It’s been a tough couple of weeks for all of us.
After a week of simply adjusting to being here, getting over jet lag etc., we got around to renting a house. After appreciating that the pickings are slim (either overpriced or unacceptably crappy or an audacious combination of the two), we learned the hard way that “fully furnished” around here really doesn’t mean that at all. It means the bare minimum that a landlord can get away with. Then you negotiate and bargain and argue and beg and plead, three languages removed from something that works for you, and finally some things come together – like, a working fridge – while others just don’t (like a gas stove hooked up to a gas tank). He’ll gladly take your rent money, but getting him to spend anything on even the most basic repairs is an ordeal and incredibly tiring. I’m not good at that kind of semi-formalized confrontation, and I feel disgusted no matter what the outcome. We’re on the outskirts of Kigali, in a neighborhood that is under rapid development – new McMansions going up all around, insane amounts of real estate coming on the market. Not at all clear to me who the intended tenants are, given that the average rent around here is about $1500/month.
A “fully furnished” house also does not come with anything in the way of cutlery, pots or pans, so we made our way to T-Deux-Mille, the oversized Chinese warehouse/emporium to get dinnerware and other kitchen essentials – once again getting a lesson in the consequences it has on retail prices when everything has to be imported. I have a much better sense now of what it must be like to live in Hawaii, the pacific islands, or Alaska. Cost of living here is at least on a par with the United States; a few staples are significantly cheaper (e.g. bananas) but most cost the same or more (gas is European prices, so 6-7 bucks a gallon) anything brand name is about twice or three times the cost at home).
Just to compound the frustrations of dealing with our rather obnoxious landlord, we went ahead and bought a car. A fourteen year old clunker with – imagine that – two hundred and eighty six thousand kilometers on it. That’s almost 200,000 miles for those of you who work best that way, but either way you measure it, it’s a metric shit-ton of wear and tear on a car. The price: almost $10,000, but that does include four new tires (albeit the ones they put on seem to have been intended for a Mack truck and are ridiculously oversized). The seller was a British woman who is working here in Kigali, and she was kind enough to help out with the whole change-of-ownership nightmare of paperwork and bureaucrats, but even with her help, the process still took two full days and involved many rounds of not understanding what the woman behind the counter wants, and figuring out how to get it to her. Rwanda is renowned for its efficient administration and no-nonsense, business-friendly attitude towards minimizing paperwork, but evidently the local DMV hasn’t gotten the memo. But now at least we have wheels and can get around, although driving around this insane town is still a question of survival-of-the-fittest in the battle against trucks, motorbikes, and drivers with a very alternative take on merging, yielding, and signaling.
The kids are bored and still pretty shell-shocked. There’s no daily routine to stick to (school doesn’t start until the end of August) and most of the other kids aren’t showing up for another couple of weeks. We’ve been fortunate to have a couple of the other families with kids who are involved with the HRH project arrive, and that has given the kids a welcome break from the daily drill of accompanying Lisa and I on endless errand runs around town. They’ll come around, but it’ll take some time and a bit of work.