We recently made the decision to move neighborhoods, so we can be a bit closer to where we do business and nearer to our friends.  We currently live in Kimironko (near the market) and will be moving to Kiyovu (near downtown).  This move entails A LOT of work…


When we first arrived in Kigali, we had planned to fully furnish a home and start completely from scratch.  Another opportunity arose and we were quite blessed with a house to rent that was already furnished (including kitchen appliances) and this saved us an enormous amount of headaches and money at the time.  However, we now find ourselves with an opportunity to rent a house in the area of town we desire to live, and for the same price (at least monthly).  Unfortunately, we now have to put in the commitment, money, sweat and tears to start furnishing a home with nothing in it (literally), and do this all while trying to navigate “africa”.  This includes the challenges of trying to source anything new as a white person, who doesn’t speak Kinyarwanda, doesn’t really understand the correct prices/value of certain items, or know where to go to find what you’re looking for. 


So we don’t quite have the typical furniture shopping spree as we prepare for a move across town in Kigali, Rwanda.  The furniture shops here are mostly building areas in the back streets, where folks are literally constructing the Dubai-style furniture.  You bargain there for a proper price, and then hire a truck to bring your new items home.  We took a trip to shop for our new furniture and this is what we found…

Casey has decided to build the majority of our tables for our living room, hallway and even dining room, and I have chosen to be in charge of finding, sourcing and purchasing the other pieces of furniture.  For instance, I have chosen to buy banana leaf wrapped (wicker) sofa and chair for the living room, and have the cushions made from scratch.   I have already spent hours at “Rwanda Foam” ordering the cushions, and now have to find a place that sells upholstery (somewhere!) that I like, and then a seamstress who works with upholstery to then to sew the cushions.  Phew, I’m tired just talking this out, and we haven’t even gotten to trying to find a refrigerator, stove, and dining room chairs!  Oh, I guess we need beds too…




Woodworking in Rwanda, without my power tools, has been time-consuming and tiring.  Yet I do have to say: I am learning a ton and actually honing my craftsmanship.  In the States I became power tool dependent and never really learned the craft of using hand saws to cut, planes to flatten and shape, and other hand tools to work wood.  Crosscutting a piece of wood at exactly 90 degrees was a two second exercise on my compound miter saw.   Now it is marking the wood on all sides, slowly cutting along those lines, and shaping it up with a rasp and plane.  Multiply that by many and it takes a fair bit of time to do something relatively simple.

But what I’m realizing is that what I thought was simple before, really wasn’t.  It’s just that I took woodworking for granted because it wasn’t so much me doing the work, it was the power tool.

So here’s some pics of my woodshop and the results of drying my own wood, cutting lengths of pine for table legs, and the shaping process of getting the table legs ready for mortise and tenon (by hand, of course).  Good things come to those who wait (or work at it for awhile).

Already in these short five-plus months here in Rwanda I have been able to make many wonderful birthday memories.  One of which included celebrating our dear friend Jadot’s 29th birthday with him.  It was a very special night.  Little did I know when I baked a birthday cake for Jadot that he would be so deeply touched to receive it.  We found out that Jadot had never had a birthday cake in his life of 29 years (!), and as we sang the happy birthday tune and brought out the cake with lit candles, he could hardly contain his emotions.  Casey and I felt honored to celebrate with him in this way.  We then spent the rest of the evening sitting on our porch and learning more about his story and life to candle-light. 

The next birthday memory happened to be mine (did you know that I’m 29 too? 😉 ).  Casey and I traveled back to Lamu, Kenya to celebrate my birthday this time (see blog post “Birthday Day 2009”  where we spent Casey’s birthday in Lamu on our RTW).  It was really wonderful to return again, and it came at a much-needed time.  We also had some medical follow-up to do, which could only be done outside of Rwanda, and spent some time in Nairobi with our friends Amy and Kurt.   It was a great week away.

Lamu is an island off the coast of Kenya that can only be reached by boat.  You fly into the nearby dinky airport and then take a boat across the Indian Ocean to reach the island.  There are no motorized vehicles on Lamu; only donkeys.  Donkeys are used as transportation and local labor.  You feel like stepped back in time as you wander the streets of this place.  Lamu is an incredibly old city, around a thousand years old, that is described on the World Heritage List as “the oldest and best-preserved Swahili settlement in East Africa”.

Can you say "tiny plane"? This ended up being the longest hour-and-a-half plane ride I've ever taken! Arg.

On our way to Lamu Island

Donkeys are used as local transport and for manual labor - here, hauling coral bricks

We spent my actual birthday sailing along the Indian Ocean to the remote island of Manda Mtoto on an old traditional dhow (sailboat), and had the most amazing fresh fish lunch.  Strikingly beautiful beaches on a deserted island with nothing for miles.  It was breath-taking.  That night we enjoyed dinner on the rooftop of a gorgeous hotel with our new friends from London, Miriam and Mark.  It was a delightful day and one that I will not soon forget.

Deserted island + hot husband + gorgeous beach + Indian Ocean = Happy Birthday to Me!

Local fisherman offering us fresh fish from the morning catch - fresh squid in this case...

...we opted for the fresh snapper instead,

...and boy was it good!

On the flip-side, the dinner is also something that Casey will also not soon forget, but for a different reason.   Casey’s experience with what tasted like an amazing crab dinner at the time, turned out to put a damper on him ever ordering shellfish again.  He spent the entire next day in bed and the next week trying to recover from the fish toxins.  We are guessing that his crab was not fresh.  Big bummer and wasn’t the best way to end a lovely week on the beach. (Casey weighing in here: the “shellfish incident” was absolutely brutal and the toxicity didn’t leave my body completely until almost 10 days later.  Thankfully I was able to get out of bed the last day to travel back to Nairobi.  But suffice to say I’ve been cured of shellfish for a very long time, if not forever.)

This birthday weekend also entailed a long weekend in Nairobi, Kenya staying with our friends Amy and Kurt.  We are SO thankful for the opportunity to have gotten to know them and spend some time with these guys.   I wish they lived closer though.  It is so rare and far between when you can connect with another couple and feel like it is one of the easiest friendships with conversation that never seems to end.  We had so much fun with these guys!

This is "Jay", our friend and local tailor from Lamu.

Great birthday memories made?  Check!

We needed a break, so headed off to Lamu, Kenya for Cara’s birthday.  She’s going to post a blog about it soon but I wanted to prime the pump by posting some pics.

Rush Hour


We stopped in to see Jay – mentioned in our last Lamu blog post – and he was sitting in the same spot, doing the same thing, 18 months later.  Not much changes in Lamu.

Jay's shop


Jay at work


One of the many things Lamu is famous for (sorry, not the Michael W Smith song of 1986) is its carved doorways.  Beautiful work throughout.



A fun reunion

Not only did Casey and I make our first debut on Rwandan television this week* (yes, for real), but we also published a new blog post in Tripwolf.com**. Check it out here (including a few local photos): http://www.tripwolf.com/en/blog/2011/07/01/taking-the-leap-how-to-move-abroad-rwanda-edition/

* We attended the first annual Rwanada Handicraft Fashion Show, where we were sat in the front row right next to the Rwandan Minister of Finance and the Minister of Commerce (guest of honor). Strangely, I think we were given these seats because we were the only white folk there – but we felt like stars nonetheless. Cameras flashing, television camera and bright lights on us most of the night and watching gorgeous African women and men model local fashion designs. Very fun experience. Casey was able to chat it up with the Minister of Finance, while I discretely tried to cover the extra leg I was showing in my dress with a front slit (!). Sometimes sitting in the front row is not the best seat ladies 🙂

** Tripwolf.com: An online travel guide founded by our friend Steffen Kuehr from Germany and currently living in San Francisco. Very cool site – definitely a must for those traveling abroad.

I’m posting this because, simply put, it’s one of my favorite pictures from our Rwanda experience so far. I think I don’t have to say too much as to why it is.

We’ve been lame about keeping our posts coming. It’s hard to take a snapshot when you’re traveling at Mach 5. But I’m thinking now that even if it’s a “twitterish” post, it’s better than nothing. And as I’ve heard over and over from folks: post pictures. Lots of pictures.

So here’s one for now. More’s on the way.


An old post I realized that I forgot to post!  Written on April 14, 2011:

Casey and I just returned from our first real break since early November, where we spent three nights camping on a little island on a lake in Uganda – called Lake Bunyonyi; the deepest lake in Uganda.  The border of Rwanda/Uganda is only 2 hours away from Kigali, so taking advantage of a particular week in Rwanda when everything is officially shut down**, we slipped away for 4 days to rest. 

One of the 28 islands on Lake Bunyonyi, Uganda

The view from our safari tent

And rest we certainly did.  We stayed in this lovely safari tent (picture) on a sweet little island called Busara Island, which could only be reached by boat.  We walked around the island multiple times and took in the variety of extravagant birds that would creep up and sing to us.  We read books, talked for hours, explored the island, slept tons and ate wonderful food.  It was beyond peaceful. 

Pulling up to Busara Island by boat

Upon our return from the Lake this morning, we were greeted with our suitcase that made it safely to Kigali last night!!!!!

Long story, but the short of it is that our moms sponsored a large suitcase to be carried back to Rwanda through a colleague that was visiting in San Francisco, but due to a family emergency she was unable to make the trip to SF at the last minute.  Therefore, our suitcase was stranded.  Since that time, a friend of a friend offered to carry it for us since she was coming to visit her daughter here in Kigali.  We pay the extra baggage fee of $150 and this lovely woman, Julia, kindly brought our goods to Kigali for us.

I cannot begin to tell you what a treat it was to get all of these goodies from the US that we can’t find here (quinoa, grape nuts, dark chocolate), our important motorcycle helmets, and the love that came from our moms Cindy and Stephanie, and dear friends Liz and Katie.  There are certainly many treats, but also big essentials for us that we haven’t been able to find here (for instance, quality motorcycle helmets).  At one point Casey says, “you can tell your friends had a hand in this when you find Clift Blocs inside, and it has your mom written all over it with all your favorite comfort foods!”  It’s like getting a care package back in college all over again!


** the week following Genocide Memorial Day on 7 April is designated an official week of mourning.  Cities throughout Rwanda, Kigali in particular, shut down their businesses and take time to remember the genocide and talk with genocide survivors in an attempt to work through the tragedy.

The new motorcycle is running great, but I’m still having to get used to the top speed of 80 km/hr and feeling very close to the ground.  But 180 cc is the biggest bike you can get here in Kigali.  So while it’s not 1200 cc like the GS at home, it still gets us around.  Now if we just wouldn’t keep getting caught in rainstorms…

This ones for John and Don: Ship the GS over soon!

Cara and much more than 180 ccs

In Africa there is a saying that goes something like this:

“You Americans have watches.  We Africans, we have the time.”

Apparently we haven’t had the time to write a blog in a bit.  This last Saturday was Umuganda – the community/neighborhood work day that comes the last Saturday of every month.  We had a great time hanging out with our neighbors and sitting through the two hour Umudugudu (neighborhood) meeting after Umuganda.  It got interesting when everyone was told that you have to register if you are a) a drunkard, b) a prostitute, c) a thief, or d) a foreigner.  So we are in good company here in our Umudugudu.  Then towards the end of the meeting the two cooperatives that work at the big market are in a turf war and wanted the Umudugudu leader to work it out.  It got heated and Cara and I were in the front row, next to the Umudugudu leader and thus right in the middle of it.

Anyways, the point is that we’ve been poor at sitting down after our long days to write.  There’s a lot going on, a lot of it pretty cool, and we’re remiss in sharing it with you.  Our apologies.  We’ll do better, and post pictures so you can see a bit of what our lives look like.

Feel free to send requests for details and/or pictures.


(by Cara)

What is our life like in Africa?  Well, our life tends to feel just as busy as it did in the U.S. but yet we accomplish so much less in the same amount of time.  This is definitely part of the culture shock and transition we are working through here.  A common trip to the bank to withdraw a bit of money can easily take 3-4 hours, where we could’ve done it in a 10-minute drive to the ATM back in the states.  That does not tend to sit well for a Type-A personality like mine (Cara) who has a schedule to keep!  I laugh though.  I know that my schedule doesn’t work here, so I am embracing the flexibility that I am forced to have here.  It is beautiful really.  And ultimately, it is just part of life here.  Things don’t run like they do in my home country, and since I am choosing to live in somewhere other than my home country right now, I shouldn’t expect that they do. I live in Africa.  And I certainly do.

Days along the equator are based on sunlight.  You get up with the sun and the sound of the birds chirping outside, and you go to bed with the sunset – almost literally.  The joke around here is that we are so tired all the time, that we have adopted a “missionary midnight”, which is equal to 9pm!  It is well worth it though, when you get to experience the sunrises here.

Eating has posed an interesting part of our daily life here.  Everything must be made from scratch (oh how we miss Trader Joes!), and ingredients must be bought from multiple places.  This can pose a challenge when you don’t have transportation – cars and gas are too expensive so we take moto taxis and buses.  We have to go to a veg market for produce, butcher for meat, patisserie for bread, grocery store for bag/jar items (like honey and flour), local equivalent of Target (called “Nakumatt”) for cleaning items, and for some, a dairy for milk and yogurt (but you have to pasteurize these on your own).  We can’t forget to soak all of our fruits and veggies in vinegar or bleach water so it is safe to ingest, and all before cooking our “whole foods” for dinner.  If you want to eat like an expatriate (expat) here, be prepared to pay for it – for instance, anywhere from $10-25 USD for a box of cereal!

Our new kitchen - filled with wonderful fruits and veggies already (some of which are soaking). We have plentiful loads of passion-fruit, mangoes, and gigantic avocados!

As mentioned, we get around Kigali via moto taxi, cabs or matatus (bus).  When we take moto taxis we are putting our lives at risk.  No way around it.  I won’t give you too many details, because ignorance is bliss, but this form of transportation is by far the easiest, quickest and next to cheapest.  Matatus take the longest, and like a Muni bus back in San Francisco, you have to stop 20 times before getting to your destination.  The only difference with matatus verses a Muni bus, is that matatus will sit at a stop for 10 minutes waiting for the bus to fill up before it leaves again!  This can happen multiple times during one ride.  So you have no idea how long some place will take to get to.  Lastly there are cabs.  Cabs cost about what a cab-ride would cost in the US, which is, too expensive for our Africa salary.  If we had it our way, we would take these everywhere, just to be safer and more efficient.  Our current plan is to purchase our own motorcycle so Casey will become my personal driver (insert smile) and he can get his moto fix since we weren’t able to bring his GS to Rwanda with us.  We are actually very excited to get a bit of freedom back by purchasing a motorcycle if it works out.

Moto taxi with customer

As the mazungu (or white foreigner) in the neighborhood, we have many expectations placed upon us.  Things like being expected to own a car and to always pay 5-times the local price for everything.  Naturally (here), we are expected to hire people to tend after us.  We are rich in everyone’s eyes here, as we are in so many ways, but this is honestly just based on our skin color and nothing else.  So there is an expectation that we will create jobs by hiring a security guard, house-cleaner and a cook.  Casey and I have given in to hiring a “house boy”, of who acts as our security guard, gardener and basic house cleaner (he mops floors, dusts, washes dishes, etc.).  His name is Ezekiel and he doesn’t speak a lick of English!  Of course we do not speak a lick of Kinyarwanda.  So as I’m sure you can imagine, we do A LOT of gesticulating (hand-talking) and try to teach each other words.

Ezekiel planting maize in our new garden.

Hoping that a few of these descriptions give you a feel for our new days here in Kigali.  It is always a work in progress, and we are continuing to learn!

A mini-cornfield in the making...