Archive for May, 2009

“We’ll do it live.”

Yesterday our frustration boiled over.  We saw the third day in a row gradually passing us by as we waited for our internship contact to show up and take us to look for housing.  Emails and phone calls went unanswered and times to meet were pushed back or completely missed.  This finally forced us to take matters into our own hands…in a third-world country, mind you.  There is a tremendous amount of backstory that I will not get into, but it involves sore arms from people being thrown under the bus, among other entertaining aspects.

With zero contacts in Kigali outside of our initial point man we were left to either remain in the hotel and wait, or brave it and explore without both a literal and proverbial guide.  To avoid being like the people below we decided to “do it live” O’Reilly style.

Kigali is not an easy place to navigate.  There are no street numbers, names or identification of any kind.  And we’re just talking about the streets that are paved, not those made of clay and dirt.  You cannot easily map out Kigali, either.  Google Maps is not a big help.  Try it when you’re here and it will make your head spin.  Even trying to read directions that someone provides you can prove worthless.  One of our best guides has proven to be a declassified military map from 1994 prior to the Rwandan Genocide, which we found online.  So, our best source for direction is approximately 15 years old and Kigali doesn’t exactly look the same as it did then.

Traveling around Kigali is typically done either through a taxi bus which seats 16, an equivalent of a cab (these appear rarely), or mototaxis.  Taxi buses travel one way, as we understand it, and it’s hard to even determine where the places are that they end their trip, let alone how you get off if you don’t know exactly the route the bus is taking.  Think a subway train that goes a certain direction, without you understanding which direction, and you don’t know where or when it will stop to drop you off.  Awesome.  Our best bet was either a taxi cab or mototaxi because we could just tell them a destination and they’d go directly there.

We decided we needed to score a phone first in order to contact places about housing and to generally keep in touch with any contacts we make or need during our stay.  The problem was phones are sold downtown and we aren’t downtown, but instead we’re in an area called Remera.  We got a cab ride just outside our motel/hotel to go downtown for 3000 Rwanda francs (about $5-6).  We were dropped off right outside of the Bank of Kigali and expected to just wander around and find a place that sold phones.  As luck would have it, we ran into someone who took the same plane in from Nairobi, Kenya and she showed us around a local mall and we were able to easily pick up a phone.  We then phoned a real estate agent we previously found online and we hope to meet with him on Monday to secure housing that is both reasonably priced and closer to where our internship is located.

After walking around we were feeling bold and decided in the spirit of Bill O’Reilly we should “do it live” and hopped on the back of mototaxis to deliver us safely back to our temporary home.  For about $2 you not only get transportation to your desired destination, but you also get the adrenalin rush of being plugged into any great chase scene you’ve ever seen at the movies.  The mototaxis do a decent speed (probably 45-50 mph), but the drivers are maniacs as they cut each other off and challenge cars and trucks for position on the roadway.  After about a 5-1o minute thrill ride we were returned to our motel.

Hold on for dear life.

As you can see, one of us is holding on for dear life.

View from the road

View from the road.

All-in-all, it was a very productive and satisfying day.  We’ve taken things into our own hands here in Kigali and we expect to push forward with gusto.  Upon our return to the states I fully expect three orders for the shirt found below.

Unlike Joe Poser, we'll make it actually look good.

Unlike Joe Poser, we'll actually make it look good.

– TLS

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Motel Rwanda

“Welcome to the Motel Rwanda…Such a lovely place, such a lovely face…They livin’ it up in the Motel Rwanda…What a nice surprise, bring your alibis”

With apologies to The Eagles, once we left the airport we were driven by our contact to our temporary resting place.  One of us had found this hidden treasure trove while scouring the Internet for potential abodes.  As we pulled out of the airport we noticed the barbed wire propped up at the airport gate.  This elicited some raised eyebrows, but it was only a taste of things to come.  Driving from the airport to our final destination in Kigali we were able to see quite a bit of the city as a variety of buildings and shanty towns littered the hillside and the valleys.  The one thing that we noticed was how packed the streets were with people, mopeds, dirt bikes, diesel trucks, taxi vans and what amounted to a used car lot owner’s delight.

Kigali Road

We arrived at the motel/hotel and checked our bags in and saw our rooms.  For two rooms it is running us $33 per person, per night.  If you do the math it’s over $1000 per person per month.  It’s not ideal – there is no air conditioner in the rooms, no kitchen, no refrigerator, but it provides basic necessities and it is located in a secure area.   While we don’t have air conditioning we are provided with fashionable mosquito nets over each bed, in addition to a shower without a curtain, which makes for an adventure in not completely dousing the floor.

Featured in next month's Home and Garden

Featured in next month's Home and Garden

Curtain optional

Curtain optional

One of the bigger problems is the intermittent power outages that occur.  That happened today before I was going to take a shower.  Guess who had no hot water.  Let’s just say both of my co-travelers reveled in listening to me reacting to the freezing cold water.  Also, while there is no train in the vicinity of where we are staying there must be a ghost train that travels right outside at varying hours of the day and night.  We also have small lizards on the walls at night and some unknown animal that roams the tin roofing.  Our initial impression was that a cat was the likely culprit, but we haven’t seen one since arriving here.  We put our money on a monkey.

The workers are nice and polite and speak some English.  Also, we are served an awesome breakfast in the morning.  Needless to say we stock up on this and eat our fair share since it’s already priced in.

Toast, Japanese plum, pineapple, banana, passion fruit, juice, egg

Toast, Japanese plum, pineapple, banana, passion fruit, juice, egg

The grounds are well kept and are quite pretty.  There are two sitting areas in the back which we have utilized.  If it wasn’t for the price and the air conditioner it’d be a better deal.

In future posts I’ll elaborate on our search for a future location, in addition to our other travels and misadventures.

-TLS

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Muzungu on a Plane

If you have received a link to this blog consider yourself lucky.  You’ve stumbled upon an unauthorized blog providing our description of time spent in Kigali, Rwanda and Africa.

There will be no names or references mentioned to avoid potential conflicts.

For starters, flying to Rwanda was ridiculous.  I had to buy two separate tickets that ran through Amsterdam twice.  As big of a fan of the Amsterdam airport as I am, not to mention how much I enjoy accumulating frequent flying miles, the airline wouldn’t let me stay there instead of going from Amsterdam to London and back to Amsterdam.  Their reasoning was staying there would invalidate my ticket and I would be required to purchase another.  Ingenious.  Not only were they against me saving them a bit of cash by not having to haul me and my luggage around, but they seemed intent on forgetting “the customer is always right.”

Once I arrived in Amsterdam I even talked to the transfer desk and if I held my luggage in Amsterdam and I stayed it would have run an additional 250 Euros for a “holding fee.”

Once in London I had to rush through customs and pick up my bag only to check in again to fly back to Amsterdam.  The guy who checked my passport inspected it and my itinerary with a raised eyebrow.  At least he agreed with me that the airline I was flying on was operated by monkeys.

As expected, the time spent flying from the U.S. to Kigali was tiring.  It has been a few years since I went abroad, but I felt prepared for the trip and what I was going to see once on the ground.  What I was not prepared for was the foreigners I sat next to on the plane.  Sure, when I get on a plane leaving L.A. I don’t hear much English, but I usually don’t get the smells I fell victim to while crossing the pond.

Meeting up with my colleagues in London was a breath of fresh air.  Considering they hadn’t showered since the day before that isn’t saying much.

I will say that arriving in Kenya’s airport was pretty neat.  It was about 6am and the sun was rising up through the clouds.  The ball of orange and red looked remarkable through the blue clouds in the sky.  Definitely the highlight of the day.

The Kenya airport was less than desirable.  Without air conditioning and running water in the bathroom we realized we had left anything remotely close to what we had previously experienced on our trip.  Baby wipes might be one of the greatest inventions ever.  Second only to air conditioning, though.

Our layover in Kenya was approximately six hours and it became apparent that travelers through the Kenyan airport like their cigarettes and alcohol.  Nearly every shop had  the same front and the same items.  I almost jumped on the opportunity to buy a wooden giraffe for slightly more than $3.  African chotchkies are legit.  We exchanged a few dollars at the airport and I found it funny that it an Alan Keyes look-a-like was on one of their bills.

Who knew Alan Keyes was on Kenyas money?

Who knew Alan Keyes was on Kenya's money?

After napping and running into a few Americans we departed for Rwanda.  The plane ride was short and we were actually served a decent meal, which was a pleasant surprise.  Upon our arrival we were picked up by our contact who was waiting for us.

Kigali Airport

Kigali Airport

As for our time here, I’ll leave that for another post in the very near future.  We’ll provide some more backstory, as well.

I’ll leave you with a great 80’s hit…

– TLS

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