Sunday, June 15. Kigali, Rwanda.

 

Very slow and quiet on a Sunday. In a country that’s 60 percent Catholic, with only 1.7 percent claiming no religious affiliation, this isn’t surprising. I have lots and lots of free time, hours on end. My saving grace is Tupo, the funny and sophisticated, self-effacing Malawian woman who’s lived in Shirley’s house more than a year, Despite her age, 23, and relative inexperience, Shirley insists Tupo would be a good addition to the profiles I’m writing for the RAUW Web site. Convincing Tupo is another matter; she doesn’t think she’s done enough yet to warrant a profile.

Tupo Mtila and Shirley Randell.

Tupo Mtila and Shirley Randell.

The Tupo interview is sandwiched between a larger conversation about Rwanda, Malawi and U.S. foreign policy. Why, Tupo asks, don’t Americans demand more adamantly the end of the Iraq War – when the rest of world, and the majority of Americans, recognizes its futility? Tupo has a good story: her aunt is prominent in Malawi’s parliament and Tupo grew up in excellent schools. She went to a private secondary school in Swaziland, then college in Nairobi at the U.S. International University.

Tupo came to Kigali to work for Sisters of Rwanda, an agency that finds alternate employment for sex workers. Today she’s a media strategist and buys ads for a new communications company. Tupo wants to go back to grad school, preferably in Washington, D.C. where she has cousins. She’s fun, but she also has a kindness and elegance of the soul that are beyond her years.

I’m at Heaven now — the restaurant. An African Charlize Theron sits two tables away and next to me a young dude yawns and talks on a cell phone when his table mate isn’t distracting him with conversation. He could be a million young men, in America or anywhere in the world, conditioned by video games, computers and texting, uneasy with face-to-face contact. The staff at Heaven was apparently chosen for their looks – handsome, big smiles — and the music is all American and tasty: Rufus Wainwright, India.Arie, some classic soul/R&B.

Back at Shirley’s: a beautiful, mild night. Bright, nearly full moon dodging behind clumps of clouds. The streets are still, just an occasional pedestrian and the sullen, uniformed guards standing outside the gates of walled homes. The birds are jabbering, the trees alive with cackles and gossip. When I first arrived I thought the birds were monkeys.

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