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.

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