Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Voyage to the Embassy

Security in Rwanda is nothing like the security in Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, every NGO and private compound had blast walls, barbed wire, security guards, sandbags, and the like. Here, sometimes the wall of a compound is crowned with shards of glass, and every once in a while, there is razor wire. But in general, you don't see much of that.

Today I ventured to the U.S. Embassy to let them know that I'm here. The Italian consulate (it's not even an Embassy) is located in the bottom of an industrial park (I'm not kidding) and the Canadian Embassy is a quiet compound in a quiet area on the edge of the city center. The U.S. Embassy? Right smack in the middle of everything. It's at the corner of two of the few named streets in town, and both are huge boulevards. It's not just a walled compound; it has roadblocks, barbed wire, several guard houses, Marines, and the like. The funny thing is--truthfully, this is one of the smallest U.S. missions, and yet, we still manage to have the biggest, most imposing, most secure embassy in town.

After I registered, they put me on their mailing list. The U.S. Embassy organizes events for all American expats at the American Club, which is down the hill from the Hotel des Mille Collines (I think I mentioned this before, but that's the Hotel Rwanda hotel). They send out a newsletter called the Gorilla Gazette with all the activities. Last Saturday, they had a pancake breakfast, and this Friday, they're showing the Constant Gardener. Oh, and there was a Marine Housewarming Party and an International Tennis Tournament!

Too bad I won't be in Kigali. No pancake breakfasts for me.

I walked around the city center today after I finished at the embassy. The city is dusty, and everything is brown, except for the bright shirts and Nesquik/Firestone/Coca Cola painted advertisements on the buildings. Everyone stared at us, but no one really bothered us--just tried to sell us newspapers and gum. One of my friends needed to exchange traveler's checks, but apparently NO ONE takes them. So fyi, if you're coming to Rwanda, don't bring them. The only place we found that would accept them was the Novotel, one of the expensive hotels. (There's no American Express in town!) She got a really bad exchange rate, but I guess since they're the only place in town, they can do that. Contrary to popular opinion, you also can't withdraw money against your Visa. I brought cash, and I am damn happy I did.

I found a place to live in Gisenyi, at least temporarily. The sister of a woman who works here owns a bunch of auberges up there. It's $20 a night for a room with a bathroom and three meals a day. It's two doors down from the office. So that's about $600/month. I won't be able to afford staying there for long...but I'm going to see if I can bargain.


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