Who among us knows exactly where we wander or where we go? Is there any way of knowing what we will find on our journey? Whether to the grocery store or to the other supposed other side of this round world, we cannot be certain of the things we will encounter.
Sundays in Musambira are much nicer when there aren’t a ridiculous amount of people looking in to see who the “Umuzungu” is. I usually spend the day cleaning my room, having lived with Manon for the past four years, a room that is not dusted really just innerves me. Cleaning involves the arduous task of keeping mud cemented walls free of cobwebs, spiders, ‘roaches, ants and falling pieces of mud displaced by the mice that inhabit my ceiling. As I was conducting this task this morning, what do I discover but a MOUSE as I move my bag. And there is Raïsa, running towards the door screaming for “MAMA”. Mama Maryam comes running, I describe to her in little “squeek squeeks” what I just saw (funnily, the word for mouse and elephant sound exactly the same in Kinyarwanda). Off she runs to the kitchen to get a big stick trying to get it out. Rwandan equivalent to “Three Blind Mice” much? Now there’s Mama Happy running in and screaming when she sees the mouse. No one can get it out. Luckily, a worker was around and off he runs, into my room and with one fell swoop of big stick, the mouse is lying dead in the courtyard while I’m thinking of all the nights I’m going to be spending lying awake thinking around mice in my room… My brothers come running a minute too late and laugh and laugh at me…
Second task is to clean the floor and to keep it semi free of dust, sand, etc. which I’m finding rather difficult seeing as the courtyard just outside my room is composed of just these things and they come in through the wide crack under my door. I usually spend every other morning asking the the “imbeyo”- get corrected to “imbeho”- the broom and manoevring bags, sandals and washing basins and the small natted rug around so that I get the most amount of dust out. Now, this rug is the woven bamboo variety and causes me the most amount of problems because no amount of brushing, shaking or dusting will ever completely get rid of the dirt it contains. This results in a frustrating rock or piece of straw that manages to catch my foot right as I’ve put back the broom (made of straw) and the wash basin with satisfaction. There really is nothing to do other than sweep that frustrating little amount of dust back under said rug and hope that it won’t get into my bed. A cement mud floor is also quite difficult to wash for those who did not know. You will, of course remark, that mud, when wet, will produce more mud! In fact, there is a threshold. You must rub with just the right internsity so the floor becomes clean but doesn’t actually wash away. The soundtrack to this ménage bears a curious ressemblance to 97.3 Radio Delilah at home- Soft Rock equivalents anywhere. Ranging anywhere from Céline Dion to Boys II Men and, the most epic, as I was finishing mopping- Elton John’s “Circle of Life” came on. I took the opportunity to step down with force on a white earwig- like insect that had become too comfortable in the corner under the chair where I keep my clothes. Circle of Life indeed.
The rest of my Sundays are usually spent learning Kinyarwanda with my brothers and sisters and worshipping the sun in my courtyard. I usually get my fair share of curious strangers coming in and gently laughing at my accent and then happily trying to converse along with me. I’m happy to report that in 3 weeks, I can understand about 40% of what is being said. Talking is another story! Too often, there are creepy high school/college boys that sit down to stare at me and its a hard task to drive them away seeing as many of them speak English and they’re not being rude per se— not like in India where they’d go as far as to touch me! But creepy nonetheless. Boys will be boys? A friend of my brothers was fascinated with my bare calves and before I knew it, he’s touching me absolutely fascinated. I jerk his hand away and he looks away with wonder on his face: “You have burned your leg hair away. It is true that white people’s skin are silky smooth”. Uhhhh….
I love evenings at my house. After work, I look forward to playing around with the kids, and not really kids at home. Sometimes (often), because my house is the closest and my room the biggest, my group takes refuge in it to sit around, talk, and do some work before we get home. Other times, I come home to Naira, Latifa and Happy playing in the courtyard so I will sit and let them braid my (oh so short now) hair or run after them. Sometimes, the big kids will be there too and will teach me clapping games for hours while I teach them to ride the ridiculously tiny bike with no brakes. After it gets dark (around 6:00pm), we’ll go inside and play the Snakes and Ladders game I brought here (BIG HIT!) or they’ll sing songs blasting from the radio on their cellphones. I laugh and laugh and laugh at their craziness. Then Mama will come in with the plates laden with food and they WILL all comment on how little I eat. Now you will wonder, but I think I’ve become intolerant to…. wait for it… RICE! Of ALL things. Rice makes my tummy cringe and ache at night. Sigh. Thats the only bad part about evenings nowadays but Maalox is helping and they DO insist I eat a lot. I hope my tummy gets used to it soon. But really, RICE, as if I’m not born in rice paddy- land. I hope its not permanent!
Saturday, we went on safari!! We left Musambira around 1:30 am and got to Akagera National Park on the Eastern side of the country at 5:30, just in time for the park opening. You can imagine how excited I was. Ready with my 50-500mm lens! I knew not to expect hoards of wildlife like in Kenya or Tanzania but it was still a little disappointing when we spent hours riding through empty bushland in a very bumpy, fly infested truck. The landscapes WERE breath- taking though. At one point, I decided that the best place to be was the roof. So, up I go, strap myself on the spare tire and go along for the ride through the plains and acacia forests! It was great fun, although I did get devoured by flies.
Although there weren’t huge quantities of animals, we did see three different types of impalas, some cool birds, zebras, giraffes, buffaloes and baboons and I have a memory card full of pictures I can’t wait to get home and share with you all.
I wandered a little the other day. Past my home, past the mosque across the road and the excited little children and shy mothers pounding their peanuts into paste for dinner to the acacia tree on top of the hill. The view was breath-taking! All the hills were misty in the background and the valleys on the sides of the roads were illuminated by late afternoon light. Its a favourite spot now. And in a similar way I wandered here, in the middle of these green, misty hills and red dust that have become part of what I gather, what I will carry with me henceforth. Not heavily, like the jerry cans full of water that children need to take back and forth from deep within the valley these days since the water pipe has broken. But in my mind’s eye, world’s away from the shorelines I am used to haunting, I know that I will fly here and swoop down sometimes and listen in on the laughter. We are wandering gatherers, gathering tales, stories and people in our hearts and minds. They are our sustenance for the days and nights and years to come. They are our stories. They are who we are.