A Stay at Home Dad in Rwanda

A Stay at Home Dad in Rwanda

Richard Popovic
Jul 1, 2011
I have known Simon for over ten years, since his wife and mine attended grad school together in New Hampshire. While we stayed in New Hampshire, they have moved from place to place while Nicole pursued her studies, most recently settling in England, Simon's country of origin. Their family life is rich and interesting, as you will see, and I thought his experience as a home dad currently in Rwanda would be worth sharing.

Name: Simon Camp (Handyman, Photographer, Stay at Home Dad)
Location: Butare, Rwanda
Family: wife Nicole and children Senna (7) & Rowan (3)

How did you end up as a stay at home dad in Rwanda? This is the Camp family's 3rd extended period in Rwanda and the 2nd with children in tow. My wife Nicole collected data in Nyungwe National Park for both her graduate and postdoctoral studies. She now works with communities living adjacent to the park to try and determine ways for them to reduce their impact on the park but also have secure livelihoods.

The first time I assumed the role of stay at home dad was when Senna was not yet two, on a trip to Rwanda for Nicole's data collection. During this year we lived in a small house on a misty mountain side in the middle of the National Park. Nyungwe is a stunning montane rain forest home to 13 species of primate, many of whom were regular visitors to the area around our house as were countless birds, the occasional snake and more than once millions of biting army ants on the rampage!

Now we live in the comparative metropolis of Butare which in fact is a small, sleepy town dominated by the presence of the National University. We do miss the beauty of Nyungwe but Butare brings its own good points such as a local swimming pool and even an ice cream shop! It also brings us a quality of life that would be impossible back in the UK or the US. Here we have a nice house and even better a large garden, which is proving to be a paradise for the children. Despite being just 2 degrees south of the equator the climate here is wonderful. Rarely too hot, with wonderful blue skies makes for a great outdoor environment. Even the tropical downpours of rainy season can be turned into a great source of fun.

What kind of house projects have you undertaken there? One of our first projects here was building a tree house in our mango tree, something I have wanted to do for a long time and finally had the opportunity. Made from hand cut wood (nothing is straight or of even thickness) and other local building supplies, it is a hodge-podge affair that has a certain rustic feel to it. As the year passed we have continued to add to it and now have a second level, monkey bars, fireman's pole and a very expensive tire swing (thanks to a large and very sharp stone making a $300 tire unroadworthy!). I also made bunk beds, planted a large garden, and cobbled together a little wooden hobby horse, among many other small things here and there.

Can you describe a typical day for you and your kids? We live across from a convent where the tolling of a bell regulates our day. We've trained the children that they must stay in bed until the morning bell tolls at 6 am, at which point the sun is coming up. After breakfast we take Sousa, our dog, for a walk around the neighborhood. Nicole goes to work in her home office which is off limits during the day and we do a myriad of things from playing in the garden, art projects, reading, and swimming if the weather cooperates (it is surprisingly cold sometimes). At 12 o'clock the lunch bell tolls and Nicole emerges from her office to join us for lunch cooked by our dearest house assistant, Clementine (another bonus of living here). We'll have a coffee outside before Nicole returns to work and then on with our day. Senna invariably retreats at some point in the day to read. In the late afternoon, we often take Sousa out on the (dirt) road in front of our house where we throw oranges collected from our garden for him to fetch. On rare occasion, Rowan will nap and I may fiddle with my camera. Six o'clock dinner bell (and the equatorial darkness), bath and bedtime reading ends our day.

What are some of your family's challenges living in Rwanda? With the all the good points also comes some not so good, but life would be very dull without challenges so we try to make the most of them. One of the major difficulties the children face here is a lack of social interaction with a peer group and access to a library. Although there have been many Rwandan playmates, mostly boys, no great connections have been forged.

What do your Rwandan neighbors think of you as a stay at home dad? Being a stay at home dad is just about unheard of here. So it often raises eyebrows when we meet new people and explain Nicole is the wage earner and I stay with the children. Income level also dictates a lot of how parenting is taken on. Poorer rural families tend to have older children in the role of caregivers as parents work or tend farmland. By older I mean that a child Senna's age would regularly be the sole caregiver for a child Rowan's age. For more wealthy families there is an endless supply of nannies and housekeepers who play a very major role in caregiving. Regardless of income however it is considered the norm for a woman to birth without her husband and most men NEVER change a diaper.

What are your children gaining from this experience? Both children have experienced being a minority and sticking out. It is not uncommon to have complete strangers stop and stare at you, especially the children. People are generally friendly but such attention is off-putting and at times, exhausting.I think the children will be more empathetic to others in a similar situation. This is Senna's second trip here and to be honest she remembers little from the first year she spent here. This year will likely be much more significant for her than Rowan and we suspect, remain in her mind for many years to come. That said, both children have really risen in their environmental awareness and Rowan has shown a real interest in bird watching (he can identify more species than his mother - shh, don't tell).

What's been your most memorable moment so far? Over the course of a year there are too many memorable moments to mention them all but I think the whole family would have to agree that the highlight this year was a trip to Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda. We spent 4 days watching a great array of wildlife including lots of close encounters with elephants, hippos and lions. It was a big investment for us but an experience we felt we could not pass up.

Do you have any advice for other adventurous families? I think the best advice I could give is to take one day at a time - things do not operate the same way in Rwanda and indeed most developing countries as they do in the States. There are no one-stop shops, though the essentials are all available, outside entertainment is nil, and just plain forget about downloading anything. The essential items for our family were books, books and more books. We also pre-organized with family and friends to send regular new packages of books (okay, they also sent some chocolate, too).

What's your next adventure? Well, our year is rapidly coming to an end and we are already preparing for our return to England at the beginning of August. Norwich will be our home for the next year and after that, well...

Thanks Simon! Readers, see more of Simon's stunning images of Africa at Thousand Hills Photography.

(Images: Simon & Nicole Camp)

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