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Archive for March, 2011

Where does the time go?

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.

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Basics

(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...

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