Friday afternoon I went with Fidel (Francine’s older brother) to visit the Bugesera site of his organization, Initiative des Amis Combattant le SIDA (INACOS). Fidel and his wife, both of whom were HIV+, started INACOS in 2002. Fidel’s wife passed away, but he is still working hard to educate Rwandans about AIDS and combat the stigma and discrimination that surrounds the disease in this part of the world. INACOS provides HIV tests, training about how AIDS is transmitted, how to care for those who are suffering from the disease, and counseling. It also promotes income-generating projects for HIV+ individuals, and partners with other organizations to address other connected needs such as water and food availability, environmental protection, health care, children’s education, and others. [Interesting fact: Laura Bush came to Kigali in 2005 and visited various projects of the Friends here in Kagarama, including INACOS! Fidel has a photo of himself and Mrs. Bush, which he is very proud of and after showing it to me, proclaimed equally proudly that he now considers himself a republican (but one that doesn't like war, he added as an afterthought). ]
We visited a community in Rweru, which is the area in which I visited the Nemba IDP camp my first week here. It was interesting to see what kinds of things struck me or felt different this time around as we hung a left at the rope border separating Rwanda from Burundi. Fidel took me to visit a group of thirteen HIV+ women who make baskets as an income-generating project at the Cooperative de Vannerie. The women sat outside a small building and chatted as they each wove a brightly colored basket—it takes about one week to make one basket, as the work is very time consuming though not overly complicated. The women, who greeted me with humbling warmth and graciousness, told me how grateful they are for this project because it gives them the opportunity to come together with other women whose lives are affected by this disease in the same way. They said that the empowerment and sense of community that they gain by weaving baskets and not sitting at home every day has been invaluable. I also visited a water reservoir INACOS helped construct to supply water for gardens during the dry season, as well as the construction site for a new community center in which the women can meet to avoid the elements during the rainy season or the hottest weeks of the dry season. INACOS is doing impressive work, and if anyone would like some more specific information about them, I’ll be gathering contact information and an electronic copy of their objectives/plans, which I’d be happy to share.
Sunday was my last day in church, and because the pastor knew this, I was called to front of the church about halfway through the service. Because of translation, it took me a few minutes longer than everyone else to realize what was going on—I couldn’t figure out why the entire congregation was looking at me while my translator was still talking about the baptisms that would happen in two weeks. When I finally did realize I was being addressed, I went to the front, conveyed my gratitude to the church, and said my goodbyes. Then the entire congregation prayed for me, which involved a few minutes of hollering while the church elders stood in a circle around me and put their hands on my head. I was extraordinarily touched, albeit a little overwhelmed, and will never forget the experience of a hundred people praying out loud for me at the same time.
Now to relate the American dinner saga, which ended up being delightful and quite a success. We made guacamole, chili and mashed potatoes, with a dessert of bananas, peanut butter and chocolate. I bought chips for the guacamole at an Indian-canadian grocery store in downtown Kigali, and all other ingredients were easy to come by. The experience of shopping for food here is quite different and was really fun. Francine and I, because the “muzungu price” in the market can be triple if you’re not careful, bought all the produce at the local market in Kicukiro: tomatoes, potatoes, green peppers, onions, garlic, avocados, beans and bananas. Then I walked to an alimentation (grocery store) about 45 minutes away from our house and bought a bag of heavily pasteurized milk, which will last months without refridgeration, and a kilo of raw meat. When I was walking back up the hill towards home, bag of milk in one hand and kilo of unwrapped raw meat in a brown paper bag in the other, I was already feeling giddy with the fun of learning to cook in such a different place.
I would have been lost without Francine’s help and skill, but together we pulled it off. We peeled potatoes with large dull knives and no cutting boards, the blade of my knife held onto the wooden handle with a piece of wire. Francine peeled six for every one that I managed to awkwardly attack…so although I may not have contributed equally in product, we had fun laughing at my complete inability to do such a simple task (“you’re doing it just like a Rwandan child!” she told me happily). Jean-Dieudonne, a young guy who has lived with us for the last two weeks and helps Francine, helped us by starting the charcoal for the stove, which he does by standing outside the house where there is a wood fire, and handing pieces of charcoal through the kitchen window to Francine when they’re hot and ready.
We boiled potatoes over such intense heat that when we drained the water from them, they were essentially pre-mashed for us (quite a relief when the mashing was to be done with a big wooden spoon/pole, kind of like a churn). The chili was easy and a fairly familiar idea to them, as they use all the ingredients often, just not all mixed together like that. The guacamole was fun to make with such delicious avocados. The most amusing part was when I realized we’d forgotten to buy a lemon at the market, and one of our guests who lives next door ran outside with a flashlight and found a tiny little lemon growing at the top of a lemon tree in our yard. They found a ladder and Jean climbed up (all of this in the dark) and retrieved the tiny, green, un-ripe but absolutely lovely lemon. How perfect that the one missing ingredient would be growing outside.
There were seven of us: myself and Andrew, my Canadian friend Josh who works at FPH, Theoneste who lives next door at works at FPH, Zawadi from Congo who used to work at FPH, and Francine and Jean-Dieudonne. The meal was quite a success, though the names of the foods confounded Francine a bit (“I like this chilimole stuff” was my favorite comment). Though apparently, despite the difficult names, she plans to cook this meal for her family in Gikondo. The banana/peanut butter/chocolate combination went over well too, though I especially liked the Rwandan peanut butter I bought that was in a little plastic cup with the ingredients listed on a piece of printer paper taped onto the outside with scotch tape.
Andrew bought a guitar in town on Saturday, and so with the food, music, lizards, and friends, the guesthouse was quite the international place Sunday night. It was an evening filled with laughter and was a wonderful farewell dinner for my last weekend. Now, as Theoneste told me, “when we think of Emily, we’ll think of guacamole and chili.” That’s fine by me.