A Thought For #Kenya

The hardest thing for me to swallow about the situation in #Kenya right now is to realize that the violence was expected. It was talked about. There were warnings; Signs. And now it is happening. Again. The same Us-Versus-Them rhetoric. If you knew how much Us there is in Them and how much Them there is in Us, you would know that a panga is not gonna cut it. It’s no way to settle land disputes older than your lineage’s imagination combined.
I speak as a Rwandan born in exile because some people in Rwanda in the late 1950’s thought panga was the way. Where are they now? Many of them became manure for bushes to flourish just like their victims. Neither own the land. You cannot own the earth. It will swallow you before you know it whether you are good or bad. You are a part of nature just like the remains of your ancestors, animals, trees… they’re all present in the soil you step on, the dust, in the air that you breathe, even in the stars light years away. We are all made of the same matter. There is no tribe in your DNA. There’s life, even in its smallest form. And no life is more important than another. That’s why our emotions are the same – fear, courage, sadness, happiness, love, hate… They are the reflections of the other. So if you can feel, you can be the other.

Please forgive me if this sounds ignorant or poetic while people are being killed, I’m sorry but all I want to say is that Kenyans you are being “polytricked” by the same people over again. The playbook is the same. Had it changed, we wouldn’t be having the same scenario: Create chaos, exploit the weak, come through as savior, blame it on your opponent, be a hero, amass wealth and repeat the pattern.

What’s the smallest thing you can do (or not do) to avoid the trap?

~1key

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When I tell people that I spent about five months in a village called Buhanda in the Southern Province of Rwanda, their first reaction is “No freakin way!! You? What were you doing there?” Usually I would say research but that happened organically as I started my quest to find my roots by interviewing old people about their lives before 1959 in Rwanda. The quest led me to paths across the country. I’m currently writing a book in French about that experience but in the meantime you can read summaries some of the interviews here transcribed in their original language (Kinyarwanda.) 

What made my life easy in the village was the fact that I was born and raised in a village, in exile (Goma, DRC). I guess the first twelve years of my life had prepared me enough for the poverty in Buhanda. It wasn’t as bad as back in my early days but poverty should not be compared; even though I was fleeing the same in Kigali because I was unable to provide for myself anymore after quitting a full-time job in pursuit of my passion for the arts, which doesn’t pay the bills since people and organisations insist on paying in an imaginary form of currency that doesn’t work in the real world called exposure. When I thought about settling in the village for a while, I knew rent would be cheap and that I could live better on a $100-monthly budget than a $700 one in Kigali. Plus the food would be fresh and cheap too. So I hoped on the bus and headed to Buhanda, where a friend was experimenting organic farming.

First day at the marketplace in Buhanda. I was excited. The people were like what’s going on here?

I love Buhanda. My house was one-minute from the bus park and the marketplace. Speaking of the market, shopping only happened on Wednesday and Friday. Friday was light in terms of crowd and activities. Why? Because almost everyone is adventist in Buhanda, which is very close to Gitwe- home of the adventist community in Rwanda. There was almost no activities on Friday afternoon. Saturday is sabbath. Nothing happens on that day in the Advetists world. Not even cooking. Sunday is a day off for catholics and protestants. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday are normal days with no market activities. It bugged me in the beginning but with time I got used to shopping groceries only once a week. I was an outsider, anyway. It was obvious in the way people looked at me. I am familiar with strange looks. I’m ok with people whispering to each other behind my back about my hairstyle, piercings and tattoos. I have grown to be comfortable in this skin that makes people uncomfortable due to their personal insecurities. Oh the game of living! On the other hand, at the marketplace they called me boss since I was a regular buyer. Every time I paid for something with a Rwf 2,000, I realized their struggle in getting the change. Most transactions around me happened in coins. I heard people bargaining over 10-15 francs. Then I asked a woman who sold me fruits, “Don’t you think you would make more money if sold more often? I know you’re one of the few to sell here twice a week but maybe a little more would help you earn more.” Then she said, “Who would buy? I’m not even sure I will sell all these fruits today. And it’s a Wednesday!” I didn’t know how to respond to that. I had so many questions about what was happening around me. Why were street lights on all night over two kilometres for people who sleep at 7pm because they don’t have electricity in their homes? Why were there two ATM’s accepting VISA for people who struggled to get change for Rwf 2,000? How was I able to access the Internet when there was no access to clean water? The biggest question was Is it bad decisions that lead to poverty or poverty that leads to bad decisions? A wise friend answered “It’s the chicken and the egg. 

But then I remembered that I had once asked a group of old people who had lived their entire life in Isunzu, another village a few kilometres from Buhanda where my friend and housemate was farming, “What are you going to do about the water situation in the dry season? Didn’t you starve last year?” They didn’t even let me finish. They were terrorised by the idea of a scorching sun for two-three months but still had no plan. So I suggested that we dig dams to collect rain water. That was in March. It was raining. They pretended like they didn’t hear anything. My friend and I went on and dug a 7×5×1.5m dam. Our worry was that the soil would absorb the rain water once the dry season kicks in. So we thought we would try dry clay on the sides and see how it would work. Then a mirracle happened: While digging we realized we couldn’t get deeper than 1.5m as we were approaching the water source. That was a blessing in disguise because we collected both rain water and water from the source at the same time. Throughout this whole dry season, my friend had enough to water his crops. 

This photo was taken about a month after digging. The water levels were going up. The only cost was labour: Rwf 15,000

As days went on, I began to feel home in the village. So I decided to adjust- not adjust to a typical village lifestyle but to adjust the village to mine. I didn’t make money in the village. I spent, with so much joy, the little I would make through online translation jobs. Every time I had an idea about producing something for the house, I would step out and get it done with the villagers. I assisted them if I had to but in most cases they had it on lock. I met some unusual minds who were used to produce the usual. Here are few things that I got done by villagers in Buhanda:

I got tired of the lean-and-collect-water-with-your-hands routine while bathing. So I went to marketplace and bought the bucket (Rwf 1,500), the shower thingy (Rwf 3,000), 2×3m of plastic (Rwf 3,000), customized stool with space for soaps and other stuff (1plank: Rwf 2,000). Labour cost (plumbing, carpentry, sewing): Rwf 3,000. Grand total: Rwf 12,500. The hottest part is that since it’s sunny every day, water in the bucket is warm every day before it gets dark. PS: Remember to add Sur’Eau in the water to kill germs since it’s from the source.
I like to lean when I’m reading. So I thought what about a chair that does that without costing an arm and leg but had six legs? In my initial discussions with the fundi (maker), I suggested an ordinary wooden chair with two extra legs but we realised metal would last longer. Cost: Rwf 6,000. The guitar stand was a hard concept to explain so I had to draw it and instruct the fundi during the process. If you zoom in you will realize there is a mini book holder at the back. So I would play the guitar then switch to reading whenever. Cost: Rwf 3,000.
The bookshelf is pretty simple. I didn’t need anything fancy. I didn’t want my books on the floor so I got this made in a about an hour. Cost: Rwf 5,500. The mat, known as ikirago, is handmade. Cost: Rwf 2,000
This is my favorite invention. I had so much fun. Even the fundi couldn’t believe it! Everyone was proud. The structure that holds the jerry cans is made of water pipes. You can do as many levels as you want. A little soldering for stability will be required. Cost: Rwf 18,000.
The bed structure, which cost Rwf 11,000, lays on four pieces of chopped logs. Each log cost Rwf 500. There’s another log that works as bed table. Total Cost: Rwf 12,500. The lamp is made of water pipes and a plastic plate on top of the bulb. The red metallic structure is for the support especially if you need to move the lamp around the house or outside. You can also adjust the height by pushing the water piper deeper in the structure. Cost: Rwf 6,500.

A few things that I learned from this experience:

  • It doesn’t hurt to try new things. Au contraire, it enriches our experience and that of people around us;
  • If we can conceive it, there is no doubt we can make it happen;
  • We are not always poor but very often we make poor decisions; sometimes by mimicking rich people’s decisions;
  • It’s important to be aware of problems around us, the most important thing is not to simply complain about them but to try, yes try, to find solutions in our capacity;
  • We must review our priorities in this part of the world and be conscious of the fact that the cost of looking good is more expensive and far damaging than the cost of living good. 

That’s it for me. I’m going to let you go out there and live large! Make every experience worth your time in this life.

#1key 

Choices

I wish I could live from my art. Seems impossible in this corner of the world. For now. Some day maybe. That’d make me so happy.

I’ve been on survival mode for a while. Lost pretty much every tangible item I owned. No biggie. I was prepared for it.

I lost a lot of weight, lots of blood. I collapsed a couple of times during my trips. Life was testing me. I got through it all. Victorious.

It’s not about any god. It’s having faith (in whatever and) in the process. Once you’re 100% in line with your path, it all comes together.

I have never felt this whole my entire life. I have discovered feelings beyond names. I have met incredible artists, amazing people.
I’ll keep doing the best I can to create, produce, promote beautiful arts. Probably not as much as I have for the last past 1 & half year.

Right now I’ve got to get back to employment full time. I got too many debts. Our economy isn’t steady enough to offer part time jobs.
Thank you so much for keeping up with my crazy mind. For accepting me. For loving me. Sorry for being harsh. I got that tough love.

I’m not quitting the arts. How can I? I ain’t even takin a break. I’m just saying time is gonna be a challenge but I’ll rise above.

Life is about choices so I wrote about them and invited a couple of talented artists with whom I share the journey to help me say it better. Remember their names: Weya Viatora, Nganji Arnaud, Dany Beats.

Another Miss, Rwanda 

I had promised myself to react less and less to matters that do not affect me directly because a lot of things hit me in this country and leave me wondering, “Did they think it through?” And so many times some of my fans and friends would kindly advise, “Eric, stick to poetry. We like you like that.” So I tried to follow your advice. I really tried but it’s just against what my guts tell me. It feels like going against my nature. I am a panther. I react. I am glad that this time I am not the only one. 

In fact, for the last couple of days, my social media feeds are full of reactions, mostly from ladies, regarding what a contestant on Miss Rwanda 2017 auditions said when she was asked about who was behind her make-up and style. “I picked the dress myself. I went for something that I would feel comfortable in on the runway, something that reflects the image/shape of a Rwandan girl” she said in Kinyarwanda. The male judge, struck by the last part of the reply, got to the edge of his seat and interjected, “What do you mean by “image/shape of a Rwandan girl?”” And with lots of confidence, she said, “A [true] Rwandan girl is shaped like igisabo.” 

Uwase Honorine, contestant on Miss Rwanda 2017. When you see them hips! 
A growing pot traditionally used to make butter by Rwandan girls

Any Rwandan understands Honorine is referencing to her curvy hips. And daymn she got mean ones! Uhm uhm uhm! Mean enough to be hated on by those who got none? Obviously. Rwandans on Twitter jumped on the occasions with memes and various reactions, and continue to do so, mostly for entertainment purposes. There’s not much entertainment going on. So people entertain themselves all day on social media. I do the same. 
Some judged her reply as “inappropriate” and I am here wondering if you were competing in a contest based on physical appearance, wouldn’t you brag about your goodies when given a chance? Miss Rwanda is not Miss Geek. Probably the reason why the general knowledge questions asked are of a primary school level. It’s all about the looks and which contestant seduces the judges and the crowd the most. And I must say, this girl did her homework and she wants that title. Zoom into the picture and you’ll see marks of the spandex shapers inside her dress for a better outline of the flow of her hips. Is that cheating? Lol. If so, we’ve been cheated on since day uno. Here are some tricks: weaves, wigs, relaxed hair, bleached skin, fake nails, make-up or facial drawings (you decide), heels (for height and raising the bum), rehearsed Q&A’s… Sponsored by the government. Bravo! What’s the message to girls, again? Empowerment and confidence, you said? How do you go about it? “Girl, be pretty and one day you could bear the country’s flag as the most beautiful girl in the country!” Mind you that criteria such as height and weight standards to define beauty on a national scale is discriminating. Strong word? Well, add “positive” before it. Everyone gets away with that. 

I can hear your thoughts go, “It is the same everywhere!” Well, there’s a lot happening everywhere but that doesn’t mean we should we copy them. Anyway, let’s not be too deep because the topic itself isn’t at all. Except the part when the ministry of culture claims, “Miss Rwanda aims at promoting our culture.” Unless the culture died and is resurrecting through girls with ibisabo hips because you know, ibisabo are precious in our culture. Ahem! I love ibisabo. 

#My2016

2016 was an intense year, wasn’t it? Very interesting too. Has there been any other time in your life loaded with information from everywhere and everyone 24/7? Everyone was switched on this year. So much that some of us got a glimpse into the director’s cut of The World As It Is before being slapped by an orange man with tiny hands. At some point I felt like I was part of the newsroom. Well, that’s probably because I was. It’s no secret that I did bombard you regularly with posts throughout the year. If you’re reading this, you survived. 

I began 2016 posting a video on my Facebook page hinting about my music projects and what it would take to achieve them. It probably sounded like those New Year’s resolutions but I knew exactly what I was talking about. I just wanted you to be part of it. 

https://facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=1656633567926492&id=1475922169330967

Personally, I have never doubted my abilities to do the things that I set my mind to. I just have to want it real bad, and I consider it done. Some people call it genius but that’s another way of simplifying things and finding excuses for not doing. Say whatever but it’s whatever it takes that makes all the difference. We get trapped in existing formats about pursuing our dreams and forget the essence. Our experiences vary depending on our situations, time and space. They cannot become models but they can inspire others. How do I make it simple?Think of a hungry African kid in the village spending hours in some banana plantation trying to create toys from banana leaves with his own hands, without any tutorial and still managing to create their own happiness in the middle of chaos and misery. I was that kid. I am still that kid at 35 years old. Yes, the decor is different but the passion to create never went to sleep. I woke up this year to remind us all that “People are capable, at any time in their lives, of doing what they dream of” and that “It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting” as Paulo Coelho put it so well The Alchemist. This year was a very refreshing and interesting journey and I am very glad that I did not walk alone. Many of you followed me closely even from a distance, with love, some friends, artists, journalists held my hand while many watched the journey unfold and there was an insignificant number of people waiting for me to fall. But I have never held my head higher than I do now. I am very proud to write “artist” in the profession box. We did it, fam! 

We pulled it off with no sponsor and we did it with class, didn’t we? We even did more than we planned. From the simple #Expericment series, we produced the #Expericment EP and now working on the #Expericmentary (the expericment documentary) plus lots of features on local and international publications. All this in less than 12 months. So here is a toast to you and I, fam. To the doers that we are. It’s your moral and emotional support, your physical and virtual involvement, your appreciation, your encouraging messages, your vibes that kept me going.

From the bottom of my heart, I wanna take this time to appreciate everyone who made 2016 the dopest year of my life. You will find your name in the credits of the #Expericmentary scheduled to screen towards the 15th of January 2017.

To greatness in 2017.

1Key, 1Love 

VISA chez les belges

​Les blagues sur les belges, vous aimez? Et les blagues par les belges alors? Je ne sais pas si vous allez trouver ça drôle, moi ça me dépasse un peu.

Voilà j’ai fait ma demande de visa pour l’Allemagne le 10 Nov pour une conférence à laquelle j’étais invité à Berlin. A chaque fois que j’entrais mon numéro de dossier sur le site de suivie, il n’était pas reconnu. Alors je me suis rendu à l’ambassade dans la semaine du 17 vu qu’ils disaient que je devrais avoir une réponse dans les 5 ou 10 jours. Après trois jours successifs de “revenez demain” sans suite, ça bouillonnait déjà dans le ventre mais je me suis inspiré de la patience de ceux qui avaient raté une grosse partie de leur formation intellectuelle parce que les services de l’ambassade de Belgique à Kogali c’est comme utiliser l’internet 2G pour transférer une pièce de 100MB. Mais bon, patience! Pas mon fort mais qu’est-ce que je peux faire à cette situation? Puis soudain du feedback. Il manquait un dossier et deux qui n’avaient rien à voir avec mon voyage. J’ai dû écrire une lettre pour m’expliquer. Oui pour m’expliquer. C’était le 23 Novembre. Mon voyage était prévu pour le 29 novembre. La conférence était le 2 décembre. Mon séjour et le reste étaient sponsorisés par le ministère du développement et de la coopération de la fédération allemande. Pas mal, non? Hélas cela ne m’a pas empêché de faire des visites à l’ambassade pour recevoir la même réponse “traitement en cours.” La veille du jour prévu de mon vol, après la même réponse :

– « Mais, madame je voyage demain. »

– « Repassez demain, monsieur Eric. Désolé. »

Deux jours plus tard, c’était perdu. Il n’y avait plus rien à faire. J’ai décidé d’oublier. 

Hier, je rallume mon téléphone et remarque que j’ai eu un appel manqué de l’ambassade. Je suis blasé. On est le 10! J’ai raté ma chance de connecter avec des cervelles dynamiques venant de partout dans le monde et surtout la diaspora rwandaise mais je me console avec un petit « il y aura d’autres occasions. » Oui il y aura d’autres mais plus celle-là. En même temps je suis conscient que la demande peut être acceptée ou rejetée mais que la décision soit prise 3 jours après la date de l’objet de la demande, je trouve ça non seulement inacceptable mais dégradant! Et puis vous les belges avant de venir chez nous, vous ne demandez pas de VISA. Vous l’achetez à l’aéroport de Kigali si je ne me trompes pas. Et moi, vous me faites payer plus de cinquante mille francs pour un service dont vous n’avez aucune intention de m’accorder, c’est pas de l’arnaque? En plus je ne venais même pas chez vous! 

On m’avait avisé de la mauvaise réputation de l’ambassade à Kigali. Je viens d’avoir ma dose mais bon, on apprend de nos erreurs. Il y aura une prochaine fois. Mon nom est NGANGARE Eric. 

À très bientôt! 

…On Employment around Here 

A friend posted an excerpt from a book on the various stages of employment and I noticed that the case study was of a married man. So I thought I should try to share the little I have come to observe as a youth in this country from a more generic perspective. 

PS: Here is not just a physical space, it’s a situation. 

After the glorious ministerial blunder yesterday, I can’t stop thinking about the issue related to employment. At the risk of sounding cocky again, I will not talk about unemployment since work has always found its way to me. I happen to know people who know people who know people who need people like me. I don’t know how the rest of the “98%” of Rwandans got employed. Maybe the minister will tell us with a softer tone this time. Yeah? 

That said, allow me please to share with you some of the observations I have made in my 10 years of employment. That’s many years at the service of companies in which you have absolutely zero legacy. So what do I have after 10 years? Well, pieces of a broken sports car and lots of debts. What did I do with the money? Well, I used it to have a certain lifestyle. I could have bought a house? Maybe but I prefer spending my money on experiences rather than things. These experiences make me happy. To each their own. All I know is that no one can take away all the beautiful memories and great people I shared bits of my time with at Planet Kbc, Cadillac, Abraxas, Iguana, Bubbles and all the places that allowed my spirit to laugh. But if a house is what makes you happy, go for it! I just don’t think it’s fair to think that your goal should be everyone else’s. 

But I digress. So let’s dive into what I believe is currently happening in the employment world around here. 

1: Finding Employment 

a. The hunt

The youth does not run around with ‘j’ai l’honneur” envelopes like in the past (I believe it’s called “I hereby” since the switch) because not only they gave up after realizing you do not find jobs around here but they find you– either through family or friends connections or internet connection when you’re lucky to apply in a company that still believes in ethics. 

b. The establishment 

Once the person has a job, they will spend the first year proving they deserve to be in the position, which can be quite confusing– how (not) to speak to the boss, how to keep your job by pleasing everybody, how to look like your job. The latter is the most expensive as one will spend lots of money on clothes, eating and hanging out in places that are way beyond their means just to “reflect” a certain status. Why is it important? Only those who come from nothing would understand. And so, this has lots of consequences on your finances, on which you are not educated. After all who would educate you? You could be the first person from your village to make it that far as a bank teller. And don’t get me wrong a bank teller is a very respected job, until we fill the city with enough ATM’s to do the job. You know the drill! If not, talk to former konvayeri about the Tap To Pay system in the buses. Beautiful! 

Stage 2: Adjustment 

At this stage, the person has learned all the tricks about keeping the job and more comfortable. However, every month their finances get worse because the need of validation and peer pressure makes them spend even more on things they don’t need. Adjusting means reducing on the outings and to break the pattern, guess what is the solution? Marriage because apparently it makes us more responsible thus stable. Whoever came up with such BS, Bravo!! 

Stage 3: Entrepreneurship 

After five years in employment and being told repetitively “You can be your own boss”, the person begins to look for business ideas. Usually google does it but then they need to be tested on those smart friends whom everyone praises but no one has a clue what they do for a living. It would take a “Go for it, get a loan and start!” and there the business plan is taken to the bank, which will approve if you speak good English and hang out with the bank’s unit managers. Meanwhile you’ve registered the business and printed business cards. You are now a CEO without an office or staff. At least you are a CEO and it makes the stats look good! Then what happens when the bank offers you the loan? You ball! Damn right! You buy a nice car and party because anyway, you’re smart and will make the money in no time. What you don’t realize is that the market is very volatile and nothing is for certain. Your list of “Most Successful Businesspeople in Rwanda” has probably shrunk at the time the issue was released. Lots of businesses have failed and no one wants to tell you why. Let me give you a tiny little example. Let’s say you open a small restaurant and by the time you equip it, renovate the space, you get notified that a road has to go through the space asap because we’re expecting a delegation from I don’t know where and they’ll need a new road or the area becomes a car-free zone. BAM! First shocker! But you’re strong and have some money left, so you move the business to another area that does not have your target audience. Now you are struggling to pay rent because it’s damn expensive for no freakin reason- There’s rarely running water and you have very limited parking space. At this point you don’t have much choice, your family has grown and so have the needs. Life gets harder by the day, the bank pressure rises, and eventually you decide to go back to employment so you can provide for your family while the business pays for its loan. You put a family member in charge but since they have no management skills, the business dies. You become blacklisted by banks, the business assets cannot be auctioned but the bank can console itself but hurting your feelings though– how about your portrait wanted for unpaid loan in a newspaper or inside the bank premises. That is a direct attack to your dignity and you cannot allow that to happen. So you leave the country as a solution because what can you do without money and credibility in a tiny environment where everyone knows about everyone, huh? 

Think about it 😉

Oh in all this I did not mention that RRA will be your companion throughout the process forever. You can leave, but taxes will never leave ya! As a matter of fact, they will grow behind your back as you grow older. 

#1Key 1Love