Rwanda 2007: Shady Dealings, New Friends, and Free Safaris

Jul 25, 2007
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The sunrise in Kigali, Rwanda
Above: The sunrise in Kigali, Rwanda.

// 1 Million Francs Please. Wait you want a contract? //

A large part of my time in Rwanda was actually spent helping to look for a house to rent in Kigali for the project.  Well let me rephrase that - a large part of my time was actually spent waiting around to help look for a house to rent here in Kigali for the project...

Soon after arriving, I rapidly realized that nothing moves fast in Rwanda and that the actual hours of the day had been replaced with arbitrary assignments of words like "midday" that don't in actuality correlate with anything at all.  The worst example of this was when we were supposed to finalize a deal on a house and meet the owner around a mysterious time known as "midday." Well noon rolled around and we met up with our friend that was working out the details for us, but instead of going to the house, he decided that we should get lunch. Fair enough... Well lunch was done a couple hours later, but when we called the owner we were told he was in an important meeting and to call back. At this point, we were informed that the owner was actually the Speaker of the Rwandan Parliament!  Alright, well at least you would assume that would lend some legitimacy to the process... But, no.

So the hours kept passing, and we kept waiting... Basically killing time on the internet (when the connection was working) and drinking coffee at our favorite LA-esque coffee shop - Bourbon. Finally, "midday" - meaning Seven o'clock in the evening - finally rolled around and we were told that the Speaker's Assistant was going to meet us at the house to make the deal. We headed over to the house - errr, I mean the small convenience store near the house - to wait another hour or so before the assistant (now being referred to as "the Lieutenant") finally showed up. We all sat down at the little neighborhood store and were told that we needed to pay the first five months in advance (something that is actually not uncommon here and we had brought the money expecting to do so) and that we could have the key tonight and move in tomorrow. We were fine with that, however the next step was where the fun began... The Lieutenant wanted the One Million francs right then without any official contract, but told us to go ahead and write out our own contract and sign it ourselves and he would bring a real one the following day. So basically, he wanted the money, leaving us with only a handwritten contract signed solely by us... Everything seemed a little fishy and we soon retreated and decided to take care of it another day when the owner was around and/or there was a real contract to sign.

We later asked another friend of ours, William, if he recognized the name of the owner of the house. The story did pan out that he was the Speaker of the Parliament, however, he was also an advocate of the Genocide back in the early 90's and worked for the infamous Radio des Milles Colleens - the main radio station responsible for spreading propaganda and instructions during the Genocide. We are not sure the full story of the house, but apparently a lot of the people responsible for the Genocide that are still exiles living in other countries are trying to rent their houses through family / friends... There is a good possibility that this is one of those houses - so needless to say - we decided to pass...

Tom spent another three hours the other day trying to look at another house that the owner again failed to show up to... And we went to look at yet another shortly after with no luck... This last time we even picked the "Broker" up on the way, only to find out that she not only didn't have the keys, but didn't even know who the owner was when we got there! After about an hour we gave up and headed home actually quite proud of ourselves that we streamlined the process of failing to get a house down from 9+ Hours to only one! Not too bad for Rwanda...

// "I worry more about that damn dog than I do my own kids!" //

As you guys know, I have been over here in Rwanda doing work for a friend's organization that is teaching photography / journalism to school kids and orphans. Well somewhere in the process, we signed up a 34 year old man named William to our newly formed "Mentorship Innitiative" and he quickly became one of our star pupils. He is former RPF military who from age 17 fought to free Rwanda and was among the force that is responsible for ending the genocide in 1994. Needless to say he has his stories. But I'll get to some of those in a bit...

Before that though, I have to talk about his former boss of 7 years - John. John is a returnee (someone who left Rwanda before or during the Genocide but has since returned) who runs a local tour agency. William took us over to his shop one day to introduce us and we started talking about photography. He said that he needed some high quality photos for marketing material and said he might be able to send us around Rwanda to take some photos for him. He told us to come over the following day to his house for beer and we would discuss it more...

Well beer really involved just listening to his stories and cracking up over some of his one liners... Among them... When we met his two year old daughter and were telling him how cute she was, he proceeded to let us know that: "She is very spoiled. She loves her beer!" Then, when we met his dog, who turned out to be a personal gift from the President of Rwanda, he told us: "I worry more about that damn dog than I do my own kids!" He really is a great guy and a hilarious story teller. We finalized the plans that night and worked out two days worth of traveling around Rwanda in a private car with a driver in exchange for high quality photos for his marketing material. Sometimes it pays to be a photographer...

As for William... Here is the best story I heard from John about him... A couple years ago, four police men showed up at his doorstep around five in the morning. They started harassing him and telling him he needed to come to the station with them, but they wouldn't say what he was being accused of... He started arguing with them and finally got a kick to the leg by one of the officers. Now William is a tall, kinda skinny, quiet man that you couldn't really picture hurting a fly... However, the kick to the leg brought out the former military in him and he immediately went for the one officer with a gun - quickly unarmed him - and then single-handidly took out the other three.  He then escorted them at the point of their own gun back to the police station, reported them to their commanding officer, and then turned himself in! He was released shortly thereafter to John and the Police Chief couldn't stop saying how much he wished he had 4 Williams on his force! Apparently now William and the four police officers are all pretty good friends...

// My First Safari //

Our two day trip around Rwanda was pretty fun. From Kigali, you can basically get anywhere in the country in about 2 hours, so we covered quite a bit of ground. The first day, we went up north, stopping at a local village market on the way. The colors and energy of the market was absolutely insane, and as we were driving down the road, you knew there was a market nearby from miles out because of the long line of people with random good precariously perched on their heads walking along the side of the road. One of the people caring sugar canes managed to turn right as we were passing and nailed our side view mirror... Here in Rwanda, a $10 fix where they just swapped out the glass - in LA, a $600 fix where they replace all but the door itself.

The rest of the first day was spent visiting some scenic lake views to take pictures and going to the border crossing between Rwanda and Congo. I wanted to cross over, but we decided that the $65 visa wasn't worth having lunch in Congo for an hour.

The following day was the Safari in Akegera National Park in Eastern Rwanda.  Other than the dragon fly that nailed me in the forehead as we were driving through the Savannah it was pretty fun!  We saw giraffes, zebras, caribou, hippos, baboons, birds, warthogs and random other critters here and there.  Unfortunately, we weren't able to find the elephants... The giraffes were really cool though and let us get pretty close for some good shots.

// Random Musings //

The ingredients for Zesta Chilli Sauce in Rwanda: "Chillies, Sugar, Salt, Edible, Starch, Vinegar." Do you think "Edible" grows on trees or is it some sort of extract?

A common Kinyarwandan greeting: "Cows?" "Heffers!"

The sunrise in Kigali, Rwanda

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