Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Wed., August 8, 2012--Kigali, Rwanda

Five days since I made the last entry. Time flies, for sure. We stay pretty busy just trying to find our way around to stops in Kigali for shopping, food, or help from CHAI (Clinton Health Access Initiative). The CHAI group has been extremely helpful. They provide transportation, drivers, directions, and lots of information. Their office is not far from our apts. and is one of a long row of NGOs perched on a hill with a great view of the city.

Last Saturday I mostly just tried to stay horizontal. I was so tired from the trip and from the day of banking, etc. I could hardly move. I napped a lot and just laid low.

Sunday was busy again. Our main goal was the biggest open air food market. We were buying food to prepare for the entire group of us for dinner--about 20 people! The first scent to accost us was fish--rows and rows of dried fish. Not on our menu! As we worked our way deeper into the market there were lots of fruits and veggies plus rows and rows of piles of beans and rice. We all tried bargaining a little, but I am going to have to get a lot better at it. Fortunately we weren't buying anything too expensive anyway....

Preparing the dinner was quite a feat. All of us pooled the dishes, silverware, and cooking pots from our apartments to make it work. The dinner was cooked and held in the apt. I share with the two MDs. We had chili over rice and a big fruit salad. There was hardly a space for a body in the kitchen, but somehow it all got done. The kids all watched the Olympics and we were just one, big, rowdy family.

Monday was a big day for me. Jerome Bushumbusho, the person with whom I will work most closely this year (the director of the Byumba School of Nursing and Midwifery) drove me up to Byumba. The road is good most of the way; the only unpaved sections were being repaired. I could hardly take my eyes off everything that was going by. All the way up were farms on the sides of the hills: sugar cane, rice, and huge stands of banana trees looking for all the world like wind turbines with their multiple leaves standing up in the wind. The homes of the farmers are also up on the hills. You must understand, we were moving from Kigali which is at 5,000+ ft. to Byumba at well over 7,000 ft. Thus, these are not the Rockies, but they are no little hills. My ears were popping most of the way up. There was a sugar cane factory along the way, plus people, people, people walking and biking along the road. It was not easy to weave the car among them. People mostly carrying huge loads: big yellow containers of water, firewood, feed for their cattle, all carrying them on the bike or on their heads. Some had a little round piece they put on their heads on which to balance their load; others carried the load right on their heads. They seemed very at ease with this method of transporting goods.

Byumba is much smaller than Kigali, but still bustling with activity. Many fewer cars, people mostly on foot, carrying loads or going somewhere. Jerome drove through town and out the other side, as the school is a couple of miles outside of town. The school is really lovely. All the brick buildings are built in the same style--even my house which is just over from the administrative offices. My house is much bigger than my home in Oak Park--three  bedrooms. The rooms are big. They had really worked hard to have it ready for me; they even made up the bed in the bedroom designated for me. I was quite touched. They are renting it to me for $600.00/month USD. Amazing!

Jerome talked seriously with me about having a "house person" to help me and I have decided I probably will do so.  He/she will just come in for the day as I do not want anyone living in. It's a way to spread the U.S. wealth a bit and I'm sure will be a help to me as this person will cook, shop for food, do laundry, and be a presence in the house during the day if I am away. There is a guard at night for the entire school compound.

After looking at the house, Jerome and I went to his office and talked for about 2 & 1/2 hrs about his goals for the school and how he thought I could best help him. He has big ideas! I will need to think a bit and talk more with him about what is actually doable in a year. And I will have to hear more at our big orientation on August 26 about the CHAI goals to see of Jerome's goals fit with the CHAI plans.

Jerome lives in Kigali, but has a house at Byumba very close to mine. He was staying at Byumba, so he drove me back to the bus stop in town and I caught the 4PM bus back to Kigali. The bus ride was not so comfortable as the car. We all had seats when we began the trip but the driver made several stops to pick up more people. They filled all the jump seats and eventually we were packing people in places I never thought possible. There did not appear to be any shock absorbers on this vehicle. The young man next to me seemed to enjoy being plastered up against me a little too much as he would try to move even closer! I was hanging onto the strap for dear life! When we got to Kigali and pulled into the area where the buses come in, I was totally in awe. It literally looked like a circus. A huge, rutted, bare field with buses at crazy intervals, parked perpendicularly or parallel to one another, wherever they landed. Crowds of people hanging out, taxi-scooters trying to pick up riders, lots of color. Simon, from CHAI, was supposed to meet me there and I had a moment of panic when I had no idea where to look for him. I'm sure Simon is used to the place and he found me within a couple of minutes. Simon has been my rock on more than one occasion this week!

Everywhere I go there are lots of kids and lots of pregnant women. The women carry the small ones on their backs, winding a broad piece of fabric around the baby's body with the head and legs sticking out, then bringing the two fabric ends to the front and tucking them in. It's easy to see the babies are used to this as mostly they are asleep and very relaxed. I see the women wearing traditional fabrics and dress in Kigali, but much moreso in Byumba.

In Byumba, many of the roads were dirt. The color of the dirt is akin to the red dirt in Oklahoma, but with more of a light brown caste. I will be able to have a garden at my house if I wish. The seeds I stuffed into a sock when I packed were not confiscated; I wish I'd brought more. I hope I can get some more seed locally in Byumba. Jerome had a huge stand of peas near his house.

Yesterday, I had hoped to recover a bit from Monday but went shopping with a family who has a car. I bought a few things I know are not in the house (a collander, some dish towels). And contrary to the information we were given, the beds in Rwanda are not all double beds. Mine look to be about king size and extra long! The sheets I brought will never do!

I will not move to Byumba till next week. That is the soonest I can get a transfer of $$ all set up and Jerome asked that I pay 2-3 mos. rent in advance in USD. And speaking of rent, looks like the couple renting my house in Oak Park are bailing. He sent my property manager a huge list of complaints after they moved in and says something in my house is causing his asthma to flare. The sooner they get out the better. I saw the letter he wrote and it was not pretty. So back to square one. I will list with Sylvia Christmas again and see if we can do better. I'm not terribly upset; I just want to get another decent renter as quickly as possible.

So, the rest of this week will still be here in Kigali. Sometime soon I'll have my work visa. And sometime this week I need to get to the U.S. Embassy (within walking distance of the apts.) to register with them. They want to know where all the expats are!

When I walk along and can really look at the people who pass me, I feel the same way I felt in China. I never could have conceived, then, of the many different Chinese faces I saw. Now, I look at the variety of black faces and am amazed. Some people have scars on their faces, necks, arms, that appear to have been created during the genocide. I am definitely a minority person here.

I'm getting tired of writing. I'll try not to wait so long next time. It is very tiring to confront so many new and novel situations every day, but I think I'm holding up pretty well.  CA


  1. I keep thinking what an adventure you are having. You are a brave person Carrol.
    Will you keep your apt in Kagali also.? How much do you have to pay your housekeeper in Byumba?
    We are pretty "white bread" in my small Midwest town, I think it may be difficult for others who come here too.
    Be safe Carrol, I very muchenjoy your
    posts, Linda

  2. carrol, you are a busy bee! i can imagine how tiring all of this is. i love the scene you describe of all the buses parked in every which way and everybody on the buses within one inch of personal space! i was wondering, does anybody every bring chickens on the bus? i was once on a bus where there was a live pig tied to the roof!

    do you have a mailing address there? will you be able to post some photos?