RUBY HALL and Francisca Klassen are neither twins, nor blood sisters.
Nor have they known each other long, having first met a year ago. However, such is the tightness of their bond that for this interview, they speak either concurrently before one pauses for the other, or they speak for one another.
For the last year, the two have been volunteers with the National Paralympic Committee of Rwanda, based at the Amahoro stadium in Remera.
For people that only met at a preparatory seminar ahead of their trip, the bond they have created over the course of one year is quite revealing.
Their story before they fly back to Germany last week is this:
Ruby Hall first came to Rwanda in 2009 for a holiday with her mother, who works for the German organization, Jumelage.
As part of her work, Ruby’s mother organises travel for officials and delegations from the German government to Rwanda.
On this particular visit in 2009, she was lucky to be brought along, and at the end of it, she had toured the Akagera and Nyungwe National Parks, and a few schools.
It is the kind of trip she had dreamt of since she was a young girl of seven, since her mother was already in this job by the time.
“From that early age, I had already determined that after school, I wanted to visit Rwanda. That was when I was about seven or eight, now I’m 19.”
During that first visit, she had her hair braided for the very first time, an experience she nearly regretted. “I got a nose bleed because they were pulling so hard at my hair.”
For this particular visit, they came under the auspices of Weltwarts, a German government project that facilitates foreign travel for young German citizens.
Particularly, they were attached to an organisation called DRK Hessen –Volunta (the German Red Cross). Here in Rwanda, they ended up at the National Paralympic Committee of Rwanda, as young volunteers.
“After my A-levels in 2013, the big question was; what next? I didn’t know what I wanted to study at university, so I decided to take a year off. I went online in search of volunteer opportunities and when I applied, all I knew is that I wanted to be somewhere in Africa, not Rwanda in particular. Before setting off, I tried to inform myself about Rwanda on the internet, but it was hard, because online, the country had been reduced to its history.”
“We didn’t know we’d live together in Rwanda. All we knew was that we would be working together. We didn’t know if we’d live separately, as a group of volunteers, or with Rwandan families. When we arrived, we were informed we would be living together in Nyamirambo,” explains Francisca, adding: “We were not prepared. I think we needed time, but in the end it turned out a good combination.”
There were initial shocks to deal with, explains Ruby. “When we arrived at our house, it had two small bed rooms, a front room, an out-door squat toilet, and an ice-cold shower which we shared with neighbors. We were a bit shocked when we saw it at first –all we had were three mattresses, two beds, a gas cooker, and a table. There was no TV, fridge, bathroom shower, and no oven to cook, just a gas cooker which we were happy with, and obviously it was a bit different from home. We basically got left here and didn’t know how to live. We didn’t know the shops, or how to talk with the taxi motor. We didn’t even know the bus stop to town.”
Instead, for their shopping, they headed to Nakumatt, all the way in town.
Local food and dining culture
“Onions everywhere!” exclaims Ruby. “We both don’t like onions much. If you order for something without onions, 80 percent of the time you get it with onions.”
For Francisca, it was the portions of food served whenever she went to her popular buffet, and she offers an explanation: “Here people only serve once at the buffet. In Germany, you can go back many times as you want.
“The joke is that when you take out a mountain of food on your plate, you create an extra hill in the land of a thousand hills, thereby causing a network interruption”, Ruby interjects playfully.
They each confess a liking for the smaller eating establishments as opposed to the big league. Speaking for both, Francisca says: “The main problem with small restaurants is it’s harder to get what you want because sometimes there are language issues to deal with. The waiting time too is very bad, in that once, my order for pizza took nearly three hours, and when it finally came, it had raw onions, yet we had said we did not want onions.”
The two did not come across as very big fans of the famed grilled delight -brochette, but when pressed, Francisca said: “Fish brochette is the best. Goat is good, but it’s like chewing gum if the meat is not tender enough.”
Ruby further recalls that when they first set foot here, there were many matatus, but in just one year, they had vanished and replaced by buses.
Apart from the bus ride to and from work in Remera, the two prefer to travel by Taxi moto. To them, it’s such a relaxing experience as compared to the typical bus ride. “At first I was a bit afraid, but now it’s okay. The good thing with the bikes is that you don’t have to get up whenever another passenger wants to alight,” says Ruby, adding: “They’re cool in that you get them almost anywhere at any time, even when you don’t know where you are.”
For her part, Francisca thinks there would be a huge transport crisis in Kigali if they were banned. Also, “With the motor, you are independent even without your own car”.
Ruby says: “People here are friendly. Many times when we asked for directions, people genuinely showed us the way, without any expectations.”