I don’t know what I was expecting. I suppose I knew that I didn’t know what to expect. In that sense, I’ve not been disappointed.
There are certain places you’ve never been, but to some degree you know what you would see when you got there. New York. Washington D.C. The Grand Canyon. Rome. London. Places that have been so immortalized by any number of means that there’s some image you have in your mind of what you’ll see, and you’re at least a little bit right. But coming here, I didn’t have the faintest impression of what I would see.
It’s only been five days, but I could already write dozens of pages detailing the differences between Kigali and the culture that the most of us in America have come to take for granted. The problem is- I really don’t know where to start. I’m still wrapping my mind around it. Every day has been a flurry of immediacy and miscommunication, in about equal parts. An MTN sim card that didn’t work. A conversion rate of between 780 and 795 to 1, which is beyond baffling to work out on the spot at first. Discovering $1,500 had been stolen from my luggage at some point in transit. A hotel that lost my reservation. Frantically trying to find a real estate agent who doesn’t tell you how to find him by saying completely out of the blue and knowing that I’ve never been here before, that he is, and I quote, “in town, building next main roundabout. Upstairs of COGEBANQUE and Pharmacie SANGWA. Building between road towards Nyabugogo and the one towards Statistics. Opposite Former Chez Venant. Are you knowing the place?”
Actually, we did find him. Eventually. But long story short, that rental deal didn’t pan out. The next day, we met up with a guy we’d been Whatsapp’ing for over a month about renting a place but had lost touch with for about a week. He showed us the place where we now live. It has its own share of problems too, but nothing really worth fretting about. Every problem has a solution. I’ve always loved puzzles. So I love this. Sometimes, it’s like solving a Rubik’s cube that fights back. And sometimes, it’s like it’s trying to solve itself for you. I needed to mail a package to my friend in Dubai today. When Mark and I took the motos to where Google said the nearest Fedex was, we ended up wandering several floors of the building at that address attempting to communicate what we were looking for to people who only knew a few words of English. But then we found a room of three people who worked for LODA, and just earlier I had read LAW N°62/2013 OF 27/08/2013 ESTABLISHING THE LOCAL ADMINISTRATIVE ENTITIES DEVELOPMENT AGENCY (LODA) AND DETERMINING ITS MISSION, ORGANISATION AND FUNCTIONING in the pursuit of my first internship assignment. While coincidental, that’s not where I’m going with this. We talked to them for a few minutes, and between everything we said to them, they would confer with one another in Kinyarwanda about what we were talking about. Once they figured out that we wanted to ship a package, one of them just said, “come, I will show you.”
So, we assumed she was going to walk us to a window, maybe, and point us in the right direction. But then she headed for the stairwell. Down three stories with us, without us ever even having to ask for anything but advice about what to do. Okay, maybe she’s going to go to the street and point in the right direction with some general indication of what to look for. But no, she’s walking to her car and gesturing for us to get in. Without us having to ask for anything other than whether there was a Fedex in the building, she ended up driving us half a mile through a neighborhood to a back-road Skynet cargo and shipping facility that we would never have found on our own. I asked her to let me compensate her for at least the gas money, but she just seemed genuinely happy to have taken 20 minutes out of her day to help us, complete strangers.
Getting here wasn’t easy, and getting started here was less so. But every day it becomes clearer how beautiful a place this is, both inside and out. Looking forward, I’m just excited to see how much more I wasn’t expecting.