House hunting in Kayonza wouldn’t be what I’d call a shopping spree. You’d be hard-pressed to find any prospects in some kind of Yellow Pages, a listing online, a front lawn sign, or even a realtor. We were looking for a three-bedroom rental to share among the three fellows: Also in limited supply.
Needless to say, we were having troubles leaving the nest (Chloe and Lisanne’s humble abode in Rwinkwavu).
You wouldn’t want to ask a complete stranger either — even if you were fluent in Kinyarwanda — if there are any openings.
That’s what I thought, at least.
Mid-week almost two weeks ago, Mosie and I showed up right on time for practice at Nyamirama, but we found no women hustling to warm-up. A funeral was in session for the father of one of our Shooting Touch primary girls. With our free time, we decided on taking a lengthy walk along the only two-way road toward Kayonza.
It didn’t take long for us to gain a following of school children with uniforms, tattered backpacks and worn hand-me-down textbooks. The village kids have a knack for crossing the street by themselves, hovering behind, and then slowly coming forward to grab your hand. Once our flock disappeared, we heard grown footsteps behind us.
“Where are you headed?” Someone called to us.
We told the person a place called Urugo, a Women for Women Center. We started a conversation that led to him telling us his name, John, and that he’s lived near Kayonza all his life. We explained our lack of housing. He immediately replied, “I’ll find you a house. No problem. I’ll call you by Friday.” It took us by surprise, but we exchanged numbers, and then went on our way. I didn’t expect anything from the interchange.
On Thursday that same week, Christian, one of our Jr. Coaches, got a lead for two places in Kayonza. One was a two-bedroom apartment in an outdoor common area, with an adjacent one-bedroom apartment. Personally, I wasn’t a fan of the lack of privacy and living space.
Another potential home was down the street. We turned the corner to see a legitimate house behind a wraparound cement wall, a rustic red gate, a shiny tin roof and blue shutters. The owner was a mother of one of our Shooting Touch Secondary boys at the Kayonza court. She’s the most motherly figure you could imagine.
This time, I liked what we saw in the place. There was a smoothly paved driveway deep and wide enough to fit the Shooting Touch vehicle, clear potential for a front patio area, three spacious bedrooms, a living room area, a kitchen space, four backyard huts and, lastly and most importantly, the potential for an indoor bathroom with running water.
We figured this house would be the best chance for us to move in all together, and do so in a quick manner. The unanimous decision was putting money down the following day. We’d obviously be putting this family out of their immediate home, so we felt bad, especially for the hard-working mother. Then we understood what opportunities our down payment of $320,000 RWF and future rent money could possibly create.
The next day, an hour after we signed on the house, I received a phone call.
I didn’t recognize the number, but after muddled noises and forced greetings, I made out that the person on the other line was John. “I have a house for you,” he said. I had to break the news to him that we just purchased our new rental, but I appreciated his help. I really did, too. John kept his word, to a point. Who would’ve thought this random guy would take time out of his week to help two people he’d only talked to for five minutes?
John and I both discussed plans to meet and chat in Kayonza that evening, but when I arrived to town and called his line, no answer came from the other end. To this day, I haven’t heard from him. I’m still curious as to whether he really did find us a potential house and how much it was.
Even more so, I’m curious if he’ll find a way to show up in our lives again. Being in a foreign country for only a limited amount of time, I frequently think about my ticking clock. There’s no guarantee I’ll return to Rwanda after my ten months. All my future embraces and heart-felt “Amakuru’s” could simply be grains of sand in an hourglass.
Fast-forward to last Sunday, our expected move-in date. Postponed. The unfinished bathroom was probably still just that, unfinished. Our next expected move-in, Monday. Postponed. Could be anything at this rate. Finally, we were told we could move our belongings in Tuesday evening.
We jumped at the chance, had our Rwinkwavu crew find us a taxi and took off in a beat-up Toyota just big enough to contain all our baggage. That night, I marched over a mile stretching my arms to the brink so I could carry a twin mattress over my head all the way to my new bedroom. Our own two legs were the only moving companies available after eight o’clock.
With a full stomach of brochettes and celebratory beers for our first successful rental in Rwanda, we crashed on our mattresses. The house was completely cleared out except for our own luggage, backpacks and what we could carry. The living room cement floor was our bed frame.
We’ve upgraded the crib a bit since the first night — one more bed, three plastic chairs, kitchen shelves, a laundry basket and mosquito nets — but the inside is still fairly desolate.
In time, I’m confident we’ll make it our own.
The kids — well, not to mention the whole neighborhood — know exactly where we live now. The little ones just make it obvious. They rush in packs to see us when we leave for the day, or peer through the cracks of our gate, or climb on each others shoulders to peek over the barrier wall.
For now, we’re still the “Muzungus!” of the community. I don’t think that will change during our fellowship. Eventually, though, hopefully Kayonza’s own will warm up to calling us neighbors.