From the Vaults: Teaching Multimedia, Uncategorized

Haunted by creature comforts in Butare, Rwanda

Photos: Vinita Srivastava
1. Curious but friendly villagers; 2.The view from my house; 3. Raymond in Kigali: “This is Africa, get used to it!”

It took an entire week to reach my place of work. I took four different planes, a car, and finally a bus called the Volcano to reach Butare. The Volcano is a lot like it sounds!

Butare, population, 7,500 feels like a small village to me. The town hosts the National University of Rwanda (NUR) where I will be teaching for the next two and half weeks.

My teaching week has already been cut short by an unexpected delay in Addis. Though I’m not too upset-how can I be? The experience I had there and the people I met there helped to launch my Africa journey.

One of my fellow travelers, A U.S. born NGO woker, whom I met in Addis, on his way to work in Kigali, suggested I buy some wine at the Kigali airport. He said wine would be expensive and also hard to come by once I got to Butare.

I had already bought a bottle of single malt scotch at the Mumbai duty free (the seller thought I was bound for Dubai until I showed him my boarding pass). I know how difficult teaching can be, especially in new circumstances and sometimes a nice glass of single malt can help to round out the day. But since Cory suggested it, I also bought some wine. Also, I am scheduled to share a house with several teachers, so I reason to myself that I need plenty in order to share.

For me, one of the creature comforts is a nice glass of red wine or a beautifully poured glass of single malt at the end of the day. A cold local beer is nice too, but after a while, in my experience, I start to look for the comfort of home. And that is just one of them.

I know from experience of my first working trip abroad to Bangkok in 1992 that when other things are missing (for example, hot water, or a comfortable bed), a nice glass of red wine can soothe and smooth things over.

Today I am a bit frustrated as I do not have my creature comforts and I am a bit tired. A Rwandan friend (who I had met in Toronto last year) says, “This is Africa! Get used to it.” But I admit I am having trouble with it all.

Butare town is small! There is one paved road that runs through the middle of the village. There is a “Canadian house” full of Canadian teachers, but it is full so I will be staying about 15 minutes (on foot) down the road from them. The road is not paved but is covered with a beautiful red dirt.

Outside my house as I arrive, I stop to soak in the wide expanse of the rolling hills of solid green trees. The view is panoramic and I am amazed at how much green is around me.

The cold air surprises me! This is my third journey into parts of Africa and each time I have traveled here (twice to Southern and here, my first time to Eastern), I am surprised by the climate. I am still swayed by media images of hot tropical Africa. Yet in the mornings here I need my shawl and am very happy I decided to pack warm pants and closed shoes.

Walking through the village, people stare at me. I try my best to smile at them, though I can see that the people here are quite reserved. They are friendly after a few days, but at first they are reserved and simply stare. I try my best to deal with the stares and smile when I can and other times, just let people stare and wonder who I am and what I am doing here.

All this makes me wonder about my position as a South Asian woman here in East Africa. All other teachers here from the Rwanda Initiative are also from Canada but it seems that they are all white. What is the race map of this town? How does my presence in this program change the dynamic? Does it change the dynamic in anyway?