Aug 11

 

zahra_blog Laxmi Parthasarathy

As I was driven further away from the centre of town to an area of Kigali called Ndera I heard the swooshing noise of landing airplanes become louder. The car pulled up to two large white gates which read Les Enfant De Dieu and the noise disappeared into the hills as the gates opened.

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This not-for-profit orphanage currently supports 120 boys between the ages of 5 and 15 that would otherwise be living on the streets of Kigali. Although the orphanage uses the word God in its name it is a secular organization that encourages the exploration of every religion. In fact, the only pledge these boys have to take before coming to the orphanage is to promise that they will attend school. The centre helps the boys transition from the streets into a public school system by beginning their studies at the orphanage.

I was greeted by a tall and slim young man wearing a baseball hat who introduced himself as Noel, the weekend social worker. Noel took me on a tour of the grounds and explained the structure of the centre and its strategy for rehabilitation and reintegration.

Noel- the weekend social worker at Les Enfant De Dieu

Noel- the weekend social worker at Les Enfant De Dieu

As we walked toward a fish pond hearing children giggle out a “bonjour” and “hello” Noel began the tour. He explained that the orphanage has an exemplary system in place that others should follow. The association is partially self-sufficient – it owns its own property, dozens of goats, hens, rabbits, a pond for fishing and a water pump; however the orphanage still relies on its donors for beds, school fees, health insurance and other necessities.

”We realized that the boys needed mosquito nets on their beds to prevent Malaria so we sold one of our goats to purchase them,” explained Noel. 

Noel in the dormitory.

Noel in the dormitory.

We went from the large pond to the on site kitchen, infirmary, and dormitory. The dormitory is full of bunk beds lined in two orderly rows and fitted with the mosquito nets that their goat was able to provide

Hidden at the back of this massive stretch of land is a large basketball court and soccer field. Here we ran into Yomar, the Minister of Administration. Carrying a pad of paper and pen, whistle firmly hung around his neck, Yomar explained that he had a soccer game to organize that evening. His stern and responsible eyes told me that we were holding him and he had to be on his way.

Yomar- Minister of Administration.

Yomar- Minister of Administration.

 
Les Enfant Des Dieu has implemented a system of ministers. The boys must elect one of their peers to represent their concerns to the staff. Each minister deals with matters associated with a specific portfolio such as health care, administration, recreation and education. Yomar explained that election time at the orphanage is quite bustling as the boys must prove that they are responsible. Noel added that it is an opportunity to give the boys some responsibility and to include them in all aspects of decision making in their home.

As we walked back toward the main office the sound of stomping, cheering and yelling caught our attention. We were lead to a small multi-purpose room used for holding meetings and eating meals. There I saw a group of boys being directed by a man from a Rwandan dance company in traditional Intore dancing. They were swinging wooden spears and shields, jumping, squatting, and yelling out words in Kinyarwanda. One young boy in red kept looking back at my camera with a smile from ear to ear as he waved his spear and stomped his over sized, blue flip flops harder to impress his audience.

Intore dance class in the multi-purpose room.

Intore dance class in the multi-purpose room.

The dancing stopped as everyone hurried over to the next set of lessons. They all lined up in front of traditional Intore drums and waited for the signal. The swing of each stick hit their drums in synchronicity while other boys gathered to listen.

The instructor from an Intore dance school teaching the boys to drum.

The instructor from an Intore dance school teaching the boys to drum.

While the lessons continued I was introduced to a boy who said his name was Usman but that I should call him Chris Brown (also the name of a popular, but controversial hip hop singer). Not only was he wearing a shirt that read Chris Brown, but he was prepared to perform. Everyone gathered around as they watched the crazy muzungu (foreigner) sway and dance to his rendition of “With you”.

Usman Ibrahim- A.K.A Chris Brown.

Usman Ibrahim- A.K.A Chris Brown.

As I cheered for Chris Brown to sing another song, another boy approached the circle. 15-year-old Joshua has been living at Les Enfant De Dieu for the past five years. When I asked him what his thoughts were about Les Enfant De Dieu, his bright eyes glistened as he stood up tall and announced “ I’m so happy to be living here…we go to school everyday, sometimes we play foot ball, and I have so many friends. It is a really nice home.”

15-year-old Joshua.

15-year-old Joshua has been living at Les Enfant De Dieu for five years.


Jul 13

 

zahra_blog Laxmi Parthasarathy

Walking down aisle number seven at Nakumat (Kigali’s version of Walmart) a wide assortment of colourful boxes containing microwaveable paneer, chana masala, frozen parathas, daal, and curry powder caught my attention. Searching for a snack at any local convenience store I’m offered vegetable or meat samosas. When I sit down to grab a quick snack I’m able to order a chapati. Where am I?

I’m not quite sure where the whole Indian influence came from nor the market for the above Indian delicacies. I’ve only encountered a handful of South Asians in the week and a half that I’ve been here in Kigali, but Indian cuisine seems to be a Rwandan normalcy.

This past Sunday I stopped at Blue’s Café (A lively restaurant in the centre of town where both tourists and locals come to use the wireless and grab a cup of coffee) with the intent of picking up a croissant before taking a bus ride to Nyamata.

[It is common to wait a minimum of 45 minutes after ordering a meal to actually receive it. The servers are almost always friendly, the food is savoury and the ambience of most restaurants is just right for the cuisine; but time is not of the essence at Rwandan restaurants.]

When I sat down to order my croissant I was advised that I should order the vegetable stuffed chapati instead. While I pondered all of the options my waiter noticed the wrinkles beginning to quiver on my forehead and mistook them for not understanding what a chapati was. So, he began to explain what the curry accompaniment would taste like (My mom would have found this hilarious because she has been making chapatis for as long as I can remember). I listened, nodded and took my waiter’s advice and 25 minutes later my chapati had arrived - which could break records in Kigali. I inspected what looked like an Indian burrito and took a bite. As is every meal I’ve had here, it was delicious and reminded me of home.

I looked down at my meal and I wondered again. Where am I?

You see, before coming to Rwanda I packed a bottle of Tabasco Sauce, my Multi-grain Cheerios, multi-grain crackers and enough Lipton Noodle soup to last me a few decades. I packed all of this comfort food with the certainty that I would be a starving vegetarian for the next two months. I should have done my research, because I was definitely wrong. Not only does our lovely chef at home, Honorata, make a spicy tofu curry, but there are always at least five vegetarian options on every menu that I’ve encountered thus far, which is surprisingly much more then I am offered in Canada.

Where am I? I thought I had done my research, read a few articles and books, talked to a few people that had visited Rwanda in the past, but every day I find out more and more about this extraordinary country that strangely brings a feeling of comfort - the chapatis are just one of them.