We hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas/Solstice/Hanukah/holiday season! Christmas in Kigali definitely looks a lot different but we tried our best to make it special regardless of the changes. I do miss the excitement of the first snow but don’t miss the freezing weather one bit. The rainy season has ended in Rwanda so it’s heating up and getting dusty again. There’s also none of the present-buying rush that’s pervasive in the American holiday season; in fact, presents aren’t a part of Christmas at all (much to my relief, since my host family is like 100 people!). There aren’t tons of decorations either except for the plastic white Santa figurines guarding supermarket entrances and the fake, decorated Christmas trees at the big banks. I was surprised one evening to discover, however, that Kigali does do Christmas lights! On the evenings leading up to Christmas, Kigali decorated its roundabouts with lights and Christmas trees, so Colin and I got a little taste of home, flying by the light displays on our moto ride home.
Lots of big news this week! First of all, I’m happy to announce that I’ve been offered two job contracts! It feels good to finally say that! Both are part time so I’ll be accepting both positions. The first is Operations Manager for a jewelry making collective called the Abari Collective where I’ll be helping the organization register as a business in Rwanda, hire staff, and create the structures for a sustainable business. While not in my field, I’m excited to try my hand at management, figure out finances & budgeting, and start an organization not quite from scratch but pretty close. I’ve also met the core group of women who’ll actually be making the jewelry and they’re great—all in their early twenties and living in a suburb outside of Kigali called Nyamata, they are so driven and ready to put their creative energy into making bracelets to earn income and support themselves.
Colin and I made it back from our 2.5-week trip to Indy, much to Shu Shu’s relief. I feel so grateful to have had the opportunity to decompress back home and spend time with friends and family. I was able to see some of my old refugee clients also, which was pretty amazing! Although it was hard saying goodbye a second time, I feel recharged and ready to take on what comes next, which should include some job contracts!
We have happy news that Colin was finally approved for a work visa! After Colin spent countless hours at the Immigration office, getting on a first name basis with the Immigration Officers, they finally realized that Colin’s technology experience is legitimate and the country could really benefit from him sticking around. I’m now able to apply for a spouse visa to stay as well, which we hear are generally approved quickly. We are now legally able to stay in the country, which is quite a relief.
I’m finally up for another blog post—thanks for your patience! It’s been an interesting few weeks, with lots of ups and downs. I finish up my volunteer position with Kasha this Friday and have started to shift my expectations for job prospects and what the next few months/years hold. I had a great experience working with the Kasha staff, learned a lot about Rwandan work culture and working for start-up companies, and made some good connections for my network. But we’ve discovered, after so many job applications, that the job market is more difficult than we ever expected, especially for non-Kinyarwanda speakers, and the visa process is even harder. Poor Colin’s work visa has been rejected twice now—solely based on the fact that his degree is in psychology and it doesn’t match his current position as technology consultant. Unfortunately, the visa process isn’t written down anywhere and there are loads of intricate details so Colin has spent many hours on the phone and in the Immigration Office attempting to sort it out.
I’m pleased to say that my new workplace, Kasha, has been keeping me busy these past few weeks. I’m finally over the hump of not having any work to do and despite not being paid (yet!), I love the opportunity of working directly with a women’s health company operating in Rwanda.
September 9th marked the final ceremony of Ariane and Ben’s wedding. No other part of the marriage process began on time so we figured we could be a few minutes late to the religious ceremony. Alas, the church service began right on time and we rolled into the Catholic church 15 minutes late (thankfully with a lot of other late folks so it didn’t look as bad). Ariane and Ben were seated at the front of the church with two other couples and each couples’ maid of honor and best man. The attire this time was the big white wedding dress (and I mean, BIG—Ariane’s dress weighed 5kg apparently!) and full suits.
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.
On Thursday, I attended Ariane’s civil wedding, part 4 of the wedding events. It was held at a civil service government building in a large room with rows of benches and a front stage. Ariane and Ben were one couple of about 7 or 8 other couples getting legally married that day and they all sat in the front row facing the stage. Everyone was dressed to the nines, the men in suits and the women wearing either floor length white dresses or fancy knee-length dresses. The benches behind the couples were filled with family members and close friends of the couples.
We’ve arrived! We’ve reunited with my host family, dragged our piles of luggage home from the airport (all of which arrived, to our surprise, with no issues whatsoever), and already taught my Rwandan niece, Gianna Anaella, how to catch a frisbee. Maman Jimmy, my wonderful host mom, has prepared a lovely room for us in their family home, newly painted a welcoming pink color (chosen of course by Anaella). They bought a big, fluffy, blue comforter for the bed, with matching fluffy pillows, which we’re now calling our “Baloo Bed” (like the bear from the Jungle Book!).