Before I arrived in Kigali, many people told me that Rwandese are reserved and unfriendly. To date, I have yet to see one example of this stereotype. Everyone I have met thus far in Kigali has invited me to their home for dinner. I have taken most of them up on this offer and enjoyed traditional dishes such as cassava, goat, plantains, and of course akabanga, a piping-hot sauce which comes in a bottle resembling eye drops to prevent an accidental overdose. My Rwandese friends have taken me on tours of the city, to their favorite watering holes – Car Wash is so far my favorite – and have invited me to be their friend on facebook.
But if that isn’t enough to prove the stereotype wrong, let me recount my afternoon journey…
After a great meeting with Kabera and some (failed) attempts to get my flip camera videos in order, I decided to take an excursion to find the RAPP woman’s co-op which sells cloth bags so I could stop being that muzungu with the enormous backpack. I walked towards the Stadium in Remera, where I was told the co-op was located. A fifteen minute walk soon turned into an hour scavenger hunt. Finally, I stopped a sharply dressed guy who looked to be about my age. He wasn’t sure exactly what I was talking about, but told me to “flash” my friend who works for RAPP so that he could know how to direct me.
After a brief exchange in Kinyarwanda, he handed the phone back to me. “Follow me; I’m Octave.”
Although I told him several times that he didn’t need to accompany me, he refused to let me go alone. “I want to help you; I want you to love my country.”
So off we went… and went… and went. During my half hour walk with Octave, I learned that he earned a government scholarship to study education, and that he plans to teach statistics when he finishes school (why anyone would want to submit themselves to that kind of torture is beyond me, but that is not the point). He told me it was a bit of a hike, but that he wanted to help me find my way. When we finally arrived, he thanked me for the walk!
When I entered the co-op, Marie, who seemed to be in charge, welcomed me and introduced me to the women sewing the bags I would soon purchase. Most of the women didn’t speak French or English, so we communicated through smiles. Post-negotiation, the women waved goodbye, and Marie shouted after me, “Please come back to visit!”
Although a bit fatigured from my walk, I decided to press on to the Kimironko market to pick up the dress which Muhire helped me design.
“Lisa! Lisa!” I turned around and there was Emmanuel! Naturally, he wanted to accompany to the market and help me pick up my dress. At the market, he helped me communicate with the tailor to have the dress taken in a bit more. While the tailor put the finishing touches on, Emmanuel and I went to buy some fruit on the other side of the market. He bought some mangoes for his girlfriend and I bought some maracujas, because they are DELICIOUS.
After retrieving my new dress, Emmanuel and I parted ways. “I will see you Thursday for more Mutzig?” he asked. “Sure thing!”
“Rwanda is beautiful and I want you to love this country. When you go back to the United States, I hope you know that you always have a place to stay when you visit Rwanda.”
So, what was that stereotype again?