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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

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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.

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...

Umuganda and Umudugudu

Apologies for the blog silence these last few weeks.  It’s been incredibly busy with moving into our new house, packing and unpacking (still), setting up the Indego office, then layer on that our 12+ hour days trying to get up to speed on all things Indego – including a number of priorities vying for attention.  But all of that is an excuse, of course.  We just haven’t carved out the time to reflect on our experience thus far.  Much of our time seems to get absorbed by daily life in Africa and so when we slow down at night, we’re focused on eating and falling asleep.

It is woeful to say this in a blog but we’ve had many experiences where we’ve commented, “this is definitely for the blog.”  Yet by the time we get to our computer or back home from being in the field, it’s on to other focuses like walking up to the market to buy food for dinner or entertaining unexpected (though not unwelcome) visitors.  We are finding very quickly that time is just different here in Africa and it often crashes up against my American mentality of time efficiency and maximizing the hours in a day.  It can easily take two hours to accomplish something that would have taken 5 minutes in the US because the cognitive framework when it comes to “time” can be very different between the US and Rwanda.  I am experiencing what an African friend said to me may years ago: “You Americans have watches, but us Africans have the time.”  The guy who was finishing a wardrobe for us this last week took four (!) hours to install two mirrors in prefab doors.  He definitely had the time (and of course, I did not).  So we’re learning to adjust and adapt.

One of the “this is a blog post” experiences happened this morning during Umaganda.  Umaganda is a national day of service that takes place the last Saturday of every month and is based on the premise that communities should work together to improve the neighborhoods they live in.  It’s actually a very cool idea and simply institutionalizes what we should all be doing anyways.  Plus it’s a chance to get out and meet/hang out with your neighbors.

We walked up the road to where everyone was working on digging out a long ditch and clearing out a pipe that ran under the dirt street.  People were walking to and fro, carrying picks and shovels.  Some were dressed in their church clothes (we live near an Adventist church) and others in their grungies – though I wasn’t sure if these were work clothes or just clothes clothes.  As we walked up to the big ditch were everyone was working, all eyes were on us as we were the only white people to be seen.  Fifty to sixty neighbors watched us with real curiosity as we came up to see if there was anything we could do to help.  When I looked into the hole a guy handed me a shovel with a big smile (and laughter from the group of forty or so), to which I grabbed it, jumped into the hole, and started digging.  Needless to say I was comedy relief for the neighbors.

But the real cool experience came afterwards where we all walked up to the market and sat outside of a hotel and had an Umaganda meeting with the community leaders, including the head of the Umudugudu (“neighborhood” in Kinyarwanda) and the head of security for our Umudugudu.  I’m guessing there were about 200 people there and the meeting lasted a long time (inferred from above).  But what was very cool about it is that the Umudugudu meeting is essentially a town hall/public announcement venue once a month that covers everything from the security situation in the neighborhood to informing the community that a disabled person recently moved into the Umudugudu and everyone needs to keep a look out for her.  They also mentioned that a muzungu (white) couple also moved into the neighborhood – which was obvious who that was about.

It was this great experience of witnessing something unique to the African culture and feeling somehow associated with it.  Technically we are part of this Umudugudu now and as such are responsible for doing our part in making it a positive place to live for all.  In his inaugural address, President Obama spoke of the “privilege and price” of citizenship.  Here in Africa most things are made much more apparent and real, whereas I think in the States a lot is able to be more nuanced and philosophical.  Africa is too raw a place to wax philosophical.  And when it comes to working together to ensure communal security, peace, and well being, everyone steps up and does their part.  In this area Africa has a lot to teach/remind us of as Americans.

Now if I just had the time to learn it.

Honeymoon Stage (Cara)

Okay, okay, so it has only been about 2 weeks in Rwanda, but I am still in love with it.  Call it the honeymoon stage, or naivety, or just plain newness, but I am indeed very happy here thus far.  We now live in 75-85 degree weather every day (sorry San Francisco, but I don’t miss your cold), are working for/with a company with a true heart for empowering the women of Rwanda (www.indegoafrica.org), living in community with dear friends and spending our days with each other experiencing a new culture.  It is quite lovely.

 

Don’t get me wrong though – I already really miss my family and friends.  A LOT.  And I can tend to get a little over-anxious in thinking about my need to find a good paying job in the next month or two.  Lastly, I have struggled tremendously over the past few weeks with this whole housing search (we are getting close though – please cross fingers and pray!). But I am thankful for the internet and ability to IM folks, Skype-call and write emails.  I feel so much more connected being here compared to when I lived in Kenya back in 1995 and had to wait 2 weeks before hearing what was happening back home through a hand-written letter (by the way – a hand written letter is still VERY special and very welcomed!  Uh-hum… our local addy is PO Box 5568, Kigali, Rwanda).  My mom and I are getting really good at Skype!

 

There are certainly many TIA moments (“This is Africa”), for sure, and there will continue to be in the future.  We have

This is Africa. Walking your goat home, or wherever.

to take time to remind ourselves that we can’t expect our normal day to start and end the way in which we planned it, or even hoped for.  Going down to the immigration office to get a work visa one morning, really takes 3 days, an impromptu hour-and-a-half meeting (that was very unpleasant and accusatory), hours of waiting in line, and walking out with only one work visa instead of two.  Now I have to make a new meeting at the US Embassy to see if they will put new pages in my passport (at $85 USD for 6 pages!) before returning for more waiting in line at the Rwandan Immigration Office.  Honestly folks, it is way worse than the California DMV!

 

The house search has been interesting.  Finding a house for rent in a particular neighborhood in Kigali requires contacting many different brokers, multiple appointments, the acceptance that we will likely see the same place multiple times (because there is no central listing of open houses on the market so owners work with multiple brokers), and the dreaded “negotiation”…

 

There have been a few houses that we have looked at, where the owner/tenants actually still live in the house while we view it, which can be a bit awkward.  Yesterday we viewed one of these homes, while walking through the kitchen Casey mentions to me, “Mmmm, you can smell pineapple.”  Moments later the owner of the house was yelling at his wife in Kinyarwandan (local language), “Quick, quick.  Chop, chop!  He likes pineapple!  Chop chop!”.  The wife came out of the kitchen with plates full of fresh cut pineapple and my husband was the happiest man in the house!  If you don’t know this about my man, he is a pure fruit-aholic.  We stayed for an extra half-hour getting to know the owner and he getting to know us.  We decided against this place, but it was an experience we will not soon forget.

 

We are currently deciding between two places and hope to have news in the next day or two.  Prayer for the right place to be is appreciated.  We will be sharing our home with the Indego Offices so we are looking for the right place that will still allow us to have some privacy and host friends, family and be hospitable to those whom are brough our way.  After we nail that down, we have many more logistics to go – we still don’t even own silverware!

Eating out: a local meal is essentially starch and more starch. Rice, beans, cassava, sweet potato, spinach and beef stew.

Here we are with our friend and colleague Jadot.

We’re beginning to be introduced to our most senior cooperatives – an amazing array of women who inspire us by coming from such poverty to running successful – and profitable – businesses.  Here’s some pics:

Plateau Baskets - Covanya

Open Air Sewing - Cocoki

Group Picture - Cocoki

More pics to come, but it was a great day of talking with Covanya and Cocoki cooperatives – and being introduced as Country Director for Indego Africa in Rwanda.

 

Hit. Ground. Running.

Life has been quite busy since we arrived:

We have been meeting with Casey’s boss over the past 4 days that we have been here. He is in Rwanda from New York for the next week-and-a-half, so every moment is a prospective time for him to get us up to speed and for us to pick his brain. Needless to say, we are busy! Today we had the chance to visit one of the knitting unions that represents 4 of women cooperatives that Indego Africa partners with. We are prepping for a giant order from a large U.S. retailer so we discussed at length their production capacity and logistics for such an order. We then were able to visit one of our original cooperatives (on site) and see the textile projects they were working on. These lovely women were sewing sewing away!

I (Cara) will be also working with Indego Africa for the first few months that we are here, and my job will be to work in and with the women directly. I am so pumped about it! Love it. Now I just need to get a little Kinyarwanda under my belt (the local language)!

Casey is taking in loads of information, and already showing great leadership here. I can tell already from the conversations and interaction with both the women cooperatives and Indego Africa’s staff (including his boss), that he is being welcomed with open arms and that they trust his leadership and opinion.

We are currently looking for housing here in Rwanda. Prayers for this area are definitely appreciated. We are so very blessed to be staying at the Casa de Urquhart’s (our friends have graciously hosted us at their home temporarily)! Having a place to land has been key. On the flip side, living out of our boxes in a friend’s room is a tough place for me to be personally (things always have a place, and not knowing where something is located is frustrating). A home as a refuge for us is an important Cobell-Silva family value for sure, along with hospitality and opening our home up to visitors/interns or those in need.

We have seen three places thus far, and are challenged by what we can afford, what we get in the proper/safe location and how we’ll get around (we still do not have our own personal transportation). We are pursuing some other possible options and hoping/praying that something may come through. Until then, I remain regretful that I did not do a better inventory about exactly what was in each box (My bad. I should’ve gone through every inch of every box and noted each and every item).

Which box did I pack my notebook again?

All smiles at the Cocoki cooperative near Kigali.