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.


  1. I love reading your stories! Hope you are well!

  2. Hi,
    You don't know me, I'm Brandon Baca's girlfriend, Rebekah. I enjoy reading your blog to get a second view of Rwanda. Very cool! You're a great writer, keep it up.
    I was feeling a little stalkery, so I figured I should at least introduce myself.
    I look forward to meeting you when I visit Brandon in January.
    take care,

  3. Rebekah, I know you; Brandon talks about you all the time. I am glad you like the blog. I look forward to meeting you in person when you come to visit. See you soon!