A Completely Random Update

lucasIt is October 5th – even here in Africa – and we’re way overdue for a general update. We’ve been in Rwanda for about 80 days (okay, 76 to be exact) bringing us close to the halfway point for our time here. The obligatory countdown commenced as we started the final 100 days a few weeks back – certainly a sign that there’s some persistent home sickness and an urge to be back in familiar circumstances for some of us.

It’s been a hot, lazy Saturday in Kigali, and the kids spent the morning snoozing under their mosquito nets. Lea was catching up on sleep after a hectic day of after-school introductory Spanish (started this week), and hanging out with her Dutch friend, Yannick, then taking in a outdoor movie at the American embassy. She’s got a riding lesson tomorrow up on Mt. Kigali, so today is the perfect do-nothing day.

Lucas likewise took the chance to be one with his bed almost ’til noon. He was at a pretty hopping party with half his school across town until midnight last night, and being a teenager and all, sleeping is sort of a competitive sport for him these days.

Lisa spent the morning with a visit to her favorite gym, then a massage at her favorite spa, and wrapped it up with some work poolside at the weird hotel close to where we live. It’s a tough life, but someone’s got to live it.

I spent the morning working my way through the fridge after a spectacular mountain bike ride in the hills north of our neighborhood in the company of a contingent of Dutchmen, an American, and a recently arrived South African. Still can’t get used to the ridiculous mass of people, even on the remotest hillside trails… looking forward to getting back to the AT where it’s just me and Lucky and Mother Nature.

Later, we all hung around the hotel pool for a bit, had a bite of half-decent Indian food and some free internet; then the obligatory afternoon thunderstorm rolled in, and we headed  back home. All good.

When they’re not snoozing or living the good life, both the little L’s have taken to checking out expensive real estate in South America and the Mediterranean online. Yeah, real estate. Go figure. That and outrageously overpriced cars, horses, and yachts. Sotheby’s must think there are some big rollers in town judging by all the traffic on their website.

The start of school last month has brought new friends and something like a routine going, but life keeps testing us – either technical difficulties (cars catching on fire, internet outages, power outages, cash flow emergencies) or adventures to be had (see here for the latest one).

After a tentative start with endless orientations and warm-ups, Lisa has been able to sink her teeth into work at the big teaching hospital in Kigali. Between mentoring residents and med students and rounding on patients, she’s doing what she enjoys most, and she’s having a grand ol’ time. It’s frustrating and challenging work, to be sure, but she’s an expert at dealing with adversity and making things work in spite of everybody involved.

We’re going to start feeding the new Geisel Medical School blog with updates from the visiting Dartmouth faculty shortly, which should provide a good insight into what it is she does for a living here.

In addition to my regular routine as fire-putter-outer and all-round dabbler-in-the-more-mundane-like-shopping kinda guy, I’ve been trying to work on a handful of stories here in Rwanda, but I’ve had to put most of that work on the back burner. First of all, the ridiculous delay in getting our residency permits (still pending as of this update) has left me unable to get credentialed as a journalist with the authorities (no resident’s visa = no press card), and this is one country where you do NOT want to step out of line with the authorities, especially when it comes to things like writing and photography. Add to that the potential conflict of interest with Lisa’s work (she technically works for the Ministry of Health here, and it’s been spelled out in no uncertain terms that anyone affiliated with the program should toe the party line if they know what’s good for them) and it’s become abundantly clear to me that I should find some other way of keeping busy.

leaSo I did. Starting this week, I am officially a visiting scholar with Carnegie-Mellon University’s Rwanda campus, researching possible recruiting and fund raising opportunities for their new graduate program here in Rwanda, while at the same time exploring the latest developments in the notorious “brain drain” that has afflicted Africa for decades. It’s a really interesting opportunity to do something I’m fairly adept at – research and connecting odd dots – while working with a fun and enjoyable bunch of exceptionally smart and committed people.

I fear the bumpy ride may go on for the duration of our stay – that seems to be the Rwandan way. The kids had a couple of bunnies for a few short days, then they were stolen. We had decent internet for a few weeks – now it’s pretty much the crappiest thing since AOL dial-up (thanks for nothing, Tigo, MTN, and Airtel). Visa cards that only work sometimes, a house that’s held together with duct tape and twine. Basic stuff like milk that was available for a while, suddenly gone from the shelves for days on end. It’s exhausting and time consuming to roll with it all, and you’re never quite sure which curve ball you’ll be hit with next. I for one will not be sad to leave it behind – it’s been an interesting challenge, a learning experience and all that, but I can’t wait to get back to a place where I’m not paying top dollar for bottom quality. I really miss a setting where things work most of the time – and when they don’t, I can fix them myself or get a fair treatment from the vendor when I go to complain.

The kids are definitely looking forward to packing up and going home – although, we’re hearing much less of “why oh why are we here?” With a pile of new friends (and a crush or two) and the end already in sight in the distance, I’m thinking they’re going to deal with it from here on out. Might even have built some character and taught them some lessons about life – but I wouldn’t bank on it.

Plans for the coming weeks: a trip to Uganda at the end of the month, Lars probably heading north to climbing Mt. Karisimbi early in November, then Lisa flies to Malaysia for a meeting in November. Before we know it, we’ll be closing in on December, where school ends on the 15th and we do our solid week in the Seychelles over Christmas before wrapping things up and heading home. Mmmm… it sounds so manageable when you break it down like that.

We’ve heard from lots of great friends here, there and everywhere, and it helps keep spirits up. Don’t be a stranger, keep in touch.