Saturday, 26 May 2012
We finished our first week in Musanze and are taking a day to relax and regroup before heading to Gisenyi tomorrow and then teaching all next week at Wisdom Primary School.
Add these to my list of things I love about Rwanda:
--Many Rwandans smell really good. I can't quite pin it down---baby oil, sort of, but not as sickly sweet---but so many people have the same lovely smell that makes me feel comforted and happy for some reason. Of course, there are many Rwandans who do not smell so great. Considering that something like less than 10% of the population has access to clean, running water, it's understandable that bathing is not a high priority for many. But the majority of people with whom we interact smell great. I wish I could bottle it.
--Everytime you meet a Rwandan, he/she will shake your hand. Every time. When they enter a room, they travel around it to acknowledge everyone by touching them, and they do likewise when leaving a room. It is amazing what a difference it makes, and how much more personal and welcoming it feels than just the general "hello to the room" that Americans tend to give. Children develop this habit early, and are very respectful. I'm not exaggerating when I say that we met a one-year-old child yesterday who offered us each his hand, even though he could barely walk! Elie explained to us that this is a sign of respect and a big part of the culture, wanting to get to know people in sincere ways. It reminds me of my dad, who always tried to reach everyone in the room. Wonderful.
--When we speak to Rwandans, whether it's a teacher we are working with, an old friend, a waiter, or a person walking next to us on the street, they say hello, they ask our names, they ask "How are you?" (the correct answer is "I am fine," and not, "Good"), and they invariably say, "You are welcome." This is not a response to any sort of thank you we have offered them, although nearly everyone we've met here certainly deserves a thank you from us. This is their way of opening their arms, and inviting us to have a pleasant stay in their country and learn more about them. Karibu. You are welcome. Do we welcome people to America in the same way? I think we often intend to, but actually speaking the words out loud makes all the difference.
--Yesterday afternoon we visited a place in Musanze called the Ubushobozi Project. It was mentioned in my guidebook and we were curious. Ubushobozi was started in 2008, and its aim is to end the cycle of poverty for young women, who are often the most negatively affected part of any population. The project provides each young woman with a sewing machine and lessons in sewing, dance, computer, and English. They receive a small weekly stipend and are also able to sell the crafts they make. It's an amazing organization, to be sure, but what I wish I could convey is the joy we encountered the moment the gate to their building was opened. Complete and total happiness emanated from these young women. We bought some bags, and I placed an order for more that they will sew next week and we will pick up on Friday. We are so excited to go back, and will bring along friends from the US and UK who simply must have this same experience. When we were done shopping we had to take photos with the individuals who sewed each bag, and then a group photo, and then they danced for us. We were there for just over an hour, but it was exhilarating, and we felt we had new friends when we left. Please visit their website and consider donating to them or purchasing from them: www.ubushobozi.org. They do beautiful work, and all of the proceeds go right back to them. I believe they sell bags at locations in New York and Duluth, so perhaps it's possible to purchase things online from those locations. Joy. Just pure and simple joy.
--Ubushobozi, incidentally, is (I think) the Kinyarwanda word for capacity. Ability. Capability. To me it will always mean happiness, opportunity, and of course, joy.
--I love Rwandan avocado---giant avocado. Pineapple. Bananas. Milk tea. Their American equivalents pale in comparison.
--Wisdom Primary School has small wooden signs stuck in the ground all over their main campus, reminding students of practical matters, like "Use the toilet well," and "Pay attention to teacher." But they also say some profound things, such as "Be respect full." I know this is basically a typo and they meant to say "respectful," but somehow "respect full" resonates with me. To be full of respect. And oh, do the people here deserve our respect. My favorite sign, by far, is "What you have is enough." I know that what I have is much more than enough, and sometimes I choke on all that I have, and all that most people here will never even imagine. Clean, running water. An abundance of food. Machines to do almost all of our work. The means and opportunity to travel. It's an embarrassment of riches, really, but what I want to remember is, "What you have is enough."
Sunday, 20 May 2012
I want to make sure I get an update finished before we leave for Musanze, since I'm not sure we'll have as much internet access there.
On Friday we finished our work at SOS in Kigali. It's hard to say goodbye, but it does help to know that we will be back in two weeks and able to at least briefly visit everyone again before leaving for home. That afternoon I went to downtown Kigali to buy our bus tickets. Everything went fine, except it was hot. The temperature doesn't seem to get that high, but the sun is just brutal. I was in the little ticket office, looking around and noticing that no one else was even breaking a sweat, while I was soaked. A women behind the counter looked and me carefully and then turned on a fan. Then I was standing outside, waiting for my taxi, and people kept coming by, saying, "Are you okay? The sun is dangerous, you know." I think this all serves as proof that I probably am the whitest white person they've ever seen.
On Friday night there was a celebration, with traditional African dancers, speeches, and refreshments. The mothers and aunties gave us jewelry they'd made themselves, to thank us for teaching them crochet and bracelet-making. It was a really special evening.
Yesterday we took a day trip to Butare (boo-tar-ay) which is a ways southwest of Kigali. We walked through the National Cultural Museum and shopped awhile at a co-op that sells crafts. But the highlight was our trip to a new ice cream shop. We have plenty to eat and drink here, but rarely is any of it actually cold, so that was pretty special!
Today we leave for Musanze (moo-sahn-zay), where we will live and work for two weeks. It will be an interesting transition, as we've been living a pretty luxurious life in Kigali, with our own hot showers in each room and daily housekeeping. In Musanze we will all share a bathroom and there is no hot running water. There's so much here to make us grateful for everything we have at home.
So, we are almost halfway through our trip! I'm looking forward to the next couple of weeks, but I'm also counting the minutes until I can be home again.
Wednesday, 16 May 2012
We have settled into a routine now, and it feels pretty good, although today we're worn out. Maybe the time change and general lack of sleep is catching up with us.
On Sunday we visited the National Genocide Memorial, which is always a pretty weighty experience. Not only are there 250,000 people buried on the site, but they have also done a great job of documenting the genocide, providing a detailed timeline, videos, and hundreds of photos.
I actually ran into someone I knew at the memorial. Just call me Phil Hanstad, I guess! Elie, the man we stay with in Musanze, was there with a group from the UK that is now staying with him. It was fun to see a friend there, and good to touch base before we leave for Musanze on Sunday.
This week, as I said, has been pretty routine. In the mornings we help in the kindergarten classrooms and take turns crocheting and making bracelets with the mothers and aunties. The kids are adorable, and the mothers and aunties are just lovely to be around. They think it's really funny to crochet with a hook, because in Kinyarwanda, "hook" means "cat." Today I got some video of them "laughing in English," which for some reason sounds totally different from "laughing in Kinyarwanda." They are very entertaining.
In the afternoons, we walk down to the primary school and teach the teachers. Shelby, Rachel, and Laura have been meeting with the upper-level teachers (grades 2-6), having debates and learning about each other's cultures. Justin, Sam, and I meet with the kindergarten and first grade teachers, who are bored with the songs they teach and want to learn more. So far "The Hokey Pokey" has been a big favorite, but they also love "I Love You" (the Barney song) and "You Are My Sunshine." It's been like a little sing-a-long everyday. Tomorrow we're going to pretend it's Christmas, because they want to learn new Christmas songs. We're wondering how many Christmas songs will even make sense to them, since so many of the ones we sing talk about snow!
In the evenings, my students teach dancing to the SOS kids. They get a bigger crowd every night, and the kids have lots of fun. Serge (one of the directors at SOS) was explaining that most of these kids have traumatic backgrounds, and some have a hard time with school. But if they can do this and see that at least they are good at dancing, maybe it will help their self-esteem. We didn't realize that dancing could be such important work, but it makes those kids' smiles all the more valuable.
Saturday, 12 May 2012
Well, the past two days have definitely been busy! Yesterday (Friday) was our first day of teaching at SOS in Kigali. We helped in the kindergarten classrooms in the morning, which was mostly singing songs and playing with blocks. Laura and I met with the mommies and aunties and started teaching them how to crochet. Some of them were really good at it, and we had a good time. They also let us help them make beads out of paper, which is deceptively simple, but difficult to do in a way that actually looks nice.
After our lunch break, we walked down to the SOS primary school, where half of us met with kindergarten and first grade teachers, and half of us met with second-fifth grade teachers. Those of us with teachers of younger grades spent most of the time teaching them songs and rhymes they did not already know. We had a really good time, ending with two rousing renditions of the Hokey Pokey! (And by the way, if you think of songs or rhymes that we should teach them, please share!) The students who met with teachers of 2nd-5th grades discussed more serious issues, and are planning to do some debates next week on homosexuality and whether money buys happiness. Should be interesting! We all made a lot of friends at the school and are looking forward to learning from them again next week.
Finally, in the early evening, my students taught the older kids dancing and photography. The photography group was very attentive and studious, while the dancing group was energetic and infectious! After my students taught a few dances, some of the kids went up front to teach, which ended up being basically a showcase for some AMAZING dancing. I'm sure glad I got it on video!
Today our driver, Sam, took us to a large Kigali market, where people can buy everything from flour and bananas to underwear and fabric. Sam walked around with us and explained what some of the foods were and how to cook them, which was really interesting. We even got to help one woman shell some beans, which she was grateful for! We wandered into the fabric section and the next thing I knew, Sam and a woman selling fabric were wrapping me in traditional Rwandan women's clothing, head covering and all. It was a bit sweaty, but fun. Don't worry, my students took plenty of photos.
We learned a lot about Kigali from Sam, and after lunch we went to Cards from Africa, where we got a nice tour. They make their own paper and hand-make all of the cards, and somehow 60 people manage to make 900 cards every day, filling orders for tens of thousands of cards for businesses all over the world!
Then it was on to Nyamata and Ntarama, two Catholic churches that are now genocide memorial sites. Five thousand people were killed in one day at Ntarama, and 10,000 were killed in one day at Nyamata. I saw both sites in 2009, but was more emotional about it today. I was picturing faces of my Rwandan friends, trying to imagine (and trying NOT to imagine) what they must have gone through in 1994.
All in all, it was a very good day. Tomorrow we're going to the National Genocide Memorial and then out for Chinese food. I wonder if Chinese food in Africa will be different from what we're used to...
Thursday, 10 May 2012
This morning we explored the Kigali city center---a much busier, faster-paced place than the area we are usually in! We visited a co-op and drooled over Rwandan crafts but remained resolute--we want to explore other craft places throughout the country before making some final buying decisions.
We ate lunch at Bourbon Coffee (begun in Rwanda, with locations also in New York City and Washington, D.C.---best coffee ever!) with Moses, Francoise, Musafiri, and Eric from the Learning Center. We are not working there this year, but have been there every year in the past and I wanted to reconnect with these friends. Students loved getting to know these fabulous people, and we spent two hours talking about politics, love lives, and glaciers.
This afternoon my intention was to walk students to the Belgian Memorial, where 10 Belgian UN soldiers were killed early in the 1994 genocide. It's not a "main" genocide memorial, but it can be quite a powerful one, as the building has been left in its bullet-riddled, shrapnel-filled condition. I knew where the memorial was and thought I had walked us straight to it. I checked the map. Yep, that's where it should be. But the road was permanently blocked off. We went to a nearby hotel and asked the security guard. He gave us pretty specific directions (in french, which luckily for us, Laura speaks, too) and we walked away from the big red roadblocks. I joked about having bad instincts, because I still felt that the memorial was behind those roadblocks and we should just climb over them. Since there were some armed guards around, we decided to be rule-followers instead. Almost two hours later, we had walked through various neighborhoods and even a college campus, with me all the while saying, "It's RIGHT THERE! I feel like we're just walking completely around it and there's no way to get there!" When we reached the end of our walk, we were, as predicted, exactly where we had started. Walked in a big old circle, stumped about why we never passed the memorial that just HAD to be there.
We got back to SOS and our driver, Moses, stopped by to see us. So I was telling him that we had such trouble finding the memorial. His response? "Oh, they have the entrance blocked off now, so you have to climb over the red roadblocks."
Part of me is relieved to know that I was right all along, and part of me is just still stumped! How funny, to put roadblocks right there! This was an afternoon (humid and eventually rainy, by the way) when students had every right to be crabby and whiny. We walked for two hours with no pay-off. But they chose to make it a fun adventure, and we have had some really good laughs throughout the whole day. What a gift these students have turned out to be. What a gift (albeit in some downright unexpected ways sometimes) Rwanda turns out to be.