It’s hard to believe I’m finally (mostly) settled into Musanze. After living out of hotels and friends’ houses for a solid month, I’m so happy to finally have a new home!
It’s been a bit of a slow start here – delays in my visa resulted in having to reschedule my flight for a week later than intended, and upon arrival, I ended up spending week and a half in Kigali attending a monitoring and evaluation training. Though it wasn’t totally related to the work I’ll be doing, it did allow me to make some initial observations regarding the staff’s gender capacity and awareness, and has helped me in starting to make a plan for the first couple months I’m here.
For the most part, I think I have a solid grasp on what it is I need to focus on here, and feel pretty optimistic about my ability to encourage paradigm shifts, at the very least small ones within the project staff. I definitely have some nerves any time I have to prepare for a meeting or give a presentation, but I’ve decided that’s a good feeling to have – it means what I’m doing is challenging, and that I still care about it. And then when I crush that challenge (which, let’s face it, I always do) I get to feel like a boss for 10 minutes before moving on to the next activity and set of nerves.
As I mentioned, I’m living in Musanze (formerly known as Ruhengeri), but only arrived here on Monday, and I just moved into my house on Thursday. I had gotten used to Kigali – it’s a pretty modern city, with tall buildings, hot running water (post-Kathmandu, this is huge for me), streetlights, limited power cuts (I swear, they last five minutes and then it’s back), diverse restaurants, great fashion, and amazing coffee shops.
Musanze is a little different. It’ a town of roughly 70,000 people, but it feels smaller. There are still some restaurants, as it’s a popular spot for tourists to stay prior to going gorilla trekking. Housing options were interesting, as this isn’t a popular expat centre – it seems as though many expats (including my roommate) living in Musanze have work related to gorillas or other local animals, as researchers or vets (whenever possible, all gorillas are given post-mortem examinations to better understand their cause of death). So whenever street puppies are found, guess who takes them in.
So as for the housing options, they’re mostly family homes. The majority of houses I looked at were totally unfurnished, and had no appliances…. Not an expense I wanted to take on exactly. There weren’t any apartment buildings to look at, and it didn’t seem like many people were looking for roommates, so I got very lucky when I was contacted and told someone was looking for a roommate. Considering my best option at that point was a four-bedroom three-bathroom house (which is just a little excessive for me), I jumped at the chance to see this place, and man, I’m so glad I did.
My roommate, Winnie, works at the Karisoke Foundation, which was the foundation created by Diane Fossey to study mountain gorillas. It’s celebrating its 50th anniversary next year, and will be featured on the cover of National Geographic (for people who follow @natgeo on Instagram, all the photos you’re seeing coming out of Rwanda are related to that feature). Winnie has been coming to Rwanda for a long time, and in total, has lived here for 8 years. So her house has been redone to her liking, and she already has everything set up in way of a maid, cook, security guard, etc. Not having to think about all those things, getting to split the cost of electricity, and only paying the cost of renting a room – huge wins for me. Plus, since the expat community is so small, it’s nice having someone else here to show me the ropes.
The vibe in Musanze, unsurprisingly, is different than that in Kigali. As I said, the expat community here is really small – meaning, I will probably have met everyone within two weeks of living here. Because it is a rural area, there’s less general exposure of the locals to white people, and I can already see it will be a very different cultural experience – having people stare at me and chase me for photos in India (not a joke, literally had a family run in front of me taking selfies for a solid two minutes even when I told them no and tried to leave the area) was exhausting, and eventually led to me snapping at a guy in the airport who was posing in front of me while I was trying to buy some water. It’s different here – nobody is taking photos of me, but they do stare (the blonde hair doesn’t help) and you can hear people talking about you. If you’ve never heard the term mzungu, it’s come to be a term used generally for white people, and it’s not charming. It’s hard not to be at least a little bothered by children coming up to you saying, “mzungu, give me money,” having them yell “mzungu, mzungu, mzungu!” at you repeatedly, and to hear older people talking about you or staring as you do something ordinary. It’s not a hostile tone, but it’s not friendly either, and I can see it getting very wearing after some time.
On the plus side, Kigali is only a two-hour bus ride away, and has a lot of very cool events – this past Friday was Fashion Night Out, which hosted several top Rwandan designers, and the VIP tent had sales on their clothing. I’m still saving up for a top I’ve been eyeing before even arriving in Rwanda but I did pick up a couple items (my packing strategy for Rwanda was to bring 80% clothes I was ok with leaving behind here, because African fashion – there’s just something about it for me).
And, it is beautiful here – Musanze is close to the Volcanoes National Park, so I get to wake up with a couple peaks in sight, and can easily go on a day hike during the weekend. I went into Kigali on Friday to buy a mountain bike (which are shockingly hard to find here) and I’m excited to get out on the trails here and get ready to do a couple trips, particularly the Congo-Nile Divide Trail, so if anyone has any interest in joining me for some bikepacking, let me know!
I feel like this is a bit of a weak initial update, so I apologize – I’ve done a couple other things other than settling, like visiting the Kigali Genocide Memorial (given the state of the world right now, I feel like that deserves its own post) – but I think with the slow start I’ve had at work, the delays in arriving, and relative independence in planning out my work schedule for the next month (everyone from my office is already on holidays, and not being a huge Christmas person, I’m not taking any time off), I’m not totally feeling grounded yet.
Before I leave you, my initial cultural oddity observances:
- For some reason, you need to specify that when you order beer, water, or any other drink really, that you would like it cold. This is particularly troubling for beer, especially when one waiter asked me if I would like my beer hot. Sir, it is 27 degrees. In what world would I want a hot beer?
- Rwanda is insanely clean. The streets are cleaner than a Canadian street. They literally have people employed to sweep up leaves off the main roads. It’s spotless.
- The crosswalk man made me stop and laugh – he’s like a one legged speedwalker?