Friday, January 8, 2010

Jet Lag/Culture Shock

Despite all the hassles of present day airport security, it still seems to me almost miraculous that this Friday afternoon I am in Toronto and on Sunday morning I will be waking up in Kigali.

Today, I am in an affluent Toronto neighbourhood, a thirty minutes walk from downtown (not that anyone would actually walk that far!). Here people who mow their own lawns are in the minority, the preferred mode of transportation is the airport limo, and anyone who sends their children to the public (i.e. state-run, taxpayer funded) high schools is considered to have left-wing tendencies.

On Sunday I will be a thirty minute walk from downtown Kigali, in what is considered to be a lower middle class neighbourhood, whatever that may mean….

My priorities will be:
Get the safe working. This is important as there has been a break-in at the apartment in the past. I have five different sets of instructions as to how to work the safe, which is temperamental. It prefers Rwandan batteries to Canadian ones, and has been damaged by the previous break in. Every volunteer sets the password to a new number, and I don’t know for sure which of the five I have is the latest. Assuming any of them are!

Get my communications set up. Bell will charge me a fortune to use my Blackberry, but I may text with it for a while until I get everything else set up. There is a computer with a USB wireless stick which should get me internet access. Topping up the device sounds complicated. It involves buying time, removing a SIM card, putting it in a phone, dialling a number and entering a code. I think its one of those things which sounds more complicated on paper than it is in real life. There should be a Rwandan phone (programmed with all my local contact numbers) in the safe, once I can open it!

Find out how to get into and out of town by myself. One thing that makes it clear that Rwanda is different from Canada is that the apartment does not seem to have an address. You go along a main road to a specific gas station, turn onto an un-named dirt road, and it’s a block away. Usually I keep the address of my hotel on a slip of paper in my wallet. If all else fails, I can hail a taxi, show the address and for a few dollars I can get whisked back home. That won’t work in Rwanda.
There is some sort of regular minibus type service along the main road into town, so I need to figure out how to use that and how to identify the right place to get on and off at each end. I don’t want to be wandering around after dark trying to find the apartment.

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