afite isone*

So I went for my second solo adventure on Sunday.  With my bus pass in hand and my map of Kigali that I had bought during my first solo, I took off to find myself unattached to other abazungu (foreigners).   I find when I am with other abazungu, I don’t pay attention to my surroundings as much and I certainly don’t practice my language skills.   I walked all the way to the big market here Kimironko (pronounced Chimironko) on a hot Sunday morning which turned a LONG way from where I started but once I took off there was really no turning back.  Found out the limits of the map and had to retrace my steps once which normally would not be a big deal but I had come down a very big hill to find that the terrain below did not match the paper in my hand.  Climbing back up was something that I hope never to have to repeat.  But my next try was on a bigger road and it took me where I wanted to go.  I practiced my greetings all along the way, with anyone and everyone whose path I crossed.  All greeted back.  Music could be heard from churches that I passed.  Most people in Rwanda are practicing Christians, and going to church on Sunday is an important community value.  I am sure I will go to church when I reach my destination.

The market was a huge indoor market unlike what I have seen elsewhere in Africa.  Tiny stalls, tiny walkways between each one.    Some were closed while their owners celebrated the Sabbath and I wondered what it would be like on Monday when everyone would be there.  You can find almost anything there, assuming you are willing to wade through the stalls and look beyond the stacks of items to see the one thing you are looking for.  Something else I had not experienced before were the young men trying to get me to come to their stall or to negotiate the prices for me with someone else.  They were fairly aggressive about it and if I had not known Swahili, I would have been easily overwhelmed.  But I have found here that knowing  Kiswahili gives me a certain  credibility perhaps, that makes up for the fact that I don’t know enough Kinyrwanda yet to hold me on in a hot debate on price.   I also discovered that the women sellers were much more low key, and more pleasant for me to interact with.  So I quickly learned to “shoo” the young men away by saying that I was talking to the woman seller and that was who I wanted to bargain with.  In  many cases, the young men would say that the woman was their mother which might or might not have been the case but given the national agenda here for gender equality and empowering women and girls, I realized that supporting women in the marketplace was both more pleasant for me and more supportive of the national agenda.   Of course, initially I had to match their aggressiveness and be persistent, but eventually, I was able to walk through the stalls unhindered, practicing my greetings along the way, and then switching to Kiswahili to bargain for what I wanted.   I have not yet gotten control of the numbers; they seem more cumbersome than in Kiswahili although I know that eventually, they will come to be as naturally as any other set of numbers that I know.  I also learned quickly not to dilly dally if I did not actually want to buy something.  I became an immediate target if I stopped to look at something just for the sake of looking at it.   Suffice it to say that “window shopping” is really not for the faint of heart and, ultimately, for me, wasn’t worth it today.

I discovered that the market was next to the bus station, and that the bus I was told to take to get from umuji (downtown), my next destination for the day,  to the stop near where I was staying stopped there.  So I hopped on to see where it took me and, indeed, it took me all the way across town to where I wanted to be!!   I felt liberated.   Buses here are also different from those elsewhere.   They are not full sizes buses and no one stands.  Everyone sits.  They are a type of long mini van with seats that fold down in the aisle so the bus can be completely filled.  And if you are at the back and want to get out, then everyone in the aisle stands up and folds their seats to let you out.  The arrangement has the added advantage of providing you with a captive audience with which you can practice your language skills if you want and if your neighbor is interested.   Children, of course, can be an avenue to initiate a conversation.  On my first trip, I greeted a small boy sitting just in front of me who responded by hiding his face.   I said in Kiswahili to him “Are you shy?” and the man next to me immediately gave me the equivalent in  Kinyrwanda:   afite isone  (the title of this post).   So I was off and running.  I repeated it several times and his mother said akukunda, which my neighbor translated for me in Kiswahili as  “he likes/loves you”.     By the time I got off the bus, I knew how to talk about being shy and liking someone or something.

Another little boy was walking with his mother, but kept running ahead.   I said hello to him and, of course, he didn’t say anything and ran back to his mother.  Afite isone.   I could use what I had learned in the bus in a new situation!   He was shy, but not quite so much as appeared initially:    As I moved ahead of them I  realized that he was right there by my side, walking next to me, not saying a word, but also not running ahead.  Side-by-side in silence we strolled until I reached my destination and we parted ways.  In retrospect, I realize that I could have walked further with them just to see what would have happened.

My purpose for the day, apart from getting a sense of my location in the city as a whole was to purchase supplies to set up my new home when I get to my site.   By the end of the day, after a second trip back in the evening after having done some “price comparison” at a fixed price downtown, I came home with some beautiful fabric, a set of five pots for my new home, bedsheets, a blanket, a pair of plastic shower sandals, an umbrella, wooden spoons, two plates, two bowels, and two cups to add to my previously purchases set of tupperware, a wash basin, a small cast iron frying pan (expensive that was), a cutting board, a large wooden spoon and spatula, a can opener, olive oil, rice, beans, spices, dish cloths, a small (and very cute) rolling pin.  I had brought two knives from the states.   I opted to skip forks since I had always eaten with my hands in East Africa, and the small wooden spoons would do just as well.  I have never had to think  about is the absolute minimum it would take to set up a household for myself and how much can I carry on the bus in a single foray with a small backpack and two bags with handles.   What do I absolutely need and what can I live without.

Having just moved two truck loads of furnishings from Vermont to Florida, the irony did not escape me.   I have enough in my house in Florida to open a small market myself!    Still to purchase are toilet paper and soap, and, although I ruled it out at the time as a “non essential”, I may eventually want to get a strainer .  The bigger “ticket” items will be purchased with the help of the driver who takes me to my site:  mattress, fan, small refrigerator, gas burners, gas, and Peace Corps has provided a mosquito net, a medical kit, and a water filter, all of which has to be returned at the end of my tour.  They are also providing me with a bike and a helmet and money to have the locks changed at my new residence, wherever that may be… which will be the subject of my next post.

The ways of the federal government are mysterious:  How they decide what to provide or not is not clear to me, although they did give us a “settling in” allowance to cover the costs of essentials, leaving us to decide what is essential, how and where to find it, and how to transport it to our training site here in Kigali.  And, although I like being able to choose what I want,  and they are going to take us, and everything we have purchased, to our site, they are not, interestingly enough, going to bring us back at the end of our tour!!   A ikibazo (pronounced ichibazo or ikibazo, a “ch” or a “k” sound) aka “problem” upon which I will contemplate when I get closer to the end of my stay here.  Although I will give away most of what I purchase for personal use for the year when I leave, the items from Peace Corps must be returned to them and I most certainly will not be able to carry the water filter, mosquito net, medical kit, bicycle, back to Kigali on a bus!!!   I am sure that there will be a solution when the time comes, but it does look to be an interesting conundrum when the time comes.


*The content of this website is mine alone and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government, the Peace Corps, or the Rwandan government.