I expected to learn a lot about the people and culture of Rwanda while I was there, but it didn't occur to me that I would also learn about expat culture. Having never lived in another country, it's something that I'd never really thought about before - the coming together of a bunch of people who are happy to be where they are but who are also missing the comforts of home. And the most missed comfort of all? You guessed it.
In Kigali, the capital city, and other cities that cater to travelers, there are plenty of places to go get something to satisfy your home-food cravings. While there, I had bagels and cream cheese, pizza, a veggie burger, and a particularly amazing bowl of risotto. (Don't worry - I also ate Rwandan food. We ate a surprising amount of food in 8 days.)
|At the African Bagel Company in Kigali|
But in the villages like Rwinkwavu, where Hannah lives, culinary options are more limited.
For the most part, Hannah eats at the dining house in the hospital complex or at the one restaurant in the village. The food is simple - mostly rice and beans, meat brochettes (kebabs), or rice and a meat stew. At the restaurant, she can also get an omelette and a Coca-Cola or a Fanta (which I became particularly fond of). The food isn't bad, but it lacks the diversity that we're used to. I get sick of even my favorite meal after I've had it three or four times, so I understand the expats' desires for something new.
Luckily, among the group in Rwinkwavu, there are two ladies who love to cook, Hannah being one of them. When my mom and I arrived with suitcases filled with food, some of what we were packing was the ingredients necessary to make the Southern-style brunch that Hannah had promised to about 20 of the other folks working in Rwinkwavu. Hannah lives in a dorm for short-term employees (she's only there for one year), but some of the more permanent staff share houses with kitchens. So the brunch was planned for one of those houses.
We had a portable propane-fueled stove of sorts with two burners to work with. And for the biscuits that my mom was making, we were planning to walk over to the dining house and use their stove. We were glad to be using propane since electricity is sometimes a luxury. The power had gone out for about 6 hours the night before and went out intermittently on our trip, so we didn't want to be dependent on that.
On the menu: cheese grits, corn bread (made by one of Hannah's friends), breakfast potatoes, scrambled eggs, and biscuits.
The fresh ingredients (besides the cheese, which my mom valiantly carried in her carry-on all the way from Atlanta) had been purchased in Kigali by one of Hannah's friends and carried to Rwinkwavu on a moto.
We borrowed pots from the dining house, carefully orchestrated the order of preparation so that we had burners available when we needed them, monitored the filtered water levels (though we did run out), and traipsed down to the dining house to bake the biscuits in an oven that had to be held shut with a stick and took forty-five minutes to bake one batch of biscuits. It was a determined crowd.
The end result did not disappoint.
Even the little ones were happy.
It seems that it's impossible for me to talk about my travel in Rwanda without being overcome with the realization of how easy our lives are here and how grateful I am for things that I have, in the past, taken for granted.
And of course, the challenges that day were the ones faced by a group of expats in Rwinkwavu who have significantly more resources than those living in the village surrounding them. Plenty of food, ready access to propane, a water filtration system, and my mom! She carried a whole suitcase of food over there and then made the biscuits without a recipe, using her hand as a "rolling pin."
And they were easily the best biscuits I've ever had.
Hannah's coworkers gushed over the food and over us for having made it, telling us thank you over and over again. But I must end this post by saying thank you to them, for doing the work that they're doing, for welcoming us into their community for a few days, and - on a more selfish level - for being such a wonderful, warm family for my sister while she is away. I was sad to say goodbye to Hannah when we got in the taxi for the airport, but I was so glad to know that she was going back to her little expat family in Rwinkwavu.