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Kigali (dis)orientation

Yesterday marked one week since our arrival in Rwanda – a week that has felt more like one extended day, both because of how much we had to do in order to get settled and how little sleep we got in the process.


The first couple of days, especially, were tough. We may have gotten pretty good at overcoming jet lag, but we are only as strong as our weakest link, and Munchkin was completely overwhelmed by the time change. Despite not sleeping much on either of the two eight-hour flights that took us from Washington, DC to Kigali, he refused to go to bed at night. Our second night in Kigali, for example, he got up just as D was going to sleep. S got up with him and fought the good fight for a couple of hours before handing him off to D and crashing. At around 2am, D suggested to the Munch that he go back to bed, but Munchkin was resolute in his response. He wanted to play trucks, so that was what he and D did…for the better part of the following three hours.

In some respects, this transition has been fairly smooth. For example, we hired the same housekeeper and gardener that D’s predecessor had employed, meaning not only that we inherited trusted staff, but also that we have benefited from a couple of sets of helping hands. In other respects, this relocation has been rockier than both of our previous moves abroad. The house is new to the Embassy’s housing pool, and we are still working out its kinks. For instance, the showers are at neck level, and yet the kitchen cabinets are so high up that S cannot even see what is on the lower shelves. Also, in less than 72 hours, our refrigerator, washing machine, and air conditioner all broke, along with the handle to the front door, which simply came off in S’s hand when she twisted it.

Our neighborhood offers a study in contrasts – rough, dusty, unpaved streets lined with big, beautiful, gated houses. This is the dry season, and the air becomes impregnated with red dust every time a truck or motorcycle passes by. It is even dustier than we remember Nairobi being. It rained hard our third night here – the first rainfall in months – and for the next several nights, the power would cut in and out intermittently. The house is equipped with a generator, which functions marvelously, but we also cannot help but think that the power surge the night of the storm might have been partially responsible for the unfortunate fate that befell our appliances.

One of the things we had been looking forward to in moving back to East Africa is reconnecting with the Ultimate Frisbee scene here. Most of the expats we knew in Kigali have moved on, but a friend from our Nairobi days is here now and there are a couple of familiar faces among the locals as well. We went to our first Ultimate practice on Sunday, and fell victim to the kind of minor mishap that can only befall someone who is a complete newbie.

Kigali is not particularly big, as far as capitals go, but it is extremely hilly. Moreover, not only are all streets and avenues numbered, but also the numeration has no rhyme or reason that we can discern, meaning that it is at first quite difficult to get one’s bearings. We called one of the taxis from the Embassy’s trusted list, confirmed several times with the driver that he knew the sports club where the fields were located, negotiated a price based on their location, and then made the mistake of trusting that he would actually take us there.

S had spent some time in Kigali about half a dozen years ago, but not enough to completely know her way around. She sensed that we might not have been taking the most direct route to our destination, but it was not until we arrived at the security checkpoint that her concerns crystallized. “I don’t remember there being security,” she said aloud. “Oh, this is the new entrance,” our driver responded, “It’s okay, we’ve almost arrived.” After passing the police checkpoint, he rounded the bend and proudly announced, “Here is the airport.”

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