Friday, February 24, 2006

Yep, I'm in Africa

I woke up two days ago and went to fill up my cafétière (hot water boiler, for drinks…I don’t know what this is in English) with water. I do this as a ritual because sometimes I have a hot drink in the morning, and I pour the rest of the water into old water bottles after it cools. This way, I don’t have to use pricey water to brush my teeth.

This time, I opened the tap, and it coughed loudly. An empty, cavernous burp. There was no water. I checked the bathroom sink to be sure, and a baby burp emerged.

Taking a quick look in the mirror, I told myself that I was, indeed, gross enough that I needed to take a shower. Now that I finally have a hot water heater, I figured I could use the water in its reservoir. I got in the shower, lathered up with soap, and turned on the water. The water pressure was fine—freezing, but fine—and as I started to rinse off, the pressure decreased until it ended in a slow drip and a long, painful belch.

I was still covered with soap.

With no other options, I grabbed the bottle of water I use to brush my teeth and rinsed off the rest of the soap. I didn’t have enough water to wash my hair, so I still felt pretty disgusting.

Later in the day, my fridge arrived from Kigali. UNHCR took a truck to drop off some Rwandan returnees in Kigali, and picked up my fridge on the way back. When I heard that a truck was bringing my fridge, I assumed it was a pickup truck.

Imagine my surprise, then, to find an enormous refugee transport truck, covered with a tarp and with a big UNHCR written across the side, pulling into the tiny Catholic parish—completely empty, except for a refrigerator in the back. I think I scared the hell out of the priest who lives there. People crept into my little courtyard, peering to see if we were dropping off refugees at the church or something.

So now I have a fridge. It even has a freezer. My friends told me that they’re going to come over on hot days to stick their heads inside.

When I dropped off my fridge, I found that I still didn’t have any water…and now, no electricity, either! I couldn’t have been happier. I mean, really—who needs power or water?

So I ate at my friend’s grandmother’s house last night, an upper-class Rwandan meal of chicken stewed in tomato sauce (they love their tomato sauce), red beans, and rice. It’s upper-class because she can afford to have meat every day.

By the evening, the power was back on, but the drought continued. So yesterday morning, I packed up my shower items and I came to the office (all NGO offices in the field are actually converted houses. My desk is in the dining room.) where the office cleaner made me a bucket of hot water. Back to splashing myself the African way. :) I was so desperate to wash my hair that I didn’t mind that the water I was using was brown.

Happily, this morning I had water again. The only problem was that it was only running in the kitchen and bathroom sinks-- not, of course, in the shower.

Life here is full of such ironies.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Morgan - I think that water boiler thing you are talking about is called a 'kettle'. They should be out in the States by next year . . . .

I have to tell you that this blog is pure amusement. I'm laughing out loud at half of it and sympathising with the rest. We have power cuts here and same deal with the water. I've squatted in the shower a few times, pouring stored water from a bottle over my head for a fresh morning cleaning.

I'm keeping my head shaved to avoid the hassle of hair - a thought perhaps? Please post a pic if you go through with it.


2/25/2006 1:21 AM  
Blogger satay said...

it's like murphy's law an't it? the shower had also quit on me in Azerbaijan. i went to the store downstairs to buy water (money be damned) and it was only much later i realized that i had suds poking out of my ears. no wonder so many people were staring.

can u tell me more about the varying kinds of cuisine in different regions and households? miss u here...

2/25/2006 7:37 PM  
Blogger Morgan C. said...

J. Charles, if you shave your head, you'll really look like Colin Farrell. That's what you want, isn't it.

It's not a kettle!!! It's plastic!!!

Satay, I've been on the lookout for different dishes. This is the staple buffet, everywhere in Rwanda: Rice, Fries, Fried plantains, Red Beans, Bananas in tomato sauce, Beef or Fish in tomato sauce, and baby eggplants (I thought they were "tree tomatoes" but they're not) with "spinach." The baby eggplants are disgusting, bitter and sour at the same time.

My Rwandan friends tend to eat red beans and rice every night. Poor families eat potatoes. Richer families tend to eat some "salad" (coleslaw without the mayonnaise) and meat as well. The very wealthy also finish off their meals with a bowl of fruit salad, which is generally bananas, pineapple, papaya, mango, and passionfruit. Like bananas, I can't eat another passionfruit.

Most Rwandan households have a domestic who cooks and cleans (post on this to come). Everyone cooks over a little outdoor fire--it seems like only internationals have stoves.

2/26/2006 5:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Morgan-keep on posting. You're blog was listed in the Washington Post Express yesterday. Congrats.
Also, I read your response early enough so that I sent the care-pack fedex.

2/28/2006 2:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Morgan... reali enjoy ur blogs... lived in rwanda myself once when i was younger... in america now... weird how we switched lives between the countries! haha... hpoe all goes well...


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