Monday, May 31, 2010

Haiku June: Day 1

This has been an extremely stressful time in our family, due to reasons I will elaborate upon soon. It will continue to be stressful for the foreseeable future. I think a little moment of quiet contemplation each day will help to minimize this, and so I am writing one haiku per day for the month of June. I encourage each of you to do the same, whether in your own journals or -preferably- in the Comments section of the post. It's not hard: 5 syllables, 7 syllables, 5 syllables. This is flexible though. A haiku traditionally has a piece of the natural world in at least one of the 5 senses included, examples are "yellow moon," "smell of pine," or "woodpecker knocking." Beyond that, even in the traditional sense, there's a lot of room for whatever describes a moment or a thought. In short, don't worry too much about rules, but the rules help serve as a framework.

Biking Mount Kigali,
Heart pounding, fully aware,
fine dust on switchbacks.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Ten Things I Like About Rwanda Right Now

Idea stolen from Leigh Ann. A chance to reflect on our life here, in response to our coming one year anniversary.

1. Our house. I know there's been a lot of drama with this place. Perhaps having been through it even makes me like it more, like we earned it. Either way, it's big, it's pretty nice, and it's our home here. We like our friends' houses just fine, but this one is ours. We also really love that we have access to a lot in our neighborhood, including Zoe's friends in walking distance. Unlike some of the other neighborhoods where many expats live, ours has a lot of Rwandans of varying socioeconomic status, and so we have some reminders that this is not California, like wandering goats and turkeys, and people walking down our street ready to sell you jeans, or shoes, or bananas.

2. Running. I don't remember if I've mentioned it here, but this is really a great place for a good challenging run. In about 8 minutes on foot from our door, I can get to a dirt road that leads into the foothills of either one of two large hills / small mountains. Once there, it's very hard to tell you are in the city limits, as it is dominated by small farms and simple villages. There are still people everywhere (it is, after all, the most densely populated country in Africa), but it's much more simple and personal. Also, car traffic is seldom and slow, as the roads are terrible for driving. So not very much smoke to cough out. And the terrain is great for a good trial of wills, as the hills seem to go up forever. Then you turn around to head home, and the view (or is it the altitude?) takes your breath away.

3. Avocados, Potatoes, and Tomatoes. I definitely have talked about these before, but I'll talk about them all day to anyone who'll listen. Before we came, I thought the greatest delight food-wise would be tropical fruits, like mangoes or bananas. I shouldn't sell them short: they are great. I can't complain. The pineapple is awesome, and so are tree tomatoes. But the vegetables were the big surprise for me. I've never had better avocados in my life. I've had better tomatoes, but not nearly as consistently. Same for potatoes: they aren't the very best in the world, but they are very very good, and plentiful. Especially good for French fries, which seem to be everywhere. Honorable mention: peanuts, roasted or fried.

4. Brochettes. This is the word that appears on just about every menu in the country. It is essentially a skewer of meat, usually with onion, sometimes with other green pepper and tomato, grilled over a wood fire. Often served with fries (see #3). The meat can be beef, chicken, or fish (tilapia), but my favorite is also the cheapest: goat. Since Rwanda does not have true street food, this is the closest thing to it. I know, it's simple, but sometimes the simple things are the most rewarding, and paradoxically hardest to do just right.

5. Bourbon Coffee. This is not a recipe or an after-hours drink, though I'll take some if you're offering it. This is the name of the fanciest and most expensive coffee shop in Rwanda. There are three locations in Kigali: the airport, the UTC center in the commercial district, and my favorite, the flagship store in the Nyarutarama neighborhood. This last location is a spacious, cozy spot with some seating on huge leather couches and some on a covered terrace with a wonderful view. They get beans directly from Rwandan farm collectives, roast them on site, and also have a restaurant. They have some of the best baked goods and gelato in town. In describing this I always like to say that this place is not just good relative to Rwanda, this is an unusually good coffee place, period. There is also one location in Washington, DC, which I'd love to visit. By the way, I haven't mentioned the best part: the coffee is really good.

6. Pub Quiz. This should come as no surprise to those of you who have been to the Crown and Anchor in New Orleans' Algiers Point with me on a Thursday evening. The quiz here is in an pizza restaurant run by an Italian guy, Dionigi. My friend Dave has been working with Dionigi to add on and completely rebuild the place from the ground up, and the result is a really hospitable environment for beer drinking, carousing, and occasionally answering a trivia question correctly. Monday nights at Sol e Luna are one of the two social events I absolutely plan my week around. Our team was victorious a few weeks ago, and so we hosted the quiz this past Monday; we were told that we were really tough. What a blast.

7. Mountain biking. This would be the other social event I try to never miss. Nearly every weekend on either Saturday or Sunday morning, I ride my bike to (usually) the Cercle Sportif tennis club's parking lot to meet Dave (not the same one), Ludwig, Craig, S'rait, and a few other more occasional riders for a few hours of climbing mountains and then riding down them. We have developed a reputation of being very serious or very fast or some thing, but we're actually very laid back. When Craig and I joined, Dave and Ludwig were happy to wait at the top or (more commonly) the bottom of the hill while I muddled through. When you come to ride, I'll be happy to wait as well. This is a very Zen experience: we're not really interested in doing everything quickly, though it is fun to be fast. It's really more about experiencing the day completely. For me, the long, slow uphills can be just as rewarding as a blisteringly fast downhill. The climate here is really conducive to being on a bike, rainy season or dry, and Rwanda is a nation of single-track. Everywhere we go, there are choices of new trails to try, ranging from asphalt busy roads to tiny goat trails through banana fields. And everywhere we go, we are cheered on by locals. Sometimes, it's asking for money, sometimes, just shouting, "Muzungu!!!", and quite often, cheering, "Hey, Le Sport!" or "Courage!" Either way, we must seem like aliens landing on their streets or farms, and the reaction is always friendly and positive. I also love riding through coffee fields (see above).

8. Getting Away in Rwanda. Though Rwanda is a small country (the mantra is "about the size of Maryland"), there are of course a few places to explore. We have been camping in Akagera National Park only once, but really loved it. We have been to stay at the Serena, a fancy resort-type hotel, in Gisenyi often enough that Zoe has a little "we're goin' to Gisenyi" song. It's on the shore of Lake Kivu, in the north, near both Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo, and absolutely beautiful. It is a high-altitude region on an enormous lake, surrounded by volcanoes, like a cross between Austria and Hawaii. There is also gorilla trekking, which I did with our visiting friends Alistair and Tanya last saturday (a really incredible experience), high in the mountains. There are a few other places that we haven't yet been to, such as another Lake Kivu resort area to the south, Kibuye, and another national park to the South, Nyungwe Forest, for further exploration. It's all fairly close and fairly easy to do.

9. Zoe's friends. We have been so incredibly lucky in finding friends for Zoe, that it hasn't involved any effort at all. It seems that there are so many expats living here with young children, that we just seem to continue to acquire new friends that she likes, with parents that we like. In fact, of the 5 other guys in my regular quiz team, three of them have daughters that Zoe considers best friends. The other two have kids that just are a little older or younger than Zoe's "play age". When we had a week off for "spring" break, we had too many offers of playdates, and had to actually decline one, as we were too busy! And she has really found her groove with a few of them in particular; no more "parallel play," these kids really like to be together.

10. The sense of hope. Since the war in 1994, Rwanda has been the recipient of an tremendous amount of "guilt aid," money from the developed world to redevelop Rwanda, from countries who turned away without acting to stop the genocide. For whatever reason the money has come, it has been welcomed here (of course) with a unique blend of caution and pride. Rwanda has insisted that aid is a partnership, not simply a gift, and actively participates in its own development. In fact, I've heard some criticism from aid workers that Rwanda is perhaps some times too involved in every process from international aid. I can understand this, as I can understand criticism of occasionally incompetent bosses who micromanage, but this is also a compliment to Rwanda, that the people and the government see a future for themselves, and that they want it to be done right, and on their own terms. It means that -in spite of incredible tragedy on so many levels, and continuing real difficulties- people here really believe that their country will continue to grow and improve. That's pretty cool.

Next post: a few things I don't like, too.

Monday, May 10, 2010

More Puppy Business

Well, we met with the puppies again, and decided on the one currently called Poochie. As I've already said, this name has to go; its not terrible by any means, but it always reminds me of an odious character on an old Simpsons episode, and that's not a fair way to start life. He's brown and black and grey with white patches -sort of a beagle pattern- and has grown tremendously since we last saw him. He is slightly more docile or deferential than his brother, Doggo, who is grey all over. They both bite everything in site and are incredibly enthusiastic. They love to play fight with each other or whoever else they can engage. And they are fairly free with peeing but tend to go more outside than in the house. So we've got some major work cut out for us.

We're going to keep them at Isabel's house for two more weeks of being together and with the older "mentor" dogs, then bring them into our own chaotic home. That gives us a little time to get all the chewable things (less furniture) out of reach, and a little planning time for figuring where everything will go. It also gives me time to finish my puppy guide I'm reading, for whatever that's worth.

We had lunch there and spent a good part of the afternoon playing with Sam and the puppies (including a little kiddie pool time), and the weather really cooperated. At the end of our time there, Andrea's friend and co-worker Nicola came by and agreed to adopt Doggo, too! So they will both live in Kimihurura -our neighborhood- and have some visit time and maybe even occasional shared walks.

One of the reasons it's good they're coming in two weeks, is because we are expecting houseguests starting tomorrow evening (ash-cloud willing). Tanya and Alistair are our British friends by way of New Orleans, and their son Edwin is one of Zoe's favorite people in the whole world. They'll stay a week, including a Gorilla safari for the grownup guests and me, which I'm really looking forward to. I'm sorry I won't have our good camera to bring with me, but I'll just have to remember the experience.

Thanks to Isabel for loaning her camera.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Call For Submissions

We have decided to adopt a puppy. Our friends Isabel, with her daughter and son, have been foster-parents for some puppies she found abandoned on the side of the road about three weeks ago. She brought them home and cleaned them up before calling Jode, an American veterinarian who runs a small nongovernmental (NGO) project here, trying to empower women to raise goats for milk to produce cheese. Jode looked them over and figured they were then right around two weeks old, and with bellies full of worms, but otherwise healthy.

There were three but one was adopted in the first week, and taken to live in the new family's house immediately. After our robbery, we told Isabel we'd like to come over and meet the puppies, to start thinking more concretely about bringing a dog into our house. We found two tiny soft fuzzy creatures, full of enthusiasm and friendly as can be. Do I need to mention they were adorable? Probably not. Anyway, Isabel has two elderly but active African mutts already, and is moving back to London in a year, so has no space for any more. So these little guys are in a home with older mentor dogs and children, and we really liked them both, one grey, the other black with white spots.

It took a week or more for us to really feel like we are ready to make this leap, but we have committed. Crossing the Rubicon for us was the Amazon order of puppy supplies for a few hundred dollars for delivery in our big consumables shipment leaving the US soon. It's amazing how complex it is to set up for one of these simple tiny creatures, but then again, we're trying to buy everything at once for the first two years of life.

So the difficulty we face most immediately is a name! We have come up with several that we like, though none that feels perfect yet: Sherlock, Watson, Sven, Ole, (Andrea's not so crazy about the last two), Thor, Ponchatoula, Pontchartrain, Boudreaux, Thibodeaux, Ignatius, and Zoe's contributions, Chewbacca and Bobby. Please, let us know if you have any interesting names, or any opinions on the above names. We'd like his name to mean something or be interesting in some way, such as a figure from literature or history or a movie, or with an interesting meaning behind the word itself. We need your help! Please leave comments at the bottom of the post.

PS We're hoping to see them this weekend, and will post photos after that visit.