Friday, January 27, 2006

A Moveable Feast

That's literally what I am to these mosquitoes. They are everywhere.

I left Kigali on Wednesday afternoon with my new boss, who was moving up to Gisenyi as well. She's an international--a Kenyan. Like me, she doesn't speak Kinyarwanda, but she does speak Swahili, one of the fifteen languages or so that people here speak.

It was a three hour drive from the capital, with the most beautiful landscape imaginable. Rolling green hills were covered with a patchwork quilt of banana palms and trees. Small orange and red huts were built onto the hillsides, or tucked away under banana fronds. Women walked around with massive bags and baskets on their heads, and children begged for empty water bottles, so they could use them around the house. Then the hills gave way to a valley, and from the valley grew five massive, black volcanoes. They are active, and are spewing ash. The soil is black and sparkly from the volcanic rock and mica. Then we arrived in Gisenyi, where the land descends into a tranquil lake with a beach. From the shore you can see Goma, a town in neighboring DR Congo (DR for Democratic Republic, of which it is neither).

We got there after dark, so we had dinner at the second best hotel in town, the Stipphotel. (pronounced Steep-hotel.) Stipp in price is what it is. I had whole grilled tilapia with pili-pili sauce (pili-pili is Rwandan chili, and it is hot!). Using my fingers, I ate the meat right off the bones, which, I must admit, I've never done before. My mother would be proud.

Because Gisenyi is a resort town, it's near-impossible to find hotels on the weekends, or during conferences. So I was forced to stay in a place that wanted to charge me $20 for the night--and it was the worst night I think I have ever had. The "hotel" was expanding, so it bought a house and was transforming the rooms into bedrooms... and the renovation was still underway. There were no screens on the windows, so there were, conservatively, 10,000 mosquitoes in the room. But the thing is, these aren't just regular mosquitoes. They're attack mosquitoes. You walk into the room, and they dive like kamikazes. I was frenetic, and kept telling myself that I was lucky that no one was around to see me, because I was acting like a psychopath. (FYI--if ever you need to keep away mosquitoes, OFF! Spray is man's greatest invention.) I was covered in DEET, hair to toes. They kept trying to come close, though, and would buzz in my ear. It was HORRIBLE. I barely brushed my teeth, and didn't wash my face or anything, because as soon as I closed my eyes, they'd rush for my ankles or my ears.

The worst is that mosquitoes love to hide out in toilets, under the seat. This, of course, is terrible, because they're literally waiting to bite your ass. So I couldn't even go to the bathroom.

That night, I jumped under the mosquito net and hardly slept, for fear that one would get in.

The next morning, they were still around. There was no hot water coming through the tap, so a boy brought in a bucket of hot water. I had zero idea what to do with it. I supposed, correctly, that you just splash yourself with it. Well, this is problematic, because there were mosquitoes swarming in the bathroom, and when you're trying to wash up, your whole body is exposed. It was nightmarish. It didn't help that, since I have a lot of hair, it was impossible to wash all the shampoo out, and the water was scalding. The icing on the cake was that there was no towel, so I had to make a mad wet dash to my bags, fumble to open the lock, and find my towels, all the while dodging mosquitoes.

I moved out immediately. The hotel owner insisted that my driver and I have coffee with him, and we had a lovely conversation in which, in response to my statement that I wanted to learn Kinyarwanda, he said, "Oh? La meilleure façon est sur l'oreiller. Et je suis enseignant-candidat." He said it again in English, just to reiterate. For non-French speakers, that means, "Oh? The best way to learn Kinyarwanda is on the pillow. And I am a candidate for your teacher."

Disgusting old man. But he had good coffee.

I started looking for an apartment, and checked out a couple. All the apartments/rooms for rent here are operated by religious institutions. So we went to the Catholics, the Presbyterians, the Baptists, and the Methodists. (The Methodists were the worst.) The apartment at the Catholic church is the best...but it needs window screens and it doesn't have any cooktop. It's not furnished, either. It's $125/month, which is the best price I've seen so far. I'm going to borrow some necessary items from other people here at the office.

Speaking of the office, we're just moving in, so there wasn't any internet for 3 days (and sketchy power) because they're still setting it up. So I've been totally cut off from everyone at home (and that's why this post is so long). I've been pretty bored because I don't have a desk, computer, or anything to do, so I just putz around.

And last night, everyone in the office went out to drink beer at an outdoor bar. We were talking in four languages (Kinyarwanda, Swahili, English and French) and watching soccer. It was Africa at its best.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, the mosquitos make me itch. I can't imagine. I hope that gets better. Otherwise, it sounds like a great place. Can't wait to see more photos!

1/27/2006 11:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like the story of the mozzies trying to bite your ass. You should do a seek and destroy mission. Roll up some papers ( or a mag ) and beat around under the toilet to flush them out.

You should have brought along your best armor ( your burka ) which is almost impenetrable

1/27/2006 11:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've sent your recent adventure to a local mime. He'll be perfoming your recent adventure for the enjoyment of all at the opening of the next DCYR meeting. Oh, and send more picture!

1/27/2006 11:49 AM  
Blogger casper the friendly ghost said...

C'est adorable. Je suis tres content que t'as trouvais des "boorish" personnes dans autres pays. J'ai pas regarder ton blog pour quelques jours, et j'etais tres shockee (hmm, je suis pas sur si ca c'est un mot) a voir que tu l'utilize presque tous les jours.

Je m'attends de le lire tous les jours.

voyages surs ma chere.

1/27/2006 3:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi morganza!

i just checked out your blog and what a day to catch it...mosquitos are my 2nd greatest fear in life, so gross. were you dancing around, as if on a bar in dc, perhaps? if you need an escape from the bugs, come to london. we have no bugs here.

miss you, good luck,

1/30/2006 8:19 AM  
Blogger erl said...

I love your blog. I'm currently writing my masters thesis on Rwanda, and actually considered pursuing an internship at the ICTR in Tanzania next summer (decided against it because it was due at the same time as PhD apps). I love your account of Rwanda, and could recommend many many more books on the war and history of the country if you are interested and/or haven't already read them!

1/30/2006 5:33 PM  
Blogger Morgan C. said...

Thanks for the nice comments. Haven't had any internet until today! So frustrating. Yes, Jenny, I was dancing around the room, but I looked more like a drunken idiot than anything else.

erl, thanks--I just started reading "Un dimanche a la piscine a Kigali," which is a true fiction--that is, it's a "fictional" story written by a reporter who lived here during the genocide about a reporter who lived here during the genocide...and his love for a Hutu girl who looked like a Tutsi. Apparently almost all the names are real, and he makes a point of saying that all of the genocidaires that he names are real as well. As for the ICTR, I'd perhaps advise against working with them--they have a pretty bad reputation in that Rwandans are angry that the tribunal is not being held on Rwandan soil, and not many people have actually been convicted. Perhaps you could work with the Committee on Reconciliation (something like that...I think they manage to some extent the gacaca councils) in Kigali?

OK, time to put up my next post!

2/01/2006 8:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Morgan,

A friend of mine who knows a friend of yours from CSIS (in the way that everyone is only a few people removed from everyone else in DC) sent me your blog because I am due to move to Kigali in June. I have devoured it trying to get a sense of what life will be like. I have a question for you, though, what would you recommend a first time traveler who will be there for at least 6 months pack? Again, I will be in Kigali (working for a small NGO called Orphans of Rwanda), but I have no idea what to expect. I would appreciate any advice that you have. I can be reached at

4/20/2006 12:55 PM  
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