A Shared Holiday
The Fourth of July is a national holiday for both the Rwandans and the Americans. For the Rwandans, July 4 marks Liberation Day, the day that the RPF took over Kigali and effectively ended the genocide in 1994.
The Embassy had its official celebratory event on July 3 as a result of the shared holiday. All of the U.S. Government agency partners (Rwandan and non-Rwandan), as well as Rwandan officials, were invited. Held just inside the security gate on the side lawn of the Embassy, the grounds were decorated red, white, and blue, and 51 flags (including the District of Columbia) were planted in the ground. (The Embassy interns and diplomats’ kids had been working on the decorations for days.) Two tents were set up for an open bar with beer and wine, and waiters meandered through the crowd, carrying trays of stale bread squares topped with whipped salmon cream cheese, mini beef and fish brochettes, mini pizzas, and an inexplicably unpalatable hors d’oeuvre of a cheese, pickle, and pineapple skewer. (Someone was a little too creative.)
The event formally opened with a presentation of the colors by the Marines (there are five plus a staff sergeant posted here), and the singing of the U.S. and Rwandese national anthems.
Ambassador Arietti, who is about to complete his tour here later this month, gave a wonderful state-of-relations speech, and Rosemary Museminari, the relatively new Rwandan Foreign Minister, gave a speech from the Rwandan perspective, urging increased investment in infrastructure, methane gas extraction from Lake Kivu, and information technology. I didn’t catch everything because some American kid was standing next to me, moaning and groaning about how boring everything was. I was going to throttle him. But apart from that, it was a lovely ceremony.
After that, people just mingled for a while. I was on my third glass of wine and a relatively empty stomach when I accidentally wandered near an acquaintance of mine who was talking to a Rwandan man.
“Morgan,” he said. “Have you met...”
I looked up at the fellow and realized it was the immediate past Foreign Minister, who served for nearly six years. Over the past two years, I had tried to get an appointment with him on behalf of my organization several times, but it never worked out.
My acquaintance was trying to make a graceful exit, and soon, I had the full attention of the former Foreign Minister and current Chief of Staff.
...While semi-drunk. Thank GOD I knew his bio.
I probably talked to him for 20 minutes. Talked at him, really. Apart from discussing his time as a professor at Howard University and that I met his wife the other day while researching one of Kigali’s finest private schools, I really have no idea what I said. All I know is that I was doing most of the talking. I’m sure he thought I was neurotic.
I made my exit by asking if he wanted to get something else to drink. (I obviously didn’t need one.)
At 8:30, the bar closed, which had the intended effect of driving everyone out.
* * *
The next day, the Embassy had its celebration for the American community.
Holy muzungu invasion.
My friends and I looked at all the Americans, and were baffled by where they came from. There were hordes of thickly made-up teenagers who looked more fit for Daytona Beach than Kigali. A bus full of tourists showed up. There were backpackers who were just in the country for a couple of days, missionaries on two-week stints, NGO workers, Embassy personnel, and everyone in between. Most of them hadn’t RSVPed (and many people took more food than they could eat—it’s the American way, after all), so the food ran out rather quickly. As a result, I starved, picking the errant French fry off the food table while shooting nasty looks at the family at the nearby table with four half-eaten burgers. Apparently, they had pasta salad and hot dogs at some point, but I didn’t see them.
The festivities included a volleyball tournament, face painting, and a DJ. Eventually, the drinks stopped pouring, and most of the tourists left. The others headed over to the Marine House, where there was a cash bar. My friends and I headed out.
Of course, since it was a Friday night, it was a night to go out...and a big group of expats went out to Planet Club, the nightclub at KBC, for drinks and dancing. It was renovated recently, and one half is techno-loungy, and the other side is all dancing. Clubs in Kigali, with the possible exception of the prohibitively expensive B-Club, are crawling with creepy white men looking for hot, young Rwandan women, some of whom are available for a price. I will never get used to that.
Nor will I get used to the guys who dance with their reflections in the mirror. It is genuinely hilarious—probably mostly because they take themselves so seriously.
At about 2:30 a.m., we decided to head out. Some of us (myself included) were starving, and the only place we could think of that had food was a “snack bar” next to the Cadillac Club. (If you go there, stick to the samosas. It took a half an hour to get a ham sandwich.) By the time I had my sandwich, everyone deflated—and we headed home.
While there weren’t any fireworks, it was a pretty great July 4th.
I should note what I saw of the Rwandan celebration—because, as I noted, it is a shared holiday. Unfortunately, I didn’t see much. I saw the remnants of a parade—everyone was wearing white shirts and waving Rwandan flags. I am certain that there was an event at the stadium, but it was on the other side of town from where I was. Every time I got on a taxi-moto, I wished the driver a “Happy Liberation Day!” to which each replied, “You, too!” It was very sweet. I regret having seen so little of the Rwandan celebrations—and I realized that it’s because my time in Kigali, as I discussed in a prior post, is more of a traditional expatriate experience. And again, I missed being with the Rwandan people. Perhaps next time.