Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Lessons for a Rainy Day

il pleut in french, stair rods in our British neighbor's vernacular, and cats and dogs from where I come from. Anyway you choose to say it; today it rained. hard.

Rainstorms come up quickly and with little notice. The wind picks up and storm clouds gather in an instant. It rains a lot, in fact, and I walk a lot -- when you put those odds together, well.

Once, walking back from town the bottom fell out; I was half way to town, half way home, and a long way from any covering. I stopped running as it picked up and succumbed to a slow defeated pace. Some people ran past; but I was too far away from home for it to make any difference except to my pride. I was dripping from head to toe and mud all along my ankles when I saw a carload of familiar faces waving me down in a passing jeep. "Get in!" Pastor Adrian yelled. Pastor Sam climbed into the back and I was soon shivering happily and chatting away in a car full of friends. The ride did little much in my state of saturation, but we had quite a fun impromptu visit.

Today, I walked home from the bus station in town. I knew I wouldn't make it home before it rained; I just hoped I would get close. Big drops began to fall and then a heavy drizzle. I opened my bag optimistically although knowing full well that I had, again, forgotten any sort of rain gear. I stopped underneath magazin chine for cover. It lightened to a mist and once again I was off. I made it all the way to the Catholic church before having to stop again.

People along my same pace headed to the church for cover and I, in fact, took my cue from them doing the same. There were many people already huddled under the awning. We were all there together; waiting out the rain as a community. The rain picked up so that even motos pulled off the road to seek shelter under the awning. One of them carrying as their passenger a friend from St. Etienne. Not knowing much Kinyaranda and her not much English we exchanged pleasantries and smiles. The small awning providing a place to catch up, neighbor with neighbor.

We slowly drifted out from underneath the awning. Each in accordance to his level of bravery. Soon after making an exodus of my own, I passed by the two guards outside the Russian embassy who have befriended Rob and me. Our friendship began after I first cracked them up early upon our arrival by running into a low hanging awning with my umbrella. (rain gear can be tricky). Since that unfortunate event they always speak and smile. They often see Rob and I walking into or out of town together and ask about our day. As I walked by, I smiled and stated in defense of my appearance, "il pleut." "Yego, I-M-V-U-R-A" they instructively replied. "Imvura" I responded, nodding that I had grasped their mini language lesson.

I spent the rest of the walk home ignoring the rain and chanting to myself, "imvura imvura imvura." I hoped to remember it so that I could impress the guards that stand at our gate. Like a child, I spoke my new word to anyone who gave a friendly nod my way and received affirmations of "Yego", smiles, and giggles. Finally arriving at the gate I triumphantly exclaimed, "IMVURA." Our guard burst forth the biggest smile I've seen from him yet and replied, "Yego, imvura cyane". Indeed, it was raining a lot.

In the end, my forgotten rain gear provided the perfect setting for a contextual language lesson to take place that won't soon be forgotten. However, I must say that I also wouldn't mind learning the Kinyarwanda word for umbrella.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Fresh Strawberries

A merchant came by the house selling fresh Strawberries and mangos. I bought 1.5 kilos of mangos (3 large ones) and about a quart of fresh strawberries. The price was good and I think we worked out for him to come around every Thursday; a day when he sells both fruits and veggies.

So what’s a girl to do with so many fresh strawberries? Make strawberry muffins of course! Rob was arriving later that day after being out of town and I thought it would be a nice treat to come home to.

The recipe:
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2/3 raw sugar
1 teas. Baking soda
3/4 teas. Ground cinnamon +plus a little more b/c I like it
1/2 teas. Coarse ground salt
1 1/2 cup fresh sliced strawberries
1 cup vanilla yogurt
Less than 1/3 cup melted margarine
1 1/4 teas almond extract (or vanilla)
1 egg lightly beaten Oil to grease the muffin pan and extra sugar for dusting the top of the muffins

Stir the flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt together in a large bowl. Dump in all the strawberries and stir in well. Add the wet ingredients: yogurt, melted margarine, extract, and beaten egg. Fold in well until moistened. Spoon out into muffin cups and sprinkle with the extra sugar. The recipe makes a dozen and a half large muffins.

Bake at 350 (or 180ish for my celcius friends) for about 30 minutes. The muffins turned out wonderfully. They had a fresh, healthy taste (almost oaty) and were a delicious brown with little bits of strawberry exposed along the edges. The recipe that I modified suggested along with the one whole egg to add 2 egg whites. Next time I may do this to get a fluffier muffin, but I liked the density of the first batch so much that I’m not sure yet. We started eating them right away hot from the oven and even invited our neighbor over for a few with tea. We then shared them again for breakfast on Saturday before going to the tea plantation and finally finished them off Sunday with our “after church gang” with coffee. They were a hit to say the least.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


I met two sweet women at Mercy House earlier this week. (Thanks again for the Riesins. They were tasty.) The women were visiting from the states and one of them is sending 2 young ladies about my age to work in Rwanda for the summer. She asked if I could write something up for them so they may better know what to expect. Heavens yes! I wish someone had been able to sit down with us and give us the same.

So ladies, here it is, a top ten list

1. Rwanda is beautiful, you'll be amazed.

2. Cooking mixes - alfredo sauce, muffins, chinese stir fry. I wasn't big on these in the states, but they can take a simple meal of noodles and kick it up quite a few notches. This is presuming you will have a kitchen. Know that no meal is quick to make unless its peeling an avocado; but you get used to it.

3. Milton Sterilizing Fluid - (buy this in Kigali) It's available for like $5 USD and one bottle will last you your entire stay. It's intended purpose is to sterilize baby bottles, but it is the best stuff for making all your tasty market purchases safe to eat raw. (I even use it to clean veggies I know I'm going to cook and on egg shells just to prevent cross contamination). The bottle gives clear directions how to use it - you can even sterilize drinking water with it.

4. The word mzungu means foreigner. Get used to it, you'll hear it so much you'll wonder if people think it's your name.

5. Bring sunblock and some kind of facial cleanser. The roads are dusty and it feels good to have a clean face. I would also bring other toiletries you "can't live without" and a fragrant body wash. When your day has been hard, its nice to come home and have a way to smell girly. All these you can buy here, it's just more expensive. Shampoo/conditioner, bring enough to last through your stay. You won't be able to find the kind you like here and if you do it will be $8-10 USD.

6. Living in Kigali, I feel very safe. We've had some friends who've been pick-pocketed but who've also made themselves easy targets. I don't walk around by myself after dark, but I have several girlfriends that do, and they've not had problems. Just follow the normal traveling abroad safety rules.

7. Start thinking of ways to get involved in your communities before you get on the plane; whether it's at church, an orphanage, teaching english, etc. This way you'll make the most of your time here and hit the ground running.

8. If you say anything about feeling bad in front of a Rwandan, they will most likely say, "I felt like that once, or so-in-so felt like that once, and they had malaria. I don't know why; but don't worry. Personally, I think it would be rare for you to get malaria here, especially in Kigali. Most say Kigali's altitude is too high for malaria carrying mosquitoes to live. Sleep under the mosquito nets (malaria carrying mosquitoes are active in the wee hours of the morning) and use repellent if you find yourself getting bit often.

9. If you are an active person, bring exercise equipment that's lightweight and easy to pack, although you'll probably be doing a lot of de facto walking anyway. Rob loves having some Frisbees around and I deflated my giant exercise ball and love having it here! And when you go home, you can give these things away and with all the extra room from your used up toiletries you'll have a lot of space to bring things back home to friends and family.

10. Even though English has now replaced French as an official language, brushing up on your French can still help get you out of a pinch. There are also several online resources for Kinyarwanda. Good luck finding a print edition in a bookshop, though.

If you want another way to talk to family and friends besides skype (which hasn't been working all that great recently) you may want to pick up a magic jack before you leave. I think they're about $40 in the states. Supposedly you plug one end into your computer and the other into a landline phone and you have a free connection to the states, U.S. phone number included. (Your first year of service is included in the initial price.) My dad sent us one for Christmas, but we shorted out the phone by plugging it into an outlet here. Oops. We're currently looking for a phone, so I won't know if it works for a few more days (week probably).

You can pick up universal adapters in town for about 2 bucks, but you may just want to bring one or two of those along with you.

I guess that turned out to be more than 10. Leave a note in the comments section if you have some questions. The entire blog is full of real world case studies about our life here; I started it just weeks before we arrived in Kigali. So it's a good resource. Also, Rob's blog is linked from mine under the title, blogs I like in the right hand column .

African Development

Arriving at Kimironko, on a busy day, around twenty young teenage boys hop in the back of our truck, run alongside shouting into the windows, and clamor among themselves who was first. Once out of the truck there is no such thing as personal space and everyone wants a job telling you what they will do: "I will watch your car", "I will hold your bag", "I will translate", "I will get the best price", "I will find mangos, you want mangos?" Followed by a crowd of job seekers, a mzungu walking through the market draws a lot of attention and sales pitches.

The first time this happened, I wanted to turn around and go home. It was way too much stimulation for me; every sense was overwhelmed with foreignness, bewilderment. I was so sure the market was going to be one of my favorite places and I left after that first visit with a headache and no food. I was so disappointed. We can shop at Nakumatt, no big deal- I told myself. But even though Nakumatt is most assuredly an African experience, Kimironko is where Kigali shops. Kimironko would have been a good place to get to know our neighbors.

A couple weeks later Rob talked me into giving it one more try. "I just want to find where it is", he said. I didn't want to go; not at all. I did; however, want to be on board for his second stop, so I reluctantly agreed. I spent the whole trip memorizing Kinyarwanda phrases that would be helpful for dealing with the attention and before I was ready we were there.

We pulled down the bumpy dirt road and I picked the first boy that ran along with our car, asked him his name and said "David, You watch our car? Cent francs? Okay. No one else." David kept the other boys away from his sale as we parked. And I when I got out and the others started to ask if they could watch our car I smiled politely and said, "No, It's David" and kept walking into the market. If you're wondering, paying someone to watch our car is not at all necessary. And makes no sense to me, but it's just something I presume all mzungus are expected to do. For one thing 100 francs is not going to persuade any teenage boy to stop someone from stealing our Truck, two, no one would try to steal our truck there, and three, the market has parking attendants who we also pay 100 francs. I digress.

Boys asked to hold my bags as we walked in and I said plainly and simply, "No, Don't Need." "Oya, Mwarakoze." Now, it's true that your bags can get very heavy depending on how much you're shopping. Think no buggy, just bags. So, one day I probably will accept their offer, but I thought it was important to start out as self sufficient and "normal" as possible. And as far as needing someone to translate; if someone wants to sell to you, you can always find a way of understanding each other. Along with the guys in the post office helping me with my currency vocabulary, I'm coming along nicely with market communication.

I found that as I established a clear set of boundaries and communication, I had more ease to move about the market freely with less boys tagging along and less shouts of sales directed my way. I was able to make friends with the women selling vegetables and stop and chat with the store front owners. I began to enjoy the market like I wanted to.

I now frequently go to the market with friends and it has become one of my favorite things to do. But, becoming assertive here has definitely been a longer process. In the hustle and bustle of a market setting a definite no, is sometimes the only one heard. I don't think so, translates into try harder. And in a bargaining culture, the idea of not negotiating a price out of politeness-sake is absurd. I've had to drop my softening words and phrases, like maybe and kinda and probably; these words just make sentences longer and confuse the listener. When giving instructions to people who are helping us, I have to be clear and concisely lay out terms and expectations.

It took a lot of effort at first, to be bolder and more direct. My stomach would knot up and looking back I probably used a lot more words than necessary to get my wants across. But slowly, it's become easier and my preference. In the end, it saves more strife to communicate clearly from the start so that people understand you better. Along with adjusting to a new culture comes an adjustment to how you use your own cultural tendencies-or should I say personality - in your new setting. I've had a communication adjustment and am now a much bolder happier girl.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Jobs and Babies

So I haven't been blogging much lately at all. I told Rob that I hated not writing, but lately my mind had just been consumed with thinking about jobs and babies. Jobs and babies, who writes about these things on blogs and not really even ABOUT them, just THINKING about them.

Rob suggested that I do

So, perhaps a short little blog about jobs and babies will pacify this mental fixation and allow me to write about more interesting things and not be distracted from blogging in the future.

What do I think about jobs and babies? Well, I think I would like them, I think I would be good at having them, and I've been doing lots of research on both.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Tonight, on American soil, I watched the 44th president of the United States take office. There had been a buzz around town all day, advertisements of special dinners with live television feeds, and several drop in visitors each with the name Obama on their lips.

This morning, over our breakfast Deutsche Welle broadcast loud and clear that the world was waiting for this president and waiting for the sun to rise in the West.

Rob and I voted early before we left Georgia, were in D.C. on election night, and I could think of no better place to be than the embassy for the celebration this evening. As most other 20s and 30 somethings our age, I voted for the hope of change, the revoking of fear, and the promise to move America forward. Politics aside, the magnitude to me of this inauguration of an American President was so much greater than I had experienced before.

As I watched CNN pan the steps of the Capitol, I thought, I’ve been there before. I sit here in Africa on this little patch of grass and I’m watching this event take place from outside the borders of my home. It felt strange to know that world so well, that place so well and be so far away in a foreign land. Here on my little patch of grass, watching on a small television outside in the cool of the day, I shared the experience with people who a few months ago were strangers, yet tonight and for the duration of our time here, people who have become our American family.

I felt the pangs of homesickness as I heard English so loud and clear and saw the faces of America bundled up in hats and scarves against winter’s chill. I saw the signal switch between crowds gathered in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Memphis; America. Home.

I’ve never particularly felt American. I’ve never fully identified. I’ve often felt like we were a people without a culture, a hodge podge of immigrants. Perhaps this comes from being part of a generation which has grown up without a Great Depression, without World Wars, and without the memory of mother countries fresh in our minds. A generation that feels no ill effects from being at war and no knowledge of what it feels like to be without the freedom we enjoy or comprehend the price at which was bought.

But tonight, it felt different to be American; whether it was the romanticism of being away, the tears of homesickness welling up inside, the hope for a new era of America or a self discovery brought on by expatriate living, tonight I felt American. Being American no longer felt like an absence of culture; but a frame of mind. Not an absence of a common heritage, but the belief in a common ideal. I felt that by claiming American, I was claiming a land where people believed in hard work to achieve a better life for their families and their neighbors; where people were up for the struggle of doing what’s right in their world. Listening to Obama’s speech, excitement stirred inside as I wondered what America would do next. How fast will America rise again, in technology, innovation, and as a friend to the nations? What will ‘free men and women achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage’?

It was not just to those on the Mall or to Americans scattered all over the world that Obama spoke this evening. He spoke to Rwandans as well. “To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds.” A Rwandese man behind me elbowed his friend’s side and excitedly whispered, “That’s Rwanda, He’s going to help Rwanda!”

As the evening concluded, I reflected on this amazing feat of a peaceful transfer of power; I sat quietly and in awe. On a continent where the transition of power is rare, if ever peaceful, I thought how amazing it is that our leaders voluntarily hand over power to the newly elected. It’s not even a question. What a gift that is to its citizens.

Monday, January 12, 2009

When you Give a Two Year Old an Egg

I went to the market the other day with my friend Anne and her two year old daughter. As I watched a man hand the two year old an egg, which she immediately put in her mouth, my not-yet-maternal mind raced to things like: bird flu, e-coli, salmonella, etc. How can you keep a two year old from grabbing everything and “tasting” it? You can’t. I guess you just hope it’s building their little immune systems and pray. Good news: to our surprise the egg turned out to be a hard-boiled “less dangerous” snack which makes much more sense to hand to a two year old than a raw egg.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

A Recipe from our Table to Yours

Just because I love to cook and because cooking occupies a lot of my time here, I present recipes from Kigali. Perhaps you would like to know how we eat on a daily basis or try to replicate these so that you can be "dining with us!"

I bought think sliced ham from Nakumatt and pan-fried it in olive oil, garlic, thyme and tarragon. Then I got to work slicing my market vegetables very thin: sweet potatoes, green bell peppers, onions, carrots, Mmm. I also pan-fried these in olive oil and garlic. When I was little, a staple side dish my mom would make was fried potatoes and onions. I guess this is a little African variation on that beloved recipe. As the ham finished cooking, I grabbed some left over noodles from the fridge and warmed them up in the same pan that I cooked the ham. I'll say I reheated the pasta in this pan to add seasoning to the noodles, rather than to save me another dirty dish to wash! Either way, two birds, one stone.

And voila!

A lovely meal for two.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Driving in Kigali

As a disclaimer it must be made known that I have not driven in Kigali nor do I have any intentions of doing so. I rely mostly on Rob and Musoni to take care of all my driving needs. I have never been particularly fond of driving so being here I have the perfect mix of excuses and legitimate reasons why I shouldn't drive. One - The truck we have is a stick shift and while I've driven one before (on a farm in south GA) I'm not up for the refresher course Rob's offered. And two- I'm easily distracted. It seems there are so many more things to watch out for driving here It's just not going to happen.... that being said, this is everything I know about driving in Kigali.

1. Directions are pretty hard. Road name markers are hard to come by. Everyone has given me directions based on 5 or 6 roundabouts. That becomes easy enough once you learn the distinguishing factor of each, but try to get to someone's house. That's difficult! I give directions to our house based on number of speed bumps and our church. For getting to others' homes I'm glad Rob has a good sense of direction. I just smile and nod and hope he's getting it. Before this, across from that, but if you get to the slight fork in the road you've gone too far. Confusing!

2. Once you're on your way, watch out! Motorcycles whip in and out of tiny gaps between traffic, 2 lane roads hold 4 vehicles wide in a moments notice, and pedestrians could care less that you're going 50 mph in a two ton vehicle.

3. There also exists an intricate language consisting of headlight flashes and beeps. Some examples: if you beep first, you get the right of way. You honk if you're passing to tell the passee that you're on their left. I have never heard so many cars honking so consistently before, mostly not in anger, just communication. And oh if there's a wedding, you wouldn't believe the honking that follows! Some warnings: Headlights on a clear day say "all clear, no cops"; lights flashing say, "slow it down there's a cop ahead".

4. In kindergarten we received marks on how well we colored inside the lines. No such thing exists on Kigali roadways. If your passing on the left and think, my this lane is nicer. Feel free to stay in it. No need to drive only on the right.

5. Cops have no radar detectors, and there are no posted speed limits. But that doesn't stop traffic cops from doing their jobs. We were pulled over for speeding on the way home from Kibuye. And we were speeding (and overtaking...multiple counts).
Speeding and speeding fines are big deals in Rwanda. Think you can bribe a cop, think again. No way, that's going to happen.

6. So, say you were fine with driving a stick, watching out for motos, sharing your lane space with other cars, speaking the diesel language, keeping tabs on people consistently inches from your bumper, while remembering where to turn. If all that you had under control, you should also beware of eight year old boys trying to hitch a ride without your knowing.

Rob has had multiple instances of discovering stowaways in the bed of his truck. He'll hear a subtle clank clank as they climb aboard and then just see the tops of their little heads huddling down near the cab. He'll pull over, give a tap tap tap on the roof and the boys will realize the gig's up and hop out with sheepish grins. This really puzzled us at first, they have no idea where we're going, why are they getting in the truck. Then, one day as we were stuck in some wedding traffic (horns going crazy) we notice we were being eyed by a young boy. Thinking he was staring at the mzungus we paid him no attention until we saw he had slowed his pace to get even with the bed of the truck. He gave himself away with the look in his eyes and his ride was over before it began. Joyriding! This is what these boys are after! They could care less where they end up, all the joy is in the journey for them.

Other things to watch out for: No one is allowed to be out driving on the last Saturday morning of every month. This is when Umaganda (community service morning) takes place and the only reasons for not being apart of it include going to the airport, hospital, and being a 7th day Adventist (and I've even heard that some of these are being cracked down on too!) But really there's no need to be out driving this morning, because nothing is open until afternoon anyway.

And finally, though we have yet to personally experienced it, we have been duly warned about the speedy whirlwind of the president's motorcade. If you see it coming stop; just stop. Don't try to get out of the way, don't look for a place to pull over. Just stop. This will keep everyone happy and you out of trouble.

There it is; everything a non-driver knows about driving in Kigali.


Rob and I have been here almost two months to the day.

Even though our transition here has been smooth, there are still some things I miss badly. Apart from family, number two for me has got to be grocery stores. In Atlanta we had fantastic grocery stores: Whole Foods, Publix, Kroger, Trader Joes, International Food Warehouses, and every type of specialty store you could imagine.

I miss choice, I miss variety, I miss imports, I miss out of season fruits flown in from Mexico, I miss fresh fish and aisles of frozen pizzas. I miss ingredient labels that I can read (or just ingredient labels period).

I used to roll my eyes at an entire half aisle devoted to different types of mayonnaise - low fat, nonfat, nothing but fat, with olive oil, with lime, with poly unsaturated fats and omega-3. Now, I want to have to chose from all of these. And even though we rarely bought cereal before, I've decided I do need an entire grocery aisle devoted to it. An aisle lined with cartoon characters and boxes filled with prizes.

Rob and I shopped at farmers markets a ton before Rwanda. I was also once paid in veggies by a local organic farm for my work there. I bought locally whenever possible and made sure we ate as wholesome as possible to begin a habit of feeding my family good foods, while also supporting local farming efforts and thrifty shopping. So I don't feel at all guilty for missing rows and rows of coke and snack chips and a meat department stocked with any cut of any meat I could want.

I will not be an expat who returns and touts, "in Rwanda I could get a pineapple for a dollar," or, "in Rwanda, everything we ate was fresh." Fresh, maybe, we've got eggs fresher than I've ever wanted, but where they come from I have no idea whether it's my next door neighbor or a government egg cooperative. As Americans we like disclosure, transparency. As Americans, choice makes us happy. It doesn't matter that we kept our budget so tight that we didn't shop at Whole Foods, or that we never bought the latest snack food that came out. What matters is that it was there and I could choose to buy it or not.

The aspect of choice permeates American culture from childhood on; Parent's tell their kids you can choose what after school sport to do, would you like to be a lawyer or doctor, what ramifications are there, if any, for children who choose not to do their homework? Choice. It is everywhere in our culture. In hindsight, I should have expected this adjustment as an avid lover of food, but I didn't realize then how limited food choices would be such a fundamental adjustment. There is just something about the presence of choice that makes Americans feel happier, wealthier, more complete, more in control.

If I ever begin to romanticize about how well we ate in Rwanda (and we absolutely do eat well), I will march myself down to Central Market or Roots in Lancaster County and enjoy fresh local foods there. Missing grocery stores now will not change our family's eating habits or shake my love of fresh foods and simple cooking values. However, I am confident that the next time I go into an American grocery store I'll whisper a little prayer and stare at shiny foil packages, pre-prepared meals, and baking mixes for hours. I will buy my favorite off-brand $2 granola bars and walk out quite a happy girl.

Oh home, land of many choices.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Coming Soon Posts!

I'll Posts Two Entries Later Today