This weekend my fellow Fellows and I left the confines of the village and headed toward Nunga to catch a bus and travel 45 minutes into Kigali. The village has a house for us to use whenever we want to step out of rural Rwanda and into the big city - for a hot shower, a fresh breath of air (minus the exhaust fumes), and/or food that doesn’t necessarily involve beans and rice (a food blog entry will be coming at some point). We got a taste of Kigali last weekend when we toured it a bit and went to the Genocide Memorial, but this weekend was for individual exploration, discovery, and bonding. The one constant between the village and the Kigali house is that we are living communally at both, which I am quite enjoying because it is like being back in college in that there is always someone around to hang out with, or who will accompany you on an adventure. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday each had their fair share of adventure, so tag along with me as I describe what I endured, experienced, and laughed about on my weekend away.
- clown car meets Rwandan bus – Many Rwandan buses would be considered conversion vans in America, and most conversion vans fit 8 -12 people comfortably. We proved on Friday night that you can fit 19 people inside one in Rwanda, as we left the village and headed to Kigali! What’s that you say? Your feet and legs fell asleep and you can’t feel one of your hands? No problem…your body should regain circulation once you get out of the bus. One of last year’s Fellows took a 60 hour bus ride to sight-see, which I am most definitely NOT ready for…I need to work on my circulation problems for the 45 minute rides and work my way up to hours at a time in the bus. Note: do not sit in the first bench on the bus unless you are wearing pants, as your shins will be pushed up against the under-cab engine which tends to heat up quite nicely during the ride :)
– dancing queen meets moto – Kigali is like a lot of big cities with a multitude of restaurant choices, so our evening began by choosing the New Cactus restaurant, which is about a 10 minute uphill walk from the Kigali house. The views were spectacular in the open-air restaurant, and the food hit the spot! Friday night we were ready to let loose and discover the nightlife, so around midnight we headed out on the town and danced our pants off at two local hotpots. There is not a "last call" at the bars in Kigali, so many people stay out well past sunrise...I am not saying that I did that, but I heard about it from others hehe. The “letting loose” part was enjoyable in itself, but it became complete when I took my first moto ride. In Rwanda, although there are taxis, the preferred, cheaper, and more fun way to get around town is via moto, or motorcycle taxi.
Moto + crazy Rwanda traffic and drivers = danger, however it’s thrilling to hop on the back of a moto and weave in and out of traffic, enjoying the sights, and cooling off with the air blowing all around you. Two big thumbs up for the experience!Saturday
– American doughnut haven meets Rwanda – After a few hours of sleep, one of my friends and I headed to a place that the taxi drivers refer to as “the place where your people eat.” ABC, or the African Bagel Company is hard to find, but worth the trek via moto. It is run by a couple of Missionaries and serves coffee (dunkin' donuts brand), freshly made doughnuts, and freshly made bagels and egg sandwiches. Although the food is just so-so, the setting is serene, with a large garden-like area for everyone to gather, with lawn chairs, hammocks, ground blankets, and plenty of shade. As the taxi drivers say, this is THE place for American ex-pats to meet each weekend for breakfast, gather, and catch up on life events and stories. It is a very homogenous crowd, but it was really wonderful to see the American ex-pat community come together and socialize. Everyone from Embassy officials to Peace Corps volunteers, to NGO (non-governmental organization) employees came together on this day to enjoy the morning and spend time together.
- goodbye Starbucks…hello Bourbon Coffee – Something I have been craving is coffee. Although it is one of the so-called cash-crops of Rwanda and its primary export, Rwandans don’t drink coffee, and it is all but non-existent in the village. For someone who should own stock in Starbuck’s because I was such a frequent customer while living in the States, the lack of coffee here has been difficult. However, my frustration came to an end when I found Bourbon Coffee in Kigali (which has several locations now open in the US – NYC, Boston, and DC). After falling in love with Costa Rican coffee when I traveled there a few years ago, I was convinced that nothing could top that...I was wrong. At Bourbon Coffee, I had an “African Coffee,” and I was proven wrong – Rwandan coffee is THE best coffee…it’s AMAZING! Now if only there was one in the village… :)
- where’s Waldo meets the mzungos – The trek back to the village started off a bit bumpy, as it was hampered by our inability to find the correct bus to take us back to Nunga. One good thing about standing out because you’re white is that you are easy to spot, like Waldo in those Where’s Waldo books. After numerous conversations via cell phone with the bus company, the dispatcher sent a bus out to find the 4 mzungos who were walking aimlessly near the bus depot. Before we knew it, a bus was honking at us and told us to get inside!
- Tide meets Rwandan wash basin – I finally took the plunge (literally and figuratively) and did laundry this afternoon. Luckily one of my housemates was also doing laundry, so she introduced me to the "Rwandan way" of doing laundry. Albeit time consuming, the process was not all that bad, and now my clothes smell fresh and clean, with a touch of sunlight thrown in from the drying process. Note: if it rains after you hang your clothes, don't rush out to grab them off the line, but rather allow Mother Nature to assist by providing a secondary rinse cycle.
I came into this journey with many hopes and goals, one of those was to be 100% authentic, one was to bring my whole self to the experience, one was to push past my comfort zone and try things that I wouldn’t ordinarily do, and one was to live in the moment and be open to, and appreciate the newness of everything – good, bad, or indifferent. This weekend was a great start to all of that. I brought my whole, authentic self to each situation, tried new things, and soaked up every moment. I think a new goal is to learn something new every day while I am here. It might be a Kinyarwanda word, it might be a task, or it might be a more personal lesson related to learning about myself. The lessons have begun, and I am thoroughly enjoying this educational endeavor.
Kinyarwanda word of the day: Murakoze – translation: thank you
What I learned today: how to do laundry Rwandan-style