Monthly Archives: July 2010

How to get funny looks from the TSA…


I feel like I could write a book on this topic… I do not have any more security checkpoints to go through between now and Nome, so I feel It is safe to post.

Take One: ‘Moving to Nome 2009’ The first time I made the trip to Nome I had a sewing machine as my carry-on and backpack full of back full of kitchen appliances for my ‘personal item’. My sewing machine was wiped down for explosives several times, my grain mill was taken apart, and they called someone important down to inspect the pieces. They confiscated two bobbins and the needle out of my machine. Afterwards I vowed never to take such strange things through security again.

Take Two: ‘Returning after long adventure’ I must not have learned my lesson because I once again have a sewing machine for a carry on. Only this time I have gotten even stranger looks as it is packaged in a quickly deteriorating cardboard box, plastered with Chinese warning stamps, and is nearly entirely made of cast iron (which apparently x-ray machines love!)

It went something like this: Scan box… Ask what is in the box…Scan the box again…Call someone else over and scan the box again…Open box and see that it is actually a sewing machine but take everything out anyways…Swab for explosives…Leave and tell me not to go anywhere… come back with a handbook…Chat with another guard about something… Ask me why I have / need such a thing… remove needle… return machine and packing material to box… send me on my way.

Also, as my personal item… A bag full of yarn, kaleidoscopes, and a ukulele.  I try to keep a straight face when I go through security, but its hard knowing that I am the girl these guards are going to make fun of in the lunch room.

It doesn’t matter, the adventures I have had with this sewing machine so far make the whole ordeal worth it. And the yarn is a knitting is a completely necessary effort towards preserving my sanity.


Pens in Belgium…and a brief insight into the mind of Erin Margaret


Due to some unforeseen (but highly preventable) circumstances with Kigali International Airport security personnel I had to unpack and repack my luggage before check-in to ensure international baggage requirements were kept. This means two things.

1)   The backpack I intended to use as a carry on in now in my checked baggage, along with my ukulele, snacks, water bottle, and PEN (this will be discussed shortly)

2)   The sewing machine I packed and padded so carefully with intentions to check is currently my carry on.

I managed to convince the security personnel to let me bring my laptop(not charger), and  book with me despite the ‘one carry on item’ rule, so I am not entirely without entertainment. I am currently in the process of reading “The Engaged Spiritual Life”, an insightful book about Buddhist activism. It is an intriguing book, but one that is difficult to comprehend if not taking notes. (Here is where the pen comes in to play)

Several seemingly harmless things are not allowed through Rwandan security. Ball point pens being one of them. Which leaves me twenty-five straight hours of airport & airplane time with no way to scribble notes in the margin of my book, and no way to charge my laptop…Options being limited flight number 1 (Kigali – Uganda) and flight number 2 (Uganda – Belgium) supplied me with plenty of interesting people to talk to. The 6 hour lay over in Brussels required a bit more ingenuity. Most airports have small bookstores or news stands and some even have little tourist shops. Both of these places seemed like a good place to look if one was searching for a pen, so the journey begins…

‘Pier B’ of Brussels airport has exactly two ‘tourist’ shops, one book store, several currency exchange kiosks, and a Starbucks. None of these places sell pens, pencils, crayons, colored pencils, or any form of writing utensil.

Option 2: There are electronic charging stations around the Brussels airport, this seems to me like a good place to conduct business, do homework, and participate in other activities that may involve pens. I searched every station in ‘Pier B’ for discarded pens without success. (at this point I am starting to believe pens might be on the same security-risk list as small pocket knives and nail files)

Option 3: Look on every table and under every row of chairs at every gate until I find a pen. I Started at B1 and ended somewhere near B27 before giving up. At this point I became very tired of carrying the 14kg sewing machine so I stopped at Starbucks and got a muffin.

I am now nearly halfway though flight number 3 (Brussels – Chicago) and I still have no pen. So instead of writing the happenings of the world around me in the margins of my book I have typed them down… just in case you are interested I have included a few of the comments below:

  • ‘Flight Attendants’ are now referred to as ‘In-flight Safety Professionals’
  • I have a habit of collecting interesting people. Or more specifically interesting I have a habit of talking to interesting people and they have a habit of giving me their business cards. (I think I am going to start making an official collection)
  • Are pens becoming extinct?
  • To be the child of a missionary does not mean you believe, it doesn’t even mean you are a good person, it just means you are stuck in Africa growing up and forced to be polite
  • Knitting needles are allowed through security… Pens are not. ?!?!
  • I must look French, that is the 4th person to speak French to me and English to others around me. (I should learn more French)



The time has come for me to say farewell to Rwanda and my new adopted friends and family. Life in the compound is rather transient, not unlike Nome. Aid workers are coming and going, volunteers get stationed elsewhere, and people seem to drop and disappear just as quickly as they came. I have been to a variety of ‘going away’ parties in my short time here but none have been as lively as tonight.

The whole compound showed up to wish me well this evening. Agnes our cook made my favorite red beans and kasava bread, we even had the new ‘Fanta Fiesta’ flavor to commemorate the event. Emanuel, one of the local students came with his (very poorly tuned) violin and led the room with stomping and dancing for nearly an hour. There was traditional dancing, drums and stringed instruments, and a ukulele of corse. The who event lasted well in to the night and I apologize to any Remara residents we kept awake.

It was a good trip and I will be sad to leave the beautiful people I have met here, but it is time for me to return to Nome and continue on bigger and better adventures. When I arrive home I hope to prepare a piece of land (still working on where) for the yurt. There will be plenty of things to keep me busy and blog about in the mean time. With any luck my next entry will come from one of many airplane rides in my not so distant future.

A short post about elections…


It is election season here in sunny Rwanda, and the public is highly enthusiastic. This morning instead of awaking to the usual “Alllaaaah Akbaaar” call to prayer mixed with noises of chickens and screaming children, the entire neighborhood was filled men wearing FPR t-shirts and blowing plastic horns. Noisy crowds of people have never set well with me, peaceful or otherwise. On this particular morning waking up in a foreign country to a mob of screaming men at the gate was not my idea of a peaceful morning. The presidential stadium was projecting music and speeches starting at about 6:00am and as of 8:00pm tonight they still have not stopped. Cars in the city are plastered with posters and stickers of the current president (those of you following the Rwandan election will note there aren’t many other choices) Transportation within the country has virtually come to a stand still, every public bus has been devoted to bringing people to the stadium for rallies.  The excitement has even reached to the villages where young children play with paper hats and red and blue flags.

This is a short post, but I will be sure to update you on the election excitement as the week goes on.



Heaven is high up on a hill with a dining room that would over look the city if it were not for the dense surrounding of mango and avocado trees. Heaven has a thatched roof and no walls, its floors are made unfinished of dark hard wood.  Its chairs are made of eucalyptus so fresh you can still smell the sap. Heaven is lit by candles, except for the kitchen, where a short woman with brown hair and a Californian accent prepares worldly recipes so authentic they can remind you of home no matter where you are from. Heaven serves mint mojitos made from the fresh peppermint growing in terra-cotta pots on the balcony. There is a photography exhibit there taken by ordinary people of ordinary people doing ordinary things. Heaven has many friends and laughing children, lovers on dates, businessmen, hippies, even students. Heaven is also surrounded by a colony of fruit bats, and if you arrive at just the right time of dusk you can watch them swoop and twirl in the air on their way to find their dinner.

Heaven is a restaurant just outside of Kigali. I had dinner there last night with two college students who are staying at the compound. Easily the best restaurant in Kigali. The entire evening (dinner, drinks, movie, popcorn, ride home) cost me 8,600FRW or $14.57 USD and I had a great time.

Mom Update: Mom returned from the hospital this morning. She is still tired, but is recovering well. Her fever is gone and blood pressure has returned to normal. She is starting to regain her appetite.



I have been in country for nearly a full month now and it has taken me every day of that month to understand the Rwandan public transportation system. There four main forms of transportation within the city. The have been listed below in order of cost.

Walking Cost: Free… Advantages: there is no haggling over prices you get to see the city… Disadvantages: the sidewalks are narrow and there are 6 foot deep ditches on either side filled with garbage, sewage, occasionally chickens live chickens, falling in one of these ditches is a very real danger on crowded danger and would certainly end in a broken ankle, or possibly death.

Bus: Cost: 150Frw or $0.25Usd …Advantages: no haggling over prices, there are several bus stops near home and work, bus depots are easy to find and it is almost certain someone will speak english, or at bare minimum an english-french combination that is helpful enough… Disadvantages: Most buses are privately run and do not have a set schedule. The only way to know which bus to get on is ask where they are going, (this is where finding a translator comes in handy) The term ‘bus’ is very relative most ‘busses’ are Volkswagen or Toyota vans with collapsable seats inside. I have counted as many as 25 people and in one of these vans making most clown car acts look like child’s play.

Moto (kid on  motor bike): Cost: Relatively cheap, never more than $1.50Usd, but depends on where you are going, who is driving, if you are carrying anything, if you are wearing a skirt, the day of the week, and the color of your skin (among other factors)…Advantages: fast, super easy to find, provides helmet, Great way to get around traffic jams and scary parts of town without having to walk through them… Disadvantages: When you put at 20 year old kid on a motor bike and tell them they get paid for every person they give a ride that day they are not likely to drive slow. Many roads are unpaved or cobble stone making sitting on the back uncomfortable for trips longer then 10 minuets. Motos like to race other motos which can get kind of scary at times, especially around traffic circles.

Taxi: Cost: Highly negotiable, but once again depends on the variety of factors above, but about 4 times the price of a moto, about 4 dollars to get to town. Advantages: Its a car, with real seats and real seat belts. I have several taxi drivers numbers and can call them depending on when / where I need a ride. Most are pleasant enough people and once they know you will offer better prices… Disadvantages: expensive, traffic jams, hard to flag down and identify as there are no signs or identifying colors.

There are also hired bicycles, but I have no taken one yet and do not feel I have the expertise to write on them.



This morning I got an intimate look at the Rwandan health care system. Luckily not on account of myself this time. My mother has malaria and was admitted to room 311 of King Fasial Hospital in Kigali. The biggest and most advanced hospital in the country. It consists of  hand full of doctors and nurses, mustard yellow walls, a cement floor, and three flights of stairs to get to the patient rooms. (fine for visitors, not fine for the sick patients who have to walk up them)

Before she was admitted we checked in at reception and were instructed to pay 10,000 RFW ($16) hospital fees and were instructed to walk down a very long barren hallway to wait for the doctor. There were a few chairs of patients and nuns striking up conversations in french or Kinyarwandan. Because I cant understand either I stood in the corner against the wall and read my book until I was told that “standing is not allowed” it was explained to me that the doctors get nervous when they see people standing and it is best to keep them calm… I would ask why, but I feel I might not want to know.

I will be going back this afternoon to visit mom and bring her some things, I would like to bring my ukulele to visit, but I feel the french nuns might not understand…