Rwandan food is definitely not bad ( I think I ate the best pineapple of my life the other day though it was almost beaten to the title by the one I ate today). The passion fruits are also amazing, slice them open half way and suck out the pips and juice. Bananas are of course everpresent. As are rice, sweet potatoes and normal potatoes, beans, avocadoes, tomatoes and pasta. But there are some great vegetables too – green beans, spinach, carrots and tiny weenie celery which though are the length of a nail (I kid ye not) have an incredibly concentrated taste and so are used more like herbs. Cassava root and green bananas are another (yet another) source of carbohydrate, tasting generally like potato though you get strips of cassava root stuck in your teeth... I generally eat porridge for breakfast, then rice and potatoes, green beans and a sauce made from tomatoes and peanuts (it’s great, honest) for lunch and then bread and jam or ‘le cake’ for dinner (sweetish stodgy bread). If I’m in the big town, or if I’m eating out for lunch then Rwandans eat a ‘mélange’ which involves piling your plate as high as you can with food from a buffet table lined with big silver pots full of at least 5 different carbs (potatoes, rice, chips, spaghetti, boiled green bananas, baked cassava root etc), then some spinach, cabbage, boiled cassava leaves or beans, some watery tomato based sauce and some lumps of meat. This costs about 50p without meat, 60p with. The meat is generally goat, and either rock hard and will take a day to chew (and yep, you might find bits of it in your teeth three days later), or really succulent and juicy. And no, you can’t tell just by looking at it. So sink those teeth right in...
Drinks-wise, you can order a ‘fanta orange’, a ‘fanta citron’ or a ‘fanta coca’, or go for passion fruit juice which is actually a bit more like Robinson’s squash syrup with added sugar (50%). I have a water filter at my house, which leaks into a bucket – thus probably anulling any filter factor! There are a couple of bottled beers for about 55p which are almost a litre in size, Primus and Mutzig. However I do admit that one of the most thoughtful things an existing volunteer friend did quite early on was bring an imported bottle of wine to a picnic we had – it was decanted out into tumblers and plastic cups and shared between 8 – what a luxury!
“What do Rwandans like to do generally – you know, at weekends, or after work? Sport? Music? Dancing?”
“People in Rwanda...people in Rwanda, they like to go to church”.
This was the conversation I had had on the phone just a few days before I left, with a Rwandan lady who Seb’s mum had put me in touch with. She’s been living in London for 10 years already and so was my first touch-base for Rwandan culture. And it is true. Rwandans LOVE going to church. Services last 3 hours, the sermon lasts at least half an hour. It does feel more than a little self indulgent sometimes, and I wonder what the response woould be like in St Mary’s if Father Caitlin decided to do the same. It is all in Kinyarwanda so I have free rein to imagine or guess what is being said. Which can be a good thing. And a bad thing. There is a lot of music- apparently God cannot understand the spoken word (apart from the priest’s sermon) so everything is sung. The choir are good, and everyone joins in – there are no hymn books but everyone knows the words since the music that fills restaurants, bars, buses is usually religious. People have been hearing these songs since they were children. It is very different from the hip hop that filled Senegalese buses. There is a lot of clapping and at the final part of the mass a lot of waving arms around.
However, this arm waving may be evidence of a little artistic licence taken by the Rwandans as concerns general Catholic worship. In Rwanda, the cow is a sacred animal, sacred and to be worshipped. In fact, one greeting is literally ‘May you have many cows” to which the reply is something like ‘Let them be female and very fertile”. The cow-dance is a hugely important aspect of Rwandan culture – for every important guest/event/day there will be a troupe of dancers who staomp their feet in time to the pounding of a huge array of drums, who wave their arms in an extended v shape above their heads to represent the horns of the cow, and whose male members shout and holler their praise of the cow, and their threats to steal the cows of their adversaries. It’s quite a spectacle – I love it, but this has had a set of unfortunate consequences; my obvious fascination - tapping my feet in time to the drums and gawping at the dancers’ muscular calves as they twist, stamp and jump - has led to being pulled up from the crowd to join in. Bran, Ferg and Ken might remember the positive repurcussions of me being pulled up – if you jammily manage to make it look like you know what you’re doing. Unfortunately, this is not yet the case here. The hardest thing is the stomping aggressively, but elegantly swaying your hand-cow horns above your head at the same time. My attempts to match their twisting stomping bodies are once again very warmly welcomed as a hilarious form of entertainment, not only for the Rwandan dancers, but also for every other giggling spectator. It is a good thing my I have thick skin, and enjoy a bit of a wiggle and clomp.
To be honest, these guys twirling around in their skirts and headresses aren’t that far different from men wearing kilts and holding their arms aloft in the shape of antlers is it?
Any other questions??!