Week One

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Flag of Rwanda  ,
Monday, October 8, 2012

Bite! (hello in kinyarwandan – the most spoken language here, pronounced beat-ay). So this is what has been happening since the first day miracle. 

We met another guy that works for CHRISC, named Pauline.  He took us to immigration to get our stuff straight, but we needed a letter and signed contract from CHRISC, so I took care of that and went back there and now Isa and I's work visa should be coming soon.  Then, we went to the national stadium and met with Richard of FERWABA – the national federation of basketball in Rwanda.  This became a BIG TIME meeting for us, and at the end of everything, what came out of it was that we have his full backing, that we should get sponsors to paint our courts, and that if we need free land, we should drop his name to the ministry.  The FERWABA headquarters are located in the soccer stadium, and Pauline, Isa and I all went into the stadium, on the grass before.  Security is very loose, we basically walked right in past the rent-a-cops (you’ll hear about them later).  I can’t even imagine trying to just walk into Michigan Stadium as I await an unscheduled meeting with Belein.

Later that night Isa, Pauline, Ngabo, Titi and myself all went to this dance bar.  It was pretty fun and they played good music.  Best part of the night was when they played Paul Simon’s "Cecilia."  Surprisingly, most Rwandans there knew the lyrics to the song.  “Cecilia” is one of those songs where you know exactly how to hum it, but don’t know the actual words, so its very possible many Rwandans knew the lyrics better than me.  I guess this is what Shooting Touch was talking about when they told me that in my year in Africa, I would “learn more about yourself than others will learn from you.”

On Sunday, Isa and I went to a FERWABA game.  It was a matchup between the worst team and a mid-range team in the 6-team league.  It is funny how hoopers here mimic hoopers in the US.  I saw lots of hoopers wearing crew basketball socks with sandals, and a snapback hat.  The level of play was honestly, not that impressive.  Granted, the non-wood floor was slippery, and the ball seemed slippery, but the players were playing out of their element by being fancy.  The two biggest issues with basketball from first impressions are the lack of fundamentals, and the careless passing.  Telegraphed passes, non-crisp passes, bounce passes landing at feet were a common occurence.  Isa and I hope to change this by focusing on fundamental, solid basketball in our camps. 

From here to the end of the entry, the entry will depict my life here, which is filled with curveballs and is everchanging,

The bus culture – first off, all vehicles here would not meet US exhaust standards even if they put out half as much smoke as they did.  Anytime a bus/large vehicle accelerates, 9/10 times a huge black ball comes out. 

Instead of a digital sign of the front telling where the bus is headed, when a bus pulls into a bus stop, the collector/conductor jumps out and starts screaming the destination of the bus and directing people into the bus – I call this “verbal signage.”  The bus doesn’t leave the stop until it is packed with people.  By “packed,”   mean that on Thursday, Isa and I counted 21 people in the space of a standard 12-passenger van in the United States.  At some of the main bus stops, the collector has to make change out of his bills, and does so with “change guys” – usually people who don cell-phone company construction vests that accept money in exchange for a card that gives you a number that you enter into your phone and you receive calling credit for.  Isa and I witnessed an intense argument between a conductor and a change guy the other day because the change guy shortchanged the conductor.

The buses are super cheap – the equivalent of 20 cents to get anywhere.  When I struggle with paying, or where I’m going, people look at me and their glares just scream – to me at least – “classic white westerner.” 

In contrast to the AATA busses (Ann Arbor Transporation Authority), in which signs that say you are banned from playing music in your headphones loud enough so that others can hear it – the driver of the bus is also the DJ, and plays the radio as loud as he wants.  Today, Britney Spears’ “Not a girl, not yet a woman” came on.  Its pretty funny how context changes your opinions about songs, because I have never heard such lovely pipes sing in my life than in those 3 minutes of bliss.  I couldn’t help but to start cracking up.  Now the passengers probably thought I was the “classic/schizophrenic white westerner.” 

The buses also have their unique flavor.  They have each own individual signs in addition to the over-officialized stickers that say “Rwanda Transportation Authority Cooperative, Inc.” or something like that – today, we saw signs of “Rudboy” (rude boy), “YMCMB” (Young Money/Cash Money Billionaires), “Cris Brown” (a.k.a. Chris Brown… “I saw you from across the room…”), and “Lacoste” – an expensive clothing brand.  Also I’m pretty sure the bus driver took a quick pee break on the route today while the conductor was trying to pack people in.  To those who view this as unprofessional, keep in mind Forrest Gump was a national hero, and he kept it real and just told President Johnson he had to pee (pronounced pay).

Woman and men carry things on their heads.  I don’t know how they do it, but it is awesome, and I want to learn.  I saw a guy carrying 5 skinny, but 12-foot-long wooden beams the other day.  What a boss. 

People with big guns – although there don’t seem to be many official police here (I have only seen one cop car, but once in a while pickup trucks filled with cops).  Most important buildings – banks, government buildings, nice housing areas – hire these guards to cover at night.  They all have huge guns.  Apparently they charge only $30/month, and we may have to hire one to protect our shipment. 

What I’ve been eating – brochette (kabobs) of beef and goat.  Really salty but really good.  Mini bananas (see picture), peanut butter, nutella, and buttery pita breads.  Last night I got creative and made a sandwich with all those things on it.

Ngabo was nice enough to have Isa and I over for dinner with his family.  His two nieces (ages 2 and 4)were the two cutest children, besides my niece Priya, that I have ever seen.  I felt special when the 2-year old didn’t cry when she saw me (she almost cried out of fear for seeing a guy named Alex, who came and worked with CHRISC before us).

I talked to my mom for the first time and shed a couple tears of joy after (miss you mom!).

Phones here are very interesting.  Almost everyone uses a pay-as-you-go program.  Also, there are two major competing providers.  MTN is more widely used, more reliable, and is able to make international calls.  Tigo is more used by young people, is cheaper, and is more unreliable.  My phone has spots for 2 SIM cards, so I have one of each.  I have to tell the phone which SIM I want to use when sending a text or calling.  Its cheaper to call MTN to MTN, and Tigo to Tigo. 

One of my favorite moments thus far was yesterday, when on the way to a bus, two 3 year olds (I’m estimating) smiled and ran up to Isa and I and hugged us.  We let them dribble our basketballs for a bit, and walked on our way.

Whether it is because I am obviously not African, or because I carry a ball everywhere I go, people shamelessly just stare at me.  In the past two days or so, I just began raising my eyebrows and ball faking at them until they get their hands ready, and throw them a pass – across the street, down the sidewalk.  The locals look at me and say “Mozungo!” which means “white man.” They get a good laugh out of it.  I think once I get into a groove – start up camps, court renovations, clinics, I will feel more at home.  But a part of me enjoys surprises, because everything that happens here is brand new. 

Not everything has been easy – I try to do one or two things a day that make me feel like I’m back at home.  I read a lot in my down time, finished the Agassi book, now starting a book on Jordan.  If I feel a little lost I try to focus on certain things, appreciating certain things - cherishing random daps kids give you, smiling at people, looking at them in the eye.  I’ve also decided music was a good way to feel at home, also doing pushups and jumping rope.  The most I feel at home is when I’m playing basketball.  Isa and I went up to the SFB – School of Finance and Business – because we heard they were playing pickup ball there, but no one was there.  We just shot around, and talked about basketball memories, and for that time, I felt like I wasn’t in Africa, I just felt like I was playing basketball. 

Today, Isa and I are off to the youth center where we played the first day for a meeting with the leader there.  We wrote up a proposal to strike a deal that would allow us to renovate the court in return for them allowing us to use it for our programs – training coaches, holding camps - until we can build another court in Kigali.  Hopefully they accept!  Shoutout to DK for coming up big yesterday afternoon at Comerica!  Shoutout to umich football as well!  Shoutout to Paul Otiento who works 14 different jobs (seriously), five of which are his own projects, throughout all of east Africa and one job in South Africa.  Lindsey/Justin – you may have competition for who sleeps less.
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isag23 on

bahaha i love it! I was cracking up reading this entry because you hit everything to the T. People seriously do not know our lives right now olo

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