I wanted just one concrete nail, but Nakumatt was selling them only in boxes of 100 or more.
“I only need one,” I said to the employee helping me. I shook the nail box, jangling together all the hardware I didn’t need. “Maybe you have a smaller box?”
“No, no,” he said. “You must buy them all.”
“OK, then. I’ll have to pass,” I said.
I put the nail box back on the shelf and walked upstairs to the furniture section. I was looking for a bedside table, but everything looked too cheap and cost too much. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the man who had been helping me before. He weaved around the plastic bed frames and colorful mattresses and stopped in front of me. He stood so close I could feel his breath.
“Hello,” he whispered with a grin. “Take this and put it in your pocket. Go.”
He opened his hand to reveal a single concrete nail.
A thrill of energy shot through me and my eyes popped wide open. In a second, a thousand images raced through my head: the security camera monitors at the front of the store, Law & Order reruns, undercover store cops, handcuffs, a jail cell gate clanging closed, my husband tearily waving goodbye as I got deported from Rwanda. (Yes, I was a little melodramatic.)
“Take it in your pocket and go,” he urged me again. “It’s OK.”
I stared at the nail.
“Uhhhhh….no, no thank you,” I said with a weak smile. “I appreciate your help, but no thanks.” I started to walk away.
The man put the nail in his pocket and shrugged his shoulders as if to say, “no problem, your loss.” He was just trying to be a helpful employee.
This is the story of how I ended up inside Century Cinema, Rwanda’s first proper movie theater, and learned about the complex’s likely opening month and possible first movie to be screened (hint: it’s a Hollywood action film).
It was two weeks ago, my sixth full day of living in Kigali, and I was in Kigali City Tower for the first time. I saw a sign for Century Cinema on the floor above me. Strange, I thought, since I had read there weren’t movie theaters in Rwanda. Curious, I dragged my jetlagged self up a flight of stairs.
A locked gate. A theater lobby still under construction. No people. Darn.
But now I had questions, so many questions. When would this place open? How much would tickets cost? Who built this place and how much did it cost? How many people would be employed here? (Can you tell I used to work as a business reporter?)
I pulled out my camera and shot a few pictures between the gate bars. I could see the concessions area to my right. I waited for someone inside to notice me so I could ask him or her questions. Finally, after about five minutes, a Chinese man walked by.
“Hello!” I said with a wave and smile. He came over and nodded a hello.
“Hi, I’m Laura. Nice to meet you,” I said. “Do you speak English?”
“No English,” he said, shaking his head. He looked tired. Clearly, he hadn’t counted on a strange woman accosting him as he walked through his workplace.
“Do you speak Korean?” I asked in Korean. A confused look from him.
“Do you speak Spanish?” I asked him in Spanish. Another confused look.
I suddenly wished I could be my friend Johanna, who speaks five languages fluently, including Mandarin Chinese (she has other wonderful talents and qualities, too). Not possible, of course, so I decided there was only one question I really wanted the answer to, and I could act it out for the Chinese man.
First, I pointed several times to the inside of the theater. Then, with a great flourish of my arms, I pretended to fling open the locked gate. Finally, I shrugged my shoulders and made what I hoped looked like a questioning, curious expression.
“When does the theater open?” I was asking.
The Chinese man furrowed his brow and gave me an odd look. He called over to someone. A Rwandan man scurried over, unlocked the gate and motioned for me to come in.
Whoa! Not at all what I expected.
As I stepped into the lobby, my first thought was, this will be interesting but I hope this Chinese man doesn’t get in trouble. I wondered why he was letting me in without trying to find out who I was, if I was with the media, and why I wanted to come in (even though I hadn’t been asking to be let in). For the record, I did tell the man and everyone else I met that day – including a building technician/translator who appeared out of nowhere and helped the Chinese man and I understand each other – that I was just a curious foreigner who wanted to know about the theater. I said I wasn’t a journalist and no one was paying me to write anything, but I would publish pictures and information on my blog. I gave my card to several people.
For about 15 minutes, I was allowed to photograph around the theater complex. From a cosmetic point of view, the place looked just about ready to open:
• There are four screening rooms. I checked out the biggest and smallest ones, both of which were adorned with the same colorful carpet (see photo below).
• The largest screening room seats just over 200 people, all in stadium-style seats with cup holders.
• The smallest screening room is a 5-D theater with 18 stadium-style seats. I’d heard of 4-D but not 5-D, so the Chinese man acted out 5-D for me: the seats shake and rock back and forth.
• The concessions area is a nice size. Something that looked like a beverage dispenser sat on the snack counter.
Everyone I met on the accidental tour was gracious and kind, but no one could answer my questions with certainty. Through the helpful technician/translator I met that day, I finally tracked down Colin Kakiza, director of business development for the Doyelcy Group. Doyelcy is the company that owns and manages KCT and Century Cinema. Colin told me the theater will likely open in May.
“Many of the technical aspects of the theater are finished,” he said in a phone call yesterday, “but we might go into April with everything and that’s not the best time to begin showing films. May is what we’re thinking, if we can get the [movie] distribution channels in place.”
(For readers who don’t know, April is when Rwanda holds nationwide genocide memorial events.)
Colin said there’s a “very high possibility” that Iron Man III in 3D will be one of the first movies shown. He expects that all four screens will be showing newly-released movies when the theater opens. Ticket prices haven’t been set yet, he said.
I gather this theater will be popular, especially if it does show first-run movies. Current movie-watching options in Rwanda include huddling around your laptop/desktop or attending a movie-viewing night at a local restaurant that’s projecting a DVD onto a screen. I’ve searched to no avail for statistics on how many proper, commercial movie screens there are in sub-Saharan Africa not counting South Africa (can anyone point me to this data?).
I still can’t believe a miscommunication resulted in my Century Cinema tour. I’ll surely be watching movies there. I just hope they’ll show a few indie films, too, if economics allow for it.
“I love you. I really love you,” she said.
The girl’s words jerked me out of my solitude. I was sitting on a patch of roadside grass, focused on photographing the late-afternoon commute, and I hadn’t even seen her come up to me. She was tall and thin with black Shirley Temple curls just past her shoulders. She was attractive. Next to her stood her equally tall, thin and pretty friend. They were both dressed casually but nicely in slacks and blouses. Neither looked older than 20.
I waited for the girl to ask me for money.
I know that may sound awful. But as soon as I registered what she said, I thought of people all around the world who push strong and fast in relationships – mostly romantic relationships – to get money. In many cases, people are doing the only thing they can or feel they can to survive or move forward in life.
That dynamic can be amplified in countries where foreigners travel or live and work with people earning a few dollars a day. Even if foreigners are drowning in debt, they are seen as rich – because they are. How else could they have flown to this far-away country and set up a life? And so foreigners, in particular, are seen as a reliable source of cash.
I’ve been asked for money many times in various countries. In general, I don’t give because it perpetuates begging as a kind of profession and it doesn’t promote long-lasting change in a person’s life circumstances. In the past several years, only once have I given money, when it was clear someone’s immediate well-being was in danger. Some colleagues and I were working in Haiti and a child with a cast on his foot hobbled up to us. Through a translator, the boy told us that the cast was supposed to come off weeks ago but the doctor wouldn’t saw it off and treat him because his family couldn’t pay the several dollars fee. We confirmed this with parents and neighbors, talked it over with our trusted translator, and finally gave the money for the doctors fee.
As a foreigner, it can be tiring to be asked for money over and over. It can handicap your ability to trust local people trying to build relationships with you. Sometimes you can’t help but wonder if someone wants to be friends with you for real or for money. But I didn’t have any problems discerning which the girl wanted.
“We just met, so I don’t think you love me, but how are you?” I said to the girl.
She was from Burundi. She had moved to Rwanda years ago to attend middle and high school. She said she now worked as a traditional Rwandan dancer with her friend. They were on their way to perform in Kigali’s city center. The girl said she liked dancing but wanted to attend university.
“You give me money for school fees,” she said.
“I don’t have money with me,” I said, which wasn’t true. “Just my camera.”
She stared hard at my camera. I thought she might ask me for it. She smiled and I smiled back. I looked at her friend, who smiled, too. Traffic rushed by us and shadows started to grow longer. It seemed like forever passed but it was a minute at most before the girl spoke again.
“OK,” she said.
Then, as if on cue, a mini bus pulled up and the two girls crammed in. They waved through a window and smiled as they zoomed off to their dance performance.