Sunday, November 05, 2006

Umeze Gute My Rafikis

Muraho my inshutis? I have been attempting to post something here since I got back. It has been hard to cope without my kids and the mayhem that seems to follow them. Believe me; this house is like a quiet cathedral lately that I am disheartened! I have lost a lot of weight as a result and if this continues, I may lose my cherished plump mass in a wink! That my friends is a frightening …

Back home; do you agree I lost alot of weight? I am not
pleased that my pleasantly plump body is yielding to a cough
and malaria.

Equally important, I developed malaria symptoms a day after my arrival only to realize in horror that I had somehow managed to leave my Fancida pills in Kigali! Horror, because tropical symptoms here can easily be misdiagnosed, which is fatal. I recall with utter clarity, one Congolese lady who was rushed off the plane to an evacuated hospital (evacuated in advance) with “Ebola-like” symptoms; it turns out a year and so later that she had malaria that had turned cerebral! By that time the whole fiasco had cost the tax payer a ton and the biased media’s profiling reports reduced the poor lady to a psychological mess! I am Thankful to Zahor whose malaria pills (Arinate 100g) came handy for me.

My trip was uneventful really, other factors remaining constant. I was so worried about that 12 hour transit at Frankfurt; with two hyper kids, I was bound to go nuts. For the test of things to come, we waited in line at Pearson International Airport in Toronto for at least an hour and my daughters were going “this is boring mummy” and “why do we have to stand” whilst running and pushing empty luggage carts all over, Geez! We had failed to nail down a last minute reservation with any of the hotels close to the Frankfurt airport only to be rescued by a cousin whom I had no clue worked in Germany…oohff, what a relief that was.

We camped at my sister’s joint in Remera as planned, which is a 20 minute okapi ride to downtown Kigali and a mere 5 – 10 minutes if I hitched a ride with either my sister or brother in law. It appeared to me that most people (at least those I visited with) led polished lifestyles with huge double storied homes bedecked with red tiles and had lavish cars. I wondered aloud how they could not only afford but sustain that lifestyle in such a costly and economically unstable environment. Wouldn’t you?

Think about it; the cost of living is higher than I had imagined, so savings should be hard to mantain. Secondly the gap between the haves and have-nots is wider than the land depression of the East African rift valley, which raises red flags about the management of the economic factors that sustain the middle class and those on top, do you smell class friction In future?

It is a costly environment, IMO, because there does not seem to be anything in abundance to drive prices down; you know the demand and supply thingies? Everything seems to be imported, from food to… I am told taxes and the cost of importation fattens the retail price. For example; creamy cheese spread 300g costs $20 at La Galette and $9 in Mbarara. I settled for Nutella at $12. These exorbitant prices do not stop with packaged/bottled groceries but extend to fresh food and fruits, basic needs that require a fortune to satisfy!

Kigali has seen her share of economic growth though, signs of growth stare at you from every corner. There were so many changes that I gasped for air in sheer disbelief. I heard about some of the changes such as our national instruments notably the national anthem and the flag but the airport? It should not be a surprise though, but I did not see it coming you know, changing the name from Kayibanda to Kanombe and not Kigali International Airport which is used by IATA.

The city is so clean with waste bins planted everywhere for ease of access to habitual city trashers. BTW, I hardly saw anybody carrying along bags/kaveera (with groceries) rather paper bags are the norm with all supermarkets and vendors alike that I suspected it maybe a by-law. If that is not a brilliant idea then I do not know which one is, especially in countries where garbage recycling is unheard of. We all know what buveeras can do to the agricultural productiveness of soil and indeed our environment.

Cleanness aside, Kigali is summed up into three things; Dust, dust and more dust! Since I did a lot of walking to the city in the first days, dust became part of my menu so much that I quickly developed a bad cough and partially lost my voice in the second week of my pilgrimage. My cloths had to be washed everyday and that’s when it hit me, a serious lack of water in the city. That people, is a big problem especially if your washrooms are flash toilets, you are so picky to have your cloths washed everyday and those twice a day showers!! Rationing of water is not a bad idea in this case after all.

The city is littered with internet cafes, which is a good sign of things to come in future. However, the internet was ridiculously slow in every café I visited! I tried on two occasions to access my blog and a Toronto sports channel (Fan 590 AM) but got stuck in search mode for a whole 11/2 minutes that I lost patience. I tried my brother’s and a cousin’s connections with similar results. Basically, I needed to write a draft posting on my brother-in-law’s PC, save on a disk and later transfer all that to my blog, a practice a despise. Well, I reserved two hours for just that and waited for what seemed like ages for the computer to load my blog and just as I was reconfiguring my entries, bheew…power outage!!

All in all I was thrilled to be in Kigali, and despite the shortcomings and household economic hardships, people are happy and stress free. They enjoy the little things they have and seldom whine for not having much. Ibihyimbo (beans), igitoke, Inyumbati (cassava) and posho on a daily basis seems to be the main diet for most folks here. If such sudden power cuts were here in Canada life would stop believe me, and yet my people go ahead with having fun enjoying whatever little they are blessed with. I applaud the spirit.

Fun of course revolves around intoxication from local brew or beer. Believe me some hobbies die hard, I was dying for a gulp of Primus after a long time, but the soapy blunt taste and the fact that one has to contend with a 1 litre bottle threw me off. The cough didn’t help my good intentions either. I recall my encounters with primus at the Mardi gras in Hamilton, but this taste in Rwanda seemed different from the Hamilton one, bootlegged?

Interesting that alcoholism has not been identified as a potential threat to Rwanda’s social/economic growth since a lot of “abled” members of the workforce spend quite a lot of valuable time ‘socializing’ and that is every night! Drinking a bottle for recreation and relaxation is one thing and routinely drinking gallons upon gallons of beer as a hobby is another? Just imagine having half of your employees showing up with dreadful hangovers each morning!

Nevertheless, the way I see it Africa is on fast track to the take off stage of economic dev’t. However there is an urgent need to invest in people (as a resource) and emphasize on scientific subject matter at early childhood education level. It is rewarding to have a job creating human resource to fire up an economy than a vast army of job seekers. There are too many skilled and qualified people in Rwanda seeking to share a piece of the pie other than baking their own. Why should a Computer scientist graduate be on the street for 3 years searching for a job, unless I am missing something here? I understand Rwanda has adapted Uganda’s UPE or “bonna basome” which is a good start in achieving a self sustaining human resource. IMO, the investment in people should not end at education alone.

I also think we need reliable sources of energy that are renewable. Rwanda's reliance on imported energy that in itself is not reliable is costly. I know nuclear energy is a taboo in today’s world order of arms race control and environmental protection. But if 45% of Ontario’s energy comes from nuclear plants, why shouldn’t developing countries seeking to fire up their economies with a reliable, renewable and cheaper energy source be granted supervised or limited access? I still believe that with this out of hand population growth and decreasing water to levels that can hardly sustain hydro consumption, adaptation to nuclear energy is inevitable. One thing is for sure though, there is a need to educate the “baturagyes” on how to and why they should conserve power and water because our existence and that of our environment relies on conservation, atleast to some degree.

Hey, I am not lecturing what folks there have to do, but that is my honest and amateurish take on things there. One thing I have learn't is that earthly things are nothing, just "bisusunku na birerya" if I am to borrow Hopes' term. The world does not end when one suddenly runs out of salt. Actually it doesn't...

I have no clue whether what I have just posted makes sense because it is random, but one thing that pumps me up is that you had the gutts to stay the course and actually read it. Thanks.