Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Kids These Days

A friend recently asked me if there are any wildlife like zebras running around in our backyards here, like deer often do in the States. Well, so far in Kigali, no. But I do encounter goats and chickens and dogs just about every time I go for a run. Sometimes they are being herded (the goats), but usually they just congregate in the road (all three). The dogs remind me very much of Guamanian Boonie Dogs. And people everywhere, especially little children, meet me in the road or say "hey, Muzungu!" The little kids often run along with me for a block or two in their flip-flops, or barefoot. They usually don't get at all winded or break a sweat. The school-aged kids usually shout out for me to give them money or chocolates or my water bottle. I just smile and say "Bon jour!" and hope they get bored running so slowly.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Next Week In Our Story (Part 1 of 2)

Well, to continue our little series of flashbacks, I should tell the tale of Thailand.
After one week exactly of life in Kigali, we boarded a plane to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. We then spent some quality time in this airport before heading off to Bangkok. We then had a great time (no sarcasm, it's a wonderful airport) there before heading off on a small jet for Krabi, Thailand. Then came the van, followed by a boat, then another van, then a ferry. Then another van, and then we arrived at the Pimalai resort.
Then, we really knew we had arrived when the staff nudged us into comfortable couches and gave us cool wet towels for our hands and faces, and tall glasses of lemongrass juice for our throats while we endured the wait of checking-in. We were surprised to discover that -since we were accompanied by a toddler- we had been upgraded to "VIP" status, and placed in a private beach house.

When we were shown through the door of this place, our jaws dropped. It was between 50 - 100 feet from the ocean, depending on the tide. It had remarkable views of nearby cliffs and the sunset. It had several decorative pools and gardens. It a few gorgeous rooms, and a luxurious bathroom. It even had fresh tropical fruit and cookies waiting for our enraged stomachs. We gobbled these down, ordered room service, bathed, and started enjoying our jet-lagged selves by promptly falling asleep.

Waking the next morning meant breakfast first of all. Part of our stay there included a breakfast buffet that I have rarely seen the likes of. It was (by my taste) and excellent offering of things we find traditional for breakfast such as an omelet bar, fresh-baked breads and pastries, bacon, sausages (strange for a part of the world that's 80% Muslim, but business is business), yogurt, cereals, fresh tropical fruits and juices, with really good coffee. We especially loved the fruit selection. But then there were the other foods that reminded you of where you were. Boiled rice porridge with fish and a compliment of 6-8 spicy condiments to add. Roast duck with sesame-pepper sauce over rice. Crispy chicken. Tomatoes steamed with spinach and garlic. Wonderful curry dumplings and steamed buns and shumai. My mouth is watering thinking of it. Don't worry, readers: I won't go into this detail over every meal we ate, but this is the first thing we say our first day here, and the first thing we say every day. I don't miss many meals, but I definitely wouldn't be caught dead missing one of these.

Anyway, then Andrea had to go to work: meetings all day with other like-minded researchers. And Zoe and I went to get serious about playing. Our first action of the day was to take some bread pilfered from the buffet down to the koi pond to get some fish fed. Then we had to decide between morning at the beach or morning at the pool. Zoe did enjoy a few mornings at the beach, but generally found it to be too "messy," and preferred the pool. She defintely did well with both, and we had our fun. Then it was back to the house for a quick bath for Zoe. Most days she would dry off by lying in her underwear on a towel on our bed, watching Cartoon Network, while I took my shower. She was invariably asleep before I stepped out. So I would read or try to read your emails or watch more cartoon network or write notes or just join her in a nap. Not a bad first half of a day at all.

I think I will have to abridge this post as it has already grown longer than our entire stay. I will post the second half of the story soon.

Amazing Things Can Happen

For anyone who knows Andrea, I have some shocking news. Since we moved to Kigali, I have seen her go for seconds on lentil soup. I have seen her finish several dishes with green beans.

I have no explanation for these events, and will testify that I am an eyewitness. She states that the green beans are just different here.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Flashback in Time

Now it's time to take you back to the good old days of the end of May 2009. I had meant to start this blog then, but didn't have any internet access yet. In fact, at the beginning of the week, Zoe and I had no internet, no phone, no car, no radio, no newspaper, no mailbox, no sense of where we were in the neighborhood, and no TV (in English). It was pretty frustrating at first.

Our temporary furnished house is a nice enough place, and bigger than our apartment in New Orleans, though that doesn't say much. It has a master bedroom (though we didn't know it had a bathroom until a week or two later -we thought the locked door without a key must have been a landlord's storage / utility area - then we found the key). It has two other smaller bedrooms and two small shower baths. Both showers have the curtain rod much too high, and so water gets all over the floor in spite of having a curtain.

There are beds with very stiff foam mattresses, and a small crib for Zoe with the same. We got a mosquito net our first day here. I suppose I should flash back a little further to say that Andrea's work had a driver awaiting us at the airport. He had already dropped off a load of a few things to get us started as a household, such as sugar, coffee, tea, powdered milk(?), and clean sheets. No salt, no food, no toilet paper, no towels or dishrags, no dishsoap, no handsoap, no mosquito nets, etc. So, Andrea asked the driver if he could help us with a few things, and he soon returned with the net and a few more staples. Interestingly, he did not get an insecticide-treated bednet (ITN), which is what Andrea's work promotes as the most effective way of reducing malaria risk. Because of the jet lag of 8 time zones (though we are only 7 hours ahead because of the US celebrating daylight savings), we slept pretty soundly that night. The next day, one of Andrea's co-workers, an expat named Elise, drove us around to three of the places she shops at, and we got some cleaning supplies and groceries. Then she showed us her house, and we had a rest there. It was really wonderful as she and her husband have a lovely home, and a cute little girl, a little over a year old. We got to see that you can really make a home here, from first-hand. It was very encouraging.

Then the next day Andrea went to her first day on the job, and Zoe and I were like canaries in a gilded cage, as I have described above. It wasn't bad, exactly, but it wasn't what we had come for. By the end of the week, we had been exploring both the garden area below the house (and within the walls of the estate) and even taking walks around the neighborhood. Zoe was extremely uncomfortable with walking on a road made from dirt, covered with rocks, and not completely even. Again by the end of the week, this had improved some.

As you can see from the photos, we have a little front driveway area where Andrea parks the car that her work lets her (and not me) use during non-work hours. There is a high wall and a little guard house. There are two units on the top and two on the bottom with the garden below.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Home is the Sailor, Home from the Sea.

We now have a place to hang our hats! Well, not exactly now. On August 15th we should.

We were informed earlier today that we now have a signed contract between Andrea's work and our new landlady Eugenie. She owns a beautiful 5-bedroom, 2 1/2-bath house about a block away from our current temporary furnished housing. It has been in the process of being completely re-done for many months. Such a thing can be a long, drawn-out process in most of the developing world due to a lack of home improvement loans and mortgages. And so for the last 13 or 14 months she has been living in the partially-done place, overseeing workers with the little bit of income she had available for it. She also maintains a home in Spain, where she works as an artist. We like her very much, and she seems to have picked us from several viable offers simultaneously.

Even more so, we like the house. It's a little rough right now, but we see great potential for us to enjoy it. It has a master bedroom for us, and next to it Zoe's bedroom, which is spacious enough. Across the hall from hers is a playroom, which is a little smaller, and may be intended for a live-in domestic, which we do not need. Also across from Zoe's room is a storage room, and likely the laundry area. Then further down the hall are our office and the guest room, which are nice as well.

There is -of course- a kitchen, which has pale yellow tiles on the walls. The counters are being redone in marble or a Corian-like surface that we quite like. The cabinets are being done from scratch. The appliances will be new as well. Outside of the kitchen is a separate entrance with a beautiful view, and inside is a rather large pantry.

Out of the house is lovely as well. It's a fairly large plot of land with decorative gardens in the front, and a good view of the valley below. Then behind the house, we have a retaining wall upon which is the TV satellite dish and a vegetable garden plot, as well as the ubiquitous water tank.

On the side yard we have a flat area which will be a terrace of concrete, some green spaces, and a brick BBQ! I picture this as a space where I can teach Zoe the wonders of riding bikes. Of course, this will have a guard rail.

Below that is a garage, and a little house will go in near the gate so that the guard can have a place to sit for protection from the sun or rain.

All in all, a cozy little place for us. It should be ready around the time our household goods are ready for delivery.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Here We Are

Well, Hello!

This post is intentionally short. If I wait for it to be perfect, this blog will never get off the ground.

We are a family of three who moved from New Orleans to Kigali, the capital of Rwanda at the end of May 2009. Mama Mzungu (we'll decide on pseudonyms or not in the next few weeks) got a good job working for a non-governmental organization (NGO) here in Rwanda that we thought was a great opportunity for us, and we leapt at the chance.

That's enough to start, I guess. You'll hear more from us soon!