We’ve been in our new home for a week now and we’ve been at our internship for about the same amount of time. We’re finally getting used to catching the taxi buses and making our trek to the supermarket to pick up food on our way back home. By the way, here’s a picture of our backyard from our balcony…
Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice place but we have a growing number of problems in just the first week: we’ve lost power; I don’t have hot water in my shower; there’s no A/C; the Internet seems to be running on a 56K modem when it does work; either a dog barks or a guy screams like he’s dying every night around 9 or 10pm, making me wish for a dog-human murder-suicide; and the help still leaves our windows open so mosquitoes find their way in. The mosquitoes seem to be some hybrid gnat/mosquito combination and enjoy doing flybys over your ear when you’re in bed. The aggravating thing is they’re smaller than mosquitoes in the U.S., so they’re hard to spot. The three of us have spent sleepless nights hunting for these “mini-mosquitoes.” Fortunately, they don’t bite as often as their U.S. counterparts.
Minor details, of course. What I’m really dreading is the day it rains when we’re heading to work at 6:30am. Once we leave our nice apartment complex we walk directly onto a dirt/clay road and continue on that for a good five minutes and then a cobblestone hike for approximately three minutes before reaching our spot where bus taxis pick up passengers. If it’s raining our clothes for work won’t be remotely presentable due to the orange clay road. I’ll provide the gory details when that happens.
There are several topics I can touch on and I have actually started writing several at a time, but one thing stood out after a few conversations today.
Kigali, and probably Rwanda as a whole, is very backwards. For instance, today we tried to open a bank account. What a freakin’ headache. We got out of our internship at 2pm and headed downtown with passports in hand so we could open accounts and then transfer money from the U.S. We walked into one bank at 2:30 in the afternoon and we pulled three numbers: 544, 545, 546. The next customer to be seen was 519 and there were at least 30 people sitting around. Moving right along. Next up, Bank of Kigali.
It was supposed to be the most reputable and well-known bank in the city, and maybe in the country. It definitely looked the nicest of the few we’ve been in. We walked in and the place was busy, although not quite as much as the previous place. After standing around not knowing where to go due to the lack of posted signs I stepped into an office and the gentleman was on the phone. I knocked and we waved me in and pointed at the chair for me to sit. I patiently waited as he finished one phone call. Then he picked up and dialed another phone number and began another conversation. While he was on the phone another representative poked his head in the doorway and brought some paperwork and a customer. The gentleman finished his phone conversation and turned to the man who basically jumped in front of me. He chatted for a minute and then signed some papers and they left. The gentleman then got back on the phone and made another call only to find that his personal cell phone went off. Then he hung up and started talking on the cell phone. After showing me into the room he never acknowledged my presence, which was beyond bizarre and rude. After he picked up the cell phone I simply got up to leave and head upstairs to look for help. He immediately hung up the cell phone and freaked out wondering why I was leaving. I explained we were trying to open a bank account and he showed us upstairs.
Now, this exercise of cell phones going off constantly in the work place and people interrupting wasn’t anything new. It happens at our internship, as well, and even when we had previously tried to exchange U.S. dollars for Kigali francs. At the supermarket where we frequently shop, people jump in line with their food and cut you in line like the building is on fire. The same goes for each morning when we try to find a place on a taxi bus. You need to wrestle and fight people for spots because no one gets in a line. There definitely is a lack of courtesy and little concept of civility.
So, as I was saying, after I was put on “ignore” we went upstairs and sat in another room that was supposed to help us open an account. No one acknowledged we were there. Three bank workers were in the room and two were helping customers. While waiting we thought we’d browse the newspapers on the table in front of us and found they were dated January 13th, 2009. Seriously? It might as well have been 1955.
Shortly after that discovery another customer comes into the room and the one worker who had no customer immediately took notice of him and called him over. Expletive, expletive, expletive. We inquired about why we were skipped and then tried the second worker who explained to us that the very last worker in the room was who we needed to deal with. Evidently there is only one worker in the entire bank who opens new accounts – and his English wasn’t as good as we hoped. After he finished with his customers he informed us we not only needed a passport, but we also needed to provide a developed photo of ourselves. Who carries those around? Sorry, I don’t have the latest family photo that would help me give my money to you.
Because we didn’t have a personal photo – a U.S. driver’s license doesn’t work – we left without an account, but the bank worker walked outside with us and tried to direct us to where we could get a photo taken. No really. It was like they had a racket going with the photo shop. We wandered around looking for this mysterious photo shop, but were unsuccessful. We eventually lost interest and we will probably recommend Western Union the next time you’re in Kigali.
Today was basically a microcosm of most of our experience here. The way people do business and the way they conduct themselves is bizarre and a lot of it wouldn’t fly in America. We’re getting used to it, but it’s still frustrating that things are either very complicated when they should be so simple, or people don’t seem to have any common sense. Oh, and the next time you complain about the 15 minute wait when you’re out at Sizzler or Chili’s, quit whining and try a legit hour wait that follows you everywhere you eat in Kigali. And don’t expect any complimentary cheese sticks when a lizard falls in your food, either. Cheers.