the man in white

i’ve met lots of real ‘characters’ in africa. maybe it’s my imagination but i feel like people here have a lot of personality – the new librarian who paints her eyebrows pink, the old librarian (now prefet de discipline) who carries a stick and seems to do nothing all day and sometimes wears the cleats donated to the soccer team around the school grounds, the milkman who showed up on our porch in a three-piece suit, my short lecherous gossiping congolese french teacher, the old woman at the bottom of the hill with mismatching fabric tied around her waist and head who jokes with me about the bus-fare, the woman at the market in rwamagana with a pink wig cut in a bob and sunglasses.

but most charismatic of all is the director of our school. he’s about 35, with a wife and kids in kigali, a respected man in the community who won’t get his hair cut in a local salon because the students might see him. his phone is permanently attached to his hand and goes off constantly. he’s got a couple of really snappy outfits – pressed shirt and tie sort of thing – and when he walks he struts. the students fear him and love him, he is always in control, always in charge, always has a line of people waiting to speak to him. king of musha.

it’s only really amanda and i who dare to challenge him and at first i think this bothered him. now he’s used to it and we’ve become more like colleagues and less like his minions, though he still occasionally puts his foot down to show who’s boss.

but open discussion about work has led to open discussion about other things – the u.s., the length of my hair and how often i wash it, what kind of food we eat (as if we were exotic pets), dating and birth control methods in the u.s., politics and how great it is that bush is killing all the arabs (!), god, premarital sex, lesbian sex (ok i ducked out this one and left amanda to the wolves which she’ll probably never forgive me for). he’s curious about everything and i think a little lonely in his big house up on the hill and so he’ll occasionally stop by for a chat at inopportune times. and it’s hard to say go away to the king so we humor him and i practice my french.

one evening before we got curtains i was home alone working and he walked by the side window in his white puma tracksuit (his leisure garb) and went around the back of the house like a prowler. i rolled my eyes and sighed, knowing a long conversation on obscure topics was in store. a few minutes later he knocked on the window and said something and i motioned to the door (why are you knocking on the window when i have door with a handle like normal people?). i let him in and he said with a smile, ‘you didn’t see me – i walked right by your window.’ (why are sneaking around my house in the dark and how could i possibly not see you in your white puma track suit?) ‘you need a fence.’ (i know that – i’ve been asking you for a fence for a month now.) ‘you are alone.’ (yes, and why are you visiting a single woman alone at night?) ‘you have bees.’

master of the obvious.

but as much as we laugh at his antics and curiosity, i have to give him credit – he runs the school well and has attracted a lot of qualified teachers with relatively low turnover for the area. he gives amanda and i plenty of leeway in the classroom, and i’ve learned a lot about rwanda from our random chats. even if i don’t always agree with his decisions, i have to admit that he works hard and cares about his school, which is probably not the norm. so i will endure the silly questions, in the spirit of collaboration.


~ by aliciawolcott on July 22, 2007.

One Response to “the man in white”

  1. Caroline, my roommate, read your entire website and has been quoting the Director for days. “You have bees!” (actually, we have flies) “You didn’t even see me!” Thought you might want to know that you (and he) have got fans in New York.

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