Thursday, February 24, 2011

About Skin

Today, I had a series of conversations with a Rwandan colleague regarding our skin anomalies. I've appreciated getting to know this colleague, and I believe we've reached a level of candor that proves she trusts me, and vice versa. Nonetheless, it's been a learning experience for both of us.

Colleague: Do you have a mosquito net?
Me: Yes.
Colleague: You should use it. Your face looks like it was bitten.
Me: Ah, no, That's a pimple.
Colleague: A pimple?
Me: Yes, a pimple.
Colleague: But you have another one, here (points to forehead).
Me: Yep, that's a pimple, too.
Colleague: Oh.
Me: That's the problem with white skin. Everything shows up. Look at these. (I show her the moles on my arms)
Colleague: Ooo what are those?
Me: Moles
Colleague: Can you put lotion on them and make them fade?
Me: No, not really.
Colleague: (pauses while she thinks about my pockmarked, zit-filled and moley-skin)
Me: (trying not to show her the skin tag on my neck, too)
Colleague: (Thoughtfully) Yes, nothing really shows up on dark skin.
Me: Can we trade?
Later on, in the car, I notice a nickel-sized scar on her arm.
Me: (touching her arm) What happened here?
Her: I got cut.
Me: You got cut?
Her: Yes, during the genocide.
Me: .......Oh.
Her: Many people were cut, like on their heads and other places.
Me: (kind of wishing we were still talking about my pimples...)
Her: I am lucky.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Killer Lake = a Killer Weekend

God bless the internet, it lets me keep in touch with all the great people I've met from around the globe. A woman I met in Sri Lanka two years ago has recently relocated to Rwanda, and we've reconnected while I'm here. In fact, she kindly extended an invitation for me to join her and some friends a Lake Kivu this weekend. Let's hear it for making awesome friends!

Lake Kivu sits between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. "Kivu" actually means Lake, so the lake is effectively called "Lake Lake" (much like East Timor is really called "East East"). There's some remark to be made hear about duplicity in English naming conventions, but I'll let it lay. I'm not sure how big (on what scale) size-wise it is in the world, but it's quite deep and holds the 10th largest island.

But that's not the coolest part - according to our friends at Wikipedia, Lake Kivu is one of the worlds "exploding lakes" . Because it sits on one of Africa's seismic hotspots (the Rift Valley), Lake Kivu is sitting on enormous amounts of volcanic gas - mostly made up of methane and CO2. Scientists are afraid that triggers, such a landslides or seismic shifts, can upset the delicate balance of CO2 in the lake, causing it to reach saturation point and one day release enormous clouds of the stuff into the air. (It's happened two other times - in different lakes). As we've learned from climate change 101, massive amounts of carbon dioxide, of course, are suffocating. So far, nearly 2,000 people have died from other lakes - the time is ticking on Lake Kivu (which has many, many more people living around it).

Luckily, none of this happend while we were there. But still, the concept of a killer lake is pretty cool.

There are may points on the lake for visitors, but we chose to stay in Kibuye. The drive from Kigali is about two hours, on good - but windy and mountainous - roads. We left the capital city and found our way north-west, past mud homes chiselled into the hills, scraggly maize plants fighting for height, and streams of pedestrians. The weather has been hazy, with intermittent showers that kick up pollen (causing my nose to go haywire), but the sun peeked out now and again, welcoming us up north.

The lake itself is a deep teal, and surrounded by steep hills (much like all of Rwanda!). I hear there are beaches in Gisenyi, another point along the lake, but in Kibuye the shores are rocky, and covered in what looks like white-washed volcanic stones. The weather is cloudy, grey, but still warm - and still better than Minnesota.

We arrived mid-afternoon at the Bethane Presbyterian Lodge. For $10 a night, we each got a lockable room, twin bed, commode toilet, clean towels and a mosquito net. While waiting out (another) intermittent (and hardpouring) rainstorm, we had a late lunch (fish kebab and chips) and some enormous Primus beers. After the rain lifted, we wandered down to the shore and hired a boat to take us out to Amhoro ("Peace") Island, where we met Mama Josephine, and had sundowner beers on the beach. (I also got chased by a cow).

Dusk fell like a fleece blanket, warm and comforting. Too cloudy for stars, we hung on to the receding sunset, chatting and thinking about life. After the last light had leeched from the day, we headed back to the Bethane, lulled by the dull roar of the outboard motor.

More beer and some public readings of "Auntie's Guide to Being an Obedient Wife" left us in stitches until bedtime (some highlights include: 'don't mess with Rastas' and 'All young women are shameful'.) In the morning, we had continental breakfast on the terrace (during another intermittent rainstorm). After breakfast, we explored the other areas around the Lake and had lunch at the Cormoran Lodge. We were back in Kigali in time to catch some late afternoon weekend sun at the (normally non-lethal) pool.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Rwanda part deux

This will come to no surprise as avid readers, but I'm back in Rwanda. I kind of stopped posting about my travels, mid-to-end of last year - when my life stopped resembling a 'life" and more like a pinball machine of the African continent.

Although its had its ups and downs, my job continues to surprise and invigorate me - as well as as frustrate and abuse me. I guess it's not unlike any other long-term relationship; there are hard times, but you stick it out because overall, it's a stable, mutually beneficial relationship.

I was kind of on the fence about coming back to Rwanda this time mostly because a) last time was so ridiculously stressful, and b) I'm kind of over the hard-work thing. But then I land here and I deplane - right onto the tarmac just like in the movies - and the rainy fog envelopes me, rich and heady with the smell of lush greenery. I'm hooked, again. I'm a user. I'm addicted to - travel? Africa? I'm addicted to something, because I keep finding the energy to come back.

I'm not sure if I'm world-weary (or even old enough to be world weary?), but I'm certainly not as excited about things as I used to be. The bloom is off the rose, so to speak. I hate that that would be the case, because life is so fully of interesting and unique experiences, who am I to grow tired of them? But I am. I'm tired of those crappy airplane meals, working out in hotel rooms and not being what anyone every expected of me - and not what I expected of myself.

These feelings keep coupling with the thought - when will my life start? Today, I walked onto the verandah during a massive downpouring rainstorm, and watched people struggle uphill getting soaked, thinking "Where is the beginning? When does my story begin? When will my life have meaning?"

I admit, this probably sounds ridiculous to most people. From the outside, I'm sure it seems like my life has taken a roaring jump. And, even in writing it, it sounds like something a person of privelige (and anxiety) would thing about. But I can't shake this sense that I'm still waiting around for something.

I don't know. I don't know when life becomes habit. I'm not sure where my biographer would pick up my storyline - if at all. I am happy with my life here, now. I have interesting friends. I go interesting places. I do interesting work. I don't see what the "more" might be - but it's out there, lurking. And for now, I don't know what I'm waiting for, but I'm a bit bored for it to show up.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Some General Observations

Some general observations about being my current age:
  • being comfortable in my own skin
  • being painfully aware of the "should's" - be married/have kids/house/career
  • old enough to get drunk with South African miners...
  • smart enough to leave before things get rowdy
  • young enough to remember child-like joy, only now over a delicious cup of coffee
  • young enough not to have been anywhere when Kennedy was shot
  • old enough to realize the new Kennedy question is where you were on 9/11
  • old enough to remember when the most sophisticated thing on a computer was "Word Munchers" and "Oregon Trail"
  • young enough that my mom expects me to know how HTML
  • old enough to suspect that everything I'm going through is only new to me
  • realizing the universe will more me forward anyway, just like it has everyone else
  • having time only for really superb people
  • forgetting about people who aren't
  • wearing sunscreen
  • eating lucky charms and watching cartoons on Saturday morning
  • while simultaneously rebalancing my retirement portfolio online
  • remembering to check the air pressure in my tires
  • worrying about my parents age
  • being able to dance until dawn but realizing, There Will Be Consequences
  • paying my own way
  • having "my drink"
  • fielding embarassing, inappropriate questions. All the time.
  • really, really, really empathizing with Bridget Jones
  • laughing continously, mercifully and un-, at myself
  • having people wonder what is wrong with me
  • half-heartedly wondering myself
  • wise enough to value time sitting still
  • while still itching to keep moving, growing, learning and conquering