Age-ish: 34 minus a month
City: Kigali, Rwanda
Day: Social Entrepreneur (www.earthenable.org!)
Night: …also Social Entrepreneur. But I still feel like I have great work-life balance, because I am totally in love with and fulfilled by my work.
Wake up: I sleep till the very last second, 14 minutes before I have to be out the door, with a snooze set 10 minutes before that. Although, not sure why I do that snooze, since those 10 minutes are riddled with anxiety as I try to fall back asleep but also have the fear of god that I won’t wake up if I do. When I’m going to head office, alarm is for 6:46 since I leave at 7am. If I’m visiting one of our branch offices (we have 7 across Rwanda and 2 in Uganda), it’ll be an hour earlier. Until then, I am blessed to sleep like a rock, so when my partner leaves for his first client (he’s a personal trainer) at 5:40am, I have no idea anything has happened. Those 14 minutes are enough to wash my face, brush my teeth, and get dressed.
Wardrobe: In the 2 days a month I have a government meeting, I will wear one of the ~10 business casual outfits that I have, 98% of which are from my big sister’s closet. Other than that, I keep my clothes in stacks: 1) a stack of “field jeans” (old and torn jeans either gifted to me by a friend who has left Rwanda or from 10 years ago), 2) a stack of “niceish jeans and pants”, 3) a stack of “field t-shirts” (mostly really old stuff or t-shirts gotten for free, and 4) a stack of “nice-ish casual shirts” (shirts that are still in good shape). This makes it mindless to grab the first item in the relevant stacks, depending on whether I’m going to the office or the field (where I will be covered in dust and dirt by the end of the day). I read that Obama did something similar to avoid decision fatigue later in the day and loved the idea. Temperature in Rwanda doesn’t change much outside of rainy season, but I have one raincoat and a few hoodies that will come with me accordingly.
Food: Never breakfast (although I suitcase-import various types of bars from the US so will often have one of those mid-morning). Only coffee if I REALLY need it… Rwandan coffee is magic, so it’s the perfect treat-yoself consolation prize after a really late night.
My office is an hour south of the capital of Rwanda in a village called Nyamata. We have a minibus that takes people from Kigali to Nyamata every day (our own Google bus!). Up until 4 months ago, this was a pick-up truck where we’d have 5 people in the cabin and 3 people in the bed. I would alternate spots depending on whether I had to crank out work (in that case, front of truck) or think about strategy (in that case, bed of the truck with a notebook) or squeeze in a meeting (in that case, we meet in the bed of the truck). The bed of the truck got grim when it was pouring rain, though, hence the mini-bus purchase.
If I’m going to visit one of our branch offices, I’ll hop on a motorcycle taxi to the bus station, and then take a bus to the branch, which could be anywhere from an hour to 4 hours away. I’ll try to catch the 6am bus so that I optimize time with the team at that branch office that day.
My days are a BLAST at work! Always something different and fun. Despite technically being the CEO of EarthEnable, I have always worn several different hats (#startuplife) due to roles being unfilled. I’m currently Acting Director of R&D, for example, which means I am in charge of designing new housing products, improving our flooring product (literally have been taking a Coursera course in material science and getting up to speed on polymer chemistry to be able to do this job). According to Toggl where I’ve recently started tracking my time, I spend about 30% of my time on that. I spend another 40% on general management (visiting customers and frontline teams, 1:1s with my direct reports, etc.) and the rest is on fundraising, external relations, strategy, policy, etc. An additional 943208432 hours (approximately) goes into email, the bane of my existence.
I almost never make time for lunch. If I do, it’s to a mama down the street from our office. I’ll get ikivuguto (a yogurt drink), a few hardboiled eggs, and a chapati (Rwandan bread) for about 50 cents. If I have guests, I’ll join them in eating the usual Rwandan buffet that includes rice, beans, potatoes, sweet potatoes, fries, cassava, plantains, spaghetti, and some vegetable, peanut and meat sauce. Lots of starch in the Rwandan diet, one of the reasons for so much chronic malnutrition here… calories are cheap, but nutrition is expensive. People usually make a mountain of food, which costs about $1.30. This makes me instantly sleep, which is why I usually avoid it.
The minibus leaves Nyamata at 6pm, and gets me home around 7:30pm. I will usually be starving at this point, so either warm up food that my lovely partner has made the previous weekend (rice, beans, and LOTS of veggies), or make some of my suitcase-imported Annie’s Mac and Cheese or Trader Joe’s pastas.
I’m one of those obsessive zero inboxers, and don’t let myself go to sleep until I’m done. So, that means I work until at least midnight and sometimes several hours later. I am really trying to find a way to be done at 9:30pm, which is when my partner comes home from his last client. Since he’s up at 5:30am, he tries to sleep by 10:30pm. So in theory, we could spend that hour together. In practice, I’m glued to my laptop and enraged at the number of emails I still have.
On the last Saturday of the month, Rwanda has umuganda, which is a mandatory community service morning. Since I started EarthEnable 5 years ago, we have always partnered with a village to build a floor for a very poor family there. That could mean leaving the house at 5:30am to get there in time for umuganda starting at 8am. We work till 11am, at which point there is a community meeting where we present our floors. We usually close a few sales right after that :)
On every other Saturday, I sleep until I wake up and I LOVE IT. I then faff around on Facebook, news websites, and WhatsApp for a bit, try to get to the gym (guilt tripped by my partner of course), and we cook a bunch for the week. Then, I get back to work, usually email catch-up (arg!) with 1-3 of my 3 rescue mutts snuggled on the couch with me. At night, we usually meet up with friends for dinner or drinks, and then are in bed by midnight.
High Brow Ritual
Once a month, we’ll go out to eat at one of Kigali’s nicer restaurants. The number of mid-to-high range restaurants (as in, 10-15 dollars for dinner and drinks… #visitRwanda!!) has exponentially increased since I moved here 5 years ago, and I love trying the newest one.
Low Brow Ritual
Dude. There is a guy that serves these cheese-y potatoes outside a club here after 11pm on Thursdays-Saturdays and they are the most addictive delightful things in Kigali. Friends are constantly giving me shade for my love of Issah’s cheese-y potatoes. (Editor’s note: This sounded so delicious, so I went down a deep internet hole to see what this looked like. It looks as good as it sounds.)
My partner is a personal trainer (we met at the gym!) but I somehow have struggled to work it back into my ritual. Someday?
Can’t help but make a shameless plug for EarthEnable! Our website is EarthEnable.org, and we are always grateful for donations. A family can get a clean floor for just 70 dollars! Also, help me sleep more by helping us recruit a Director of R&D!
I don’t really buy things in Rwanda, but I DO suitcase import a lot of goodies: Annie’s Mac and Cheese, Trader Joe’s Parm/Asiago/Romano shaves, Finagle-a-Bagels, various dog treats, chocolate chips (can’t find them here), Trader Joe’s Lemon and Pepper Pappardelle Pasta, Trader Joe’s Soyaki sauce, the cheapest EVOO I can find, brownie mix (whatever is on sale), Crest toothpaste, Dove Bodywash.