Wednesday, March 16, 2011

It's not all sweet bananas and pleasant breezes

I love Rwanda. Let me just say that. Africa is a wonderful place with lots to offer and wonderful people. But there are also things that get under my (already Africa-thickened) skin:

1. One cannot give compliments. It's very, VERY rare. They'd rather insult you as a joke and call it a good day. "Michele, why do you look like you just got out of bed? You look awful." "Go back to America, we don't want you here." Yes. Very Funny. Ha.

2. High power distance. People simply accept and unquestioningly yield to social status. The poor see themselves as less powerful, worthy, or influential. Not just accepting the rich as rich or the powerful as powerful. But also accepting yourself as powerless. Helpless. And insignificant. Unquestioningly. Just accepted.

3. A large measure of ignorance and a love of generalizations. "All white people have money, you can give me some, too." "You're intelligent because white people are rich and have no problems."

4. Girls, women, all females CANNOT whistle. Sometimes I do it any way, because its such a part of my family life (thanks, Dad) and I elicit looks and comments of horror and scandal!

5.The first thing asked of you is if you're married. Then, old men proceed to tell you if they weren't already married, they'd take you up! Young men say they're going to marry you. Its weird the first time. Funny the second. But just annoying thereafter.

6. Men and women can't be just friends. When ALL people adhere to this standard, keep this expectation, and act on it, there just aren't any men/women friendships. EVERY man and women only enter into a cross-gender relationship TO have sex. (Ok, not 100%, but the vast majority)

7. In everyone's claim to be super religious, pre-marital sex is harshly criticized. Young women that get pregnant without a husband are socially ostracized, gossiped about and can't really fit in to society as well as others.

8. Despite the above, an estimated 99% of teens and adults--married or not-- have sexual relations on a regular basis. They even tease, mock, and pressure those who don't. Young men will leave their girlfriends if they don't sleep with them. Girls are pressured by society, family, and friends to have a boyfriend and marry, so they feel trapped to sleep with a boyfriend or be left and consequently publicly disgraced.

9. Pretty much all married men also have a lover. Or 2. Or 3. on the side. Sometimes the wife knows who, sometimes not. But she pretty much takes it for granted that he's got someone else.

10.Rwandans--in general-- are very racist. The first thing they see is skin. Apparently, according to local belief, ALL people fit into two categories: Tutsi and Hutu (yes, 2 of the 3 ethnic groups terrorized by Genocide in 1994: Hutu majority slaughtered the Tutsi minority and any Hutu sympathizers). So, your average Rwandan will see a white person and categorize him as either a "White Tutsi" or a "White Hutu". Or about each other, "All Hutus lie!" or "All Tutsi are racist!" (I've heard BOTH in conversation)

11. Its normal, acceptable behavior to harass foreigners in the street. Not just begging, but mocking accents, pointing, staring, laughing at, and general rude (to a Western standard) behavior.

12. Rwandans don't like or trust foreigners. At first I wasn't sure. But I was told by 2 independent sources who are very trusted in my life, respected in the community, and honest people. Common Rwandans blame all white people for the Genocide. Other Africans are seen as leeches that have come to take from Rwanda.

13.When an outsider becomes very integrated into Rwandan culture and Rwandans recognize this, the FIRST quality is always the ability to lie. "Oh! That muzungu (white person) is soooo Rwandan: she knows how to lie!"

14. People do not help you out. Like if you're in trouble in the street, people would rather watch you get beaten, harassed, or abused than do anything about it.

15. People only seem to want you around as long as there is the hope of getting something from you: money. Marriage. Visa. Materials. Anything. Once they realize that you won't give, they're pretty much done with you. There are (thank God) some who are just nice people who are interested in your mind, heart, and thoughts, regardless of your giving or not giving.

16.People like to talk. They'll make a point. Then illustrate it. Then give an example. Then say it again in different words. Then give another example. Then explain what they mean. Then reiterate their point. And OMG its beating the danged dead horse over and over and over again. Meanwhile I can zone out and think about what I want to make for dinner and what I need to buy beforehand, contemplate my next steps in life, and remember pleasant family vacations from my youth. When I come to again, HE'S STILL MAKING HIS POINT.

Ok, my ranting is over. I promise to share all the things I love about this place, too. EVERY culture and country have good things and challenging things, and its beneficial to recognize both.

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