The children roam everywhere at Noel Orphanage, Rwanda’s largest institution for orphaned kids. They wander the grounds outside the main dormitories, opening random doors and kicking around broken toys on the ground. They run to strangers for hugs, tugging at hands and refusing to let go no matter what the staff say. They play and run around the ubiquitous laundry hanging from washlines and drying on grass.
I was at Noel to photograph for Hope and Homes for Children, a British charity partnered with the Rwandan government to close orphanages. Their goal is to reunite children with any living family members (aunts, cousins, etc.) or put kids in foster homes. It’s a delicate task and one that’s part of a worldwide trend of closing orphanages, as The Economist reported in August 2013. According to their story:
In order to close institutions governments must bolster the alternatives. Small homes housing around 12 children are better than huge ones, at least for those with no living relatives or very severe disabilities. Long-term carers work in those places, not a large staff on shifts. Mother-and-baby groups and day centres for struggling parents reduce the likelihood that youngsters will need government protection. When it is unavoidable, foster and adoptive care are the healthiest ways to supply it.
But that requires authorities to vet prospective parents, and to check up on them. This is difficult where social-care systems are poor. In countries such as the Czech Republic social workers are valued mainly for handing out benefit payments, rather than as mentors and monitors, says Ms Mulheir. Teachers and nurses who work in institutions sometimes resist reform.
During my visit to Noel, we started in the infant room, where the youngest baby was just a couple days old. Next we stepped into the courtyard and walked to a small room, where about 20 toddlers live, some of them still learning to walk and most still learning to talk. As soon as the little ones saw me, all of them started crawling and stumbling my way, crying out “Mama! Mama! Mama!” I just about lost it. Later, someone from Hope and Homes told me the children are taught to call all women “Mama” and all men “Daddy” or “Dada.” I’m still not clear why.
The main challenge on this shoot was not showing identifiable faces of any children in the orphanages. I’ve had a lot of experience with not showing faces such as filming an undocumented immigrant in the United States and photographing North Korean refugees in South Korea. But kids are more wiggly, and there were so many of them, and a lot of them wanted to play, and who can resist playing even a little bit with a playful kid? The best part of this shoot was photographing children who have been reunited with their families or put in what appear to be loving foster homes. The children seemed genuinely happy and truly loved by their families. I hope this will be the case for all kids being moved out of closed orphanages.
I recently had a chance to watch Ingoma Nshya, Rwanda’s only all-female drumming group, perform at an artist’s showcase in Kigali. What energy and power. The women had the audience clapping and screaming for more. As well as being drummers, Ingoma Nshya members run an ice cream shop called Inzozi Nziza in the south of Rwanda. The shop and the drummers are the subject of a new documentary film called Sweet Dreams, which is screening all over the United States. Be sure to see the film if it’s in your area.
Over 1,000 attendees and pretty high energy marked the first day of the Transform Africa 2013 summit on Monday, Oct. 28. That afternoon there was an interesting panel discussion about using technology to eradicate poverty in Africa and create wealth, not just alleviate poverty. Jean Philbert Nsengimana (above, far left), Rwanda’s minister of youth, information, communications and technology, makes a point during the discussion.
I was at the conference with Africa Digital Media Academy, where I’ve been volunteer mentoring for the past several months. A small group of ADMA students is livestreaming Transform Africa under the guidance of Alex Lindsay, ADMA’s founder, and Ryan Yewell, one of ADMA’s instructors. They’re working all hours of the day (arrived at 5:30 a.m. on the conference’s second day) and doing a great job.
The second day of the conference, Tuesday, was the day featuring seven African heads of state. The picture above is from several minutes before all the presidents arrived. Security agents marched in and looked all around the stage before taking their positions.
There’s a special kind of terrible lighting found in conference centers around the world. It’s not their fault. It’s hard to light a space for a thousand people, all of whom will be sitting, maybe taking notes, and likely looking at huge screens on one side of the room. But the Serena Hotel ballroom is an especially challenging light situation because of all the mixed lighting: 1) a couple gigantic window-doors were open the first two days; 2) the carpet is yelllow (which means light reflects off it yellow); 3) the huge screens are often turquoise – the conference theme color – which cast a turquoise glow on everything); 4) and the overhead fluorescent lights give off a reddish tint.
From left to right: President Salva Kiir Mayardit of South Sudan; President Ali Bongo Ondimba of the Republic of Gabon; President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda (notice his trademark hat just peaking out from under his seat); President Paul Kagame of Rwanda; and President Blaise Compaoré of Burkina Faso. In all there were seven heads of state at Transform Africa. The picture below shows the other two not fully seen above: President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya (second from the far right) and President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita of the Republic of Mali (far right).
I was excited when The Chronicle of Higher Education photo editor Erica Lusk contacted me about documenting a day in the life of Kepler Kigali, one of Rwanda’s newest universities. Kigali’s a small town, so I already knew about Kepler, and their model intrigued me. Kepler uses massive open online courses (MOOCs) in conjunction with in-person teaching so students can earn an associate degree through Southern New Hampshire University. All the students are from disadvantaged backgrounds (they’re genocide orphans, come from very poor families, etc.) and for now, the university is free to its students.
I was sent to photograph during student orientation week. When I was an undergrad, I remember orientation covering topics like responsible drinking, how to register for classes, and where to access psychological services. At Kepler, the day’s orientation included a presentation on self-confidence and personal responsibility.
After the morning’s lectures, all 50 students broke for lunch. Everyone carried their plastic chairs from the lecture room to a tent outside, where they sat and enjoyed a hot lunch and drinks provided by Kepler Kigali.
The skies were clear and beautiful when lunch started. But this being rainy season, a tremendous storm poured down after about 30 minutes. I really felt like the tent might blow away. All the women scattered back into the orientation building as soon as signs of a storm appeared. Most of the men stayed under the tent until they absolutely had to leave. I stayed with them – good pictures, right? – and hoped they would go inside soon.
Back inside, one young woman laughed at another who had left a banana on a seat for her friend. Even though the students had just met a few days earlier, they all seemed like fast friends, all happiness and excitement. I talked with several students who were beyond thrilled to be going to college – they hadn’t thought it would really be possible for them due to the financial burden. One of the Kepler administrators I spoke with said it will cost about $1,000 per yer to educate each student.
During an orientation workshop earlier in the week, students wrote down the names of their male and female role models. Among the most popular? Nelson Mandela and Jeannette Kagame, the First Lady of Rwanda.
The actual classroom space was still under construction when I visited, so I spent some time documenting the progress. In the picture above, a welder constructs a table. All furniture for Kepler Kigali is custom-made because it’s about the same price or slightly less expensive than importing it.
Kepler Kigali is the brainchild of Generation Rwanda, a nonprofit that has been offering university scholarships to underprivileged Rwandan students since 2004. A Generation Rwanda graduate made and gave this token of thanks to the program’s staff. He graduated from a Rwandan university in 2012 with a civil engineering degree.
When you’re just outside Musanze town, the signs to Musanze Cave seem clear: “xx KM MUSANZE CAVE” and an arrow pointing to the right. Don’t turn right. Keep driving. Don’t let the descending distances on multiple, consecutive signs lure you into turning, not until you get to a sign that simply says “MUSANZE CAVE” and an arrow pointing to the right. Those previous signs? The arrows should point straight ahead. Yes, it’s a little confusing, but worth it.
Not that the road leading to Musanze Cave inspires confidence you’re heading to one of Rwanda’s newest tourism sites. There’s a dirt and rock path, and then a soccer pitch with concrete school buildings and a light forest around the perimeter. The day Mr. P and I visited with our friends J and J, we couldn’t see an obvious path to drive on, or a cave entrance. Kids were playing soccer, so Mr. P maneuvered to the far side of the pitch. That’s where we saw the entrance: about 3m of white ticker tape strung between two wooden posts amongst scraggly bushes and uneven ground. A sign laid out caving rules, including “Any caving activity must be guided.” We wondered where we’d find a guide. We needn’t have worried, not when there might be money involved.
After we parked between some trees, a man in a blue jump suit appeared. He didn’t speak English well and he didn’t look like a guide to me. He certainly didn’t have any official identification. But he safely led us through the caves for an hour and made a handsome profit – 5,000 francs for each of us, a total of about $30. Was this a fair price? Should we have been charged at all? And was this man a guide or an entrepreneurial local who knew his way around the cave? No idea.
There are actually two caves, and both were pitch black and completely dry. We all used flashlights and iPhone apps to see around us. The Rwandan government has done a pretty good job clearing walking paths, but I still felt around with my feet to ensure I wasn’t about to tumble over a wall. We saw some breathless sights, including a portion of collapsed roof overgrown with vines reaching toward the sky (see picture below). We also saw one little bat. And some kind of animal teeth. At least we hope it was animal teeth; apparently there was a massacre here during the 1994 genocide, though I could find only one source that said this.
Overall, the lack of artificial lighting made it hard to discern the shape and depth of the caves and their wonders. And since we didn’t speak the same language as our guide, we couldn’t learn much about what little we could see. Still, I enjoyed exploring in the dark and having the caves to ourselves for one hour.
We attended the wedding ceremony, too, of course, but I love these moments and details from Jean d’Amour and Adeline’s wedding reception the most. It was nice to be a guest for once.
There’s not much in the way of live music in Kigali so thank goodness for the KigaliUP festival, which started this afternoon in the grassy fields around Amahoro Stadium. Almost no one was there at the start. Mr. P dropped me off and I said, “Maybe they changed the venue,” because the grounds were almost completely empty. But as the sun set and the day cooled, folks trickled in, laid out in the grass with friends, and bobbed their heads to the music.
I was fortunate to be working backstage with documentary film students from the Africa Digital Media Academy, where I’ve been helping to coach students for the past couple weeks. I had fun interacting with them outside the classroom setting. I think constructive feedback as you’re shooting is one of the best ways to become a better cinematographer because you can apply the advice immediately. I hope that in the future, some of the students will professionally do the work that I do.
The performances were pretty good. Up-and-coming artist Password sang and strummed his guitar and kinda looked like Stevie Wonder while performing because he work dark sunglasses the whole time. Rwandan gospel choir Alarme totally brought down the house with their powerful voices and energetic dance moves. Or rather, brought up the house — by the end of their performance everyone in the audience was literally jumping up and down along with the singers.
I had to leave early, so I didn’t get to see a bunch of performers, including Malian singer Habib Koité, but there’s always next year. I will definitely be at KigaliUP next year. I just wish it wasn’t so long between awesome music performances in Kigali.
Knowless is one of Rwanda’s most popular singers. Enjoy this sweet song!
(I say “sweet” based on the feeling I get from the music, but I actually have no idea what she’s saying. A comment by Mutijima Abu Bernard on the YouTube video says “the name means “I will be there for you” and the whole idea of the song is about being there in any moment bad or good.” I’m still on the search for a complete English translation.)
Left: This snazzy chicken’s “Hello!” and upbeat attitude in the face of becoming the “tasty Chicken that you love!!” totally endeared me to this bird flu awareness poster in Accra, Ghana.
Right: Looks like Rwanda just got a huge shipment of Nutella and jam! Sometimes grocery stores in Kigali will be overflowing with one item and devoid of others. Last week Mr. P and I searched three stores for shampoo and finally found several bottles of just one brand in one store. This is life in a landlocked country that imports everything. (Not such a bad life, actually.)
Rwanda is famous for its gorillas, so of course there would be a gorilla at the marathon. Mr. P and I ran the 5K that started just after the marathoners set off.
MINISPOC (left photo), or the Ministry of Sports and Culture, helped organize and sponsor today’s races, which included the marathon, a half marathon and a 5K. Isn’t MINISPOC a funny acronym? All Rwanda ministries have acronyms like this, including the awkward MINECOFIN, pronounced “mini-coffin.” It stands for the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning.
It’s a little hard to photograph while running, but I managed to capture these two boys running their hardest uphill during the 5K (left photo). One thing I found odd about this race was none of the spectators cheered, they just watched (right photo). When Mr. P and I walked home along the marathon route, I was the lone voice cheering on the runners.
Kigali is a year-round swimming kind of place but most pools are at hotels and cost about $10 per swim – a bit expensive. The Aloha Club’s lower price is just one of the reasons Mr. P and I like swimming there. For just a few bucks per visit or $100 a year, we can swim, lounge on shaded chairs, order a meal and play Frisbee in the adjoining grassy field. (We haven’t actually played Frisbee…yet.)
My only complaint is that the pool doesn’t have a proper mechanism for dispersing wave energy. This is fine if you’re just splashing around. But if you’re swimming laps (that would be me), the waves you create bounce off the pool walls and back to you and each other. This makes for a slow and sloppy swim with plenty of swallowed water. At least I get to swim, though! And to be fair, all the other pools I’ve visited in Kigali are designed the same way: more for playing than actual swimming.
The Aloha Club is near Caiman Restaurant in Kibagabaga. If you drive there, beware there’s a pretty deep rain gutter at the entrance that will surely scrape your front bumper and bounce you around unless you navigate it slowly.
Have you seen the Everyday Africa photo blog? I like it. A lot. It aims to show mundane, normal moments in Africa, not just the poverty, disease and strife that seem to dominate much visual imagery of Africa in the West. So, inspired by “Everyday Africa,” I’ve been looking for those mundane, normal moments here in Rwanda and in my travels. I shot all these photos with my iPhone, except for the first one, which I shot with Mr. P’s point-and-shoot.
You almost always know a rainstorm is about to sweep over Kigali because high winds suddenly descend on the hills. Within minutes, the rain starts. And quite often, the rain ends as suddenly as it began. The result is a beautiful and dramatic change in scenery over a short period of time. I shot the photographs below at 5:43 p.m., 5:52 p.m., and 5:54 p.m. No filters, just the Shake It Photo app on my iPhone.
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.
This was a fun, last-minute shoot with Claire and Cameron (below, with Cody the dog) and their housemates and friends. Claire and Cameron are leaving Rwanda today after living here for a couple years. Bon voyage!
“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.
Life isn’t cheap in Kigali, especially if you’re an expat keen on maintaining the comfortable lifestyle you led back home. Mr. P and I knew this before we moved here. We’re pretty low-maintenance people. And still we’ve completely adjusted our budget and expectations.
This is the first post in an occasional series on what Mr. P and I pay for goods and services in Kigali. All prices are based on our own experiences and reflect our particular living habits – I’m vegetarian, Mr. P and I like walking to places and we’re OK with foregoing some creature comforts.
Buying packaged and/or imported food in Kigali will burn a hole in your wallet. A box of Kellogg’s cereal is $10. A small jar of pasta sauce is about $5. Ditto for mustard. Digestive cookies are $4. One salmon filet is $110….yes, that’s right: $110.
Mr. P and I used to buy all those things when we lived in the U.S. No more. Instead, we’re shopping at local markets for fruits and vegetables and cooking a lot from scratch. I love it. Mr. P’s pasta sauce is to die for. My chili is getting pretty delicious. I’m hardly snacking at all (anyone who knows me will find this amazing). We still shop at regular supermarkets for key items like cooking oil and bread, but we don’t often buy packaged goods. (Living in Kigali has a thorough rundown of the location and some food prices in the city’s supermarkets.)
Here’s a list of groceries we’ve bought in the past couple weeks. Mr. P and I have comparison shopped but by no means am I saying these are the best prices; this is just what we’ve paid. Note that $1 = 660 RWF and 1 kg = 2.2 lbs.
Fruits and vegetables
1 kg regular tomatoes + 1 kilo purple onions – 1000 RWF (Nyarugenge Market)
½ kg sweet tomatoes – 500 RWF (Nyarugenge Market)
1.5 kg potatoes – 1025 RWF (Nakumatt in UTC)
4 garlic cloves – 800 RWF (Kimironko Market)
3 gigantic avocados – 600 RWF (Kimironko Market)
3 gigantic mangoes – 1500 RWF (Kimironko Market)
2 pineapples – 1100 RWF (Nyarugenge Market)
1 bunch of 14 medium-sized bananas – 600 RWF (Nyarugenge Market)
3 leeks – 300 RWF (Nyarugenge Market)
Protein and dairy
10 eggs – 800 RWF (Nyarugenge Market)
1 kg kidney beans + ¾ kilo black beans – 800 RWF (Kimironko Market)
¾ kilo tofu – 700 RWF (T-2000)
1 small jar peanut butter – 2000 RWF (Woodlands)
6 containers Masaka Farms vanilla yogurt – 2100 RWF (Nakumatt in UTC)
1 loaf sliced La Galette bakery bread – 800 RWF (German Butchery in MTN)
1 package angel hair pasta – 1200 RWF (T-2000)
1 package shell pasta – 900 RWF (T-2000)
2.5 kg brown rice – 1675 RWF (Rice Mart near Kimironko)
1 liter Inyange passion fruit juice – 1400 RWF (German Butchery in MTN)
1 liter Splash pineapple juice – 1100 RWF (T-2000)
2 five-liter bottles of Nil brand water – 3400 RWF (German Butchery in MTN)
2.5 liters sesame oil – 13,800 RWF (T-2000)
1 kg spicy bean sauce – 4200 RWF (T-2000)
1 kg soybean paste – 5500 RWF (T-2000)
500 g Zesta red plum jam – 1600 RWF (German Butchery in MTN)
TOTAL – 49,400 RWF or $74.85
Several people told us olive oil was expensive in Kigali and urged us to bring some from the U.S. I dutifully packed about 2 liters in my check-in luggage. But the price is actually about the same here as in the U.S. – $11-$14 for a medium bottle – unless you’re shopping at a military commissary or bulk superstore like Costco.
There are quite a few foodstuffs I brought from the U.S. that I’m glad I did. We’re almost through one of our three bags of red quinoa. Our granola bars are quickly disappearing. Our all-purpose seasoning has been living up to its name nearly every day.
The one food item I brought over that gives us the greatest pleasure is our Trader Joe’s brownie bars. We haven’t found affordable snacks like these in Kigali. I’d never eaten these before moving here, but now, as a special treat, Mr. P and I sometimes split a bar and savor each and every bite.
I love this pop song from King James, a Rwandan artist who’s up for a bunch of Salax Awards, this country’s Grammy’s. (Winners will be announced on March 9th.) “Buhoro buhoro” means “slowly slowly” but I don’t think you need a translator to catch what’s going on. By the way, sorry the video is so small – this was the best quality I could find.
You look at Google Maps, which confirms your belief: yes, that place you want to go is just two short miles from here. You think, “That doesn’t seem far. I could walk there, no sweat.” A brisk, four-mile walk to start the day. Turn right on Street 665. Follow it up to Kibagabaga Road.
That route sure looks twisty. And you’ll have to trek down one hill and back up another to get where you’re going. Could be strenuous. Could be hot. Maybe you should bring water.
Nah. This is a morning walk, not a mountain climbing expedition. You’re athletic. You enjoy adventures. And you love walking. Really, it’s the best way to learn about a new place.
The din of motorbikes and cars fades out as you turn onto Street 665. It’s a gentle decline into the valley. There’s no sidewalk here, so you hug the side of the road. You pass a Christian nursery school. No kids around. You pass folks walking up to the main road. Some people wave hello and others stare. It feels good to be exploring new territory. Soon you’ll be at that place you want to go.
This scene unfolds before you: a long hill jammed with trees and homes and twisty roads; a green valley devoid of buildings; puffy clouds floating across the sky; not many people. You wish you had brought your camera.
An SUV speeds around the bend and nearly clips your left arm. Pompous, entitled driver had the whole wide road to himself! A motorbike whizzes by within a few inches of you. Then another a few minutes later. Each time your heart races and you’re jolted away from admiring the scenery. You wonder if “let’s scare the pedestrians” is a sick game some drivers play on almost-deserted roads.
Boy is it hot. Sweat slides down your face. The valley is flat and perfectly devoid of shade. Two women hoeing a field stop to wave hello. It’s a charming two-handed wave complete with a smile from each person. You think, “They’ll be hoeing all morning in this shadeless heat.” You think of stories you’ve reported about how women perform the majority of backbreaking agricultural labor around the world.
Yes, it’s hot but you have nothing to complain about. You’re on a walk.
The road starts curving upward. First it’s about a 5-degree incline, then 10, then nearly 20, maybe 25 degrees. You’re huffing and puffing. As you drag yourself around yet another bend, a motorbike taxi pulls up and beeps a couple times. “You need a ride?” the driver asks you with his eyes. You wave him away. You’re determined to make it to that place you want to go.
Finally, the road flattens. You think you’ve conquered the worst of the hill, so you stop to look across the valley. There’s your apartment building.
It looks big.
It looks close.
You think you see a fly flitting about the kitchen curtains.
This is when you realize it: it’s the hills. Those rolling hills that make Kigali look so beautiful also deceive you into thinking that the place you want to go is right there. Yes, as the bird flies, it is right there. But you’re not a bird. So in fact, you’ll likely have to walk for another 30 minutes, maybe more, before you reach that place you want to go.
You have the luxury of deciding you’re not going to do that, at least not today. You head back down Street 665. You pass a few people walking uphill. You pass the two women hoeing the field. You pass the Christian nursery school. The trek home feels fast because you know where you’re going.
Yes, walking really is the best way to learn about a new place.