7 Quick Takes: Cultural Edition

by Sarah Luna


Thursday, the four of us decided to walk home from HQ. It’s about a 4.5 mile trek, but we were tired of sitting and wanted to explore the city. The guys had run the route that morning and thought that they knew a short cut. Kigali straddles many hills with the city centers at the tops of the hills and the rural villages in the valleys. We passed through one of the valleys on our way back. The sign said “village de Enfants” and we eventually saw a children’s home. We trekked along beautiful red dirt roads past small brick homes where families hung out outside preparing for the evening. There are always people outside the houses.


The four of us stand out even in the most urban parts of the city. People stare at us as we walk by or peer through the windows when
we drive. They make no effort to hide their curiosity. Passing cars honk at us in a friendly way. Cars don’t stop for you though. We nearly got hit once by a car turning into a driveway.


We get followed a lot by packs of little children. They laugh and giggle and point at us. There aren’t many child beggars which surprised me, but I was still in the habit of ignoring them. Two precocious young boys wouldn’t have that. They followed us chatting, and when we didn’t acknowledge them, one picked up a small rock and threw it at Laura’s backpack. She turned around shocked. The little boys beamed at us and in their most polite English saluted us: “Good afternoon!”


After the boys left, we came across a group of school girls. They whispered and giggled and walked straight behind us. Then I feel a tug on my hair. Then another. I turn around and five girls had their hands out reaching for strands of my hair. I smiled at them and let them touch it. It’s probably the first time they’ve seen long hair up close.


English is an official language here how, so most of the children know a few phrases. However, we think the words “fat” and “tall” are next to each other in books because two boys yelled out, “HEY FAT ONE!”, from across the street.


Food here is incredible. I feel as though I could eat as much as I like (which is what I am doing) and never gain any weight. I had sweet potatoes for breakfast today and corn on the cob for breakfast yesterday. Last night, we had three different starches at dinner: a maize mush that looked like mashed potatoes, felt like playdoh, and tasted like corn tortilla dough; basmati rice; and potatoes in a delicious sauce. We get a bowl of shredded dark greens at each dinner as well.

We’re on our own for lunch and have eaten twice at a panaderie with amazing pizza fromage. Yesterday, we ate at the restaurant at HQ which provided an amazing buffet for 2000 RWF (or about $3.33).


I’m not used to living in a house with maids. Food magically appears at mealtimes. Laundry gets done and folded on my bed. It feels so weird to leave the table without clearing my dishes. I tried to clear them on the first night, but Millie and Sarah were like, “Oh no, do not be afraid!!” which I think was their way of telling me “don’t worry about it”. Still strange to me.