18 hours of flying, four airports on three continents and a taxi ride through the darkness of our first Rwandan night with a remixed version of “Cecelia” blaring and Didi in the front seat trying not to throw up into a paper bag. We’re here – we are in Rwanda at the Agahozo Shalom Youth Village. In the next eighteen days we are going to be living here, about 45 minutes outside Kigali, working with 25 students to create a play. I’m not a very regular blogger, as my previous post (and then the LOOONG gap) will attest to, but I’m going to give it a go. Once the jet lag wears off…
They say things (good or bad) happen in threes. It started in New York when we arrived at the Lufthansa counter to check in and the woman looked worried and then walked away with our passports to talk to her supervisor. Seems there is conflicting information out there about Canadians needing visas. Since when can Americans get into a country that Canadians can’t?!? The woman came back with bad news – – I need a visa. A visa that I have to apply for from my home country several days in advance. They couldn’t let me on the airplane without one. Fortunately the woman’s supervisor was nice (how anyone can work at an airline check in counter and still be kind, I don’t know) and looked deep into the annals of Google and found a website that said Canadians were okay. She printed it off, and armed with that, let me on the plane. Next, Sean broke out in a rash – – an allergic reaction that happens to 1% of people taking the particular brand of anti-malarial pills we’re taking. So covered in growing hives, we flew, hoping at each airport we could find some kind of antihistamine to combat his growing ichiness and not finding anything. It was at this point that I started to wonder if there would be third thing. We got to Kigali, getting off our very small propeller plane (that I swear – because I was looking out the window – was flying without lights – it can’t have been, right? It was very VERY dark out there…). That was when Didi started her intimate relationship with Rwandan porcelain. She’s feeling better now. This was also when I got to test the power of the Lufthansa printout. Turns out the rules changed in November but not all websites did, so I did need a visa. Rwandan immigration officials (if you get them at 3am) are the NICEST people I’ve ever had to deal with. They said I could buy the visa and let me in.
Since then, we’ve slept til almost noon (it was past 4am when we got to bed), had our first two Agahozo meals – – rice, potatoes and some kind of vegetable (mainly eggplant) with a few beans. It’s a vegetarian diet here. Rwandans don’t believe in eating the animal that has provided you with eggs or milk. There are 1200 chickens here but they don’t seem to serve eggs. I’m not sure what the milk is used for either – it seems to be a mainly vegan diet, high in starch. We were given a tour by Media (pronounced MED-ya) and Longin (pronounced Lo-GENE), two counselors who will be assisting us throughout the process. They’ve both been here since 2008 when Agahozo opened and know all 375 kids here. They are very proud of the village — everyone we’ve met is. Each year, the village takes in another 125 kids so next year they will be at capacity with 500 (plus 120 staff). With this many people living and working in the same place, it seems, from what I’ve seen so far, to be an amazingly well oiled machine.