Sunday, June 29, 2008

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 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.


Blogger Andrea Hannah said...

Hi Morgan!

My name is Andee, and I'm currently living in the US. I have lived and worked as a teacher in South Africa (for a short period of time a couple of years ago.) Now I'm working as a teacher back in the US.

Anyway, since my time in Africa, I've been raising money for school supplies/buildings under my small nonprofit name. I would like to spend some time living in Rwanda next summer, and would like to do some research about putting some of the funding I can raise to use there. I plan on spending some time there to make contacts and get to know the surrounding area.

I'm really interested in your blog and your experiences there. I would LOVE it and greatly appreciate it if you could possibly email me about what the schools are like there, how much certain supplies cost, the government, even the work you do there. ANY information you could pass on would help. I really appreciate it! My email is

Hope to hear from you -

6/29/2008 8:54 PM  
Blogger jen lemen said...

morgan--so glad to see you posting. i've been using your kinyarwandan dictionary almost daily. since you have high speed internet now and are missing rwanda, you might enjoy my blog. i spent ten days in the villages of umutara this may and have been telling the stories this month. i went to visit my friend rwandan friend odette's children (she's in the US, they are there) and to distribute 1000 copies of a book she wrote in kinyarwanda about her experiences as a refugee in uganda. i had an amazing time, sleeping in a tiny bed next to her mother with my arm around her daughter all night. looking forward to hearing more of your adventures outside the office. :)

6/30/2008 10:18 PM  
Blogger The Bohemian Bahamian said...

Hi Morgan,

I love your blog and the history and culture that you include on here.

Enjoy your day!

7/01/2008 10:44 AM  
Blogger Morgan C. said...

Andee, am happy to help.

Jen, how great! Umutara is a beautiful region. I'm jealous that you were able to spend a while there.

Tamara, thanks for the kind words!

7/02/2008 6:00 AM  
Blogger Jelsma Journal said...

Hi Morgan,
My name is Jocelyn. My husband and I and our four kids are moving to Kigali in November to train midwives and primary health workers. We will be working with a faith based organinzation.
Our kids are 10, 7, 5, and 1. Any ideas on what is worth shipping to Rwanda in our container? We anticipate living in Kigali for 5 years.
I am a midwife and my husband is a horticulturist and trained medic.
We will be vegetable gardening and I'm hoping to have a backyard chicken coop.
We visited Kigali last year in April but were only on the ground for 12 days.
I would love any input you could give us. We currently live in BC, Canada.

7/02/2008 5:53 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I've lived all over the world and identify with this. It's hard when home isn't home.

Travel Care Air

12/03/2018 12:24 AM  

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