Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Visit to the East

Last weekend I finally had the opportunity to experience actual small town living in Rwanda. With its 5 bars, Musanze is a large town by Rwandan standards…I had not realized this because my only comparison up until last weekend had been Kigali, which has 5 NIGHTCLUBS.

Early Saturday morning, my Peace Corps friend and I met up at “our” Tea House (it’s a toss-up for if we are more regulars at the tea house or at the local bar – usually because one (the bar) implies we will go to the other (the tea house) the next morning) for some tea and chapatti before our 2 hour bus ride to Kigali – followed by a 2 hour bus ride into the rural Eastern Province. (Keep in mind that Rwanda is about the size of Rhode Island – but the mountains/hills, the poor road conditions, and the poor road network (all roads lead to Kigali) makes the drive about 3 hours longer than it could be.)

“Wow, it’s really flat” was my only comment as I looked out the windows and saw further than I’ve seen in 4 months.

We got off the bus in a town the size of Norwich – no, Etna – and quickly started playing “spot the other muzungu” because Jessie wasn’t waiting for us. Turns out she was at the market so we just wandered down the road to find her. Thankfully, Saturday was market day (another luxury of “large town” living is that we have a market every day), so we were able to enjoy a feast of vegetable and bean stir-fry on (more) chapatti, while downing some boxed wine that Amy had carried from Kigali.

More thankfully, Jessie managed to find a man to bring water to her house, so we weren’t waterless for the weekend – although I was prepared with handi-wipes and large water bottles. (Another luxury: running water.) The handi-wipes came in common because the bathroom was actually a hole in the ground in a little building outside her house. (Another luxury: toilets.) I’m unsure how I have managed to avoid such “toilets” since coming to Rwanda, but I have. After peeing in the complete dark, the only question I had for my host was “what happens when you have to poop, but you can’t?”

“I crouch for as long as I can, and then I stand up and take a break. And then I crouch again.”

Dear porcelain goddess, Even if I can’t flush toilet paper down you and I keep on forgetting, making me scared that you’re going to break and everybody will blame me, I love you. And will never flush toilet paper down you again, because I have no idea what I would do without you.

Our evening entertainment consisted of staring at stars and watching movies because in a small town it is highly inappropriate for girls to go to a bar unaccompanied by a man and impossible to go outside after dark (another luxury: and I thought Musanze was sexist! NEVERMIND!). I will give credit to the Eastern Province: the stars were actually amazing. I am from New Hampshire, and have stared at stars in the middle of a dark lake…but I have never seen as many stars as I saw that night. All 3 of us just stood outside of Jessie’s house for 15 minutes, mouths open, staring in awe at how many stars there were. If you stared at any “empty” space long enough, you began to see more stars.

In a stark comparison, the next day I treated myself to an afternoon of luxury at “The Manor” in Kigali. It’s a hotel reminiscent of Constant Gardner luxury in the middle of poverty: pure white, an everlasting pool, and multiple terraces and bars. I felt right at home, if not slightly embarrassed for my dirty fingernails, greasy hair, and unwashed clothes.

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