Hello, my name is Rola.

I am writing quickly in the downtown core of the city, before going out for dinner with some friends. I would have updated sooner, but the other day I walked to my trusty internet cafe in Kicukiro, to discover it has disappeared. Like gutted-room-no-sign-disappeared. Weird.

As much as I have been enjoying my time in Kigali, it was time for kathryn & I to get out of the city. So we headed up to Kibuye, a small town on the coast of Lac Kivu across from the Democratic Republic of Congo, last weekend. And by "heading up," I mean death defying Atraco bus ride for 3 hours. Atraco buses are both the TTC and Greyhound combined, as they are run both within the cities and between them. But instead of streetcars or large buses, take a minivan, add two extra benches (five in total), put four people per bench (not including many babies - our ride home was 24 people in one minivan. TWENTY FOUR), throw in some tassel adorned windows, and a hilarious slogan in metallic letters on the back windshield.

Some good slogans so far include:
YEAH! (in that dripping blood font)
Rest In Peace (makes you feel so safe to get aboard)
No forget me.
50 Cent
20 20 Vision (just in case you were wondering)

...and my all-time favourite of a large photocopied cut out of Snoop Dogg with dollar-sign glasses on. Which is fitting considering, our soundtrack consisted of "gin & juice" to phil collins to jay z t sarah brightman to the BEST EVER "a whole new world" from disney's 1992 Aladin. I officially love rwandan radio stations. All of this occuring at 6:30 in the morning.

Our ride there was the equivilent of the last leg of driving to Tofino on Vancouver Island, if one was going double the speed, and passing cars at whim with little visibility. But it gave us a great chance to just to soak everything in. At one point, our van was being chased by a herd of little girls. Their deep royal blue uniforms fluttering behind like tiny wings. Baby swallows, swooping, laughing, diving. Their delicate bare feet smacking the ground, raising red clouds of earth with every step. One hand clutching dog-earred notebooks, kept safe in unico pasta bags, the other flailing wildly above their heads caught in a wave. A minature flock of birds.

Rwanda is unbelieveably beautiful. The Mille Collines is aptly named, if not an understatement.

And i can honestly say that Kibuye is one of the prettiest places I have been in my life. We stayed at the St. Jean guesthouse in a tiny stone cabin, on a tropical looking penninsula, hundreds of feet above the water for only 10 dollars a night. Every morning I would sit overlooking miles of mountains and the lake drinking tea & drawing, listening to fisherman singing far below. Odd that such a peaceful place was a location for such horrific events, as Kibuye where one of the most comprehensive slaughter of tutsis occured during the genocide. 11,400 people in less than three months. The only other thing on the penninsula was a church and genocide memorial. A beautiful building we attended mass in on sunday morning. A place of such sorrow, exuding so much life.


Life goes continues on in Kigali. School is well under way. i spend most of my day in a room equipt with 9 old singer machines, operated by foot pedals, a literal IRON iron heated by filling it with coals (and we thought the industrial irons were scary, my beloved fashionistas....), and 30 or so hilarious energetic students ranging from 15 to 22 years of age. So in some regard they are essentially my peers, but I think that is working to my advantage. The other teacher Samuel is only 22 himself. And needless to say all of the donated supplies were accepted excitedly, and have immediately been put to use. So a big thank-you to everyone who so generously contributed from the Mwana Nshuti school!

Also, because 'r' and 'l' are interchangeable here, my name is awful. I am either Lola or more commonly Rola to my students (or mzungu when they think i'm not listening). The girls were quite reserved with me at first, some still are, but five of them sat me down yesterday and attempted to teach me some songs in Kinyarwanda. Clearly laughing both with and at me. But it was a nice ice-breaker. The boys on the other hand have loved me from the start (perhaps a little too much..."how can you...show me..that you love me?"... ummm fake husband here we come!), but seem to debate my sewing abilities. Which is frusterating, but i suppose I'll just have to prove myself, as both a seamstress and a figure of authority somewhat. Regardless, all of these individuals are orphans or were street kids, and incidently have been through quite a lot.

So I am willing to wait on feeling accepted by them.



internal whiplash.

This has been a bizarre week on a number of levels.

I think I am acclimatizing remarkably well. There are times I feel as though i'm back in Toronto, until suddenly, something snaps me back into the reality of the moment.

An invisible and internal whiplash of sorts.

Like when the water stops running for 3 days, or when i see a man balancing 16 (we counted) yellow jerry can water jugs on his head in the middle of "downtown," or when three men wearing pink uniforms are ushered past us on the way to the market by a guard clutching an AK47. Prisoners, past-genocidaires, doing their community service.

It is moments like these that i don't even know how to comprehend what i am witnessing, or begin to know how to respond.

We were invited out to dinner last friday, for my friend & neighbour Scott's birthday; an amazing indian restaurant called Khazana, down the road from the Mille Collines. The food was unbelievable, although i must admit there was something terribly odd about being served by rwandans in traditional indian garb. Especially, when the restaurant's clientele was primarily white. THEN because of Scott's birthday, everything suddenly went dark, a spotlight hit our table, and out of nowhere, our we were quite literally engulphed in a barrage of singing & dancing, that lasted for at least ten minutes. Around 20 people congo-lined around the restaurant, then continued to circle our table with drums. It was beyond surreal & quite hilarious. And I thought a Jack Astors sparkler cupcake was special.

And while moments like that are fantastic, there is something that all feels very colonial about the westerners here. We hired a guard this week, at the insistance of all north americans we've met thus far. Vioneste, 24 year old "orphan & christian" he proudly told us in our psuedo interview. We only have a guard though. Most westerners here, enjoy impeccibly high living situations, with a fleet of people working for them. And while i understand it is beneficial to employ people, I think I'd always feel a little strange paying people to do things i could easily do myself. Specifically when "payment" is near laughable.

Our guard gets 30,000 Rwf a month, less than 60$ US, to sit outside for 12 hours everynight, before he goes to school for a full day. Surprisingly we're paying him considerably more than most night guards make, and he was more than happy to accept the position. I think some people think we were foolish to pay him that much, whereas I feel as though I'm ripping somebody off. So we bought him a large golf umbrella, lent him kathryn's rain coat, my maglite, and make him tea/soup everynight.

Only a year older than myself, Vioneste feels just like Kathryn & I, as we play with our dog (or dogs? two more have arrived out of nowhere), chat about our days and generally joke around. Then internal whiplash occurs yet again, as i focus in on the three scars that run across his brow and cheek. And I am reminded that his parents we're murdered, and he headed up his remaining family of three siblings, at the age of 11.

We are not similar at all. In april 1994 i was having a pirate birthday party.



a few lessons.

disclaimer: mom, i'm sorry for yesterday's "lesson".

looks like i learn something new everyday.

today's lesson was that i am able to venture into the local market without rwandan accompaniment. I bought beautiful brown and green printed fabric & am getting one of the local women to sew me a skirt for 300 rwf (aproximately 80 cents).

yesterday's lesson is this. I love motor taxis.

they wait in packs beside the market. boys no older than myself, wearing oversized neon windbreakers and winter coats. Dozens of green & yellow helmets gleaning in the harsh sunlight, as they laugh & elbow eachother, rolling back & forth, reving engines. Odd religious slogans in broken english slung across the front of most bikes. They grin & surround us, i barely need to barter as they try to out do one another in terms of both cost and bravado. Little boys with inferiority complexes.

Despite being the most efficient form of transportation, (the buses are not only clausterphobic, they take upwards of two hours for an under ten minute journey,) with the roads woven in and around the hills, it feels like your quite literally soaring above the city. Walls of mud brick houses, stacked atop one-another, lining the deep valleys of Kigali.

and yes, i wear a helmet.

Tomorrow i am getting my official tour of the mwana nshuti - i am a little nervous, but mostly excited to be starting work. and tonight i'm going to a book club started by a few other westerners, individuals who work for ngos in kicukiro, and a few UN members living in the area. Should be interesting and i'm cannot wait for some new reading material.

we're hoping to post some pictures soon. but the internet is a little slow, so we will see.

in other news - there is a pineapple in my bag waiting to be eaten. so i will write more later.

much love.


banana leaves & brick walls.

it sounds like it's raining nearly all the time. Raindrops on a tent roof; tiny fingers beating out irregular rhythms outside our open window. Instead, it is just the wind blowing through the plantain leaves. I have learned that real rain is much louder on a tin roof. More like balled fists flooding our rooftop & front steps, then beating down the ground around them.

I have just battled my way through my first rwandan downpour to reach the market, my feet & ankles coated in a burnt orange mud.

we have taken this week to organize & orient ourselves. although I still feel a little lost in terms of both. So i have decided to update as often as i can, as soon i will have less time on my hands.

The most immediate struggle i have come up against is language. Whoever told me english was at all prevelant here, was lying through their teeth. It is an incredibly isolating feeling, when language is not a barrier, but rather a brick wall. My french is horrendous, but considerably more useful than my english. Despite being frusterated, i will attempt to face this all as one big challenge to better myself, but it is difficult when you can barely communicate with your roommates, aside from hand gestures. I am slightly dreading the school environment, where the students apparently only speak kinyarwanda. go team!

cue cards? check.

english on one side, french & kinyarwanda on the other. I intend to return to canada, as trilingual! (hah.)

I have already learned some kinyarwanda. Muraho means hello. Amakuru means how are you. and Mzungu means white (ie. my second name at the moment). Literally.... i step outside our yard, into empty back streets and i still her the far off call of "mzungu" despite the fact I cannot see ANYONE. Kids are by far the best. I have been hugged, high fived, and had timid attempts at english, more than i can remember.

However, the most entertaining, but most terrifying moment was last night. Kathryn & I decided to go for a walk after dinner, and ended up on the main road running through kicukiro. Imagine a two lane road with the level of traffic and intesity of speed as the 401, that you walk up along a thin gravel shoulder. (If I wanted i could reach out and high-five the passing motorists. Funny thing. I don't want to). Now, insert a CLAN of tiny children (all under the age of five) chanting "mzungu!" in high pitched voices on the opposite side of said street. NOW imagine these this giant group of tiny-baby-children darting between the traffic to get to your side of the street, still sqealing "mzungu!" while scampering infront of mac trucks and motor taxis. Despite our best efforts to stop them, we were soon surrounded, by a dozen grinning faces (some of which covered in stickers?) gripping eachother, bouncing with excitement. We attempted to engage them in conversation, but they had all fallen silent, with the exception of some giggling. After making sure they had gotten back across safely we continued on our way. I'd like to say this was an isolated incident, but i'm sure it won't be. And minus the involvement of high speed traffic, i really don't mind.

Well, we're going to attempt to venture into Centre-ville this afternoon(downtown - not a lame attempt at an amusement park on the toronto islands) , via the mini-buses (ie. delapitated mini-vans coated with people) to buy a phone and register with the Canadian Embassy.

Wish me luck!



unaccompanied minor abroad!

well. we knew it was going to be a good trip before leaving canada as we walked up to the klm flight desk at pearson

1. to be asked if we were "unaccompanied minors" (yes, i know our entire families + katie were there to see us off but... do i seriously look twelve?!?)
2. travelling to our final destination of afghanistan.

um. what. (blank slash horrified stares ensued).

however, three days, sleeping in a park in amsterdam, not really sleeping at all, killing hours in nairobi, watching the run way in bujumbura(burundi) lined with local men on bicycles watching the flights come in, and we are finally here in rwanda. NOT afghanistan.

we are living at a guest house in the Kicukiro district in kigali. It has spotty electricity, no fridge, no shower (go buckets!), a toilet we don't know how to flush, and a garbage "pit" in the yard. all apparently par for the course. kathryn and I have decided it will be like a long stint at the cabin. But the house is clean, our roommates are fabulous friendly people who have been more than willing to help show us around, we have a beautiful yard, and a dog named bogo.

it is still an enormous adjustment so far. culture shock is an understatement. but i know this will all take time. i suppose i don't know what i was expecting. perhaps that i might blend in a little better. but i don't. at all.

on our first (overwheming) trip to our local market this market, we were greeted with blank stares (from like one hundred people all at once), and the occasional hissing (not to itimidate... although it did... but to get our attention). however, our second trip out today, alone might i add, has been much better. we even (clearly) found an internet cafe. although the electricity has gone out once, and i'm hoping it wont again.

ulitmately, we have only been here for a day so far and i cannot even think of how to process or record all that i have seen. it is though kigali is life stacked, sandwiched and woven in and amongst itself.

i want to write, photograph, and draw everything all at once.


5 hours till take off.

so this is quick, because at this moment i want to be having tea with my mom & sister. Playing with my nephew (who will be so much bigger by the time i return - which breaks my heart a little). Not staring into a computar sceen. Which would be a terrible last memory of being here in Canada.

5 hours till take-off.
which still feels entirely surreal.

i'm not sure if i feel ready. And because i cannot control what i am walking into, perhaps i overcompensate in preparation. My suitcases are filled to the brim with sunscreen, sketchbooks and everything in between.

I have been packing my days as full as I can. Perhaps I have convinced myself that these condensed set of memories will sustain in me in the weeks and months to come, when I feel so very far away and miss my friends and family so.

well i have too much to do still. see you on the other side.