“Someone told me she loves me, just then…she told me that she loves me and I am so happy.” When an overjoyed stranger took his mobile from his ear and turned to find the first person to share his wonderful news with…there I was. Someone loved him and he had to let it out to the world. I gave him my congratulations, shook his hand and landed an encouraging pat on his back. He was beaming. So was I.
Aaah Rwanda! Only two weeks in and every day has been a revelation.
Last week I was jostling about in the early morning crowd on the side of the road, looking for a mini-bus into town. I’d stuffed my pockets with some cash for the usual buffet lunch. A bus pulled up and it seemed I was being hissed at. Half the passengers were anxiously gesturing at my pocket. I looked down to discover my lunch money floating to the ground. Grateful and surprised, I waved in thanks. “Murakoze!” (I’m pretty sure that’s thankyou in Kinyarwanda). Beaming smiles all round.
Then on Monday night I was stuck in an excellent thunderstorm. The afternoon rain had set in and I was just jumping off the bus for the walk back to my new digs. I was sodden. Every Rwandan I passed with an umbrella said the same thing, “Oh! I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” Sorry for the rain? Sorry to see me so unprepared for such predictable weather? There was something very heart-warming, genuine and novel about it.
Or what about yesterday when my moto-taxi man, having proven a hard bargain on the fare, suddenly lowered his price on arrival and gave me more change than we had agreed? Followed, of course, by one of those winning Rwandan smiles. Could it have been the little shriek of terror I let out as we got some air heading over a speed bump?
It may be just the first flushes of a growing love, or a complete lack of fluency in the local language, but I’m quite sure I have never experienced anything like the kind-heartedness I’ve found in my first few weeks in Kigali. On day two I was lost and looking for a hostel. After making some enquiries with two teenage girls, they accompanied me, giggling, all the way to the door.
Wandering aimlessly around a crowded bus park, you can be sure that any number of locals will take you under their wing and help you find your way home. And if you discover yourself squashed into the back corner of the bus making a feeble attempt to let the driver know you wouldn’t mind getting off soonish please. A murmur of concerned citizenry will send the message down on your behalf, “Hey, hey. The mzungu…she’s doin’ stuff up here…the mzungu…she wants to get off the bus.”
Every day brings another unexpected moment of connection with the very generous people of Rwanda. When they stamp your visa and issue a welcome from the ‘land of a thousand smiles’; that’s not just clever marketing…it’s kind of true.
The question most Rwandans ask, after letting me know that I am very welcome in Rwanda, is “what do you think of this country?”
Well, Rwanda, I’m telling you. I love your country and I am so happy to be here.
Michelle Curtis is a Kiva Fellow working with Urwego Opportunity Bank and Vision Finance Company in Kigali, Rwanda. She is currently in the business of building lasting connections between entrepreneurs and lenders across the world.
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