We’ve been settling into our apartment and trying to figure out how housing and utilities work here. Because I used to work in refugee resettlement, I can’t help but compare our experiences in navigating new systems and can empathize with some of my clients’ woes! Of course, Colin and I aren’t refugees—we’re not fleeing for our lives, we had the choice to move here and can always move back, we have amazing support systems both in the US and here—but we’re experiencing some of the same struggles of trying to grasp how rent, electricity, water, etc. work here.
We have an amazingly helpful landlord, Jean Paul, who is very patient with our many phone calls and texts. We think the city is undergoing a general water shortage due to the current dry season, although it’s difficult to tell exactly. We have a huge water tank where we’ve been getting our water recently but it reduces our water pressure to the extent that we don’t have hot water from the tap and I resort to bucket showers. I think bucket showers are quite nice, and environmentally friendly—and I keep reminding Colin that it would’ve been so much worse than this in the Peace Corps ;)—but we’re hoping the rainy season will bring us working hot water.
We successfully paid for electricity the other day—we felt quite accomplished. Electricity is pre-paid here and every house or apartment has a power box that loads the electricity directly to the house. You have to go to a nearby kiosk (about 5 minutes walk from our house) to purchase the electricity—we paid 10,000 FRW (about 12USD) for the month, which we hope will last us. You’re given a number to enter into the power box and then you’re good until it runs out!
For other utilities like trash pick-up, security costs (for our gate boy Freddie), and water usage, we’re learning that the necessary folks are just going to show up at our house with the bill when its due. This is slightly terrifying (what if they don’t show up?? What if our utilities are shut off?? What if they try to cheat us??) but we’re trying to take it in stride. Colin wondered the other day if the reason utility bills are handled this way is because most homes don’t have physical addresses. The companies can’t send a bill to your mailbox since no one has a mailbox. (You letter writers out there: we’re hoping to rent a P.O. box at the single post office this week or next so you have an address for sending letters/postcards!) Lacking mailboxes, the country has developed all kinds of ways to send money directly to bank accounts or to people, probably hoping to increase the likelihood of all of the money going where it actually needs to go. Even for phones, you buy pre-paid minutes directly from guys in the street—no paying directly to the phone carrier. It makes more sense to me why bill paying for our Congolese refugee clients was so difficult!
We’ve had some frustrations getting around but are continuously surprised by how helpful folks are here. We were supposed to meet our friend for dinner on Monday but the rainy season started and it was pouring around the time we had to leave. Transportation options are buses, motorcycles, or taxis—the taxis are practically impossible to wave down (it’s better to have the direct number of one or two trusted drivers, anyways), the closest bus stop we know how to use is about a twenty minute walk from our apartment (in the rain), and I refuse to ride the super convenient yet slightly unsafe motos in the rain. (We’ve found an app called “Safe Moto”, similar to Uber or Lyft, that calls a trained moto driver directly to your house, sets the price so you don’t get cheated, and prevents the drivers from speeding, which we’ll probably use to get to work, but I still refuse to ride the motorcycles in the rain.) But our friend kindly offered to drop everything and come pick us up in her car, driving for over an hour in terrible traffic to get to us for our dinner date. We’re also slowly learning the bus routes, although they’re a lot less convenient than they used to be as the city has tried to organize the whole bus system. Despite the frustrations, we can pretty much count on someone offering to walk us to the correct bus stop or gesturing to us when we should get off. I even rode the bus the other day next to a middle-aged woman who spoke very little English but shared her fan with me to beat the sweltering heat of a packed bus during the dry season.
These are nice reminders of the human love and empathy that still exist—and in force, despite the depressing news coming from home these days. I alternate between feeling grateful that we left when we did and feeling guilty for leaving at a time when loving, open-minded folks are needed most. With DACA being suspended, the travel ban on refugees in effect for another several months, and white supremacist movements on the rise, it’s hard to remember that love and empathy are still strong. We send our love to everyone at home and pray for strength in this time of need—keep fighting the fight y’all! #Standingonthesideoflove