New Found Friends and Adventuring

The week before last one of my classmates and I were exploring around a bit after a long day at work. We started off at Sketch Bar, a drinking establishment that we visit quite often. I am not sure the real name of this bar. I believe the equation for naming most bars, restaurants, small supermarkets or just about any shop in Kigali is the following:

Random English adjective + restaurant/bar/alimentation/etc.

Such an equation yields varied results as to whether the name actually makes sense and more so according to how appealing or inviting the name is. Even with such an excellent naming scheme in place, many establishments remain nameless or exercise an extreme in word-of-mouth advertising by not actually posting their name anywhere yet many people know it. Sketch Bar has a Kinyarwandan name painted on the side of it but since we dubbed it “Sketch Bar” the first time we drank there, I have not really paid it any heed. We gave it the name of Sketch because it is down a little dark staircase behind a bus stop pavilion, scarcely lit and hosts a chicken or two as well as the ‘hole in ground but with walls around it’ latrine.

Anyways, we started our adventure of at Sketch Bar then migrated over to a nameless bar that we dubbed “Church Bar” as it is in the same plot as a massive Catholic Church and housing compound. The distance between the chapel doors and the rickety wooden planks over a drainage ditch to the open doorway leading into Church Bar is about 100 meters of uninterrupted dirt parking lot/open space.

After a beer at Sketch Bar and a subsequent one at Church Bar, we went to Simba Supermarket to pick up some snacks and then onto Juicilicious, our favorite hookah bar, to relax and eat them. (This sounds like we spend most of our time at bars but it should really just attest to how many of them there are in Kigali. Juicy also does not serve any alcohol, just hookah.) However, when we got to Juicilicious, we happened upon a birthday party for the daughter of the owner. The owner is a rather young Pakistani man and most of the people at the party were also Pakistani. Not surprisingly, they welcomed us to join in the small festivities, gave us Pakistani BBQ chicken, rice, food whose name I do not know and probably cannot pronounce let alone spell and birthday cake. It was awesome. We met all of the adults and all of the children. They kept telling us to take more and more food. Either I have not noticed in America or people from many other cultures are much more friendly, hospitable, inviting and willing to share anything they have with strangers. Sorry America, but I think the latter is true.

We hung out at the party for a couple of hours and thanked them profusely before heading home for the night. One of the guys gave us his number and told us to keep in touch; he wanted to take us to a good Pakistani restaurant in one of the hotels in Kigali. Turns out we probably had seen the guys that we met quite a few times before stumbling upon their get together because we see them everywhere now.

A couple of days afterwards we ran into our friend back at Juicy and he had us try sugarcane juice for the first time. It was delicious; especially considering how little effort it takes to sip in through a straw as opposed to the tedious task of eating it. We discovered that he and a couple of the other guys we met worked for the UN in different agencies. We made plans to go out with them one night this past weekend but they go a little harder than us, which is kind of pathetic to admit since they have a decade or two on us. We did manage to meet up with them on Sunday evening though. I will preface my story of this weekend by saying it was more or less the weekend of delectable foods.

During the day on Saturday it poured for close to four hours. I was really caught off guard when my mom asked me if I liked ‘cow butter’ at lunchtime. It took me a moment to recognize that she said butter and my mind immediately pulled up my less than prized memory of attempting to try cow stomach. Thus, I reacted in fear of being asked to eat that or something similar and responded with a quick no. This was no big deal as it simply meant I ate the beans that were not cooked in cow butter. A couple bites into my meal I realized that cow butter was probably just real butter since what we normally have at the house is margarine and felt a little silly for being so scared of it.

When the weather finally cleared up I set out to go to town to get some work done and decided that wet weather was a good enough excuse to wear my cowboy boots since they have more or less been shunned by my family due to their resemblance to rain boots and rain boots are for farmers. I went to tell my brother goodbye and where I was going. He looked down at my feet, tapped my boot with his shoe and asked, “Kate, what kind of shoes are you wearing” while he kind of laughed. I explained that they were cowboy boots and had to draw the connection between cowboys, horses and Texas for him. Fortunately when mama wanjye saw them she thought they were nice and “good for the climate.” She is really good at understanding and respecting my cultural differences most of the time.

On Saturday night we had a very successful adventure. We really should have done this when we first got here but one of my classmates and I have made a commitment to go on more of these. Basically our adventures consist of us walking down roads we have not explored before where we check out and discover bakeries, restaurants, craft shops, markets and bars. On this particular journey we found a particularly awesome craft or gift shop. They had lots of awesome products and were very reasonably priced compared to the muzungu prices that most of these mini-markets charge for their creations. We definitely plan to return there before leaving Rwanda to stock up on presents for people. We also stumbled upon a pretty cheap supermarket that will be beneficial when we move into our own house and realize that we need things like cups and plates. We discovered a casino that we will return to next time we are in the area without our backpacks as well as a decent looking restaurant. We concluded our adventure at another nameless bar that we really enjoyed. This place had some delicious brochette that actually had really good and really spicy seasoning on it, something that we do not find too much in Rwandan cooking. After that we went to my friend’s house where we ate my favorite dish for dinner. I guess stew would be the most accurate term for it. I have no idea what is in the sauce, probably a combination of peanut and tomato since I feel like that is in just about everything here, but it has green beans and carrots in it and is one of the best foods I have ever eaten. This particular dish was made with cabbage instead of green beans and was only slightly less incredible.

Sunday morning breakfast involved lots of hotdog buns and butter. Hotdog buns are by far one of my favorite foods and definitely my favorite breakfast item in Rwanda, especially when they are fresh and soft. Throw in some butter (margarine, not cow butter) and they are to die for. It upsets me horribly that we get regular bread instead of hotdog buns for breakfast at my house now. I will be eating these on a regular basis when I return to America.

Since we missed hanging out with him Saturday night, our new friend invited us over to his home on Sunday. We got a little lost on the way there and sure enough a friendly stranger guided us, walking about 30 minutes out of his way, to where our friend came and picked us up, out of pity I am sure. Their home was beautiful, definitely in one of the nicer parts of Kigali. Let me just say there were actual street names AND street signs, a rarity here. One of the first places I have been with an address that did not consist of “across from this other place and down the road from another, near this roundabout.” On top of this, everyone there was so friendly and welcoming of us.

There were four couples there with their children, all of whom were primary school aged or younger. We hung out and talked with them for a while. The guys had some great stories about other places they have lived and how they compare to Kigali. We talked about Pakistan and were quite instantly invited to visit the cities they came from. We ate some of the best chips I have ever had. I do not remember their name but I know they are tomato flavor and I know where I will be buying them from in the very near future. I had my first Pepsi in a very long time and it was surprisingly delicious. Asides from all of this we also spent at least two hours playing table tennis (ping-pong). They taught us basic rules of the game (since neither of us had ever played according to actual rules) and we played quite a few rounds of doubles. I would not say either of us is terrible at table tennis but most of them are much better than us. One of the guys, our new table tennis coach, gave us pointers and tried to help us improve. I like to think that we made a little headway and improved over the hours of playing. However, one of the little boys beat both of us in singles matches. After hours of chatting and working on our table tennis game, dinner was served.

This was some of the best food I have eaten in a while. We had dum ka qeema and some other things along with homemade pita bread. It was funny that they called it a Pakistani chapatti though, especially since chapatti is technically Indian flatbread. They had brought us little tastes of what was cooking earlier to see if we liked how spicy it was. The little tastes were very spicy and I did not really think about how that spice would build up when I was actually eating a sizeable portion of the food. Along with the food there was a bowl of curds to top or dip or food in as a means of mitigating the mouth-fire. Foolishly, we both underestimated the power of the spice and took small spoonfuls of the curds to eat with our food. It definitely did not take long for us to realize our mistake and it was obvious in how red our faces were because our hosts kindly brought the bowl of curds to the table we were eating at so we could access it easily. The food was so good though but was also the spiciest food I have ever eaten in my life. I was surprised at how well Pepsi soothed my burning tongue. They also brought us each a small bowl of banana, mango and pineapple fruit salad and I quickly learned how good each of those fruits was at alleviating the situation. I further learned that the sugary sauce in the fruit salad was a strategic development as sugar is an excellent way to combat the spice of chilies used in Pakistani cooking.

We felt much better when we noticed that everyone else, especially the shouting and panting children, were also feeling the heat and that we did not just have horribly inexperienced palates. Apparently the food is not quite so spicy most of the time. Regardless the food was delicious and I only felt like my taste buds were being singed off and that I would never taste again for a couple of minutes after I finished eating. Unfortunately, no amount of curds, sugar or fruit salad can help when your body is finished with the meal. I hope that explains the situation well enough and requires no further clarification. I know at least my mom will get a good laugh out of this and I hope the rest of y’all are well humored enough to do the same.

That more or less wraps up this past weekend’s adventures. While these adventures might not seem that impressive it was certainly one of my best weekends in Kigali so far. I will undoubtedly be making a point to get out on more adventures in my time left here. Somehow I am also going to try to spend more time with my family, especially in the next two weeks since my sister and cousin are both home from school for the two-week commemoration/memorial vacation. I have a hard time connecting with my family simply because they do not do much and they do not talk much when I try spending time with them. Further, I just cannot sit inside and watch television with them in silence for hours during the day. I am going to make concerted efforts to spend more time with them though since we have one month before we move out.

My increased adventurism is also aided by some crazy, doxycycline induced dreams that I had last night. Among many, two of my dreams were specifically about my trip having ended and being back in America. In both of them I experienced something that really made me miss Rwanda, like America less and feel that I did not get everything that I could have out of my time here. I was so concerned that I did not experience all that I could have experienced and missed opportunities to explore and immerse myself in Rwanda. In both dreams I started bawling and then quickly woke up feeling that I was about to actually start crying. This has inspired me to ensure that I explore as much as possible and discover everything that I can in my two months left here. You will hopefully find my reasons in my dreams for being so upset about being back in America as funny as I did.

In my first dream I was walking down the sidewalk in Georgetown and passed a mom and her daughter walking in the other direction. I have developed a disposition to think a child of any ethnicity or race is way cuter than their white American counterpart and thus was first upset that this girl was not as cute as a little Rwandan girl. Also, unlike what any Rwandan child would have done she only glanced at me. A Rwandan child would have stared, probably smiled and in many situations hugged me with a huge grin on his or her face. This disturbed me horribly in my dream and I burst into tears and woke up.

In my second dream I was in the car with an unidentified individual driving down an empty road. I was looking out the windows and noticed there were no animals on the side of the road. The lack of cows, goats and chickens wandering around or minimally confined upset me to the point of tears, waking me up again.

While I know these dreams are silly I took them as a sign to be more adventurous and take advantage of this wonderful opportunity. This will probably keep me from having more negative posts like that one I had a couple posts ago. I will also have more exciting weeks and weekends like this one to blog about. I plan on making a little schedule of adventures for my classmates and me and will keep you updated on how it all pans out.

There will also be a post in the coming weeks about commemoration week and what it is like to experience this type of memorialization and mourning as an outsider with no direct connection to the tragedy.

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