Rosemary Quipp's Blog
August 1, 2007 – The Global Village
I’m conducting business as usual. I’m apartment-hunting for a place close to Carleton, keeping up-to-date on my friends’ lives, filing stories for my local newspaper in the Gatineau Hills and talking on the phone to my parents almost nightly. I’m also 12,000 kilometres away from home.
We really are living in McLuhan’s Global Village. I can’t believe how easy it is to stay connected with laptops, Internet cafés, e-mail, MSN Messenger, Skype and cell phones. Sometimes it feels like I never even left my friends and family.
It’s reassuring to know how closely linked I am to everyone back home (and all my friends scattered across the globe), but it also makes me feel like I’m cheating myself out of the true experience of traveling. When my dad traveled Europe at my age, he says he barely had any connection with home for a full year. Times have changed, to the point that I can spread my wings and fly halfway around the world without ever really leaving the nest.
The two weeks I spend in the wilds of Tanzania, away from Internet and cell phone towers, might come as a shock.
July 24, 2007 – Carb-o-mania
When I left for Africa, my girlfriends enviously lamented the fact that I would be returning home in September “all tanned and thin.” I laughed it off and told them they were crazy, but deep in the recesses of my vanity I hoped it was true.
I’m going to come home with a peeling sunburn, and probably noticeably heavier than when I left. It seems like all we eat here are carbs. It’s taken my appetite awhile to adjust to the frican diet, or at least the diet of a Canadian living in Africa.
Back home, I love salads and big slabs of meat (or any protein, I’m just as happy with tofu or a handful of nuts) – both of which are in short supply here. In exchange, we get rice and pasta and potatoes, sometimes all together in one sitting. Of course, the carb-o-mania is supplemented with bits of protein and vegetable dishes, but it’s just not enough to fill me up.
I am always hungry. I am always eating. I eat breakfast (three pieces of toast) and then go to work and have a mid-morning snack of chapatti (basically fried bread). I go home and try to fill up on lunch, but I find myself sitting in my bedroom snacking on trail mix before I return to the office. I fantasize about dinner all afternoon, but even Mary’s dinner spreads aren’t enough to satisfy me: by 8:00 p.m. I’m back at the fridge or digging into my stash of snacks – an apple if I’m feeling healthy, a Bounty bar if I’m not.
I know it has something to do with the fact that the kinds of foods we’re eating here just don’t stick to your ribs, but at the same time I really think there is a psychological element. Tastiness is the same worldwide, so the enjoyment of eating is something that can make you feel at home no matter where you are. I also have this mentality that I’m leaving Africa in five weeks and I won’t get the chance to eat some of these dishes again, so I have to get as much out of these flavours as I can while I’m here.
Garrett, Andrew, Andrea and Camille enjoying breakfast on the lawn at our hotel in Gisenyi
Normally, a little weight gain wouldn’t cause a problem. I would eat what I wanted, accept the locals’ compliments of my “Rwandan hips” (which are growing every day), and then go home – back to my routine of semi-regular jogging and everything in moderation. However, four weeks from today I set off on a six-day hike up Mount Kilimanjaro, and I don’t want to be carrying the fat content of half our cupboards with me.
I’ve started drinking massive mugs of tea in the evening to keep my hands and mouth occupied so I don’t go for the fridge, but that poses problems of its own – last night, I got up three times in the middle of the night to pee.
At least those trips to the bathroom are burning extra calories.
July 21, 2007 — Pottermania
I can’t believe that today, all over the world, men, women and children are cracking the spines on the seventh and final installment of Harry Potter. I think I’m going to cry.
I almost reconsidered the dates of my trip when I realized that the revered July 21 was going to fall smack in the middle of my time here in Rwanda, but in a moment of uncharacteristic strength I reminded myself that The Deathly Hallows will still be around when I disembark on September 1 (although my parents better have a copy of it in the car with them, along with sushi and a king-sized pillow – the only other North American amenities I am truly missing).
Rwandans seem generally unaware about the Harry Potter phenomenon, but some people have seen the movies and I saw a French version of The Goblet of Fire in one of the few bookstores here. Needless to say, there were no midnight line-ups or release parties – in Kigali, it’s just another day.
Of course, it wasn’t enough that the cover of the Maclean’s magazine sitting on our kitchen table in Kigali begs the question “Will Harry Die?” (a question I live in constant fear I will learn the answer to before I plow through J.K. Rowling’s 700-ish pages on my own). During my first week here I discovered, upon closer inspection of my bed sheets, that they are covered in broomsticks and snitches.
I refuse to believe that the universe doesn’t have a sense of humour: I’m probably the only person in Kigali with Harry Potter bed sheets.
July 19, 2007 – The Pursuit of Entertainment
Last night, Andrew, Garrett, Kristen and I decided to check out Cinesilver, a movie theatre Garrett and Kristen had discovered on their travels in Nyamirambo (one of Kigali’s many neighbourhoods).
We were running late to begin with – I hopped on a moto to get home from work in time and arrived home swearing to Garrett it would be the last time I took one, yet 20 minutes later found us flagging down a pair of the terrifying things, as packed bus after packed bus rumbled past our stop.
Downtown, we found Kristen and Andrew in Bourbon Coffee, and we all headed for the theatre, with a taxi driver who wasn’t entirely sure where we were going. Luckily, Garrett knew, and told the driver to stop just in time… we got out of the car and hurried down a dusty side street dotted with hole-in-the-wall stores, not a muzungu in sight.
We made it to the concrete building only a few minutes after the 6 p.m. start time, before the movie itself had even started. We were there to see The Pursuit of Happyness (you have no idea how much it hurts me to intentionally misspell a word).
We gave our 200 francs (about 40 cents American) to the man standing at the door, and rushed into the room, not entirely sure what to expect.
The room was the size of a large-ish lecture hall at school, but the similarities didn’t end there. Instead of the cushy seats and drink holders we are pampered to expect in North America, the seating was also reminiscent of a room where you might go to hear a professor prattle on about the War of 1812. Rows of blue plastic seats stretched up towards the back of the almost-empty room – another surprise, considering we thought the movie might be sold out.
There was one more surprise in store. We settled in as best we could, propping our feet on the backs of the seats in front of us as a preview for Ratatouille drew to a close. The relaxing music of the film’s opening sequence lulled me in and began to carry me away to movieland, but I was jarred back to reality when Will Smith opened his mouth to speak – it wasn’t his voice at all, but some unknown actor. Some unknown French actor. Speaking in French.
We stayed, understood as much as we could (some of us more than others), and compared notes afterwards to see if we got the jist of it.
The most enjoyable part of the evening was the bus ride back from the theatre to downtown. Scrunched in a bus decked out with a black light and pumping music, we had to hunch over in our seats, as the ceiling was too low to allow us to sit up straight.
Instead of grumbling like we might have done back in Canada if the bus system didn’t meet our expectations, we just laughed and danced, stooped over in our seats as the bus jerked and bounced the ten minutes to downtown, glowing crazily in the black light.
When we got downtown and there were no buses going to our neighbourhood, we shrugged it off and walked the 45 minutes home.
The evening was the perfect manifestation of Lesson Number Two: you can have fun anywhere if you just roll with the punches.
July 18, 2007 – Two Weeks in Kigali
My first two weeks on African soil have dragged their feet around the face of the clock, but at the same time, they have passed in a single heartbeat.
When my feet first hit the tarmac of the Kigali International Airport, after 36 hours of traveling and almost zero sleep (except for two hours on a table in the Amsterdam airport), I was too jet-lagged and sleep-deprived to really comprehend what was going on. But, by the afternoon of my first day here I was starting to wonder if I had made a grave mistake.
Having never left my parents or Canada for more than a month, and having never traveled further than Central America, the culture shock and homesickness hit me like a tonne of bricks (wrapped in steel beams and dropped from the top of the C.N. Tower).
I will be the first to admit that I was a total wimp, but I had promised myself that I wouldn’t block feelings out while I was on this trip – to get the most out of this opportunity I knew I had to let in the bad with the good, instead of white-knuckling it and pretending everything was okay. (I have to send a shout-out to the other interns here right now, for keeping me laughing though my lowest moments).
I had a terrible time adjusting. The first few days I was close to tears, bewildered by the new sights and smells and panicked at the thought that I wouldn’t be back in my comfort zone of home for 60 days.
It’s not that I didn’t prepare myself, or that I didn’t know what to expect. Driving home from the airport on my first day here, the images around me seemed to be straight out of National Geographic: women carrying baskets on their heads; men piled into the beds of pickup trucks; children running free in faded clothing, beaming infectious smiles; cars in various states of disrepair, rumbling over rutted roads.
If anything, Kigali was even more “stereotypical Africa” than I had expected it to be.
My problem was I hadn’t anticipated how hard it would be to adjust. I learned Lesson Number One: no matter how well you think you are prepared, you’re never going to know what’s what until your feet are on the ground.
I thought that because I was so passionate about visiting Africa, because I had always been fascinated with the continent and because I had spent months mentally and physically preparing myself, that I would be able to slip right into life here like a favourite pair of jeans. Instead, I spent the first week trying to get them up over my hips, and the second week struggling with the zipper.
The longer I’m here, the faster time passes. At the beginning, I fell into bed every night relieved that I could cross another day off the calendar, and woke up every morning thankful to pop a malaria pill out of its blister pack and into my mouth – one more down. It’s not that I wasn’t having fun or seeing incredible sights, but whenever I had a spare moment to stop and think, panic welled up in my throat when I realized I wouldn’t be home until the beginning of September.
As I’m becoming accustomed to life in Kigali, I’m seeing that it’s as good a place as any to spend a summer: endless sunny days for getting a tan by simply walking to work; dramatic sunsets of oranges and pinks; cool nights for sleeping under draped mosquito nets; children’s smiles following me wherever I go; dusty roads that send clouds of rust-coloured earth hovering around my ankles with every step (summer just isn’t summer without grimy feet); eating out in restaurants where it is as common to drink beer with your meal as it is to drink water; and the promise of a paradise “jungle party” weekend at Lake Kivu as July draws to a close.
I’ve realized I’m already done one-third of my time in Rwanda, because for the last two weeks of August I will be in Tanzania (on safari and climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro). I’m starting to panic for a different reason: there is so much left to see and do in the next four weeks!