31 July 2005

missing you

i never miss things from the US, but i miss people and i miss places.

it's always hard to leave. it's hard to leave the US - impossible to end that last phone call with my parents when i'm on the plane about to take off. it's hard to leave Rwanda. it's hard to leave Africa. i don't even want to think about another leaving in a few weeks, but it is lurking back there in my mind. i push it away but it never completely leaves.

at least i have an apartment to go to. a little bit of a home for a few months.

30 July 2005

the first theft i was present for

I mentioned that they always tell us how unsafe Arusha is. I have yet to have a problem, although I have friends who have lost phones, money, and UN ids. On Thursday, on a very crowded dalla-dalla with IE, we were barely balanced on the step in the doorway of the dalla, the door of which wouldn't close because there was an additional row of men hanging out the door. IE had her backpack in her hand in front of her, near the floor. At the end of a very miserable one stop long ride, involving severe cramping in my one foot that had a tenuous position on the step into the dalla and in my one hand that was clinging to the back of a seat while my body tilted awkwardly sideways against that of the man next to me because I had no control over it given the precarious hand and foot positioning, we sort of tumbled backwards out of the dalla to let someone climb out from the back seat and IE discovered that her backpack was open and her wallet gone. I was first reluctant to make any assumptions and asked all the usual questions, "Where did you last have it? Are you sure you had it when we left Mr. Price? Could it have fallen out?" But it became clear that the backpack had been opened and the wallet - and nothing else - removed.

I expected the dalla people to shrug. Happens all the time, right?

Instead, the bus pimp made everyone climb out of the dalla. There were about forty people in a bus built for 17. Every person, before they got back in, got patted down by the bus pimp. I looked under the seats with a flashlight. Little kids had their school backpacks opened. Women showed us the contents of their purses and pulled their own wallets out of their bras to show us that they were not Ildi's. One woman sympathetically looked through IE's backpack herself and nodded in commiseration. Nope, no wallet.

We didn't find the wallet. There were just too many people and too much potential for someone to move to the edge of the crowd, toss it in the bushes, and put the money in their pocket. We suspect this one guy who was hanging out the door right behind IE. But it was a great moment, all of us outside the dalla getting searched (they insisted that I check my bag, too, although no one patted me down since we were obviously riding together - why would I steal my friend's wallet?)

After we all got back in the dalla and started going again and the people started getting off and I finally got a seat, one of the guys who had been helping us search (keep in mind that he is a Tanzanian, looks like a Tanzanian, talks like a Tanzanian, is a Tanzanian) squeezed in next to me on the flip-down seat in the last row and looked at me sorrowfully and said, "You cannot trust black people."


quote of the day

"I like you too much!"
~ a random man pushing a handmade wooden wheelbarrow along the side of Njiro road as I walked by

28 July 2005

thursday night

whenever someone says the words "thursday night," i think instinctively of igisafuria.

even writing that word will forever make me think of this one time when k, s's organization's country director, once came to kibuye and joined us for igisafuria and he couldn't get the word figured out and s tapped the table with each syllable and repeated over and over "EE-gee-sa-FUriya" with four taps and the last three syllables all blended together into one syllable when really there are supposed to be six syllables in the word. we laughed really hard, approaching falling on the ground laughing, which was relatively common at igisafuriya, and for years (okay, two years now, probably) we imitated that whenever we had to tell the word to someone.

gisafuriya is a traditional casserole, made of bananas and potatoes and every potentially edible part of a goat. once we found this strange-looking soft gray twisty piece in it that we could not identify but which was either small intestine or a worm. probably a small intestine.

on thursday nights in kibuye, when i lived there, someone would order igisafuriya from the cantine, a little restaurant-ish place between the prefecture and the tennis court of the guest house. when the power was out, it was really dark in the back where the little eating huts are and even when the power was not out, it was always a bit of a game to come into the back area and find your group because the lighting was never that good. no matter what time we told them to have the gisafuriya ready, it was never ready when we got there. mostly i showed up at least half an hour after the set time and sometimes an hour. and i never touched the dish, anyway, because it was goat.

but we laughed. always, we laughed. there were nights when we laughed until my stomach still ached when i got home. n would say outrageous things. we would provoke b for fun and get him to say ridiculous, impossible medical things ("fish are plants" is the classic). i flatly forbade a to make any more speeches under threat of my leaving the table. we argued about the population of nairobi. we argued about who drove the fastest to kigali. we argued about whether the new mandatory working hours were a good idea (i thought they were preposterous - 7 am to 3:30 pm? crazy. i just continued starting my work day at 8:30).

last night was thursday night and all day yesterday i wished that there was igisafuriya, but i'm in arusha with different people and there was none. instead, we roasted a wildebeest. by which i mean a gnu. one of j's fellow soccer players went hunting last weekend and brought us some nice pieces of one of the ugliest animals ever. i don't usually eat, say, meat, but i had to try it, because it was wildebeest, after all. i can't just not try it. so i did. it was nice, as meat goes although, you know, it was meat.

so lots of people came over and ate wildebeest. it wasn't quite igisafuriya. but it was still fun.

27 July 2005

My current favorite song lyrics in the world:

i believe in the quest and the journey
i believe that the answers come in time

where we begin is where we arrive


I love her writing.

26 July 2005

day in and out

One of my favorite parts of the day is in the morning just after all of my housemates leave. They are usually gone by 7:30 and the maid doesn't come until 8:00. I have half an hour in which I know that I am alone in the house and I can dance around to non-existent music while I make toast or pancakes in the frying pan. I get to decide if I'm going to have tea or hot chocolate or just water with my breakfast. The air is still fresh and I usually haven't yet encased my feet in shoes. I walk on the cool cement.

One of my other favorite parts of the day is coming home as the sun is setting. At the turn from the main road into our neighborhood, there is a woman who sells roasted corn. Not sweet corn, which I don't really like, but hearty corn well roasted so that sometimes a few kernels are half-popped open like popcorn. I buy an ear from her every day. It's become a tradition. I greet her and shake hands with Elaine, her little daughter. Elaine swings around the sign post and I talk to her in English, which she doesn't understand, while her mother makes sure the corn is brown all over. The corn sometimes comes wrapped in pieces of the husk - to-go packaging.

When I get home, I always realize that I forgot to buy an extra ear for the guard and I give him 100 shillings (10 cents) so he can go buy his own, which I think he prefers because it means that he gets to go out of the yard for a while. I go out on the balcony and watch the sun set behind the long field and the low hills. I eat the corn and sometimes a popsicle and then usually I get so frustrated with the corn bits in my teeth that I have to go fix it before the sun actually goes down.

25 July 2005

vanilla tea

once, when I lived in Rwanda, my mom sent me a package and inside it were several kinds of tea. My favorite two were vanilla hazelnut and vanilla. When the teabags she sent ran out, I started buying these little tubes of vanilla essence at the Baguette in Kigali which is no longer called the Baguette and has not been since I before arrived in Rwanda and is actually called La Gallette or something silly like that, but which I still call the Baguette because everyone else does. A drop or two of the vanilla essence (which comes four tubes to a pack for 1000 FRw) makes tea exactly perfect, with lots of Nido and some sugar. It does not work so well in the US because skim milk does not serve the same function as full cream milk powder. But I'm back in Africa, baby, and the vanilla tea is back and it's good. Really good.

23 July 2005

always fatal for me: a bookstore

I was going along just fine here in Arusha, spending more money that I should have, but still managing to be relatively thrifty. Now it's all over. I found a bookstore. Not just a bookstore, but a bookstore with lots of the sort of books I like: stories of homecomings in Lebanon, women's lives in India, third culture kids all over the world. The bookstore sells great coffee and in theory I could just read the books as I sit there, but it never works. I buy. I always, always buy.

Nothing exciting has been happening lately. People tried to get me to go to a club last night. I refused. I was too tired. When I'm tired, a club is the last place you want me to be because I will crabbify the entire place.

Dallas have been ripping us off. Maybe the price of fuel went up, but only the price of the halfway home trip went up. To go all the way home costs the same.

I wear my wrist brace a lot, for typing. Usually once I put it on in the morning I don't take it off until I leave the office, so I get really sympathetic looks from everyone. Once on the street a girl said, "Oh, poli sana." I looked around madly. "What, what? What's wrong?" It was just my wrist. When I go through metal detectors wearing the brace, I set them off every time. I have to tap on the metal slab in the brace to show the guards that I'm not scary.

21 July 2005

nice shoes

Yesterday morning, walking to work, I passed a nun walking the other direction. She was dressed head to toe in a practical brown, even down to her tights. I looked down at her feet and saw that she was wearing black platform sandals with two inch clunky heels, quite similar to some of my sister's.

This is a nun I would like to know.

20 July 2005

in court, in court

Guess what? I'm in court! I am using an attorney's laptop. The defense attorney is cross-examining someone about something. I could tell you more, but then I'd have to kill you. The whole thing is BOOOORING at the moment. I'm not sure why I'm here... I was hoping there would be some fireworks, but so far, nothing. Not even one little sparkler.

The last time I saw fireworks (not real ones) was actually on the 4th of July. My housemates took the opportunity to create their own - ie. one yelling (literally) at another. I think I was all the more startled because the yelling took place in Africa. It was so much more striking here. You expect people to yell in the US. Here, you don't.

Same housemate got back from a trip to Rwanda this morning (twenty-four hours of bus from Kigali - the little plane is on annual maintainance). The group took Jaguar from Kigali to Kampala, which I TOLD them not to do (these are the buses that I fear so much because they nearly killed me every time I drove to Kampala). But they didn't listen to me and they took Jaguar anyway, and they claim they have never been in so much fear for their lives. They claim they saw things in each other that they've never seen in a living being. They clung to strangers. They screamed in fear. It was raining and they saw dead bodies near other spun off vehicles along the road. One of them turned off the dvd in the bus and screamed at the driver. Meanwhile, the other passengers were telling them, "Doucemente," gently, telling them to be nicer to the driver (although I doubt this part of the story because that is also the word that is used in Rwanda to tell people to slow down).

Speaking of accidents, on the way to work this morning (in the most lackadaisical dalla-dalla I've taken - we were only three passengers and they just didn't seem to CARE if they had riders or not, while usually dallas are frantic about filling up), I saw a ditch problem. Now, these ditches are a hazard. At least four of my friends have fallen into them. They are uncovered. They are deep, sometimes as deep as four feet. They are immediately on the side of the road. You leap out of the way of a car and land in one (D). You get out of a taxi, drunk, and fall directly into one, dragging in your immediate neighbor (J and M)You walk along the road in the dark, saying, "When I came, I didn't even know there were ditches here!" and simultaneously fall into the nearest one (IE). I've seen a few vehicles in them before, usually just a front wheel. This time, it was a UN Nissan Patrol, and it was not just IN the ditch, it OWNED the ditch. It was obviously taking a curve too fast and just slid sideways, both left wheels into the ditch. Or, to give the driver credit, maybe it was forced off the road by other manic vehicles. It fit in perfectly, left side against the side of the ditch, right wheels just on the edge, tilted 45 degrees on its side. It appeared to have slid about 6 or 7 meters along the ditch, nice white paint decorating the ditch. There was a tow truck guy looking at it, just beginning to think about how they'd ever get it out, it was so wedged.

I hope, but I doubt, the passengers were wearing seatbelts. Otherwise they might be a bit bruised. How I do love seatbelts.

18 July 2005

driving everyone

I said that I miss having a car and I thought that what I missed was having a way to get around, to get home after dark, to bring lots of groceries home. Turns out that what I really miss is the driving itself.

Background: IE invited a bunch of people over to her house for drinks and cake. Eventually we decided to have the mini-shindig at my place because all of my housemates were gone for the weekend. It ended up being a bit of a tiny party because there was some dinner put on by an attorney that some of the people were at and some people just never showed up and some people we didn't invite because we don't like drunken debauchery and they carry it with them wherever they go, but it was still fun, especially the part involving a really yummy chocolate cake.

At some point, somehow the conversation turned to the idea of going to Moshi (near Kilimanjaro) the next day and we ended up asking someone who works with my case how one gets there. He had no idea how to get there by poor intern sort of transport, but said that he would like to go himself and we could all go in his car. So he showed up with car the next day and we set off, four of us (IE, C, D, me), with the driver.

About 2 kilometers down the road, we pulled into a petrol station and D said, "Okay, [amazedlife], you are driving us to Moshi. You said you wanted to."

Yes, I had MENTIONED wanting to drive, but I didn't think anyone would pay attention to me!

I had my international driving permit, the car was right there full of fuel... I swallowed my nerves about driving on the wrong side of the road (I mean, the left side of the road) and about the fact, did I mention, that this car is a brand-new BMW? and off we went, sans driver.

I have always vehemently acclaimed the virtues of driving old reliable cars. And yes, I believe that. And yes, unnecessary materialism and walking with the poor and blah, blah, blah. All important.

But can I just say, since I will probably never own one, this is an amazing car. I mean, amazing. You get what you pay for, it turns out. I have never driven a car that went that fast, that quietly, that smoothly, that controllably, that comfortably, that powerfully. I mean, amazing. The power... the little gadgets... the leather seats... the acceleration... the steering... Passing people was positively delightful. It swooped out into the next lane and, let me say once again, the acceleration is perfect. Such power, and you cannot hear that the gears might want to be changed until you are well above 5000 RPM.

On the way back, in the dark, I discovered that you can adjust the angle of the headlights from inside the car. Tell me this is not the most amazing car ever. And there is this red glow over your hand when you shift in case you need to see.

Oh, yeah, we saw Kilimanjaro. And a waterfall and some caves dug in 1915 by the Chagga people to hide and live in during their war with the Maasai.

But the CAR. I offered to be D's driver in exchange for some use of it and $99 per month, which is $1 less than what he pays his current driver. In fact, just for $99 per month. As long as I could keep my day job at the Tribunal. I cannot get over how in love I am with this car. It is the kind of car that makes you feel like the best driver in the world (and also the most terrified that you might wreck it). It is the kind of car in which 130 kph feels slow. It is the kind of car in which you see the signs that Arusha is getting closer and you wish you could just keep driving. I would PAY to drive further, in fact, even just driving someone else (everyone else) where they need to go. I'm going through withdrawal now. I want the car back.

14 July 2005

ju-eece for lunch

Juice in East Africa is pronounced as ju-eece, two syllables. In Kenya and Uganda and Tanzania, fresh juice is readily available - I know that they tell you never to drink such things in Africa, but I always do, with adverse results very rarely. Mostly, you get passion fruit juice and I pretty much universally love passion fruit juice unless it is made from concentrate, which is horrible and yet somehow very popular in Rwanda, where the concentrate companies buy up all the passion fruit and raise the price of the fruit and make fresh juice too expensive for any restaurant but Sol e Luna to bother with (which is why Sol e Luna has my undying affection even though they overcook their pasta). Here in Tanzania, fresh passion ju-eece is everywhere, although sometimes people don't understand me when I say juice like a North American.

Trying to get more fruits and vegetables in a healthy eating kick (okay, the juice has sugars, I know, but the orangeness is there) and being horribly thirsty because I went running at 6:30 this morning, I drank passion juice at lunch and then tried tangerine juice, which was amazing and fresh - they made it after we ordered it - and full of lovely pulp. Then we bought beautiful big red raspberries at Meat King (Meat King? I don't eat meat) which are only 1700 shillings, about $1.70, which is cheap for raspberries but expensive for Tanzania. But anyway, they are good. Very good.

Mundane details, again, partly because I remember people from churches saying to me, "It's so wonderful that you give up so much to help those poor people." when I left for Rwanda. I give mundane details to show some of the things that I love so much about Africa - some of the reasons why I'm gaining more than I'm giving up to be here.

13 July 2005

my head is stuck in the trunk

we went shopping over lunch - to grocery stores and i bought a book. as we were leaving shoprite, we were a bit late, so we decided to take a taxi. with four of us, it's not expensive. we hailed one i've used before, an ancient peugeot that lives in the parking lot of shoprite. he opened the boot (with a screwdriver) so we could pile in all our bags, but the car started rolling forward, so he let go of the trunk lid and ran back to the front of the car. the very heavy lid of the trunk landed on my head and pinned me in place. i started saying "help! help!" in a pathetic voice, because it didn't occur to me that i could put my hands up and lift the lid. maybe my hands were still in the handles of the bags i was putting in the trunk. i don't remember. IE called the driver, who came running back to lift the trunk off me, but then realized that the car was still rolling and turned and ran back to the front.

my head was wedged under the lid as the car was rolling forward. finally IE lifted the lid off of me just as the driver got the car to stop.

"my head was stuck in the trunk!" i said. "and the car was moving!"

12 July 2005

blah, blah, blah

I'm back in Tanzania, having again taken the plane the size of a peanut. No, seriously. I used to complain about the old Rwandair Express plane being peanut sized, but it held something like 24 people. This plane holds 12. 12! That's not a plane, it's a van in the air. It is narrower across than a car. Unacceptable. Of course, it's free, which makes even the complete lack of amenities (read: seats that date back to the 1970s, at least, with armrests that are broken) a rather good deal. We puttered our way back to Arusha on this beast, me trying all the way to remind myself that prop planes are safer than jets because if the engines go out the plane can glide for a while.

So... Arusha again. I have nothing to say about Arusha. I miss Kigali. There's nothing like a city where every hotel and restaurant yields someone you know, or at least recognize. Okay, sometimes it feels really claustrophobic and you wish everyone would just leave you alone but then your friend's phone gets stolen and you realize that you have the phone number of the chief of security for the capital city and that there are people everywhere who will take care of you. For two days, I had no money because I needed to change some and people just kept buying me things. I ate three meals a day, without money. I drank cappucino, without money. I took taxi motos, without money. I swam in the pool at the Novotel, without money. Two of those things (the cappucino and the pool) were paid for by people I had never met before.

I love Rwanda.

08 July 2005

oh, right

regarding that work thing i do - on monday at 4 pm someone handed me "[opponent's] response to [our] extremely urgent motion" about one of the witnesses and said, "look up US case law for us so we can respond to this. give me a two page summary of what US law says before you leave tonight. then have fun in Rwanda."

i was leaving for Rwanda at 7 am the next morning.

it took me until 9 pm to get the summary done. the cases that were in the original motion were unfindable. i had to start over and i wasn't sure exactly which aspect he wanted me to look at. i saw about ten that were possible. finally i looked up all this stuff about closed testimony and limiting cross-examination. i assume it was right because i haven't gotten any complaints. so far.

everyone in my office was jealous because i got to do something, okay, stressful and uncertain, but actually legal.

did i mention that i love my trial team?

07 July 2005

back to beautiful Rwanda

So today I'm sitting in a former hotel, now an office building. From my window on the third floor, I can see the runway at Kanombe Airport.

I just threw a bag of banana chips at the trash can because they were stale and they scattered all over the floor. I had to pick them up one by one lest someone should come in and see that I'm a slob.

Yesterday I was in Nyamata. Wednesday I was in Butare. Tuesday I was in Arusha. I don't know where I'm sleeping tonight.

Landing in Rwanda feels like a homecoming every time. This time, in the little UN plane, I could see the runway through the cockpit and the green hills around us and I was happy happy happy to be back.

I thought there would be friends arriving here today but I can't find them. Sad. I want to go to Gisenyi or something but I don't feel like going alone, even to Gisenyi, especially on minibuses. I miss my car so so so much. It gave me so much independence. And if all else failed, I could have slept in it. This guy who did Peace Corps in Mauritania looks at me like I'm a snob because I say almost daily, "I wish I had a car!"