It’s amazing how travel changes one’s sense of time so thoroughly. I left the US last Wednesday, and it feels both like yesterday and an eternity ago.
After leaving Washington DC, I flew to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia courtesy of Ethiopian Air. The flight was actually quite enjoyable because the second half included flying over the Sahara and the Nile, neither of which I’d ever seen. Ethiopian Air is quite good to its customers—if you arrive in Addis in the evening and have a morning connection, they will put you up in a nice hotel for the night and feed you an impressive dinner and breakfast. So I spent Thursday night in Addis, and left for Kigali, via Entebbe on Friday morning.
Arriving in Kigali, with all twenty passengers aboard a commercial plane, was thrilling. The view from above Uganda and Rwanda is breathtaking—endless lakes, green sprawling hills, and most distinctively, the red coloring of the earth. People often say that the dirt in Rwanda is red with all the blood spilled during the genocide. I prefer to see it as yet another testament to the awe-inspiring richness of the earth in Africa. We landed at Kigali International Airport, and I was momentarily confused when I recognized the tarmac when we disembarked. In 1994 (or ’95?) President Clinton flew to Kigali to apologize for the inaction of the US despite the incontrovertible evidence of genocide. His apology was not as well received as he intended, however, because he never left the tarmac and departed the country within hours. If you watch clips of his apology, you’ll see the airport.
I was met at the airport by the accountant for AGLI, and taken to the guesthouse of the Friends Peace House, where I am living. The Friends Peace House (more information on them and what they do in another post), the guesthouse, a school, and the Friends Church are all on one compound in the Kicukiro district of Kigali. I am currently the only guest of the guesthouse, which is a little lonely, but a young girl my age, Francine, works there and manages the guesthouse.
My room has a bed and electricity, and I have my own bathroom, but no running water. I took my first bucket shower yesterday, and don’t feel as daunted by learning a new system of hygiene. Francine speaks French and is patient with me as I bumble along trying to regain what has become so rusty since my time abroad in Paris two years ago. She cooks the food for the guesthouse, and I’ve enjoyed all the fresh fruit. Yesterday we ate roasted maize (corn), which brought back sentimental memories of living in Zimbabwe when I was little. Both Friday and Saturday it poured, and Friday I saw one of the more impressive lightening shows of my life. There is also a lizard named Lizzie who lives in my room…
Saturday Francine took me around town, showing me where to catch the minibus-taxis from Kicukiro into the center of Kigali. We also went to the section of town with all the government offices and ministries, and finally her family’s neighborhood, Gikondo. It was really good to start getting a feel for the area, but also really overwhelming. This is my first time in Africa since I was three that is not Cape Town. I have never been pointed at or greeted by being called umuzunge, the Kinyarwanda equivalent of wazungu, which in Swahili means ‘white person.’ One young boy in Gikondo walked next to me, singing American pop songs in Kinyarwanda with frequent “I love you’s” thrown in. When I told him in French that he was an excellent singer but I had no money for him, he told me quite adamantly that because I was an umuzunge, I must have money for him. I did expect a confrontation of my own privilege while here, but I wasn’t quite ready for the amount of attention I draw just walking down the street. I’m hoping I get used to it, but for now, I’m missing the ability to fade into the crowd.
I think with another couple trips into and around town, and once I start work with AGLI on Monday, I will start settling in more comfortably. I am still in that beginning phase of travel, where I feel pretty far out of my comfort zone and a little intimidated by how much time I have ahead of me and how little I know yet. I don’t expect to feel completely at home nor competent in my brief stay here, but hopefully a little more at ease. I think there’s no way that’s not possible, so I’m glad to have set such an achievable goal!
This morning I went to the Friends Church in Kicukiro, which is a world apart from a Friends Meeting. I think it could be best described as a four hour dance party, with the most beautiful singing in the entire world. There was more joy in that church this morning than I’ve seen in a long time.
Now that I’ve found the internet cafe down the road, I’ll be able to update fairly frequently and hopefully with photos sometime. I would love to hear from any of you. Till next time!