The views expressed in this blog are the author's own and do not reflect those of VSO

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Kigali v Kibungo

There really are two Rwandas - Kigali and the rest. There is a city/country divide everywhere and that is especially true in Africa. Kibungo looks big and impressive on all the maps but is not even a provincial sized town by any definition, more a collection of hilltop houses running along two roads; one main, north and south, and the other, arterial, spreading west to the district surrounds. Language is one reflection of this divide. In Kibungo it is nearly all Kinyarwanda with French and English of varying degrees among those more educated. Here it is still the norm to use Kinyarwanda for motos, going to the market or ordering brochette and chips. (You don't really need to speak any language when piling your plate full of 'melanje' or buffet foods!)
Carbohydrates and a culturally interesting poster
In Kigali, Kinyarfranglais is becoming the standard. It is often hard to get people to want to talk to you purely in Kinyarwanda. In restaurants and ordering motos everyone seems keen to practise their English although some fall back into French (restaurants) or Kinyarwanda (motos). Which is good news, in one sense, for the further development of English as the lingua franca of the East African Community of which Rwanda has been part since 2009. Yet I worry. Are current education policies leading to a nation of people who will not be highly literate in any language?
Bicycle taxis off duty for umuganda
With English now the medium of instruction in public (state) schools from Grade 4 and in private schools from Grade 1, what impact will this have on the literacy level of the mother tongue, Kinyarwanda, which is then relegated to being just another subject along with science, maths and social studies (which are all taught in English). With even less of a reading culture than most Asian societies, it is hard to imagine genuine multilingual success. You can't even find a newspaper in Kinyarwanda in Kibungo and the standard of the press in English in Kigali is, unlike Nairobi where it is vibrant, pretty woeful and heavily self-censored.
From left - gravy, meat, mixed veg (a highlight) and kidney beans
A thing that really struck me this time in Kigali which I hadn't noticed before was how many overweight people there are, especially men with their little pot bellies. It made it easier to 'silver' ghost (one of my nicknames in Cairns soccer circles) past some of them in my guest appearance with the Kigali Kougars on Sunday morning. Fatness and the fad culture it creates is not much of an issue in Kibungo. These plump players really are part of what must be a developing aspirational class in Kigali. And, as elsewhere in the world, they are becoming increasingly sedentary using buses, cars and 4x4s (how their numbers have grown in the capital!) and motos to get about instead of walking which is the way of life in places like Kibungo.
A very moderate portion of melanje
It must have something to do with the diet too as hamburgers, pizzas and other fast foods expand their foothold in the capital. There are no McDonald's or Domino's yet but small restaurants selling such global fare are available and I have to say make a welcome change from the limited options down our way. Here it is brochette (goat kebabs) and chips, or melanje (buffet) where you pile your plate to the very brim with rice, chips, kidney beans, cooked bananas, sweet potatoes, quite bitter green leaves and tough meat stew (of which you are usually able to take no more than two or three pieces unless you want to pay extra). In Kigali restaurants the melanje (melange) vegetables are much more varied and usually pretty tasty (often carrots, cabbage or cauliflower in an appetising mix ) although the meat stew in gravy sauce is never any more than just edible. Where we westerners have a habit of piling our plates and then leaving half of it (which is why Sizzler's in Australia now supply patrons with very small plates) here Rwandans will gradually reduce the monumental 'bowling ball' of food down to nothingness. It is quite likely to be the only meal of the day when eaten out at lunch or in the evening.
The bar at Mille Collines
Nowhere more different than Kibungo are the fancy hotels like the famous Mille Collines where the film Hotel Rwanda was shot and where it is hard to be without thinking of the terrible events of 1994. The clientele is both international and Rwandan buying expensive beers and brochettes (melt in your mouth fish, chicken and beef kebabs) at prices per item more than double what the average Rwandan earns in a day. As a volunteer it is also possible to experience the earnings split as $270 a month between two doesn't go very far in Kigali if you want to take advantage of such delights.
Hotel Rwanda
The muzungu income divide must also be confusing to Rwandans many of whom think we are all on big salaries irrespective of NGO status. The key is to say that you are 'umukorerabushake' or volunteer, although that can also cause problems as some think that because you are volunteering you must have enough savings to allow you to work for next to nothing. Which is of course often true especially for older vols! You can't win. Theo (our language teacher), Justin (our house guard), Julie (our one day a week domestique) must look at our little Eee laptops sitting on our porch table behind our gated compound and wonder at the definition of allowance for being an unpaid volunteer. In Kibungo, where there is a huge barbed wire complex for Chinese (mostly) hospital staff (whom you seldom see out and about), locals may associate the term volunteer with umukinwa (Chinese person), although I believe that a lot of them are quite highly paid unlike the handful of Japanese vols who exist on similar allowances to VSOers. Twice now in the street I have been called umukinwa which is a welcome change from (u)muzungu. Makes me feel quite exotic imagining a new dimension to my blood line that I didn't know about!
Doing my bit
Umuganda (compulsory community work), which I attended in Kigali on 29 May (always the last Saturday of the month), was very different to the one in Kibungo which as you may recall concentrated on umudugudu or village security in the collective briefing. I was staying with Dutch volunteer Bert and we had an interpreter to guide us through the labyrinth of his umudugudu's politics and personalities. In this Kigali chapter the major emphasis was on church noise and permits to preach. Churches are springing up like wild daisies and the correct paperwork is not being followed. The umudugudu leader was intransigent in his refusal to let one group preach until everything was in order. They also had to tone down the noise which was bothering the neighbours. (Can we have this guy as our Kibungo leader?) The evangelical group was distraught at the idea of missing one day's vocal ecstasy and it looked, for a while, as though there was going to be the mother of all rejections until the leader, who had until then been looking stonily ahead and ignoring the pleas, gave a casual nod and said they had until Monday to come up with the right documents.
Umudugudu leader criticises poor umuganda attendance
The deference and lack of questions to the village leader were once again surprising to a westerner as he criticised the poor attendance (1500 people should have been there which you can see from the picture falls quite a way short) and need to perform various community duties which nearly all required small donations of money. This neighbourhood is quite well off with lots of big houses and the owners invariably send their house guards to represent them at umuganda although I did notice one well dressed and well fed couple in the midst. The leader stated, as in Kibungo last month, that people were going to start being fined for non-attendance - 5000 francs (~$8) for Kigali instead of the 500 francs mentioned in rural Kibungo. There was vagueness around how it would be enforced.
Local church in the umudugudu
A spiel was given on separating rubbish into recyclables and non-recyclables but no direction on what to do with the different piles. Maybe some people already knew although our interpreter didn't. A government level vice-president was supposed to be there but the visit had been postponed because one of the organisers said they had not been ready to receive her to which the umudugudu leader retorted that they should always be prepared. It's hard to know whether being ready meant buying in some fantas and mandazis (a kind of fried bread which is very popular in Rwanda) or providing more hoes and spades for the actual work routine which, on this occasion, involved even less labour than last month's umuganda in Kibungo. You can see me in the picture hacking up some stray grass which had dared to find its way on to the dusty thoroughfare.

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