An Expat’s Life
Something doesn’t feel right. I have it pretty good.
This time in Rwanda, I’m working for a big organization. This means I’m based in Kigali, and, unlike the last time I was here for an extended period of time, I’m actually paid. So my life is quite a bit...different. It’s a little difficult to reconcile.
When I first arrived, I tried to stay at the Auberge Beausejour, my favorite hotel in Kigali. Apparently my little secret is no longer, because it was fully booked...for the entire week. So I stayed at Chez Lando for $80, which was just too expensive for what it was. It’s a fine hotel, of course, but at four times what the Beausejour charges, I couldn’t bear it. So I moved out the next day and stayed with two American friends at their house for the next several days. It was more the style of life I was used to. It was a typical Rwandan house, and had just what you needed—hot water, electricity, screens on the windows, mosquito nets. They even had high speed internet. They hung their clothes out to dry behind their house, and the house always smelled fresh from the cross-breeze of their open doors and the freshly-baked rosemary bagels that my friend made.
Then the unexpected happened. An American woman needed to go to the U.S. for personal reasons, for an undetermined period of time. She asked me to housesit for her in her absence, which just might be for the entire time that I am here. She said I could stay for free, so I moved in on Monday.
I’m sitting in front of a television with digital satellite TV, with my feet on a Persian rug. There is a full kitchen with two refrigerators. The cupboards are full of taco shells, there was a pack of Oreos on the counter, and there is red wine in the fridge. Perhaps this means nothing to those who are in the States, but when you know the price of each of those (red wine...at least $13 for something worth $2; Oreos cost $8 a pack; and taco shells? I think these are the only ones in Rwanda. Therefore...priceless), it is almost too much to bear. Not to mention the cold water distiller which provides fresh, cool water without the hassle of boiling and filtering.
There are two sitting rooms, an expansive garden, a washer and dryer, a formal dining room with cherry furniture, and—a housemaid that lives on the compound with her family, cleans the house every day, and prepares dinner. And I don’t have to pay her, either, just the ingredients for the food that she prepares.
I’m very lucky, so I can't really complain.
Most of my workday is spent in an air-conditioned office, in an ergonomic chair, in front of a computer with a flat-screen monitor, an enormous window, and an expansive view. Quite a change from sitting in the dining room of a small rural house, with a prehistoric computer that roared like a lawnmower.
Yesterday, I literally had cabin fever and had to leave the office for a bit. I felt too boxed in, too constrained, too far from the people who benefit from the work of our organization. I couldn’t go back to my desk for a while, which ended up working just fine, since we have half-days on Fridays.
I guess what strikes me most in all of this is how possible it is, working and living in these environs, to never feel like you are in Kigali, let alone in Africa. This may sound strange, but I’m here, and yet, I miss Rwanda.
I miss walking around. I miss going to the market and bargaining over the tomatoes. I miss sitting in the little buvettes, the small shops that sell beer and brochettes, and talking for hours about God-knows-what and jotting down new Kinyarwanda words. I miss working and living with Rwandans.
So yesterday, I asked my driver to drop me off at the top of my road. He thought I was crazy, but I told him I just wanted to walk a bit. So I did. I stopped by my local kiosk to introduce myself and to buy a phone card. We chatted a bit in Kinyarwanda. I checked out the buvette near my house. I said hello to people I passed.
And that night, I received a call from Faycal asking if I would come see him sing at the Serena or the Mille Collines. All the presidents of the East African countries are in town, and he was asked to perform for them at the Serena. My friends and I weren’t sure we’d be able to get in, so we went to the Mille Collines later on to see him perform there.
On the top floor, at Stan’s Bar, he was singing to a packed crowd, mostly Rwandan with the occasional muzungu. And as the music changed from Top 40 covers to Congolese rhythms, everyone started dancing and laughing. In some ways, I felt like I had found what I was missing.