Jul 10

 

alshalchi_blog Hadeel Al-Shalchi

Goodbye cruel world Everyday Sagal and I stare death in the face. We wake up in the morning, shower in ice cold water, change, have a meager breakfast and tea while watching very old episodes of Family Guy on my computer, then haul ourselves up the steep hill we live at the bottom of, and then hail two motorcycle to take us to work.

We really should walk or take the minibus, but we usually stay up so late the night before we end up sleeping in and the motos are so, so fast. But like I said, we risk our lives instead. We hail one of these parka-wearing, ripe-smelling, dusty-faced moto drivers with a robust hissing sound and agree to pay 200 francs (40 cents US) to take us to work. Helmet optional. The ride starts off with a jump into oncoming traffic of pick up trucks, Jeeps, 4×4’s and other motos and cars. All vehicles spew out thick, black exhaust that you can actually feel getting glued to your face, clothes, under your nails. And, oh ya, lungs. The actual ride becomes exhilarating as soon as the moto driver finds his way through the madness. The roads really aren’t that busy because there aren’t that many cars in Rwanda, but when a minibus driving at top speed almost brushes your thigh as you whiz between a taxi and the bus, you can taste your heart. There is a big roundabout that our road branches into. Going round this bend is heart wrenching. Sagal today said she felt she needed to balance the wheel alignment of the motorcycle by shifting her weight behind the driver. The scariest thing about taking a moto is anticipating the bumps and potholes in the road. At the speed we ride at, the potholes come racing towards you and you have to hang on to dear life as your eyes are forced shut because of the speed of the wind. Once you reach the destination, you feel like giving the driver more money than the ride was worth just to say thanks for not killing me. That’s one thing I’m going to miss the most about Kigali.


Jul 10

 
 

alshalchi_blog Hadeel Al-Shalchi

New Canadians Kurtis, Natasha and Vanessa all arrived over the past couple of days, so we’re a full house right now. V and N have to share a bed while I’m here actually. We’re all very happy this morning.

Kurt lost his luggage on the first day he got here – it apparently didn’t make it on the plane and he had to hand wash his clothes to wear the next day, poor guy. But when we went to pick up V and N, his bag was there! So he’s enjoying options in clothing and shoes. Sagal and I are extra happy today because for the first time since we got here, we smell and feel very clean. Another reason why we were ALL happy Kurt’s bag’s came in last night. His mom sent us some Dove shower gel, Dove body lotion and Calgon body spray, gum, AND Kurt’s sister sent us some trashy celebrity magazines. I took a very long shower last night in hot water. I scrubbed three times and moisturized twice. Kurt’s mom, Cathy, is our new best friend. Sagal and I are sitting here at home, blogging and working, and smelling ourselves. Today is a day of orientation for the newbies… and then tonight: FINAL WORLD CUP


Jul 10

 

ali_blog Sagal Ali

I’ve been in Kigali for several weeks now and am still in awe of the beauty of this country. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but the green rolling hills of Rwanda are breathtaking.

The people are incredibly nice. I’ve been told on countless occasions that I look Rwandan. When I walk down the street alone, I don’t get the curious looks the others get. It’s interesting comparing an outing with my fellow Canadians and one with my Rwandan coworkers. A walk to work with the others usually includes people blatantly staring at the “Muzungus”, or white people. They’re not malicious stares, and although they can be a little off-putting at first, people are mainly just curious about the foreigners. Sometimes street kids will come up to us asking for money. And if they don’t ask, they usually linger around just in case one of us feels generous. When we go places as a group, we get the hiked up foreigner rate and it’s up to us to bargain it down to a more realistic price. If we’re in a restaurant, people will try to speak English to us, assuming we don’t speak Kinyarwanda (a safe assumption).

I’m very aware of my foreigner status when I’m with the others.

When I’m alone, my experience is quite different. I’ve gone to work and local markets by myself several times and don’t get the stares or the entourage of street kids. I blend in nicely. I walk down the street looking at things through Canadian eyes, but look like a native to most. As soon as I open my mouth, though, everything changes. My French is horrible and I don’t speak Kinyarwanda. At first I thought my cover was blown, but people just think I’m a Rwandan that grew up abroad and is back to visit.

People treat me equally well in both cases, though. The hospitality of the Rwandan people is heartwarming. I can’t help but wonder what it would be like for a Rwandan coming to Canada. Would they feel just as welcome?


Jul 6

 

alshalchi_blog Hadeel Al-Shalchi

I am sometimes afraid my memories of Rwanda will fade away quickly. That’s why I sometimes gaze at the view for longer than usual, trying to make sure I memorize the setting and the feelings.

One memory that I’m not worried about losing happened after Susannah and I left after the church service last Sunday. The church was close to the heart of Kigali, surrounded by clusters of poor neighborhoods. Dilapidated as they were, the homes stacked on top of each other formed a sort of cone as they grew up a hill. We decided to walk home after the church service and discover some of these neighborhoods. We came across a broken minibus that was balanced on a rock. It was rusty, an eyesore in the middle of the road. To its right was a thin path that led into a neighborhood. Adults and children walked down this path to the main road we were walking on. We realized that if we followed the path we’d eventually reach another main road which could lead us home. So we did it – walked right up the path.

At the beginning of this path was this broken minibus plus other car parts: a broken truck, the face of a car. And in between these vehicle pieces was a clothes line… people… children… a family was obviously using these cars as shelter. To the right of this scene was a large garbage dump. A putrid smell met our nostrils as plastic bags, bottles, and other refuse swam in a pool of dirty water. A thin, filthy stream of brown water was running through this dump. Amidst the garbage, a woman was bent over cleaning her children’s clothes in this stream. Wearing a white T-shirt and wrapped in a red African cloth around her waist, she would stand straight from time to time to wipe her brow or perhaps relax her back muscles. Then she would deftly bend over and scrub away at the clothes. Past this dump was the beginning of the actual neighborhood. Susannah and I had to jump over some rocks, and broken bits of path to get by. It seemed to have had rivulets of water run through it because it seemed eaten away. As soon as we walked by the houses, a gaggle of children spotted the foreigners and ran to greet us. Muzugu! Muzungu! they all shouted and we had to shake all their hands. They followed us up the pathway into their neighbourhood and wanted to get their photos taken. Some were shy and hid behind their siblings or poles holding up the buildings.

All were either barefoot or wearing ripped flip-flops with torn, dirty T-shirts and dusty shorts. Their legs, arms, faces were dusted with the red dirt on the ground, some mixed with snot, some visibly hungry. They all smiled and laughed and pranced expertly up the broken path as our guides. They screamed with glee when we turned around and played with them and a group of girls nursing their (white) doll wanted to show her off to us. The homes on either side were broken, dark, damp and putrid. Many had a simple sheet of cloth as a door, others had holes for windows and none had electricity (or probably any running water). Most were made with clay, some were just propped up by pieces of corrugated sheet metal. Some of the adults emerged from these homes to stare at the foreigners walking through their street (one man who was passing through hurriedly snapped a photo of us with his cell phone in disbelief). The kids just kept following us and playing with us until we got to the main road. I am ashamed to admit that the smell - poverty, dirty laundry and body odour - made me feel sick to my stomach all day. It’s something I never experienced and something I can’t forget.


Jul 6

 

alshalchi_blog Hadeel Al-Shalchi

I think I’m officially moving to Africa very soon. Not because of the impeccable weather, or the friendly people, or the food (definitely not for the food). Instead I have decided this is the best place on earth to live because it is excellent for a woman’s self-image.

People in Africa totally have it right – they think the Western ideal of a scrawny woman is horrific and that the chubbier the woman the more beautiful she is. My self-esteem has never been better! I have literally gone from feeling crappy about my weight every day of my life to actually thinking that it may be alright to accept my self the way I am. I haven’t fretted about being overweight or unattractive or embarrassing because people here see nothing wrong with being a little chubby. They don’t make fat people social outcasts and they don’t make fun of them. They don’t have the social pressures that we live under in the West of equating beauty with being thin. The women here are so liberated from this issue that they talk about weight and being fat like it’s the most casual topic on earth. And coming from a society where every girl in the office is counting calories or points and watching the scale, IT IS SO LIBERATING.

And what a revelation. To think that women back home walk around feeling ugly because they have a few extra pounds, they count calories, points and God knows what else and even the men have started to prefer thinner girls. What a cage we live in…

i think it’s time to move here…


Jul 6

 

alshalchi_blog Hadeel Al-Shalchi

Me, that’s who. For those who follow this blog, you may know that I am always sick. I’ve had a cold every other month since January. So, of course it’s only appropriate that I get a cold in the middle of my adventures in Rwanda.

It crept on me during lunch on Wednesday, and by the time we took Susannah to the airport (she’s back at home! We really miss her out here actually) it was a full blown cold. I couldn’t go in to work on Thursday or Friday and I’m feeling sorry for myself. Oh, and I’M WEARING A FLEECE IN AFRICA. Can you believe it? WHO WEARS A FLEECE IN AFRICA? Still my adventures refused to stop just because I have a cold. Oh no. On the first day of my cold, Thursday, the gas tank decides to die and run out. That’s the gas tank to boil water on the stove – the same tank that will boil water so I can have a hot drink to soothe my burning throat and pounding head and aching limbs. Yes. So, Hadeel has to find a way to get this gas tank filled. I promptly try to use the assistance of our house girl, Delphine, she calls her friend who knows someone who knows someone who can help us out but it’ll cost us FORTY THOUSAND RWANDAN FRANCS. That’s 80 bucks – American. Did I mention we’re really poor and becoming increasingly broke as our stay in Rwanda goes forward? Ya – very much so. Anyway, after haggling and having Sagal go into work and inquire a bit more, we realize this is the only way we’re getting any gas in this house to cook with. So after hours of our poor house girl gallivanting downtown to find this friend who can help us, he ends up coming to our house to PICK UP THE TANK to fill it up with gas. And we’re 80 bucks short. But at least I got a hot drink. I am so sick. And now so is Sagal. So we’re the saddest foreigners on this continent at the moment. Ok, not saddest, saddest but pretty pathetic.

In our ill state, Sagal and I have been pathetically reminiscing on some of the comforts of our lives back at home. What we’d do for a cold glass of milk that doesn’t smell like the plastic it came in, some green Trident, and high speed internet that doesn’t take 5 minutes for a page to load up. But in our pathetic state, I have come to a very important realization – I love my life and honestly have nothing to complain about. I feel like it will be necessary to come back to Rwanda every six months just to remember not to take things I have at home for granted. And I’m not talking about conveniences like chocolate, drive thru coffee, or a cell phone plan – I’m talking about basics: hot showers, electricity. I have such an easy life – deciding to go to school or not, a clean house with no roaches, consistent power, air conditioning, a car, a family. This trip has been like a fantasy life for me.

But I need a mall. Oh my God, I can’t believe I just said that, but yes – I need a mall.


Jul 6

 

alshalchi_blog Hadeel Al-Shalchi

So I just rid the world of one of the largest roaches on the face of the planet. It was at least 5 lbs and 6 inches long (exaggerating just a little). We just got home from watching the France-Portugal match and Sagal and I were lounging in my room, she on my bed, me on the extra bed. Suddenly a big brown item started running across the wall behind Sagal. I just stopped talking, inhaled sharply and pointed behind her.

Without thinking twice, Sagal flew off the bed and was out of the hallway screaming. She knew what was coming. We both ran outside screeching like schoolgirls. The next few minutes we just stood in the hall peering into the room hyperventilating as this massive creature explored the wall of MY ROOM. It was literally gigantic. After many minutes of freaking out, we decided the best solution was to spray it down with DEET. 30% DEET is serious stuff and if we’re not really supposed to inhale it, the roach will definitely die. I waited for it to crawl on over to my side of the room and then I let it have it. Screaming while pressing down on the DEET can the thing just wouldn’t die!! I kept spraying and spraying as the roach scuttled towards me as I ran backwards. Finally it reached close to my leg and I let out a massive scream, raised my leg and let it have it. It crunched, and I almost slipped on the trail of DEET I left on the ground during my spraying fest. You don’t understand: this was absolutely traumatizing. Sagal and I just ran into the living room and hyperventilated for five minutes. Make that ten. I was close to barfing and crying at the same time. It was absolutely disgusting. Then came the part we all love most – PICKING THE SUCKER UP AND INTO THE GARBAGE. I nearly wet myself. But with a lot of toilet paper scrunched up into a ball, I pinched the insect and trashed it. It was horrific, just horrific.

Before all this drama, we went to this mall called the MTN centre to watch the France-Portugal game. That was some intense stuff. Football is such theatre in this country. When someone scores (especially when it was an African team) you can hear the entire city roar with cheering. If you’re sitting at home, the sounds travel into your home notifying you of a goal. If you’re actally at a restaurant watching the game, people start to scream and roar and cheer loudly in support of their respective teams. When Italy beat Germany, guys took their shirts off and started running around the mall like banshees. When France won last night (it’s surprising how many people support France here – it’s mainly because of the team made almost completely of Africans) people hugged and kissed and pumped their arms in the air thanking the lord Jesus Christ. It was such a fabulous atmosphere. Sagal and I are hugely addicted to soccer now. We plan our days around where we’re going to watch the game and with whom. Last night was a disappointing night; I was supporting Portugal who lost. Sagal and I pick our teams based on the politics of the country and not on any merit or playing skills.