Tuesday, March 1, 2011

How to Make a Friend in Rwanda

…if the potential friend is a Rwandan male…
Step 1: Exist.
…if the potential friend is an American female…
Step 1: Find her…mostly likely at 'The Lounge.'
Step 2: Exchange NGO information and determine the mutual benefit of
your exchange.
Step 3: Exchange phone numbers. (If you ever want to call me, mine is
+250-78-246-8532. Fun fact that my (technologically inept) mother
recently learned: you actually have to dial the '+' part of the
number, otherwise everything else just doesn't work, no matter how
many times you try.)
Step 4: Show up at her house. No worries…given Steps 1-3, you're
already friends, so this is okay.
…so it's really not too hard either way.

In this case, I met my new friend at 'The Lounge'…not surprising given
that me and every other white girl in Musanze goes there about 4
nights a week, so there's a guaranteed overlap in there somewhere. In
this particular story, I met Devin at The Lounge while my mom was
visiting (we went there twice in the 24 hours that I was in Musanze –
I swear, even when I'm living in NYC next year, I'm going to crave
this pizza) – Devin works at an orphanage and I work at health
centers. The mutual benefit of our interaction was that my mom's
dedication to Selamta in Ethiopia means that she is interested in
visiting/touring orphanages in other developing countries…and then
Devin was interested in how I could help her get vaccines for her
children. Obviously, this was good enough to exchange phone numbers.
My mom and I did end up going to the orphanage 2 days later, but Devin
wasn't there. We got a tour from the one other American that lives
there. The tour was nice, but was overly concentrated on the
gardens…which were absolutely gorgeous…but I was a little disappointed
at the lack of interaction with the children.
…so I jumped at the 'opportunity' a week later when Lyndsey mentioned that she
was going to go up to the orphanage.
It wasn't so much an opportunity as her asking for a ride, but I
offered before she even got around to the asking, because I was hoping
to actually be able to hang out with the kids this time.
(Even as I'm writing this, I'm starting to question my own sanity. It
looks like 7 months in Africa, with no interactions with children has
made me think of them as more tolerable, and potentially cute.)
Not really knowing Lyndsey's plans, I jumped in the driver's seat for
the 45 minute drive on smooth paved road, followed by the 30 minute
drive through glorified ditches. When we got to the orphanage, it
appeared that Lyndsey had planned an all-girls' slumber party. She'd
packed a change of clothes and a bottle of wine…and there were 3 other
girls there. (Okay, so we gave one of them a ride too, but I figured
that she was also just coming up for a tour.)
Devin (who I would not have recognized had she not been coming out of
a house that I knew was hers and only hers) and I hugged, asked how
the other was doing, and generally acted like we were old friends
meeting up.

So that's the first story…the second story is just about this
orphanage, which is AMAZING. There's a book about it, called Land of a
Thousand Hills, which I tried to read. But I accidentally bought the
book called A Thousand Hills and read that one instead…I kept on
wondering when the part about the orphanage would come up, and then I
finished it. A Thousand Hills, though, was actually a pretty good book
that gave me a great understanding of recent Rwandan history and
values. So, I recommended it to Lyndsey for background reading before
coming. She picked up the correct book, and passed the recommendation
on to Jared, who bought Land of a Thousand Hills. My lesson from all
of this is that one day, when I write my own book, I should name it
something very similar to a very popular one, and just let my sales
run wild from there.
Land of a Thousand Hills is about Rosalie Carr, the longest ex-pat
resident in Rwanda's history. "Roz" started her African adventures
when she married a British explorer in the 50s, they bought a
pyrethrum plantation 20 kilometers north of Ruhengeri, divorced her
husband, and bought his share of the plantation. She then became good
ole pals with Dian Fossey (she's pretty famous in the gorilla world)
and many diplomats (such was life in Africa in the 50s and 60s). She
was forced to evacuate a few days into the genocide and returned in a
cargo plane a few months later, where she rescued groups of orphaned
children and set up a home for them in the barn of the pyrethrum
plantation. Over the years, she continued to rescue children whose
parents died in refugee camps or during other various (not officially
recognized) insurgencies…eventually building actual housing for an
orphanage of about 100 children.
And I got to spend the night in her house.
Which essentially looks like an English cottage, and gardens,
transplanted to Africa. I actually thought I was in the Secret Garden
(remember that movie?) when I first saw it with my mom…and was not
disappointed when my friendship with Devin allowed me to enter the
house. It was so classically little old lady homey and cozy that I
wanted to curl up and never leave. We had tea at 4pm in mismatched
china teacups. (Devin poured the water from the electric boiler into a
china tea kettle.) And we used silver silverware (hehe) to eat dinner.
I slept on a bed of (name of random/potentially extinct or endangered
African mammal) fur. When Molly opened up a random book, a picture of
the man who discovered mountain gorillas, standing next to the first
gorilla he ever discovered, fluttered out of the book and fell to the
floor (and almost into the fire --- eek!), behind that was a picture
of 2 (apparently very famous) National Geographic photographers,
standing outside that very house, with the easily recognizable garden
in the background. On the walls, were pictures of Roz with the pope,
Dian Fossey, and Romeo Dallaire's replacement (given that I didn't
know his name, I would never expect you to – but you should know
Dallaire, Google him if you don't). I essentially stumbled upon the
opportunity to sleep in a museum, and was constantly torn between
wanting to touch everything, and not wanting to touch anything.

…And yet again, this was an experience/weekend that just would not
have been possible in the US.

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