February 11th, 2008 – by: pearcetoyou
soccer stadium in Ruhengeri
Although the volunteer work in and around Ruhengeri was my first priority, I still had time to be a tourist. And part of being a tourist, of course, is buying the postcards to send out to friends and family. Ruhengeri, however, is not geared towards the tourist…and it proved to be “a needle in a haystack” mission. After a week of searching, we finally found some from one of the sellers in the open-air market. The market’s biggest commodities were clothes, produce, and a wide variety of “cheap” jewelry.
Souvenirs were the next items on my search list, and these were much easier to locate. Wood carvings and weaved baskets were in abundant supply, and for the most part, our shopping experience was worry-free. But the one area in which we had problems was bottled water, an absolute necessity.
The scam you had to be careful about was merchants reselling water bottles that they filled with tap water.
Smoking in this part of Rwanda is almost considered a taboo, and is something the government promotes quite heavily. I couldn’t have seen more than one or two people smoking a cigarette in three weeks. There are, of course, people who smoke, but they do it in private. Drinking, on the other hand, is very fashionable…if they can afford it. The locals party on the weekends just like they do anywhere else in the world. At our hotel, Primus and Heineken was available at all hours of the day and night.
The other social issue promoted by the government is birth control.
On one day when we were exploring the town I decided to have my photo taken in front of a huge billboard that I thought would make for an interesting photo. Back in the states, when I was giving a presentation on my trip to a local Kiwanis club, this particular photo was in my slide presentation. Little did I realize, until it was up on the screen in front of 70 people (mostly women), that the billboard was a condom advertisement.
The two most common social activities were the soccer games and the government demonstrations. Demonstration is probably not the right word, but on nearly every Saturday hundreds of the citizens would march down the streets and finish with a rally at the soccer field across from our hotel. I’m guessing they were all members of a political party as many wore white t-shirts distributed by the government. All citizens of Rwanda are required to perform community service one day a month, which basically means picking up trash, unless they qualify for some kind of skilled labor.Other than birds, I did not see a variety of animals here, domestic or otherwise. In fact, I didn’t see any cats and can only recall seeing one dog. There was the occasional goat, sometimes chickens, and for the wealthier class…a cow. On Saturdays, the only day it seemed it happened, wedding entourages were a common sight. Funeral progressions were also frequently seen, but the disturbing part of it was that the bodies of the deceased were carried on a gurney in plain view. On one of our first days there a group of men set down a body right in front of our hotel and promptly left. About two hours later the deceased was taken away by the police.
My friend giving away a toy in front of our hotel