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My Second Week in Africa
Saturday, 17 March 2012 Written by Žana Hrkać

Višnja Kljajić & Žana HrkaćMy second African week began ‘working,’ if I may say so. Early rising, breakfast and coffee with Oswaldi – the best cook (he doesn’t drink it, but nonetheless keeps me company). And it was all ‘spiced up’ by Rwandan music...

Afterwards I would go to the Padri Vjeko Center vocational school with fra Ivica. Classes start there every morning with students lining up for a short prayer, and then they head to the classrooms. I was delighted to see that all students in Rwanda have to wear school uniforms, regardless of the school’s economic stan-ding. That took me back to my childhood, when we too had to wear blue ‘aprons’ and line up before entering the school.

The visit to the primary school was a special experience. Our arrival would immediately attract the attention of the little children who would race toward us. Laughter, laughter… Everyone’s smiling, cheerful, and messy. From Ivica they ask for bon… bon… bon (bonbons), and I was known as ‘photo’ – of course, because I was tirelessly taking photos of everything… I repeat…..everything!

While I was in Kivumu, it was agreed that the students of the builders’ course should start preparing the ground in front of the school to accommodate playing sports. Ivica has a rule: ‘No resting while renovating,’ so – immediately after the meeting and deliberation, the students got down to business, leveling the terrain, laying bricks, and mixing mortar (I must admit that it had been a while since I had seen that!).

Before coming to Rwanda, fra Ivica’s relative Milica in Brussels had given me good advice: ‘With fra Ivica you always have to be prepared, because he never waits for anyone, and he’s on the move from sunrise. So, if you plan to see anything… it’s up to you…’ And it’s good that I followed her advice! With him you can never know where you will end up, in what place and situation. So I always kept my backpack containing essential items close at hand.

While Ivica was busy tending to his obligations, I used the time to do a couple of ‘things’ of my own. Well, ‘mischief’ would be a better word for what I’ve done ?. When I arrived in Rwanda, the first thing Ivica told me was not to give away anything without him knowing about it. “Hmph” I thought! And here I had prepared a bunch of one-dollar bills, T-shirts, hygienic stuff...

But... well… rules are there to be broken, and this ‘offence’ was the greatest one so far! Without asking fra Ivica, I gave a simplest summer T-shirt to the girl that helps the cook. I will never forget the expression on her face: an expression of shock, gratitude, joy! I just thought: ‘My God, this is just a simple shirt… Is what I see really possible!?'

Of course, I had to tell fra Ivica what I had done. I was ‘reprimanded’ ? and I had to promise that I wouldn’t do it again. It’s the hardest promise one could give in the circumstances, but I didn’t try to do it again afterwards...

You see, fra Ivica doesn’t allow you to give away things for a completely logical reason: he doesn’t want to make them used to just sitting around waiting for help. You know what they say: Don’t give them fish, but teach them to fish!

In order to somewhat understand the local political situation, he gave me an autobiographical book to read. I have to tell you right away that I don’t like politics, conflicts and political turmoil, regardless of which part of the world it is in. I know it is part of all of our lives, but I lost interest in this some time ago, and I don’t seem to be able to locate it, and I hope that I won’t, either. Nevertheless, I devoured the pages and, in disbelief, slowly began to realize what had really happened in Rwanda. It described the heartless – to me, incomprehensible – conflict of Rwandan tribes, and with the book I understood what I hadn’t been able to understand until then, so the rest of the day I wasn’t really in a mood for conversation.

On Wednesday we toured the ‘construction site,’ and I was surprised to see how much progress had been made in just two days! The boys were real experts in bricklaying...

Anyway, let me point out that I didn’t wear a watch on my wrist during my stay in Kivumu. I didn’t need it at all, because very quickly you start to observe the time the way the locals do it ?. I never missed TV, and I communicated with my sisters over Skype. My friends were very happy to see my photos on the social network, and I enjoyed every minute.

On Thursday we went to Kigali to pick up Višnja Kljajić, an architect who was visiting Rwanda for the first time (I was already feeling ‘local’ ?). Driving his ‘Dragon’ (that’s how he calls his almost 20 years old car, ha ha ha), fra Ivica was worrying somewhat as he listened to the sound of the engine and brakes, and he wasn’t at all happy with what he was hearing. So, upon arriving in Kigali, we went straight to a car service station. There, we were greeted by ‘Annie Four Guns’ – the owner of the service station.

When fra Ivica explained about the noises he had heard, the woman immediately knew what was wrong. She told him not to worry and that the problem will be solved. Judging by her attitude, I didn’t doubt it at all! If I had, by chance, met her somewhere else, I would have never guessed that she owns a car repair shop and that she knows how to fix cars. She looked like a model! That is one of the interesting things in Rwanda: surprises never seem to end.

The encounter with Višnja was jovial, and we immediately agreed to go to Akagera National Park in Eastern Rwanda together.

Since Thursday is the village market day in Kivumu, after we’d come back from Kigali, I immediately went with Višnja to take a look at the colorful crowd. It is a true ‘chaos with creativity’ mess! You have to see it in order to feel it: small heaps of cherry tomatoes, little green eggplants, spicy peppers, cassava… A bit farther on, a larger heap - slippers of all sizes, and anyone who possibly manages to find a matching pair probably buys them. Of course, none of the articles are new, but nonetheless everything is sold.

We slowly walk to the primary-school yard and once more we cannot avoid meeting the kids. Playful and cheerful, with little flags made of rods and pieces of plain paper, they ran after us. Among them I noticed a little boy whose smile swept me off my feet! I didn’t want to single him out, because he seemed to be the youngest, and the older ones can be really mean to the younger ones when you don’t look. His enchanting smile is still before my eyes!

After a light supper prepared by Oswaldi, the Wizard, we go to bed because we get up before sunrise. I look forward to visiting Akagera National Park. But I will tell you about that some other time...

Translated by Branimir Mlakić
Edited by: Valerie Kae Ken

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