Rwandan Ramblings

Monday, May 14, 2007

Gimme gimme gimme

A couple of classic examples of the gimme gimme gimme culture...

A little old man with very few teeth is shuffling up the stony path. I pass by and he grins widely – “Muraho” he says. I reply in Kinyarwanda to which he exclaims in shock – “You speak Kinyarwanda!”. And the convesation continues a little – him beaming wide-eyed in surprise that I can get by in his lanugage. Then suddenly something seems to click in his mind and his face suddenly transforms. The transition between the broad smile and the now baleful - pitiful even, droopy eyes is incredible. The click is the sudden realization he is talking to a mzungu and he really should be able to profit somewhat from this chance encounter.

“My brother is sick. Money.” He holds out his hand.

Yesterday I was driving along the road on my motorbike when I saw a guy ahead of me tumble off his bike pretty badly. I stopped my bike to make sure he was ok. He was lying by the side of the road and had obviously hurt his ankle. I was wondering whether if needed it would be possible to take him on the back of the bike to hospital twenty minutes drive away. Then he looks up at me, registers my skin colour and from the ditch by the side of the road next to his collapsed bicycle stretches out his hand and gives a baleful stare. Then rubs his stomach.

Another time my motorbike broke down. I didn’t even realize – perhaps stupidly since I’ve been riding one for 9 months now – that motorbikes have chains. Well, what do I do in Britain when my bike chain falls off? Turn it over and spend a couple of minutes huffing and puffing and clicking chains back on to spikes. You can’t do that with a motorbike... But I’m learning. So I took off my helmet to a small audience of a couple of bemused women. 1) Motorbiker in trouble. 2) Motorbiker is mzungu. 3) Motorbiker is female mzungu. Makes for an exciting feast for the eyes apparently.

I rest the helmet on the dirt, take off the gloves, squint into the oily unknown entrails of my poor little bike, wondering where to start. The I do. I work out the chain, try to hook it back on to the spoke parts. My hands are covered in oil, I’m not a happy bunny and this is probably more than evident. I look up at the grinning woman as I realize one of them is coming over, maybe to lend a hand.

“Money. I’m hungry. Give it.” She smiles at me, stroking her stomach.

Well, since you asked so nicely...

Don’t think badly of me. I am doing my best by being out here. When I spray freezing cold water over my shivering body at 6.30am in preparation for the day to come, it is easy to wonder why I am here instead of in a hot shower back home, going to a job where things work and you don’t have to schedule in several hours a day for “unforeseen problems”. But I am here, and I work bloody hard. The first time I was running around like a madman coordinating a free training week and weekend for secondary school children on HIV knowledge, reproductive health, and peer counselling. I provided each school with valuable training resources and education materials costing hundreds of pounds. Not a single person came to me to say thankyou. I get paid much less than the guys I work with – they find it hilarious when walking with me – “they always ask you for money even though you have none! Isn’t that funny!?” Actually no. I love my job. I love many people out here. There are some fantastic people doing some incredible work too. Rwanda has a horrific history, one that we can not really come close to understanding. But every so often, a thank you would do a world of good.


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