Friday, April 15, 2011

beWEAVE it or not...

I got my hair did – Rwanda style.  My great friend Anabel has a sister named Lis who owns her own saloon.  (It’s really a salon, not a bar…)  I called her and made an appointment.  Her saloon is a small single room with 3 walls and a curtain for an entrance.  It’s very clean and has a couple of chairs and a long bench in it.  I went in and looked at several pictures of different hairstyles (none of which had any white women posing).  I told Lis : “Um, whatever you think.” 

[This was my thought process:  Whatever happens, it can’t be anything that an American professional hairdresser can’t fix or that won’t grow back…..  Hey, when in Rome...right?]

So Lis sent her assistant on a bus-taxi into town because she didn’t have any blonde weave in stock – and why would she? 
“Is weave necessary?  Can’t you just use my hair?”
Her response was clear – we needed weave.  Ooookeedokee.  You know, I am not the adventurous one when it comes to my hair.  I have had (more or less) the same haircut my whole life.  Longish and natural. I’ve never colored it and I’ve never had it shorter than my shoulders.  I’m a total chicken when it comes to doing anything more than a trim.  Ryan on the other hand….. J

So while we waited for her assistant to come back, Lis insisted on doing my eyebrows.
“Yes!  They are out of control!  Wait.  You don’t use wax?  Or tweezers?  Or even the string?  You want to use what?  A SURGICAL BLADE?  On my EYEBROWS?  Uhhhh, yeah, okay.  Go ahead.  Don’t cut me…  Wait, are you for real?”

She was.  And she did.  And they look great.   

Her assistant returned and they got to work.  2 women; 4 hands; 4 ½ nonstop hours (that’s 9 man-hours!!) of pulling and tugging from all directions later, I finally saw the finished product.   I’ve got me some braids.  Lots of them.  They’re fun.  Or “unbeWEAVEable” as Ryan says.  I came home and had to take some Ibuprofen because my head was so sore.  In fact, 24 hours later it is STILL sore.  These women are tough.

I’ve gotten an interesting reaction from the locals.  They actually stare less.  I must look like one of them.  Last night I went into a couple of stores to look for a clip to help tame my out-of-control braids but couldn’t find one.  However, the women were all far more helpful than usual and one even offered her ponytail tie out of her own hair.  No thank you.  I have one of those.

So between my weave, riding motorcycle-taxis (which I can’t anymore because I’m pretty sure my head won’t fit in a helmet…), and occasionally mixing up our personal pronouns (him, her, he, she) we are officially Rwandan.  Now excuse me while I make some breakfast of porridge and bananas and put on a sweater because its 75 degrees outside….

Monday, April 11, 2011

Part 1: Its okay to pick up hitchhikers in Africa…right?

Allow me to set the scene for you:

2 whiteys in a big safari-esque SUV heading down the road with our useless foreign maps to an area of Rwanda we had never been to.  The car tires are squeaking, the back door is rattling, there’s some strange sound coming from underneath the car, there’s a giant *clunk* when you change gears, the entire car shakes when you go over 70 kilometers per hour, and it’s a gamble on whether or not we have enough gas to get us where we are going.

Okay so basically it’s just another day driving through the hills of Rwanda and Ryan gets pulled over by the police.  The police are all on foot so when you see someone on the side of the road in a neon yellow jacket raise their arm you pull over.  Its pretty rudimentary but it works.  In a country where everybody knows everybody and they all live on top of each other, you can’t afford to not be a rule-follower.  So, the rule-following temporary residents that we are  pulled over. 

[Sidenote: Ryan gets pulled over a LOT.  Rwanda is making a big push to make sure all drivers have permits and insurance so there are a lot of traffic stops, but they always peer inside our car, see white people, and wave us on through.  I’d like to take the time to point out that I had not yet been pulled over by Rwandan police.]

So Ryan pulls off and the policeman asked if we could help him by giving someone a ride.  
Here’s the thing:
1.  Rwandan policemen aren’t exactly the warm-fuzzy type.  They are serious and they mean business.
2.  We really don’t want to get arrested for something stupid (or at all for that matter).

“Um I guess.  I mean, sure.  I mean, yessir Officer.  Uhh?”
So this woman gets in the backseat of our car and off we go down the road to our destination of Butare. Is she even going to Butare?  Where do we drop her off?  Regardless of our confusions with the whole matter, I said to Ryan , “I bet I know who is the most uncomfortable person in the car and its not me or you!”  I imagine she'll be telling her neighbors for years to come about the time these Mzungus gave her a ride because they didn’t know that they could say no to the police.

I had a short conversation with her in Kinyarwanda and found out her name is Diana and that she's married, has a daughter and a baby on the way.  Don’t be too impressed with my foreign language skills – it was like playing charades.  About 20 minutes into the ride she handed me a piece of paper that had her name and her address.  On the bottom of the paper she wrote “I love you” in English.

We pulled into a bus stop in Butare with the rain falling on our windshield.  Diana thanked us and we went our separate ways. 

In our 24 hours in the Southern Province we saw the National University of Rwanda, the National Museum of Rwanda, the King’s Palaces, and the National Art Museum.  They were all fantastic.  Can you believe that the Rwandan King lived in a grass thatch hut well into the 20th century?!  Crazy.

And afterward, on our drive home….

Read “Part 2: Transporting armed (police) men in Africa” at to find out what happened.

The King's Palace in the 1930's

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Nitwa Kimu. (My name is Kim...moo.)

In the last 12 days I have:

Stayed in a private bungalow hidden in the most spectacular flora imaginable listening to the waves of Lake Kivu lap the stairs to our door; Shopped in 3 different Rwandan outdoor markets haggling the best deals on African fabrics; Coughed, sneezed, and snotted all over my sweet husband (I caught a cold working in the hospital); Kayaked along the Rwandan-Congolese border; Had delicious Rwandan dinners at the houses of some great friends we’ve made here; Been licked by a cow; Laid on a beachy shore under a palapa umbrella; Chewed and spit sugarcane with a local; Held hands and smiled with a genocide survivor AND her perpetrator;  Used the phrase “well, we’ll know in 12 hours” after eating raw vegetables (…a couple of times); Shared a wonderful girly-lunch date with a beautiful young lady; Been attacked by one of the Kevins; Saw 3 different pigs being walked with a leash…to the market; Prayed with the people of Rwanda on the 17th anniversary of the genocide.

Among some of those days Ryan’s father and step-mom came to visit us.  They shared in many of the experiences listed but the best part of their visit was the time we had to grow in relationship with each other.  Lots of memories.

For example: on their first day, we were leaving the mango tree church and a young guy who sings there (and doesn’t speak a single word of English) hopped in our car and came home with us.  We didn’t invite him over but we also didn’t ask what was going on (nor could we if we wanted to). That sort of thing happens here a lot.  We give a ride without knowing that’s what’s going on… just usually not to our house.  He came in sat down, and by using hand motions asked me to pour the soda I had offered him into a glass I had brought him.  What was I thinking just putting them out there in front of him…?  After he was finished he started hollering “Kimu, KIMU.”  I was in the kitchen making lunch – and didn’t know that I was Kimu.  Ryan said “Honey, I think he’s calling you.”  I came in and he pushed his glass towards me and flicked his wrist letting me know it was to be taken away immediately!  You should have seen Ryan’s face – he was mortified and said “I didn’t know that’s what he wanted!”  Had it been anyone else, I would have been completely offended and said “you’ve got the wrong woman, buddy”, but I was so shocked that I laughed and took it.
Then, a boy from down the road who we have seen before (once or twice) shows up and is sitting at our table with us.  Evidently he is there to translate for us.  I’m instructed by our guest to stop making lunch and listen to what he has to say.  When he was finished (a couple hours later) he wanted a “push” home (a ride…) and that was that.  He didn’t even stay for lunch.  To say we were all confused would be an understatement.  But hey, it’s just another day in Africa.