The Moment Begins Now.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Nyamirambo --> (NYR)

"You live here?" My colleague asked, pointing up at the two story faded-orange building I was standing outside of. "Isn't this area," he said, leaning in and looking around, "a little dangerous?"

I stopped rolling up my sleeve, and watched to see if his face betrayed his words and showed any signs of untruthfulness. It did not;  his eyebrows were genuinely raised in surprise as he shook my hand and proceeded on down the street.It took me a moment, frozen in our busy intersection to digest what he had said. You see, my colleague is from the Congo. The man from the Democratic Republic of Congo asked if where we live is dangerous. The Congo. C O N G O.

View from our deck: Menacing
This wasn't the first time I have heard concern over the area, but in that moment I gained a deeper love for the misunderstood side of town we live in.

Nyamirambo, our neighborhood,  is the bustling Muslim district of Kigali; a bounding pulse of the city of Kigali. Two towering mosques mark the entering and the passing of our neighborhood, and our house lies directly in between the two.  This leaves us vulnerable to the morning calls to prayer, the never-closing bars, the stray-dog discussions  at 4 am, and the constant hum of the chatter and traffic that never ceases. 'Rambo even has a Town Crier. One man, obviously chosen for the sheer-unpleasant quality to his voice, arms himself with a loudspeaker, and at random intervals (day or night, sun, rain, whatever) plants himself on the corner of every intersection and yells in rhythmic Kinyarwandan (Ubanda-Grenada-Lugunda-Uganda).

2020: Closing in a Decade
The newly paved Avenue de la Justice is the thoroughfare for all happenings of the neighborhood. Streets are lined with creatively thought out names such as "Human Lover Boutique" and "2020" (obviously the new 2012). Pass by these shops, and hear old-fashioned sewing machines constantly "whirring" as mannequins are dressed with the freshly minted wares. Others are seen scrubbing second hand shoes (donations from Canada and Europe), returning them to their former glory, where they are sold for a profit.  A fifty foot tall television screen randomly plays a Kobe Bryant highlight reel on repeat. Women carrying fruit baskets weave their way up and down the Avenue, miraculously balancing their wares with dignity and skill while balancing their babies who are wrapped around their backs, sleeping comfortably in their mother's makeshift-baby-backpack. Children sprint up and down the shoulder of the road playing and laughing in their school uniforms after school while devout Muslims bee-line for the Mosque, heads down and deep in thought. The indiscriminate smells of the neighborhood punctuate and captivate the air, wafting faint trickles of the day's menu (is that goat?) and open-fire stoves. Moto Taxi drivers line up outside the Great Wall of China Supermarket, chatting about whose bike is cleaner, faster and most dangerous.

The First Wave is Free
Stay a little longer, and you see destitute poverty reach it's dark claws into the neighborhood. The rest of Kigali has been purged of the beggars and street vendors that punctuate so many majority world cities, and Nyamirambo has become a collecting ground for everyone not rich enough to belong elsewhere. Dull-eyed children carry  trademark yellow Jerry cans to the local watering hole to be filled. Women breast feed malnourished children while plead with their eyes for some change with their free hand. A man, amputated at the hip, uses flip-flops as hand shoes as he trudges his way down the street. Drugs, prostitution and theft lurk behind the shadows of day.

Kigali is like a bad actor; pretending to be something that it is not. Few neighborhoods offer the realism and awakening of the real situation that Nyamirambo does. It forces you to confront questions of charity, of ethics, of power and privilege. Of how where you were born determines a large portion of how your life will be lived. With 80% of Rwanda living in the rural populations, our neighborhood is a truer representative of the state of the country.

It's what makes living here matter though; the chaotic, urban sprawl, the misunderstood neighborhood characters and community that we are becoming a part of, the poverty and privilege. It's all here in the beautifully bold and vivid streets of Nyamirambo. 


  1. Just made my morning!!! and you speak the truth!!!