A Rwandan Sleepover



A Rwandan sleepover is an especially peculiar breed of social interaction. Of course no two sleepovers are the same, but here is a brief description of my latest adventure. The other English teacher, Louis, invited me to spend the night at his house last Monday. I really enjoy spending time with Louis and his wife, Diane, and of course their adorable son Remy. We decided that I would arrive at 5pm so I showed up around 5:10 just as their house girl was coming back from an errand and the house was otherwise empty. This is not unusual. When visiting Rwandans you are frequently left alone, sometimes for substantial chunks of time depending on your host’s schedule. The house girl, Elena, turned on the TV and set off to do some chores around the house with Remy tied on her back. This left me, in the sitting room, awkwardly watching an especially provocative music video and lamenting the fact the this was the one time I managed to forget a book in my travel bag.

Eventually, about 6pm, Elena brought Remy into the sitting room to feed him a banana. I was happy for the social interaction after an hour alone watching strippers dance and grind to rap on a TV situated below a menagerie of religious paraphernalia. Once he finished his banana Elena left Remy with me and went outside to cook dinner. I was a bit nervous that Remy wouldn’t remember me since I had been absent from his life for 6 weeks, but when Elena shut the door he crawled over to my feet and threw his hands in the air to be picked up. It was a sweet moment indeed to see that he was OK being left alone with me. His parents always laughed when I continued to hold him even when he slept but I think it helped forge our relationship so that he feels comfortable with me now, even when I don’t see him every day. Remy and I played with his toy car and used his blanket to play peek-a-boo until Louis came back to the house an hour later. Diane’s sister, Sandrine, who is maybe 17, was visiting from Kigali and some of the neighborhood children came to watch TV so there was lots of activity for a while.

The dinner wasn’t finished until almost 9pm so we watched the news and listened to the radio while Diane walked around the room with a fussy Remy strapped to her back. He is a champion when it comes to fighting sleep. Sandrine gave him a warm bucket bath, slathered him in Vaseline, and wrapped him up in his cozy pajamas, and yet he still refused to fall asleep until he couldn’t keep his eyes pried open any longer. After dinner I realized that they probably didn’t have two spare bedrooms so I wasn’t sure what the bed situation would be like since Sandrine was visiting at the same time as me.  I went outside to brush my teeth and visit the latrine before getting locked in the house for the night and when I returned, sure enough, there was Sandrine tucked into the same bed I was also sleeping in. There wasn’t much I could do about it so I changed into pajamas and crawled under the covers. It proceeded to be one of those nights when you look at your watch every five minutes, hoping that it is finally morning, but it is actually just five minutes later than the last time you looked. Sandrine, a sweet girl in the light of day, turns out to be a bit of a sleep kicker and, at times, a very clingy sleeper. I would drift off to sleep and awake 20 minutes later on the verge of a heat stroke with Sandrine’s wiry limbs wrapped around me and her hot breath on my neck. Apparently the lack of personal boundaries in this culture also applies to sleeping. Lesson learned.

In the morning we all got up about 6am and I realized that they were getting dressed in nice clothes. It turns out that they were going to Mass and I was not expected to come along but I was expected to be at the house when they returned. So they all took off for church and left Remy with Elena and I sat awkwardly in the main room with my tea and bread that they served me. Finally Elena came back into the room with Remy and I took over babysitting duties so she could clean the house. I took some cute photos of him playing and then dressed him in some new clothes that my mom bought for him while I was in Colorado for Christmas. They were a bit large but he looked adorable, and when Louis got home we had a Remy photo shoot before I left for the day. You will see the second photo is a tad alarming and  Remy is indeed holding onto the window bars by himself. Not my first choice for a posed photo but he and his dad certainly enjoyed it!

He has moments when he is very serious but most of the time it is really easy to make him laugh and he is a joy to spend time with- although has grown a few teeth and likes to lure people in by pretending to cuddle and then bites you. That part is a little less fun and I had some teeth marks on my cheeks for a little bit. Despite his vampire tendencies he is a darling baby and I love being his Auntie! 🙂








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