Being single in Africa introduces me to a whole new world of twitches and turns having to do with the concept of being single in a foreign country. Being single is a defining social marker in Rwandese society and one of the characteristics, like my nationality, I am being asked for many times over (as opposed to age or any other basic information that doesn’t seem to match the relevance of my maritial status). When checking in in a hotel or filling out any registration form my material status is invariably one of the requirements I need to fill out.
Entering the newyear ‘finding a boyfriend and getting married’ tops the newyear resolution charter for 2012 in Rwanda. Nothing as elevated as losing 10 pounds in the gym, a better diet or quit smoking; the mind of a young Rwandan adult revolves around the quest to find the right one and get married.
Hence your role in Rwandan society is fairly straightforward: you are either single or married. All the in-between hybrids forms I know back home do not apply. To further simplify thing, in fact, there is only one real category: being married. Singleness can be read as a ‘not married yet, still searching’ kind of deal, just see it as sitting in the waiting room. The years long boy-girlfriend thing just for the sake of being boy- and girlfriend I know from back home I haven’t stumbled across here.
Being a single myself, a ‘waiting-room-sitter’ really.., and getting further into my twenties, finding an interested party is starting to make sense. In a post-genocide society women are outbalanced and all the foreign female aid workers don’t exactly add to that balance. Hence the one task a man is tasked with in life (although being less pressurized than the opposite sex) seems not out of reach. Adding to the odds are friends and colleagues who are always more than ready to present you some of their families’ best in terms of women offspring, which made me fortunate enough to meet just some of Rwandan female singles out there. Now getting in contact with and dating is an interesting experience.
A simple mutual affirming smile can trigger one of the two involved to inquire how the other is doing. After both expressed a general sense of well-being, numbers are exchanged and quite shamelessly the question is being asked on whether I have a girlfriend, or the more funny variant ‘how many girlfriends you have?’. When answering the question in the negative the storm isn’t quite over yet. You see, singleness is not as a homogenous concept as you might think; While there are only two categories, singleness tends to be a very broad one; there is singleness and singleness… Therefore my negative answer demands follow-up questions to determine the state of ‘singleness’ I am in. Questions are being fired at me at a threatening rate like ‘do you have children?’ and ‘so you have a girlfriend abroad?’. Strangely enough, having a child here or there and having a girlfriend waiting for you at home doesn’t exclude you from being single. Having established my sort of singleness, we can move on to heavier topics like marriage and preference on number of children. All in all this makes dating in Rwanda a frightening experience, not for the light-hearted.
The only good thing about dating here is the clarity as to what you do and who feeds the bill. As a man you decide when and where to go. Equally, the bill does not create the awkward situation as it might at home as both of us know who’s paying… As on what to do on your first date the picture is again quite clear; no need to crack your brain to come up with foreign romantic ideas like a picnic, cycling through nature or watching stars. You simply have a drink in a bar/restaurant, smile at each other and cover the subjects mentioned earlier.
All in all, it is good and refreshing to be in a country where the value of marriage is being upheld. There is definitely less beating around the bush as I am used to and that has an appeal of its own. You know what you are in it for (spotting a potential candidate), what to do (have a drink) and what to talk about (number of girlfriends and kids). Yet for all its clarity, funny questions and interesting experiences I decided to stop dating…
- One of the funny questions you can get by sms from women here is ‘Did you eat?’ expressing a general sense of concern and care.
- My bike got stolen last Friday. I parked it outside my house and it was gone when I got back. Miraculously my housemate stumbled across the bike somewhere parked in the back of our neighbourhood, broken open and then randomly left in someone’s garden. God knows what happened, but I am happy to have it back:)
- Kigali now has it very own bowling alley! Having a bowling alley opening up is a welcome break in an otherwise not so eventful city, and the bowling… it is Hilarious! At first site sight the bowling alley looks impressively flashy, the real fun starts when the first ball starts rolling. After the first pins hit the floor, there is a little man standing at the back who manually puts back all the pins and then records the number of fallen pins in his computer. One time a friend of mine hit the pins so hard, the poor guy was knocked over, landed on the computer and the game was reset, resulting in a free new game. The whole scene with this guys behind is hilarious and just adds that little African touch to the game.
- My contract here is ending in two month’s time. Ethiopia, Congo, the US? God knows what’s next but for now, there are some ideas starting to boil in my head on taking the bike out for a road trip around the region, but more on that later..