Monday, August 30, 2010

It’s Cold in Africa

It comes with the territory of growing up in New Hampshire to be skeptical of any person who tells you that some place is “cold.” So, even though I was warned that Rwanda might be “chilly”, my geographic senses (the equator is a 2 hour drive on mountainous dirt roads – I’m going to estimate that it’s about the distance of Hanover to Woodstock, or NYC to Newark) told me otherwise. I should have known. I will take an excerpt from my blog post about my first experience in Africa:

"1. It’s fucking freezing in Namibia.
2. Those things jumping in front of the ship – they weren’t dolphins – they were fucking PENGUINS.
3. Like I was convinced that the captain made a wrong turn and accidentally brought us to Antarctica.
4. Because the fog was also so dense that you couldn’t even see the front of the boat.
5. And there was no Lion King music blasting from the country. Which I was really expecting would happen.
6. So, overall, it was the worst sunrise ever."

Let’s just lather, rinse, repeat to describe my current thoughts about Rwanda. And add that the rainy season has started and we haven’t had electricity for hours. I feel that I am being cursed for all my prior complaints about the dust.

Now that I’m four weekends in, I feel a bit obligated to tell you all about nightlife in Rwanda. Here’s a make-your-own-adventure of a typical Friday/Saturday night:

1. Beer at Dinner? (Dinner = homemade pizza)
a. No – Go to Question 2
b. Yes – Go to Question 3

2. Great! You held off for an hour! But you do succumb to peer pressure. Go to Question 3.

3. Amstel or Primus?
a. Amstel – Go to Question 4
b. Primus – Go to Question 4

4. Feeling a little tipsy and everybody starts to show up. “Everybody” includes the normal crowd of muzungus (Peace Corps Amy, Christian Griffen, French Max), muzungu friends of the muzungus, Rwandan CCHIPs staff (Rene, Doctor Nathalie, Placide and wife), and other Rwandans (neighbor Felix, district data manager Gaston, professor from local university…). Do you…
a. Play card games/drinking games/teach Rwandans Up and Down the River – Go to Question 5
b. Escape the madness and shower/Skype/watch a movie – Go to Option 1

5. Oh boy…it looks like you’re actually going to drink this evening. But what do you ultimately choose?
a. Straight beer, gotta love knowing how your body will react – Go to Option 2
b. Beer + gin + banana beer + whiskey + banana liquor + strawberry wine + anything fermentable…because it’s more fun and more “Rwandan” that way – Go to Option 3

Option 1: Stay in and read Atlas Shrugged

Wow Eli! You’re such a rager and represent the SD so well! I hope your new Rwandan friends can at least appreciate the irony of reading Ayn Rand while volunteering in Africa. If not, too bad, at least you’ll wake up at 6am tomorrow so that you can…do nothing because it’s a Rwandan work day and no muzungus can be seen outside of their compounds. At least, then, you got a good night’s sleep.

Option 2: Go to Volcana Lounge

The exorbitant prices at Volcana (by Hanover standards, not by African standards) keep it a little classier than other places. I’m not entirely sure why “lounge” is linked to its name…perhaps the owners are referring to the few couches on the sides of its dance floor? There is also a pool table in a back room and they make amazing/expensive pizza (also by Hanover standards). It’s a little far from the main drag and pretty damn pricey, so it’s usually pretty empty. This is ideal if we have a large group and want to listen exclusively to MJ on the dance floor, but less ideal if we want to have adventures of any sort. Few exciting stories have come out of nights at Volcana, and all those that have are somehow associated with the DJ booth and a muzungu physically taking over the music selection. Or stories of one in the group hustling another at pool (only the loser has to pay to play…it’s a great rule and slightly reminds me of pong).

Option 3: Go to Silverback Dance Club, where the magic happens

My first time in Silverback I was so offended and disgusted that I immediately retreated from the dance floor to the bar, where I always feel safe. I had to be dragged back to the dancing by Lauren, who insisted that this was NOT a Chi Gam dance party, and despite the fact that the guys felt comfortable putting their hands on my pants, they had no intentions/hopes/desires of getting in my pants. This explanation made me feel much better…and I soon came to fully embrace the Silverback culture.

For one, all the guys are very liberal with sharing their drinks, which are mostly flasks or fifths hidden under their jackets. I know I need to stop accepting drinks from strange men in a foreign country – but it’s just so much cheaper than Volcana that I can’t stop! (You will be proud to know that I did make the rule to only accept a drink if the guy has a sip first. I think this is a very reasonable, responsible, and resourceful system I think.)

Second, I’ve never been such a confident dancer. I do not know how I will ever transition back to the US. There’s just something about knowing that every guy in the club will dance with you (to the chagrin of all the prostitutes hanging around) that makes you incredibly confident in your dancing abilities. (Or maybe it’s the banana beer/wine/liquor hitting the system.) I have no qualms teaching my partner how to swing (at least that part you’ll be proud of, Poppy), or literally doing fast feet drills and pretending it’s a dancing move. You can be incredibly silly and nobody knows or cares. It’s a great work out.

Third, there are many adventures to be had. Last weekend I got lost on my way to the bathroom and found myself locked in the kitchen, unable to get out. My solution was to follow the door through to the back of the bar and to sneak out that way. But this did not go unnoticed and I was even able to serve up a drink on my way out! (We’ll add that experience to times when knowing Kinyrwandan would be helpful.)

So there you have it with a summary of nightlife in Rwanda…given these descriptions, I think it might be possible to replace some key words (“banana liquor” = “99 bananas”…remember that one Frances/Isabelle?) and you might think I was somewhere in America. Okay, maybe not Silverback. Silverback is quite uniquely Rwandan.

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