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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A taste* of Rwandan popular music

Here are a few songs that are ubiquitous here, if you’re curious about Rwandan pop/hip hop:

Amayobera means something like “that thing that cannot be explained/articulated.” A love song, obviously.

Igipimo means balance - as in the refrain: “it’s a balance really, a balance.” Another love song.

*see post on kumva

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sports scavenger hunt update!

New discoveries (in bold) have been coming more slowly. In my village I regularly see the 4-year-old with the Ducks sweatshirt, the older man with the Redskins NFC Champions shirt, and a youth with a Red Sox shirt. With the recent hockey additions I’ve now got all the New York teams, unless you count the Nets. I’ve got almost the entire MLB. I'm worried I'll never find the pour (sic) Brewers - I don't think I've even ever seen Brewers paraphernalia in the US! It’s little surprise that I’m most attuned to the MLB and NFL; I’m sure there are some hockey teams I’ve missed simply for not recognizing the team name or logo - eventually I might have to study up. But buhoro buhoro I think I’ll get them all!

MLB: Red Sox, Angels, Yankees, Cardinals, Pirates, Diamondbacks, Marlins, Blue Jays, Orioles, Reds, A’s, Dodgers, Mariners, Braves, Phillies, Mets, Cubs, Astros, Twins, Indians, Rays, Giants, Nationals, Royals
NBA: Kings, Celtics, Bulls, Pistons, Sonics, Sixers, Blazers, Rockets, Knicks, Suns, Magic, Pacers, Spurs
NFL: Eagles, Patriots, Colts, Broncos, Texans, Jets, Rams, Raiders, Packers, Cowboys, Browns, Giants, Vikings, Falcons, Bears, Dolphins, 49ers, Seahawks, Buckaneers, Lions, Redskins
NHL: Maple Leaves, Penguins, Bruins, Sharks, Canadiens, Ducks, Islanders, Rangers, Avalanche
Other: WNBA Beat, MLS Galaxy, Yankees Suck, Charlotte Hornets
Sox bonuses: A Nomar jersey and an Ortiz shirt; the official 2004 World Series shirt
Pats bittersweet triple word score: 19-0 Perfect Season t-shirt
U2 bonus: Zoo York

Thanksgiving in Rwanda

I managed to turn a day of feasting into a full week here, so I think I’ve done pretty well for myself.

On Tuesday I “catered” a party for GACP’s forest research staff: pizza, bean dip and guac, pudding. We (the researcher Rebecca and I) explained that America is a nation of immigrants who’ve brought their food with them, creating a diverse culinary scene including Italian pizza and Mexican bean dip and guac and English (sort of) pudding. In keeping with the Rwandan love affair with beans, the bean dip was the biggest hit. I think they enjoyed beans that had a little more going on than just being boiled to death.

Wednesday we had a little vegetarian Thanksgiving in the village. I taught Rebecca’s house boy how to make garlic mashed potatoes and stuffing in a frying pan, and talked about the origins of Thanksgiving. When we went around the table to say what we're thankful for, he said "for the delicious food Tuesday and Wednesday."

Thursday I got together with my Peace Corps posse in Musanze and we made a delicious instant Thanksgiving from packages - canned cranberry jelly (also good on muffins the next day, FYI), stove top stuffing with instant turkey gravy and canned chicken, and heavenly Betty Crocker sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows. Friday I stuffed myself until I felt sick at an expat Thanksgiving that included turkeys freshly killed on Wednesday! And Saturday my boss, Rebecca and I had a girls’ night at a restaurant in Gisenyi. Topics of conversation included the difficulties of finding and managing housegirls/boys and email identity theft.

There was also shopping - a quick Black Friday trip to the Musanze market (I got the cutest aprons! $.12 each!) and today while waiting for an appointment I found some nice clothes in the Gisenyi market. Bet you can’t get $11 DKNY jeans in the US, even on Black Sunday (alas if I were a different size DKNY could have been Diesel for $11).

So have no fear, I’ve already started working on my holiday weight gain and consumerist binge, even in Rwanda.

I want to say how thankful I am for my amazingly supportive family and friends from home who spoil me rotten, my wonderful friends and colleagues here, and for being born into such incredible privilege in America.

Kinyarwanda verb of the month: kumva

When speaking English, Rwandans often make mistakes like “I hear it” when referring to food, or “I touch it” when talking about a sound. This is because Kinyarwanda has only one verb for feeling, tasting, touching, hearing, and even understanding: kumva (koom-vah) “to sense, to understand.” Therefore, simbyumva means “I don’t understand it” but also “I don’t hear it,” “I don’t feel it,” etc etc. It takes some getting used to for Rwandans learning English, but also for those of us learning Kinyarwanda.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Book Bleg

A bleg, for those of you less blog-obsessed than I am, is a blog that begs. I’ve been reading 3-4 books a week because after dinner is cooked there’s little else to do here at night. So here is a list of books I would love to read, as recommended by a September issue of Time Magazine, the Slate gabfests (an amazing podcast I highly recommend) and various friends. Question marks indicate that I’ve probably spelled the name wrong but I’m surge google can figure it out.

The Story of Jane
Never Let Me Go (also a new movie)
The Secret Lives of Bees
Skippy Dies
How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe
Last Call
Sam Lipsyte The Ask
The Lost Books of the Odyssey
The Empire Strikes Out
The Surrendered
The Post Birthday World
Matt Devanturn(?) The Book of Right and Wrong
Seth Stevenson: Grounded (travel)
You Can’t Go Home Again
War is a Force that Gives us Meaning
The Big Short - Michael Lewis
Michael Shaven’s Wonderboys
City of Velk(?) by Zoe Tevoras (?)
Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich
The Immortal Life of Henry Edilar (?) by Rebecca Schute
The Teeth May Smile But the Heart Does Not Forget by Andrew Rice
The Song of Ice and Fire series
Addam Ross’s Mr. Peanut
Gary Steingard’s Supersad True Love Story
Tom Rachman’s The Imperfectionists
Chris Cleave’s Incendiary and his newest book (see below)
Dennis Lehane - anything I haven’t read

Feel free to send pre-read copies! In addition any classics you might find at a tag sale - Dickens, Austen, Updike, the Russian greats, etc. would be welcome, just email to make sure I don’t already have it here. Or anything else you’ve enjoyed lately, from great literature to fun beach read to interesting nonfiction. I can assure you that any books you send will circulate among Peace Corps Rwanda Volunteers for decades to come.

That issue of Time also advertised the new Kindle with 3G (which we have in Rwanda, allegedly) and a month-long battery - long enough for the village! Just think, I haven't even ever laid hands on an iPhone 4g or iPad, though I saw a Chinese guy using the latter once at Bourbon.

I’ve got a few recommendations as well. Chris Cleave’s Little Bee (also published as The Other Hand) was absolutely incredibly and moving and as a side effect reminded me that while I’m pretty disillusioned with the development industry from my time here, I still fiercely care about refugee issues. The fantasy trilogy Mistborn was fantastic and entertaining and I can’t wait to read it again. I also recommend The Perfect Storm.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Is this what JFK had in mind when he came up with the Second Goal of Peace Corps?

The second goal of the Peace Corps is to u a better understanding of America and its peoplehos within the host country. Usually I fulfill this with casual conversation, sharing American food, or explaining pictures of Boston and home. Often, Rwandans ask me questions about how things are done in America, and I’m put in the position of distilling our massive and diverse culture into a neat answer that can be conveyed with my meager Kinyarwanda vocabulary.

I had the funniest conversation the other day with my counterpart and the head of my village. They asked me if men in America can take more than one wife, so I explained that they can’t do so at the same time but they can after a divorce, of which we have many (and likewise, women can take a second husband). And that some men, and some women, take girl/boyfriends despite being married, but that I think that happens in Rwanda too and usually it’s frowned upon in both cultures. They asked me if sometimes men might have kids with different women and therefore a few different families. They asked me who would get the kids so we got into court arbitration, child support, etc. I told them that there is a slight bias towards the mother getting the kids, and they seemed to think there would (or should?) be more men getting custody. I said usually a man (particularly athletes and rappers) who has children with several different women would rather find new women to have relations with than take care of the existing kids so usually the mothers get the kids.

I kid you not, the head of my village then said he wants to go to America some day and impregnate a woman. (Good luck dude, you’re a great village leader but with your middle-age paunch, your total lack of English and money you would not have so much game…)

Throughout the conversation, they kept asking my opinion on all of this and I kept navigating between keeping up my reputation as being “serious” and culturally appropriate while speaking for all of America on the topic with some semblance of nuance.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Slightly Stale Links

Don't forget to check back before my last post  - I just backdated some posts from late October and early November.

First, some slightly more recent links:
- Reuters’ regular Rwanda Factbox
- My boss’s American boss on his visit to Kinihira 
- And more from GACP about my village (and me!)
- On Rwanda’s lesbians. I’d love to read the document.

Some old ones I never got around to posting:
- KigaliWire on gacaca, Rwanda’s local court system
- Ratio’s September Rwanda brief
- BBC on mountain gorilla politics in Rwanda
- A NYTimes series from a few months ago on a social scientist’s research in Rwanda has some nice descriptions of the country and its water issues. The link is to the final piece, but it links to all 5 in the series.
- I don't remember what this Texas In Africa is about, but I wanted to link to it a while ago. As always I recommend the entire blog.
- The Guardian's photos of Rwandan tea fields
- Hip-hop loving pigs: Bizarre, hilarious, and takes place at one of my favorite Rwanda sites - a Rwandan-style truck stop between Kigali and Gisenyi.

Kinyarwanda insult of the day: muzungu kuruhu

Muzungu kuruhu means literally “white person in skin only.” It is an appellation given to white people who do not accede to the various demands for 100 francs, bonbon (candy), bottles, pens, etc. Basically, it’s an insult that means you’re stingy. I like to take it as a compliment - literally, if I’m a muzungu in skin only, I must be very well integrated into Rwanda! On occasion I refer to myself as a muzungu kuruhu to make the point that I don’t have money to give away or sometimes as a bargaining tactic, and when it comes out of my mouth it invariably inspires riotous laughter.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Umuganda, village style

The primary school in my village (years 1-6) is expanding to include the first 3 years of secondary school, meaning it will provide all of the free “basic 9” years of education. The secondary school is targeted to open with the new school year in January, so umuganda in my village has become a weekly activity that occurs mostly on Thursdays, as far as I can tell. A month ago and today I participated by carrying giant pieces of stone to the latrine hole, down a steep 100-meter slope covered in underbrush and stumps of eucalyptus trees (the air given a healthy perfume for the workout as the tree trunks are burned nearby to produce charcoal). Each time I’ve hauled my fair share of stones down the hill, a great cardio and arm workout. The first time I was feeling great about my contribution until a young woman in flipflops with a baby on her back passed me carrying a humungous stone weighing at least 40 pounds on her head.

Three Thursdays ago there was a different activity: helping to lay the brick walls of the 4 new classrooms. That day I attended umuganda without a translator and there were many more participants to gawk at me. Through hand motions and Kinyarwanda littered with building vocabulary I do not possess I came to understand that I should take a trowel and scrape the 6 faces of the homemade bricks before handing them off to men who’d lay them in cement. At first I thought this activity was rather pointless, then I thought it might be good to dislodge loose irregularities from the bricks so they’d better stick in the cement, and then I went back to thinking I was useless when I saw that some brick layers skipped this step and my bricks were usually done again.

I wasn’t entirely useless, though - not only is it good community relations for me to participate in umuganda, but I provided much needed entertainment for various workers and allowed a soldier who was helping out (at least he was helping, others lingered idly on the hillside) to practice his pickup skills - and believe me, they needed practice. In the end I went and held an umbrella for my friend as she used a homemade notched metal grabber-thingy (see, I even lack the English vocabulary!) to bend pieces of metal around nails into squares that would be used to shape cement pillars. I made a quick escape around noon as I saw my soldier-suitor approaching.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

I found the Holy Grail!

A bit over a month ago I walked into Gisenyi's posh western restaurant (rare steak! pizza!) and was literally rendered speechless by the man standing at the bar in this T-shirt. I offered to buy it and after a little discussion he and his friend agreed to give it to me for free after laundering it. It took me several phone calls over the course of a few weeks to follow up on it, but I am now the bittersweetly proud owner of this shirt!

As for other news, I finally moved into my new house and I'm planning to put in some quality time in the village. I'll keep typing blogs but not sure when I'll have the time online to upload them, especially blogs with pictures.

Monday, November 1, 2010

A lesson in dental hygiene

Last week when I went to Gisenyi I took the bus with Mama Benjamin, who lives across the street, and her 7-year-old daughter. They were headed to the dentist because the daughter’s teeth are in a painfully rotted state. Remembering that I’d taken a bag of 75 toothbrushes from a case another volunteer had left up for grabs in the Peace Corps office, I promised them a toothbrush and brushing lesson when I returned.

Today I wandered over with a handful of differently colored toothbrushes. At Mama Benjamin’s table were teenaged son Benjamin and another woman from the next village over. Benjamin went to find his little sister and I was ironically served a Fanta. I explained that Fanta and sugar were primary causes of problems with teeth and offered them all toothbrushes (Benjamin snapped up the pink one; there’s no feminine connotation with pink here). I gave out 6 to Mama Benjamin and 6 to the other mother, who has 5 kids but no husband.

Then I took one for myself and explained that it was important to brush for 5 minutes, and to get the inside, top and outside of the teeth on top and bottom, going from one side to the other with each surface. Kinyarwanda has limited direction words and I have an even more limited grasp on them, so this was a bit complicated. To clarify I said that there were 6 steps and proceeded to brush my teeth covering each of the 6 surfaces from right to left, drooling slightly on myself as 4 people stared at me. I emphasized that they should use “good water” when brushing their teeth, although I’m not sure they even drink good water, but that’s another project for another day. Then I asked the little girl to demonstrate as I finished off my Fanta.

Later in the day the family gave me a piece of sugar cane (irony, take 2) and a bag of bananas as thanks - a pretty good trade for toothbrushes I got for free and the joy of spreading dental hygiene!

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