When i discovered that Rwandans celebrated their own independence day on the fourth of July, I thought it was a neat coincidence but never contemplated what I might do to celebrate it until one of the other teachers at my school informed me that we would be getting a four day weekend. After a brief phone call to my program director, I had obtained permission to cash in some personal days so that I could spend the holiday in Nyanza with my resource family.
The bus rides that took me to Nyanza were long but stress-free, and before I knew it, I was back. No sooner had I exited the bus than I bumped into my Papa. He had known that I was coming, but not when- this was actually a surprise as he was just visiting a friend. I popped in to the friend’s shop with him, and bought a few bootleg movies from him. I had already purchased a 24-in-one DVD set featuring Jurassic Park, and was excited to introduce that film to my family over this visit as it was my own fourth of July tradition, but wished I had some treats for my siblings, so I picked up The Tourist, SALT, Blood Diamond, and Avatar. Since Papa was friends with the guy, he threw in a copy of Knight and Day for free. After we paid (it cost one dollar, USD), Papa and I walked back to the house and I was enthusiastically welcomed home.
My siblings crushed me with excited hugs and Jacky made me a welcome lunch: I can only describe the dish as potato nachos- she boiled potatoes until they were basically mashed, but still maintained their shape, then topped them with diced tomato, garlic, onion, and avocado, sprinkled them with lime juice and a pinch of salt, and then dolloped the creation with her homemade urusenda salsa. DELICIOUS!
After my snack, I got caught up with my family. They hardly would even let me say hello before I had eaten, and there was a lot to cover. The first question on my mind was how was my mother doing? She explained the nature of her accident to me- a car had hit the moto-taxi she had been riding, and she had flown off, scraping up her arms and face, and hitting her head. She spent three days in the hospital and then continued her bed rest at home. It is a testament to Rwanda’s medical capabilities that she has so little scarring (and most of that can be hidden with her hair). I was so happy to see how well she was doing, but she admitted she was still suffering- from partial amnesia! She told me that friends she had known all her life she no longer recognizes or remembers; I was honored and very glad that she still remembered me so well!
Eric was now working in Nyanza again, which I am surely was extremely important when Jacky was in the hospital. He told me he wants to get a Master’s degree, and that he and Jacky are trying to get green cards so that they can go to an American school. My parents certainly have the drive and commitment, and so I really supported their idea, and told them that the next time I came to visit, I would bring them some viewbooks to peruse.
Jacky interrupted here to ask me what I wanted for dinner. I told her that I would love anything she cared to make, but she would have none of that. Under duress, I requested something with eggplant and garlic. She went off to do her magic while Romeo and Simbi updated me on how school was going, and asked me to stay forever. (Aren’t they sweet?)
Dinner was served! Mama had outdone herself and made curried eggplant, chips, rice and garlic beans, macaroni salad, and urusenda sauce. Papa poured glasses of urwagwa and we enjoyed our meals as we continued to socialize. After we had finished, Romeo asked if we could watch a movie and I suggested Avatar. We watched it as a family and their reactions were priceless! Romeo thought that this was the most amazing movie he had ever seen, and the rest of my family was captivated by the blue people. Afterwards my family and I discussed the movie’s message (my parents are so intelligent and thoughtful!) Overall it was very well received, and afterwards we went to bed.
The next morning I was awoken by the sound of gunfire. Rushing out of my room, I was very happy to learn that Romeo had woken up early to re-watch Avatar, and that there was nothing to worry about. By the time that it finished, Simbi had joined us, but our parents were still in bed so we went outside to kick around their football. Romeo and Simbi were better than me, but it was a child-sized ball… anyways, my losing streak was mercifully interrupted when Jacky called us inside to wash up for breakfast.
Rwandan breakfasts are such an ordeal compared to the fairly traditional bowl of cereal/cup of coffee/ nothing breakfast enjoyed in the states. We drank Rwandan chai tea, rolls with guacamole, pineapple chunks on toothpicks, and bananas. It was a substantially heartier breakfast than I was used to, and by the end I was not sure if I would be able finish (but everything was so good I just had to!)
Following breakfast, Eric took me to run some errands. We visited the bank, the pharmacy, a general store, and eventually a few stores that sold ibitenge, since I wanted to have a new shirt made. We stopped to say hello to one of the sellers, who was the resource mother of one of the other PCVs from my PC group. I bought a few pieces, and then Eric helped me to convey my wishes to Mama Nyota (my regular tailor). Once that was done, we returned home for lunch.
Jacky had made a carrot and bean dish and a salad- and the salad was shockingly made from real lettuce! She was very casual about her having a food that none of the PCVs had so far been able to find, but I went to great lengths to express just how excited I was. She had also prepared a creamy vinaigrette dressing, which was so good!
After lunch we spent some time being social and then watched Knight and Day, and The Tourist. Before I knew it, it was time for dinner, and I was treated to my Mama’s signature vegetable soup (loaded with urusenda sauce), chips and mayonaise, and rice with isombe. I told Jacky how all of the volunteers who had come to visit with me and my family during training rave about her soup, and she was very pleased. After I stuffed myself with a second bowl, we decided to drink some whiskey and watch another movie.
Was Blood Diamond an appropriate film to share with my resource siblings? I am still not sure. On the one hand, I thought that the happy ending [spoiler alert!] of Solomon Vandy rescuing his family from the RUF militia and the refugee camp respectively would redeem the movie’s darker aspects. Once it was underway though, I found that I was intensely uncomfortable, and hoped that my family would not turn on me in outrage. Maybe it was the “white man helps an African improve his life” storyline (the fact that Leonardo DiCaprio is also playing an African does not really help mollify this), or maybe it was the imagery of Africans hacking each other with machetes- the whole time I was watching, I felt like I was sitting on eggshells. Would my parents start crying or get uncomfortable? Would my siblings get scared? I am pretty confident that I lucked out and the answer to both worries was no. Obviously, it is possible that I simply failed to pick up on things, but due to Romeo’s interest in watching it a second time, Eric’s “Oh, snap!” comments as villains got what was coming to them, and the open discussion Jacky and I had afterwards about blood diamonds, I think it was well received. I apologized to Eric afterwards anyways, but he told me that he had seen it before and had liked it- he also noted that Jennifer Connelly was really hot.
The next morning, I again played football with Romeo and Simbi, and then we had breakfast: spiral rolls with butter and jam, Rwandan chai tea, porridge, bananas, and a chocolate bar I split with my siblings. Today we were going to attend a confirmation party for a family friend, and so Jacky told us all to dress up nice. I panicked because I had not really brought anything super nice… my best clothes were still at the tailor’s, serving as a model of what I wanted. My parents laughed and told me not to worry- as an unexpected “Muzungu” guest, no one was going to notice my outfit. That actually made me feel better until I saw how they were dressed: Jacky in a magnificent and heavily embroidered magenta dress with a matching headwrap, Eric in an icecream suit, Simbi in a “Tempted Kids” brand powersuit (complete with to-the-knees skirt and teardrop earrings as an accent) and the walk to go with it, and Romeo in a three-piece custom-tailored suit. His oxford shirt was black with crisp silver spiderwebs all over it, in tribute to his hero Spiderman. What a classy family! Feeling underdressed, I followed my family to the bus station.
The confirmation party was on Rwandan time apparently, because we got there on time but no one else was there aside from the hosts. Jacky and Eric helped to set up decorations while Simbi and I chatted about the pros and cons of owning a bat as a pet, and Romeo gorged on groundnuts. Eventually, the girl whose party we were attending came out of her room, decked out in a gauzey mother of pearl dress, matching shoes, and a coordinating hair-ribbon. Simbi went and sat with her on the couch, and they whispered girly secrets to each other. I tried to chat with Romeo, but he only had eyes for his groundnuts. My parents still were off decorating. I wondered if this party would be super awkward.
As if intentionally trying to answer that question, the front door opened and a burly (and overweight) Rwandan man came in. ”A muzungu!” He cried, coming over excitedly to greet me- not noticing the girl of the hour who was waiting expectantly for him to greet her. Over the next hour as the guests arrived, this was par for the course, and every time one of the guests would ignore the girl, she would stare in my direction until I noticed her and then fire a volley of flaming eye daggers at me. At least my parents had been right- no one commented on my clothes; only my skin-color was noteworthy.
Once everyone was there, people got to go through the buffet line and as I self-serviced my plate, my every move was commented upon in Kinyarwanda. It happened something like this:
Rwandan 1: He is serving himself chips, mayonaise, rice, beans, isombe, macaroni salad…
Rwandan 2: Hold on, what is he doing?
Rwandan 1: Well, it looks like- it looks like he has opted notto have chicken.
Rwandan 3: Was his plate full?
Rwandan 1: No, see how he takes bananas.
Rwandan 2: Why would he not want meat?
Rwandan 3: Maybe he has an allergy?
Rwandan 1: Nonsense. Everyone likes meat!
Rwandan 2: Well, he is a muzungu. They are very unusual.
At this point I made it back to my seat and Jacky introduced me to my grandmother, who was very excited to meet her muzungu grandson. I sat in my chair and met the man sitting next to me, who worked in Kigali and spoke fluent English- we communicated very well. We were conversing about my work at site when suddenly Jacky interrupted us to have me confirm to one of her friends that I did indeed enjoy urwagwa on occasion- apparently people doubted my ability to imbibe/enjoy banana beer. I proudly declared that I thought it was great (not wanting people to think my mother was a liar). Someone poured me a glass and the room erupted into what I imagine was the Kinyarwanda version of “chug, chug, chug!” I drained my glass quickly (not overly so, but in such a way as to verify my rugged Rwandan spirit to the house), and everyone cheered. I noticed the little girl was back to shooting eye daggers- she is lucky no one got hit!
Shortly after this point, the girl’s father and godfather each made a speech, and then there was a prayer, followed by a bunch of gift giving. Once all of the presents had been opened, the guests were treated to cake! And not crummy store-bought birthday cake like most people eat in America, but an elaborate two-story wedding cake. Rich, creamy, sea-foam-green embellishments climbed up the moist layers like candied vines, and it was a real treat! A little while later it was time to go, so we said our goodbyes and made our way back to the bus (and from there, Nyanza). Jacky went with me to pick up my new clothes from Mama Nyota, and I got to model it all in order to make sure it fit, which was fun.
Back at the house, everyone was tired, but we stayed up so that I could show off Jurassic Park (and maintain my tradition of watching it every fourth of July since 1993). Romeo loved it, and Simbi adorably covered her eyes at the point where the T-Rex eats the lawyer. It was great getting to share that with all of them.
In the morning we had bananas, tea, and buttered rolls for breakfast, and then I went to the market for veggies and pineapples, and cooked a thai curry for our lunch. Romeo and Simbi were freaking out as they saw me cooking the pineapple, but that did not keep them from eventually finishing everything on their plates. After we finished, Jacky and Eric got their coats so they could walk me to the bus station, and Simbi announced that she was going to pray for a lot of rain so that I would not be able to leave- then I could stay with them forever! I told her that was very sweet of her, but that I was only allowed to stay in Rwanda because I was a PCV, and presumably it would be frowned upon if I stopped teaching and doing my job so that I could spend all of my time with my resource family. I promised that I would come again soon, and that I would bring a girl or two for Simbi to talk to- that made her really happy.
My busride back was uneventful, and it was kind of lonely to settle back into my empty house after being with my family for so long. It was great to get to visit with them again, and I can’t wait until the next time. I am so lucky to have them in my life!