8 x bags of coffee – 7 raw beans, 1 ground
7 x pairs of oversized cloth earrings, still not distributed to the friends who may or may not even want them
1 x wax print skirt, disproportionately large in the right hip
1 x pair of wax print trousers, about 12 sizes too small for the man they were bought for
It’s December in Cape Town, a fairly horrific time of year for anybody who actually lives here. The tourists in their thousands crowd around market stalls and buy the kind of cheap knick-knackey junk they’ve decided passes as suitably “African”. I roll my eyes and grind my teeth – and then remember that my own shopping list from my last day in Rwanda is almost comically muzungu. Knick-knackey junk, indeed.
The real souvenir is stashed in the box where a decade’s worth of lanyards and press passes go to die.
When a fixer first handed the paper to me on day one, there was a crispness to it, its edges smooth, its official stamp still bright. At the top of the page was the banner of the Media High Council; at the bottom, the signature of one Peacemaker Mbungiramihigo, granting me permission to do my job as a journalist in Rwanda.
Nearly a month later, the page is bent and twisted. Unfolded and refolded. Shoved deep into the pockets of trousers and backpacks. Pulled out again and again. For a police officer. For an official in the mayor’s office. For a street trader. I’ve always carried a press card, but in just one week in Rwanda I presented my credentials more than I ever had. For any story. Ever. The gentlest hint that – for all its development, its recovery, its Silicon-Valley-meets-Singapore reputation – something is not quite right in Rwanda.
Now, I sit in Cape Town, surrounded by my mounds of Kigali coffee, trawling through my hours of interviews, and try to identify the unease. The discomfort. I wonder what I can say. What I can’t say. What will get me barred from ever going back. Would they do that? They’ve done it before. I unfold and refold the paper, and unfold it again, and get up to put the kettle on.
– Kristen van Schie