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Kimironko Market

Kimironko Market.jpg

During my first three days in Rwanda I spent almost every waking moment with my intrepid tour guide/cameraman. He has been living here off and on for the past 10 months and has been an incredible resource, helping me to navigate the town and translate my incomprehensible french and even worse kinyarwanda to a language that people living here can understand. But by Sunday it was time to cut the umbilical cord. I decided that if I'm going to learn how to find my way and communicate with people here, I need to risk getting a little lost and risk humiliation by speaking my limited french.

For my first exercise in independence, I set out to find the marche de kimironko -- where all the locals go to buy their produce. I had a craving for some juicy pineapples and bananas. Uncertain that I would actually reach my destination, but willing to take that risk to acquaint myself with Kigali, I threw caution to the humid wind and headed out to find a moto.

With the exception of a few main roads, there are almost no street names in Kigali. To give or get directions, people first state the neighborhood then describe a series of well known landmark buildings to help hone in on the zone that is the ultimate destination. The system would work fine if I actually knew where any of the landmark buildings are. When still in Brooklyn, I sent an email to find out the address where I would be living. I was told, "tell the taxi to take you to the Kimihurura neighborhood, near the house of Rubangura on the same road as Hellenique Restaurant." For someone who likes a lot of detail and lost-proof directions when embarking on a film production, this was the first ominous sign of the challenges ahead.

To hail a moto, I hike up the hill from my house to the main road and mimic the loud tshkch sound that I heard people make when hailing transportation. Somehow the sound I make works. In broken french I explain to my driver that I want to go to the market in Kimironko. My directions must have been okay, because after a short drive I am in the right part of town -- but my pronunciation of market, marche, was poor or maybe my driver couldn't imagine why a white girl like me would go to the market when most westerners hire locals to grocery shop and cook for them. Instead of taking me to the produce market he stops in front of tailor who makes customized dresses out of African prints. I explain that I want vegetables not vetements.

He looks at me as though I'm crazy, but then we turn around and in less than a minute I'm standing outside an open tent filled with produce, butchered goats, fish and fabric. I make the rounds testing pineapples and mangoes and practicing the four kinyarwanda words I know: mwiriwe=good afternoon; murakoze=thank you; amakuru=how are you; ni meza=fine -- except I kept saying mi neza. I'm not sure how that translates.

I buy a small chunk of rock salt. It comes from the floor Lake Kivu -- the lake in the west that runs along the border of Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo. Most people buy the salt to give to their cows, but I bought it because the salt crystals are so beautiful and it's a reminder of the history contained in the soil around me. I think of the stories I read in Alison des Forges book, Leave Not to Tell the Story about bodies being thrown down the embankment into Lake Kivu during the 1994 genocide and how mutilated bodies were seen floating along the shores. I touched my finger to the salt and taste it. I feel queasy even though all I taste is salt.


I walk back to the produce area to buy some food and purchase a small pineapple, a cluster of five bananas that look like stubby yellow fingers, and ingredients for guacamole -- a purple avocado, cilantro, tiny fresh limes, hot pepper and tomato. Now I just need to find a market that sells tortilla chips.

Heading home, I negotiate a price with my driver for even less than the ride to the market -- the equivalent of about $0.50. Not bad for a newbie.


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