Wednesday, 20 August 2008

In at the deep end for Teresa, Rachel and Andy

July 30th

A long, late, lazy breakfast in Kigali, then I’m going to show the family round the town. Rightly or wrongly I’ve decided that the only way to cope with Rwanda for visitors is to plunge them in at the deep end. If they survive the traumas of the first day, I’ll know they can cope with anything else!

So we first go to the VSO office, where I show them our local “power base” and they meet several volunteers who are in for meetings or to catch up on work. Then we catch a very crowded little matata into the town centre. My family learns exactly what I mean when I explain that the Kinyarwanda word for matata means “let’s all squeeze up together”!

Mu Muji is bustling and crowded and as frantic as always, and it makes a tough start to street life in Africa, but I know where I’m going and I take everyone on a tour via Mille Collines hotel, the old Belgian colonial quarter, and then into the busiest part of all – the old central market area. We dive into BCK for lunch; this is a western oasis in the surrounding chaos, and we are lucky enough to get a table on the balcony which is breezy and has views out to the hillsides surrounding Kigali. Even while we’re eating, we meet another volunteer!

In the afternoon we drift down through the bazaar; hundreds and hundreds of little shops selling hardware, cloth, electrical goods, medicines. Many are run by Indian families from Kenya or Uganda. On a whim I decide to buy some more batik material for another shirt, and the whole family squeezes down the alleyway into the little shop. Much haggling ensues, but the merchant won’t budge and I end up paying what she asks for. It’s a beautiful blue design and should look stunning on a shirt. It’ll match my jeans perfectly.

By now it’s hot and sticky and my family are wilting, so we get another bus back up to Kimironko and Beau Séjour. I leave them gasping at a shady table and go to negotiate for a taxi to take us all to Gitarama. Just as I reach Ndolis supermarket I bump into Karen. She in turn is waiting for Nix, from Shyogwe, who is taking her back to Gitarama in her jeep. Karen offers to take at least some of us, and after a frantic five minutes’ manoeuvring we manage to get Teresa and two big suitcases into the back opf the jeep. (Just for the record, Nix’s jeep must be the smallest one in the world. But it has U N registration plates, a legacy of its former ownership, and these serve as a passport out of trouble at police roadblocks etc.

With Teresa and two heavy suitcases out of the way, we decide that Rachel, Andy and I and our remaining luggage will fit in one of the bigger buses running to Gitarama. So once again it’s back to the town centre and a journey in (relative) comfort home. We instal ourselves in the FHI guesthouse.

Karen has invited us all to dinner at Nectar, so we descend on the usual friends and everybody is introduced. It’s Janine and Jodie’s last night before departure, so I’m able to give them their souvenir baskets and at least my family can say they have met them.

Best thing about today – lots of stuff. Simply having my family here and starting to show them round. Karen and Nix’s generosity in offering a lift. Karen once again for having the idea of another muzungu dinner so that within 24 hours of arrival my family have met most of the Gitarama people as well as about five other VSOs. And congratulations to my family for coping so well with being thrown in at the deep end. I can still remember how anxious I felt when I first went into the town centre – the noise, the manic traffic, the sheer weight of people, the hawkers and beggars. And all the constant stares and attention because you look different from everyone else. It’s certainly challenging, and definitely not the sort of quiet, relaxing, winding-down thing you would expect to be doing on your summer holidays.

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