Checking my Privilege

I woke up early this morning to prepare for my first
meeting.  I had realized yesterday that I
did not have the address for the office and it was not available online, so I
emailed the gentleman I was meeting with for the details.  Then this morning, I showered dressed, and
headed to the coffee shop for my daily 30 minutes of wifi (which costs about
$0.80).  I had no email from him, so I
called the number I had listed, and he said something had come up and he needed
to postpone our meeting until the afternoon.  Now with no plans for the day I ordered a
coffee and caught up on emails.  This
coffee shop has a distinct ex-pat vibe, and to my right there was a table of
about seven young Americans, and one woman in her 40s, who were discussing some
sort of volunteer program.  I swallowed
my pride and went over to interrupt their conversation.  I learned they are with a non-profit in the
area that is pioneering a new style of youth entrepreneurship.  It sounded like an interesting model, so I
asked if I could stop by their offices sometime next week,

Then I received a mysterious text in Kinyarwandan, which the
waitress translated.  It read “Sorry for
the delay, I will call you at 10.” I didn’t recognize the number, and was
puzzled by the language barrier, but I figured I would wait to see the product
of the message.  I walked back up to the
house, and retired to my room and my book.
I sat for an hour waiting for a phone call from the unidentified number
or contact from the non-profit I was meant to meet with.  Nothing happened.  My dad warned that this might happen, when
you go to a country with no contacts, relying on cold calls, you are destined
to be rescheduled, and stuck by a phone waiting for a call.  

 I thumbed through my activities for the week and decided to
go parliament, the Belgian Peacekeepers Memorial, and Hotel des Milles Collines
(the hotel from Hotel Rwanda).  I called
a taxi and in the now familiar mix of French and English I explained where I
was trying to go and we agreed upon a price.
Then I was privy to an abnormality that I cannot yet explain.  So in Kigali, you tell the taxi driver your
destination, then you haggle a price (which is always higher for foreigners),
and then you are taken to your destination.
Fifty percent of the time, in my experience so far, it becomes apparent
part way through the ride that the driver has no idea where he is going.  He will assertively drive to one destination,
realize it is incorrect, then drive in a haphazard route, stopping other taxis
and showing them the slip of paper on which I have written my destination.  It is a peculiar practice, since I am, so
far, headed to major tourist destinations, and the drivers make no additional
money from this exercise.  There are of
course the few who have tried to double the fare at the final destination,
which then results in a second more heated round of haggling.

I digress, this mornings cab driver took me not to the
Belgian peacekeepers Monument, but the Belgian embassy.  I then asked him to go to Milles Collines
instead, which was a recognizable monument.
I got out of the cab and was greeted by the hotels strict security.  I explained that I was trying to go to
Monument, but had taken an inadvertent detour, and the guard explained that it
would be a thirty minute walk, so he offered to hail a cab and give very
specific instructions to go to the Monument and then Parliament directly after,
for one total price.  I asked the guard
if I could wander around the property while he found a cab, he agreed.   (I have noticed that as a white American, I
am afforded the privilege of immediate trust by most security.)  The hotel, which is still in operation,
looked like most any other high-end hotel in a developing country.  The only discernable difference was a small
monument (in a corner of the parking lot) to the hotel staff who died in
defense of the hotel during the genocide.
It was the first place I visited where the history of the genocide was
not wildly displayed.  

I got in the new cab and headed to the Belgian Peacekeepers
Monument, which was of course closed.
There was some sort of government meeting next door, so the entire area
was shut down.  A police officer told me
it would probably e five minutes longer, but could easily be thirty.  I thanked him and decided with a cab waiting,
and haggling ahead of me, I would come back later.  Next it was off to parliament.

Now I read online that parliament is closed to the public,
but I wasn’t sure if that meant the entire property or just the buildings
themselves.  The buildings are famous,
since they are scarred and pocked with bullet holes, which were left to serve
as a reminder of the past to the government.
I decided to operate on the assumption that I could enter the complex,
and approached the security desk with a level of confidence, that in many cases
is only afforded to Americans.  Turns out
none of the guards spoke English or French beyond a few simple phrases, and
they kept asking who I was meeting with.
I filled out a form with my name and number, handed over my ID, and
after some hand gestures and smiles I was granted entrance.  I walked around the property and took
pictures of the buildings, as well to a large monument on the center of the
property to the RPF Soldiers (tutsti militia).
I left, collected my ID, thanked the guards, still unclear on whether or
not my visit was actually legal.

 With a new found sense of assertiveness I hopped in a cab
and headed back to the neighborhood where I am living, where there is a long
avenue with the offices for all of the major non-profits.  There is one organization which I emailed
with when I was in the US, but since arriving in Kigali my emails to them have
bounced back and their phone lines were unavailable.  So I grabbed lunch at a near by restaurant
and then walked up to the large gated building and rang the doorbell.  The guard opened the door and waved me in
with a slight bow from the waist.  I
walked into the main office, and was able to sort out the communication error
with the receptionist.

 I exited the office and headed home for the day.  Walking back, I thought about the doors that
have opened for me without issue here in Rwanda.  I think it is incredible to recognize the
privileges given to me, because of my skin color and nationality.  My research and work is of course
challenging, but simplified by basic characteristics of my existence.  When studying genocide and social prejudice,
I resent how people make decisions to hate or love groups of people based on
intractable aspects of their identity.
So it is important to recognize this same method of social grouping is
what allows me to ring the doorbell at a major non profit, enter the premises
of a private hotel, or wander around parliament.  


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