Friday, May 25, 2007
Thursday, May 24, 2007
It only takes a couple of days – a couple of smiles, a couple of “Hi Maggie’s” when you’re in the middle of nowhere, a startling sunrise or star-scattered night sky, and a couple of fun exchanges in the market to give you a smack and get you back into the swing of things.
It’s been about a month now since I found myself in a rut. I found work exasperating because the more involved and passionate I got about my project, the less I wanted to accept that setbacks occur more frequently here or that people you work with are not quite as passionate as you. I hated being a novelty. I wanted black skin so I could walk down the street anonymously. News from home served to make apparent how far away I am from those I love - despite internet, telephones, blogs, letters, newspapers, email...
I was in a rut – I tried climbing out of it at first, but then felt content to sit back and wallow in feeling sorry for myself. I’m now climbing out. I still find the gimme gimme game frustrating. I find the ungratefulness of the culture a wall I feel my head banging against. I’m tired of being treated as a plastic human being who can be talked about and laughed at but not have their feelings considered. But now, I’m remembering I didn’t come here because it’d be breeze. And that’s so far from what suits me anyway. And I chose to come here and be the outsider. I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again. And culture (what does one mean by culture? I hate that as an excuse) really is different. Just because somebody doesn’t say thank you doesn’t mean they aren’t grateful. And if people don’t work as hard as you do – then face up to it, it’s going to happen again, be it London, Ryde, or Ouagadougou.
I’m back in love with Rwanda.
A report was carried out by UNICEF in 1995 where children were asked a variety of questions about how they felt during the genocide. These are just a couple of the findings.
88% of the children asked say they saw dead bodies.
16% said they hid under dead bodies to survive.
90% children thought they would die.
Monday, May 14, 2007
Merryls’ Food mishaps. Part III
So, Merryl and Vicki are in a hurry. They need food fast because Vicki lives on the other side of Kigali, it’s almost 9pm and the small minibuses stop shunting people from place to place very soon. It’s also very dark, and it is not the safest part of town. After waiting about 20 minutes for a brochette and salad, Merryl asks how long it will take.
“It’s coming” – great. No need to leave to catch a bus and go hungry tonight.
5 minutes later – “where is it?”
“It’s ready now”.
Ten minutes after that, Merryl and Vicki catch the sight of a man shuffling into the kitchen holding a couple of carrots, cucumbers and tomatoes. The salad might not coming just yet.
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.
Merryl’s Food mishaps. Part II
So being a veggie isn’t that much fun out here. At least a good old carnivore (such as moi) can tear into the skewered grilled goat in just about any eating establishment (restaurant, bar, hut, shack) on the road, but a veggie has it hard – especially if they are fed up of omelettes (or if there are no eggs in your town that week).
So Merryl asks for a salad. Setting; the same place as the previous egg-related disaster. After, lets say an hour, the salad arrives alongside the goat brochette for the friend. No problem there –aside from often each bit takes ten minutes chewing before it can be swallowed. Seeing as it is just a small side salad, Merryl asks if it’s possible to bring a bigger one – she doesn’t mind paying for it, but would prefer one larger than one that would only sate the appetite of a malnourished Rwandan rabbit. “Na Kibizo” – No problem (there is NEVER a problem in Rwanda. This is a stock phrase).
Ten minutes later the waitress re-emerges with a bigger plate. It is empty. She picks up Merryl’s salad and tips it onto the bigger plate.
“Akira” –“There you go”
Merryl’s incredulous grin grows larger with every day.