Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Life in Butare, Especially the Food

Butare (officially Huye but still called Butare by most people) is a relatively small town with one main, asphalt road.  I live along the main road, which you will see if you Google map "ecole notre dame de la providence, butare, rwanda."  I live in the stem of the building shaped like a P.  As you head south along the Rue de Kigali (I only know it's called that because of Google maps), you will see the sports stadium that is currently being rebuilt, the post office, and the Avenue du Commerce, which is where the four-story market is.  The walk to the market takes about 18 minutes.  Heading in the opposite direction on the main road, there is a Catholic parish that is less than 5 minutes away from the school, the Iglese St. Therese.  There are two Masses a day, 6:30 am in Kinyarwanda and 5:30 pm in French.  I mostly go to the one in French because it's later in the day and I know the Mass responses in French.  There is an English Mass at 6 am on Tuesdays just across the street from my house, but I haven't adopted the Rwandan hours for sleeping yet.  The girls get up at 5:20 and go to bed at 9, which is more in keeping with the daylight hours.

People have been asking about my shopping experiences and the food I eat here so I will elaborate.  I visited the market first with the mom from the Fidesco family in town, then with the local woman who works at my house in the afternoons, then with my newly-arrived mission partner (Rita) and the school principal, and finally today, just Rita and me.  I am not intimidated any more, or at least not currently.  I'm sure something will happen in the future where there is a misunderstanding, but that hasn't happened yet.  The key to feeling comfortable is learning some shopping vocabulary and having a notebook where I've written down price range for the food and what I pay each time.  When the ladies try to overcharge me, I say, "Urahenda" ("you ask too much") and point to what I paid last time.  Both times they brought the price down to what I paid before.  It really works!

As far as what we buy, every time there are vegetables, fruit, and bread, and then eggs, rice, beans, or pasta when we are running low.  Meat is expensive here, maybe the same price as in the States, but since we're not receiving an American income, we haven't bought any yet.  I should start eating more eggs for the protein.  Every trip to the market usually includes buying potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, avocados, green beans, and bananas.  There are more options for produce, which I've listed below, but these are our staples.  That's because the basic meal here includes a starch of some sort (bread, rice, potato, pasta, or beans), served with veggies cooked in a tomato-paste-based sauce and a cold veggie salad.  The sauce is good; I even ate a dish with lots of peas (yuck!) for lunch the other day because the sauce made them enjoyable.  I've also used the local ingredients to make food from home: a Chinese stir fry, a curry veggie stew, and an okay Mexican meal of rice and beans and corn tortillas.  It's not the same, but at least it's close.  Breakfast is oatmeal or bread and jam and/or powdered peanut butter.

The veggies and fruit available here are avocados, green beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, green bell peppers, cauliflower, zucchini, potatoes, sweet potatoes, lettuce, peas, Japanese eggplant, green bananas (plantains?), bananas, oranges, passion fruit, Japanese plums, pineapples, watermelons, and apples (but too expensive to buy).  Most of the fruit is pricey so we've settled on buying bananas and pineapple.

Meal times are more European than American.  Depending on when I start work for the day, I can eat breakfast anytime between 7-9 am.  There is a 10 am tea break where the girls eat their breakfast and the teachers and staff gather in the staff room for tea with lots of sugar and milk added to it, along with plain rolls of bread.  Lunch is after the classes finish at 1:50 pm, which means I eat sometime after 2 pm.  Dinner is whenever Rita and I want to eat, but if we decide to join the girls in the refectory for conversation and a meal of sweet potatoes and beans, that is around 8 pm.  My goal is to eat with them two times a week so I can have more time to share with them.

All in all, it's a good and healthy life.  I walk everywhere.  Except for the bread, the margarine, the oil, and the tomato paste, nothing else is processed before it comes into my home.  I'm eating tons of fresh fruits and vegetables.  The only strange thing is that I drink more soda here because Rwandans like to offer their guests something to drink and since I don't like beer, that leaves Coca-Cola and many flavors of Fanta.

I received a "yes" from the head mistress for the question of pairing you all up with pen pals at the school so if you would like to correspond with a student so she or he (there are 8 boys) can work on her or his English writing and reading skills, please let me know.


  1. Thanks for sharing Heather, this was interesting to read! :) I'd love for my kids to try being pen pals with a student. Let me know what I need to do for that!

  2. Sounds like you have a well-rounded diet with a nice variety of produce. Who needs meat anyway? I haven't had any for over 14 years and don't miss it at all. Maybe once you come back home you will be completely vegetarian! And then you can help get your mom and brother on a meatless diet - hey, I can always wish, right?!