A White Rwandan in India

Posted: June 16, 2011 in Opinion

As I poured another cup of tepid water over my head during another backpacker stopover in India, I found myself once more harking back to my (passion fruit) salad days as a VSO volunteer in Rwanda, almost 10 years ago to the day.

On immediate arrival in New Delhi,  I found myself noting the similarities between India and Rwanda: the cloying humidity;  the muted hustle and quasi-cleanliness of the airport; the relative inconvenience of the  public conveniences (no soap, toilet paper, toilet bowl). These similarities were pushed aside as I saw that my organised lift had turned up,  spelled my name correctly and spoke neither French nor Kinyarwanda. This was a blessing at 3 am, especially considering the Lonely Planet and rumour mill horror stories of taxi scams and hotel touts.

Chugging our way through the silent streets of pre-dawn Delhi I noted the marked abscence of army personnel  or even local militia in maroon uniforms with an off-the-shoulder Kalashnikov. This was oddly reassuring to me in Rwanda, even when the maroon gun toters demand you buy them a beer for their trouble.

The parade of small stalls and shops are very similar, selling soap powder, dry biscuits, Cadbury’s “chocolate” and paraffin lamps. In India there are no spelling errors on the signs nor literal shop titles e.g. “We Sell Tea and Cakes”

Still celebrities of sorts in India, there was no catcalling: Muzungu! (White man!) only an eagerness to have a white person on their camera’s memory card or mobile wallpaper. This was all conducted in a respectful way, although draining after the 10th approach by a touring 7-unit family.

All in all, my month in India appears to be more hassle free than those 2 hot and heady years in Rwanda. Maybe I am older and wiser. But not as old and wise as eclectic Mother India and her 1 billion offspring.

  1. chris says:

    Nice comparison. I also found the lack of “Muzungu” refreshing! I loved India. Rwanda – I survived.

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