Thursday, June 24, 2010

Pictures from the Third Week

Food and Football

Life becomes more routine after almost a month –  it has now been longer than any other period of time I’ve spent abroad.

I have been unfair in calling the meals expensive – one can get a healthy buffet for about $3 plus $1 for a drink. As yet I haven’t tried out any pricey places that might serve more exciting fare. I stand firm on my opinion of the monotony of the food – but it can’t be said not to be nutritious or filling, and I have yet to get sick from eating anything even in rural towns. Yes I make a big deal about food – and my roommates and family can attest to my occasional fussiness :). This past weekend I happily joined a Zambian friend in his apartment to watch football (I’ll use the more widely used term for soccer as long as I’m not in the US) and eat lunch. The guy, Greg, has a Japanese wife and is really worldly – we connect pretty well. I had some ugali, rice, tender meat, cooked vegetables, and real chile peppers that Greg had brought up from Zambia. One of the best meals here so far.  

This evening I made beef with bell peppers and onions, beans, and raw sliced tomatoes. The tomatoes here are small, beautifully bright red all the way through, and delicious with a great firm texture. Not always what you get in the US. I had my friend Greg over and his young son came along, and we happily cheered Japan’s victory over Denmark. Unfortunately I didn’t impress them with my food – his son apparently found a weevil in one of the beans. Frustrating as I had carefully sorted through all the beans before cooking them, tossing out pebbles, stems, twigs, bad beans, and other detritus. Not sure if this happens with beans in the US as my parents have always cooked raw beans – I’ve only done it from the can. Oh well they said they liked the meat.

Apparently the nice houses I ran by a couple weeks ago cost about a quarter of a million US dollars. This from another American staying at the apartment who has been here about a year.

Even though I only have 16 channels here at the apartment, I enjoy the TV more than I do at home. In part because it is a conduit of Western culture when I’m alone here at the apartment, but also because in that 16 channels is more stuff that I actually want to see. No shopping channels! A music channel that actually plays music videos all day long, from America, Europe, and African stars. 3 sports channels, currently playing either the World Cup or rallies across the Australian Outback. I get both Animal Planet and National Geographic Wild, which I know makes Dad extremely jealous. CNN, BBC, and Al Jazeera feed the news, and I even have a couple of channels that play off-beat American movies and for some reason, sci-fi in the form of Caprica (apparently replacing Stargate SG-1, sorry Carilli). Rwanda has a national channel, but it is usually in Kinyarwanda or French. Sometimes I watch French game shows on TV-Monde – they are entertaining  even with minimal understanding.

The American victory over Algeria the other day was extra sweet because I obtained some sour cream & onion Pringles beforehand! Oh processed joy.

Take care everyone.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Picture of the Week

Picture of the week sounds more prestigious than it is. Mostly I'm just uploading one for the moment because of the limited internet.

For those of you with short attention spans or who think I’m a pompous windbag with my previous lengthy entry, I’ve condensed the first couple weeks of life into the lists below.

Top 5 Things I like About Rwanda

1. Having time to reflect
2. Riding motorcycles as cheap transportation
3. Perfect, I mean perfect, weather
4. Beautiful views
5. A music video channel that actually plays music videos all day long (even if it doesn’t come from Rwanda)

Top 5 Things I Dislike About Rwanda

1. Expensive meals
2. Tough meat
3. Lack of chicken
4. Eating chips (French fries) too often
5. The party doesn’t start till midnight

Top 5 Things I Haven’t Decided On Yet

1. The immense popularity of Eminem
2. My old school Nokia phone
3. Mobile Broadband Internet
4. African soap operas
5. All cash transactions

Settling In

Over the past week I spent some time in the field with the second Alex I have met in Rwanda. This one is a Rwandan who works for the Rwandan Agriculture Development Authority (RADA).

On Wednesday night I spent the night in a place called Huye, and it turned out that Eric Dwyer, a contact I was put in touch with before coming, lived there in Butare, which is essentially the same place as Huye. He was having dinner with a friend when I got in touch with him, and he invited me over. Hilda, a Belgian woman who worked with vocational education programs, was dining with him. She told a story about a Rwandan named Jean-Pierre, who apparently could be a world-class marathon runner, but instead of pursuing a career in this, runs a camp for kid athletes.

Eric had a story about arranging for trash to be picked up. After moving into a house in Butare paid for by the university, he started to notice trash in the backyard. Eric thought it might be blown by the wind or thrown over by some kids, until it kept piling up. Turns out, it was HIS trash, and the guy who helped with the house, Israel, didn’t think it was that big of a deal.  Talking to the university, they told him that the previous tenants had just dug a hole for trash. Eric felt like he was demanding too much, but he just couldn’t deal with a hole. A university administrator agreed to come look at the situation in a week. Too long. Eric found out about a woman who ran a trash pickup service. When he met her, he encountered a beautiful woman dressed in regal traditional dress. What a trash lady! However, she charged 25,000 Rwandan francs (amafaranga in the local lexicon; exchange rate approx 580 RF = 1 USD) for a month of weekly service. There was a plan for a family of 4 for 5000 RF…Eric was baffled by the difference, but then the woman said, “Well, you people make more trash.” When Eric told Israel, he said he would go talk to her. Israel proudly stated, “I am African, I am cheaper!” Eric joked with Israel that he had just spent all day at the 7th Day Adventist  church and was ready to lie for Eric. Anyway Israel ended up finding a 17-year-old boy with a large bag who would pick up the trash three times a week for 2500 RF/month. It was the boy’s first job…After the first week of blissful trash removal, a thought crept into Eric’s head, and he tentatively asked Israel what the boy did with the trash. Israel answered, “He – have – hole!”

Friday afternoon I went on my first run in Africa. After slathering on sunscreen, putting on my running clothes, and plugging myself into my iPod, I headed out on my mission. Turning left outside the apartment gates, I went just a few feet before turning down a dirt road that went almost straight down a steep hill. Already I drew stares as my feet pounded and I breathlessly uttered “Mirwe” (hello) to people I made eye contact with. After reaching the bottom of the hill below the apartment complex, my first target was in site, a beautiful golf course with a large reservoir at the end near me. It was strange to see people golfing after I had just run down a dirt road past extremely poor people. I ran past the golf course, which was in a valley, and part of the way up another hill, to arrive at the front gates of beautiful mansions – at least what I would call mansions with my upbringing in the US. These places were nicer than almost anything you could find in Las Cruces, though not at the level of a Hollywood celeb’s. Tall fences, heavy gates, armed guards, and manicured lawns. As I ran along the curving street in front of these houses, I passed a fitness club where the children of the elite were swimming and playing tennis while uniformed staff waited with drinks and tended a barbecue. A while later and I was looking for a road to try to get back to the apartment. The roads in Rwanda follow the contours of the hills, and so there are few cross streets – not really any grid to speak of. I took the first one I reached, a dirt road that twisted in the general direction of the apartment area, which I had lost sight of – significant when one considers that it is on the crest of a tall hill, which I was beneath. Running through slums once again, I received a mix of cheerful, amused, impassive, and slightly annoyed looks. Some children would try to run behind me until their mothers called them back, and nearly all of them would cheerfully shout “Muzungu!” (white person – not sure if it’s the same for males and females). Some would also call out “Muzungu, amafaranga, give me money!” Most mothers didn’t even glance up from their work when I went by. Men would either wave, do nothing, or stare with a what-the-hell-are-you-doing-here look – a question that I did not fail to consider. And maybe I was being stupid or arrogant – running with good shoes (though not particularly fancy by American standards), my ipod headphones in my ears, sweat pouring down my face, and even the fact that I was running for pleasure and fitness, declaring the fact that I had plenty to eat, in fact an excess of nutrition readily available to me. All the same, I don’t know how to justify not running among all types of people (especially in a country as safe as Rwanda) and confining myself to a health club (which I can’t afford) or just the main streets, where I would choke on exhaust, hurt my knees from the impact on hard bricks, and bother pedestrians. Anyway I didn’t have a choice mid-run, and kept going even though I didn’t know where the road went, except uphill, which is what I needed. To my chagrine, it petered out into a one-person-wide footpath after about 10 minutes, and I did not want to retrace my steps. After hesitating for a second, I started straight up the hill, essentially walking through people’s “front yards,” within inches of their doorways on the hard-packed earth which I am sure is used exclusively by people who actually live there. The first person I ran into I said hello to in Kinyarwanda and pointed up, asking Kacyiru (area where I live), yes? After understanding that I was trying to get back to the main road through Kacyiru, the woman pointed and confirmed my guess. I bowed my head, said “murakoze” (thank you), and headed off. Immediately after, I heard singing and sure enough, spied a group practicing in a church. This was one of those wonderful moments you hope for, and I stopped to listen for a moment, as I have been out of shape and out of practice. After a few more twists and turns, I reached the top of the hill and was immersed in the busy-ness of Boulevard de l’Umuganda, which led straight (although no path in Rwanda is straight) to the apartments. Cars and motorcycles whizzed by, yellow-shirted guys sold airtime for Rwanda’s three mobile phone operators, and well-dressed professionals and young people stared at me: sweaty, dusty, eyes stinging from sweat  and sunscreen, sleeveless shirt, farmer’s tan and a smile.

Friday, June 4, 2010

First Impressions

First thing I hear in a taxi pulling away from the Rwandan airport: “Shawty’s like a melody in my head…” It’s like the spirit of Kyle O’Neill reaching back to his birth continent.

Rwanda is a beautiful place with large hills everywhere, hence its name “land of a thousand hills” or, in poorly-spelled French “pais de mille collines." The plane from Brussels arrived at night, so I didn’t get to see the country from the air, but one could get the sense of the landscape from the pattern of the lights of Kigali.

The next morning was an early one, as I accompanied the wrap-up field trip of a Landcare workshop up to the Northern Province to visit some farms and see the countryside. The views were stunning as we climbed up into the highlands of a country made up of highlands. From bigger hills the layout of the country became clearer – lush hills, many of them terraced for farming. The only bad part was I had the seat over a wheelwell of the bus and so my legs cramped from being folded up, but this made the walks when we stopped all the better.

Our group visited two farms, and on one of them there was some very animated conversation about the long-term viability of the projects that had been implemented – whether or not the small farmers could keep the projects going and expand them on their own without donor support. The group of professionals in the Landcare workshop were from Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, Rwanda, and Zambia (not sure on Zambia).

On the trip we got to see several extinct volcanoes, one of them incredibly massive and covered in fog on the border with Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). This is the area where the famous mountain gorillas reside. Apparently there is a gorilla baby-naming ceremony this Saturday which is pretty cool, but I think I have some field visits I have to make instead…But I hope to plan a trip to go hiking in the area where tourists can have a shot at seeing them. The gorillas usually don’t attend the ceremony anyway :).

Yesterday I met with a couple people and for the first time saw, in person, one of the runoff harvesting ponds that I am going to be assessing. The first exciting part of the day was without a doubt riding in a matatu (minibus taxi) with Eminem blasting on the system followed by a ride on the back of a motorcycle point-to-point transport. If I can find fast internet at a cafĂ© or somewhere, I will try to upload the video. The second exciting part was eating “flamingo” – roast chicken basically or perhaps cuka choma, nicknamed flamingo because of the scrawny legs from running all over the place, unlike American factory-raised chickens. It was absolutely delicious and mouthwatering. One of my supervisors, Alex Odour, and an advisor, Wilfred, and myself all tore into the pile of chicken like it was our last meal. This was at a place called Chez Lando.

Until next time.