Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Mighty Wind

(Not Pictured Here: The roof to my kitchen/storage unit!)

Two weeks ago I received a phone call from Malcolm, a PCV stationed in Kigali. He asked me if I wanted to go with him and Taylor, another PCV, to a party in Cyangugu. I was very hesitant to go. I wasn't worried that Cyangugu was an hour away from the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo) or that I would literally have to ride through a rain forest to get there; I was worried about the distance I would have to travel from my village.
I live in the East and Cyangugu is at the far Southwestern tip of the country. Rwanda isn't that big, I know, but I knew that if I went, I would be spending the better part of a day in a crowded car or bus. Moreover, I heard that traveling through the rain forest is a rough ride and makes people carsick; PCVs from the West have told me many stories about people vomiting all over each other. Needless to say, I was having my doubts about going. Malcolm did counter all my expressed reservations with the 'you only live once' card. (In the game of traveling, this is a trump card.) I quickly changed my mind and agreed to meet Malcolm and Taylor in Kigali to take a bus together to Cyangugu.

The ride was very long, but it was very scenic. I was 100% correct about what was going to happen; someone threw up. It was gross; I'll spare you the details but Taylor and Malcolm were sitting right next to the girl when it happened. I don't believe anyone was 'hit' in the ordeal, but it was pretty gross. ALSO I was 100% right about spending the entire day in a crowded car/bus. By the time we arrived at the party, I personally had spent TWELVE HOURS in transit. The trip was fun, though. We stopped at this one place that sold street meat, corn on the cob, peanuts, and bunch of other things. I had a little of everything; it was great.

The party was being held by an NGO (NGO = I will give them some anonymity here); a bunch of other PCVs from Rwanda were invited. These NGO people were the best hosts and hostesses in the world. They knew that their headquarters was a bit out of the way from our arrival spot, so they actually drove out of their way to come pick us up so we didn't have to hire a taxi. All we had to do was call when we got off the bus; we did so and they told us it would be thirty (30) minutes or so before they got to us. With that amount of time on our hands, we all agreed we could go to a 'bar' and have a beer.

I have learned many things about ordering alcohol in rural Rwanda. For example:

1. Only men are allowed to drink in public. A woman can drink alcohol in public; however, if she does it often she will develop a very bad reputation...specifically, she will be seen as a prostitute.

2. Children aren't suppose to drink alcohol, but they do; I have stumbled across a few drunk grade school students once or twice. They are not served in any of the bars, but who is to stop them from drinking at home, where there are gallons and gallons of homemade banana beer.

3. Children cannot be served in a 'bar,' but they can work there. Heck, if it is a family owned bar (and most of them are), they are expected to work there. When I mean work, I mean work: taking orders, closing tabs, and managing the place when the parents are out running errands.

4. There are really only two comercial domestic beers in Rwanda: Primus and Mutzig. I really don' care for either one, so I hardly drink anymore. There are many foreign beers, but they are expensive.

5. Beers come in 'small' and 'big' sizes. The 'small' size is what you generally see in America. The 'big' size is about 40 oz. The 'big' size is really the 'normal' size here. If you order a beer and don't specifically say 'small' or 'big,' they bring the 40 oz one out. If you order a foreign beer, which only comes in 'small,' they will assume you want the amount comparable to a 'big' beer and bring out two 'smalls.' I have ordered an Amstel many times and have been brought two; I always forget to say one only.

6. Ordering an orange Fanta is pretty much telling the entire room that you are a virgin. Apparently, Orange Fanta = Virginity. Naturally, orange is the best flavor in the world, so I have had to endure many jokes because of my taste for this delicious beverage.

7. If you are ordering hard liquor, be prepared to buy the entire bottle. No shots served here, baby; bottle service only.

These are really the big seven cultural notes I have made regarding alcohol.

Okay, back to the story...and the eighth lesson I have learned about Rwandan cultural practices pertaining to alcohol consumption.

So Malcolm and I are drinking a 40 oz Primus each and Taylor is drinking a Fanta. We are enjoying being on solid ground and not being around people about the throw up...just waiting for our ride. We figure we have got twenty (20) minutes to down our drinks before our ride comes. WRONG! Our ride pulls up almost immediately after we order! Apparently, our arrival was anticipated and our ride left before we called.

At this point, it was pretty easy for Taylor to finish her Fanta, but Malcolm and I each still had to finish much of a beer that we didn't really enjoy. No words were said; Malcolm and I just looked at each other and began chugging our beers like college Freshmen. BIG MISTAKE! The crowd in and around the bar began to make noises of disapproval and shook their heads with disgrace. One elderly man even began to lecture Malcolm, thinking he was Rwandan, in Kinyarwanda about how chugging beer in public is bad form. We said our awkward apologies, gave our bottles to the disgruntled barkeeper, and jumped into the truck that had been waiting for us to finish.

8. Under no circumstances is one allowed to chug a beer in public!


The party was great. The hosts gave us a place to stay and a ton of good food; they had a movie projector and a ping-pong table; they even had a dog AND puppies. I know this may not sound like big news, but Rwanda has almost NO dogs...NONE...I see no dogs as pets and no stray dogs at all. My dad raises and breeds Beagles for hunting and various gaming competitions, so the Reeb house has always had at least one dog since I could remember. It was weird to be in the presence of 'man's best friend' having not been around one for almost eight (8) months.

At any rate, I cannot rave enough about how well our hosts received us; seriously, it was good stuff. We had a dance party the night we arrived, they took us to a private beach on Lake Kivu the next day, we went swimming...and the goodness the food! Good times. Good times.

When the party finished on Sunday (it was a long party, baby) we all left for site. Malcolm, Taylor and I traveled together and experienced yet another person throwing up...gross. I was the farthest away from Cyangugu and it took me all day to get back to Rwamagana city...I spent the night in the city and returned to my village Monday morning.

Upon returning home Monday morning, I noticed that everything was in the order I had left it; everything was just fine. I decided to take it easy that morning and not go into work right away. I just wanted to unpack, eat, and read a little bit. I did all three; it was great.

The weather was normal. It was great reading weather for me, actually. I get this cross breeze when I leave my windows open and I always keep my doors blinded with this light colored sheet, so during the day my house has this soft, sleepy light. It is really relaxing in the late mornings and early afternoons, especially after eating a big meal. I take a nap at least one hour every day after lunch, in fact. On top of the eight (8) to nine (9) hours of sleep I get every night, I would say that I am becoming very well rested here.

At any rate, I was relaxing and about to nod off when a mighty wind blew through the streets of my village. This wind shook the entire house! It caused so much noise! For a minute, I thought a huge truck had had some kind of speeding accident. I looked out my window and saw nothing out of the ordinary; so, I started reading again and fell asleep.

About an hour later (around 12:30pm) I woke up and walked outside to use the restroom. The first thing I saw was a man on my neighbor's roof. Then I looked at the roof next to kitchen/storage unit roof. It was gone! Flat out disappeared, man! For a very brief moment I had this ridiculous idea that someone had took my roof. I was going to call out to the man working on my neighbor's roof, but I stopped myself from making any kind of scene. I looked over my fence and realized that a small crowd was hanging out by the well, waiting for me to come out of my house; they wanted to see how I'd react; we Americans, after all, are very loud, dramatic, and pushy.

I tried to look natural as I started looking around roof. I couldn't find it. Ha! I got changed and began walking to my landlord's house to tell him about the situation. Well, as soon as I walked outside my gate, there he was talking to the neighbor whose house on which my roof had landed. Apparently the mighty wind had taken my roof to the house just next to mine; that's where all the noise had come from.

Within a week, the roof was fixed; you can see the pictures on my facebook page. At the end of the week, my landlord told me the new roof, the repairs to the neighbor's house, and the addition to the bathroom roof, cost a total of 109,000 Rwandan Francs (just under $200.00 American dollars). He asked if Peace Corps could help with some of the cost; Peace Corps agreed. So this past week I have been trying to arrange a meeting with him to negotiate the amount of help Peace Corps is willing to provide.

Arranging a meeting has been pretty difficult, however; thus, this situation has yet to be formally resolved. My landlord doesn't speak English very well and I don't know enough Kinyarwanda or French to negotiate landscaping fees and charges. So, I asked Jean-Marie, a good friend of mine at the health center, to help me translate. He agreed...for the price of two Mutzig beers, which I readily bought for him...and he readily drank...I still have yet to sit down with my landlord, however. Whenever I am free, he is not; whenever he is free, Jean-Marie is not. I am pretty much ready to this thing at any time, but the other two parties appear to have strongly conflicting schedules.'ll all work always does.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Rusumo Falls and Wednesday

(Pictured here: Rusumo Falls)
Rusumo Falls was very cool. A few PCVs (Brandon, Tom, Malea, and Anna) and I decided to take a day trip to the Rwanda/Tanzania border (Rusumo) to check it out a few weeks ago. We couldn't cross into Tanzania because Peace Corps has very strict regulations regarding crossing borders; we needed clearance weeks in advance in order to step into Tanzania. Anyway, I posted a few pics on facebook...check 'em out.

In other news, the Director of Peace Corps Rwanda has asked each of us to write a story for the Peace Corps publication 'A Life Inspired,' a collection of short stories written by volunteers in the field. I have been trying to get something to him these past couple of weeks, but I am not happy with my drafts. I write something out, I edit it, and I am just not happy with what I produce. It would really be cool to have a story in this widely disseminated text, but I don't like anything I write. Maybe I will submit an old blog post...I dunno...I'll keep you posted. (I have been doing a lot of writing these past few months and, let me tell ya, I have a much deeper appreciation for writers and their craft!)

The classes are going well, though attendance is shrinking. I think my newness in the community is wearing off...*sigh*. On the plus side, I am getting along with my community members well and I am having to explain my presence less and less, which is okay with me. I have been giving my welcoming speech since April; I have had that thing memorized since Kinyarwanda!

*Maybe I should post two blog entries, but its easier for me to publish them as one.*

I heard about gacaca in training. Gacaca is the community-based court that was used in pre-colonial days and has recently been reinstated to process cases and trials concerning the genocide of 1994; the courts also hear the cases of people that are accused of minor offenses. There were so many offenders during those 100 days in 1994 that it would take a few high courts a lifetime to convict everyone that was involved. In response to this problem, the government revived the traditional community courts throughout the sectors to convict and assign punishment to perpetrators, thus speeding up the judicial process.

The gacaca court for my sector is generally held at the sector headquarters every Wednesday. These past few weeks, however, the court location has changed to the health center's front lawn. That means every Wednesday I get to see five (5) to eight (8) different court cases. When I say see, I really mean see...ONLY. I NEVER approach the open-air court proceedings any closer than I have to and I do NOT ask about what is going on during the trials; I keep my distance as much as possible.

Generally these proceedings begin in the afternoon and finish in the early evening; they are attended by the judges (4 or 5), the accused (5-8), the witnesses (varying in number), and community members (also varying in number). The stores remain closed Wednesday mornings to recognize the importance of the trials to be held that afternoon, but the crowd of community onlookers is never very big. The court cannot give out extremely harsh punishments, like death, but they do give out long prison terms and such.

(This style of judgment, gacaca, has its defenders and criticizers. I will not get into the philosophical discussion, but one of the defenders' arguments for this style of court and punishment distribution is that most everyone accused of taking part in 1994 will have had their case heard and, if guilty, will have served some sort of punishment for their crime. The officials in my sector say they will be finished with all local gacaca cases regarding the crimes of 1994 very soon.)

This last Wednesday was different than other Wednesdays, however. The crowd was rather large and instead of five (5) to eight (8) cases being heard, there was only one (1). When the trial started in the afternoon, I could tell it was important because a hush had fallen over the staff of the health center, which is usually loud and active regardless of what is going on. Nurses quietly treated patients, then went back to their office windows to watch the proceedings.

Curiosity slowly sunk in its fangs...I had to know what was going on, though I had a pretty strong hunch. I walked up to five nurses watching the case unfold from the window of the insurance office, the best office in the health center to hear and see the event. In a very hushed voice I asked the group what was going on. In broken English they revealed the story of the man whose case was being heard. Apparently he was one of the worst perpetrators in my sector during the 100 days of suffering in 1994. He confessed to his crimes and had been in custody at a local jail awaiting his trial. I will spare you the details of the trial...for many reasons. I will admit that I almost cried while the nurses were translating the testimony of the witnesses and the confessions of the criminal.

The trial went much later than normal. The nurses told me it was because of the amount of offenses committed...over 100...the accused said he lost count at 100. *slowly shaking my head* The judges needed more time to process the testimonies and confessions and agree upon the punishment. The judges were considering the strictest punishment a gacaca court was authorized to imprisonment.

I didn't stay for the ruling. I didn't ask about it the next day. I didn't pry to find out more about the court system and its history. That is not to say I was not curious, but it wasn't the time nor the place to ask. What I do know is that I didn't recognize him; I never recognize the people that are on trial and nobody ever talks about them specifically, like they know them.

I know how this must read; not very uplifting. I had to mention this, though. It was an important day for my community; I had to write something about it.