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Corina Milic ,
Carleton University Graduate

 

Corina's Blog

Sept. 18, 2006

"Muzungu" means different. It's applied to us, as white people, all the time, anywhere we go in the city or countryside. Sometimes it comes across as insulting, especially when we don't know what else people are saying. But I know people, especially children, are just curious. And in fact, what people are usually saying around the word "Muzungu" are compliments!

Touring around the market, and our self appointment tour guide and fellow reporter at The New Times Linda explained what the vendors and people on the street were actually saying. Apparently we're the best looking muzungus they've ever seen – or at least the youngest. Most often what they are saying is "how are you?"

The buses here are actually vans that can, and mostly do, pack 16 people in at a time. A ride costs a whopping 20 cents unless you are heading out of town at which point it is closer to 25 cents.

Waiting at the bus stop with us Muzungus (on our way to work) this morning was a little girl and her mom. She just stared and stared and grinned at me. Climbing into the van she passed me and sneakily grabbed my hand for a second.

In my usual squished and sweaty position, I sat beside the two of them, the child on her mom's lap. The girl gently touched our feet together, then the mother brushed her hand against my arm over and over. They both reached out and touched Alyssa's hair (she sat in front of me) too.

This happens regularly. We went out of town yesterday and driving through the villages children would run up to the road and wave wildly at us, grinning. It felt like we were in a parade.

Very odd feeling perhaps, but not mean or ill intentioned. So when I get self conscious or tired of being stared at, that's what I think of.

^Top

Sept. 14, 2006

Sunni, a Rwandan who grew up in Canada, asked my opinion about Kigali the other day.

"It's beautiful." By which I meant the horizon - a series of misty hills in every direction.

"Oh don't be so clichéd," he said.

What I really meant was – I don't know yet. Rwanda is contradiction.

Elaborate new houses and office buildings line pock marked and dusty dirt roads. Well dressed journalists drink their beer at a bar hut out back. I walk through Kigali and see a one room house made of sheet metal. It's leaning against a stone wall that protects another family's home. But it isn't just the infrastructure juxtapositions that surprise me.

Children in bright blue school uniforms run by the "muzungus" (us!) to shake their hands and laugh on the way home from school. The rest of the time it is barefoot kids in old t-shirts saying "J'ai faim mamma" and asking for "100 francs (20 cents)."

So much is gated and covered in walls. On top of the walls there is barbed wire or, more commonly, shards of glass bottles glinting in the sunlight. But curling their green way through the wire and resting contently on the broken glass are magnificent flowers: bright pink, purple and orange. The trees too, come in crazy shapes. There are trees that look like giant bonsais, and ones that remind me of sumacs. Palm trees line the main road from our house to work.

The newspaper itself is a contradiction. I went on assignment the other day with a colleague. At a hotel where we were to meet our interviewee, the Ministry of Finance was training journalists on how to report on a new government policy.

"How can the government be training journalists on policy when journalists are supposed to be able to monitor the government?" asked my colleague, concerned about the ethics of freedom of the press.

Despite some understanding of ethics and the ability of many reporters to do critical interviews, I edit stories every day which lack any structure or sometimes even proper grammar. English is many of the reporters' third language and only one person in the newsroom has had professional journalism training.

This is not snobbery. I am impressed by the paper which has built itself from a monthly publication to a daily one in the decade after the genocide.

But if Sunni asks me again what I think of Rwanda I will still say beautiful, but beautiful in its contradiction. It is a country, in the most obvious and visual sense, in the middle of big transition. And this is the first time I've gotten to witness, rather than read about, that transition.

^Top

Sept. 13, 2006

We landed in Ethiopia after about 36 hours of travel and maybe four of sleep.

Ethiopia, 13 months of sunshine, reads their slogan. Except, waiting to board the plane for Kigali, we stood on the tarmac as great globs of rain came down. Thirteen months of sunshine huh? An Ethiopian football team stood with us and told us it was Holy Rain. We laughed, but they weren't joking. The flight attendant said the same thing.

Ethiopia has 13 months, the 13th being only a few days. Friday Sept 8 was the last day of the year and if it rained on that day, it was holy. People would be standing on the streets letting the rain pour off them in blessings. Suddenly we were so happy to be drenched.

^Top

Postings

Sept. 18, 2006

Sept. 14, 2006

Sept. 13, 2006

 

 
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