While I was living in the Northern Province, children I met on the road would often greet me wishing a good evening when it was morning, and a good morning when it was evening. I should probably add that all of these exchanges I refer to took place in Kinyarwanda. Shouldn’t children– whether they are two or ten– know the difference between night and day?
I told the teachers at my school about this, wondering if these kids just were somehow not getting the basic education they’d need to properly identify the time of day, and the teachers decided that the children must be trying to trick me. Nice? Basically every child that I saw on my one and a half hour walk down the mountain and to Kidaho were all out to trick me. Though they came from four or five different villages, somehow it was decided to gang up and try to trick me into using the wrong time of day. Seemed like a lot of effort for a gag that would last only a few seconds. And when I would correct the children, using the proper greeting, they tended to look at me puzzled, as if they didn’t know why I’d be talking in this way.
I’d get challenged by adults too, at times. I’d greet them with “mwiriwe”, or “good afternoon/ good evening”– and sometimes I’d be told I should be greeting them good morning. Other times this would happen in reverse, which seemed especially odd; as they were trying to convince me that it was good afternoon time prior to twelve o’clock. Um… no? Papa would later explain to me that when you transition to mwiriwe is dependent on where you live; certain places transition at noon; others inexplicably do so at eleven. As long as there is a community-understood system in place, I would say that would be okay, if a bit confusing– yet I’m not the only one to get corrected. I hear this happening all the time in Nyanza. So if it’s not universally understood, why have this strange, unnecessary variance?
The other day my neighbor greeted me good afternoon at nine in the morning. I knew that some people decide to move up noon, but this seemed egregious. In Kinyarwanda, I told her “no, good morning”. She argued with me for about five minutes, trying to convince me that it was afternoon. She even polled members of the community who passed by– thankfully, every single person sided with me. Good morning. She finally congratulated me on knowing it correctly… does that really need to be celebrated? It really seems like the kids weren’t trying to trick me at all, but that people just don’t care very much, and sometimes use the terms [incorrectly] interchangeably. I told this story to Papa but he barely reacted. This wasn’t really unusual.
Yesterday morning around eight o’clock, an “umukeceru”, or “old woman” approached me, and wished me a good afternoon. She reeked of alcohol– waragi, if I wasn’t mistaken. I told her good morning, but she kept saying good afternoon, wobbling back and forth and seemingly talking through me. Eventually she sort of snapped back to attention and I explained it was morning and she agreed, wished me well, and walked away. At least she was drunk and had an excuse. What about everyone else?
I could be wrong, but I imagine that for the most part in America, people mistake the time of day maybe once every few years, at most? Perhaps if they are sick, or in the hospital and sleep for a long time and then wake up– then you’d have a reason to not know the time of day– though you might just ask someone, rather than making a decision without information. Arguably though, each of these people had information at their disposal: the sun was shining. Why is this a widespread, country-wide issue in Rwanda, when in America this doesn’t really come up? It’s curious.
Nidhi slept over and in the morning we decided to visit the Rwesero Art Museum. We took Romeo, because he wanted as much Nidhi-time as possible and we thought it would be fun to bring him along. The museum is housed in the most recent of the King’s Palaces– this one is so recent (late 70’s) that the King himself never actually resided in it. So maybe it’s more of an intended King’s Palace? It was rather nice, and inside it was mostly devoid of furniture; its floorspace taken over by sculpture and its walls adorned with paintings.
Tour guides ushered us through the various rooms, telling us about each piece. Many of the pieces were by the same few artists, but they were interesting for the most-part. Sadly all of my favorite works were titled “Untitled”, so I can’t really express some of the complexities of the works, but I recommend the museum in general.
Downstairs, one room was set up with tables, art supplies, and tiny chairs, and it was explained that this room was meant for children to make their own art. Such pictures were tacked up all over the walls, and we could see the various pictures made by children from countries from all over the world. You could often tell where the children were from just from the pictures they had drawn– the children of Holland all had windmills and tulips and wooden shoes in their pictures. It was neat. All art museums should have places for children to try their hands at art.
Upstairs there were two noteworthy rooms– one was set up for using a projector for films or other artwork which might make use of a projector; the other was a “library” of sorts, which had several tables with books of African art spread out all over them. We spent a while paging through these tomes, and I was especially drawn to a book that shamefully I can not recall the exact title. It was about football (not American football), all over the African continent. There were pictures of anything to do with it: advertising, kids playing, fans dressed up, celebrating goals, players scoring, snacks people eat during it, and pretty much anything else you might imagine being connected to football. I guess I liked it because it was a rich, diverse collection of photography depicting countries all over Africa; both uniting the continent through their interest, but also showcasing the diversity. It was lovely.
On our way out, we were taken to the gift shop, and Romeo really wanted this little football made from banana leaves. It wasn’t much, so I splurged and got it for him and he was pretty stoked. Nidhi and Romeo kicked the ball around all the way home. Then Nidhi packed up her things and we got her on the bus back to Kigali.
The next morning, people seemed a lot less hung over than they had been the previous morning. We slowly rose from heavy slumber, and spoke quietly on the balcony in hushed voices, hoping not to wake anyone else. Once the party was fully up, we made breakfast: tomato and avocado sandwiches.
We still hung around another hour or two after that, but eventually people put their feet down and insisted we start back so we could get lunch together in Musanze before we had to split up and go our separate ways. We walked through Sketchy Town, and shortly beyond, we passed the vegetable-stand I used to buy my avocados at; the shop which sat at the fork that I used as my shortcut toward the mountain. I waved hello to the women and children at the shack, but as we moved on, a man rushed out excitedly to greet me. I recognized him– I would frequently encounter him on the road as I walked to Kidaho, back when I was a PCV. We would greet each other and practice our language skills together as we made the trek– once or twice I think we had tea together. He hugged me tightly, and joyously thanked me for returning to the area. He told me that I had been dearly missed. As I was forced to say goodbye and part ways with him, he hugged me close and kissed me on the cheek (not a traditional Rwandan goodbye). I had made a difference in this man’s life, and it was an emotional realization.
We had made it about halfway to Kidaho before people were hot and tired, and so moto-taxis ended up carrying us the rest of the way. We got a matatu bus (as Virunga no longer serviced Kidaho) and rode to Kidaho in a stupor– I think a number of us fell asleep on the ride. In Musanze, I led the way to this buffet restaurant I liked, but when I got there, I found its name had been changed. Jason, Nidhi, and Annegreet had eaten here before heading to Kidaho, but didn’t mind a return trip. We loaded up our plates, and having two hours before our buses, slowly cleared them, decompressing after our trip.
We made it back to the bus station, boarded our bus, and were off! Once we reached Kigali, we all went our separate ways– some back to the hostel, Tete to Huye, and Nidhi came back with Papa and me so that she could visit Romeo, who had been heartbroken that she had not come to visit with the Tete and Victoria a few days earlier. It was a fun weekend, but like all good things, it had to come to an end.
I woke up first. Sliding out of the sleeping bag, I tiptoed as silently as I could through the room I was sharing with Annegreet, Nidhi, and Tete, making my way out onto the porch where I was able to watch the sunrise. The lake glistened, just as beautiful as I remembered it. I stood there for half an hour, lost in memory and admiring the scenery. Then I walked down the steep stone stairs to the lake and went for a walk.
The shore had changed since I had last been in Rwanda; the restaurant closing was only one example. Fishermen used to keep their boats– frequently dugout-style canoes– capsized on the shore here; now there was one large (large) fiberglass boat which presumably took an off board motor, and the rotting carcasses of boats which time had not been kind to. A number of old boats lay in pieces in the grass beneath a tree, never to float on the lake again. I wondered what had happened to my old boat, the Wanza Kilulu. It had in the past been kept here amidst the other boats, but years later, there was no way to know who might “own” it, nor even if it was still lake-worthy.
People slowly woke up, a little hungover. There was a small amount of activity on the balcony, people peeking out to see the lake and the mountains in the morning light; teeth-brushing, and some photo-ops. While we waited for everyone to feel up to starting their days, more people arrived at the lake. A lot more people.
Seventh-day Adventists had descended upon the lake for baptisms! We watched from the balcony as one by one, Rwandans were dunked in the lake. The crowd was dressed in ibitenge finery and smart suits, with the exception of some village kids who were in ragged, dirty, and faded t-shirts and shorts. A lot of these kids stripped naked and frolicked in the water right at the base of the hill our lake house was on, and we watched as they splashed each other and exfoliated with the lake’s fine sand. Then a village kid ran by and grabbed a bunch of their clothes and sped off into the field. Apparently some things are happen in every culture.
Around ten o’clock everyone was awake and dressed and ready to head out– I had offered to take everyone on a hike up the mountain to see my old school in Kagogo. We locked the lake house chambers and had to proceed through a massive gathering of Rwandans who seemed to be having some sort of Scouts event at the lake this morning. We made it through with only a few hundred stares from people, who were largely too preoccupied with their event to ask us questions about where we were going. I led everyone down the path and we made it to the base of the mountain. I took a picture for old times’ sake; I had been dreaming of this for years.
We passed surprisingly few Rwandans as we made our way to Kagogo, but many of those we passed excitedly greeted me, telling me that they had no forgotten me. A number of village kids– much bigger now than when last I saw them– called out, “Ntwari! Amakuru?” It was really sweet. I’d tell my friends anecdotes from my Peace Corps service as we passed places that for me were important landmarks: the place Remy and I got chased by kids one time, a little “cave” pocket in the hillside that kids like to hide in and make chalk-drawings, and the terraces that popped up over an extended Umuganda one time. Memories flooded back and I was a little emotional as we made our way around the bends.
Soon we were back at the corner around from my house, a minute or two from the school. As we got closer I realized school was still in session, so students would still be at the campus (as Ecole Secondaire Kagogo was a boarding school). I wasn’t sure that we should intrude and be a distraction, but everyone else insisted we go– I am glad they did. We made our way into the grounds and were very swiftly surrounded by students, but not as many as I had feared. I hadn’t really thought about it, but most of the students at my old school wouldn’t know who I was. Senior 5 and Senior 6 students would have [in theory] graduated and left; meanwhile the Senior 2 and Senior 3 students who had been there would now be in upper-secondary somewhere else, following their Senior 3 national examination. So, just a small number of students clustered around, hoping to talk to Mr. Allister. The other abazungu I had brought along were about equally popular.
“Mr. Allister, can you compare us with your new students in Nyanza so that we may have good self-esteem?” One student asked me. I was politic and declined the comparison, saying I had not spent as much time with the new students. The rest of the questions I got were just basic questions anyone who met me on the road here might ask. Where do you live? Where do you work? How long will you be here? Are you married? The same basic questions I get from everyone. It was kind of surreal. I am not sure what I had expected, but it wasn’t this. After an hour or so, we said our goodbyes and I waved goodbye to my old campus yet again.
Everyone was hungry, so I led them down the steep, rocky path down to Mugu Center. Back when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer, any time I had guests spend the night, I’d sneak out early in the morning (often with Remy) and head down to Mugu to buy amandazi (sugarless fried dough-balls), eggs, fruit, and chai tea. Remy and I would climb back up to Kagogo, I’d light my charcoal stove, and by the time my friends would wake up, we’d have mango-chocolate-cherry pancakes, amandazi, bananas, and maybe sliced avocado sitting in a nice spread on the table; chai and coffee available to drink. My nearest market was back in Kidaho (an hour and a half away by foot), so I appreciated how close Mugu Center was, and visited regularly.
We had just about made it to town when it began to rain. We arrived before we were wet, but needed to figure out where we wanted to eat. Papa asked a number of shopkeepers for suggestions but everywhere either couldn’t accommodate all of us, didn’t have food cooked yet, or didn’t have what people were looking for. We ended up eating in a dungeon-like “restaurant” consisting of a single empty chamber, unlit except for the outside light peeking in through the windows. The room was painted in two colors, a deep, sage-green for the lower half of the room, white on the upper half. We wondered if they maybe showed movies, projected onto the white part, but doubted it.
Once our meals arrived, they were devoured. It was pretty standard Northerner-fare: potatoes and plantains with cabbage and beans. We asked for urusenda and they brought us a small packet of chili powder. The meat eaters in our group had Papa talk to the restaurant and try to arrange plans for dinner, and he managed to negotiate to buy enough fish for all of them, plus chips (many for me, and some for everyone else). The restaurant took care of acquiring and cooking the fish, and cooking chips– they put the food into separate to-go bags for us. What service! But the more impressive thing that they did for us was help us to hire a boat! Everyone had expressed interest in going on my boat, but it was MIA so instead we hired a bigger boat to take us from Mugu Center all the way back to the lake house. The trip took about fifteen or twenty minutes and we all got some sweet photos.
Papa and Tete were exhausted and took a brief nap once we got back; everyone else met in the other room and played cards while the rain began to pour. A few hours later, Victoria finally showed up! Jason and Annegreet got dinner “cooking” to heat it back up, and we all feasted in the open space beneath the lake house (amidst the stilts). After dinner, we cleared the area and the owner set up a sound system and started playing music so we could start a dance party! The rest of the Primus beers were brought out, along with the rest of the Senate, and Papa sent the lake house’s owner to town to get him a bottle of Waragi (strong Ugandan gin), too.
Jason was a terrific ginger-twin and also didn’t dance. He gave me safety in numbers on the sidelines for a while, but then one of us– I can’t recall who– ended up dancing with someone and our wallflower attitudes had to change. We drank and danced, punctuated only by my catching toads and releasing them far from the dance floor, where they would not be trampled to death by tipsy abazungu. We stayed up late listening to the hottest hits– circa Rwanda, 2011– which was a pretty sweet playlist. Our host definitely had an ear for dance tunes. When I called it a night, most people were still dancing the night away.
The village of Gitare is the final community one passes en route to Lake Burera. I know I’ve written about it in the past; during my Peace Corps service I not-so-affectionately referred to this place as “Sketchy Town”, due to its wildly lively nightlife scene. My headmaster would rant about the wanton drunkenness which seemed to him omnipresent in this village; I would complain of the stale stench of beer and vomit which met me every time I passed through in the mornings as I headed to the bus stop in Kidaho. Let’s just say that it wasn’t my favorite of places. As soon as I discovered a shortcut to the base of my mountain (with a forked path leading to the lake), I bypassed Sketchy Town entirely.
Unfortunately, with the restaurant by the lake out of commission, Sketchy Town was the closest place in which dinner might be had. Annagreet, Jason, and Nidhi would be passing through anyways, so Tete messaged them with instructions to meet us there. Our host was kind enough to lead us to an eatery in town, and the moot-taxis met us outside. We greeted each other in the streets, which may have been a mistake as we were rather a spectacle, but once the mob of Gitare denizens (and I use mob to the fullest extent of its definition) parted enough for us all to get inside, they remained silent and out of sight.
The place was small, with barely enough room for all of us to sit at their single table, but it was well-lit and nice. We ordered plates of chips with cabbage and beans on them, and devoured everything on our plates. It had been a long day of traveling for all of us. I treated our host to dinner to thank him for helping us out, and we discussed what we’d need to get in town for the morning: bread, tea– or maybe coffee?, toilet paper… and then for the night, a case of beer. I could have asked for each of these items at the shops in town, but our host– being a local– knew what the prices were supposed to be (I’m now only versed in Southern-province prices), and also could avoid getting charged the Muzungu price. I have to admit, us all traveling as a herd was a bit of spectacle. Luckily aside from two drunk moto-taxi drivers who proclaimed their interest in the girls right as we exited the restaurant, we were mostly left alone.
We made it back to the Lake and our host suggested we might like a campfire, and told us the security guard would be happy to make us one if we wanted to pay– it sounded like a swell idea. Jason and Annegreet helped with that while our host brought the beers fireside. Tete, Nidhi and I got the rooms in order and then went down to join them.
The campfire was about twenty feet from the water’s edge. We sat in plastic Mützig chairs, drinking while we waited for Papa to finally arrive. It was late– so late that buses would no longer be running. He would take a moto-taxi all the way from Musanze to Kidaho to the lake itself. Eventually we heard the arriving putt-putt and sent a welcoming party to get him from the road and lead him to our fire (though he would probably have been able to see it anyways in the darkness). Papa had not yet met Annegreet or Jason, so we did some quick introductions by the fire. We were finishing our first beers, but Papa doesn’t touch the stuff, so he produced two bottles of Senate Whisky. The night was on. And it went late.
Between the six of us, we polished off a bottle of Senate, as well as about one and a half big Primus beers a piece. I snapped some photos around the fire, and we laughed and joked and hung out. It was lovely. Tete kept suggesting we all go swimming, but it was rather chilly so people weren’t especially excited about that idea. I finally told her that if she got in and it wasn’t terrible, I’d join her. Somehow this bolstered everyone and we ran down to the shore, clothes falling to the sand at our feet: skinny-dipping party! None of us are entirely certain how long we spent in the water, but it was a while as we swam around and splashed each other and admired the stars. When we decided to finally emerge, I could swear that someone was sitting up in the chairs by our fire– no one believed me. It turned out that I was right, our host had come to check on us. We made a sort of collective walk of shame back up to our clothes and dressed, shivering. We dried ourselves by the fire and had a nip or two more of whisky to warm us back up, then extinguished our fire and made it back to the lake house to sleep.
The expats I’d recently been spending some time with wanted to see the magical, picturesque fantasy land they kept hearing about, so we made plans to head out to lake Burera for the weekend. This was going to be a sizable expense, and so Papa didn’t think he’d be able to go, but Tete and Victoria would hear none of that and decided to sponsor both him and myself since we’d been hosting them in Nyanza and Huye. Their kindness touched our hearts.
Tete was even kind enough to ride up to the lake with me early– it had been years since I last stayed there and I was worried that perhaps it would be booked (or worse, no longer exist). In the past, I’d show up at the lake, and go talk to the waitress at the restaurant which was right there. She’d call the lake house’s owner, and he’d come down, collect the fee, and hand over the keys. I hoped that it would be just that easy.
It wasn’t. Tete and I rode from Nyanza to Kigali (1 hour, 45 minutes); Kigali to Musanze (2 hours), and there we disembarked so Tete could get some money from an ATM. Immediately, a man recognized me as “The Volunteer from Kagogo”, which felt really good– though I had to explain that I was no longer working there. He tried to get us interested in going on a gorilla trek or golden monkey tour– he was affiliated with a tour company. I told him that we had plans, but perhaps he could help, and explained that we were trying to book this lakehouse: did he know the number/ could he help us secure it? Just then a twenty-something guy wandered by and decisively declared it was closed. I despaired. Tete got her money and then we decided to chance it and make the trip to the lake to make sure; if it didn’t pan out, we’d head back and everyone would stay in Musanze for the weekend.
Once in Kidaho (30 minutes away), I searched in vain for a moto-taxi. Eventually we found one offering to take us for 3000 RwF, which is literally six times as expensive as it should be. We decided to walk instead. A few minutes later, Tete begged me to take a bus taxi with her. We flagged one down, and both of us got on the back, with all of our stuff! I had a backpack and a large bag I was transporting for Victoria; Tete had a backpack and her own large bag, which she perched atop her head. Secondary students passing by warned us this was a bad idea. “This man is dangerous, he has no brakes,” one of them told us. But we were not swayed. The man pedaled and we were off, zooming down the path as it began to sprinkle down rain.
Eventually we found a second bike taxi and we enjoyed the rest of the way slightly more comfortably. We were dropped off in what seemed vaguely middle-of-nowhere-esque, but I could see the brick wall of part of the restaurant through the trees, so I knew we must be close (we’d taken the back route to the place, so I wasn’t as familiar with it). With the aid of a few kids who kept demanding, “give us our money”, we found a thin path through the brush that led to the restaurant…
Which was closed. Uhoh. But on the other hand, we heard music coming from the lakehouse, so that was a good sign. Or was it?– maybe it was already rented out. We climbed up the steep stone steps and called out to the occupant, and luckily it happened to be the caretaker, whom I have rented from a number of times. He remembered me and I explained what we wanted and he said, “no problem”, immediately stripping the beds and putting on fresh sheets. I texted the others and let them know where to show up. This was happening!
Headmaster and I had plans to go to Kigali and see about getting my visa, so I went to the city, but then he had to cancel. But why pout when I had an excuse to visit Victoria and Tete? Nidhi was biking the Congo/Nile trail with some friends, but the others were still around at their youth hostel– I decided to go see them.
At first only Tete was there and we caught up, but she wasn’t feeling super hot. She was supposed to go see a Dutch girl somewhere in town but ended up calling to cancel, asking if instead if the girl could come back to the hostel. She did– Annegreet was working for WakaWaka for a few months here in Rwanda.
The hostel itself was really expansive. It had a number of chambers; some dorm-style and others more private. It had a nice, covered outdoors hanging-out area with a number of chairs, tables, and couches; a bar, a restaurant, and a fire-circle type-place in the back with stumps and chairs to sit on, a place for a fire, where people could play instruments and sing songs. The hostel even had a deal (prominently advertised on each of their rooms) that if you entertained the other guests [well] they’d upgrade a night’s stay for free. There was a gorgeous Moroccan musician named Samir Tawil there, who performed some of her repertoire for us, and then joined Annegreet singing Rufus Wainwright’s “Hallelujah”. Afterward, Victoria asked her if she was a professional singer, and she confirmed that she was, handing her a CD. Tete asked for one too and got one as well, but Samir then commented that she was now out. I asked her if there was someplace I might order one, as I was happy to pay– and she managed to scrounge up one more just for me– free of charge.
We gathered up some of the other people at the hostel and went to a divey chips and brochettes place nearby. It was cheap, but took forever. I ordered five potatoes, which they halved and fried, but also got some grilled plantains. I couldn’t eat everything (to my shame) but other people helped so karmically I think it evens out.
Afterward we headed back to the hostel and Victoria went to bed but Tete and I stayed up until around three just talking and hanging out. Then we went to sleep.
But not for long. I woke up around five-thirty. The sun was bright and it was hot even inside the room. I headed out so as not to wake anyone up, and waited for breakfast, which was served a number of hours later: toast, blue-band, and a fruit salad with coffee. I waited until Victoria and Tete were awake so I could say goodbye, then headed back to Nyanza.
In the morning, Papa and I took Victoria and Nidhi to my aunt Glorious’ ibitenge shop, and they purchased a number of pieces. Then Papa led them to an umudozi he thought would do a good job with women’s clothing, and helped the girls sketch out and describe exactly what it was that they wanted. Victoria ordered two dresses and Nidhi commissioned a shirt. It would take a few days to have these ready, so I volunteered to bring them up when I came to Kigali with my headmaster a few days later.
For the moment, Victoria and Nidhi made plans for us all to meet up with Tete for dinner and drinks in Huye, and we made it there just as the sun was going down. We all met and dined at a fairly typical but nice Rwandan buffet restaurant, then headed out on the town.
I picked up a bottle of Amarula (a cream-fruit liquor made from the African marula fruit) for everyone to share, and we went in search of excitement. First we went to “Dinners Bar”, a flashy-light disco(?) filled with rows of plastic chairs and which featured a stage on which entertainers were lip-synching to hits. The male “performer” seemingly dedicated his “singing” to each of the ladies in our group, singling them out in turn by pointing, and then for his next song, wandered down into us and grabbed Nidhi and pulled her with him back onto the stage. She was a good sport about it, but definitely didn’t really want to be up there.
The club was also showing a Disney movie– some Tinkerbell film. A few of the patrons in that noisy place were watching that exclusively, though I don’t think it had any sound.
We left as swiftly as we had come, and made our way to the Hotel Faucon, which had a live band in the dining room and a teeming hoard of people sitting and standing around, watching them. We secured a table in the backyard, and ordered drinks (and glasses). We drained our beers, then poured out the amarula, and everyone got to enjoy. Pretty soon it was gone.
When it was time to call it a night, Papa helped us get motos and took Victoria and Nidhi and me to his brother Mupenzi’s house, where we would be spending the night. Tete had her own friend to crash with. Mupenzi and his wife had prepared a bed for us to share, and shortly after arriving, we were able to go to bed.
In the morning, we had breakfast (and lunch) at Mupenzi’s house, and then went to check out the market, but since it was a Sunday, there wasn’t much of anything open. Afterward we met up with Tete at Inzozi Nziza, the famous ice-cream shop. We tried their Rwandan coffee ice-cream and it was great! We took pictures and hung out for a while, then decided to look for something else to do– we settled on grabbing a meal at a cute chapati restaurant. We ordered ten chapatis, and each of us got a bowl of beans or meat, depending on our preferences. The chili was home-cooked and delicious.
The girls loved the ibitenge skirt that one of the waitresses had on, so I kept trying to flag her down. She wasn’t our waitress, so it took a number of failed attempts, but eventually I managed to summon her and convey in Kinyarwanda that we loved her skirt, and she was really happy to hear that. She was practically giddy.
After eating we said our goodbyes to Tete, made haste to the bus, and headed back to Nyanza.
While sitting in the airport in Ethiopia, a girl about my age approached me and meekly asked, “Excuse me, are you an American?” Guilty as charged, I invited her to sit and we introduced ourselves. She was surprisingly also from Mountain View, and also headed to Rwanda– to volunteer for a week (she was nervous). We spent our two-hour layover talking about the country: its culture, its language, its tourism offerings. I spoke highly of the country I have come to love so dear, and helped fill several pages in her journal with Kinyarwanda phrases, some places I advised she check out, as well as my contact information.
A week or so later, she came to visit, with two friends in tow. I met Nidhi, from Sacramento; and Tete, from Germany. Tete was actually heading to Huye for the night, but before she headed out Papa and I took the girls on a photo-safari, heading out to the Rwesero Art Museum (housed minutes away in an edifice which was originally intended to be a house for the king). After being shutterbugs for a while, we grabbed Tete’s belongings and headed back into town where we got her on the bus. The rest of us headed out on a pub-crawl.
Since the pub-crawl was my idea, Papa had me lead us, and I took us back toward my school, heading to the small bar my headmaster had taken me to twice. Papa stopped me eventually, telling me we had reached the place– we hadn’t, but instead found a new, pretty big outdoor-seating bar. Papa and the girls made it to the counter to order urwagwa (traditional banana beer) but some of the teachers from my school were at a table and borrowed me for a few minutes, to joke and interrogate me about why I was hanging out with these beautiful ladies. Were they my wives? My girlfriends? Nope, just friends, I told my colleagues. “But don’t they have extreme beauty?” I asked in Kinyarwanda. That got big laughs– then they wished me a good evening with my friends and I went to take urwagwa. We each had two glasses of the drink; one immediately and one “agashinguracumu” (for the road). The girls liked it, and from there we headed to Ideal.
Ideal was the happening joint in Nyanza town while I was a PCT. Ideal had a restaurant, a gazebo for drinking under, a [very] small bar counter one could approach to order drinks, as well as tables. They also boasted a dance floor in a separate, large room. During my Peace Corps service, I never made it back to Ideal (possibly because I generally am not all that excited about dancing), but I heard talk from other PCVs. Rumor had it that the nightclub part of Ideal hired dancers, but after a short time, the dancers were not interesting enough to draw crowds… then they became exotic dancers. Still, the novelty waned. Last I had heard, Ideal’s nightclub had strippers, though I don’t know that firsthand.
We certainly didn’t see any. There was a live band playing when we got there, and the place was PACKED. We managed to get a table in the back (fairly close to the stage but luckily not too close), and ordered our drinks: Ugandan waragi and Fanta fiesta. A fine, cheap cocktail. We also got a bite to eat– Papa and Tete got brochettes and chips and Victoria and I shared a chips/salad. Papa and Tete danced to the music while Victoria and I mostly hung out watching the band.
We passed ages at Ideal, and then headed out toward our third and final destination of the night, the old standard, Boomerang Hotel. Papa’s friend Augustine was driving that way and offered us a lift and we all went there together. We each ordered beers (except Papa, who never takes beer), and hung out for a while. Eventually everyone was tired and wanted to go home so Augustine took us back and we crawled into bed and fell promptly asleep.