Sept. 18, 2006
"Muzungu" means different. It's applied to us,
as white people, all the time, anywhere we go in the city
or countryside. Sometimes it comes across as insulting, especially
when we don't know what else people are saying. But I know
people, especially children, are just curious. And in fact,
what people are usually saying around the word "Muzungu" are
Touring around the market, and
our self appointment tour guide and fellow reporter at
The New Times Linda explained what the vendors and people
on the street were actually saying. Apparently we're the
best looking muzungus they've ever seen – or
at least the youngest. Most often what they are saying is "how
The buses here are actually vans that can, and mostly do,
pack 16 people in at a time. A ride costs a whopping 20 cents
unless you are heading out of town at which point it is closer
to 25 cents.
Waiting at the bus stop with us Muzungus (on our way to
work) this morning was a little girl and her mom. She just
stared and stared and grinned at me. Climbing into the van
she passed me and sneakily grabbed my hand for a second.
In my usual squished and sweaty position, I sat beside
the two of them, the child on her mom's lap. The girl gently
touched our feet together, then the mother brushed her hand
against my arm over and over. They both reached out and touched
Alyssa's hair (she sat in front of me) too.
This happens regularly. We went out of town yesterday and
driving through the villages children would run up to the
road and wave wildly at us, grinning. It felt like we were
in a parade.
Very odd feeling perhaps, but not mean or ill intentioned.
So when I get self conscious or tired of being stared at,
that's what I think of.
Sunni, a Rwandan who grew up in Canada, asked my opinion
about Kigali the other day.
"It's beautiful." By
which I meant the horizon - a series of misty hills in
"Oh don't be so clichéd," he
What I really meant was – I
don't know yet. Rwanda is contradiction.
Elaborate new houses and office buildings line pock marked
and dusty dirt roads. Well dressed journalists drink their
beer at a bar hut out back. I walk through Kigali and see
a one room house made of sheet metal. It's leaning against
a stone wall that protects another family's home. But it
isn't just the infrastructure juxtapositions that surprise
Children in bright blue school
uniforms run by the "muzungus" (us!)
to shake their hands and laugh on the way home from school.
The rest of the time it is barefoot kids in old t-shirts
saying "J'ai faim mamma" and asking for "100
francs (20 cents)."
So much is gated and covered in walls. On top of the walls
there is barbed wire or, more commonly, shards of glass bottles
glinting in the sunlight. But curling their green way through
the wire and resting contently on the broken glass are magnificent
flowers: bright pink, purple and orange. The trees too, come
in crazy shapes. There are trees that look like giant bonsais,
and ones that remind me of sumacs. Palm trees line the main
road from our house to work.
The newspaper itself is a contradiction. I went on assignment
the other day with a colleague. At a hotel where we were
to meet our interviewee, the Ministry of Finance was training
journalists on how to report on a new government policy.
"How can the government be training journalists on policy when journalists
are supposed to be able to monitor the government?" asked
my colleague, concerned about the ethics of freedom of the
Despite some understanding of ethics and the ability of
many reporters to do critical interviews, I edit stories
every day which lack any structure or sometimes even proper
grammar. English is many of the reporters' third language
and only one person in the newsroom has had professional
This is not snobbery. I am impressed by the paper which
has built itself from a monthly publication to a daily one
in the decade after the genocide.
But if Sunni asks me again what I think of Rwanda I will
still say beautiful, but beautiful in its contradiction.
It is a country, in the most obvious and visual sense, in
the middle of big transition. And this is the first time
I've gotten to witness, rather than read about, that transition.
Sept. 13, 2006
We landed in Ethiopia after about 36 hours of travel and
maybe four of sleep.
Ethiopia, 13 months of sunshine, reads their slogan. Except,
waiting to board the plane for Kigali, we stood on the tarmac
as great globs of rain came down. Thirteen months of sunshine
huh? An Ethiopian football team stood with us and told us
it was Holy Rain. We laughed, but they weren't joking. The
flight attendant said the same thing.
Ethiopia has 13 months, the 13th being only a few days.
Friday Sept 8 was the last day of the year and if it rained
on that day, it was holy. People would be standing on the
streets letting the rain pour off them in blessings. Suddenly
we were so happy to be drenched.