Thursday, March 22, 2012

Stories of Sillines

How my stomach feels on glulten, only more violent...
Last night I went to tutor some Asian girls in English. We arranged to meet at the UTC building in town, and sit at the Bourbon Coffee that is considered a popular hotspot for expats and well-off locals alike. I opted to get my favorite side dish, meatballs with salad, because I had never had problems with that dish (in a digestive way), and it is so affordable - for about $5 for a big plate, I don't feel like I can do much wrong there. And so I munched on some french fries (a.k.a. chips) while I explained words like "fascinating" and "silly" to the women.

Oh, how wrong I was to eat that. About an hour and a half into my tutoring session, I felt the volcanic lava piercing my inner organs and creating some staged revolt in my mid-left abdomen. It was not like that feeling I get after I eat gluten - the feeling where I feel like I've located a missing Amazonian tribe, and they are welcoming the new intruders with spears - but really more like there were little pistols going off (PEW PEW!) in my stomach, ricocheting bullets off of my intestinal walls. I shifted uneasily for about 15 minutes, until I made a run for it to the toilet in the shopping center. I had to do this another 2 or 3 times while I tutored, and my students began to wonder with me if it was that my food was toxic, and maybe I was experiencing food poisoning. I'm still not sure, but let's just say what happens in the toilet, stays in the toilet. I'm not going to talk about it.

As a relevant side note, Rwanda is not cheap. Yeah, we all think of Africa as this big mass of land with abject poverty roaming every corner, and super cheap souvenirs loitering the roads. Haven't we all heard that Africa is super cheap? That the GDP is significantly small, and therefore the PPP is pretty favorable for us foreigners? Haven't we all heard that going to Africa is only a lot of money because of the ticket THERE and BACK, but in the countries it's cheaper than dirt?

Alas, that seems to not be the case, at least here in Rwanda. It costs an arm and a leg (even the yokes of my eyes!) for anything around here. It's much like my experience in Norway; the currency rate was so high it seemed like anything should, naturally, be a bargain, until you finally did the math and realized a pack of gum cost $5! Here, I pay the same price for apples as I do in the US, water kettles are about $30 a pop, and a bottle of tomato sauce is roughly $8 each!!! I laughed to find a washcloth being on sale for about $25 at a decent home goods store a few weeks ago. I live as frugally as possible, but let me just say, Africa is not always the slighted bit affordable, or cheap. Taxes are high, which means prices are high, and finding a bargain while paying for meals often makes me wonder what the difference is between NYC and Kigali prices.

This is relevant because I have to pay 100 Francs to get into the public toilet when I'm out and about. Sure, you say, that's only about 17 cents, what's the big problem? Well, when you have to relieve of the guerrilla warfare taking place in your GI tract more than once, it starts amounting to a pretty penny to evacuate.

I had to call my dad's mother last night for her birthday. She has Alzheimer's so her memory (and sanity) is fading pretty rapidly. I resolved to call from my phone and make it brief, since I've never really gotten on well with that group of grandparents. So I called at night...

Grandpa says, "Hello? Hi."
" grandma there?"
"Yeah, who is this?"
"It's Kim."
"Kim? Your granddaughter?"
"Who?" (I sometimes wonder if they both don't have Alzheimer's...)
"Kim? In Africa?"
"OH! Kimmee!! Hey June, get on the phone! It's Kim-In-Africa!" He said it as if that was my full first name, not a description. I guess that's my current avatar for the family.
Grandma gets on the phone, "Kim-In-Africa! Oh, how are ya honey?"
"Hi Grandma, it's alright. How is your birthday going?"
"Well, isn't this just the sweetest thing. It's just so sweet."
"Yeah, I'm glad. How is your birthday?"
"So how is it over in Africa?"
"Oh, it's just fine. How is your birthday?"
"How long are you there for?"
"Not entirely sure yet, but I'll probably be home sooner rather than later."
"Oh, how sweet. How long are you there for?"
"....ummm probably not that long..."
"I'm just so glad you called. How long are you going to be in Africa?"
"Well, I just don't know. Not long."
"What are you doing in Africa again?"
"Oh, you know, I'm doing some things here and there."
"This is great. Hey, what are you doing in Africa?"
"I'm teaching, Grandma."
"Well you sound great. Bye bye now!"
"Alright bye Grandma."
"Bye bye!"
"Ok, bye..."
"Bye bye!"
I hung up as she continued to say "Bye bye" to me a few more times, like a record stuck on a skip.
Perhaps we're only adults once and children twice...

Some fun little things happen at school with the students. Oftentimes, we've stories all about their spotty grasp on English. Sometimes, it's something entirely different related to their mental capacity. Here is a fun little list of them all.
  • I had one class write a test about putting together an invoice. We're working on consistency, as well as understandability. So, to make their creative juices flowing, I tell them to create their own invoice. Some come up with their own fashion lines, others think of the super market. Yesterday, I received one test for a grocery store. You know what crème fraiche is, right? The stuff you use to make really nice, creamy sauces often? Well, imagine my surprise when I read on this student's invoice, "Cream Flesh". I had to chuckle. I brought her over to explain to her she was describing my skin color, not a grocery item. She looked a bit mollified. I thought it was hilarious.
    Other things I've had to discuss with them in English is how you cannot use "Pest" for "Paste", and you live not on the 3rd "Flour", but rather "Floor". Oh yeah, and "Paid" has no umlauts on the 'i', at all. Ever.
  • Denise has had to help students understand what exactly is a theme park. To those of us in the Western world, this is no problem; we all know about Disneyland, and how joyous and fun it can be. Well, here that's not necessarily the case; most students have never heard of such a thing in their life. But Denise wasn't deterred. She asked them to create and present their own theme parks to the class. One group decided to create a park in the middle of town with horses as the main attraction. Horse rides in a forest? Well, alright... One group wanted to cage up some gorillas and make them a main attraction for their park, despite illegalities.... Another group (this is one of my favorites) wanted to import penguins to Lake Kivu (which is a volcanic lake, mind you) so you could go and watch them play in the large lake. They wanted to import their penguins from Tanzania, though I don't believe they have any there.... But my ultimate favorite (and Denise's too) was the one theme park that was open one day a year. For a rabbit race. A race of the rabbits. That was it. The park was open for the one day the rabbits chased each other down a lane. Apparently these women felt that they were well-equipped to train rabbits in the art of racing, and they emphasized that dogs were not allowed lest they'd eat the rabbits.
  • Apparently fine dining is related only to weddings? That's what one student said.
  • Laptops. Oh dear, how they break. I don't know how they can so easily kill so many laptops just by (I swear!) looking at them, but it has happened. All laptops were just fixed, and four just yesterday magically broke. If you hear me in class, however, I tell them precisely what to do. At the beginning of class, I start with a quiz usually, so I'll say, "DO NOT TURN ON THE COMPUTERS." And immediately after I've said this, you'll hear the bleeps and music tones that come on once a computer is turned on. It's kind of comedic, in a way, but it infuriates me.
  • No, the letter 'o' is not the same thing as the number '0'. And yet, despite my emphasis on numbers only in MS Excel, they still look at me confoundedly (like I committed a crime) when I tell them they've typed in the numbers incorrectly and that the laptop is not broken.

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