A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: jennpete

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I've returned from my travels but figured I'd keep updating this thing as I get back into "normal" civilian life and continue to process my experiences from the past two months. It feels like I was gone for much longer, in the same way that my first year in New York felt like three. When you're traveling, every day is packed with emotional, physical, mental and spiritual adventures. Your mind and body work in ways that is hasn't in years. You start examining things in yourself and others that you never though existed or had unknowingly ignored. You dive in with all your senses every second.

One weird part of coming back is that everything is pretty much the same as when I left it. I forgot that no one else was whale watching and plane hopping and gorilla chasing for the past two months and am reminded of this each time a friend remarks how quickly it went by or how it feels like I "Just left" (sigh).

Now that I'm back in America-land, here are some things I am happy to have back in my life:

  • my iphone. OMG I love google maps so much and not fretting about running out of airtime in the middle of a call and texting and googling from anywhere and...
  • my shower
  • Netlflix and Spotify
  • Internet that works all the time, everywhere. God do I love the internet.
  • Reliable public transportation
  • American outlets and not having to carry around a converter or wondering if I bought the correct one
  • Knowing how to get from point A to point B
  • Summer weather (Cape Town was cold...and rainy)
  • Shorts and above-the-knee skirts

One of the hardest things about being back is figuring out how to keep the last couple months of memories and epiphanies and landscapes and people close to my head and heart. There's a fear that each day I'm back in NYC, those precious things will slip farther and farther away. For now, I'm still wearing a new pair of African earrings everyday and Whatsapp-ing with all my new friends across the globe.

Traveling has made me braver and more invincible feeling. It's also made me see that NYC has a fairly large stick up it's ass. Sorry, but it's true. This city takes itself way too seriously. I'm trying to carve out a more relaxed New York, despite its lack of mountains and $7 beers. I think some mountain views and greenery would do everybody some good.

Posted by jennpete 21:47 Archived in USA Tagged america reminiscing post-africa Comments (0)

Nina

Yesterday I had a lot of downtime as I was somehow experiencing a hangover after drinking two beers on Friday night (yes, you read that correctly) and miserably wallowing in the loss of my stolen iphone. Yep, that's right. My iphone (and 2 others) were stolen at a bar on Thursday night and oh, did I mention that ALL of my photos from the past five weeks were on that phone? Yeah, so that happened.

During yesterday's day of mourning I read this fabulous article about Nina Simone from the New Yorker. What a bold and brilliant woman and so ahead of her time. She challenged the mainstream (read: racist) standards of beauty that often incite a self-loathing among blacks, particularly black women. Her lyrics and reflections unapologetically called attention to this (and other) struggles so prevalent for black Americans:
I can’t be white and I’m the kind of colored girl who looks like everything white people despise or have been taught to despise

For many black women, hair continues to be an all-consuming, tangible and unavoidable manifestation of racism. Natural, kinky African hair has been deemed "unprofessional" at best and largely unaccepted by our culture. What does this narrow notion of beauty incite on an individual level? In her book Americanah, Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie's main character decides to go natural after a relaxer at the salon burns her scalp and causes parts of her hair to fall out. The struggle to find beauty and acceptance in her new look is real and uncomfortable. Which I think is the point.

We should be uncomfortable that women around the world are spending millions of dollars on products and weaves and relaxers and worried that wearing their natural, God-given hair on an interview may prevent them from getting the job. We should be uncomfortable that movies like Good Hair are being made and that black girls as young as 6 and 7 are wondering why their hair doesn't qualify as "good." Here's a good quote from the trailer to gnaw on: If your hair is relaxed, white people are relaxed. If your hair is nappy, they're not happy

Here in Rwanda I would say that most women I've seen are rockin' their natural hair. Low 'fros, twists and braids abound.
And to bring it all back home, here is the diva Ms. Simone rockin it in 1969 at the Harlem Culture Festival:

Posted by jennpete 01:04 Archived in Rwanda Tagged africa race racism nina_simone black_hair Comments (0)

'Zungu

Well into my third week here in Kigali and my initial fascination with the beautifully-printed dresses, tropical landscape and moto taxis has now given way to the more subtle undertones of Rwandan living--the good, the annoying, the neutral and the just plain confusing. A few notables:

Mzungu-- this is the word Rwandans use to refer to caucasians and other foreigners. I've heard it used in phrases such as "It's Mzungu season" or by small children as a form of greeting. The attention you get as a white person here can be many things--awkward, flattering or just downright weird. There are those of the staring variety who seem to always be studying you like an abstract work of art. Others have deemed themselves members of the unofficial Rwandan Welcoming committee, peppering me with "welcomes", "how are you's" and "this is a great beer." But mostly there's just a lot of staring.

"Waiting" in Line-- "Waiting" is in quotes for a reason. There is really no such system here. I first noticed this promptly upon my arrival at the Kigali airport when a woman who was at least 5 people behind me somehow managed to clear customs 15 minutes before me. And then at the ATM, when it was clearly my "turn" (a concept that apparently doesn't exist here), some dude came out of nowhere, cut me off and proceeded to take 10 minutes with his transaction. "When Rwandans see a space, they fill it, " is how someone described this phenomenon to me. I'm still absorbing this concept and trying not to be completely offended when a sweet looking mother throws 'bows to get on the bus before me.

Children--Interacting with the children here is the biggest self esteem booster. Just sitting at dinner the other night, at least three kids stopped by to wave, stare or ask me how I am in their best English. And if you happen to pass a group of little ones while running, they will most definitely act like you're carrying the Olympic torch through their city. Hi-fives, waves and "good afternoons" abound. And you might even adopt a running buddy for a leg or two.

Water in the form of a shower has turned out to be a rarer treat than I imagined. It's dry season here in Rwanda and apparently that means the water flow is regulated at "peak" times of the day (read: at most normal times one might want to clean oneself). The chance of getting a real shower in the morning has become so dicey we have adopted the phrase "shower roulette" to describe this added anxiety to the morning routine.

Mosquitos. Are. Everywhere. And they buzz right up in your ear space at every moment possible. Never have I lived in a place where the abundance of these insects is exponentially greater indoors than out. I just killed like five more in the course of typing this sentence [insert mosquito guts here]

And I am only getting started.

Side note: seeing the mountain gorillas was one of the most amazing things I've ever done. I just have not yet had time to give them the post they deserve. So sit tight and go watch the new Planet of the Apes movie to hold you over in the meantime.

Ijoro Rwiza! (Good night!)

Posted by jennpete 15:12 Archived in Rwanda Tagged culture rwanda kigali mosquitos muzungu Comments (0)

Volcano Days Ahead

This weekend I am going to commune with the gorillas and I have never been more excited. Rwanda is one of the few places in the world that are home to mountain gorillas. They live in the Parc National Des Volcans in the southwest corner of the country, which spreads into Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The way it works for tourists is you buy a "gorilla permit" through a tour company or at the Rwanda Development Board (which is what I did). I will not tell you how much I paid because it is an obscene amount but hey, when's the next chance I'll get to hang out with gorillas in the wild? Plus these permit purchases are a big part of Rwanda's economy so I can at least feel good that I'm putting money back into this lovely country.

Tomorrow afternoon I'll take a bus two hours west to a town called Musanze. I found a super cheap guest house to stay in for two nights and have to be at the park entrance at 7am sharp on Saturday morning. Apparently they are really strict about this and if you're late they give your permit away....no "monkey" business (sorry, I had to). I've been doing a bit of recon and learned there are seven gorilla families who call Rwanda home:
- Susa
- Sabyinyo
- Amahoro (which also happens to be the name of my guest house)
- Group 13
- Kwitonda
- Umubano
- Hirwa

Check out the description of the families here. It's seriously worth reading because apparently gorillas have soap opera-esque lives: "...a family of 11, Umubano were originally Amahoro members but broke off after the dominant silverback was challenged by Charles, now the leader of Umubano."

One of the other volunteers was supposed to come with me but he decided to bail at the last minute (wah, wah) so looks like I'll be having a romantic weekend solo. Can't wait to make you all jealous with my gorilla pics!

Posted by jennpete 11:54 Archived in Rwanda Tagged des nacional parc gorillas volcans musanze rwand Comments (0)

Big and Free

Today marks the end of week two in Rwanda. The time is flying by but I still have a month here to take it all in. It's pretty much allergy season year-round here so I'm finding myself much more tired than normal. This is my first weekend staying in Kigali, which, so far, has been spent like most of my weekends in the U.S.--sleeping in, coffee, running, more sleeping. Tonight we're hitting the town for the annual KigaliUp Music Festival so I'm hoping to find some good tunes for a kickass "African Summer" playlist.

I've picked up a few Kinyarwanda words, which is the most widely-spoken language here and feel like I'm getting a pretty decent grasp of Rwanda's history. If only I would have known in middle and high school that the most surefire way to get over my hatred of history was to just go see these place for myself...

Here's a little sampling of my new vocabulary:
Thank You=Murakoze (I use this one like it's going out of style)
Hello=Muraho
Good Morning=Mwaramutse (this is a fun one to say
How are you?=Amakuru
I'm fine=Ni meza

I'm surrounded by lots of smart women here in the volunteer guest house. We've got an Oxford and Yale MBA, a Tufts grad student (international affairs), a Clinton School public policy student, a Standford med student (and me representin' Hunter College!) I'm inspired by there perspective and conversations...and sometimes annoyed at their type-A-ness. I'm happy to be around big thinkers. These are the kind of people I want to be around and learn from as I think about and step into my next career move. As worldly as New York is, it's easy (especially as a Social Worker) to get sucked into a tiny, micro universe. Africa is helping me open up parts of my mind again, giving me room to think big and think freely.

Posted by jennpete 08:47 Archived in Rwanda Tagged rwanda kigali kinkarwanda kigaliup Comments (1)

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