Friday, November 27, 2009

Family Fun

Okay, I’m going to have to rehash the past month and a half bit by bit, so I present to you, the homestay:

My homestay consisted of a “businesswoman” mom and a “technician” dad and two younger homestay brothers, Yannick (17) and Chris (15). All of the families hosting students have at least one of their own at L’école Amis des Enfants, a middle-income secondary boarding school that SIT’s wound up partnering with. It works out pretty well—we get homestay “buddies” that are roughly our age to show us around and help us get acclimated and they get to improve their English by interacting with a native speaker (not sure if I mentioned this, but Rwanda’s going fully Anglophone in two years—they’ve officially applied to join the Commonwealth and English will replace French as the official second language).

My homestay father, Anthire, speaks more French than English, and my homestay mother, Joseé, speaks more Kinyarwanda than French, which always makes communication interesting. I have a little bit of Kinyarwanda under my belt following a six-lesson crash course we’d been given, but it doesn’t get me much further than greetings and basic requests. So our conversations consist of a mixture of French, American English, African English (very, very different things), and Kinyarwanda, plus a little bit of my high school Spanish I thought I’d forgotten making random appearances when I’m trying to dredge up some French word. Oh, and a lot of gesturing and exaggerated facial expressions. Never, ever discount how far what seems to be a demented-looking game of charades can get you.

Given that my homestay parents had two boys, they were very, *very* excited to have a daughter, which led them to be rather, erm, enthusiastic at first. I figured the constant “Ça va’s?” “Good night, my daughter’s,” hugging/ touchiness, and general hovering would calm down a bit after the first week, which it did, though not as much as I’d’ve liked, being rather attached to my personal bubble and all. Thankfully, the constant litany of “my daughter’s” dwindled significantly, which sounds ungrateful I know (it really was a sweet gesture), but it just left me feeling pretty damn uncomfortable. I like you, you’re nice people, but I’m not actually your daughter and I’m sorry, I’m not actually going to think of you as my parents. Welcome to the homestay experience.

Chris takes after his dad, both in looks and personality—they’re goofs, always teasing or joking or doing something ridiculous. Shortly before I moved out Chris came into the sitting room with an FPR hat sideways on his head and started throwing down in Kinyarwanda about Kagame. Yannick takes after his mom—kind, good sense of humor, but a bit quieter. Both boys are really very sweet, Yannick especially. From my measure of him, he works hard at his studies, and he’s said he wants to go to Harvard. I’m not quite sure if he’ll get there, but I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if he does end up studying in the States. But that won’t be for a few years yet.

As is common in most African families (yes, I’m generalizing, sue me), there is a constant cycle of “cousins,” “grandmothers,” “nieces,” “grandsons,” etc. that randomly come and go. One particularly memorable morning I emerged from my bedroom to encounter a little boy (6?) and probably his younger sister (4?), who I’d never seen before and never would again, watching an extremely violent Claude van Damme (sp?) film replete with civilian atrocities, torture, shot guns, pistols, daggers, electrocution, drug use, and graphic blood and gore. Mom didn’t even let me watch the Power Rangers when I was their age—not that I’m still bitter or anything. I did, however, manage to suss out two *actual* homestay aunts—Jocelyn, my homestay dad’s younger sister (late 30s maybe? It’s really very hard to tell with many people here) who seems to live with the family and keeps house (I still have no idea where she actually sleeps), and Fifi (no, I’m not making that up), who is my homestay mom’s older sister and a tailor who lives somewhere nearby. (Check out my “Bon anniversaire!” photo album on Facebook for pictures of everyone).

Transitioning into my Kigali homestay was a bit strange in light of my recent experiences in Gulu. First off, the house is much more on par with what we’re used to in the West—tile flooring, a refrigerator, a family room with couches and a TV, etc. I had my own room, and there was even a (non-functioning) desktop in it. And beyond the aesthetics, the family dynamics are really different. Unlike in Gulu where my family tended to stick close to home and to each other past dark and on the weekends, my homestay family here in Kigali operates much more independently of one another. The family has a “houseboy,” which is common among well-off families here, so my homestay mother isn’t tied to the home like many of the women in Gulu, who spend much of their day cooking and cleaning. She’s frequently out of the house, attending to the many businesses she has a hand in and visiting family and friends. My homestay father is frequently out of the house as well, not only working, but going to church on a near-daily basis. It was strange for me to come home in the evening, only to pass him on his way out the door for a meeting at “l’église.” In Gulu, appointments and the like really didn’t happen past dark, as travel between places was difficult and potentially dangerous. My homestay brothers don’t have to be home until eleven, which threw me for no small loop having just come from a place where I had to be home before dark. Additionally, my family in Gulu was usually sound asleep by eleven. But the urban setting of Kigali, with its public transportation system and decently-lit road- and walkways, make it easier and safer for them (and me) to get around, which helps to explain the later curfew.
Some homestay highlights:

- Hearing the entire neighborhood, not to mention my homestay family, erupt in cheers when Alpha, the Rwandan contestant on Tusker Fame Project, won. It’s basically East Africa’s version of American Idol, sponsored by the Tusker beer company. They even had their own pseudo-Simon Cowell, a man by the name of “Ian” who, after not much arm-pulling, himself performed the timeless hit “My Way.” It was, erm, entertaining?

- Watching the same news program every night, three times in a row with my homestay family. The state-run television station, Rwanda Television (which, incidentally, is many families’ only television station), broadcasts the nightly news first in Kinyarwanda, then in French and finally in English. It’s the exact same stories/footage, just with different voice-overs.

- Getting seriously creeped out every time my homestay father’s phone rings (which is often), as his ringtone sounds akin to a possessed Woody the Woodpecker

- Going to church with my homestay family…at a Pentecostal church, where the service was in Kinyarwanda. I was the only muzungu in a crowd of I’d guess at least a couple hundred. About a dozen people got saved, many, many more communed with Jesus through personal conversations/shouting/singing whilst on their knees with tears in their eyes, and the choir waved a Jesus flag and marched in Jesus’ praises. Kinda reminded me of the “One Day More” number in Les Mis.

- Coming home after aforementioned church service to watch Rwanda Television with the family, which was showing gospel music videos. For some reason, the routine that the back-up dancers were doing for one especially popular musician seemed really familiar. That’s because it was. They were doing the electric slide.

Next update: excursions to Butare and Kibuye

Also, be sure to check out the photos I've been posting to Facebook, here. You shouldn't need to have a Facebook account to view them. If there are any problems, let either Mom or me know and I'll try and fix it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Adventures in a minicult

Here’s a copy of my drop-off write-up, as promised. I’ve edited it slightly for clarity, but otherwise you’re getting a straight copy/paste.

For the drop-off, I was placed in a group with Beth (goes to Notre Dame, from Chicago area), Kim (goes to St. Norbert’s in WI, from a Minneapolis suburb) and Tonia (goes to Grand Valley State in Michigan, from Michigan) with the assignment of exploring sports and culture. We all found it a bit amusing that four relatively unsporty girls had been given that topic, but as Kim was supposed to be playing in the One Dollar Campaign benefit game against the parliamentarians that upcoming weekend and I am something of a soccer—excuse me, football—nut, at least half our group had a passing interest in the subject. I figured the drop-off would go something like my last drop-off experience had—wander around aimlessly for awhile until stumbling upon a group of guys in English Premier League jerseys who could be drawn into a conversation concerning the latest Arsenal/Chelsea/ManU/Liverpool/What have you match, which could then segue into a more general conversation about sports and popular bars or pitches from which to watch them. But then we were told that we were going to be dropped off at Amahoro Stadium, home to the Ministry of Sports and Culture, and that we should just pop our head in and see if some ministry official could spare a few minutes to chat.

I once spent a few weeks in Washington D.C. for a student leadership conference, and one of the days we were there was spent on Capitol Hill, visiting various congressional offices. If we wanted to speak to our congress critter, we had to have set up a five-minute appointment at least two weeks in advance—there is no dropping by on the Hill. The most you could get out of such an instance would be a smile from the receptionist as she hands you the business card of an assistant’s assistant. So I was a little daunted at the prospect of just sticking my head into a foreign government’s office and asking if someone of any importance had a few moments to spare for a curious muzungu.

Also daunting was just how far out of the way the stadium felt as we were driven to it. I, and as it turned out, everyone else in my group, have an absolutely terrible sense of direction, and I get nervous taking public transportation even in the States. Needing to make our way back to town without a sense of our point of origin or destination, not to mention having a severely limited knowledge of Kinyarwanda, was starting to seriously stress me out. I tried to remember landmarks on our way there, but things were moving too fast and there was too much going on and so nothing stuck. By the time we finally arrived at our destination, I was feeling a bit sick to my stomach. Surely, surely we were going to get horribly lost on the way back to town and end up somewhere sketchy with no way out of it because we wouldn’t know how we got there in the first place. So yeah, I may have been mildly freaking out when we arrived on the doorstep of the stadium.

As it happened though, I was hardly the only one. As the four of us approached the entrance to the ministry, we all related to one another how we had absolutely no clue what we were doing, and were we really supposed to just waltz into a government ministry and (politely) demand that someone answer our questions? We more or less came to the conclusion that we should treat the situation like we were removing a band-aid: just rip it off and get the pain over with fast.

Walking into the stadium/ministry was a bit eerie—no one seemed to be around, save for an enormous picture of Kagame staring down at us from the wall behind the staircase. I interpreted the expression on his face as one of disapproval—just what in the heck did we think we were doing here? We wandered around the main floor, finding a lot of closed doors and darkened offices. Weren’t government offices supposed to contain government employees? Where was everyone? It was at this point that I looked at my watch and the penny dropped: lunchtime. While we had all come to appreciate that Gulu and Kigali were very different from one another, the importance of mealtime seemed to have remained the same.

Just inside the main doorway, we spotted an open door with movement inside. Someone, I think it was Kim, worked up the nerve to knock on the door and stick her head in—Hi, we’re students from America seeking information about sports and culture in Rwanda. Could someone please direct us to the minister’s office where we might have our questions answered? A wary-looking woman indicated upstairs, second floor. We thanked her and made our way upstairs, passing two government employees who did a double-take as we passed them.

Upstairs appeared entirely deserted—a long and gloomy-looking corridor of closed doors and darkened windows. There was a sign indicating that the minister’s office was the troisième port, which my rudimentary French understood meant the third door down. This yielded a dark and locked office, which was incredibly frustrating. The four of us were starting to talk options when a woman happened onto the floor, listening to an MP3 device with her keys out to unlock an office door. When she noticed us she paused, obviously curious and a bit wary as to what four white girls were doing at the far end of an empty corridor. She was starting to pass through the doorway when Beth (I think) hailed her and asked her where we might be able to find someone to give us information about sports and culture in Rwanda. The word “information” seemed to put her on guard, so I stepped forward and explained that we were American students with the School for International Training, and for an assignment were investigating the sports and culture of the country we would be calling home for the next month. Upon hearing we were students her demeanor immediately changed, and she enthusiastically ushered us into the office, where the two employees we’d passed on the way up who had done the double-take were sitting on a couch. She introduced us to them, and the word “students” provoked a warm reception. Of course, all our questions would be answered by certain ministry official downstairs, all we had to do was knock on the door and introduce ourselves, though in a half-hour or so as everyone was currently out to lunch. But just come back in a bit and check-in downstairs and everything would be sorted out.

We thanked them for their help and took our leave, relieved to have made some headway after nearly an hour of aimless wandering. As we headed outside, we decided to grab a bite to eat to kill time. We nixed the two lunch spots pointed out to us on the ride over due to the heat and the distance, instead opting to try out a restaurant across the street from the stadium. I didn’t catch the name, but it was under a Primus advert that said “Guma Guma.” When we entered, we passed by a few people seated with what looked like a pretty decent plate of food. A woman came over to greet us, seeming to be excited by the presence of muzungus. Thankfully, she spoke English, and pretty much decided for us that we’d have what essentially constituted a sampler plate of banana, cassava, beans, rice, some sort of greens and a piece of meat. We inquired the price, and hearing it was 700 FRW (about a buck forty in USD) figured “why not?” It tasted pretty good, made better by the price.

Lunch also afforded us the opportunity to prepare some questions, which we were all glad of. Back in high school I used to write for my school’s newspaper, and my journalism teacher had drilled into us the importance of going into an interview prepared. My high school newspaper experience also taught me that interviews hardly ever go as planned, so it’s entirely likely that we’d end up using only a handful of said prepped questions. But nevertheless, having them on hand made me feel more professional and put together, and made it feel like this was something we could actually pull off.

After lunch we went back to the stadium and Kim poked her head into the office the lady with the MP3 player had indicated as where we’d find someone to talk to. Inside was a middle-aged man sporting more than a bit of a gut, who regarded us suspiciously upon hearing we were seeking information. Wanting to smooth things over, I stepped forward and pulled out my syllabus/student handbook and handed it to the gentleman, while at the same time explaining how we were American students with the School for International Training, newly-arrived in Kigali and divvied up into small subject groups for the purpose of finding out about the people, languages, culture, media, etc. of Rwanda, and we’re terribly sorry for barging in but could he perhaps spare a few minutes to talk to us about sports?

Throughout the course of my ramblings—which my group-mates interrupted partway through to gently remind me to slow down (I talk fast when I’m nervous)—the gentleman had been perusing the syllabus rather closely. But he must have been reassured by it or my introduction, because his demeanor visibly relaxed and he pulled up four chairs for us to sit and talk. As it happened, his name was Kayijuka Gaspard, a Sports Officer with the Ministry of Sports and Culture, and he was more than happy to tell us whatever we wanted to know. He talked with us for at least half an hour, telling us how football was the most popular sport in Rwanda, but that volleyball was also a favorite because it was so cheap to play. All you needed was a ball and two polls, and a net or length of rope to sting up between them. He talked about how some sports indicated socioeconomic strata—basketball courts, for example, were expensive to construct and maintain, so you’d only find them in more affluent areas and schools.

He was delighted to discover that Kim was planning on playing, and we were all planning on attending, the benefit game against the Parliamentarians that upcoming weekend, saying that he’d keep an eye out for us in the stadium. He also urged us to go take a closer look at the pitch, which gave us an opportunity to ask about its history and usage. He didn’t mention its role as a massacre site during the genocide, so we didn’t bring it up. He just gave us its date of construction, and explained that it was used for Rwandan national football matches and other track and field tournaments. The pitch is real grass, which is expensive to maintain, so only the national team and others granted special permission can use the field, but anyone can use the track.

After finding out about the breakdown of various sports’ popularity inside Rwanda, we asked about the set-up and structure of the ministry itself. I related how in the States we’re used to sports and culture not being administered or regulated by the government, so we were curious how it worked. He explained that after the genocide, many of sport federations, or the local divisions, had lost a significant amount of staff and wouldn’t have been able to function without state intervention. Since 1994, the government provides funding and logistical support to these federations, which operate under a policy of equality and inclusion. They help fund various initiatives and programs, such as those aimed at various social groups (e.g. youth and women) or peace-building efforts. The ministry is split between sports and culture, but the culture side of things operates in much the same way, funding fine arts federations, grassroots initiatives, and such national institutions as the ballet, etc., all of which are operating under ministry-articulated policy. The centralization of sports and culture has been greatly aided by the location of the ministry at the stadium, Gaspard added, as it was easier to administer and keep an eye on everything from a central location within the capital city, which facilitated communications and cooperation with other ministries and government offices.

We were all really impressed by the government stepping forward and funding these federations, as we recognize the importance of sports and fine arts education and the availability of creative outlets of expression. But I must admit that the very existence of the ministry gives me pause. This centralization and regulation illustrates the degree of social control that the government exerts over the population, and certainly contributes to the perpetuation of a single national narrative that is perhaps incorrectly assuming the existence of a single Rwandan nation. Anyway, after hearing about the Tour de Rwanda and how the national soccer tournament was coming up later that month (teams are apparently industry/occupation-oriented, as opposed to locality), we took our leave. Gaspard made sure to leave us with a business card, and said we were very welcome to the country and back to the ministry anytime.

We set out from the stadium with a vague idea of where we might catch a taxi, eventually finding a stop just beyond the main intersection…for the opposite direction. Glancing down the hill, we didn’t see any indication for a stop heading into town, and so decided to ask the nearby traffic policeman for directions. It was only when Beth, Tonia and Kim were approaching him that I remembered Apollo’s (our Assistant Academic Director, Rwandan though has worked (maybe educated?) in the UK, mid-thirties, kinda reminds me of Howard Keel in a weird way) warning that they might not speak English, so I scrambled in my bag for my Kiyarwanda syllabus (the lesson containing the phrase “How do I get to town?” was scheduled for the next day). As it happens, the syllabus was unnecessary, as he told us in English that we’d walked in the wrong direction and just needed to cross back over the street and ask for “mujyi” (town). Sure enough, we found the stop with a bunch of vans and buses, and came across a conductor that shepherded us towards a bus that he indicated was heading to mujyi. But then it occurred to me that the cost of a van and the cost of a bus may be different (which I’ve since learned it isn’t), so I said we should find out the price before we get on. Tonia inquired the price of the bus, adding “not the muzungu price,” much to the amusement of some pre-boarded passengers leaning out the window. Unfortunately, the conductor didn’t speak English, and it took a couple tries to get the message across. Finally, he pulled out a handful of change and pointed to the currency: 180 FRW (roughly 36 cents). We had transport.

Tonia, Beth and Kim sat in the very last row next to a young local woman, while I sat in the seat in front of her. My three group members stuck up a conversation with her, which I tried to participate in but had trouble hearing. Apparently, her name was Latisha, and she cashiered at Simba Supermarket, where we were welcome to visit her anytime. Also, it apparently had a Kiyarwanda/English dictionary, which we may find useful (I checked it out—it doesn’t have any pronunciations). She told us how to ask the price of things (ni angahe? Though it comes out sounding like nangahe), and gave us a basic run-down of getting around by public transport. Once we got to town, she actually walked us to UTC (Union Trade Center, akin to Kampala’s “Muzungu Mall”), wanting to make sure we wouldn’t end up horribly lost. But then she had to depart for work, and we spotted fellow SIT-ers at Bourbon Coffee (where I spend a good deal of time and money), and our drop-off adventure came to an end.

Puppies, bats and elephants, oh my!

(ETA—that’s edited to add in this case, not estimated time of arrival—I just got my first marriage proposal…from a seventeen year old. He’s rather precocious).

Okay, so, I was planning on doing a single Rwanda update of everything I’ve been up to, kinda like my Uganda wrap-up, but the Uganda wrap-up covered a week and Rwanda needs to cover a I’ve opted for breaking it up into smaller chunks in order to save you eyestrain and me carpal tunnel. So this is just going to cover my arrival in Rwanda right up to moving into my homestay. Good? Good.

(FYI: If you’re crossing the border between Uganda and Rwanda, do it in a group, during the day, and, if you’re crossing from Rwanda into Uganda, be sure to have $50, in USD, on you for the reentry visa. Doing so will minimize the chances of you getting ripped off, which is pretty much guaranteed on the Uganda side and should not happen on the Rwanda side. If it does, go ahead and fight it.)

Crossing from Uganda into Rwanda is a strange experience. All of a sudden there’s *green* and *hills* and *irrigation* and *drainage* and, and, and… One thing that threw me was when I realized that we’d switched over to driving on the right hand side of the road—funny how I’d gotten used to right hand drive. Speaking of driving, I was amazed at how good the roads were. We were out in the paysage (hello, francophone Africa), but yet we were driving on good, solid tarmac with minimal potholes. I don’t think I’d ever seen roads in such good shape in Uganda, as it’s one of the top arenas of corruption. (Actually, I take that back—curiously, the roads seem to improve significantly the closer you get to Museveni’s hometown. Hmmmm). As we wended our way through the hills, we passed clumps of people with pickaxes and hoes digging a trench along the side of the road, hired by the government to clear a path for the extension of SEACOM from Kigali out to the surrounding provinces. Creating (admittedly temporary) employment opportunities through connecting a rural population to high speed internet…who’d’a thunk?

The drive from the border to Kigali took a lot longer than we’d anticipated, much to the chagrin of some of the girls on the program who have really small bladders. Unlike in Uganda, you can’t just pull over on the side of the road and pee in the bush, which had been their usual recourse on any of our Uganda excursions. Besides there being traffic police(!) along the roads keeping an eye out for anything unusual, pretty much every square inch of land in Rwanda is inhabited and cultivated, so there aren’t exactly patches of overgrown bush away from prying eyes that can function as an impromptu lavatory.

Eventually, we rounded one of Rwanda’s thousand hills (Rwanda’s known as the Land of a Thousand Hills, which explains Hôtel des Milles Collines…more on that later), and before us stood Kigali, the capital city. Students better traveled than I say it reminds them of northern Italy, others Marin County. Me, the best I can come up with is Berkeley, on account of how it’s really hilly. Stefanie (our AD for the Rwanda portion of the program, Dr. William had left us early that morning in Mbarara), took us straight to the SIT office in Kacyiru, a neighborhood of Kigali.

Walking into the SIT office really drove home for me how far away we were from Gulu. First of all, this building, this space, was ours. It wasn’t a rented out room in a hotel where you could hear the singing of bible circles through a flimsy partition. It’s open and airy, with window seats and cushions and curtains. It even has a “library,” which, okay, is only a couple dozen books and pamphlets right now (the office is brand new, this is the first time the program’s run with it, bearing in mind that this is only the second time the program’s run, period), but it’s proper scholarship that I can hold in my hands. There are tables and chairs to work at, and maps of Kigali and Rwanda on the walls. It’s just…absolutely and utterly wonderful.

And what’s even more wonderful is that the office comes with its own residential puppy, Sheila. Stefie (who lives behind the office) picked her up off the streets and took her home, gradually coaxing her from mangy, worm- and flea-infested to a healthy, boisterous puppy who has very itchy teeth and a bladder that’s difficult to control when she’s excited to see you. This, unfortunately, put most of my fellow program-ites off her, but worked for me as it’s meant I’ve become de facto dog-sitter. You’d think that for so many of them who claim to be dog people, they’d recognize that that’s just what puppies do. But whatever, more Sheila time for me!

We spent our first two nights in Kigali in a hostel within walking distance to the office, which, among other things, featured a room painted a hideous shade of green which clashed terrifically with the chartreuse and magenta mosquito nets (which didn’t do a damn thing) and some, erm, very enthusiastic individual’s rendition of the Last Supper. Clearly, we were living the high life.

Originally, we’d been scheduled to go into our homestay families right away, but somewhere along the way it was decided that it would be better to give us a couple days to get acclimated (ha!) before getting thrown into a Rwandan family, a decision for which I was grateful. Those couple days were spent getting cruelly abandoned at various points throughout Kigali, visiting secret voodoo rooms, and eating sub sandwiches near a plane crash.

…perhaps I should clarify.

Something that SIT is very proud of is the “drop-off,” which, to the best of my knowledge, is common to all of its programs. Shortly after arriving at your program location you’re divided up into small groups and dropped off at various points in the city/town/whatever with a mission of investigating a particular topic and getting back on your own to an appointed location by a certain time. It is, I must say, ingenious…if not slightly sadistic. You see, we’d be facing a much, much more formidable language barrier in Kigali than we did in Gulu. Not a whole heck of a lot of people speak English (although the country’s officially going Anglophone in two years…good luck with that), French is hit-or-miss, and if you really want to get anywhere or knock the price down on something, your only option really is Kinyarwanda…which none of us speak. (We were in the process of undergoing six days’ worth of Kinyarwanda lessons, but unfortunately the lesson for the next day was the one with such handy phrases like “Where’s the taxi stand?” and “How do I get to town?”).

Compounding the issue was the fact that to us, Kigali was huge. Kampala had at least looked a little bit familiar coming back from Gulu, but Kigali felt like this enormous, sprawling metropolis that would be impossible to get a handle on (Stefie assured us we would…she was right, damn her). Unlike Gulu, where the only way to get around really was on foot (or boda, but we weren’t allowed to take those, so of course we never did), we’d be taking public transportation, otherwise known as bucket of bolts minivans gaily adorned with the names and faces of American rap artists, popular footballers, RPF heroes and, oh yes, Spiderman. They don’t run on any set schedule—they wait to take off until they’re at full capacity, which means roughly twenty people packed elbow to knee inside a vehicle roughly the size of a Dodge Caravan—and they have somewhat loosely-defined routes. On the front of most vans above the headlights is painted the name of the neighborhood they go to, but it’s best to double-check. Also, just because it’s going to your desired neighborhood doesn’t necessarily mean it will be going by your stop, so it’s best to check that, too.

But at the point of the drop-off, we didn’t know about any of this, so it appeared like a bunch of clown cars masquerading as public transport careening about the city like deranged bats out of hell. Promising, that. I’m going to save you a detailed account of the actual drop-off itself here, and post that as a separate blog entry. We actually had to do a write-up of the drop-off and turn it in, so I’m just going to do a copy/paste job of my adventures at the Ministry of Sports and Culture. (Incidentally, its acronym is MINICULT. Just thought I’d share).

The day following the drop-off we took a tour of Habyarimana’s former residence, the late, sortakindamaybe-moderate Hutu president of Rwanda whose plane was shot down in April 1994, thereby catalyzing (not causing) the genocide. The entire place, save for precious Congolese (actually, at the time it would’ve been Zairian) wood gifted to Habyarimana by Mobutu, is white and very mod. It looks a bit ridiculous, actually (sorry, mod-lovers). The house itself is pretty bare—the place was looted during the genocide—but some of the original furniture remains. And boy, what it lacks in quantity more than makes up for it in character. Somebody, somewhere, managed to recover a table that used to reside in the master suite. It’s a very special table. A very, very special table, ‘cause it’s an elephant table. No, not a table in the shape of an elephant, or a table decorated with pictures of pachyderms, it’s a table made out of elephant. It’s glass-topped, so you can see the hide, which leads down into the legs of the table, which are two actual elephant hooves and a bit of leg. I’m afraid I’m not quite gifted enough in imagery to do the table justice, and unfortunately I won’t have a picture to show you as photography inside the residence was forbidden. But it seemed like something I should share.

After the master suite we were shown the family’s private chapel. Apparently, the pastor would be ushered in a side entrance right near it every Sunday, and then ushered back out. He wouldn’t have seen anything other than the chapel itself and the narrow hallway outside. We then found out why this was the case when we were taken into a somewhat-obscured back room. Apparently, while Habyarimana was an outwardly-devout Christian—which was the only acceptable thing to be really, at the time—he secretly consulted traditional faith practitioners, who would carry out traditional rituals, etc. in that room. It was, in all honesty, a bit hard to imagine, as the whitewashed room was bare, save for the hideous green carpeting. But I’ll take their word for it.

When the plane was shot down, it was just about over the residence (which is right near the airport)—Habyarimana’s body actually landed in his garden, along with some of the wreckage. Other parts of the plane landed just outside of the security wall, which you can see from a security lookout point inside the grounds. They’ve been left as they fell, excluding the ones which landed inside the grounds, which have been moved over the wall with the rest. It’s kind of weird, to see these twisted, ruined hunks of metal now, wondering what they were like then, knowing what happened after. Just beyond the wall is a small, pretty rough-looking homestead. Apparently a Tutsi family used to live there. They were killed within five minutes of the plane coming down.

We had lunch out in the front garden. It’s a really nice spot, actually—green and neatly landscaped. It was a nice place to take a breather, which we needed, as afterwards we were about to meet our homestay families for the next four weeks of our lives.

But that’s a blog entry for a later date. In the meantime, though, I’ll post that drop-off assignment, and I’ve also posted a couple albums of pictures from the trip to my Facebook page, which you should be able to view even without a Facebook account. Let me know (or let Mom know, who’ll then let me know), if that doesn’t work, and I’ll futz with the settings.


Sunday, November 8, 2009

I went all the way to Africa and all I got was this lousy parasite.

Yeah, so I apparently have an “amoeba” in my stomach (or did, before I took some drugs to kill the sucker). Doc didn’t get any much more specific than that, but by that point I was way too out of it to ask for clarification. All I know is that it makes you feel shitty (pun intended), exhausted, and nauseous. But hey, at least I know now that I can hold back my own hair when I’m throwing up at 5:30 in the morning. Yay for multitasking whilst puking!

(I’ll be fine, don’t worry).