The smell of development…

Two weeks from home and all is exactly as it should be (I found a house, started French classes, joined a gym and the job fits me like a glove) yet it feels like I miss something. The country feels a lot less African and I miss a bit of the excitement that that always stirs in me. A lot has to do with the country’s decent and organized appearance, which seems far removed from the reason of my very being here.

Innovatively drying maize

Innovatively drying maize

Let me take you back. Last week I made my first trip into the field, visiting farmer groups (cooperatives). I have to say I was quite impressed by the way they innovatively dry their maize by bundling the cobs together and hang it over wooden sticks. Seeing all the little plots each bringing forth its own crop, did not only make for a stunning view, but also made me glance at the country’s development. Every inch of nearly flat land is cultivated and some terraces are built on the many steep slopes that this country consists of. The same development I saw in the countryside I witness every day when I drive by people repairing the tarmac in the capital. Around me I see people crowding the streets purposely heading a specific direction and generally well-dressed.

Compared to other African countries, there seems to be less dust, less smiles, less chaos, less surprise, less Africa… While this feels like less of a place for all this reasons, I might be wrong. The Ugandans across the table talk passionately about their admiration for the state of development their neighbor is in and its strong leadership. It makes me think that the disappearance of the unorganized and worriless nature that runs through the veins of this continent might well be the trade-off for the economic development everybody is working towards. Maybe some of Africa’s underdevelopment also gives birth to its many charms.

Whether there is any such relation I am not sure about, there are many things that make Rwanda the country it is today. I do not know exactly what the scent of development smells like, whether is sweet or sour, spicy or without any particular taste.

That I don’t have a 100 and 1 stories to share after two weeks in a new country does strike me. Somehow my experience of this hilly country is surprisingly flat. All lights dim after 10 and it took us two hours driving around town to find some party during the weekend. Unlike the red soil of neighbouring Congo, that between the many hard rocks and other difficult soil holds diamonds, this country’s ground seems to be consistently fertile. Of course one does not have to dig deep to uncover underneath this top layer of soil, the many bones telling stories about the genocide only 17 years ago.

pictureperfect view of lake burera in northern province

Rwanda's still waters

They say still waters run deep. Rwanda seems to be one of these waters. While I am struck by the normality of its appearance and the tranquility of its surface slightly unsettles me, I am yet to discover the depth of it all.

Did you know that:

  • Your ‘first name’ is your family name here, as family always comes first. Second names always have a meaning, as the meaning is believed to have predictive power. If someone is named ‘success’ (mugisha) or money’ (Gaferanga) he or she is likely to run a business when he/she gets older. Some other funny names you’ll find here: Ansabire – ‘pray for me’ Mbarimmbarimombazi – ‘I am born in a neighbourhood where people don’t like me’ and my personal favorite: Murorunkwere – ‘Look at her and give me cows’
  • I just bought some fresh milk from a small shop across my street which comes in a plastic bag. Once I pinched a whole in it I had to drink it all in one go, I feel a bit sick of it now…
  • Besides the common cramped ‘minibuses’, Kigali is rich in its many moto’s bustling the streets of Kigali. This is usually the transport I take. 
  • People in this region are reluctant to answer in the negative as it is considered impolite. What usually happens when I ask a direct question, is that they respond with a question. For example ‘where is this or that place?’ will be answered by ‘do I know?’ There is this story of the former president of Congo, Mobutu, who was asked by a journalist why he always answers a question with a question; his famous response: ‘who told you this?’
  •  An old lady from the cooperative gave me her two best maize cobs as a present. The maize now hangs in  my office as a sweet reminder.
  • There is one good thing the Belgians left, it’s mayonnaise…

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About Janno

A young development worker in Africa
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7 Responses to The smell of development…

  1. Elise says:

    Family comes first! Ukje must be African deep down:-) Mooi om te lezen. Zie je weinig op Skype, hopelijk dit weekend! x Liesl

  2. Sara Groenendijk says:

    Heey Janno, leuk om te lezen! Heb er al aan gedacht om de die 2 maiskolven met lekker belgische mayo te eten?? Lijkt mij lekker!
    Geniet van het Afrika dat niet als Afrika voelt. Wellicht toch wel Afrika maar dan anders, maw, OOK Afrika. Groetjes uit NL, ook van Lena!

  3. Bas says:


    Je lijkt wel een poeet te worden:”Somehow my experience of this hilly country is surprisingly flat.” Echt gast, hoe lang heb je daar over na moeten denken!? 😉 Om nog maar niet te spreken over de geur van ontwikkeling…haha!
    Maar goed, ik heb wederom genoten van je verhaal en hoewel je ervaringen vrij gematigd zijn, doen de foto’s mijn gemoed reeds opwarmen voor de grote reis!

  4. Jan says:

    Hey Janno,
    mooi om te lezen dat je een nieuwe dimensie van Afrika ontdekt. Ik ben benieuwd naar de ontwikkelingen!

  5. Kennia says:

    Hey Janno,

    Wat mooi en inspirerend geschreven! Hoop dat je je snel thuis voelt!

  6. Travis says:

    Hey Janno

    Nice Dude! Interesting how it goes in Africa when things are going well, we could with some more of that in my country.

    About the milk. If it comes in a plastic bag then it’s likely to be similar to what we have in South Africa. In that case you need to buy a special jug which the bag goes into and then you don’t have to drink it all at once. I can find a picture of one if you need. 😉


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