Monday, April 18, 2011

Plumbing in Rwanda

I'm nearing the point where I can start getting sentimental about things I will miss in Rwanda. One of this things will most definitely be the hilarious plumbing. My thought is that indoor plumbing is still too new an idea in Rwanda for it to be fully developed. And I really don't mean this in a derogatory way...even when I visit wealthy Rwandan's homes, they have outdoor squat toilets. Indoor toilets and showers seem to be only a strange muzungu obsession. 

As a result, most showers aren't too developed, and consist of a hose and a drain. But even with this simplicity, some aspects still manage to be entertaining. For one, the hose is usually connected to the wall to most inconveniently spray water throughout the entire bathroom...often a stark 90 degrees directly away from the wall. Which also means that you usually must be either 3 feet or 6 feet (depending on the shower) tall to benefit from the shower. 

And then there are the efforts to fix the plumbing...which are mostly entertaining because it seems that the plumbers never know what the final product should look like. 

At my friend's house, for example, they had a perfectly good system of shower-spout-at-90-degrees-spraying-across-the-room-with-a-floor-squeegee-to-push-water-back-to-the-shower-drain...when their plumper came in and built a rim around the shower drain. Presumably because normal showers have rims around the drains....but without realizing that normal showers also normally have doors, or curtains, or at least spouts that point downwards. Let me spell out the result for you: the floor of his bathroom is now perpetually covered in 1 inch of soapy standing water because it is now impossible for the squeegee to get the water over the ridge back into the shower drain. Thank you for that new addition, plumber.

Thankfully my bathroom has 2 in the shower, and one elsewhere in the floor. But even with this new-fangled invention, we have plumbing problems of our own. We seem to pay our plumber on an hourly/weekly basis...not by project...and not by need. As a result, ever since I've been here, one of the bathrooms in the house has been out of order. Each for weeks at a time, seemingly because the plumber shows up, unasked, with a sledgehammer, takes out a pipe, comes down with amnesia, and does not return for 2 weeks. When he does return, he fixes the "problem" (which wasn't a problem until he knocked a pipe out with a sledgehammer) in a day, and then returns the next day to create a new problem. All the while, not fixing any of the actual plumbing problems that exist in the house, such as lack of hot water in some showers but not others, leaking pipes, leaking pipes creating mold in my room that require me to hang my clothes outside of my closet, sinks that break during Thanksgiving dinner, and sinks the are frightening to turn on because they spray in every direction possible. 

Just in case you don't believe me...2 weeks ago, my perfectly functioning shower was taken out of commission by the plumber who, as of the pictures that I took this evening, has yet to return to do anything about it:
Doesn't come out so lovely in the sideways picture...but that's a big hole in the wall of our shower, for no particular reason.
And just as a comparison, 3 feet away is our sink, which leaks 4.5 liters of water each day. I know this because we use a 1.5 liter bottle to capture the water. This is apparently not worth fixing. The working shower, however, was worth sledghammering.
Oh Rwanda, how I'll miss you...

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Unplanned Weekend

In general, I don’t like to plan my adventures. Most successfully, this has resulted in me hanging out with Cory Hoeferlin on an island off the coast of Malaysia. Most unsuccessfully, I missed a NASCAR race last summer because we didn’t know what time it started…so we ended up touring Harpoon brewery and I ended up drunkenly breaking my vegetarian vows. Essentially, not planning always leads to success and happy stories. If you take the time to plan, you are only setting yourself up for failure…something will inevitably go wrong and botch all your plans…especially if your plans consist of making hotel reservations in a cash-based not-planning country like Rwanda.

Which is why I’ve had difficulty recently, spending my weekends travelling with the planner of all planners. If it was possible to reserve moto drivers ahead of time for a 10 minute ride, this kid would do it. Our core difference in beliefs has led to friction and some unhappiness in travels. So when a group of us was thinking about going to Nyungwe National Forest last weekend, and I got an email from him detailing the times that we would arrive places on public transportation (refer to last post for why this is so funny) and exactly how long each hike would take, I decided that all the planning was making the weekend too stressful and, therefore, not worth it to go.

I changed my mind around 11pm on Friday night. Along with another partner-in-spontaneity.

We learned that Alex and Jared were taking the 6:30am bus.


“Because it’s a five and a half hour bus ride.”


“It’s in the Western Province. Two hours past Butare. It’s practically on the border of Congo and Goma and the roads to get to it go through the mountains. We have to be there by noon if we want to go on the Waterfall Hike which costs $70 for non-residents but $60 for residents and is reviewed to be the most beautiful of all the hikes available in the park. It will take 2.5 hours to reach the falls but only 1 hour to return because the return comes out at a different trailhead, which is where the Nyungwe Lodge is. We will then order drinks at the Lodge, which will cost $3 each, and enjoy the relaxing sunset from there before returning back to our guest house using the public transportation provided at the Lodge. How have you not read up on this? How have you not prepared? How do you not know where we’re going? How can you enjoy your life without always knowing what exactly you’re going to be doing in ten minutes, ten days, ten years?!?!” This rant actually went on to the point where I was told that the only reason I’ve ever had successful “unplanned” trips is because I have always relied on somebody else to do the planning and then tagged along, pretending that I was being adventurous.

Although I was offended, disgusted and annoyed, I decided the philosophical discussion was not worth the drunken effort. But I did resolve to make no use of all the preparation that had gone into the planning of the Nyungwe weekend. It would simply be a coincidence that the one weekend I felt I could go just happened to fall on the same weekend as everybody else.

So the next morning I pulled myself out of bed two hours after I got into it to get on the 6:30am bus, along with Alex, Jared, and my new friend/partner-in-spontaneity. There was only one ticket left by the time me and my new friend arrived. (Alex and Jared had reserved/paid for theirs days in advance.) We bought the remaining ticket and one for the next bus (9:30…too late for the waterfall hike), and then my new friend got on the 6:30am bus, made a big speech about how I was his wife and he needed to travel with me, and offered to exchange tickets with somebody. People cheered…and then suggested that I get on the 9:30 bus. The bus started to pull away with him running along it. Then a lot of Kinyrwanda happened and suddenly, he had a seat! Success!

I didn’t go on the waterfall hike. Not only did a $60 waterfall not appeal to me after a $200 active volcano, but I was hung over and needed to sleep. So, begrudgingly, I took advantage of the guest house reservation and napped. Then I decided that I just really wanted to prove how little I needed to plan in advance, and decided to spend the night in the big city, Cyangugu. I called up a Peace Corps friend I knew the area and informed her that I’d be in the city that night and we should hang out. I texted Alex telling him I was leaving, and then I went about trying to figure out how to get to the big city…apparently another 2 hours away. Some hitchhiking and public transportation later, I arrived.

Just to clarify by “called up” a friend…I really meant “texted.” This proved to be an important difference when I arrived in Cyangugu and still had not heard back from her. Which might not have been such a problem if I had had more than 15,000 francs (~$25)…and if my phone was not beeping low battery. I refused to panic and, as I waited almost patiently for my friend to call me – hoping it would happen before my phone completely died, I decided that maybe this was a test. A test to see if, after 8 months in Rwanda, I could handle myself in an unknown place with only 15,000 francs for the evening. (It was already past dark when I arrived.) I found a cheap hotel and decided that I could handle myself…to the point that I was a little disappointed when the street children who had been making bar suggestions to me informed me that in some other part of town, a muzungu had arrived. I was impressed and gave them 100 francs of my preciously depleting stash. But it was worth it…when I met up with AJ I already had bar suggestions in mind.

The next morning, I found myself on another bus (for free this time – thanks to AJ’s bargaining!), headed back to the guest house where I had left a few things to lighten my load for hitchhiking. My room was locked, and whoever locked it did not think ahead to leave the key at reception. (This is a classic move in Rwanda because there is often only one copy of each key for hotel rooms…so whenever you’re sharing a room, you have to leave the key at reception.) I cursed my new friend/partner-in-spontaneity for his lack of foresight and went about figuring out how to do the Canopy Walk, essentially the only Nyungwe tourist attraction that attracted me.

“Oh, you should have stayed on your bus,” the guide told me.

Given that there was no benefit for me to stop by the guest house (could not access my room), this was an unfortunate realization. It turned out the next bus wouldn’t be there for 2 hours and I was headed to a place 20km away. Given the success of my hitching the night before, I started walking. After about an hour with no cars passing in either direction, I heard a moto behind me. At this point, I would have been willing to pay for the moto ride. But…alas! It turned out to be Max, the crazy Frenchman from Musanze, driving his BMW moto without a helmet and smoking a cigarette…of course. He appeared to be a French saint to my weary legs and blistered feet.

I flagged him down and hopped on, without saying much. After ten glorious minutes of going SO FAST, he stopped and asked me where I was going. I told him…and he asked if Lyndsey was there.

“Of course” I said.

He pulled out his phone to call her. I wondered where he was going before he saw me. It started to rain. I put on my raincoat. Lyndsey was in the opposite direction. He said sorry and asked me to get off his moto. I cursed Lyndsey for not being where it would be convenient for her to be and started walking away in the rain, waiting for a bus to arrive and take me the rest of the way for a grossly inflated price.

I crossed paths with the rest of the group at the trailhead. This gave me an opportunity to both curse out my new friend for locking the room and impress everybody with stories of my independence. I was happy. And then I rented a pair of hiking boots (3 sizes too big) – to make up for my lack of sneakers – and reserved a guide for the Canopy Walk. Another reason that I had originally not been interested in the Nyungwe weekend was because nobody else wanted to do the Canopy Walk. Actually, oddly, they were all more interested in seeing colobus monkeys than anything else. My mom and I stayed in a colobus monkey colony while in Kenya, so I really didn’t understand the attraction of paying money to hike somewhere and see them. I wanted to go high up in the trees! (In confusion about my excitement for the Canopy Walk, somebody asked me why I didn’t just go to South America to do one…varying levels of disposable incomes really makes you see the world differently.)

So, because nobody else understood how a canopy walk in Rwanda could excite me, I went off to do it by myself, in my rented hiking boots. And I enjoyed it!
Enjoying the Nyungwe Canopy Walk BY MYSELF and in rented mountain boots!
Then I hitched a ride back, learned that the boys had already reserved bus tickets for the next morning. I appreciated that they didn’t think to reserve a ticket for me (my phone was dead at this point…maybe they had tried to call me…who knows) because it further supported my attempts to not make use of their planning. The next morning, I slept in, ate breakfast, read my book, got on a bus…and met up with the boys in Butare, just in time to miss their visit to the museum (I am not yet mature enough to appreciate museums), but before they indulged in the best cheeseburgers and ice cream in Rwanda. Perfect.

At this point, me and my new friend decided that we’d prefer to head back to Musanze that night...a real shower and bed would be nice. I called Elie, who was in Kigali, and asked if he could reserve us bus tickets at 7pm so we would be able to get back to Musanze. He called me back to say that no tickets were available. This was not a good sign from a Rwandan and our team’s “Logistical Coordinator”…I didn’t have much faith in any bus tickets being available. I sighed and figured that we would figure it out when we got there.

As we were pulling into Kigali at 6:30pm, I made a plan with my new friend: he would run straight to Belvedere bus and I would run to Virunga bus to see if we could still get on the 6:30 or if there were any later buses. Five minutes and two texts later it looked like we were stuck in Kigali for the evening. I then remembered a flicker of a “Kigali Safaris” bus sign that I had once seen in Musanze…”they must go there!” I thought. I ran, actually ran, down the hill to the Kigali Safaris bus stop. This time I successfully elbowed my way to the front of the line and explained my need in a mixture of English, French and Kinyrwanda. There were tickets! I didn’t have any money to pay for them! Oh wait – I had the emergency 5,000 francs in my secret money belt! I frantically pulled my belt out of the bottom of my backpack and worked to get the zipper open and money out without tearing it all while elbowing all other bills out of the way for fear of somebody reserving the 2 remaining seats on the last bus out of Kigali that evening. And I did it!

Tickets in hand, I went prancing up the road to my new friend. I actually was so excited that I did a little dance in the middle of the road. I felt that I had successfully passed a test to prove how fabulously one can enjoy oneself on an unplanned weekend. This is when I got side-swiped by a car. 
Because a lot of place names were thrown around in this blog entry, I decided it would be useful to have a little reference map. Forget about scale...these distances are looong drives.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Most Exciting Bus Ride Yet

This last weekend started with me being pathetically helpless: not only could I not identify my bus to Kigali (a bus that I take twice a month), but I needed Elie’s help to get onto the bus. This is partially because Rwandans are vehemently opposed to lines and waiting in them, and I had not yet adapted to the culture of elbowing nuns and small children out of the way in order to get a seat on the bus…for which I have a ticket. Usually, I stand right at the bus doors as they open, and then timidly inch forward…at a rate that secures me the last, broken, legroom-less seat on the bus.

The added difficulty with Friday night was that it was the first day of school holidays. Classically, in Rwanda, this provided *opportunity for profit* without consideration of the added expenses. The bus company just kept on selling tickets, because so many people wanted them. Woo! More money! That they sold twice as many tickets as seats available on the buses was apparently a problem for the ticket holders. Without Elie, I certainly would have never gotten on the bus. With Elie’s help clearing a path to the front of the mob, I enjoyed the best seat on the bus (although I had a bit of a panic because Elie could not actually go onto the bus with me…he could only get me to the door) – right next to the door for easy exit, with the most leg room, and a window. (Rwandans are allergic to fresh air, especially on buses. I spend most bus rides drenched in my own sweat and alternatively pinching my nose from the smell and trying to take in as much air with oxygen as possible.)

I relished my good fortune (especially the open window), until the bus suddenly stopped, seemingly stuck in traffic…except that traffic does not exist in Rwanda. We were about 15 minutes from Kigali. The driver got off. My cell phone rang. It was Jared, who was on the bus 15 minutes after mine. He was now stuck in the same line of traffic. It was decision time…a few people were getting off the bus and walking towards Kigali. It would be a long walk, but it was all downhill. So we started walking. I frantically texted the birthday girl and told her what was happening and that we might be late to dinner.

Thank God we decided to walk…the holdup was caused by a 2-trailer Mutzig truck that had fallen off the side of the road. There was a crane out, trying to get it back on the road. I am unsure what happened to those who waited in line, but I do know that within half an hour we were well on our way into town, feeling like some of the smartest kids around. (Few others walked as far as we did; most people just got off their buses to observe the entertainment of the crane. Time is also insignificant to most Rwandans.)

At one point, Jared suggested that we get motos. In all the disgust that I could muster of somebody who’s lived here for 8 months I informed him that a moto from there would be unnecessarily expensive, and that it would just be best to get a local public bus. He had never taken one before and was worried. I acted like I knew what I was doing and used one of the twenty Kinyrwanda words I knew (plus a little bit of directional sense…there are only 2 roads in Rwanda) to find a bus that was headed into town (“mumugi”). It was only 100 francs…a moto would have probably been 1000. Success.

And finally, thanks to everybody except me embracing the tardiness inherent in Rwandan culture…I was actually the first to arrive at the birthday dinner. Complete success.