Recent Realizations and Revelations in Rwanda

1. The etymology of the word “muzungu” is hilarious.

The word Muzungu, which is what foreigners/”white people” are called here in Rwanda, has a hilarious history. I was googling the spelling to make sure it was correct, and found this description. According to Wikipedia (obviously the most reputable of sources): “The word Muzungu comes from Kiswahili, where ‘zungu’ is the word for spinning around on the same spot. That dizzy lost look was perfected by the first white people arriving in the African Great Lakes. Muzunguzungu is Kiswahili for a dizzy person. The term is now used to refer to someone with white skin.” Hilarious!

2. Sometimes I think that everyone at the village has their watch set an hour behind mine.

Did daylight savings happen and I was not informed?! “African Time” is no joke here – nothing begins on time. This applies to everything, other than meals. Paradoxically, there is a huge emphasis on time management at the village. One kid in each family is in charge of “time management,” it is a constant topic of conversation, and each enrichment year kid is even given a watch at the start of the year. The follow-through is far from the expectations – for staff and kids alike. Hour-long staff meetings that are scheduled to start at 8 often start around 8:30 and staff will still trickle in at 8:45. Occasionally, though, a meeting will start on time, so I still show up on time for meetings. There was one event recently that was scheduled to last one hour. It started 20 minutes late, and ended THREE HOURS later than planned. That one doesn’t even make sense to me! Especially as we sat there the whole time waiting for lunch, as it had been 9 hours since the village had eaten breakfast. Patience really is a virtue here. While I feel I am a patient person, I am learning a whole new meaning with my adjusted view of time management and learning the true meaning of African Time.

3. Helmets on motos are kiiiiiind of useless here.

UNLESS you learn the tricks. For me? I make sure I have a hairtie to tie the exess of the moto strap that will not adjust beneath my chin. So the issue is that the helmets are usually not adjustable and are WAY too big for a normal sized head. One time, the helmet fell down over my eyes, and because we were speeding down the hilly dirt roads, I was too scared to move my hands to adjust it, so I spent most of the ride basically with a blindfold on. It is fortunate that it is the law that moto drivers wear a helmet and have an extra helmet for the passanger. Moto rides are simultaneously absolutely exhilarating and absolutely terrifying. In Kigali they are our primary form of transportation, and on the paved roads, are really not bad. On the hilly dirt roads back in Rwamagana district, however, I usually find myself gripping on for dear life (though I am making progress and sometimes only need to use one hand to grip on at a time). Let me tell ya, that 30 minute moto ride through the hills and dirt roads to the city center of Rwamagana… if you ever want an authentic “wind blown” look to your hair, that’ll do it.

4. The ritual of getting rid of a few cockroaches is totally worth being able to take a hot shower at the ASYV house in Kigali.

So we are still without running water in the village, other than the occasional hour or so of water that will come on late at night maybe once or twice a week… so you have to be lucky to catch that water. We have all taken to hoarding water in large bottles, because even the rain basins have run dry (and when it rains, the kids immediately use all of that water up). The dining hall has drinking water (thankfully!), and a outdoor faucet that works, but the 10 minute walk with a jerrycan of water (SO HEAVY) back to the house is only debatably doable. While at the village, I have only taken two showers with running water, both under the faucet that is at waist height. I have actually gotten super used to bucket/water bottle showers, and not having running water. Needless to say, however, going to the Kigali house, and not only having running water, but having hot water for showers is beyond a luxury. Honestly, I don’t even think the word luxury suffices in my mind right now. Having to kill a few of the largest cockroaches that I’ve ever seen in my life (Shelby – if you’re reading this, I’m sorry for your dear cockroach friend Hal) is well worth it for a hot shower. Rachel and I have become a pretty killer cockroach removing team (pun intended – sorry again Shelbs).

5. A Mattress/Liquor shop makes total sense.

There is a small bar that we go to in Rubona at night sometimes, about a 20 minute walk from ASYV. While the bar is not what I expected, it is exactly what I should have expected in the village of Rubona. The bar is basically a little room, and an outside area with plastic chairs and tables. The bar sells beer/soda and goat brochette/plantains, but you can bring drinks in from outside. There is a shop that sells liquor right outside the bar, which seems to sell two main products: liquor and mattresses. Since I am not a big fan of beer, I sometimes will get gin and have gin with fanta (classy, right?!). In the little shop, you have to squeeze around the tall stack of mattresses to see the bottles gin and whiskey. Mattresses and liquor… why not?!

6. Goodbyes are apparently totally unnecessary on the phone.

I don’t think I will ever get used to this. No matter who the phone call is with, if the person on the other end feels that the conversation is over, they will hang up. It is not out of rudeness, but just the norm here.

7. Apparently muzungus really want laminated maps of Rwanda, flash drives, and taxi rides.

Walking through Kigali as a muzungu, its impossible to not be bombarded by vendors trying to sell things. It’s not street food and souvenirs like many places I have been, but instead, maps of Rwanda, English-Kinyarwanda-French dictionaries, flash drives, cell phone minutes, and taxi rides. Even when I’m clearly walking somewhere, I get several dozen honks and inquiries on whether I need a moto or taxi ride (not all Americans are so lazy that we can’t walk!). I find myself walking through the crowded parts of the city repeating “oya, murakoze, oya” (no, thank you, no) as I’m approached by vendor after vendor. They are all super friendly, but it’s really a hilarious combination of items to be selling.

8. The fastest that kids will walk is when they are late for dinner.

Growing up in the Northeastern US, I have had to adapt my expectations from living in a fast-paced environment to life here at the village. I’ve gotten used to talking much slower, the Internet loading much slower, and meetings lasting much longer. I have also had to adjust my pace of walking, as the kids here walk at a very “leisurely” pace. The “running” during mucakamucaka (the Saturday morning run) is often no faster than a slightly faster walk using a motion resembling running. However, the quickest I have ever seen the kids walking is when they are late for dinner in the dining hall. There is a lack of forks in the dining hall, and if you are late, you will often not get a fork, and will definitely miss out on prime meal dishes (like potatoes, and the rare salad, corn, or avocado).

9. It is probably not good to recommend to “lather President Kagame” in an application essay. Rather and lather are very different words.

I know I’ve mentioned this before, but it is still difficult to remember that l’s and r’s are used interchangeably in most words here. Not only does it make a pretty big difference if one of my girls is telling me that she is going to pray or play (which is pronounced exactly the same), but my favorite is the difference between rather and lather. I was editing one student’s application essay for a scholarship for a university in Ghana, and it remarked that he would “lather President Kagame.” At first I was like whaaaatt thaaa… until I realized that he meant that he would “rather Presdient Kagame” do something. Definitely made more sense.

10. “Truth or Dare” is just as uncomfortable and awkward and hilarious no matter the country.

During family time last week, a family of Senior 6 boys (equivalent to seniors in high school) who live in the house behind my girls, joined us for conversation and games. This was the first time I was truly reminded that these kids are high schoolers. They have the exact same emotions and reactions as I had in middle school/high school (and quite honestly, felt watching them as a 23 year old college graduate!). As the boys walked in, Mama and a few of the girls took it upon themselves to insist that the families sit amongst one anther instead of segregated, so they grabbed the boys by the hands and walked them to different spots in the room (a process that took a good 10 or 15 minutes). We chatted, and had a few planned activities, then the boys had planned a game of Truth or Dare. Hilarious. “TRUTH: What boy in this room do you love?” “DARE: Dance in the middle of the room” “TRUTH: Who is your crush?” “DARE: Hug the boy across from you.” I felt like I was at a co-ed party in middle school. The girls were so nervous and giddy. Some things are just unbelievably universal.

11. Just because you think someone is a Rwandan ambassador does not mean that she is.

So. We’re still not really sure how this one happened. Somehow, we thought that this woman who visited the village was the Rwandan ambassador to Switzerland. Turns out that she is not. We think this myth may have started because someone referred to her as “our” – meaning Agahozo-Shalom’s – ambassador in Switzerland, because she is running a fundraiser for ASYV with the Rwandan ex-pat community in Switzerland, but that turned into all of the cousins full-on thinking for a week that she was the official Rwandan ambassador to Switzerland… until Rachel and I were doing yoga with her (she’s a really awesome person, and a yogi, and so cool), and Rachel said something to her about being the ambassador… and in all of our embarrassment, we learned that we were greatly mistaken. Hilarious.

Though we did actually meet the US Ambassador to Rwanda last week. And it was actually Tony Blair who visited the village this week.



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