Friday, February 18, 2011

tortillas, treks and tea

Via my facebook, I claimed that yesterday was the best day ever.  Well, perhaps it was not the singular “best” day, but it was damn good.  I had the day off, so I took the liberty of sleeping in (until nearly 7 instead of being up at 5), watched the second half of Shakespeare in Love while drinking tea in my bed, and had a slow, lazy morning.  Eventually I got up and did about an hour of yoga in my bedroom.  This was actually interrupted by a visit from my friend Clementine.  We have a new time table at school so now Clem and I only share one work day, so we are trying to see each other as much as possible outside of work.  She returned to school, I returned to my yoga, finished that, took a quick, cold bucket bath, and made my way up to school to visit everyone during break.  I’m really glad I did this, because I was able to talk with some of my favorite Secondary teachers and ended up hanging with the Primary teachers for about 30 minutes, talking about the differences between America and Rwanda.  I love that no matter who I’m talking with, my comment that there are poor people in America is met with shock or disbelief.  Now, I’m not saying that Rwanda and America are on par with wealth distribution, and I have been trying to explain that most Americans are middle-class, but we also talked about the homeless in America, and I answered questions about beggars in America, and tried to explain that yes, there are poor people in America too.  I am glad to talk about this, because as much as I recognize the privilege that comes with an American lifestyle, I think it’s important that people know that not everyone in America is rich and privileged.  I actually met a woman from Australia when I was on the bus yesterday, and we talked for the entire hour from Musanze back to my village.  She is a VSO volunteer, working with schools for the deaf here and she was a great conversationalist.  She mentioned something that someone once said to her about the discrepancy between being from a wealthy nation and being from a poor or developing nation.  The major differences lie in choice.  We, as Westerners, are able to make choices- and many choices at that.  We may have debt, we may not be wealthy ourselves, but we have been able to make a myriad of choices (and will make more as our lives and “careers” continue).  Just something to think about... I know this isn’t an Earth-shattering revelation, but it’s interesting.  
Back to my awesome day!  After chatting with the teachers, I went back home and began cooking.  I have been fairly lazy about cooking here b/c it’s such a process.  And the clean-up can be a bit daunting (again, my undying contempt towards doing dishes plays a role here).  But, I decided that I’ve got all the time in the world, so I may as well start experimenting with my culinary skills.  So, the result of a few hours of cooking yesterday was: flour tortillas, beans (fresh beans that were delicious), a cauliflower/ carrot/ onion stir-fry and pico de gallo.  Simple and delicious.  Clem came during another break at school and ate with me, and I was so thankful for her company!  Directly after eating, I went off to climb a mountain.  Really.  I went with two boys who live in the village.  These guys just completed their Secondary School studies and are waiting for their exam results.  The way it works around here is that when you complete Secondary, you take the national exams, wait for your results, then (hopefully) go to university the following year.  This means that these kids get a year of being at home between Secondary and university, and it makes them the perfect tour guides!  They know the area and the people here, they speak English and since they aren’t working or in school, they have lots of time.  We actually have plans to go on a long bike ride together next week sometime... if this keeps up, I’m going to have a new adventure every week!  So, when we began our trek, I honestly wasn’t expecting to climb so high, or to be hiking for so long.  The only regret I have is that I didn’t bring any water with me!  I got really thirsty really quick and there wasn’t much I could do about it.  I didn’t bring my camera yesterday b/c it was a little hazy out and I figure that I can take pictures next time I go out when it’s a little nicer out (sorry mom).  We were traveling up footpaths: some were wide, some were barely wide enough for your foot, some were nearly vertical, and some stretches of road were flat (a nice little reprise).  We passed many houses and a few people.  The houses were all small, typical Rwandan houses made of mud bricks and tiled roofs, and surrounded by plants.  Trees, bushes, flowers and various crops make it so the houses are tucked away.  Tucked under banana tress, behind tall bushes, flanked by flowers- they are lovely.  Every so often we would stop and look out over the villages below, through the valley and over the other hills that surround my house.  Once we reached the very top we could see for miles!  We met a man along the way who ended up turing around to walk back up the mountain with us and show us the cow cooperative that sits on top of this “hill.”  When we finally reached the top (again, a lot higher than I anticipated) it was a clear, flat sort of plateau.  From the center you could see in every direction, and into the valleys below on either side.  It was wonderful!  Apparently when it’s clear out, you are even able to see the volcanoes in the north from this mountain top.  The cow cooperative was a great thing to see!  We can use the term “cooperative” in it’s most basic sense here.  All of the cows were living together (maybe 10 total) and each one belongs to a different family.  Hence, the cooperative aspect.  They all work together to keep the cows, and the system seems to work really well for them.  From the first cow pens to the next, we wound through fields on tiny paths, through grass, through fields with freshly planted crops, through fallowing fields, and even through a few small groves of trees.  After walking through a small field of freshly planted potatoes, we saw the cows that belong to the man who was showing us the sights.  He had one bull and one (what’s the word for a female cow... heifer?) cow that were in their own individual pens, made of sturdy branches that were tied or nailed together.  I don’t think the bull was very happy to see me.  He had huge horns and I was a bit intimidated by the sounds he made as I passed him at an arm’s length.  But, the cows were completely harmless (of course... but pardon me for not really being a country girl... I was always scared of cows when I was young).  We greeted some of the folks who live up there, then slowly began our descent.  We decided to go back a different way, and chose some paths that were pretty steep, narrow and difficult.  Now, they aren’t really that hard, but I had to make the mental choice to be absolutely fearless.  I think I mentioned this in my post about the wedding... walking down a mountain like this is really not that bad, but I can get a little squeamish at times, and I have to remember to release my fear and just go for it!  These walks are far more enjoyable when I do that anyway.  Jumping down rocks, allowing myself to slide when the mud is slick, balancing and walking on two logs as a “bridge,” and remembering to look up from time to time to see the surrounding beauty.  We wound down the hill (mountain... whatever) following the water, so we passed a small creek a few times and saw many pipes and pumps where people come to get their water.  We passed through some forests with big trees, some with small tress, groves of sugar cane, and we saw great expanses of banana plants on the opposing hillsides.  Once we were finally down from the mountain one of the boys invited me to see his home and his family.  Since we were to pass his home regardless, I decided it would be nice to pay them a short visit.  I was covered in sweat, I was starting to get tired and I was THIRSTY, but we had a really nice visit.  And, because many of the banana groves we saw belong to this family, we sat down and ate fresh bananas and pineapple.  What a great end to any hike!  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- the bananas here are the best I’ve ever tasted, and I’m pretty sure I could survive here on pineapple alone!  We ate fruit, I met the family and then I went on my way.  I arrived back to my home about 10 or 15 minutes before it started to get dark, and took a nice cold bucket bath.  Jane was back last night so we heated up the beans again, ate a bit of food, made some tea and sat and talked for a while.  Just to end the night on an even higher note, I got on to the internet for a quick minute and got to chat a bit with some great Americans and had a successful “conversation” completely in Kinyarwanda with one of my Rwandan friends (thank you facebook chat).  So, this is an example of a perfect Rwandan day.  I plan on having many more in the future, and I plan on not writing as extensively about them.  I’ll try my best to keep you posted and fill you in on some of the highlights, but sitting down and typing for an hour can be a bit of a bore (aka takes away from my much needed yoga time).  Miss you all, hope you are well!  If you come to visit me I’ll cook you tortillas and take you on a hike up this mountain.  I promise. xoxo!


  1. Fantastic Blog Post - as always!! I love seeing Rwanda through your eyes! I felt like I was on that hike with you! Thanks for sharing with your Mama - and please keep up the long frequent posts! They are great way to document your adventures and experiences. You will be glad you took the time to write it all down!! Love you!

  2. Hello, Ms. Musanze. I'm an RPCV (Tanzania), but I lived in Kagera region and I'm going to be in Musanze next week (!!!). Would you like anything from Michigan? Are you around and available to meet and say hello? I'm not sure yet what my number will be in country, but send me an email at if you are available and interested in meeting up.