Saturday, January 21, 2006

Money, money, money

I’ve finally found a halfway decent internet connection and have settled into Kigali a little bit.

I arrived at the Kigali airport to find that UNHCR wasn’t there to pick me up. I figured that it was because I hadn’t reconfirmed that I would arrive that day. (Turns out they were late, and my plane was early. Imagine. I was early!) I exchanged some money and took a taxi to the auberge where I was to stay. Word to the wise: Africa isn’t always cheap. Nothing is free, and taxis basically commit highway robbery. It’s the same as DC, and considering my expectations, that’s a lot! You have to negotiate, or else they’ll charge you a ridiculous amount of money because you’re a muzungu, or “white person.” (By the way, people call this to you in the streets. It’s very charming. Yeah.) So $10 later, I arrived at my auberge, which is really beautiful. It’s a turret-shaped room with its own bathroom. I have pictures, but this computer is so slow that it's not uploading them. Gah.

The woman at the reception desk proudly announced that the auberge had hot water. Well, the water in the bathroom sink is a slow (cold) drip…the shower doesn’t so much have hot water. Really, it’s sort of tepid, the same way cold pool water feels after you’ve been in it for a while. I count myself as lucky.

I visited the UNHCR building, which it shares with the Food and Agriculture Organization. The people are very friendly, and I have befriended another intern (she’s from Ottawa…Canadians are everywhere!) and a junior program officer who’s from Italy. We all arrived at the same time. I am one of two Americans working out of this office, which is pretty interesting. I had dinner last night with a Spaniard, the Canadian, the Italian, and a Swiss guy.

Transportation here is an interesting experience. Everything in Kigali is spread out, and oh, by the way, there are no street names! This place reminds me of Kabul more and more every day. We took a matatu today from the city center out to the auberge. The are hundreds of matatus, or city buses (they’re really white vans) around the city. They don’t have a schedule, and if you don’t know where they stop, you’re out of luck, because the stops aren’t labeled. Oh, and there aren’t any route maps, so you don’t really know where you’re going. But we talked to the driver, and figured out which van to take. It was stuffed to the gills—people were sitting on each other and hanging out the door. We ended up being charged 150 Rwandan Francs (muzungu price).

We three had all thought we would primarily be relying on UNHCR’s cars in Rwanda…but it appears that UNHCR is severely underfunded. They only have one car and one or two drivers. I can’t fault them for not paying me—they can’t even afford to buy pens! Everyone keeps telling me to guard my pens like I guard my money.

Speaking of which, I am having a HELL of a time figuring out the money. It’s 550 Rwandan Francs per US dollar, so imagine how difficult it is figuring out how much something that’s 48,000 francs is in dollars. (It’s somewhere between $85-90). That was how much my cell phone cost, and that sucks.

The power just went out in the internet café, but God seems to be on my side tonight, because about 5 computers weren’t connected to the same power source. They just turned on the generator.

I will be in Kigali until Wednesday, when I leave for Gisenyi. Apparently it’s the Florida of Rwanda—everyone goes there on vacation. I’m preparing my swimsuit.