All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy! So, what have I been doing with my free time?
Weeknights you can usually find me making dinner, catching up on email, and reading. It seems like an expat rite of passage to carry around a hard drive full of movies and TV series, and after several swaps with fellow mzungus*, I have quite a healthy stock. I’m trying to pace myself though as I also have a healthy stock of books to read. Fortunately for my reading, most nights we have power outages from about 6:00 or 6:30 to 10:00pm, which means lots of early nights in bed with a book and a flashlight.
* Mzungu is the term for ‘white folk’. It comes from the Bantu language family and was initially applied to people of European descent but today people of Asian and Indian origin are often called mzungus as well. The same term is used in Malawi, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia, and originally meant “someone who roams aimlessly, aimless wanderer” – quite a fitting definition, I should think! : )
So far my weekends have been spent in equal parts between Muhanga and Kigali, and with a day trip to Butare in the South. A good friend and former Nobel Women’s Initiative colleague, Erika, lives in Kigali, and has been an amazing weekend host. Erika’s been in Rwanda for about 2 years in total (with stints back home), so the country is old hat to her. She’s my go-to for all mzungu questions: How much should I be paying for this mango?; Where do I find cockroach spray?; And please tell me where a cat can get a cupcake in this country!
I love touring around Kigali with Erika. African cities and towns can be hard to navigate; often there aren’t formal road names or addresses so things tend to be located by proximity to other landmarks. Add in a language barrier, and every trip outside the safety of your own neighbourhood can turn in to an adventure in the wrong direction. Erika walks the streets confidently and with purpose and speaks the Kinyarwanda necessities to match: directions, greetings, and ordering a cold beer are a breeze for her. And if anyone even tries to give her the mzungu price (usually about 4 times higher than the usual cost) Erika just gives a look that says ‘please.’ No negotiations necessary.
Regardless of Erika’s amazing hospitality, riding down Kigali’s paved and palm-lined streets on the back of a moto at dusk is enough to make anyone swoon. The hillsides sparkle with lights and shades of grey paint layers of mountains as far as the eye can see. Coupled with a cool evening breeze, Kigali never fails to make me feel alive.
While Muhanga might not quite stack up to Kigali’s chic, if you’re in the know and your entertainment tastes are flexible, a decent social life is just a short walk away. The epicenter of Muhanga’s activities is Ahazaza Center, a school and social hub that pumps out events to meet everyone’s needs. The activities – ranging from fitness classes to concerts – serve as Income Generating Activities (IGAs) to offset the cost of tuition for students. There are about a dozen mzungus in Muhanga and many of them work at the Center or School, so it wasn’t long before I discovered all that Ahazaza has to offer.
About once a week I head to the Center for ‘GYM TONIC !!’ (actual name as advertised on posters) – an hour and a half long aerobics class led by a very enthusiastic instructor. In the evenings, the Center also hosts concerts, airs European soccer games, and on weekends turns into something of a night club.
Outside of the Center, there are few bars and it’s hit and miss on whether you’ll find anyone there on any given night. On Friday my Ahazaza friends – Bart, Juliana, and Stein – and I lucked out; an open air patio bar was hosting an open mic night with rap and reggae performers from Kigali, Muhanga, and the surrounding villages.
And, of course, domestic chores are always on the weekend program. Having been here a month as of Friday, I decided it was time for a full house cleaning. I started with laundry – sheets, towels, and a few clothes – and moved on to sweeping and scrubbing the apartment.
It’s a bit silly but I feel I am seriously terrible at washing – especially large things – by hand. I start by soaking the clothes in warm water for about an hour, occasionally massaging and scrubbing the clothes. Then I ring them out and put them through two rinses. I can never quite seem to get the suds out (no matter how much or little soap I use) and I feel like the whole process is a huge drain on my water stores. At a dinner with a few mzungus the other day we were all sharing strategies and pains of hand washing. It seems we all feel like fish out of water. I thought it was quite funny (and sad ! ) that several smart and resourceful mzungus can’t hash it with the ‘simple’ skill of washing clothes!
Currently I’m on a temporary single entry visa, but when I get my long term visa, Rwanda will be a great jumping point for weekend trips to Burundi and Uganda. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to visiting Rwanda’s many museums and soaking up sunshine on the shores of Lake Kivu.
“Let us step into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure.” – Harry Potter and the Half Blooded Prince