Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Back in Nairobi

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Holy mother of LOVING NAIROBI!


Yes, I did probably just get ripped off by booking my bus through an agent instead of directly through the bus company. But the ease of having somewhere to call “home” for a few hours, a place to put my bag, someone to show me where the coffee and the bathroom are, and the general feeling of being taken care of are ALL worth the ten bucks I just spent. Man… Happiness abounds.

Having a bit of East Africa behind me, my view of Nairobi has changed. Everyone speaks English (or SWAHILI!!!), people are super friendly and willing to help, there are MANY MANY ATMs, they brought CHILI SAUCE with my eggs benedict, I’m sipping my second cappuccino, and (drumroll…) there’s ONE travel agent who can take my VISA!

Consider me booked for Thailand, folks!!! (Oh yeah, I couldn't get a visa for India... argh.)

So after spending five more days in Kigali than I’d originally planned, I managed to book myself a flight from Kigali to Nairobi (FINALLY!). I flew in this morning, and am here for five hours while I wait for the bus to Arusha. That journey will take me a whopping (God-willing) six hours. I’m actually really excited about returning to Arusha which surprises me since I had such a difficult time making up my mind on what to do.

Arusha will be some wind-down Africa time. I have no real plans other than to run as much as I can, visit the Masai market again, do a LOT of laundry (it does feel like I’m always doing laundry, or talking about doing laundry… hmmmm… Missing my washer and dryer…), and visit with some friends. Really, I’m just going to soak in as much of Africa as I can before I leave.

Note to close friends and family: leaving this continent is going to break my heart. Prepare for messages/phone calls/texts indicating meltdown. Please keep reminding me that Africa will still be here when I’m ready to come back.

My issues getting out of Kigali are a little bit complicated (I’ll save you the gory details). Suffice to say – TIA (This Is Africa). As organized, clean, and safe as Kigali is, getting accurate information about busses, finding someone who will take a debit/credit card, actually obtaining a decent internet connection for an extended period of time proved difficult – at best. So difficult that I actually just decided to stop fighting the system and settle into the place. When I managed to book a flight out of Rwanda yesterday I figured that was the sign that it was time to leave.

I have been alone for a few days now and I’m loving it. One great thing about traveling alone is that it leaves the door wide open for making new friends. And so, I did.  The other day in Bourbon (best coffee shop in Africa) a beautiful Kenyan named Anthony started asking me about my computer. Of course, these questions turned into a nice, long conversation about where he was from, where I was from, what I was doing in Kigali… etc, etc, etc,… He is a PhD student and a professor in Kigali. He studied Information Systems in India and is currently working on a project analyzing the effects of Enterprise Resource Planning software on business. (For those of you who don’t know, I worked for a company that developed and sold Enterprise Resource Planning software for 7 years.) TRIP OUT! So, we had some things to talk about.

I ran into Anthony in the store later that evening. It was a really weird moment for me to hear someone call “Stephanie!” in the grocery store. Difficult to explain, but when you’re traveling in an area where you’re CERTAIN that no one knows you, you get used to never hearing anyone call your name. So weird. It felt like home for a minute, just to have someone recognize me in the grocery store and stop and talk. Made my day, actually.

Last night I ventured off my beaten path to a new place someone had told me about called the Sundowner Bar and Grill. I sat at the bar by myself (and talked to Arline!!!) until I noticed an older man sitting a few spots down, also alone, drinking whiskey. He was distinguished and I was completely intrigued. He finally took note of me after I’d stared at him for about 20 minutes. After a formal introduction he bought me a whiskey.

I will say this: Rwanda has a pretty gnarly history. It took a while to get it through my thick head that the discrimination that led to the genocide in 1994 started many, many years before the mass slaughtering that finally got the delayed reaction of the world. Many of the people I met in Rwanda were actually Rwandan, but hadn’t spent most of their lives in Rwanda. Some had lived in the DRC, some in Uganda, some in Tanzania, and some in Kenya. Towards the end of my time in Kigali I finally learned what they meant when they said, “I am Rwandan, but I didn’t grow up here.” Meaning, somewhere along the line, their family had fled. The fact that I was never able to get any of these people to tell me the whole story of where their family started, why they left, where they went, and how they ended up back in Kigali is very telling about the culture of silence regarding the genocide and the prejudices leading up to it. The community is now focused on peace between the two cultures (Hutus and the Tutsis) and do not discuss the conflicts of the past – at least not in public. I was able to get the men from the UN (who were not Rwandan) to give me a little bit of information through whispers in a loud restaurant. Still, interesting to me how strong the code of silence is. I’m not sure if I think it’s good or bad, whether it’s protecting the newfound peace or allowing the sordid past to stew in Rwanda’s belly.

The man sitting next to me at the Sundowner became my new best friend after he bought me second whiskey. He called himself an “old man” – almost 60, which is old for Africa. People don’t live past the age of 70 here. He is an accountant, but he and his wife run a University in Kampala. He has four children. One is a lawyer, one is a journalist, one an accountant, and one a priest. He is the first person I’ve come across in Africa with such a wild success story. As he put it, he came from a family of “nomads” never really settling into one place… roaming from Uganda to Tanzania or wherever there was land to grow crops. He is Rwandan, but has only lived in Rwanda for the last ten years. I still don’t really understand how this man who was raised by nomads managed to become the stoic, educated, brilliant man next to me.

We talked about politics – he told me I am crazy. (He’s right.) He was fascinated by my story of circumnavigating the world and lectured me about keeping a better record of it telling me, “You need to send me a signed copy of the book.”

So, as of today I’m dedicating myself to keeping a better record of my journey. Not so that I can write a book, but because I can tell from looking at pictures that I’m already forgetting things that happened just a month ago. (NOOOOO!!!!!)

And with that, the next part of this journey begins – a long bus ride to Tanzania with 60 of my closest new friends. Wish me luck!

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