Thief in the market…

10 Feb

Today was interesting.

We woke up, ate breakfast, and then we were off to the market.  We went with a young lady named Betty who acted as our translator and bargainer.  She was quite helpful.  However, it seems that wherever we are, we attract a crowd.  Something about our pigmentation or whatever, I s’pose.  People always seem to be laughing.  Sometimes with us.  Sometimes at us.  Although since we can never actually tell, we just like to assume they’re always laughing with us.  Even though they probably aren’t.  Anyways, today they were laughing at us because we spoke their language (for some reason a white person speaking Kinyarwanda is humorous).  Then they were laughing because I picked up some tomatoes that had fallen on the ground and no one else had seen them fall.  So apparently it’s also humorous if white people are kind.  Then finally, they were laughing because of the massive horde of children following us around.

The children are always curious about us–if you’ll allow me a brief caveat here, I’ll share some of my thoughts on Rwandan children.  We’re so very different looking I think.  Obviously we’re a much paler complexion, but our hair is different too.  Then there’s our facial structure and our eye color.  We also have hair on our arms and they do not.  My favorite part is walking down the road as the sun is going down and hearing, “Good morning, how are YOU?!?”  It appears that in school here, the English they’ve learned is always in the morning time.  Or even better, in the morning and you hear, “Good evening, what is your name?”  Children a funny, they’re innocent (for the most part), and they’re not shy about breaking social boundaries to stare at you for 30 minutes while you’re sitting in a truck at the market waiting for your friend to finish shopping for the centre you’re staying at.

Anyways, so today was quite interesting at the market because right before we had left the manager of the centre hands me about $85 worth of Rwandan Francs and I have no place to put it other than a bulging wallet.  Well, we weren’t going to be buying that much worth of groceries/goods so I had a bulging front pocket (which is where I keep my wallet in foreign countries to discourage thieves) due to all of this unexpected money…ahh, the part I’m forgetting is that it was 50,000 Francs but they were 2,000 notes so I had 25 of them, and that is what made the wallet bulge.  Anyways, Maggie and I had just had a brief conversation where she was worried about the money and it getting stolen.

My response to her was, “Do you know what they do to thieves here?”

“Do you?”  She retorted.

“You only know that do to thieves in Uganda,” she quipped, trying to justify her fear.

“Maggs, I’m sure it’s the same here,” I reassured her and we continued looking for the final items on our list.


When we were buying beans there was a huge commotion throughout the market.  Then, right down the row we were on came a young boy running and about 5-7 men yelling after him.  Well, as soon as the market heard the yelling of the group of men, the group more than doubled, at one point I think there were at least 30 people chasing this boy.  One man would grab his arm and he would evade his captor by escaping their grip and diving through the hanging shirts into the next aisle over.  Well, eventually a large enough group grabbed him.  At this point, with the whole market coming alive as if they’ve just watched the Giants beat the Patriots in a Superbowl (there are two now, so take your pick!), Betty turns our way and nonchalantly says, “That boy is a thief.”

My heart was racing and I was quite concerned for the boy.  You see, in many honor based societies (such as Uganda and Rwanda) stealing is a major dishonor.  Since it is such a hanus crime, sometimes, people who steal might be beaten to death on the spot.  Hence the reason I stopped breathing.  My heart was pounding and I couldn’t look away (much like a car crash, or something else that’s awful that you shouldn’t look at but simply can’t stop yourself).  But then, just like that …

…the boy was dashing away through the market with nobody chasing him this time.  It was if they gave up.  I was very confused.  But a bit later, as we were buying plantains, I saw another crowd.  This time it was the same boy, they had indeed caught him and again, I couldn’t look away.  The boy was laying on the ground on his stomach with two men in what look like maroon wind suits (you know, the athletic looking pants and matching wind-breaker?) and somewhat menacing batons kneeling near the boys face, speaking with him.  I quickly deduced that these men were “security” at the market.  At this point, the crowd around the men and the boy swelled to the point where I could not longer see them and I was forced to look away and find something else to occupy my time with. Luckily, they needed my help carrying the bushel of banana plantains so I was distracted for a while.  Afterwards, we went and sat in the truck waiting for our friend to finish shopping.  As we did we saw two things: First, we saw the two men in the jumpsuits and the boy walking together.  It seemed that he had been disciplined and was now being released.  Second, a young boy walked up to me and said, “Give me money.”  A fairly common thing to hear from young children when addressing a white man in Africa.  It seems that they think we give out money or candy–“Give me sweetie.”–all the time.  In fact, I’d like to speak to whoever is walking around African nations and giving children candy, because it has made some interactions with them frustrating and if I ever find them…well, I suppose I’d ask them to stop.  Anyways, to this young and seemingly smart-mouthed boy I responded by putting out my hand towards him and asking him for money.  He looked at me, shrugged somewhat begrudgingly, and then walked away without saying a word.

So at this point I’ve lied to you.  The first sentence said our day was interesting.  I’m not sure it has been.  Kids ask for money and candy here and sometimes thieves can be beaten to death.  Thankfully, today was not interesting because no kids got money and no one was beaten to death.

Also, I’d just like to try to tell you a little bit of the hilarity that is us ordering food here at the Seeds of Peace Centre, especially after I misled you through the last story where you thought you might get to read about a teenage boy getting beaten to death for stealing.  Shame on you really, shouldn’t have wished for that.  How morbid.  Anywho, let me give you a few examples of what we’ve order and what we’ve received.  I figure, it’s better to share it and laugh about it than be bitter and resentful.

This morning I woke up around 7, as I do every morning, wake Maggs briefly, ask her what she wants for breakfast, grab our wind up radio and walk up to reception to order.  Well this morning, I ordered pineapple for Maggs,  two african teas, and a small glass of buttermilk and then crepes with avocado and tomatoes for myself.  Some people came to my room about 15 minutes later and said they didn’t have the things to make crepes so instead I said that I’d love pineapple as well and that’d be fine.  Well, 45 minutes later they brought us four pieces of toast, 2 african teas, and 3 boiled eggs.  Bless them, they’re so sweet.  I’m just glad Maggie didn’t notice she didn’t get her buttermilk or pineapple.  We were both quite satisfied with the toast.  They make it in such a manner that they butter both sides and they are somewhat crispy while the middle is still soft.  It’s quite a feat I think considering the fact that they “toast” it over an open fire.

Then tonight we ordered beans, rice, tomato soup, 2 banana plantains for Maggie and 4 potatoes for Justin.  We ended up getting rice, tomato soup, 2 banana plantains each, and 3 potatoes each.  We often end up shifting food from plate to plate, but it keeps the meals interesting since the food we order can be quite monotonous and doesn’t change all that much.  Okay, at this point I’m rambling.



[As an aside, I just would like to say that my husband who wrote the above post is sweet and sensitive and steady when I am batshit crazy an insane ball of every worry and nerve I’ve ever had about how I am ashamed to be white/vaguely descended from the rapists and colonizers of Africa/taking our new friend Betty out of her office to be trailed like a mother duck by two muzungus around a marketplace. He makes me laugh when everyone is staring by saying “Miriwe,” good afternoon to a little girl and making her cry because he is white and tall and bearded. Then he just says “Oops!” with a sort of giggle and shrug and all of a sudden we are both laughing riotously in the middle of 1000 Rwandans who have no idea what we are laughing about and that is okay because it is just the two of us. I could not do this without him. We say that to each other at least once a day: “I’m glad you’re here. I would be miserable without you.” But seriously, kiddo, I’d have been on the next plane to Belgium this week if you weren’t by my side. I’d hunker down with good food, good drink, and be comforted by being around other people who looked like me. Instead– you push me to think anthropologically, to test my limits, to be uncomfortable yet stay positive. And then, after we’ve gone through this hard but good experience together, we’ll get to go to Europe and eat and drink and be tourists for a while. Together. Love you, Justin. –M]


2 Responses to “Thief in the market…”

  1. Donna February 10, 2012 at 8:57 pm #

    Nah, you didn’t lie. It’s interesting just to hear about your day no matter how mundane it is to you. What exactly will you guys be doing there, other than ordering food you don’t get?

    And congrats on four in a row. Keep it up!

  2. Diane February 10, 2012 at 11:02 pm #

    Loved reading this! It is like reliving Uganda…Glad you both have each other!

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