Tuesday, June 17, 2008. Kigali, Rwanda.


Dinah Musindarwezo

My late afternoon interview is a gem: Dinah (pronounced DEE-nah) Musindarwezo. Smart, personable, very frank about her disappointment in Rwandan men in regard to gender equality and respect for women.

“A colleague in my office was boasting that he just got married,” she says. “I asked him how he likes the marriage life and he said that he likes it a lot, because he wakes up and his wife has prepared him good breakfast, she chooses and prepares for him clothes to wear, she changes the bed sheets every two days. ‘You know, life too good!’ And I found myself wondering, ‘Is he talking about his wife or a maid?’ ”

Dinah studied one year in Sussex, England for her Masters degree and found the informality of teacher/student relations surprising. “At first I found some behaviours so strange, like students eating in classrooms and relaxing their legs on tables. Instructors were relaxed, too. They spoke little and gave a lot of time to students to talk. The students called the fellows (lecturers) by their first names, and not “Sir,” “Madam,” “Mr.,” “Mrs.” or “Miss” – the words I used when addressing a lecturer or instructor at Makerere University.”

At 29, Dinah is unmarried and under family pressure to marry and procreate — despite a very impressive career and academic record. She’s my favorite of all the RAUW women. I think we would be friends if I were to stay here.

(For more on Dinah, see www.ifuw.org/rwanda/profiles/musindarwezo.shtml.)

Dinner tonight with Aaron’s Rwandan friend, Yves. Smart, interesting, sophisticated. Like Dinah, he also lived in England. He’s a tragic romantic, openly bemoaning his search for love. At 36, he thinks he’s old. We meet at Hotel Gorillas and walk up hill to Cactus, a very good restaurant that Simin Marefat recommended to me in San Francisco. We talk for a long time under a full moon (pleine lune) in the restaurant’s garden, looking downhill at Kigali. Soup, chicken, rice and veggies – the best meal I’ve had here.

Yves makes an interesting comment about Rwandans: They’re reserved, he says, compared to the cheerful but “very simple” Tanzanians. Rwandan professionals, he adds, get their sense of style from the Congolese. In the Congo, the wealthy broadcast their riches. Biggest luxury cars, biggest mansions, showiest clothes. Years ago I heard that the Mercedes dealership in Kinshasa is the top seller in the world.

After two and a half hours we walk back to Hotel Gorillas and I describe the odd feeling of seeing Bush, Cheney and Condoleezza Rice’s grinning photos at the U.S. Embassy. Yves has a camp interest in Condi and says she disports herself “as if she were a model, but looks like Cruella DeVil.” Meow. “She’s a disgrace to black people,” he says, and then offers an impression of Condi’s mincing way of walking. He speaks in the slinky, insinuating rhythm of the cartoon skunk Pepe Le Pew.

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