Monday, October 1, 2007

mosquito motos and public toilets

There are two kinds of motorcycles in Kigali:

1. the big ones that look and sound like real motorcycles with over 100 cc's of power
2. the smaller, skinnier, wimpier versions with about 80 cc's of power. they sound like a large mosquito when they ride by.

They tell you never to take the smaller ones.

I walk a half a mile from my house to the road where the motos come by. usally i'm not going anywhere on a time table (TIA) so it doesn't matter how long i have to wait. when i hear the loud buzzing of the weak motos, i just motion my hand to tell them to keep going. today, however, i was meeting Rosette, the minister of tourism, at 2:30. Rosette is very busy, very important and doesn't run on african time. I didn't want to be late.

Waiting for a moto around 2:10... which quickly turned into 2:15... no motos. I began to get desperate. As a mosquito approached, i waved him down. He pulled over and I almost tipped the bike getting on.

(Sidenote: There are many things about driving a moto that worry people around here: how fast they drive; how careless they are; how they overcharge white peopel; the way they pass on the right, inches from the 4 foot-drop rock ditches; the general danger of being on a bike with no protection on your limbs in a 3rd world country... you know, the usual things you woudln't tell your parents. None of those really bother me much. The only thing that I have a hard time with is the helmets.

I mean, thank goodness there is some measure of protection, but sometimes I would rather bash my head against concrete than put one of these helmets on. I'm told they're the best way to get lice in Rwanda. They're consistently moist (from head sweat) and they smell horrible. When you bring the face shield down, you almost get exphixiated by the smell... it's awful. The straps don't often work, so you have to hold the sweaty smelly thing down as you bump around, straddling the skinny hips of an anonymous Rwandan. quite the experience.)

So, the little moto turned down a dirt road to take the "back way", we twisted down a dirt hill, narrowly missing several collisions with women carrying water and baby goats. That wasn't the problem. As we started back UP the hill, the moto slowed to a crawl and eventually stopped moving. The engine was running, it just couldn't propel the mass of two people and a laptop up the dirt hill. So, what did I have to do? Get off and walk. Sweaty-red helmeted, carrying my heavy bag, up a huge-ass hill with (as always) a myriad of laughing spectators. It would have been funny for me as well if it had only happened once, but there were 4 times that I had to get off and walk, with my helmet still on, for over a mile. "Oya hachibazo," I said, out of breath, to the grinning moto driver. Translation: "Not Okay". Probably not my most gracious moment in Rwanda. 40 minutes later, we finally reached the main road. I paid him 300 franks (the equivilant of 75 cents), which was generous, and hopped on real moto. I was late to my meeting, but Rosette was gracious.


If you go into a public bathroom in Rwanda you will be met with one of two scenes:

1. a typical 3rd world set-up: a squatter (basically a hole in the floor with ribbed sides so as you squat, you don't slip in someone elses urine), and a sink without soap.
2. a bathroom that is trying to meet 1st world standards, bless their hearts. I have found these to come with a variety of... how should i say it... surprises?

There are always 4 or 5 people milling around in the women's bathroom at the Union Trade Center (the main shopping center in town). 2 are there to clean, the rest are their friends, men included. They hang out there ALL DAY, sitting on the sinks and the trash bins. When i ask if there's any toilet paper (because it's ALWAYS out), one of the guys will stand up, open the trash bin he was sitting on, and hand me a "fresh" roll of TP. Weird.

And then I am not allowed to leave the room until I use the automatic dryer and I've had my picture taken by at least 2 people's cell phones. I mean, if there's an automatic dryer in the room, why wouldn't you use it? (You'd have to be crazy... or so rich that you carry your own automatic dryer around in your purse.) And if there's a white girl in the room, how could you miss the chance to take her picture? Proof for your friends that white people do, in fact, exist.

I saw the woman who cleans the bathroom outside around town today and she greeted me with enthusiasm. I think she has my picture on her phone.


I will see some of you very soon.

Peace of Christ, dear friends.


ps. I don't have a spellcheck, so please forgive my erors :)