Jun 24


alshalchi_blog Hadeel Al-Shalchi

I think we made some headway with the newspaper yesterday. The Canadians held a workshop that was supposed to focus on leads and writing intros, but ended up being a frank debate about what makes a story a story and how to focus a story.

The journalists were so intensely concentrating on what we were telling them (especially when I went on a rant about how YOU CANNNOT MAKE UP QUOTES or misspell people’s names! yes this happens ALL THE TIME). We talked about reputation, journalism and ethics and the credibility of the paper. We also had a debate when talking about journalism in Africa versus the West. It came up when we were doing a lead exercise about a story where a minister gave all this money to genocide widows. I suggested at the end of the discussion that the more fascinating story would be to focus on the widows and what they could now actually do with all this money - obviously mentioning the minister and his quotes. But everyone started talking about how “we’re in Africa here;” “widows don’t read so why would we write about them;” and “here our focus is on the glorificatin of the leader…”

All three of us Canadians sort of just stared and didn’t know what else to say. They were kind of saying “sorry, your way doesn’t work here…” and all of a sudden I felt a little powerless. But quickly the conversation was saved by an editor who made a mini speech about it being in their power to change things and that it was in their hands as a)Africans, and b) responsible journalists to change the way they write stories and to shape journalism. Phew. So we started just talking about how “we” would do things in Canada and how we could merge them with the African traditions.

Otherwise things are going very smoothly. It’s funny because I almost forget what everyday life is like in Ottawa. I’m getting very used to the way things work here - taking the motorbikes to plcaes, eating matokay (plantain), and shaking hands with everyone a million times upong arrival and departure. The weather is also AMAZING. It’s so cool all the time, with a beautiful real sunshine.

Jun 18


alshalchi_blog Hadeel Al-Shalchi

I feel like my life is an adventure every single day in this country. I don’t even know where to start… with the lost child we found on our couch when we arrived from Butare, or the fact we hadn’t showered in three days, or maybe how there has been no electricity in our neighbourhood for a week, or how an old Muslim lady called up the Mufti of Rwanda and made me chat with him in her living room. Let’s start with coming back from Butare on Thursday afternoon….

Susannah and I paid $3 to ride a bus called the Volcano Bus from Butare into Kigali on Thursday afternoon. The ride was smooth and not as dangerous as our taxi ride into Butare four days earlier. The only rule to driving in this country is don’t hit anything. Otherwise, the road is yours to conquer. Kinyarwanda music blared from the radio and lulled Susannah and I in and out of sleep for the two hours back home. The bus pulled into the alleyway of a station in town and we were immediately mobbed by taxi drivers offering us a ride for Frw3000 ($6) to Frw2000 ($4) – an outrageous sum obviously imposed because of our skin colour. Even though we had a long and tiring trip we were stubborn enough not to pay that much – we wanted a ride for Frw1500 ($3) and nothing more. So, lugging our massive backpacks and shopping in hand, we called our friend the taxi driver who took 20 minutes to arrive at the side of the dusty town streets, attracting the glares and stares of bewildered locals.

After another twenty minutes to our house from town (and after paying the $3) we dragged our reeking, sweaty bodies into an electricity-less home to find a lanky child laying face down on our couch in the living room… at first Susannah and I thought this was perhaps our housekeeper’s nephew or brother. Nope —- Delphine explained one of our coworkers at the newspaper found this child loitering outside our home and brought him. The boy could only speak Kinyarwanda and had never been to school. Working through translation, Delphine deciphered the boy was an orphan who lived in Byumba with his brothers, and had walked all the way into Kigali to look for his older sister who he wanted to buy him some new clothes…. Ummmm, and how did he get in OUR house? We called our coworker who found him and she explained that we should keep him in our house for “a few days” and that she wanted to write a story about him to hopefully find his family. A few days! A lost child in our house! Um, no. We called back our taxi driver and promptly drove to the neighbouring cop shop. After a bit of back and forth the police said we could keep him in our house for however long we wanted and they’d give us a call if they found his family. The poor boy (his name is Gilles) just stood there sucking on a lollipop we gave him. We eventually left him at the police station hoping they’d be able to locate his family…

At this point we were ready to give up our passports for a shower. But of course there was no hot water since the power was out in our area for a week. Cold showers were the order of the day. No matter – we slept clean and fed that night in a very dark home. Showering is such an adventure here also. Here are some steps to do so:

Turn tap on in bathtub and allow water to gain momentum. If hot water is available, then extend waiting time by at least another 5 minutes. Please remember you are in Kigali and gushing, running, balanced temperature, and other things you would assume come with a shower. If it close to scalding, trickling, or dripping quickly that’s your cue to start get in the tub.

Strip and get your feet a bit wet.

Showers are not installed over head, you must hold it in your hand.

Squat because pressure decreases once the telephone shower reaches above knee height.

Turn knob to allow telephone shower to start. Again, do not expectgushing or a consistent stream of water. Trickling, dripping, temperature changes and sputtering is normal.

If showering in cold water, hold telephone shower in your hand while squatting, and mentally prepare for what’s coming. You may want to say a mantra or pep talk yourself. Thoughts of giving up, weeping like a baby, or calling for your mother will cross your mind. Ignore them. This is just your spoilt Canadian brain playing tricks on you. You can do it.

Slowly adapt your body to the water by running water on your self. If showering in cold water, screaming is acceptable.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

On Friday went to pray in the big mosque in Nyamirambo again on myown. On my way home, I got a bit lost on my way back in town. I walked into another mosque in town and asked for directions, and of course gathered some curiosity as to who I was. Someone eventually brought me the imam of the mosque and I expressed an interest in knowing more about the community here and what they did. He told me to wait for a moment, introduced me to a bunch of people, then after a lot of phone calling and Kinyarwanda chatter, a taxi pulled up and I was being told to get in. I was to be taken to the grand lady of the Muslim community herself – Maman Ibrahim. You can imagine my perplexity at this time… I tried to make my excuses but everyone got confused it was just easier for me to go where they wanted to take me. The car drove me all the way BACK into Nyamirambo and to a small house in front of the mosque I had just returned from. I was ushered into this large, clean, obviously poor home where a lady in hijab welcomed me so heartily. Maman Ibrahim turned out to be the president of many Muslim organizations in Rwanda, but especially active in women’s issues. Speaking through her son as translator, she told me how excited she was to see a Muslim from , that not many Muslim women from outside came to visit Rwanda. I was introduced to the whole household and was invited to a wedding on June 25 at the mosque! She was so eager to introduce me to the mufti of Rwanda that she called him on her little cell phone and made me chat with him for a few minutes. It was too surreal!

Next time… a Rwandan confirmation party and more news!

Jun 15


alshalchi_blog Hadeel Al-Shalchi

Second week in Rwanda and it feels like I’ve been here at least a month. So many new experiences and meeting new people and learning new things have crammed my days that I even sleep better at night than I did in Ottawa. I am in Butare at the moment which is the second largest city in Rwanda but perhaps ¼ the size of Kanata. It is basically one long strip of road with houses and shops on either side. Very quaint, but I think the other students I came with and I prefer the business of Kigali and it’s pace of life.

I went to the local market on my own a couple of days ago here in Butare and that was an experience and a half. I bargained for some gorgeous African fabrics (8 bucks for pieces enough to make a skirt or a shirt). The market is basically made up of many tired looking vendors reselling what look like aide package clothing and other items. The fabric vendors have the most beautiful display of material with colourful, crazy patterns that sometimes looks like someone must have been high while designing them. I bought a material to make a skirt that has maybe 4 massive bright yellow rattles on a dark brown background - yes rattles! It’s amazing. While walking through the fabric aisles, the vendors were rushing to get their wares out for the Muzungu walking by. I chose a few materials, paid for them, then browsed some more to the chatter of the women peppered with the term Muzungu Muslimaine! One Muslim vendor lady clapped my arm and wanted to know what I was doing here and who I was. All the other white people with me are finding it interesting being Muzungus in this country, but being a Muslim muzungu is such a novelty! Last week in Kigali, a friend brought us shopping in Nyamarambo. That’s the Muslim quarter in the city and has to be one of the poorest. It has some large mosques, usually funded by Arab countries like the Emirates or Libya and people are visibly Muslim there – women wear hijab and sometimes a khimaar which is a larger, more covering type of headscarf. Men are sometimes in the Arab white robes and kufis on their heads. But the most obvious way you know they’re Muslim is by the shouts of salam! (Muslim greeting of peace) when I walk by. In Nyamarambo, many people would vocalize it to me with enthusiasm, little kids wave, and one old woman grabbed my hand and started pumping it energetically, saying salam and kissing me on both cheeks chattering away in Kinyarawanda! It’s such an experience. There are quite a few number of Muslim, Arab men in the country, but I have yet to see another Muzungu Muslimaine as they like to call me; maybe that’s the novelty. One of the journalists from the newspaper took me to a jumua’ (Muslim congregational prayer) last Friday. The mosque was an impressive building of white and green obviously funded by the Emirates (their flag was flying outside). It was called the Islamic Cultural Centre and had a large school attached to it also. All the students were walking out of the mosque when we arrived – dressed in navy tunics and white shirts and hijab for the girls, and the boys in navy pants and white shirts. I was an object of curiosity as I walked into the prayer hall being the only fair female wearing hijab on the grounds. The service was in Kinyarawanda peppered with some Arabic, but it was very nice to just sit there and pray with these Muslims from a totally different continent.

Keeping up with the religious fervour, Susannah and I went to a Pentecostal/charismatic church service in Kigali last Sunday. I really wanted to go because missionaries and Pentecostal church life is so much part of the African culture today. They pop up everywhere and everything is funded by some sort of Christian group. Since we had our own “views” about the way they do things here, I felt I needed to go and see it for myself. The service we went to is in a church called Christian Life Assembly and the congregation meets under this massive circus tent in the middle of some slums in the heart of Kigali. It’s run by a Canadian pastor to boot. We took a cab into the grounds of the church and were greeted by a couple of ushers, swaying to the music blaring from inside. Once inside there was a stage up front with a “choir” and musicians and there must have been at least 600 people in the congregation. They swayed their arms in the air, closed their eyes and sang their hearts out to the music. There were many, many white people – from their accents sounded Canadian or American. At one point there was so much fervour that Susannah and I just gawped with eyes wide open. Some of the congregation ran up to the front on a carpeted area, flicked off their shoes and started shaking their bodies, dancing, or crying, and one women just collapsed on the floor with emotion. Noone was stopped us from staring or taking pictures, so we stayed until midway through the sermon then walked out. At one point we were surrounded by small African children on the peripheral of the congregation. But something happened to me when I was listening to the sermon that I won’t be able to forget - I felt something on my hand and when I looked over it was a young girl with very short hair tracing the veins on my hand with her finger. She didn’t look like she wanted my attention or wanted to talk; she just seemed mesmerized that she could see the veins through my skin.