finally set out on the Nile at about 11 a.m.  We were bare foot in shorts, t-shirts, blue lifejackets and red helmets.  Let the fun begin.  

Our guide’s name was Roberto, a Ugandan who has been rafting down the Nile everyday for the past 10 years.  He only gets one day off a week. I couldn’t believe how relaxed he was. Mind you, he’s been through rapids with no lifejacket, just a gerry can. Whew. He pretty much told us everything we needed to do. We’d paddle hard into the wave, and then hold on for dear life as we hit the white wall of water. Then Roberto would yell “Getrrup!Getrrup!” when it was time to row again. I think he was trying to say “Get her up” but it just came across that way because of his accent. Still, it was cute and kept my mind off the impending doom before me.

A few more sets of rapids in, I was feeling like a pro. Woo hoo! I’m on the Nile! We had even been through a set of class five rapids without flipping (class six is the limit, almost unraftable). Go team Roberto. So when the next set of rapids, class three, came up, no problem right?

I should know by now not to get cocky. Our boat tipped. Everyone on my side of the raft fell out. Andrew was able to grab back on to the rope on the side of the raft, but I went for a ride. Immediately, I was sucked under. Roberto had drilled it into our brain by then not to panic. Don’t kick, he said, because that only makes things worse. You are supposed to go limp, grab your life jacket and count to seven. Don’t ask me where that number comes from. So I started counting. 1…2…3….4567!!! It felt like I was never going to come up for air. That was the longest seven seconds of my life, but eventually I did pop up. I gargled a bit of the Nile and waved for one of the kayakers to come pick me up. Then I realized my shorts were falling off. Oh great, I can barely breathe or stay afloat, and here I am worrying about holding up my shorts. The kayaker brought me back to the boat safe and sound, and thankfully, with my shorts on.

We went through a total of seven sets of rapids before lunch. They brought us to this little island where we hate ham and cheese sandwiches and potato salad. It was some much needed nourishment before the remaining four sets of rapids.

As if we weren’t wet enough by this point, then we hear booming thunder behind us and see dark clouds coming our way. Those of you that know me well know that I have a long-standing phobia of thunderstorms. I looked to the sky and yelled “ One fear at a time please!”

It starts pouring rain. Luckily, we were in calm waters, but it still got really cold. We just kept rowing and rowing to keep warm. I think Andrew and I were becoming a little delirious from the cold because we started singing, “Grey skies are gonna clear up, put on a happy face!” Whatever keeps your boat afloat right?

Six hours after we started, we came to the last rapid, a very difficult class five. This rapid was called the “50/50”, referring to the chances that your raft will flip over. To the side of 50/50 was a class six rapid, called “The Bad Place.” We watched the first raft go down. It was a rough ride, but they didn’t flip. Still, I panicked. We were next. The waves looked enormous. It was all white for a good 50 feet down the river. The sound of the waves smashing against each other was deafening. If I fell in, it would be a lot worse than my dinky ride in the class three rapid. I desperately wanted to paddle backwards. What was I thinking??!!

“Paddle hard! Paddle hard!,” yelled Roberto.

“Ahh I changed my mind!” I yelled back.

Of course, I had no choice but to clench my jaw and row hard. But then all of a sudden it looked like we were headed for The Bad Place. Before we knew it, the back end of our raft caught the class six rapid, and our boat flipped, literally throwing us into the turbulent waters. I barely had enough time to take a deep breath until it was déjà-vu all over again, but ten times worse.

I tried not to panic…but after being tossed around under the water like a ragdoll for ten seconds, I started to. I finally reached the surface and gasped for air. But not for long. Wave number two was coming straight for me. Here we go again. This time for a good 12 to 15 seconds. What I wouldn’t give to have had a camera attached to my head. The sound was pounding against my years, and the water swirled around me, green then white then brown. It felt like the water went on forever. When I finally gasped for that long-awaited breath of air, it was the best feeling ever. I frantically waved my arms at the kayakers, who brought me safely back to the boat. It was not a pleasant 45 seconds but what a way to end the day and the adventure of a lifetime.

As you can see, the seven-hour raft was unbelievably adrenaline-filled and exhilarating. However, there were a few moments of calm. Roberto gave us a couple of chances to jump in and swim in the still waters. That was a great feeling, just floating along in water that I know goes all the way up to Egypt. That’s when I got to thinking about how lucky I was to be here, not just on the Nile, but in Africa. It also had me thinking about how this raft and the whole trip has been a lesson in facing my fears. Just like my rafting adventure, my trip to Rwanda hasn’t been all calm waters. Being so far away from home can sometimes feel like my rough-ride of the rapids. But you just have to ride it out, and eventually you’ll pop up for air. I’ve questioned my sanity a few times during the past two months, but in the end it’s been the experience of a lifetime. Although I’m not sure if I’d be stupid enough to get in that raft again, I know I’ll be coming back to Rwanda one day.

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July 28, 2007 — Over my head

It never ceases to amaze me the things people carry on their heads here. I may not have taken physics but it just seems impossible. Someone is going to have to explain to me how in the world they do it….because my head hurts from trying to figure it out.

I’ve seen some people walking along with baskets on their heads and then bending over to pick something up off the ground. Yet, their basket doesn’t budget. I don’t understand! Does gravity exist here??! I’ve tried doing it with tiny objects, and needless to say I’ve failed miserably. I can’t even stand with a glass of water on my head, let alone walk.

Andrew and I decided to compile a list of the top 10 things we’ve seen people manage to keep from falling off their heads. Keep in mind some of these people walk for very long distances with this stuff!  

10.  Baskets of laundry…sometimes one piled on top of another.
9. A sack of potatoes.
8. A Gigantic basket of pineapples (other fruits as well, but pineapples I believe would be the heaviest and hardest to balance.)         
7. A stack of branches which I think might be papyrus. They are so long they hang a good five feet both in front and behind the person carrying them.
6. A two-by-four
5. A full-sized suitcase (not one of the ones covered in fabric either, the hard plastic ones)
4. A pile of mattresses
3. Seven baskets tied together (that’s right..seven)
2. A banana tree
1. A backpack (oh the irony)

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July 26, 2007 — My Rwandan dance lesson

I will never forget the group of women I met today. I may not have that much in common with them, but today they reminded me why I love dance so much.

I was out on a story for the New Times’ Sunday feature section on HIV/AIDS in Rwanda. My story was about the Rwanda Women’s Network, an NGO that works with women and victims of sexual violence to help them deal with trauma and poverty. Debra and I went to the Village of Hope, a tiny village for genocide widows and other women in poverty. A lot of them are HIV positive. A few hundred live in the village itself, and others live just outside. The women are given at-home medical care, counseling, and a place to share their experiences. When we arrived the women were getting together for a little performance. Inside, there were about 20 beautiful older ladies sitting closely together in some wooden chairs. Some of them were banging the drums, and others were at the front dancing. Everyone else was doing their part by singing and clapping.

It was so entertaining to watch these women. They were so happy. Even their clothes reflected their emotions, filled with bright colours and patterns. The place was just full of energy, so I decided to join in! The ladies cheered me on. I started to imitate what the dancers were doing, and it’s certainly harder than it looks! Traditional Rwandese dance involves doing oppositite moves with your upper and lower half. You move your arms gracefully in different directions, while you stomp your feet and move your hips quickly.  I soon learned my dance background wasn’t doing me much good here. But one woman, named Constance, had faith in me! She grasped my hands, and told me through a translator that I was good, but that I just needed some practice. So she got up and started teaching me. Obviously, we couldn’t communicate, so it was all through using her body! Being a dance teacher before, I know how hard it can be trying to show dance moves without explaining exactly how to do it. But this woman was pretty good so I just watched her. She was so cheerful showing me what she loved to do.

After our little lesson, the women clapped for both mine and Debra’s attempt at Rwandan dancing. My guess is they don’t get to see muzungus dance very often. Then they got up to tell us how the Village of Hope has changed their life. They were very open and willing to talk, and even went so far as to thank us for coming. If anyone should be saying thank you, it should have been us. They let us into their lives for an afternoon. These women have been through so much, and have close to nothing, but they are just as happy as anyone else. One lady told us when they forget everything when they dance. All this reminded me about how dance is universal. Like them, I dance to express my feelings, and get away from everything. For these women, it’s helped them rebuild their life after tragedy. And it helps them to get through their struggles of the present. I left there feeling hopeful, inspired, and loving dance even more.

When I travel to see other parts of the world, I plan on learning the traditional dance of whatever country I visit. But it will be hard to compete with my first foreign dance lesson. I can only hope to find a group of dancers as moving as the one I met today.

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July 23, 2007 — Eco-tourism: exhausting, exhilarating, and full of surprises

Rwanda is bringing out my adventurous side…and this weekend it was out in full-swing.

This weekend turned out to be an eco-tourism marathon. On Saturday, we would head to Akagera National Park for a day of wild-animal watching. A few hours later, three of us would get up bright and early to go gorilla trekking. I knew it would be tiring, but I figured I should make the most of my last few weekends.

Saturday 5.a.m. We head outside to catch our ride, which to our surprise was a minibus. Oh goody, I thought. A long day of 17 people squished together. Oh well, it’s only a four hour safari right? Wrong. We got to Akagera only to find out we were going on a seven hour safari. Africa is full of adventures, but it’s also full of surprises! It’s not like we had a choice, so off we went on a very-bumpy bus ride. About 30 minutes in, we saw our first animal…a giraffe! It was totally surreal being close enough to see it without my glasses. There are many moments when it hits me that I really am in Africa. This was one of them.

Along our safari we also saw impalas, baboons, hippos, warthogs, bucks, and zebras. No lions or elephants unfortunately, but it still felt like something out of the Lion King. As we sat on top of a hill looking at the view of the park, I felt like belting out the lyrics to The Circle of Life!

I was enjoying all the animals, except for one: the horsefly. They are annoying little insects that bite quite hard. They can sometimes even draw blood. I am afraid of mostly all insects, especially things that can sting you, so I was freaking out a bit (well my housemates will say more than a bit). I was boiling hot, but I put on my long-sleeved shirt and safari hat in an attempt to keep them from biting me. It wasn’t fool proof, but I got less bites. Still, Andrew and I were antsy the whole ride…especially when there were more than ten flies in the bus. We were dubbed “The Ultimate Bud Squad” because of our swatting and screaming. Our conversations went something along the lines of “Ah! Hey stop swatting it at me! Swat it out the window! Ow!!”

Fourteen hours after we left the house, we finally returned home exhausted. We all took showers to get rid the film of dirt and dust on our skin. Andrew, Kristen, and I hit the sack because we had to get up four hours later for another long-day ahead.

At around 3:30 am, we were up again. This time we headed west towards Volcanoes National Park for our chance to frolic with the gorillas. We arrived at 7 a.m., at which point our driver signed us up for the group we would hike with: the Susa group. As soon as I heard it, I groaned. We were signed up for the hardest and longest hike. However, we would see the most gorillas because there were 37 primates in this group. After our long day at Akagera, I just wanted to see some gorillas, not go for a difficult hike! Kristen, being the gung-ho gorilla enthusiast she is, begged me. Not like I had a choice really because I was outnumbered, but I went with it. Again, Africa is full of surprises, and you have to suck it up and deal with them.

First we had to take a bumpy ride up to the beginning of our hike. Along the way, kids were shouting something we’d never heard before in Kinyarwanda. We asked the driver what they were saying, and he told us they were asking for our water bottles. What an odd thing to shout at people driving by. Just when I think I’ve heard it all.

And so we began our hike. And oh how did it remind me how out of shape I am. Within the first ten minutes, I was already panting. It was so steep! It didn’t help that my snap-crackle-and-pop knees were practically making music. On the upside, when we stopped to catch our breath, I had something stunning to look at. The views on the mountain were beautiful. There were farms along the side, outlined by lush trees and grass. I could also see little kids waving at us in the distance.

An hour into the hike, we reached the forest portion. If I thought the first part was bad, I had another surprise coming my way! Maybe I’m just an amateur hiker, but this was not my idea of fun. I kept cursing the Susa group. I thought these gorillas better be worth struggling to keep from falling down into stinging nettles.

And seeing them was worth it.  Some of the first gorillas we saw were playing about ten feet away from us. They would rough each other up a bit, and then suddenly just stop in an embrace just staring at each other. I was quite surprised at how docile they were. One big silverback looked at us as if we were standing in his way, and then just casually walked right through. He was so close he could easily have brushed my leg if I were an inch closer. It was unbelievable even hearing the sounds of gorillas: the sound of one scratching its back, another munching on some leaves, and a baby pounding its chest. Branches were also snapping all over the place because they were such vigorous climbers! At one point, a little guy snapped a branch and it fell right onto one of us! I thought the gorilla was going to land on her! We took a million pictures, which was no surprise, but there were some points that I just stood and watched thinking how lucky I was to be there. $500 well spent, even with the hike.

At the end of the hike back down, the guide gave us a certificate. I must say, I was quite proud for getting through that hike (even with my whining). I am framing that thing!

So about 11 hours after leaving the house, we returned once again…worn out from our adventurous weekend. Needless to say, although there were times I thought I wasn’t cut out for this kind of stuff, I’m glad I did it. Being on this trip is pushing me out of my comfort zone. I can’t imagine I would have had a weekend like this a few years ago. Next up: whitewater rafting on the Nile!

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July 16, 2007 — Moto mishap

I am a moto maniac.

I took one on my second day here and became addicted to the way it feels to have the wind in my face. I love admiring the scenery without feeling trapped inside a crowded bus. I feel confident, independent, and daring when I’m on a moto. They are cheap, and sometimes I just take them for the thrill of the ride. I once took four in one day. Lately, I’ve become the spokesperson for the moto in the house. I order everyone to take motos, saying once they get on, they’ll never get off. I’ve already converted Andrew and Rose!

But last week my moto obsession turned ugly.

Shelley was taking us around the city on a tour of all the media outlets. We were all waiting for a bus, when I decided I’d just take a moto and meet them at our next stop because I needed my moto fix for the day. I wasn’t sure exactly where I was going, so Shelley told the moto driver for me. I got on, and we headed downtown.

There was one point where the driver stopped. I thought this was where I was supposed to get off, so I hopped off on the right. I guess he was just stopped because of traffic because he motioned for me to get back on. I must not have been paying attention because my leg touched the extremely hot exhaust pipe. I didn’t even realize it until I got on the bike, when a horrible stinging pain shot through my right calf.  It was the longest five minutes of my life, waiting for my stop. When we finally arrived, I almost chucked my money at the moto man, so I could sit down and evaluate my burn.

It was the size of a large egg. I don’t know much about burns, but it looked pretty serious. It was a weird mix of red and white. It was burning like crazy, and I knew it needed some ice to keep it from getting hotter as it continued to burn my skin.

I hobbled a couple of blocks to a small grocery store. I was hoping they at least spoke French, or I’d be doomed. I asked for a cold water bottle, but they only had lukewarm. Then this nice lady went behind the store and brought out a hunk of ice. She started to put the whole hunk on my leg, when I stopped her and said it would be best to put the ice in a bag. She went to get a bag, while I bought some cookies, thinking that was the closest to a pain reliever I was getting to at the moment. The whole time I was in the store, everyone was genuinely concerned. They were asking me what happened and saying “I am sorry for you.” I was so touched.

I walked back to where I was supposed to wait for the group. I iced my burn, while everyone walked by staring. I must have looked ridiculous. I was dressed up in a nice skirt, yet I was holding a huge hunk of ice on my leg with one hand, and was shoving cookies in my mouth with the other.

About 45 minutes after the now-infamous accident, the group finally showed up. We came to the conclusion it was best for me to go home.

I tried to take care of my wound myself by using my first aid kit. But after two days, it was hurting just as bad as the first. Plus, I was running out of supplies. My blister had ruptured when I was puking (Yes I’ve had some seriously bad luck lately). I had no choice but to go to the hospital AGAIN (for the second time in less than a week!). There, I could get the burn properly cleaned and covered up. Like the first time, the doctors were very nice. He cleaned up my wound with some saline, and bandaged it with some gauze. He told me to come back tomorrow to keep it clean. I rolled my eyes. Here we go again.

Sure enough, the next day I made another trip. The doctors knew me I soon as I walked in! This time a different doctor cleaned up my wound. He took out an orange bottle that I hadn’t seen before. Then he poured it onto my raw skin. It felt like someone had poured pure alcohol on me. I asked him what that liquid was. He told me hibitane. Kristen later informed me she used that on HORSES. No wonder it hurt so badly! I asked him (actually practically ordered him) to use saline instead.

Now a week and a half and four hospital trips later, my burn is finally starting to heal. The funny thing is I still take motos. Now I’m just more careful to get on the LEFT side, where there is no exhaust pipe. . Sometimes I think I’m crazy!

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July 14, 2007 — Eyes of a hawk

I think every kid I’ve met here so far has made me smile, but one young boy in Butare this weekend made me laugh too.

Kristen,Andrew, Garrett and I were finishing up our visit to Butare’s museum when we saw a small path leading down a hill. It looked like someone had walked on it before, so we followed the path down. It turned out to be an amazing view of a gigantic farm in the nestled between some hills. We were just looking around and taking pictures, and then we hear someone from afar.

“BOOOOOONNNNJOOOOUUUR!”  said the squeaky voice.

We looked around trying to figure out where it was coming from. Then I spotted the tiniest dot of a person probably five footballs away. I saw it run up a small hill and yell “MUUUUUZZZZZUUUUUUNNNNNGGUUUUUU!”

I know kids are fascinated with us here, but we must have been this one’s first muzungu sighting. I have no idea how in the world he spotted us from so far away. I contemplated yelling back, but I didn’t want to be known as the annoying loud muzungu. So instead I waved. I hope he saw me! Given his vision, I’m sure he did.

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July 6, 2007 — What a birthday

I had planned on going to a restaurant with my Canadian and Rwandan friends for my birthday. Instead, I ended up in the hospital.

A few days before my birthday, I hadn’t been feeling the greatest. I think I had a cold, and come Friday, it had turned into a flu. Or so I thought. By Friday night my stomach pain was so bad it was almost hard to breathe. I felt like I had to vomit, but nothing would come out because I hadn’t been able to eat anything. At around 12:30 at night, I asked the girls to call Shelley so I could go to the hospital. I felt horrible, and everyone said I looked it. It became a small circus in my room while everyone tried to help me get dressed and pack an emergency overnight bag. Camille took charge on the phone, calling home and the insurance company. Jenny tagged along in the cab because she spoke fluent French.

It only took about 10 minutes to get to King Faisal hospital. I was under the impression it would be quite busy. But it was quite the opposite. I staggered in with Jenny, peeking around corners looking for someone to talk to. A couple of doctors were chatting in a small room when they spotted us. Jenny told him I was sick and that I needed to be looked at.

One doctor led us through a short hallway and around the corner into a room with about three empty beds. He motioned to one of the beds. I chuckled to myself thinking ‘Hey I really did go to a restaurant for my birthday.’ We had walked in like customers at a restaurant, who were quickly attended to by our waiter (I mean doctor). The way the doctor showed us my hospital bed he could have been saying “Here is your table—um I mean bed.” The place seemed like a decent hospital, but I just found it quite amusing how things are so different in the emergency ward at home.

It only took a few minutes before the doctor came in, but it felt much longer. Part of that was because I was in pain, but it was also eerily quiet. I literally heard crickets.

It only took a few minutes until the doctor came in. He asked me a few questions about my symptoms. I told him, and his guess was I had food poisoning. The nurse would give me some pain reliever via IV and take a blood sample. While the nurse went to get the supplies, I noticed other doctors coming in and just staring. They’d come in, look, and leave. I figured out why quickly.

My medical team started speaking Kinyarwanda. The nurse was looking for my vein, and the doctor was peering over smiling. I was oblivious to what they were saying until I heard the word I hear at least 10 times a day: Muzungu.

“Hey I know that word!” I told them. They laughed. They were quite shocked I actually knew what it meant. It turns out the nurse had never taken blood from a white person before, and was a little bit excited about it! He was amazed at how easy it was to find my vein.

We all had a good laugh about it as the nurse started to take my blood. I did a double take because I thought he was going to withdraw blood the way they do at home (quickly pulling back the needle so the blood rushes into the plastic container). Instead, he used the needle to pierce my skin, and then let the blood drip through the needle into the plastic container. Ewww! So what would have taken only 30 seconds at home took about five minutes. I felt perfectly safe; it was just awkward sitting there while we all waited, drip by drip.

I was out of the hospital about an hour after I walked in. I was well taken care of, and felt very safe, but I couldn’t help but realize how different things were at this hospital. At home, the emergency ward would be packed full, even in the middle of the night. And there’s no way I would have been able to sit there and have a conversation with a doctor. Nor would I have been in and out in an hour. 

My housemates have decided we are not calling July 6th my birthday given the circumstances. We’ve decided to bring out the party hats another day.  To be honest, although I’m definitely not thrilled to have spent my birthday sick, I will remember this birthday shenanigan more than any of my others!

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July 3, 2007— The power of an apple

I thought I was simply giving a hungry child a juicy apple, but it turned out to be a 30 second encounter that I won’t soon forget.

I’ve learned to either ignore or politely say no to children who hold out their hands and say “Cent francs manger.” I understand why, because if I gave one kid money, it wouldn’t be long until others surround me with their hands out expecting the same.

I started to realize that I haven’t given anything to a kid since I got here. I had tried to justify it by convincing myself it was because I had always been in crowds. But then I started to feel guilty. Some of these kids are starving and here I am worried about having to give out the equivalent of a dollar.

Today I went grocery shopping and bought a few apples. On my way out, a boy around 8 years old in dirty clothes and no shoes asked me for 100 francs to eat. I was about to say ‘non,desolee’ when I stopped myself halfway through saying it. I reached inside my paper bag, took out a shiny green apple and held it out for the boy.

“Here is an apple to eat instead,” I said.

His face lit up. I felt really happy for him.

I expected him to chomp into it right away because he was supposed to be starving, but he didn’t. As I got on my moto, I waited for him to start eating it. Instead, he started at me, just smiling. I was confused. I started to worry that maybe this kid was not really that poor and that he just asked people for money so he could buy candy or something. I have had some school kids dressed in nice clothes and eating their own food ask me for money.

 But then I got to thinking that I was being stupid to expect this kid to eat the apple like he hadn’t eaten in days. Why did I want to see that? I’m not really sure, but after some thinking I think it may have something to do with the way North Americans create simple stereotypes about poverty. We want to see the starving child and we want to see us helping them. The kid was probably just saving the apple to make it last.

I think it’s so interesting how in a place like this, such a simple act can make me feel happy, confused, and guilty all at the same time. It just goes to show you can’t assume anything here.

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June 25, 2007 — My weekend in Gisenyi

I’ve still been feeling a bit overwhelmed and tired lately, so when the girls invited me to come to Gisenyi for the weekend, part of me just wanted to stay back at the house. But then I would have been all by myself because the others were spending their weekend in Kampala. So I forced myself to stop being so self-pitying and go…and I’m glad I did. I feel like more happened this weekend than did the first three days in Kigali.

First of all, the bus ride to Gisenyi was gorgeous. The landscape here is absolutely stunning. I’m a huge tourist and was taking pictures through the windows of the bus. This was the first glimpse I had of villages in Rwanda. It was really eye opening. I felt like I was watching something about Africa on television. There were so many women carrying heavy loads of water on their heads, and men pushing bags of wood along on their bicycles. It really got me thinking about how life is so different here. There were so many people on the road walking along, and yet the villages were so few and far between. They must walk for ages everyday.

When we finally got to Gisenyi, the hotel was quite a bit further from town when we thought. But when we finally got there, we fell in love! Called Paradis, it’s a few small huts right on the edge of Lake Kivu! In the main area, on the edge of the peninsula, there were a whole bunch of places to sit and have a bite to eat. I felt like I was living in a postcard. There was a fisherman’s dock nearby, so every morning we woke up to the sound of men going by on their boats and chanting songs.  Oh and the breakfast…mmmmm. Each morning, they stuffed us full with tea, coffee, omlettes, toast, fruit, and chipate (kind of like crepes). I just wanted to lay back and say “ahhh this is the life” while we ate on the rocks feeling the sun beating down.

During our first night there, Kyla, Cynthia and I decided to go for a walk through the villages nearby. Within the first give minutes, three little girls came careening down the hill yelling “muzungu bonjour!” In her ragged orange dress, one girl stopped about a foot in front of me with a huge smile on her face. She awkwardly put her hands out, as if asking me if she could hug me. I started to kneel down, when she wrapped her arms around me. So cute! I quietly asked Cynthia how to ask in Kinyarwanda if I could take their photo. She had barely started telling me, but all they needed to hear was ‘photo.’ They immediately started jumping for joy! Once I took their picture, they screamed as they saw their smiling faces in my digital camera. This happened a million times over on our hour-long walk. A group of about 20 school kids who decided to tag along with us for about 15 minutes went absolutely bonkers when we showed them their picture. “Photo, photo!” they kept asking after every snapshot. I was so touched because this obviously made their day. Kids here have close to nothing, and yet the smallest thing puts a smile on their face.  We even saw what looked like a 10-year-old carrying a baby on its back and another kid chopping trees with a machete. Children at home who complain about not having the latest Nintendo game could learn a lesson here.

On Saturday, we took the minbus into town. As we were getting on the driver mumbled something in Kinyarwanda. The only thing we understood was “muzungu,” to which the entire bus load started staring applauding to! I know it’s like having celebrity status when you’re white, but that was just weird. We just kind of piled into the back jokingly saying that we should bow or something.

When we got into Gisenyi, we wanted to spend some time at the beach. Naively, we thought we could suntan on a public beach. What were we thinking? A few minutes after sitting down on our towels, about five kids came running over. Then five more. Then 10 more. Before we knew it, there were a good 30 kids who literally formed a circle around us. We were trapped in a sea of inquisitive eyes and bonjours. Some of them were even so bold as to brush off the sand on my towel and plunk themselves down beside us. At first it was kind of fun, but eventually it just became awkward. We started to feel like we were some sort of zoo animals. We walked down the shore to the Serena hotel, where we could stay at a private beach for the price of a drink. There we enjoyed a wonderful sunny afternoon free of mobs of children with muzungu fever.

After a great night of a few drinks on the rocks of Paradis hotel, we were exhausted by Sunday morning. Given that I was burnt to a crisp (only on my left side bizarrely enough), I wanted to go home earlier than everyone else. So I went with Roxy, who is pretty much the opposite of me in terms of travel experience. She’s travelled pretty much all of Africa for the past year. We took a different busline home in the afternoon. After helping me through my first time peeing in a hole, I was glad to have Roxy with me. She was especially helpful in preventing me from becoming a whiny mess on our very uncomfortable bus ride home. Little did I know, but the bus would be nothing like the cushy one I took on the way to Gisenyi. It was a minibus. Just picture a minivan crammed with around 20 people. I could not move, my knees got extremely achey and scratched up, and I couldn’t feel my butt. I wanted to moan and groan, but I’m sure Roxy would have though I was a wimp given that I’m sure she’s been through way worse on her travels. I only hope I can be as stoic as she is because I was not a happy camper after that horrendous 3.5 hour ride through windy and bumpy roads. 

So besides the bus back, I’d say I had a great time in Gisenyi. I’m still having a tough time with the culture shock, but this weekend was really eye-opening and I think is slowly helping me to snap out of it. I can’t wait to go again with the new girls who come in July so I’ll have a new set of Gisenyi stories to tell.

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June 21, 2007 — My day at Gisozi

This afternoon Solange took Mary-Jo an I to Gisozi to visit the genocide memorial. I tried to mentally prepare myself for what I was about to see, but it didn’t work so well.

First the guide took us behind the centre to the mass graves. They are covered by stones, but underneath, coffin upon coffin are piled on top of each other. As many as 10 bodies can be crammed into one coffin. There are about 250,000 genocide victims buried there, and the guide showed us one mass grave where we could see some of the coffins inside. They really have tried to give these people some dignity by covering the coffins with beautiful purple and white cloths. Mary Jo and I just stood there in silence. I think that’s when I started to feel sick.

Then we went inside to the museum portion of the memorial. It’s divided into three sections: one on the Rwandan genocide, one on genocide around the world, and a children’s memorial. Only a few minutes into the first exhibit, I started to feel more sick. I thought to myself that it might be the heat, altitude sickness, or side affects from my malaria pills. I tried to ignore it, but I really started to feel weak and nauseous. I was hearing personal stories about Rwandans being tortured and family members being killed. Then I saw a pile of machetes that genocidaires had used and a padlock that was actually used to tie two people together and torture them. I just couldn’t take it anymore. I had to sit down. I told Solange I was going to sit on a bench nearby, and she followed me there. She was so sweet. She did everything she could to help: got me some cold water, rubbed my back and forehead, and accompanied me to the washroom when I thought I was going to puke. It was awkward at first because I’m not used to being caressed so much, but it was actually quite nice after a while. I really got a glimpse into how kind they are here. I tried to get up and keep going, but I gave up after a few more minutes. Solange then waited with me outside for an hour while we waited for Mary-Jo to finish. I’m so grateful for that.

I still don’t really know exactly why I was sick. Perhaps it was the heat. But there’s still part of me that wonders if it was seeing those coffins and reading about the genocide that did it. Solange has promised me she will take me back to Gisozi later so I can see the rest of the memorial….then I’ll find out for sure. If I do get sick again, I’m going to force myself to stomach it because feeling a little stomach sick is nothing in comparison to what people had to live through here.

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June 21, 2007 — The only word I really need to know

This morning I decided to go for a walk around our neighbourhood while everyone was at work. It is so gorgeous around here and there is so much to look at. Going for a walk at home is fairly predictable because, let’s face it, all the houses and streets start to look the same. Here everything is so new and different. I have big googley eyes wherever I go. There are some small shops just down the street where the owners come outside to say hello. The trees are so lush and green and there are always people walking about. It’s probably a little voyeuristic of me, but I just love watching people hanging out outside their home. Heck, I’m so easily amazed that I even love just looking at the red dirt road.  

I don’t know how many people I passed by, and I said bonjour to each and every one. I know it’s only natural for them to say bonjour back, but they just have a way of saying it that’s so friendly and puts a smile on my face. I even had a short conversation with a guard who saw me walking by. At home, people rarely say hi when passing each other on the street, but here it happens all the time. I love it.

By far, my favorite people to say bonjour to on my walk were the kids. There are a few schools nearby, one of which I passed on my walk. It must have been recess or something because there were probably 200 kids in their cute blue uniforms playing in the school yard. It didn’t take them long to see the muzungu strolling past, and a few ran up to the fence and started yelling out to me. I waved back and of said hi in both French and Kinyarwanda. I guess the kids couldn’t believe a white person spoke their language because looked at each other and let out some chuckles. Then, someone blew a very loud whistle and all of a sudden the entire yard of tots just dropped to their knees. I watched very confused while a few of the younger kids tried to scoot over so they could kneel by their friends. As the chatter and noise slowly subsided, another whistle blew. My jaw dropped as I watched them all scatter different directions across the schoolyard. Within a matter of seconds, they were all lined up in neat lines in front of their classrooms. Talk about discipline! Having taught large groups of kids before, and getting very frustrated trying to get even 30 of them to listen to me…I want to know their secret!

After that walk, I stopped caring that my French is horrendous because all I really need to know is Bonjour!

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June 20, 2007 — My first shopping experience

It’s probably no surprise to those of you that know me that I’ve already had a taste of shopping in Rwanda on my second day here.

After a very long jetlag-induced afternoon nap, Melodie invited me to walk around downtown with her. I’m not totally comfortable going by myself yet because I’m still incompetent at getting around. We were standing on the street when this man came up to me with a small fan (one that looked like it was from China, which struck me as odd). What’s funny is that I don’t think he actually was a street salesman. He only had the one fan, so I think he just made a spur-of-the-moment decision to sell his fan to a muzungu. I’m practically a walking dollar sign here, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised!

Then Melodie took me to an area of town filled with wandering street salesman, their hands full and with everything from kids toys to snacks. You know, for a place where selling things on the street is illegal, there is certainly a lot of it. Thank God I had Melodie, or I might have, heaven forbid, paid full muzungu price of something. We both eyed a man carrying gorgeous pashminas, and it didn’t take long before he caught our gaze and ran over. He named the price, and I started to get out my money, but Melodie immediately shut me up and started bargaining. That’s just what you do here. When he didn’t give us the price Melodie wanted, we started to walk away. I did so hesitantly because I really wanted that pashmina, but Melodie assured me he’d come running. Sure enough, he did! He then gave us a better price. We talked about it after, and I said that I felt bad because the scarf was cheap to begin with, and being  a muzungu I can afford it. Melodie and the other girls told me they sometimes pay a muzungu price, but there is a certain point where we deserve to pay what everyone else pays and shouldn’t be charged extra just because of what we look like. Plus, bargaining is just what you do here, and they look at you funny if you don’t. And it’s actually kind of fun once you try it a few times!

As we went further down the hill, it seemed more people kept trying to sell us stuff. At one point, I saw this lady with some nice African handicrafts. I saw a set of coasters I thought my mom would like, and started bargaing. Meanwhile, Melodie started to bargain for a wooden giraffe sculpture. I kid you not, within 5 seconds we were surrounded by women desperately passing us their merchandise trying to get us to buy. “Muzungu, 500 francs…300 francs…buy this! Buy this!…1000 francs!” I just kind of awkwardly stood there while the lady we actually bought something from was getting Melodie her change. Being the naïve traveler, I just kept saying “Non, merci,” and couldn’t get out of the mob of women. Then Melodie faked left and ran right, thus escaping the mob. All the women started laughing at Melodie’s stealth. I sheepishly ran after her.

I love shopping at home, but after seeing how much more fun it can be Rwanda, I don’t think it will be the same! Finding a good deal on a t-shirt doesn’t even compare to this stuff.

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June 19, 2007 — Like a deer in headlights

I can’t find a better expression for how I’ve felt during my first day here in Kigali.

Driving from the airport with Solange and Shelley, it was totally surreal going past motos weaving through traffic, groups of children walking home from school, and women carrying baskets of fruit on their heads. I’ve seen plenty of pictures of Rwanda from friends of mine, but nothing compares to seeing it for myself.

After having some of the girls showing me the ropes, I feel totally overwhelmed. This is not necessarily in a bad way, it is just that there are so many things to learn. Everyone already knows because they’ve been here for nearly two months. I’m desperately trying to learn about getting by moto, taxi, or bus, bargaining my way out of a muzungu price, and speaking Kinyarwanda. And that’s only the beginning. On top of this, I’m trying to get used to being stared at constantly being a giant, lanky muzungu (white person). I totally expected that, but it is still going to take some adjusting. All of this is absolutely fascinating, and I am still enjoying myself, but can you say culture shock? It’s hard being the only one here who has no idea what she’s doing.  I know it’s only my first day, but with so much stuff going on, it feels like I’ve been here a week.

Having never been outside of Canada with the exception of Las Vegas, I guess you could say I’m jumping in the deep end coming straight to Africa. I think it’s a good analogy because right now I’m having trouble keeping afloat because I just dove in. I know that it’s just going to take me a while to find my swimming legs, but then I’m going to have a blast.

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Postings

August 10, 2007 — Counting down and counting memories

August 9, 2007 — Leaving The New Times behind

August 8, 2007 — Bounce in my step

August 6, 2007 — On partying Rwandan-style

August 6, 2007 — Wet 'n Wild on the Nile

July 28, 2007 — Over my head

July 26, 2007 — My Rwandan dance lesson

July 23, 2007 — Eco-tourism: exhausting, exhilarating, and full of surprises

July 16, 2007 — Moto mishap

July 14, 2007 — Eyes of a hawk

July 6, 2007 — What a birthday

July 3, 2007 — The power of an apple

June 25, 2007 — My weekend in Gisenyi

June 21, 2007 — My day Gisozi

June 21, 2007 — The only word I really need to know

June 20, 2007 — My first shopping experience

June 19, 2007 — Like a deer in headlights

 

 
    © 2006 Carleton University School of Journalism and Communication DESIGN: SMDESIGN