Kate Harper's Blog
July 2, 2007 – Things to get used to
I’m starting to think about going home on Wednesday, what it will be like, and all the things I’ll have to acclimatize to when back. Here are just a few:
1. No Fanta.
2. I will be seen as strange should I choose to walk somewhere more than 20 minutes away. Two hours of walking every day is out of the question.
3. If I greet someone on the street, they might look at me as if I’m insane.
4. Similarly, should I try and get someone’s attention on the street by hissing, I will probably receive the same reaction.
5. When I see two people of the same sex holding hands while walking down the street in Canada, they usually are gay, instead of just good friends as they are here.
6. No deposits on bottles at stores.
7. No returning bottles to stores when you are finished.
8. No bargaining over the price of the deposits at stores.
9. Buses with so much space it’s obscene!
10. No hitting the roof of the bus when I want to get off at a particular stop.
11. Plastic bags are legal.
12. Full, uncensored 2pac albums are not played in supermarkets at home.
13. Not being called a mzungu everywhere I go.
14. Many more bazungu (white people) than here.
15. No motos!
16. Children will not hug me in the street just because they feel like it. I am sad about this.
17. I will be seen as crazy if I try to bargain a price down. Imagine telling a cab driver, “I don’t agree with the price on your metre; $15 is too much, how about $5 instead?”
June 26, 2007 – Too soon
Today, Meagan asked me when I was leaving.
“Next Wednesday,” I said.
June 24, 2007 – This is birth and this is death all in the same day
Today was what I will remember to be a day of opposites. Until today, I really don’t think I had seen a dead person. I had seen serious accidents, but never anyone dead because of one. I’ll explain.
This morning we walked to town and boarded the 12:30 bus to Jinja. About an hour and a half northeast of Kampala, Jinja is Uganda’s second largest city, with a population of about 106,000. Jinja just so happens to be the source of the Nile – the area where Lake Victoria empties into the Nile.
On the bus out of Kampala, there was a ton of traffic. In the east near Bugolobi (a district) there had been a car accident. One car on the other side of the road had its front ripped off. On our side of the road, a man was lying face down next to a huge pipe. Blood was pouring out of his face and ears. He was dead in the middle of the road. It was pretty surreal to see this – one second he was there, I realized what had happened, and the next, he was gone. I barely had time to process what I’d seen.
We got to Jinja and walked from the bus station down to the source, which took about 45 minutes. The source is located within a park which contains a plaque proclaiming the spot’s significance.
We walked down some steps, and at the bottom were the banks of the Nile. Boat tours left every half hour, but they cost too much. We went down to the water and just off the shore were two little concrete slabs in the water, serving as mini piers of some sort. They were accessible by two steel slabs. We walked across them and sat there in the middle of the Nile for about half an hour. There was a nice breeze, and it was quite cool in contrast to central Jinja, which had been so hot I’d been sweating within several minutes of walking.
We sat enjoying the breeze and then had a crazy idea: if we laid on our stomachs and reached down, we could put our hands in the water. So we did, and we took pics. It was pretty incredible to put my hands in the Nile.
So it was a bit of a day of opposites; I saw death, and then put my hands in the source of life for millions of people. An amazing day.
June 23, 2007 – Welcome to Uganda! Please keep left
David, Christine, Melodie, and I took the 6 a.m. bus from Kigali to Kampala yesterday morning. We are staying at Backpackers, a well-known hostel run by several Australians. It’s located in a suburb located about an hour from the city centre by foot. There are monkeys in the trees and the kitchen’s pizza is some of the best I’ve had in Africa. The music here is also fantastic; at breakfast they played The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Rage Against the Machine, Ben Folds, Massive Attack, Portishead, and many others.
The first thing you will notice about the differences between Rwanda and Uganda is the side of the road used for driving. Ugandans drive on the left side of the road, while Rwandans drive on the right. The two countries share many similarities and have a shared history as well, but there are many differences as well.
Uganda is flat, while Rwanda is mountainous. Granted, parts of southwest Uganda, in areas like Kisoro, for instance, are mountainous, since they border Rwanda, but the majority of Uganda is very flat. The earth in Kampala is also much redder than any of the dirt in Uganda, which is more orange than any other colour.
Kampala is very different from Kigali. David described the differences between Kigali and Kampala as being similar to the differences between Ottawa and Toronto. Kampala is huge, noisy, full of traffic and people, and it just has more of everything. This can be good and bad; it’s easy to get frustrated by the traffic, so you have to let yourself relax and go with the flow. Toronto is very similar in this respect, and Ottawa is more like Kigali. (Ottawa and Kigali almost have the same population; the former has a population of about 812,000, while about 851,000 people live in the latter.)
We woke up today and went downtown. We ate chapati off the street, stopped in the market near the old and new taxi parks, and then took a cab to Kampala Road. The others ate some ice cream and cake and I had a Nile, which is a fantastic beer brewed near Jinja. (I am not such a fan of sweet foods or sugar.)
Then we went to Haandi, an Indian restaurant in the city centre. This vegetarian was quite happy with the spicy paneer she had. An amusing moment was had when appetizers of mango pickles, chutney, and yoghurt were brought with a salad and Christine dipped a chili into the pickles, thinking it was a bean.
We took boda-bodas home. This is another striking difference between Kampala and Kigali. On the one hand, this is a similarity, considering they are both comparable methods of transport. On the other hand, they’re very different.
Boda-bodas are more like vespas or mopeds than motorcycles, as they are smaller and lower to the ground. But unlike Rwandan motos, they can fit two people, and you don’t get a helmet. The driving is also a bit… crazier. David and I shared a moto, while Christine and Melodie shared another. There were times when I seriously thought we were going to collide with cars and minibuses on the way home. At one point, we went onto a dirt road for a shortcut, but it was filled with potholes, which meant it was one heck of a bumpy ride, considering how low to the ground boda-bodas are.
In all, a pretty interesting day. My senses got one heck of a workout.
June 20, 2007 – All in a day
I realized I’ve not yet written anything about my daily routine here. It’s quite easy to get into one here. This can be good and bad, because you can end up living in a box and not experiencing anything outside of work. The last thing you want is to live in a box and not experience the country you’re visiting or its culture. Nevertheless, you always find yourself in some kind of routine; the idea is just to not get trapped in it and do new things at the end of the day.
I usually wake up around 6 a.m. This is because the sun rises here at 6 in the morning and sets at 6 at night. The sun comes through my blinds and I end up waking up before my alarm goes off (it’s set for 6:30). Sometimes I wake up earlier (5:30) to the sound of one of our guards praying outside, and then drift in and out of sleep until the sun comes up.
I get up and shower (or don’t shower, depending on my mood) and take my malaria pill. Then I have breakfast, which is always peanut butter on toast. I sit and read a bit, depending on the time, and then walk to work.
The walk to The New Times from the house is 30 minutes, and is all uphill. I leave our house and walk up a gigantic hill to the main road. I walk past dozens of houses owned by NGOs and government representatives and come to an intersection – one road goes to The New Times and the airport, and the other goes to Mu Mujyi, or downtown.
I cross the intersection and then walk at the edge of a hill which overlooks a vista consisting of the downtown area and other settlements below it. I usually spend about 15 minutes walking by this, so my day is often filled with beautiful sights.
I walk uphill, past the Kigali Business Centre (which contains a cinema, Internet café, a restaurant, and more shops) and come to another intersection with a huge roundabout. I walk through it, past the UN Food and Agriculture Organization/High Commission for Refugees building, and eventually get to work.
Sometimes I’m given a story, and I go with a reporter to the field. Other times I spend the day editing. Sometimes my days are filled with both. I usually work until about 12 or 1 p.m., and then walk home for lunch. I eat, turn around and walk back to work, edit and report some more, and then walk home at the end of the day. That makes a total of two hours of walking each day.
After work I might go downtown, do something with the others, read, watch TV, or do whatever else interests me. The sun goes down at 6, and I usually go to bed around 11, and get up the next day to repeat it all.
June 19, 2007 – Thought for food
One of the things I enjoy most about travelling is food. When you are in a different country, you have experiences you wouldn’t normally have at home, and this includes the food. When I was little, for some reason I did not enjoy food and ate a very bland diet (this is what happens when you are the child of a British immigrant). Then I became vegetarian and had to open my palate up to new kinds of food, and many of these foods were from all over the world. I like cooking and I like food, and the food here is amazing, to say the least.
I guess I’ll start with the fries, since that will be familiar to many people at home. In Canada, our fries are often extremely greasy and are fried in disgustingly repulsive amounts of oil. I can feel my waistline expanding and my arteries clogging and hardening when I eat fries in Canada. The fries here are nothing like Canadian fries. They are made from locally grown potatoes (who knows where the potatoes used to make fries in Canada come from) and are not cooked in too much oil. I don’t usually eat potato-based foods at home, but here I’ve become so used to eating fries that if I go a few days without eating them, I start craving them.
Then there’s the mayonnaise. At first, I started putting mayonnaise on fries. In Canada, if you do this outside of Montréal, you get weird looks. But here, mayonnaise doesn’t just go on fries. Mayo pretty much goes on everything. I am serious. I usually put mayo on almost everything I eat. I realize how bad this is.
The mayonnaise here is imported from the Netherlands and is lemon flavoured. Normally, I hate things with lemon flavouring; I think they taste fake. But this mayo does not taste gross. I can’t even properly describe what it tastes like. It makes the mayo at home taste plastic and fake.
Pili-pili is hot sauce made in Rwanda and Burundi. It is made from bird’s eye chillies (called such because they are extremely small). If you are used to tobasco sauce or hot seasoning in North America, pili-pili is nothing like that. In Gisenyi, I had a curry and put a lot of pili-pili on it, thinking it would be just spicy enough. This was problematic, because in actual fact, pili-pili is hotter than anything I’ve ever tried. I needed a lot of water.
The beer is also amazing. Mützig is Rwandan beer, brewed with a lot of malt, which gives it a rich taste. Primus is a bit lighter, and normally brewed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but also in Rwanda. Uganda Waragi is a type of gin which Rwanda imports from its northern neighbour. Mbanza, or banana beer, tastes like banana bread in a bottle. But what is easily my favourite drink is Guinness and Coke. Though this might be strange to those back home, this combination makes a lot of sense and is very delicious.
Guinness is only available in bottles here. This gives it a more bitter taste than the Guinness we have at home on tap or in cans, because it has no widget. If you take a glass and fill it with half Guinness and half Coke, the Coke cuts down on the bitterness and gives the drink a very sweet taste. It’s an interesting combination and I will definitely be exporting this custom back to Canada.
In Canada, I am a very big fan of tea. I am known to have about six cups of various kinds of tea each day. I am becoming a very big fan of the tea here, as well. When I have tea in Canada, I don’t add milk or sugar to it. I used to consider doing so as taking away from the flavour. Then I came here and had the tea and my point of view has really changed.
Tea here is usually made by adding milk (liquid or powdered) and a variety of spices including ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves. You stir all of that together, and then you add sugar. It is just heavenly. The shops serve it with more spice, while at The New Times tea is served every morning with loads of sugar. I have been trying to figure out how to make this tea since I got here. I’ve been fumbling around at home with my own bagged tea, tea masala (spices) from Kenya, sugar, and Nido (powdered milk), but I can’t do it properly. I think I need to get someone to teach me.
Ugali is a kind of paste made from cassava or maize. It is ground up and water is added, which gives it a sticky consistency. You eat it by taking it on your thumb and dipping it into your food. Since it’s sticky, it sops up soup or picks up food very easily. This is pretty much what a lot of people do with bread and soup back home. It’s also similar to using bread to sop up any leftover food at the end of one’s meal.
There are two types of bananas here: sweet yellow bananas (similar to what we have at home), or green bananas. Green bananas are starchier and taste a bit more like potatoes. Matoke is a dish made using green bananas, usually some groundnuts, and other kinds of vegetables. It is savoury and very filling and at our house, we usually eat it with rice.
All this having been said, there are definitely things I am missing from home.
Number one is sushi. I am craving sushi like I never have. I am pretty much satisfying that by eating avocados. Not the same thing.
Until yesterday I was craving curry, but we found an Indian restaurant downtown and I had a chana masala which nearly burned my mouth off (it's not curry if it's not the hottest it can go).
I am also craving pad Thai. There is a Thai restaurant near the house but the only thing affordable there is dessert. I will have to have a So Good pad Thai when I'm back in Ottawa.
June 18, 2007 – Take it in stride
What could have been a very bad weekend ended up being not so bad after all.
On Saturday, we went to Butare. Saturday night, while eating dinner, I put my camera down underneath my chair. When I got up, I forgot it was there and left without it. I wasn’t feeling that great anyway, so when I left I pretty much just wanted to get back to the hotel.
While we were checking out on Sunday morning, I realized I didn’t have my camera, and then remembered where I had last seen it, and started swearing. Everyone else was going to Nyungwe Forest in the morning, and I was going to catch an early bus back to Kigali.
I went back to the restaurant, and the manager telephoned everyone who had been working the night before. They all said they hadn’t seen a camera. I returned to the hotel to check my room again, but it wasn’t there. Back to the restaurant again and still nothing. I left my number with the manager, but I’m not expecting to see my camera ever again. I took the 9:00 bus back to Kigali and was pretty upset. But I figured since my camera was three years old, I needed a new one anyway. So I rationalized this, thinking, “Now I have no reason not to buy a new one when I’m back in Canada.”
When I got back home, Allan was there. He asked how the weekend was and I told him about the camera. He said he happened to have about six cameras with him, which he was bringing to the University in Butare so they could use them for the photo-journalism class there, which likely wouldn’t start until September. He lent me a camera to use!
Later that night, David and I decided to take a walk. I wanted to figure the camera out and he wanted to take some more pictures with his. While we were walking up our street, we were met by this pack of kids, who crowded around me wanting to see the camera. They wanted pictures, so I took a bunch of them, and David took several of me while I was doing this.
The kids were hilarious and kept playing jokes on each other in the pictures, messing them up at the last second. This was easily one of my most memorable experiences here so far, and would not have happened if I hadn’t had a camera, so this weekend actually ended up being quite good.
June 15, 2007 – Leftist mosquitoes
Since I arrived here, I have been plagued by mosquitoes. For some reason, no matter how much DEET I put on, the mosquitoes still find a way to get me. But yesterday, I noticed an interesting phenomenon.
All my bites – at the moment – are on my left side. My left foot has a grand total of 12 bites. TWELVE. To most people, it would seem there would be only so much space on one foot. That and I have TWO feet. I am very confused about why all the bites are on one foot.
Come to think of it, the entire time I’ve been here, I’ve been bitten more on my left side than the right. I am also always itching my right arm. This really doesn’t make any form of sense whatsoever. I write with my right hand and I KNOW my right side has better blood flow. I give blood with that arm with good reason. Yet for some reason, my left side seems to be more appetizing for mosquitoes.
This doesn’t mean I’m advocating for more bites on my right foot. I would prefer the mosquitoes leave me alone and never bother me again. But it just doesn’t make any sense why all my bites are on one side. Apparently mosquitoes do not believe in the principle of balance.
There is a running joke here that if anyone were to stop taking their anti-malarials and immediately get malaria, it would be me. I’m bitten so often that my body is probably just barely fighting it off.
June 12, 2007 – A muzungu staring at a… muzungu?
Yesterday, while on the back of a moto, heading downtown to Bourbon, I passed three white people walking on the side of the road. I proceeded to stare at them in wonder, thinking, "Dude, look at those white people walking there!" My head literally turned to watch them, even after we'd passed them.
Immediately after I did this, I started laughing at myself. This is exactly the reaction I get from Rwandans who see me on the street here.
Then it hit me, and I thought to myself, "If I go crazy like that when I see three white people in Rwanda, what's it going to be like when I'm back in Canada and they're everywhere?" I picture myself having some kind of reverse culture-shock meltdown at the airport.
June 8, 2007 – The long and winding road
David, Drew and I are in Gisenyi (renamed Rubavu) for the weekend. Melodie is joining us tomorrow.
We came up this morning on the bus, which was easily the most ridiculous ride ever. The bus had extremely high seats and much more headroom than I’m used to. Being short, I couldn’t really see over the seats. I started off feeling nauseous because I couldn’t see anything. When I was little, I used to get carsick all the time because I was little and couldn’t see. It was like being three all over again.
I’d bought a coffee at Bourbon and David had bought a tea. I don’t think the coffee was helping very much, because I was dehydrated and coffee of course only dries you out. We don’t have any water in the house right now, so I went to bed without my usual glass on my bedside table last night and woke up feeling very thirsty. Coffee probably wasn’t the best idea. The combination of high seats, no vision, dehydration, and a long, winding road running through and around mountains made me feel gross.
David had finished his tea and just outside Ruhengeri (renamed Musanze), while Drew was telling me a story, I started feeling worse. I grabbed David’s empty cup and threw up into it. It was surprisingly controlled. I put the lid back on the cup and plugged the hole in the top with tissues. But there was still a problem, because there weren’t any garbage cans on the bus. This meant I had to hang on to the cup. To put this into perspective: I was sitting on a bus in the middle of Rwanda with the contents of my own stomach in a cup on my lap. Yup. I thought this was the most ridiculous situation ever, but it was about to get even more so.
On the other side of Ruhengeri, our bus driver decided to pass a truck carrying a bunch of miscellaneous sacks. The road to Gisenyi isn’t exactly wide, so it’s not like there was much room to do this. Plus, there were no lanes in this road, so I’m pretty sure this was several shades of illegal.
Well, on the way past the sack truck, we actually scraped alongside it. In the process, we took the truck’s mirror off. We pulled over to the side of the road. At this point, I was still sitting there with the cup in my lap. People kept telling me to get up and toss it off the bus, but I was reluctant, because on the side of the road there was a coffee plantation. There were also several children asking people on the bus for water bottles – I was afraid they’d grab the cup and there’d be a whole other kind of ridiculous situation.
Then almost everyone got up off the bus and went to go with the driver to talk to the truck driver. I got up off the bus and casually placed the cup behind a tree. Then I followed the crowd to the truck, where the truck driver and everyone else were screaming at each other in Kinyarwanda about who was responsible for the accident. Apparently, everyone on the bus wanted to side with the bus driver, even though it was clearly our fault since we took the mirror off and should not have passed this truck in the first place. The screaming continued for about five minutes, and then all of a sudden everyone turned and got back on the bus. The truck driver ran up to the bus driver’s window and continued screaming at him. The bus driver just waved goodbye and we left.
Luckily, the rest of the drive was completely uneventful.
June 7, 2007 – On improvisation
I have taken to showering every two days here, with good reason. The water pressure is often not the greatest. Yesterday it was practically a trickle. I hadn't showered this morning, and this evening, the water ran out. I knew I needed a shower, because tomorrow we're going to Gisenyi and I didn't want to wait until we were there to shower.
But then it started raining about three hours ago, and it hasn't stopped. (Interestingly enough, the rainy season was supposed to have finished in mid-May, and it's now supposed to be the dry season. Anyway...) At first it was a slow drizzle, then a normal rain, and then it turned into torrential downpour... which continues.
I was sitting in the living room and had what seemed a crazy thought. I got up, went to the washroom, grabbed my shampoo, changed into shorts and a t-shirt (from my jeans and sweatshirt), headed outside and washed my hair in the rain.
June 5, 2007 – On the Joys of Motos
In Rwanda, there are three types of public transport: Taxis, mini-buses, and moto-taxis.
The first is self-explanatory. Mini-buses are basically vans converted into public transport, which often have logos of sports teams or musicians tacked on to the front. They cost an average of Frw100 (about $0.10 U.S.) for a ride from our house to the downtown area. Moto-taxis are motorcycles on which you basically hitch a ride by sitting on the back. They also have them in Uganda, but they're called boda-bodas there. I’m completely addicted to them and will often take them instead of the bus because of the thrill factor.
When someone wants to get your attention in Rwanda, they hiss at you. This means to hire a moto-taxi, you hiss at the driver. They pull over, and then you ask how much it is going to cost to get to a particular destination. This usually results in a whole bunch of bargaining – the driver will usually quote a price much too high, and then you bargain it down. You agree on a price, pay the driver, they give you a helmet, and then you get on the back.
When I first started taking motos, I was scared absolutely shitless. I kept thinking I was going to fall off and die. So I held on to the driver really tightly. One day I had to take five motos in order to get around the city to do a story. By the end of the day, I wasn’t holding on to the driver at all, and was sitting on the back of what’s likely a very unsafe motorcycle with my hands in my lap, just looking around. Added to that, the reporter I was working with was on another moto, and we were having a conversation, yelling things back and forth on two motos, with our helmet visors up, just chilling.
If you’ve ever seen Return of the Jedi, you’ll know about the scene with the Ewoks riding their landspeeders. Motos are kind of like that. You sit there with the city zooming by you (sometimes yelling at another person on another moto), and want to yell “YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE” like an Ewok. Or maybe not. I am pretty weird, after all.
May 25, 2007 – But what are those things on your ears??
I think one of the things I’ll remember most about my time in Rwanda is the children.
Yesterday, I walked home from work wearing my iPod. For those who don't normally see me, I have these ridiculous headphones which completely cover my ears. Music just sounds better that way.
When I usually walk down the street here, people stare a lot. But yesterday, when I was walking with my headphones on, it was even more intense. The looks were a mixture of confused, incredulous, curious, and shocked.
At one point, completely oblivious because of my music, I turned around and a group of children had started following me. I took my headphones off, and some of them started playfully jumping up and hitting my head. They said hello in all three languages and then asked me what the headphones were, so I explained in French.
Two of them grabbed my hands and we kept walking down the street just laughing at each other. This went on for about two minutes, until an older child came up to them and said something very sternly in Kinyarwanda and took them away. It was probably something along the lines of "Don't talk to strangers!" or "Stay away from the crazy mzungu with the things on her ears!”
May 19, 2007 — On mosquito nets
Over the week I've been here, I've become adept at the skill of setting up a mosquito net.
The first few nights, this was difficult. My light switch, so far as I could see, was on the wall, separated from the bed by a vast expanse of floor. Mosquito nets are generally tied up above a bed within arm's reach. This meant – far as I thought – that I'd have to quickly get used to turning off my light and setting up the mosquito net while in the dark.
The first night, I turned off the light, and then unfurled the mosquito net while sitting in the darkness. This was a mistake, as I didn't do it properly. Pretty soon, I had mosquito bites all over my legs. So I decided to change my approach.
The next night, I set up the mosquito net before turning the light off. This still wasn't good enough, because I had to pull the mosquito net up before getting into bed. This meant it had to be untucked, and I had difficulty tucking it back in while still in the dark. This clearly wouldn't work, either.
The third night, shortly before going to bed, I was reading in my room. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a cord hanging down from the wall. My eyes followed it up to the ceiling, and I discovered it was attached to a switch far above my head. As a test, I pulled the cord, and sure enough, my lights went off.
At this point, I felt pretty dumb having not realized there were not one, but two light switches in my room. I could have saved myself the trouble of wandering across the floor in the dark and just pulled the cord next to my bed instead.
Before going to bed, I noticed a mosquito hovering above the net, waiting for me, what it thought was an unsuspecting human. That night, I developed a pretty ridiculous mosquito net system, which nevertheless works and I have been using since. It is as follows:
- If not already on the bed, jump onto the bed (don't dive – you will hurt yourself – trust me on this one) very quickly to avoid the mosquito. You may want to dive if there are an abundance of mosquitos in the area. If so, watch your head. If you hurt your head, all of this is a moot point.
- Reach up quickly and with one hand, untie the mosquito net. This needs to be done in a smooth motion so the mosquito does not get to you.
- Move inside the mosquito net.
- Grab the ends of the mosquito net and swiftly tuck it in to the ends of the bed.
- Reach up and through the mosquito net – being very careful not to untuck the net – turn the light off using the cord.
This system hasn't failed me since I've started using it. I still feel ridiculous doing it at such a stupid speed.
Just remember to check your room for two light switches. Otherwise this approach won't work, and you'll have to come up with something yourself.