26 June 2006


by Cecily
The day before Emily left we had a Fanta Party. It was a very hectic, last-minute arrangement, as are so many aspects of my life.

First thing in the morning, we had set up a meeting with the director of the school to talk about future contact, most-needed items, etc. We hired Sam to interpret between English and French, Emily interpreted between English and ASL, and there was some Rwandan sign language and lipreading in various languages thrown in there as well. At the end, I think we all basically understood each other.

It was 10:00 by the time we were done with the meeting, learning the names of swarms of children, taking group photographs, etc. We had to drive Sam back home, and we wanted to go get a bunch of Fanta for a good-bye Emily party. "Fanta" here is like "Coke" in Florida; it just means some kind of soda. Anyway we decided that we would not come back and teach that day, but deal with our Fanta purchase and come back at 4 when school is out.

Then the excitement began. There are 140 children at the school and around 20 teachers and other staff. So we needed 160 bottles of Fanta.

That, my friends, is a lot of Fanta.

Things, including Fanta, are pretty cheap in Kigali and I was under the impression that I had 60,000 francs on me because we were planning to go shopping at the art co-op place. Which is WAY more than enough for Fanta, even for 160 bottles. Some fast (and incredibly accurate) mathematical calculations led us to believe that we would need 7 cases. A case (24 bottles) is 3,050 francs. So, that should cost something like 22,000. No problem.

The next chore was to go to a place where one might be able to buy 7 cases of Fanta. Emily and I, surprisingly, did not know where to begin. So we asked Sam to come to the rescue once again. Luckily Sam is probably the nicest person on the face of the earth, so he was happy to help.

He took us to a place where it was immediately obvious that Rwandans buy Fanta there, not Americans. From the reasonably car-friendly street where I usually drive, we turned onto a not-so-car-friendly dirt road, dodged some enormous trucks and the ever-present crowds of pedestrians, and parked by a gigantic tower of red crates.

We stepped out of the car and were surrounded by people. Staring at us, not in an unfriendly way, but definitely in a way that made us feel very fish-out-of-water-y.

Sam arranged everything with the head Fanta seller guy. However, it turns out that if you want to buy seven cases of Fanta you have to give them a deposit on the bottles. (Bottles here are more expensive than their contents, I assume because there are no glass-making facilities anywhere. So all the bottles get cleaned and re-used again and again.)

The total for the Fanta was, indeed, something like 22,000 frw. The deposit was 30-something thousand. 30,000. For a total of 52,000 frw.

550 frw = $1 US.

So that's altogether about $100.

Anyway, whatever, we knew we would get the deposit back as soon as we returned the empty bottles. So I went back to the car and locked myself in to deal with my cash.

Whence I discovered that in fact I did not have 60,000 frw. In fact I had 40,000.

So there was some fast renegotiation of everything and we decided to get 5 cases and come back later. The cases were flung wildly around in a way that made me slightly nervous, and slammed into the back of the car, and we were off!

Except we couldn't turn around, because we were in a narrow dirt road lined with people and crate towers and booths of vegetables. So, we went forward.

Forward was a fragile-looking wooden bridge over a deep gully, MAYBE wide enough for one car. On the other side of that was an even narrower alley where Sam wanted me to turn right. Again, lined with even more people and vegetables and fruit, now mostly displayed on blankets on the ground. Eventually I managed an approximately 50-point turn without knocking anyone over or smashing any wares.

You should all be aware that this is a stick-shift, largeish SUV that I am driving, with two passengers and 120 bottles full of soda pop in the back. And that I am usually surrounded by a lot of small children who like to get as close as possible to the vehicle. And that this road was not meant for driving, really, and the difference in elevation between various parts of it is at times over 1 foot.

Eventually, with some deep breathing techniques, I made it to the next block where I was turning right again to get back to the main road. At the intersection between this road and the main road was a cliff that I had to drive up.

I'm not sure if my perception was totally accurate, but it seemed like a 30-degree incline. Decorated with 2- and 3-foot-diameter boulders. In a stick shift, surrounded by children, onto a street with two-way traffic and no signal.

That involved some more deep breathing.

Then we went home, and discovered almost one case worth of Fanta under the sink. (Since when do my parents drink soda pop?) And ate lunch, and went back and bought another case, and drove to another part of town to exchange some American money, and went back home, and sat on the balcony, and drove back to school.

Did I mention that all of the main roads were under construction that day? Roads that are normally one-way were suddenly two-way and roads that I usually drive on were suddenly covered in huge patches of wet tar. And there are confusing methods of traffic control in this country involving police guys standing around laughing at me when I make a lot of mistakes. Which happened a lot of times in a row, holding up traffic and causing a fair amount of ire in other drivers. Ire and honking.

We made it to the school, where all of the children were swarming and signing and telling us their names and asking us if we remembered how to spell their names (we mostly did not). The high school girls did a dance to drumbeats which was incredibly beautiful and the 2- and 3- year old little tiny boys gave Emily a present. Then we drank Fanta.

assembly outside



The children are drinking some Fanta

Emily is drinking Fanta too

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