It’s 7.45 a.m and it is an oddly grey and cool morning. The usual thunder of Saturday traffic past my house is petering out because today is Umuganda and we are all expected (by law) to be outside joining in with our local Umudugado (small named housing sector) area works; be it cleaning in front of the house or taking part in specific works like clearing ditches. If you get in your car and go out, you will be stopped by the police and not be able to move until Umuganda is over (around 11 a.m.).
I have had vague intentions of joining in since I arrived but so far have failed to identify which Umudugado I live in (and for that matter, what my address is). The night before Umuganda always seems to be extra lively in town. Last night was no exception, and I wonder if I am the only person to wake up with a sore head and a failed ambition; intentional or otherwise? So here I wait until I can go out.
To add to the liveliness, two Grenade Attacks were also carried out in Kigali last night. They have been generally viewed as part of the run up to Genocide Memorial week which starts on Monday culminating on Saturday 7th April which will be Genocide Memorial Day across Rwanda. Eighteen years on.
Where shall I be on the 7th? Driving about Akagera National Park having a fun old time. That’s where. Like so many expats, I shall be taking advantage of the extra day off on Friday and getting out of Kigali to frolic elsewhere. The exodus of westerners has started in earnest already and you cannot escape the obvious parallel this departure has on the past. As we all know, Rwanda was abandoned to its fate by westerners who lived here and was ignored by the international community until most of the killing had been completed in those 100 days and the word ‘genocide’ was finally accepted as applicable to Rwanda.
The traffic sounds have now been replaced by the hubbub of voices and I can hear the odd scraping of shovels. Let’s see what next month brings; another Primus hangover or a commitment to taking part in my community of which I haven’t been bothered to find out the name of?
A few weeks into being here, I have started my job and been lucky enough to get out of Kigali to Akagera National Park and to Lake Kivu; a truly beautiful country full to the brim with exotic birds, good roads and rules that everyone seems (more on this later) to obey and which certainly make it palatable for a muzungu (loosely meaning white person) like me to enjoy. Corruption seems to be pretty low and the mosquitos even honour the flimsy net I have been issued with to cocoon myself in at night. How exotic.
So it is with disappointment that I am met with advice from many others on the matter of how to navigate my way around Rwandan life without being “ripped off.” I find this kind of conversation anywhere between tedious and downright objectionable depending on my mood.
Why on earth wouldn’t people selling things try and get the best price for them? I believe this is what is known as ‘market economy’. It is as old as the hills and we are all subject to it in one way or another… was it not Sony who recently raised the price of a Whitney Houston album on iTunes less than 24 hours after her death? Now That’s What I Call Market Economy!!
It is unfortunate that as a VSO volunteer (paid a local wage) we are likely to be charged similar prices to highly paid muzungu but life is like that I guess. And who says we are not still rich in others eyes? Yes, it is important to barter; nay, it is expected. But don’t expect or demand the same price as locals. Yes this is opportunism but who said you and I are not up to the same game?
Are we volunteers not here seeking opportunities of our own? If you think you are doing this for purely altruistic reasons, then think again. . There is no such thing. You will be looking for an opportunity in one way or another; just like me. I want to learn, I want to gain skills I can apply in a new and exciting job one day. I want to travel and see more of this beautiful country. I want to count the birds I see and perhaps some others activities I am not going to write about here!
I know that my being here will enrich my life all the greater and more opportunities will become available to me. Can the same be said for those I meet at the market?