Friday, June 29, 2012

Kigali: Remembering a Genocide

Rwanda is an interesting place because although they experienced a life- and country-shattering genocide less than 20 years ago, it is not visible to the casual visitor. The Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre ("Gisozi Memorial") is hidden on the side of a hill and the Hotel des Mille Collines, on which the movie Hotel Rwanda is based, continues to be a functioning posh hotel.

But the scars from the genocide are there and they run extremely deep. Everyone knows who was involved in the killings, who lost their family, and who helped or stood by as this all happened. That means the social life there is bracketed by this knowledge and many individuals really only socialize with a select few family members and friends. Joining a social circle there is extremely difficult and although everyone on the street is excessively helpful, they will never get into the personal discussions that you may get if you were a foreigner in say, Tanzania or Turkey. I was also talking with two girls who work in mental health in Kigali, and they said the matter is further complicated by the lack of appropriate words for feelings in Kinyarwanda. Very few people are willing to talk about how the genocide affect them, and those who do struggle to find the right words to express anger, frustration, dismay, and loss.

Hotel des Mille Collines is also interesting because in Kigali most hotels let you use their pools for $5/day, but in this hotel you know you're swimming in a pool that played an integral part of protecting over a thousand genocide refugees. Guidebooks expressly recommend going to this hotel and swimming in their pool because of this, a very odd recommendation in my opinion. I found it discomforting and strange just to sit in the bar there because all I could think was that a thousand people hid for their lives in what is now the most expensive location in the city. The garden is truly beautiful and it provides this amazing oasis from the sounds and discomforts of the city, but there is a constant feeling of parallel histories as you imagine the fear and anguish that existed only 20 years ago in the exact same location. The disparate realities are difficult to process.

Rwanda has recovered miraculously from the devastation that followed the genocide economically and politically, particularly since the current government is doing everything it can to memorialize the event while continuing to push the country forward to development and modernity. Nonetheless, I wonder sometimes at the underlying emotional damage that follows people around. Will they pass these scars and fears on to their children? Will the country ever open up emotionally or will it continue to grow as a guarded society? Will there later be outward manifestations, like a high level of mental disease or physical aggression?

If you ever are in Kigali, the Gisozi and Hotel des Mille Collines are must-visit locations, but both only really scratch at the surface of what happened and is continuing to develop in the country.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Kigali Stories: Food

OK, so this isn't really a story, but I love food and here's what's up in Kigali (abridged):

Must Have:
Milk and/or yogurt, particularly the ones that are produced locally on the outskirts of Kigali
Homemade ice cream from La Galette, the German bakery (I like cherry, but all the flavors are outstanding)
Isambaza (available at all the local markets, but safer if you ask a local where to get the best stuff)
Market-bought passion fruit, avocado, and papaya. The papaya especially far surpasses any import you might get in Europe or the U.S.

Ok, I only went to three restaurants so this is not extensive by any general, all restaurants are vegetarian-friendly, so I won't make specific notes about that.

Kimihura (also called Kimihurura) neighborhood
The only Ethiopian restaurant in the city and popular with just about everyone. Go for their lunch buffet, where you can partake in an all-you-can-eat buffet with a drink for less than the U.S. equivalent of $10. The sponge bread is not as sour as you may expect from Ethiopian, but the rest of the food is good quality and traditional. In the neighborhood of

Africa Bite
You saw the pictures before (click the link if you didn't!), so you know their lunch buffet is also awesome. Slightly cheaper than Lalibela, in the same neighborhood, but less vegetarian-friendly. But they also include dessert bowl of fresh cut fruit, so I'm a fan!

Hotel de Milles Collines
City Center, Kiyovu
The hotel from Hotel Rwanda continues to be an expensive and upscale hotel (more on that later) and provides the perfect oasis within the city if you want cocktails or a quick bite to eat. Definitely more expensive than anywhere else you might go in the entire city, but might be worth it if you want to be surrounded by grass, leafy trees, and near-total peace from the city noises. They also make a mean (and surprisingly spicy) quesadilla if you're craving Mexican...

Kigali Stories: Children

The children in Kigali appear to be well-mannered schoolkids around their schools and playgrounds (in glaring contrast to the schools I saw in Tanzania), but there is this crazy phenomenon where they go insane the second they see white people on the street. All of the sudden these wild monkeys dressed in blue school uniforms,start yelling, I love you! I am 7 years old! Do you have money! I'm hungry!. What's even more interesting is that at a certain age, the behavior stops and the older students take a cool indifference to us. Although the kids legitimately hope they'll get money, they also just delight in yelling out everything they know in English, which sometimes leads to a string of ridiculous statements.

Kigali stories: Kimirongo Market

So my bad, I just realized I had stories from Africa I forgot to integrate into the pictures...whoops. Well, y'all can read them now and I'll try to link to the post with photos where it's relevant.

May 5, 2012
On Saturday Sam, Nynne, and I made our way over to Kimirongo Market, one of the biggest markets in Kigali. While Nynne was looking for a new purse, we walked into one of the clothing stalls and this old man there with a cane took a liking to Sam. He kept offering her marriage, and was pinching her arm and slapping her when she tried to get away. Sam was laughing, but at the same time the guy was seriously pinching her and she was trying to get away before his marks turned too red. The actual stall owner kept assuring us that he was joking, and I couldn't help laughing at the comedic scene (albeit from a safe, pinch-free distance)...

After we got away from the old man and with Nynne's new purse, we headed over to the fruit stands. One of my favorite things about going to countries that aren't overly developed and filled with supermarkets is that you can still get fresh (and cheap) fruits and vegetables. After bargaining with the sellers, I made off with a bag full of bananas for 250 Rwf ($0.41) and 150 Rwf ($0.25) for an avocado, which I proceeded to eat later in my room while waiting out a huge downpour.

Later on my way home, I mistakenly had it in my head that we were on the western side of Kigali, when in reality we were on the Eastern side. As a result, I started haggling with a mototaxi driver, saying I wanted to go home for 500 Rwf. In reality, that trip probably should have cost about 1400 Rwf...After 10 mototaxi drivers all pulled up and joined the discussion and a woman working at the cell phone booth next door came over to mediate, we finally settled on 1000 Rwf. I was arguing so earnestly because I was completely convinced that they were trying to screw me over, only to discover 30 minutes later that it really was quite far from my house...whoops, haha. I can just imagine the other 9 mototaxi drivers talking later about the crazy mzungu woman.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Istanbul: Breakfast

My typical breakfast (and lunch and dinner sometimes...) in Istanbul:

Frankfurt: Pirate Politics

March 2012
The Pirate Party in Frankfurt wanted you to know they "understood Frankfurt" by putting cute kittens on their posters. Yes, they're a legitimate political party in Germany and no, I have no idea who their marketing director is.

Stereotypes: Germans Love Pickles

I don't know if I posted this before, but this would be a 5,600 gram can of pickles in our office kitchen. That coffee pot it is sitting next to is an eight cup coffee pot...

Frankfurt: City Art

I forgot this post this earlier, but coming full circle I saw this man set himself up in one of the city fountains my first weekend in Frankfurt (October 2011) and my last weekend in Frankfurt (May 2012). His furniture and decorations were different every time, too. When I asked if he had a schedule, an exhibit, or a website, he just smiled and serenely said "no".

Friday, June 22, 2012

Istanbul: Pazar

I visited the market in my neighborhood on Thursday, and although the heat and heavy bags prevented me from taking too many pictures, I did catch this quick lesson on marketing: if you want people to buy your stuff, you have to be willing to wear it yourself:

Healthy living (plus three pairs of earrings!) on the budget of 40 lira or less:

Istanbul: Clear Directions

As many a Turk will tell you, traffic in Istanbul has improved significantly in the last ten years. People actually stop at red lights now, and honking - although still a lot - is much, much less than before. However, sometimes the attempts to control traffic, and particularly rush hour, can continue to be confusing for the innocent passer-by:

Istanbul: Cinarcik

June 14, 2012
In the summer there are regular boats that go directly to Cinarcik, a summer town where many Istanbulites have their homes. I went out there on Thursday, spending time on the rocky beach and swimming in the water.

For lunch I went to a cafe and ordered a beer. At first he was startled that a girl would order a beer, then when he realized I was serious he went to get an Efes. Only he brought back alcohol-free Efes. Now Efes is already quite similar to water, if you're going to get alcohol-free, you'd be better off just ordering plain water.

I looked at him a little confused and asked if he could bring me regular Efes.

"Oh, you want it with alcohol? Ok, look, I'll do something special for you."

"Wait, what?" But he had already run inside, returning a few minutes later with a beer glass and a shot of what looked and smelled like grain alcohol. I looked confused again.

"You can have alcohol in your beer now!" I started laughing. Stopped and stared at the scene in front of me, and then started laughing again. I wanted a regular beer, not alcohol specifically. Then I realized that he meant for me to mix the shot of alcohol with the beer, producing a "regular" beer. I laughed again and then sent the alcohol and beer back and got an iced tea instead...

It was explained to me later that this particular cafe was owned by a religious man and as a result they were prohibited from selling alcohol. The server wanted to get me what I wanted but since he lacked actual beer, he thought he could solve the problem by offering a shot of alcohol to throw in the beer! Creative but simply not what I was going for that afternoon...

The "alcoholic" non-alcoholic beer

The boat trip back to Istanbul

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Istanbul: Boat Party!

June 9, 2012
On June 9th in celebration of Kenan's birthday he collected 50 of his dearest friends and we had a four hour boat party on the Bosphorus. It was awesome.

Can you see that other boat through the window? That's right. Another boat came up right next to us for no good reason and our captain had to make some ridiculous maneuvers to avoid getting hit. It's a huge water area with plenty of room for all the boats but leave it to the Turks to find a way to cause traffic issues.

The lights on the bridge at one point were flashing and dancing, as if in rhythm with the music we were dancing to on the roof of the boat

Istanbul: Kinali Ada

June 8, 2012
For 3 lira you can take a 30 minute ferry ride to several of the islands off the coast of Istanbul (Princes Islands) and one sunny Friday we decided to take the opportunity. I had never gone before, but it's the perfect day trip (as long as you don't go on a weekend!). On the island you can rent bikes, hike around, or get some sun, and it's the perfect way to quickly get out of the hustle and bustle of the city.

Homeward Bound

May 22 - 23, 2012
Remember how getting to Tanzania was terrible? Yeah, getting back to Germany was much worse.

Our last night in Stone Town we ended up in a hotel that was undergoing renovation and as a result, we couldn't get a room with air conditioning. The overwhelming heat prevented us from sleeping and I actually got up several times in the middle of the night to throw water on my face. At 6 in the morning we speedily ate a hard-boiled egg and some coffee and rushed to the ferry back to Dar.

I should have suspected something when the man started walking around handing out black bags labelled "sick bags", but Kira and I have both spent significant time on boats and figured we'd be fine. Hah. Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha. Turns out when you take the ferry to Zanzibar you're going with the current but when you come back, you're going against the current. Those in the know (and who can afford it) take the boat in and then fly back. Two hours of nonstop roller-coaster like activity and everyone was sick. EVERYONE. 30 minutes in I went out on the deck and sat on the ground by the railings, trying to keep an eye on the horizon while Kira put her super-heavy-duty headphones on so she couldn't hear everyone getting sick around her. One woman on the deck would periodically make these inhuman, wild cat roar-like noises while grown men would make these queasy smiley faces right before pulling their black bags closer. It was a nightmare scene out of a movie.

Although neither of us got sick, but I felt like I was on a rocking boat for two days afterwards and our Dar colleagues kept commenting on the white pallor of our skin. Even thinking about it now makes me pale. When we arrived in Dar we went directly to our office there where we had to finalize some things before flying home that night. After spending the day there, we drove to the airport and got on the first leg of our overnight flight back.

The flight to Ethiopia went fine, but then the flight to Frankfurt was delayed. When we finally boarded, Kira was upgraded to business. When I asked the steward, "what about her travel partner?" He was like, "maybe you can pay five dollars and come for a visit later" and then open his mouth to expel this evil sinister laugh. I was SO CLOSE to punching him the face. Ok not really, but I definitely had a moment where I imagined what that would be like. He knew this flight was a stressful situation for everyone and to make such a joke was beyond cruel.

In a twist of miserable fate I ended up in a row with a mother and her four kids who spoke no English or German and were behaving like wild banshees. Turns out that several flights on this route had been cancelled in the past few days on account of storms and several people had been stranded, resulting in an overbooked flight and Kira's upgrade. I wouldn't have minded, but a lack of sleep was making me slightly crazy. Halfway through the flight we made a stopover in Sudan, where we then proceeded to be delayed by a sandstorm. A sandstorm. My first time in a sandstorm was on a rocking plane filled with wailing children and snarky flight attendants.

To add to the misery, every time something happened, the pilot would come on and in this monotonous voice (think Office Space) would start to explain in great detail what was going on: "As you folks can see, there is a sand storm. I don't know about sand storms, but obviously we can't fly right now. I talked to the folks from the airport. They know about sand storms. They said it'll probably be over in 15 minutes. Then if we can see, we should take off. After the flights before us. There are some flights ahead of us in line, so they'll take off first. Some sand might come through the air ventilation. Don't freak out. That happens sometimes. We don't think it will happen this time, but it could. If it does, please don't freak out..." on and on and on. Then again in German. On top of that, I sat next to man who kept sending wild hand signals to his wife who was sitting a few rows ahead of us, as if she couldn't understand what was going on, even though she clearly could. I didn't sleep the entire night and when we finally made it to Frankfurt at 7am, I was completely trashed. Kira, having slept in business class, asked me how my night was and I just teared up.

I walked out of the airport and to the bus home, which had just arrived. As the driver got out I asked in German if I could sit inside while he took his break. He thought I was German (he was of Turkish descent) and in a very condescending and rude manner said, "Noooooo. No, I need break. SMOKE? I need a smoke!" Then I just snapped and responded in Turkish, "Understood! I just wanted to know if I could sit inside while you did that!" and then teared up and stalked away. I think I scared him because he came back early and said, "look, look, I'm here. Do you need help with your bags? I'm so sorry, I thought you were German." Like being German made his behavior ok?! I'm exhausted, who cares if I'm German, Turkish, or from Mars? Either do something nice for someone or politely tell them you can't. No need for the attitude.

Lesson learned? Next time I have long trips, I'm traveling during the day. In retrospect, the whole situation was like a national lampoon comedy, but because I was so tired the only laughter I was capable of was maniacal, on-the-edge cackling. At least with day travel, I'll have a chance of normal sleep between my flights and can avoid the borderline crazy. The other lesson is, I am never going to assume I've just had the worst travel experience possible because as I learned only a few weeks later, it can always get worse.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Istanbul: We are each other's saviors

Writing about Freddy reminded me of an interaction my brother and I had in January, when I was visiting him in Istanbul.

We had been on a dolmuş (minibus) on our way home from visiting my grandmother when it became suddenly clear that the little girl in front of us was likely to get carsick. She was with her mother, another woman, and a man. They were an obviously conservative family, with the women covering their heads and the man standing protectively over them. I reacted immediately, and told my brother to give them a plastic bag he was holding in case the girl was really sick. As he handed the bag over to the women, the man took it from him and then handed it over to women even though the mother was closer to my brother. Then we also broke off a piece of bread for the girl to chew on, which again was passed from my brother to the man and then to the mother and child.

I noticed these mannerisms immediately, and realized it was a result of their conservative religious beliefs. The man also wouldn't make eye contact with me and avoided talking to me. Nonetheless, the child was my priority and I was going to try to help regardless of what our religious differences were. After a few more minutes, the girl started feeling better and just then the family came to their stop. As they got up to leave, the mother stopped and looked at me and said, "Thank you for everything. People are each others' saviors" and left.

What she said was so correct for me and so important. We clearly had different values and beliefs and I most definitely did not agree with most of hers. But that didn't stop us from helping them or prevent them from accepting our help. I know that she would have helped us, too, had we been facing our own difficulties. So many people refuse to give or take help because someone doesn't "belong" to their group, but throughout human history it has always been people who ultimately demonstrate the grace and kindness that saves others. Whether that is due to divine intervention or something else is up to you to decide, but we always have the choice to open our hearts to others and I wish more people would remember that.

Zanzibar: Stone Town

May 22, 2012
Stone Town

We left Kendwa Beach a day early so we could spend some time exploring Stone Town, the one proper city on the island and the port for all the ferries. The architecture is a mix of Arab, Persian, Indian, and European elements, making it a super interesting place to walk around (and incidentally, a UNESCO heritage site since 2000). Additionally, there is a lot of shopping to be done, if you're willing to bargain, which my travel buddy was happy to do. She negotiated everything to ridiculously low prices, something I've never been willing to do. We probably got three times more stuff with her style than embarrassment to my Turkish heritage, I know.

Anyone want fabric with Obama's face on it??

Zanzibar: Making Rafikis

May 21, 2012
After returning from our snorkeling trip, Kira and I set ourselves up on some beach chairs with the intention of enjoying our last evening by the water before returning to Stone Town in the morning. No sooner had we sat down that in typical Tanzanian fashion, a man selling bracelets came and started talking to us. In my one week outside of the hotel, I literally got no peace as people kept coming over and trying to talk to us or sell us something. There is absolutely no way to blend in there when my skin is so glaringly white...

Freddy, as he introduced himself, promised not to sell us anything and said he just wanted to practice his English, so we let him continue sitting with we us. After a while we found out that he was half Tanzanian and half Kenyan and had come to Zanzibar where his father was from to try and make money. At some point, while he was talking to someone else, Kira and I had started speaking in German. When he came back to the conversation, I turned to him and explained in English what we had been talking about so that he could also understand.

All of sudden Freddy got very quiet and looked almost emotional, and started telling us that we were his Rafikis (friends). Apparently telling him what we had been talking about was one of the kindest things a foreigner had done for him and he was moved by how different we were from the others he had interacted with. He kept talking about how it was so nice of us to let him practice English and include him in our conversation, and decided he wanted our email. I said, "oh, do you have email?" I remembered how the banana ladies had no idea what I was talking about and thought it was unusual. He responded that he had called a friend, told him he wanted an email account, and this friend had called him later with the email address. Freddy has literally never been on the internet, and since we still haven't gotten emails from him I'm guessing he still hasn't figured it out...

 He also began insisting that he had to give us bracelets as a sign of friendship, and refused to take money for them. In the end I pulled out a plastic watch I travel with and gave it to him, and we had a proper exchange of gifts between visitors and friends. It was a strange moment for me, sitting in my bathing suit as the sun was setting on Zanzibar, exchanging small tokens of friendship with a complete stranger after doing nothing more than including him in our conversation. It's amazing how the littlest things can mean so much to people. Even if you don't have millions of dollars to give away, simply being considerate of others can sometimes be enough. I sometimes forget that in my daily life and sometimes have to travel halfway across the world to be reminded of it again.

Zanzibar: Boat Trip

May 21, 2012

I like this picture because it reflects Swahili mannerisms translated to English. In Swahili many words are repeated. "Pole pole" (pol-e pol-e) means slowly, slowly and "poa poa" (po-a po-a) means cool, cool. Here on Friday, they're going to have Party Party...

Snorkeling trip on an old-school boat. Why do something in 30 minutes if you can do it in 2 hours?

The other boat, so you can have an idea of what our boat looked like

The island where we snorkeled. I saw a black and white banded snake (turns out they're poisonous! Would be just my luck) and a fat fish that looked like an overripe banana (seriously, yellow with brown spots).

The cleanest beach with the whitest sand I have ever experienced. Ever.

The required footprints in the sand picture...

Where the fishing boats collect when they're not out on the water...

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Zanzibar: Just to make you jealous

May 20, 2012

The required picture of my feet on a beach somewhere awesome

Yes, that's right. They just wanted to be extra sure you knew it was box wine.

Me, on a hammock, with a watermelon cocktail. Precisely where I belong
photo: Kira

Zanzibar: Hotel Change!

May 19, 2012

The move to our new hotel...the fabulous Imran and Mario came and with the support of their car and swahili skills, got a new, better hotel on a better beach for less money. Go team! We were coincidentally joined by Timo (from Rwanda) who had chosen the same weekend and same beach for his vacation. In the end about eight people from the same organization but different offices across Africa and Germany ended up at this beach Saturday night, which was super awesome. After some performances we watched the Bayern vs. Chelsey soccer game and then hit the dance floor until the wee hours of the night. All in all a successful Saturday in Zanzibar.

I'm not really sure I'd want to go to a beauty shop called "Surprise Salon". Like, "surprise! Not what you wanted, hope you like it!"

Seriously. I'm on vacation, leave me alone.

The unique style of entertainment on a Saturday night...