Thursday, December 10, 2009

Roughing It in Rwanda

Wednesday night I traded in my bed bug ridden foam mattress for a spring form king size wonderful piece of heaven!


Tuesday was Christine’s birthday and she has a friend who is a former employee of Serena Hotels in Tanzania. Serena is the “Mmmm, where do you summer?” type of hotel that UN staffers and multinational business stay and rich expats workout. Think Fairmont moves from the Rockies to the savannah. Now, the Milles Collines is the hotel to be at if you’re in Kigali. I still haven’t been there for a drink around the pool. I should. It is Hotel Rwanda, after all. But it’s been under construction for a while now and….Christine doesn’t have a friend who works here. So, her friend offered her a room for her birthday and since Tuesday didn’t work out, we travelled and stayed Wednesday. What a way to spend mid-week! She grabbed the bus in her village. There was another muzungu on the bus – Kai from Switzerland – who was coming from Tanzania. He thought he was alone from the border and then, in his words, “the bus stopped and a muzungu got on and I thought ‘what the f**k? We’re in the middle of nowhere!’ ” I joined them in Kibungo (which is less in the middle of nowhere and more in the middle of somewhere very, very happening) and we had a good chat on the way up.


When we arrived were treated to pineapple/tree tomatoes juice upon arrival.  Took the glass elevator to the fourth floor and just as Charlie must have felt at Willie Wonka’s factory, we walked in silent amazement. Save for the Oompa Loompas and chocolate rivers, I may as well have won the golden ticket. Got up to the room and inspected every corner of it. Yup, the water is hot…and runs clear. Yup, the toilet flushes, every time. The box on the dresser shows a picture and makes noises when you press the power button. The lights turn on and don’t flicker. Sitting on the bed, my sandal fell off and I. Put. My. Bare. Foot. On. The. Carpet. OH MY GOD!! That was the most luxurious feeling. Okay….no time to waste. We have exactly 18 hours here. That’s it. Make it count.


Into our swimsuits and complementary bathrobes. Down to the pool. By Rwandan standards it’s a cold day and it looks like it’s about to rain but we don’t care. We jump in and splash around for a good thirty minutes. Then into the “hot” tub, which wasn’t working but it was warm and again….we didn’t care. We then walked back to the lounge chairs and…get this…our feet stayed clean!! Actually, I think our feet were clean the entire time we were there. After a tea we went into the sauna, and then steam room, and then sauna, and then steam room…..Finally we decided to head up and get ready for dinner. We decided we were not leaving the hotel until they damn well up and kicked us out!


We put mud masks on our faces that I’d been saving since my parents sent them a month ago. I’m so glad I’d saved it for then. I was glad, that is, until the knock on the door. We stared at each other….mud masks and all. We didn’t answer. We sat there. Then the person started to come in. Okay….so I answered the door (Christine hid behind!) and a woman was there saying “Would you like a turn down?” I politely declined for two reasons. 1) She probably thought we were crazy muzungus with REALLY white skin and 2) I don’t know what a turn down is. Turn down the sheets? Maybe? Thanks but I have two working arms. I could probably manage. We got dressed and Kai – who had to stay at crappy St. Paul’s ha ha ha – joined us. Food was so great….meat in veggies sort of like Mongolie Grill style. Dessert. I HAD THREE DIFFERENT DESSERTS. Ha ha!!!!!! After dinner we crawled into the most comfortable bed in the world. Okay, that was after I figured out how to actually get the pillows out of the maze of sheets. Now I’m thinking that a “turn down” would have been useful. The woman is probably laughing to herself this very moment as she’s helping another equally able bodied person on the 3rd floor. Sometime around 3am , I woke up warm and wanted to throw off the sheets and realized that they were too tightly tucked into the bed frame. Cursing, I thought I’d trade the glorious carpet for a bloody “turn down.”


Morning came too soon. That bed was too comfortable. I was liking this! Down for a buffet breakfast and, truthfully, that did me in. I looked at all the food. I stared at the fruit. Literally stared. And what did I do? Grabbed a banana and a slice of pineapple. This, friends, I the ONLY fruit I can get in Kibungo and this was my first choice. It was safe. I knew this. What were these other things? The fruit table wasn’t so bad but then I hit up the breads table. There were 18 different types of muffins, 12 breads and a few types of croissant. What? The pit in my stomach grew and grew. I didn’t know what to do. Where was the brick shaped, bread-looking loaf from “Good Loaf” in Kayonza? Not here? Okay. A piece of raisin bread will do, but I’m not happy about it. In all seriousness, this was the first bout of reverse culture shock I’d experienced since being here and it’s only been three months. Still, I avoided the bread table for the rest of the morning.


Finally checked out at 10:59 (and not a minute sooner) and back to reality:

-       to the doctor to get anti-itch something to deal with my 100 bites on my legs and feet

-       to Nakumatt to get spray to kill anything smaller than a thumb nail

-       To the bus park to buy a ticket on a flea ridden mini-van to Kibungo

-       Kenny and Dolly playing half way to Kibungo

-       Wind in my hair, until the rain started and the driver kept his window half way down. Then it was rain in my hair, on my shirt, on my bag….

-       Man sitting behind me poking into my back

-       Get to my house: wash sheets, put out blanket and mattress in the sun, spray bed, Julie arrives, she helps (in fact, even thought it’s not here day to work, insists that I just sit and watch! No…)

-       Cook a Sidekicks from Aunt Peggy on the kerosene stove – Homestyle Macaroni and Cheese. Add tomatoes and tuna for protein. Give some to my guard. Practice my Kinyarwanda with him. I point to the tomatoes and say “inyanya.” He replies “Yego.” (yes) I point to the pasta because I don’t know the word for it. “Kinyarwanda?” I say. Waiting for a word that inevitably begins with “u” or “i”, he responds “Ah! Macaroni!”


Of course he does. What else would it be called?

Pictures to follow soon....


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