Greetings from Kigali ! I have officially been in Rwanda for three days but it feels more like three weeks on account of all the stories I have to tell you. To begin with, the travel here was quite extensive- flying from Toronto to London to Nairobi- over 32 hours. I met my first Rwandan friend Alice at the Nairobi airport, where in typical African fashion, she invited me to visit her in Kigali once I'm settled in and gifted me a bracelet and two rings. Arriving in Kigali, I was pleased to meet Jean-Claude, my local Program Support Officer. We went to the Program Office and I met the staff, had my first Kinyarwanda language lesson and returned to the Guest House- where I was asleep by 7:30pm. The following day, Bosco (our driver) and I went with Chantal and Norbert (two other VSOs) to register with the Canadian Embassy, visit the polyclinic, the dental office and the markets. Chantal is Kenyan and she helped me barter for a phone and some basic food/cooking supplies to survive my first week in Kamonyi- a very rural village southwest of Kigali where I will be living. In the afternoon I met with Charlotte my VSO boss and we discussed my placement which revolves around teaching "child-centred methodology" to primary teachers at six schools in the Kamonyi District. I am very excited about the job description and equally excited to meet my colleagues and see my house !
On Saturday, Charlotte and I went to lunch at a very nice coffee shop and met up with Christine (another VSO). Christine had secured us an invitation to the Canadian Ambassador's house for a swim and a barbeque ! (see pics) Following that, I went with Bruce to a house party down the street from my Guest House with about 40 other expatriates, most of whom work for various NGOs.
So today is Sunday, I have the day to myself and took a long walk around Kigali. I saw the UN offices and the Amahoro Soccer Stadium. (I can walk for about an hour before the effects of the altitude get to me.) On my walks, I am the only white person and I've begun to wonder whether I am in fact the only redhead in Rwanda ! The locals are friendly, although quite guarded. I've made a point of saying hello in Kinyarwanda or striking up a conversation with those that just stare at me. Mostly what I find is that once you initiate conversation, the locals are quite friendly. There are a fair amount of people begging for money/food. It is often very difficult to turn away. My first experience with this was a young boy of 10 who approached me with his hands out asking for money. I spoke to him in French, asking him his name and how he was- and with a little smile he said "Olivier". Once we established that I had no money to give him, we began talking. The next day when I saw him again, he asked for money once more. "Olivier? Comment ca va?" He seemed very surprised and pleased that I remembered his name and began to walk with me for some time. Eventually he informed me- ("no france ma'am") that despite his very French sounding name, he himself does not speak french- probably as a result of not having gone to school. The next interesting kid I met was Vincent, who at 17 years of age, introduced himself to me as a "businessman". He said he had many Canadian contacts and wanted to be sure that I remember his face. He was quite the charmer.
Since I am the only VSO who has arrived at this time, I am finding that most things require initiative and a resourceful and patient attitude. I am alone at this guest house and have had to find ways to answer my own questions. I asked the desk clerk at the hotel to describe the phone card system to me and where to catch a bus and how to find a forexe to exchange money. I imagine that volunteers that arrive together (and have 10 days of training to my 2) would find these things out together. I am a bit disappointed that that's the case however I think in the long run, it will be useful to be self-reliant.
Since this is my first blog, I have kept it mostly fact-based. In future entries I will try to be more descriptive and tell you more about the amazing landscapes, sights, sounds, smells and experiences. So far, there is nothing I miss from home even though it is a challenging living environment here. I actually bought Eckhart Tolle's book "The Power of Now" at the airport but funnily enough I don't think I'll need to read it. Each day here MUST be lived one moment at a time because I don't know what comes next. It is fascinating, intimidating and fulfilling all at once. I catch myself wondering if I will make it through the 12 months and then I'm reminded that I need not measure everything as good or bad, success or failure- I feel so blessed to be here !