Things of Note in Rwanda

Coffee – There are two kinds of coffee I have found in
Kigali.  There is the Nestle powdered
stuff and there is the locally roasted espresso beans.  There is a chain of coffee shops here called
Bourbon Coffee, they even have a few shops in the US, one of which is a few blocks from where I grew
up.  The first time I went in I had to ask if it was the same company.  It was.
Their motto is “Crop to Cup,” which back home I assumed was just a way
of playing into the fair trade/Cambridge/hippie market.  In the states their coffee is standard, but
nothing special.  Coffee here, at Bourbon
and other coffee shops I have tried, is absolutely amazing.  I can usually drink a few cappuccinos a day,
but the stuff here will get you wired.
It is intense dark roast coffee, that is super flavorful.  Maybe it’s the fact that it comes from
nearby, and doesn’t have to spend weeks being processed and shipped that
changes the taste.  Either way Im hooked.

Roads – In the final episodes of West Wing, the character CJ
who is at that point the Chief of Staff is debating what job she should take
when president Bartlett’s term ends.  She
is offered a position at a nonprofit to spend millions of dollars however she
sees fit to help the world.  She chooses
roads.  She wants to build paved roads
throughout the world to create reliable and safe infrastructure.  When you think about it, it’s a brilliant
idea.  It cuts down on fuel use,
transport times, and maintenance.  At the
same time it increases access to medical care, trade, and commerce.  Also paved roads with proper drainage are
immune to the issues that dirt roads suffer during the rainy season.  Well Kigali doesn’t need CJ.  They are all set on the roads thing.  Of course there are still a few dirt roads
here and there, but they are rare.  The
paved roads are glorious, seriously.
They are way nicer roads than most any city I have been to in the
US.  They are smooth and even without
potholes or cracks.  Also they have speed
bumps everywhere as a way to regulate and slow down traffic.  The other thing is that the roads and
sidewalks here are immaculate.  There is
no litter, dirt, plants, or cigarette butts to be found.  The streets are maintained by an army of women
with brooms and dustpans in yellow construction jackets whowork for the state.  Everyday these women sweep the street by
hand.  

Security – There are guns everywhere in Kigali.  Now that sounds extreme, but the only people
carrying them are the military and the police.
It is still intimidating.  On
every street corner and by every major building there are not one, but a few
policeman carrying large guns.  Some
AK-47s, which at this point I can recognize, and the other models I am not so
sure.  Also to enter any shopping mall or
hotel there is a security check.  You and
your bags must go through an x ray machine and if you are driving a car it must
be searched as well.  This has the dual
effect of making me very safe but also quite uncomfortable.  I wonder who they are protecting us
from or what they are trying to contain.  

Multi-lingual – I am used to living in a single lingual
country.  In the US, regardless of class
or education, a lot of people speak only one language.  Here everyone speaks Kinyarwandan, the
national language.  Then there is a mix
of English and French.  Before the war,
French was taught in schools and after English was taught.  So in general if you are speaking to a person
older than thirty they are most likely fluent in French, and the younger ones
fluent in English.  For the older generation theres an economic division when it comes to languages, so many cab drivers only speak Kinyarwandan.  I have been impressed, when trying to negotiate a price or location with a cab driver, a small child of about eight will walk over and fluently translate for us.  They’ll go from Kinyarwandan to english and even help me barter a price. On top of that many
people speak languages of surrounding countries.  At anytime you can hear a number of languages
used in a single conversation, and Rwandans who are multilingual are able to
switch between the many languages seamlessly.

Advertising – I noticed this when I arrived in Kigali, on my
drive from the airport.  There are two
kinds of signs here.  One reads Kwibuka,
which means remembrance, signs about genocide are absolutely
everywhere here, especially during the 100 day remembrance period.  Forgetting is not an option.  The second is a very different advertising vocabulary.  The first thing
I saw was a sign for “Fair Contractors” with smiling men in hardhats giving the
thumbs up.  All of the signs use this
intentionally reassuring, but slightly off putting language.  Companies and products proclaim themselves to
be fair, just, equal, even, and other words in the same vein.  I never saw any advertisement that claimed to have the best product, only the fairest.  Third there is anti-corruption signage
everywhere.  The signs say “Stomp out
Corruption” and there is a hotline you can call.  

Construction – its like Boston in the sense that everything
is under construction all of the time.
Everything is on its way to being newer, bigger, brighter, and
better.  The country is trying hard to
leave the stereotypes of genocide, war, and poverty that are so common in
Africa.  You can almost feel the push
forward towards something different.

Hot Sauce – Okay, I am not perfect.  I fall victim to stereotypes and biases like
any person and since being in Rwanda I have had a few thrown back in my
face.  I arrived with the notion that
there would be many similarities between the culture in Uganda and Rwanda, I
mean c’mon theyre neighbors.  I am
consistently shown that, like anywhere in the world neighboring countries are
actually very different.  A great example
of this is hot sauce.  In Uganda there is
nothing spicy.  Food has salt, but that it when it comes to flavor.
I sat down to lunch the other day and ordered brouchette (Rwandan meat
kebabs).  The waitress brought over a
tray of condiments, which contained a bottle of Rwandan hot sauce.  Thinking it would have a meek flavor, I doused
my French fries in it and made a small pool next to the kebabs.  I dunked the first piece of meat and popped
it in my mouth.  Immediately my eyes
started to water.  Now the meat was spicy to begin with, but the sauce was the kicker.  It burned, it made my
lips tingle, and sweat drip from my face.  It was really really hot.  I underestimated the Rwandan capacity for
spiciness.  I will not make that mistake
again.  

Wealth –There is a very literal hierarchy of wealth in
Kigali.  The money in this town follows the
peaks and valleys of the many hills.
Wealthy buildings, people, and organizations are on the tops of the
hills.  These are expensive buildings
with high fences, manicured lawns, security, and staffs.  The valleys however, house the small poorly
built homes, the dirt roads, bus stations, and people of lower economic
status.  To me it is odd and fascinating
to see wealth in such a literal vertical manner.

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