A conversation with our (Rwandan) housekeeper:
- How much do soup plates cost here?
- 1000FRW per plate
- 1000FRW?? surely there must be some cheaper ones.
- No. 1000FRW for some plates which look nice and are also presentable for guests.
- But we really just need something simple and cheap.
- Well, ok, there are some that are cheaper, but they are not so nice. And not... (she giggles shyly) ... not good enough for white people.
I didn't know what to say after that.
This story is representative of the relationship between normal Rwandans and Muzungus in Rwanda. (Although I suppose having a housekeeper also contributes to this attitude.) We're rich, we eat better food, we wear new clothes (instead of second hand clothes), we drive everywhere (never walk), we shop in La Galette (the expensive German supermaket inRwanda) and even if we walk into a "normal" Rwandan shop we still pay Muzungu prices (10-20% more).
Going against the expected norms of behaviour generally creates confusion, alienation ("What are these funny Muzungus doing now?") and sometimes embarassement ("Why is this rich Muzungu in our dirty little bar?"). Luckily, attitudes are softening a little in Kigali (people don't even turn their heads anymore when I walk into my local cafe) although in parts of the countryside, one could get the impression that little has changed since the first white explorers wandered through. You can get out of your car in an apparently abandoned part of the countryside, and within 3 minutes you have a group of 5-10 Rwandan children asking you for empty water bottles (useful for transporting water in the countryside) and money.