The road ahead…

What do we leave behind when we cross each frontier? Each moment seems split in two; melancholy for what was left behind and the excitement of entering a new land. –Che  Guevara, motorcycle diaries-

Imagine a long road ahead. Imagine the wind blowing in your face and ribbing your shirt. Imagine the sun rising as a red glow at the horizon. Imagine endless plains of nothingness alternated by huts and electricity poles breaking the pattern. Imagine kids laughing and waving you bye. Now imagine me on a bike and my sister next to it and you got a good picture of what we’ll be doing the next month.

Now my life in Rwanda entered its closing chapter, it feels like time for a new challenge. Together with my sister I will be crossing the East Africa on bike: 4500Km ahead, 4 borders to cross and the road as a our guide.

We will both be driving a simple Indian bike. Now let me give you a little background on these Idian bikes: Bustling the streets of Kigali are flashy Indian sport bikes; simple, light engines and available at rock-bottom prices. They are without doubt the most bang for your Rwandan buck. These bikes are the NY’s yellow cabs of Kigali and hard to miss. Anyone with 10 dollars on him can hire one for a day and drive around passengers (earning about 20 dollars and possibly a broken bone). To avoid sitting on the back of one of these daredevils I decided to buy one myself when I came here: a Bajaj 125 cc. Driving the bike for almost 9 months now I have grown more confident, on the last trip with Bas we decided to test its limits and drive it to the West of the country. All went fine and this time I want to push it a little further; driving through the whole of East Africa.

Some think this trip is a great idea, others think I am mad; the vast majority of the Rwandans tilt towards the latter. Transport is seen as a danger way to get from A to B, using it for pleasure does not configure in the minds of people here. When skyping with my sister Tirsa, I told her about my plans and spontaneously she decided to join. Within a week she booked a ticket and as the bird sing their songs at the start of April we will both hit the road.

As there is no space to carry spares we will have to rely on the ingenuity of the local population along the road (which can hardly be overestimated). I guess it will not be the question if, but when we break down… The intended route is driving through Uganda, Kenya to the coast, Zanzibar and back through Tanzania but God knows what the actual route will be, how many monekys and elephants on the way and where the road will exactly takes us. All I know is that I am looking forward to this trip.

This trip marks the end of my stay in Rwanda. I have had the privilege to work in a fast developing country and can look back happily on the job I was able to do here, helping farmer to find a profitable market for their harvest. To give you some insight in the job I have been doing here is a link on a brief case study I wrote and here a link to a short video on Odette, one of the farmers I work with.

Warm greetings,

Janno.

  • My sister actually never sat on a motorcycle before…
  • In preparation I have been studying Swahili (the main language in East-Africa) for some months now and hope to engage in a conversation with some Ugandans, Kenyans and Tanzanians along the way.
  • In Swahili ‘I called’ is nilipiga simu meaning ‘I hit (slapped) the telephone’
  • I got a new job! Starting 21st of May I will be working in Ethiopia for SNV, a Dutch NGO working with sesame, maize and peas farmers. I will be stationed in Bahir Dar, a cute old touristic town as the shores of Lake Tana.
  • I got malaria again (my third time in Africa), have been sick for almost a month. The good thing was that a great friend of mine here (Kirsten) faithfully cooked and brought me ‘food for the sick’ meals:)
  • We hit the road this Sunday and will be back on the 28th. I will be in the Netherlands from 2-19 May.

and here your verse for the day again

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Dating in Rwanda (not for the light-hearted..)

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…

Did-you-know-that?

  • 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..

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Wind of hope

After a century of colonial exploitation, famine, dictatorship, war, failed economic liberalisation and communism, Africa seems to be off for a fresh start upon entering the 00s. The last time since independence a breeze of hope is blowing through the continent. Apart from the revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya that add to this wind of change, it is the economic path that this continent recently embarked upon. The main drive for change is economic growth on the back of oil discoveries, rising food prices and the Chinese investing heavily in new businesses and resources (e.g. land) for its future population. Truth be told; this new wealth does not equally accrue to all, but generally new roads being build do benefit the villages along the way, helping women to get their tomatoes to the market.

In the same vein, my stay in Rwanda sparks optimism. Only 17 years ago, Rwanda was a classic example of an African basket case; war and despair. A quarter of the population had been cruelly murdered over a tribal conflict. How do you go from there? Paul Kagame, who is still seated in power, had an answer to the country’s woes. A Rwandan answer. Since of late, I have had the privilege to go behind the scene how this country is run. Half of my weeks I now spent at the Ministry of Agriculture (loaned out by my employer WFP) advising on market trends and how to buy for farmers.

I share an office with Francois, an intriguing man whose working spirit simply inspires. He is the head of the unit and answerable to the minister. He explains to me ‘We are building a new country Janno, we don’t know how to do it and do not have all the skills but we run forward, we just run and we’ll learn along the way.’ This is what I have learned so far; to just run. The justification behind the policies here seems to be thinner than ice and implementation rarely thought-through, but the one thing is hard to deny: they get things done! Ironically, it is exactly this that politics in more advanced countries are criticized for to be lacking.

I might be painting a different picture than the one often associated with Rwanda. But while and people are still traumatised and standards of living stumpy, a fresh wind of hope is blowing through this country, and the continent at large. In this post I just wanted you to feel this breeze, showing another side of the coin of an otherwise troubled continent.

Did-you-know-that:

  • To symphatise with the farmers I work with, I decided to start farming myself. In our little background I planted some maize seeds (donated by an old lady of a cooperative I visited) and miraculously there is now maize plants are growing out of the ground. I noticed our guard did the same, and I am shamefully out-competed by the local Rwandan as his maize towers above mine.
  • With a group of youth from different churches that worship together on Sunday eves, I went to Burundi last weekend and had a great time at the beach
  • I had my first overnight prayer. This means a whole night of singing worship songs, listening to sermons, dancing, and praying. I arrived at church a bit late and remember hoping there would be enough people left. When I entered the building I was just blown away; the place was packed… Thousands of people would spend their whole night to share time together and praise their creator. Not just sitting it through, but crying tears, singing at the top of their longs and dancing all over the place. Back home 10 people showing up for such a service would constitute a success; this place was overflowing with people. Faith just seems to run through the veins and the core of the peoples’ soul here
  • I had my 1st ‘Rwandafull’ birthday with as highlight a giant birthday cake in Rwandan colours made by a wonderful friend .
    Birthday cake
  • I have been offered contract extension which means I’ll stay a few more months, and then I feel ready for a new adventure.
  • I am flying back home to celebrate Christmas and New Year ’s Eve with family and friends. Am counting the days now and I secretly  hope for it to snow when I arrive

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I am a Child, Same as Others

With half a million orphans, Rwanda has one of the highest per capita orphan-populations in the world. This is a direct result of the horrific genocide that took place 17 years ago. My two housemates Sean and Jenny run an orphanage to give a home and love to some of these orphans. They do a tremendous job, leaving behind their comfortable lives back home, to care for more than 100 boys day in and day out. Their efforts do not go unnoticed and talking to some of the children makes you feel the overpowering gratitude towards this young couple together with all the local staff that care for them, teach them life skills, Math and English. As each boy has his own story to tell, his unique character and smile, I want to use this blog to voice just one of them. It is the voice of Lucky.

Lucky is one of our boys who has been living at the ROP Center for many years. He is in his final year as he is graduating from secondary school in December. Recently he wrote a poem for the celebration of ‘Africa’s Day of the Child’. Sean writes about it ‘despite the struggling English the poem hit me straight in the heart. It’s simple and genuine and even in its brevity you can’t help but get an idea of the pain these children must feel, and the hope they somehow find in life once someone, anyone, offers to help them.’

Read below his beautiful poem…

I am a child, same as the others
By: Lucky Faustin

I am a child, same as the others

I am a child like other children
I was born as they were born
I was never protected as they were
I suffered from difficulty and stress
I never wanted this, the love that was lacking

I am a child, same as the others
Your love is needed

Poverty is not a sickness
No one is born rich with wealth
You have to work hard
Fight against ignorance
Help those who are alone to be adopted
Pay their school fees for them
Help them when they are sick
Try to treat them well

The solution of poverty is to work hard
To work together willingly with others
Unify together
What you don’t know, you should ask

You cannot be sorry for your life
It may cause you to wander alone
You may spend nights in the bar, smelling like beer
When you return home you hit and torture your wife
That is not a family

When you see children in the road
Take one in and find someone to take another one in
The solution to their life comes from you
Uproot the wonderful completely

Education is greater than birth
If a child can learn he can become a leader
He may have a future without problems
He can be a soldier or he can be a policeman, protecting the country
He can build houses
He can help others in the streets

ROP is an exemplary place
We have the best behavior, culture and education
We have the teachers of our future
We will never criticize our leaders
Our guardians
Our parents
They always have us first
They are committed to us

Our parents live in America
They have always given much help in our lives
They really love us very much
We appreciate Sean and Jenny so much
We always live together with them
We joke and spend time together with them
They always give us what we need all the time
May God bless them

The children suffer from hunger
They take a decision to go to the streets
Where they become street children
This is caused by a lack of peace and harmony in their home
Each day, every day

They may spend nights under a bridge
They greet others on the streets
“How is it, man?” They say
“Be strong!” They say
Wearing rags for clothing

A girl sleeps wherever she can find
Sometimes where man take advantage
She can become pregnant
By luck she may live through it
She lives together with her baby on streets

A boy on the streets consumes drugs, alcohol and poison
They beg
Their voices change
The child becomes mature
He becomes a dangerous man
Because he lacks an education
And culture from his parents

When you pass by him, having a bag
He tears it from your shoulder
If you say something
He beats you
You may ask what happened to him
He tells you to go away
Saying the only one who cares about him is himself
He is not well
He suffers
Because nobody came to help him
Maybe someday he is in danger
Or he has nothing to eat
And he dies
Because nobody came to help him

You listen to me.
That is the street child’s life.

To hear other voices and see what the orphanage is doing please visit their website. And for anyone who feel they want to share a bit of his or her own with these kids, feel free to make a contribution (simply click on the above right on their site). Also a newspaper just wrote a story about Sean’s orphanage you can read here

Bless,

Janno.

Did-you-know-that:

  • The boys all LOVE Jackie Chan (‘tjiki tjen’). This ignited the crazy idea in Jenny’s head to write the Jackie Chan foundation a letter. To their suprise they got a response and recently Jenny met with the European representatives of the foundation, that now wants to start supporting their educational programme. The only question on the mind of all the boys is ‘When is Jackie Chan coming????!?’ (accompanied with all kind of kung fu moves)
  • At the end of each schoolterm Sean and Jenny take the best students of their class out for a free buffet lunch. It is hard to imagine just how much excitement this brings to the boys. Even harder to imagine the quantities with which the little boys pile up their plates. To the right a photo of the youngest student Emmanuela piling up his plate just like the older boys and he ate every bit of it. Take a moment to read the heart-touching story of this young bright one here.
  • in search of Rwanda…

    I tried to have some of the boys point out their country on a giant map of Africa painted on the wall, the closest they got was Cameroon, until one of the brighter boys managed to find the little country they are actually living in.

  • Cooking for over 100 boys every day ain’t peanuts. The center’s cook came in as a skinny guy, but rearing in a giant maize meal pan works on your muscles as the picture shows.

Your verse-of-the-day you can find here

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Mzungu’s crossing through East Africa

One of the highlights of my stay here is a visit from a friend from the Netherlands I studied with. On the left a map of our itinerary and below a story about all the craziness we have been through crossing through Eastern Africa.

Bas entry into Africa was a rough one. Our first night in Uganda (were Bas arrived) we decided to explore Kampala’s nightlife. Soon after we arrived in our first bar Bas got pocket lifted and I decided to follow a suspicious looking guy who was quickly making its way out. Standing next to him at the toilet block I thought to myself ‘OK, now what?!…’ after some thought I came up with the line ‘Do you have something for me? He looked up surprised and said ‘what do you mean’ ‘I mean do you have something for me?’ looking him a bit more intruding in the eyes. ‘How much?’ and after I named my price (never seriously considering to pay him), next thing you know he draw a wallet from his back pocket. Happily surprised with this lucky draw I told him to follow me and I headed back to Bas to check if it was the right one. ‘No that’s not mine’ Bas responded disappointingly, leaving me in the strange situation of having someone else’s wallet and having this guy next to me who was visible getting annoyed. I handed back the wallet, and quickly after police guys alarmed by our Ugandan friend came in and starting beating down him and his friends who supposedly formed a gang that was picket pocketing that night. This marked Bas’ warm welcome to a continent avoided by most exactly for this reason. I felt bad, but figured things could only get better hereafter. And so it did. Early morning we set off to the beginning of the Nile river and did an amazing 6 hours of wild-water rafting.

Our next treat was visiting Queen Elisabeth Parc, a wildlife parc tucked away in Western Uganda. Dropping with public transport (after some breakdown and hick-ups along the way) at the parc’s gate, we meet Adolf. A friendly young lad who could explain as much about wildlife as I can about China’s educational system, but who was kind enough to drive us around the Parc and afterwards we camped in the middle of it. I have to say there is something profoundly exhilarating about getting back in touch with nature by sitting in the middle of a wildlife Parc with Impala’s and warthogs walking around us, grilling sausages on a stick over a self-made campfire. To add to our wildlife experience we decided to get a beer from a little shop at a 10 minutes walking distances. That was the longest 10 minutes walk I can remember.. With the doubtful help of the little light of my phone we just could see pairs of reflecting eyes staring at us as we walked by. Each time we would discuss weren’t those two eyes belonged to an impala, warthog, hippo or maybe a lion… In the end we took comfort in the thought that if a lion was behind these two eyes, I would probably have long eaten us. On our way we did bump into two hippos grazing at a two meter distance from us. While it took quite a lot of nerve getting there (with an elephant waiting for us on our way back) the beer tasted all the better once we arrived.

Leaving behind Uganda, we got back to my current home town, Kigali. After some days of work, we decided to do a road trip by bike over the weekend. We went to Lake Kivu, passing by tons of villages along the way. Cruising around as two whites on a bike we soon felt we had reached stardom status, with kids running towards the road smiling and screaming ‘Mzungu, mzungu!’. At the lake shores we set up camp at Paradise something, which truly lifted up its name with a nice little beach and lush garden. At night we decided to find out where the nearby beat was coming from and we ended up at a Congolese party were we learned some brilliant Ivorian coast dancing and historically Bas had his first marriage proposal.

Next on our things to do list was visiting Tanzania. This was somehow a nostalgic experience, it being fours ago that I first set foot on African soil in that very country, offering me some of the best three months in my life. We were soon reminded of the warm and welcoming nature of Tanzanians talking to whoever was standing close to us. However, this openness reached its boiling point when a guy in front of us in the bus handed me his phone and said ‘number’. A bit surprised by this frank request I entered my 10 digits and gave it back to him. After that he just sat backwards on his seat facing us and for the lack of English vocabulary just bended over and kept staring at us, making for a very uncomfortable hours of reading, and eventually the phrase ‘I read your book’. ‘No I am reading it’ for a change of tactic he started to dial friends and then hand over the phone to me ‘this is peter’. Also Peter on the other side of the line did not know any English and to my rescue the phone was soon out of credit.

Our first stop in Tanzania was the Serengeti, the world’s most famous wildlife parc. It truly felt like being in a national geographic documentary and it is hard

Elephants fighting

to describe how mesmerizing it feels just to observe the endless plains of Serengeti jam-packed with the most diverse collection of wildlife. We had our own open-roofed safari jeep and guide ‘Ken’. Ken who had been doing this job for ten years knew everything there was to know and soon became our safari friend. The first day we spotted herds of buffalo’s, a group of Giraffes, an Elephant family and a countless number of Impala’s and the like.  Early morning of our second day in Serengeti we encountered all the Parc’s predators: Lions, hyena’s, jackals, a cheetah and a leopard.

Maasaii

Our safari ended by Ken dropping us at a small Maasaii village inside of the Parc. Seeing the dire conditions they live in, learning about their rich culture, and observes the diversity of colours and jewellery they wear surely was a treasured experience.

After the Parc I returned to the town I did my master research more than four years ago. Walking the streets and meeting old friends like the ever positive Franklin and our warm and welcoming host Miriam, who kept in touch ever since, brought back good memories. The road continued East were Zanzibar awaited us as the cherry on top of our holiday cake.

As on all postcards Zanzibar is truly picture-perfect; it is just hard to miss the beauty of its long stretches of white sanded beach, the romance of traditional fishing boats queued up at the coast, the clear light blue sea, and the warm breeze going through the gently waving palm trees. To further indulge in Zanzibar’s richness Bas and I went snorkelling; swimming among the most beautiful of under-water wildlife. During our stay on the overwhelmingly Islamic island of Zanzibar, the Ramadan was closing its end and each late afternoon people would be on the outlook of the moon to appear, marking the end of their month long fast. The moon only showed up the last day of our stay, making us miss the late evening celebrations. Because that day was spontaneously declared a national holiday, we found out that our ferry back to the capital where I would fly back to Kigali was cancelled. In an effort to still catch my flight I rushed to the airport where I was just on time for a late departing small ‘flying doctors kind of’ airplane where I sat just behind the pilot and had the most astonishing view of the island.

Did-you-know-that:

  • We have spent a good 58 hours on busses.
  • The crazy guy staring at us in the bus had stored the number of ‘God’, I still feel bad I haven’t got that number from his phone…
  • Maasaii drink blood from cows. It is a sign of manhood to drink it. I have I am glad that my manhood wasn’t put to the test when visiting the Maasaii village.
  • Under its surface lake Kivu holds world’s biggest bubble of methane gas. No-one knows exactly when the methane would bubble up and the potential explosive consequences. As the Lonely Planet notes, there is nothing one can do if this happens during your visit and the final scent one may expect in her life is ‘a horrible earthly fart.’
  • I jumped together with the Maasaii, I didn’t reach half as high as they though…
  • Maasaii make their shoes (flipflops rather) out of old car tires
  • We drove around in nightly Kampala for an hour tracking down the car of al picketpocketer, tightly squeezed between two police men with Kalashnikov’s.
  • During the spice tour on Zanzibar Bas and I tried some kurkuma (used in curry) root and we consequently walked around with irremovable yellow on our teeth all day
  • During a chimpanzee track I mixed up the image of a chimpanzee with an orang oetan (nowhere to be found in Africa) and was thus looking up in the trees for orange the whole trip, no wonder we did not see any…
  • I got a shirt with ‘Mzungu’, people just start laughing when I walk the streets with it.

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Why taking your wedding pictures at a roundabout is as good as sitting outside

One of the definite rewards of being in a foreign country is that you get to see the world through different eyes. Things that surprise you push you to rethink your own standards of normality. Some of my daily surprises include the over the top visual effects in videoclips exploiting every effect the editing program has to offer, the shining shirts that people would wear on special occasions like going to church, the longer than usual jackets of suits, the umbrella’s when it’s not raining, everyone having their wedding picture taken at roundabouts… Let me just give you two more examples to illustrate my point here in more details.

How to design a restaurant seems to be more culturally defined as one might think. A restaurant here simply seems to mean a good collection of chairs (which they sometimes stuck upon each other to make a real ‘luxurious seat’), a number of white plastic tables, an old painting of a fake fruit basket staring at you from the wrong angle

Cant do without the fruitbasket..

, a menu that is more indicative of what they possible could have than presenting an actual list of available items. And lastly, a number of local staff outnumbering the number of customers resulting in the somewhat uncomfortable feeling of being watched.

As I write I am actually sitting in my favorite hangout place, it being that sweet exception confirming the rule. The

my favorite hangout

remarkably good atmosphere and the thought-through design just makes me appreciate all small coffee bar owners back home that took an effort to make their place stand out and add just that little flint of character. It might be the spirit of individualism that drives westerners to tirelessly seek that gap in the market and differentiate your shop from other, but somehow this is not shared by our African brother who would always default in copying what he sees his fellow entrepreneur doing. Self-centric individualism or not, it makes up for these sweet characteristic places which I have become to appreciate being without.

A second example is the rack holding the herbs in our kitchen. It might be a little thing but it just puzzles me is that the angle does not seem to bother the eye of the carpenter that made it for us, while it makes me shake my head every time I see it. Maybe it is our 17th century painters, our scientific past or our perfectly squared houses, maybe it is the traditional round huts here but somehow the love for mathematical precise lines is not shared by our African counterparts.  I guess it teaches me that worrying your head of having everything levelled and all lined up doesn’t really add that necessary ingredient in life, as people here seem to do comfortably without.

A lack of care to stand out as an entrepreneur and the lack of interest of leveling an herb rack is countered by a preoccupation for other things in life. It is interesting to see where the aesthetic eye of the Rwandan gravitates towards: the women’s hair. My wild guess would be that apart from food, 1 out of every 3 shops is a hair saloon. While apparently black hair is very stiff not leaving the bearer a lot of options, the different haircuts walking the streets is simply astonishing. Braided, spiky, curly, straightened, extensions, afro-style, coloured, frizzy, pony-tailed, knotted, wavy, dread-locked, weaved or a mixture of the above, the possibilities are endless…

In a closing note seeing things through another peoples’ eyes makes you relative your own judgement and perception. It even makes me question the things that strike me as normal like paying a couple of euros for just sitting outside in the sun with a drink, starting to smile whenever a camera is pointing your way, or keeping a rabbit as a pet and feeding instead of eating it, or people running in a park without  heading somewhere. Trying to explain these things to someone here is quite a challenge I tell you. Well, I guess that while I don’t seriously alter my own point of view or act differently, an understanding is growing on me of why taking your wedding pictures at a roundabout is as good as voluntarily sitting outside in the burning sun.

Did you know that:

  • my new friend..

    I got a motorbike! I was thinking about starting looking for one yesterday, then I saw a guy selling one on the internet, I gave him a call, went to see it and bought it right away. I am still processing the thought of buying my first vehicle in life. To be honest I don’t like the idea of owning anything, but riding it…is AWESOME

  • Being fat has a whole other meaning here, you are less quickly considered it and it just doesn’t carry that negative connotation.
  • Buffet lunches are popular in Rwanda. I came to understand why: you can eat as much as you want! It still sometimes shocks me how much some people pile up a plate, men and women alike. My colleagues now coined the phrase ‘eating like a mzungu (white)’ whenever I come over with a modestly filled plate.
  • Having your arms on the table is considered polite
  • When a husband is on a trip for more than 90 days without a good reason, leaving its household to themselves, he is fined and this even constitutes a legitimate legal case for the wife to ask for a divorce.
  • I don’t really see homeless people in the street of Kigali. It just strikes me that a third world country like Rwanda seem to be better capable to handle this problem than most of developed world.
  • After farmer cooperatives have completed our training at the World Food Programme they start performing as dance and singing to thank the trainers.
  • Getting an sms with ‘U eat?’ is pretty normal as it shows a sign of interest and care in the other’s well-being.
  • less organised... nice detail: the sign at the left reads 'furniture shop' who wants to buy there?!

    I went to Uganda’s capital Kampala for a weekend to have some fun with some of my colleagues. Kampala re-introduced me to Africa’s craziness and smelling the scent of burned charcoal and garbage when entering the city, even made me strangely feel a little home again.

  • Lake Victoria is Africa’s biggest lake
  • I had my last French lesson; I am surprised how well it went and even did all the interviews with traders for the market study (previous blog) in French. As of today I am starting Swahili lessons.

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Visiting refugees

refugee camp

It is 8 Am and I am leaving  behind the bustling streets of Kigali as we set off to visit one of the refugee camps. The refugees are World Food Programme’s ‘raison d’etre’ for being here and I am eager to visit one for the first time. The camps host refugees who fled their country after an upsurge in violence in Eastern Congo in 1996. Up to date, the conflict has costs the lives of over 5 million souls over a shameless scramble for resources and the number is only geared to go up. Visiting the camps makes me lightly touch upon the grim reality that is enfolding 200 km East of me.

My job is to perform a market assessment to see if instead of giving food WFP could give cash to refugees. Instead of transporting bags of food across the region, cash vouchers allow refugees to buy from local shops around. This gives them more freedom of choice whilst at the same time investing money in the local economy surrounding the camp. The reality of the day is that they re-sell part of the food they are receiving.

refugee camp market

As the bible already foretold ‘man cannot live by bread alone’. Walking around the market that refugees set up, I am surprised to find items like cosmetics, lotions and new clothing being sold. When I pause for a second and think about it, this only shows me how much alike we are. Regardless of the horror they have been through, refugees like any other person just want to look good in the hope of finding the right partner instead of merely counting the number of calories they intake.

Changing food for cash might just allow for this bit of more dignity and freedom of choice on the part of the refugees, but at the same time could potentially increase drinking, house violence, and price hikes in the local market surro

walking around the camp

unding the camps. The assessment needs to weigh the pro’s against the con’s and try to find smart ways to minimize the risks involved. In the weeks to come I hope to get a better understanding of the camp reality and see how this interacts with local markets surrounding the camps. Food or Cash I don’t know, but as I roll down my window of the car and the sun brightens my face I do know I like my job.

Did-you-know-that..

  • I had my first earthquake.. While the whole city was woken up by the earthquake around 5:30, I was still peacefully asleep… I am yet to find another person that also slept through this apparently well felt shock…
  • I rode a waterski, its like a motorbike on the water just with more bumps:)
  • ‘Dying like a nigerian’ means to fake it, referencing to the third’s largest film industry ‘Nollywood’ in Nigeria where they for a lack of having modern equipment ‘slowmotion’ an action scene by moving really slowly and overly faking being shot taking a good 10 seconds before actually dropping to the ground..
  • I went for a weekend trip with my colleagues to Burundi which was tons of fun

    amstel bokbier

  • They have Amstel ‘bokbier’ here, in Burundi it is a very popular drink. The only problem is that when you order a bottle you always get 2 as one is considered to little and they happily refill without asking, so think twice before you order ‘a’ bottle…
  • The older lady sitting across my desk already calls me her son…
  • plastic bags keeping the flies at bay

    In some restaurants they hang plastic bags with water at the ceiling to keep the flies away

  • I tried to get a permit to visit the last remaining gorilla’s on earth together with Bas when he comes over to visit me in August, but these are already completely  sold-out until November…

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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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Going Local

 

Rwandan farmer

 In 2050, 9 billions mouths need to be fed. Who’s going to feed them? More and more the African small scale farmer figures in the expert’s answer to this question. Much of Africa’s interior remains unchartered territory and most unutilized arable land sits on this continent. Imperative to the low yields across the continent seems to be that they can only get better. What Africa now needs is investment.

Up to date, Africa is still being seen as an exporter of raw materials, not an investment opportunity. While colonialism ended and freedom is gained the grand narrative remains somewhat the same; Africa is powering the rest of the world’s industrial demands. Interestingly, some telephone companies prove that the internal African market might well be worth an investment. Setting up an immense telephone network resulted in mobile phones reaching the most far-flung places like Congo’s jungle. The same trick Coca Cola, now celebrating its 129th anniversary, pulled some time ago.

The new wave of seeing Africa as a business opportunity is an interesting one. Last week Agri-ProFocus, my former employee, organized an ‘Going local’ event on how companies can source from African small scale farmers and produce for domestic markets. The event generated interest from a wide array of Dutch companies involved in Africa, including Heineken.

The question central to this event ‘how to buy food produced by small-scale farmers?’ is the same question I will be cracking my brains on the coming months in Rwanda. The United Nation’s World Food Programme (WFP) where I will be working, set-up a local buying programme called ‘Purchase for Progress’ (P4P). As WFP is the largest buyer of maize in the country they are re-thinking their procurement strategy and try to find ways to buy locally from small farmers instead of buying from the big commercial traders importing maize. As the millions of small scale farmers are scattered across the country and do not yet meet WFP’s international quality standards, this will prove to be quite a challenge.

I will be working from the capital (Kigali), but hopefully also get the chance to go into the field to visit the farmers involved. Other than the job I will be doing, the rest of my life there is unknown. As for where I will be staying, who I will meet and how my weekends will look like… your guess is as good as mine. The unknown fills me with excitement while at the same time I realize that this might not be such a fun experience as the previous ones. The coming seven months will tell.

Through this blog I hope to keep you up to date on a bi-monthly basis. My stories will be a mix of analytical reflections on development issues (like this posting), my personal story of how it is to live abroad and of course lots of fun experiences and stories of Africa’s craziness. .. As tradition prescribes I’ll close each posting with ‘did-you-know-that’. One of the things I learned from Zambian friends is to inspire someone by sending a ‘verse of the day’. Unlike my faithful Zambian friends I will not post a verse every day but probably each new posting.

Lastly, always feel free to free to leave a comment and share your thoughts below.

Warmly,
Janno.

Did-you-know-that?

  • Rwanda is called the land of the thousand hills.. So yes, picture a hilly and green landscape. The country’s capital, Kigali, is situated on seven hills (joining the ranks of Rome and Jeruzalem)

    Rwandan landscape

  • When I applied for a Rwandan Visa, I could not only do it online but also received a unique number through which I could track my visa application, detailing the exact moments which a Rwandese government employee worked on it, what’s wrong here?!
  • ‘Hotel Rwanda’, located in the centre of town,  is still functioning as a hotel.
  • Rwanda is the most densely polulated country on the continent
  • Plastic bags are not allowed in the capital, to keep the environment clean grocessories are wrapped in brown bag paper.
  • The country with the highest percentage of women members of the parliament is Rwanda
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