Twenty-four Hours

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10 September 2014

I awoke this morning with sunlight drenching my modest hotel room. I got in at the Kigali airport the night before, 98% zombie after three long flights, the last of which (and the longest) had the obligatory teething baby in the seat behind me. Two officers from the Embassy were there to greet me, the Cultural Affairs Officer and the Public Affairs Officer. Awesome. Two well-ranked people to see (and smell) a very disheveled version of me. I got in at 7:00pm; it was pitch dark. They took me to my hotel, where I showered and crashed after a few minutes of sitting under the mosquito netting and pretending I was in a fort. I didn’t do an effective job of securing the fort, however, as I woke up with two bites.

The morning was comprised of a few dull, bureaucratic duties: meeting a dozen embassy officials and promptly forgetting all their names, followed by waiting in the immigration office to meet with a stern-faced visa officer who wondered why I had only brought a copy of my master’s diploma. Then, back in the car for a two-hour drive to Musanze (which is pronounced like its French, Mu SAN SAY, with increasing stress on the ending syllables).

We took a road, two lanes, that wound through the hills to the northern part of the country. Rwanda’s been called the “land of a thousand hills,” and this drive showed it in full effect. The road was never wider than two lanes, and often skirted a hillside as we climbed away from Kigali. Everything is green, with grass and shrubbery carpeting the red-brown earth, and eucalyptus trees providing a broad, leafy canopy above. There was never more than a few moments without people dotting the side of the road: children in light-blue school uniform shirts, women wrapped in brightly-dyed cloth who balance buckets or bunches of branches atop their heads, men in service uniforms, soldiers with automatic weapons strung across their chests, directing traffic around a truck that had fallen into the roadside ditch. Farmers tended the crops on the terraced hillsides, the ground close to the road divided into patchwork plots. Primus (beer) and MTN (cell phone service) signs seemed to appear on every other building, except those painted a pale blue with hand-drawn logos for a cash service company.

We arrived, and I met the university dignitaries and settled into my house. The house is off campus, about ten minutes down the main road. It’s a spacious place with tiled floors, yellow walls, mesh curtains, and bars across the windows so you can open them at night- no screens. It’s got a kitchen and a yard, a sink to wash clothes outside, and a stove with one working burner. There’s a refrigerator in the dining room. I asked one of the Rwandans about this- he laughed and responded, “It’s so people know you have one. To show off.”

There’s no internet there yet, and I might move to the back unit of the house to escape the road noise (and for a better oven, one hopes). The first day comes to an end, the night punctuated by the raucous monsoon of rain on the roof. Welcome to Rwanda.

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