The Human Parakeet
I am currently homeless. Well, only sort of. I gave up the mosquito-infested "Dian Fossey Lodge" (despite the fun statues of giraffes and gorillas and whatnot, do NOT EVER stay there) to stay with my boss in her new house. This has been mostly okay, except that I've been there since last Thursday and will be there until Friday afternoon, when I am supposed to move into my apartment. I fear the old Ben Franklin adage "Fish and visitors stink after three days" is true--I'm trying hard not to be a burden, but I fear I've started to smell.
I'm looking forward to having my own place. Even though they upped the rent by $25 and informed me that electricity and water are extra when I told them I wanted to take it. It's great being a muzungu.
I haven't had the internet to share anything with anyone, so please excuse me if this post becomes a mishmash of random thoughts. Also--be assured that I do have photos, but in my daze today (I am ill again) I forgot the cord that connects my camera to my computer. I'll try to do this tomorrow. (I have some great photos!)
Firstly, I will start with a list that I began to note with exasperation while eating the other day:
I am tired of:
Bananas (with or without tomato sauce)
Being stared at like an alien
Feeling on the brink of collapsing or puking all the time
Brushing my teeth with bottled water (and afterward, the bottle tastes like toothpaste)
Not having the internet
I am not tired of:
Not having to dress up every day
Not having to dry my hair
Learning intricacies of the culture and history
$6 Tennis lessons (will be discussed further)
So I'll start with last Friday. After the internet was more or less hooked up, the computer guy and one of the drivers and I went to Bikini Tam Tam, a bar on the beach. Since Fridays are half-days for the UN here, we were there from about 2 pm until Morgan was wasted, about 9 pm, I would imagine. Everyone here drinks beer--there are two kinds that you can find everywhere: Primus (my assessment is that it tastes like soap) and Mutzig (a Belgian beer, but licensed to be produced here). Mutzig is better. Primus costs anywhere between 50 cents and 2 bucks; Mutzig is slightly more expensive. However, anyone who knows me well knows that I only drink beer if I have no choice. Therefore, I was served what appears to be the only hard alcohol around: Uganda Waragi. Yes, it comes from Uganda. It tastes like gin, and if you ever questioned if it was gin, it is conveniently packaged in exactly the same bottle as Gordon's Gin. It was tough stuff. They mixed it with Fanta.
At some point, the two guys and I went out to a local bar in the middle of town for brochettes (kebabs) of beef and more beer (for them--water for me). There are few times in my life when I have been truly terrified. (One was the other night, when I walked alone to a restaurant to eat dinner in the pitch dark--the roads are terrible, there are ditches everywhere, there are drunks wandering around, and you can't see anyone on the road until they are right next to you.) The second was at this bar. The lighting was dim and splotchy, there were beefy men who glared at me as if to tell me I didn't belong, and there were few women. At one point, the lights went out, and I nearly jumped under the table. I wouldn't go alone to a place like that in the U.S., either.
A note on the staring, just to make this picture perfectly clear...and perhaps I'm using this example because I've just finished Life of Pi. I feel like a parakeet at a zoo. Everyone stops to look at it, maybe poke at it, and tries to get it to say something. For me, everyone says, "BONjour. Donne-moi l'argent." This means "HELL-o. Give me money." It's very tiresome. They try to get me to say something, like we try to make a parakeet say something. And if the parakeet ignores us, we try to do something to get its attention. Here, people try to get my attention by one of the following techniques: 1) In Kigali, they say "KssKssKss," much like a cicada; 2) In Gisenyi, they say "SssSsssSsss"like a snake, and 3) Everywhere, people make these weird kissing sounds. My boss, who fits in physically (since she's Kenyan) didn't realize what this was like until today, when we were walking to the stadium for National Heroes' Day, and we were barraged by "BONjours" and "SssSssSss."
I have also been told that I get stared at even more because I am not a true muzungu--I don't have white skin, as the name implies, so people are surprised to see a tan Asian-looking girl walking around with a backpack.
It's a bit annoying. I really hate being treated differently. It's only occasionally that I'll have a pleasant exchange with children. Three girls approached me the other day, and told me that they thought my hair was pretty and that they liked my sunglasses. It was very sweet of them, and it was nice to finally have a friendly word.
(I also want to say that although I understand that many of the children who are asking for money are poorer than I will ever be, and that they will be using the money for food, I don't want to feed a begging culture. It's not as bad here as it is in Kigali, where foreigners give money freely because they don't like kids to bother them. Here, there are few tourists.)
As a result, the only place in town where I really feel at home is the Kivu Sun, the fancy resort hotel where I am currently using the internet. I really hate that...but at least when I come here, I am treated like a normal person. I can move freely without being hassled. And I can use their sad excuse for a gym for $6/day, or their private beach for free. On top of that, you can use their tennis courts for $6/hour, trainer included. He's been trying to rip people off by privately telling them that he costs extra (he tried this on my boss) but when he tried to approach the subject with me, I pretended I didn't understand. :)
There is literally nothing else to do, so my weekends have been filled with lots of exercise...and I've been sick from something I ate here last Sunday, so I haven't eaten in two days. I'll be really skinny when I get home, I imagine. (Don't worry, I just had a bowl of pea soup. I'm still a bit dizzy, but if it gets really bad, I'll go to Kigali to see the UN doctor this weekend.)
I have to admit, though, that I couldn't stomach anything Rwandan for the past three days (and I still can't)...but there are no other food choices except at the big hotels (of which there are two) and I got sick eating at this one! All I wanted was a bowl of cereal or some plain pasta with olive oil...but there is no cereal or pasta here. Just bananas. And bananas and bananas and bananas. (The time has come when I cannot eat another banana.) I wish I had brought some Ramen for times like this...