Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Eid's a Party!

I may just convert to Islam yet. While I did not participate in the fasting-per say- during Rahmadan, I was a supportive of my housemates and after a few weeks I even stopped offering them gum-realizing that even that was too great of a sin. I watched them sympathetically as I wolfed down pain au chocolats and of course my usual 8 carb meals while saying that at least they may loose a pound or two...So when the government announced on Monday that the following day would be a federal holiday (not sure why because only about 8% of the country is Muslim) I thought it was only natural for me to attend the family party celebrating "Eid" (or breaking of the fast) with a gluttonous BBQ/Dance Party at someone's beautiful lake house on the shores of Lake Muhazi.

So instead of tackling the pile of work rapidly accumulating on my desk (I leave next week so i have a lot of things to wrap up) I spent the day lounging by the lake, eating a wide variety of foods, enjoying the local brews, and dancing under the stars to traditional rwandese music which was quickly replaced by Lil Wayne and Beyonce...and now i have to do some work

Monday, September 29, 2008

Back to Butare

This weekend I journeyed back to Butare (if you’ll remember, Butare is home to my previous business trip aka intellectual capital of Rwanda). I went with Kuku to visit and meet some more of her enormous family. Don’t ask me to draw the family tree; I think farida and kuku have 298234 cousins, brothers, sisters, newphews…but on this particular occasion I met: Kuku’s mom, farida’s brother, (its still not completely clear to me how they are related. I think it has something to do with farida’s dad and one of his 4 wives was kuku’s mom’s sister (?!!)) two cousins, and a 1 year old belonging to another cousin, who I couldn’t quite determine the exact location of. (and I thought trowbridge family reunions are confusing!)

Anyway, I wouldn’t say this trip to Butare lived up to its namesake (aka intellectual capital), no thanks to me and my horrendous language skills. My French/Kinyarwanda skills were pretty much exhausted after we discussed my family, the weather, and the 20 or so words I know in Kinyarwanda. We did branch off on a brief discussion of flooding (apparently our water in Kigali finally came back on (after 4 day hiatus) but no one was home and it completely flooded the apartment.)

So after a delicious dinner of meat, rice, and matoke, I was led to the neighboring house (home of the brother) to watch digital TV-first time I have seen here and it was pretty impressive. I heard about the debates (in French), watched about 13 minutes of big brother Africa (the #1 reality show here), and then finally settled on a movie involving a sex offender which was more than slightly awkward watching the graphic sex scenes with the cousin and brother. I tried to insert a little social commentary, but all I got was the typical “homosexuality doesn’t exist in Africa.”

The roosters woke me up at 6 am, so I wandered out to see what was for breakfast, forgetting that I was the only one able to eat. Ramadon=fasting. So feeling like a gluttonous heathen I enjoyed my pain au chocolate avec l’ananas with the family sitting around and watching me.

Anyway, we got a ride home with a friend of kuku’s and the only thing of note (aside from my usual fascinations with driving hand signals) was the two BUCKETS of avocados purchased for $2. I tried explaining that it was $2 for one avocado in the U.S. and that my friend Erica once paid $5 for a rotten avocado in k-stan, but they didn’t seem to grasp paying more than $20 for an avocado….

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Housing Update

So apparently the "forceable removal" statement was just an empty threat, because the 21st has come and gone and we are still in the apartment. No bags have been packed, furniture is still in place. Occasionally strange men come to our door write number in chalk and talk to Farida but they don't have sticks, no moving dollies, not even harsh words from what i can see.

I guess there is some benefit to living in a country where deadlines are optional after all...

Monday, September 22, 2008

Luv is in the aire!

Alana, this one's for you!

I feel (slightly) bad about posting this one, but one of the central themes of my life here has been avoiding male "suitors". A couple of these "courtships" have involved some rather humorous SMS messages. I thought i'd share some of the more entertaining:

Bachelor number 1: The guy sitting next to us at the soccer game, who was very intent on teaching me kinyarwandan and insisted we exchange numbers so that he could teach me (he was also a friend of a friend so i felt i needed to exchange numbers)...apparently i should have offered up some english lessons as well:

1.Hi! Betsy I am sorry to dista. U that time, I don’t know. When we were watching match I was very suprised. I don’t know, I thing we shall meet again. Bne nuit.

2. (my personal favorite) Hi betsy! Let me hope that u are kept hot, u are away from coldness. I am trying, but I have failed to sleep with out sending u message. Have good night, betsy with a lot of nice dreams.

3. Hi betsy I thing you are ok! Juste to tell u hi. Have good night and good dreams.

Bachelor number 2: Relative of someone who works at Tulane, who obviously took a course in business english.

1. Betsy, would like to tell you my concerns. I have lot of feelings towards you. I think I have fallen in LOVE. We have many things in common. I would like to tell you face to face but maybe I am to shy. I would appreciate if we can become close friends and know well each other. Please tell me what you think about my initiative? Plse send me an sms. Bisous

2. Ma chere Betsy, j t’aime. I have been waiting for you sms with nice words as per my request but in vain…Even if you do not want to mean it, JE T’AIME FOR EVER. When are we meeting? Plse confirm the day. Have a wonderful night and streamline your dreams to what I told you. Bisous

Bachelor Number 3: Tricked me into going on a "date" with him, by informing me he was kuku's friend and that we would all be going together. This is the text i received the day after our "date" (which entailed driving around looking for an open restaurant-at least he let me drive which was exciting and a first for me in rwanda-and then finally finding one and him ordering brochettes for us. When the brochettes (meat on a stick) first came out i was impressed that he had splurged and ordered shrimp brochettes...a classy move. but i quickly realized my mistake when i popped it in my mouth. instead of sweet shrimp juices, i was chopping down on the local's fav. brochette of goat intestine. (gross!!) so unless that goat had recently had a shrimp meal i was foiled...):

1. I hope u fine? our time was social valued network c'se we planted a green flower, bt its was hard b'se of time. i thougt 2remind u again to put water and fertile soil on that flower. I think our mind set will celebrate if we see 2gether our flower adn its fruits. I think 2 say i love u something normal but difficult. i wish 4! God bless u.

So again, apologies if someone reading this is one of the afore mentioned bachelors, but thats what you get for trying to date a cold(away from warmness)-hearted muzungu...

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Breaking news: Election day 2008

Well, election day came and went here in kigali (it was on monday) and aside from the vans going up and down the streets blaring loud music, and (i'm assuming) yelling wonderful things about the FPR it was pretty peaceful. Considering the mess that surrounds elections in many other african countries, it is nice to live in a country with such a stable environment.

Much of that stability is due to the total and complete political dominance of the FPR, the current president, Paul Kagame's party. for the past month the only political party i have been aware of is the FPR with their pins, t-shirts, hats, flags, organized moto parades, stickers, obnoxiously loud mega-phone parades... Apparently the other parties are not organized enough to put these things together. or they are not the president's party so they get no coverage/funding.

i even accompanied my host family to an upscale men's clothing store where they spent 45 minutes deciding which color $35 FPR polo shirt they should buy (the went with blue). $35 is a lot for my host family, considering that is probably 2 weeks worth of grocery money, so it shows their dedication to the party. that and chelsea running around the house at 6 am on election day chanting FPR!

So it was just parlimentary elections (you vote for a party, not a person) and i guess there were 5 parties on the ballot. There are also separate elections for women (who i believe automatically get 24 seats in parliment), youth and disabled (1 person). i'm not quite sure how these proportions are calculated, its definitely not proportionate because after the genocide there are far more women (not to mention disabled people) then men in this country.

Other random observations:
  • The city was closed down for the day; no work-bourbon coffee was even closed.
  • You vote by thumb stamps, so everyone was proudly walking around showing their purple thumbs
  • the national TV station had 12 hour live election coverage for the first time in their history-watch out CNN! (though it pretty much consisted of setting a camera outside a polling station and playing rwandan music in the background...don't think there is an edward r. morrow hopeful here...)
The official results are out next week, but i would guess the FPR gets 70% of the vote-at least...this is no nail-biting experience like our own election, which p.s. i have (yet again) become addicted to this web-site. Go Obama!

Thursday, September 11, 2008


Sorry folks, this ones a bit political but just wanted to share a couple thoughts on our "War on Terror" this September 11th.

Now this may come to a shock, but i am not a fan of George Bush. In fact, I would say that he is the worst president we have ever had with regards to long term consequences of his policies; except he has done one thing right. PEPFAR. The Presidents Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. Now this plan, which basically provided $15 billion over a 5 year period (and was just reauthorized) for the treatment of HIV, certainly has its faults:

(Not cost effective as countries are must purchase expensive drugs from U.S. companies rather than generic brands, small % is spend on HIV prevention-and uses the largely ineffective abstinence-only programing, and my personal favorite, every organization using PEPFAR funds has to sign a waiver that they do not promote or support sex work (which creates a barrier for edcuation in many high-risk sex worker communities). Anyway, wouldn't you know it, but who had to step down when his name was leaked for using a prostitute himself? PEPFAR overseer, Randall Tobias.)

As a Public Health Student I had been somewhat biased against PEPFAR due to afore mentioned problems, but after talking to several Africans, it is clear that the benefits of this program extend far beyond our humanitarian obligation to help people. In a time where much of the world dislikes America, namely for invading Iraq, the Africans I have met actually like Bush (granted they like Obama more! an obama t-shirt over here will sell for $40). PEPFAR has provided thousands of much needed jobs in Africa, hope, and realization that someone cares....The question of sustainability is a factor, but for the moment, in a poor nation that could easily blame the west for their state of poverty and use that as leverage to build anti-western groups, they are not. they are wearing american flag t-shirts, debating american politics, and whether i like it or not, arguing about the benefits of "w".

Seeing first hand what a little investment can do has made me question our foreign policies. Why are we spending $12 billion a month fighting an ever growing group of terrorists when we could be spending a tenth of that, investing in education and health care in these countries, and fighting the root of the problem of terrorism (namely poverty, lack of education) rather than contributing to the problem. Basically, we are spending over a five year period on PEPFAR, what a month in Iraq costs us. Does this seem wrong to anyone else?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


So last night, as Farida (host mom) and I are polishing off our dinner of fried bananas and stewed beef, there is a knock on the door. Farida talks to the person at the door for a bit and then strolls back nonchalantly. We discuss the Rwanda Expo-a business/craft fair which we went to on Saturday, and then I inquired, “oh, who was at the door.” And she replied, “ah, it was no one. Here, look at this.” (keep in mind this entire convo is in our Frenglish language we have developed.) she hands me a piece of paper, where in English, it informs the tenants of block 6, apartments 1-6 (we are block 6, apt. 3) that the building has been sold, and we must vacate by SEPTEMBER 21, or be “forcibly removed”. We must also allow free access over the next two weeks to the renovators who are at liberty to come trounce through our place and rummage through our closets (and hopefully not find and pillage my stash of emergency chocolate). Farida said this all very calmly like it was normal to have someone-on two weeks notice-force you to leave your home of the last 4 years.

I immediately went into panic mode. Where will you live? Will your rent be as cheap? (we currently live in a block of 10 apartment buildings that were once owned by the government-in fact it reminds me a lot of my housing in Kazakhstan-and apartments were given out to employees as part of their salaries. There is an apt. building for national school of Rwanda employees, and we live in the one for journalists (hmm…the government employing journalists?! Never!) Anyway, Farida rents out the apt. from someone who works for Rwandan television who doesn’t charge much rent, because she was given the apt. for free…) It’s sad that these affordable apartments in a great location (the president’s mom lives in our neighborhood) are being privatized and as is remniscent of gentrification in the states, middle class families (such as mine) are being forced out to less desirable locations.

In fact, this is happening all over the city, where large mc-mansion type homes are going up where little clusters of lower-income huts had just stood. In fact, I remember when we first arrived our elitist “friend” Thar informed us “don’t worry. Our president will is planning on cleaning this area out.” Thinking we were offended by the clusters of one-room homes on the side of the hill. Where everyone will be relocated to, I have no clue, but I also have no idea who can afford these mansions that are going up everywhere you look…sadly I think most of them are for mzungus and other foreign investors.

I know Farida has family she can stay with and she is a lot better off then other single mothers I have met—she manages a petrol station, so has a steady income. Actually I went to her “office” last weekend, and I can’t believe how boring her job must be. She sits in a completely bare office from 7am-6pm 6 days a week. She has to manage money that comes in, but other than that, there’s not much. No computer, no company. She says she brings a book to read sometimes, but for the most part she is extremely bored.

So as of Sept. 21st, I guess I will be part of the homeless diaspera myself…(just kidding of course. I’m sure I can find something for two weeks.) From what I’ve heard there are no tenant laws here, and even if there were, few could afford to take a landlord to court. I hope Farida can find housing as comfortable as our current set up.

My room (which is more comfortable than it looks!!)