Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Hannukah in Rwanda

I’ve been celebrating Hannukah here in Kinihira, using the opportunity to do a little cross-cultural sharing with my friends and colleagues.

Sunday I taught my adopted family dreidl with dried beans. It was a big hit, from age 5-50! I’m planning to pass out a few dreidls now that the holiday is over; my dream is that in a few years some Jewish tourist will pass through the village and wonder why there are kids sitting on the side of the road playing dreidl in the middle of August.

On Monday my coworkers and I did a potluck dinner. I made applesauce, taught Rebecca’s houseboy how to make latkes (potato and white sweet potato), and we coupled these with a few Rwandan dishes. I explained the origin of the holiday, lit the candles, and then they dug in. I’m happy to say that there was not a single latke left and one notoriously picky coworker even asked for the recipe! We played dreidl with desert.

I’ll take this opportunity to talk a little bit about matches in Rwanda. Matches here absolutely suck. They are far inferior even to those paper matchbooks that are impossible to use: basically rolled pieces of paper with tips that often fly off when you strike them, lit or unlit. Lit tips make a bit of a fire hazard and really hurt when they stick to your finger (which you must use to press the tip against the striking surface because the matches are too feeble to strike without this).

On the first night of Hannukah I went through about 12 matches before I got one to light; I was starting to think I’d need a Hannukah miracle to get the menorah going. The next day, running low, I set off to buy another book of matches, in search of a different brand. The first store I went into had “S.H.U.M.U.K.” matches - no joke! However they could not break my 500 franc note for the 15 franc matchbox. I went to another store, bought a pack of Sunny matches there (brand diversity = insurance against cold dinner), and then returned to the first store with change so that I could light my menorah with Shumuk matches (which were slightly more cooperative than the last brand I tried).

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