Adjustments

Any time any one gets a new job, or moves to a new place, or really, any number of new things, there are always adjustments to make. And moving across the ocean to one of the poorest countries on earth is no exception to that rule. So I thought a collection of Things We’ve Had to Adjust To would make for fun reading.

Now these Things We’ve Had To Adjust To are not necessarily good or bad or right or wrong nor have they necessarily been Difficult Adjustments, just Adjustments all the same.

So here we go:

  1. First and foremost, if I can be brutally honest and well, maybe a bit self-incriminating, the biggest adjustment by far has been working full time. While I was always plenty busy (as in Plenty Busy) in Denver, it was always with a myriad of various and assorted things–work, house projects, small group stuff, volunteer, getting together with people, play (OK, maybe play should have made it higher up on the list), but not the 8-5 (7-5:30) Every Day of the Week Grind. So just having to be at work five days in a row has, in itself, been a big adjustment. Not bad, just an adjustment. I’m not whining; just an adjustment.
  2. A fun and interesting (and very exhausting) adjustment has been spending a great portion of my days communicating with people for whom English is a second language. This also involves a constant and continual amazement at how difficult communication can be. Of course, the direct hire American embassy employees are all American citizens and English speakers, but the Locally Employed staff (which outnumber the Americans at the embassy by about three or four to one??) all have varying degrees of English skills and varying accents to wade through. And vocabulary limitations. And grammar idiosyncrasies. And forget about American idioms and figures of speech. I can’t wait to have one of them request my presence and me respond that I’m all tied up and they run to the rescue with scissors to cut me loose. (No, that hasn’t happened; I’m just saying it totally could.)
  3. Driving without rules. And navigating. Really, driving should be a blog post all its own, but let’s just suffice it to say that it’s a BIG adjustment. After living in Denver, the city built on a grid, and possibly the easiest city to learn your way around, this place has me befuddled. And forget about asking directions. People can take you any where you want to go, anywhere, but forget about them explaining to you how to get there. They don’t use maps; many of the streets are just recently named, so they don’t know street names; many houses have multiple numbering systems, none of which make sense, and none of which are used by the locals. No stop lights. No traffic rules. There’s one roundabout in town where they yield to cars ENTERING the round about (all the rest are the opposite). So how’s a person to just know that?? But let me put it on record that Randy is doing an AWESOME job of learning his way around, learning both to navigate as well as to negotiate the (no) rules of the road. Kudos to him! (And, no, we don’t have a car yet, just a borrowed one, but ours is due to arrive TOMORROW!! Ha, ha. We will believe it when it’s in our driveway!)
  4. Church. Due to our own language barrier, we’re limited to choices because there are only a few with services in English. I’m very thankful that there are in fact a few, but it has not been easy trying to decide on one and settle in. We’ve found two that we’ve tried out a number of times, and as fate would have it, each has parts we love and parts we could do without. As is often the case, we prefer the worship/atmosphere at one and the preaching at the other. How I would love to just video podcast Hunter in. But then I guess I could’ve just stayed in Denver…
  5. The beer choices. Or, more accurately, the lack thereof. Now it’s kind of embarrassing that this would make it into the Top Five Things We’ve Had to Adjust To, but the fact is, it has. Primus and Amstel (both brewed here), with the occasional Heineken import thrown in, are all the choices there are. Tusker, a Kenyan beer that isn’t half bad, is on most menus, but they never have it. (It’s just a tease to put it on the menu.) And well, it just gets old. This from a person who’s always said there are too many choices in the world. Well, I guess I meant too many toothpastes and wall color choices, not beer. Not that I ever have more than one. (I don’t. I’m on call.) But still, variety is the spice of life. You can rest assured that our consumables shipment we have coming to us sometime in the next year will be mostly Colorado microbrews! 🙂 Because when it comes to microbrews, Coloradans are just plain spoiled.
  6. My response to Mzungus. As you might remember, Mzungus is their word for us. (It actually means “traveler” but it is used almost exclusively to refer to white people.) There are plenty here, more than I would have expected, but it still takes my breath away when I see one out somewhere, and I really have to resist the urge to go over to them, hug them, say something like “Hey, where y’all from?”.  I have to remember that white doesn’t necessarily equal English speaking, and certainly not American. And many of them are here for the long haul, and are no longer fascinated by the concept of another white person all the way over here, too. So I practice restraint, not my forte, and just die of curiosity wondering what the heck that person is doing here and why they are not as interested in me as I am in them.
  7. And the flip side of that, is being a Mzungu ourselves. A novelty. The stares. Especially when we have Quandary with us. Thankfully, there are only a few places in town where the street boys accost us for handouts, so we don’t have to deal with that part of it often, because if we did, that would be way worse.
  8. The money. And the cash economy. Forget it. Period. I am and always have been exchange-rate-challenged and I just can’t figure it out. I wonder if I ever will. And since no one takes credit cards, we always have to make sure we have cash (and wads of it because a thousand bufrancs is only sixty-three cents). My greatest fear is going out to eat with a whole bunch of people without Randy and the bill comes and I have to figure it all out. Hopeless.
  9. Having people around all the time (the guards are here 24/7, our household help is living here, the gardener is here all during the week). I have a blog post brewing entitled The Help, so I’ll save the rest of those thoughts for that one.
  10. Camping out. And by this, I don’t mean, camping out. I mean, being without our stuff. This has been a particularly hard adjustment for Randy, because he is home more than I am, and therefore noticing the lack of stuff. (Our state department supplied welcome kit has four plates, four forks, four spoons, four towels, etc., and no gas grill and no cast iron wok and it’s getting old.) We are ready for our stuff to arrive.

And there you have it. There have been many other adjustments, too, like watching AFN (Armed Forces Network) TV with their AFN commercials (hysterical). And the food. And shopping. And missing our family and friends and our church. And the weather. (Which I don’t know why that’s been an adjustment–it’s pretty much the same every day, but a few days it’s been overcast and I just wasn’t prepared for that variation.) And seeing the Southern Cross in the night sky. (How cool is that?) And dealing with state department foolishness. And having a very small social circle.

But all of these “adjustments” add to the richness of the adventure and the enlarging of our perspective, and the appreciation for all things precious. And for that, and so much more, we are thankful.

Road Trippin’ To Rwanda

After six weeks on the job, on call 24/7 (although for the record, I don’t get called often), and not having ventured more than a fifteen minute radius from either home or the embassy, we finally headed out.

Now keep in mind that “heading out”, for which I am known, is not as simple or easy as it might seem.

First of all, I have to find coverage–someone to be on call for emergencies within the embassy community. Thankfully I haven’t had any emergencies yet, but I still have to be ready and prepared. There is some back-up available–a local nurse and a local doctor, but with language barriers and cultural differences, and a lack of, shall we say, 9-1-1, I don’t take that lightly.

Secondly, we don’t have a car. (Ours is slated to arrive in just about two weeks. We’ll see if that’s like, really two weeks, or more like African two weeks, which could be two months.) This translates into being dependent on someone else. And as wonderful as everyone has been to us (and they have all been really wonderful and warm and welcoming and inclusive), that’s still hard for independent people like us who are used to planning road trips and making them happen. (Think ski days, 14er hiking, Brew Tour, Hanging Lake, Lake City, snow shoeing. If it was available, I drove there and did it!)

And thirdly, there’s safety and security. We can’t just pack up and go. If the first two issues above are addressed, then we have to make sure what we’re doing is approved by the Regional Security Officer, and that it’s safe. Safe usually means at least a two car caravan. Although the mandatory two car rule is no longer in effect, we can’t exactly call Triple A Roadside Assistance if we have a breakdown. So two cars is just a good idea. And radios. And first aid kits. And the awesome sheet of paper we carry in our cars that we’re supposed to hand out in the event of an accident: “I can’t discuss it with you right now. Please call this number.” in English, French and Kirundi. I love it.

And for someone like me who has the itch to go and the whole continent of Africa personally calling my name, you can imagine the angst.

BUT, everything fell into place last weekend, and we road tripped to Rwanda. Yea, I just said that. And it was awesome.

First the four or so hours out of Bujumbura to the border. This made me want to become a photographer, which I am not. This also made me want to have my own car so I could stop every five minutes and photograph the local color, of which there is plenty. Think: one of the most densely populated countries in Africa. Think: people and villages lining the highway (African euphemism for one and a half lane curvy mountain road peppered with random speed bumps and potholes and large vans speeding by in the opposite direction). Think: colorful garb and loads of just about anything carried on bicycles and heads. Think: little scantily clad children playing right on the road. Think: just about anything you can imagine being sold roadside–chickens, produce of all kinds, (well, tropical produce like bananas, mangoes, tomatoes, beans, peas, cabbage, avocados, manioc, sweet potatoes, but no apples, just in case you’re wondering), baskets and other handmade wicker items (one whole village sold nothing but these little handwoven, three-legged round stools), furniture of all kinds, goats, pigs, fabric, clothing. In one town, we even saw a parade, but that made our friend who was driving very nervous, because although it looked colorful and fun, it was really a political rally and those can turn violent and scary very quickly. Suffice it to say, it was A. quite visually stimulating, B. quite the adventure, and C. quite Africa. For real.

Then there was the border. We’d heard horror stories of the border crossing into the Congo (on the agenda for later this summer after we get a car), but this was quite the civilized affair. First of all, they waived us through with our dip plates. No stop whatsoever. Then we decided we’d better turn around and fill out the paperwork and get the official stamps, just in case we needed to show them any time. Voila. Another stamp for the passport. 🙂

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Not like I’m collecting them or anything. Ha.

And then we were in the Republic of Rwanda. OMG. Such a different country.

Paul Kagame, the former leader of the rebel force that ended the Rwandan genocide twenty years ago and the de-facto leader ever since (officially the president since 2000), is a controversial figure in the west. I’m not here to make this a place for political rantings or for taking sides, but he has been instrumental in bringing changes to his country and progress in many areas, including courting western business interests and investment.

In fact, here we are enjoying some of the fruits of his labor, so to speak:

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What’s that, you say? That’s some really happy people eating MEXICAN FOOD at a Chipotle look alike in Kigali. Highlight of the trip? Quite possibly. 🙂

Anyway, back to the Kagame controversy. You can read this article about him and decide for yourself what you think:

http://www.foreignaffairs.com/discussions/interviews/rebooting-rwanda

but I’m here to tell you that I certainly enjoyed some of his “results” after living in his far less stable and far less developed neighbor to the south, Burundi.

After stuffing ourselves royally at Meze Fresh (the Chipotle knock off), we relaxed here

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at this place:

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You movie buffs will recognize its significance. The rest of you will just have to go look it up, but yes, we really stayed here. Way cool.

And the highlight of the weekend wasn’t really the Mexican food, it was seeing these girls, as always:

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So fun to have friends to visit in The Middle Of Nowhere, Africa. 🙂

But just so I don’t paint an unrealistically advanced picture of Rwanda, amidst all the working stoplights (Burundi has none) and other accoutrements of progress, there was this:

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If you look closely, you can see A HAND picking up the fallen pins and replacing them in the set. I kid you not. But, hey, that’s more bowling than in all of Burundi.

So after a few really good meals, a stop at the Presidential Palace Museum where the plane crashed that killed both the Rwandan and the Burundian president in 1994, and a stop at the American Embassy Kigali to tour their health unit, we headed home for a mostly uneventful return trip. There’s still lots to do in Kigali that we didn’t manage this time, so we’ll definitely be back. It’s our closest tie with civilization! 🙂

And Mexican food.