Wednesday, June 26, 2013

So, Anna... why are you still in Africa?

"Hello, my name is Anna, I am a researcher with the University of Virginia. I am hoping to schedule an interview with you on the cessation of Rwandese refugees -" *click*

So, this blog is to answer the question of what exactly I am doing still in Africa, a question I wonder myself sometimes! But the answer lies with several thousand Rwandan refugees living in a refugee settlement in southern Uganda. As of June 30th these people will be required to 'voluntarily repatriate' to Rwanda. I learned about this on my last trip to Uganda, and decided that learning more about semi-legal forced relocation would be one of the best possible uses of my summer.

Why this fascinates me so much is quite complicated. First of all, you need to know a bit about the Rwandan government. While it is officially a free and fair democracy, the reality of it is that opposition to the current regime is heavily controlled, and ethnic discrimination continues but invisibly and silently. We hear rumors of political disappearances, jail sentences that people never return from. Disagreeing with the government is now called 'devisionism' or 'genocide ideology', pushable by a sizable jail sentence. So this is part of the reason there are still so many people fleeing Rwanda. Rwanda wants these people back for a number of reasons: one, for reputation (being the 'development miracle' and still having people run from you doesn't look too good) another for control (the current regime is actually made up of former refugees who organized and invaded Rwanda from Uganda). This is made even more complicated by the refugees who are former perpetrators of genocide, and claiming political prosecution to avoid justice. The layers of lies and complications go on and on.

Now this has all culminated in a cessation clause, a technicality in refugee law which allows a host country to revoke refugee status when they (the host country) determines the reasons for fleeing have ceased. The refugees can't legally stay, but they can't be legally forced to return, and Uganda has set up no system for appeals. Many of the people effected by cessation will have lived in Uganda for decades, some where born here. To say that sending them back to Rwanda is sending them 'home' is a misnomer of huge proportions.

So this is why I have spent the past week running around the crazy city of Kampala doing research, which primarily involves sitting on the side of the road making phone calls and trying to get people to let me interview them. I have talked to the UNHCR secretary so many times I feel like I should meet his wife and kids by now. I am a bit stuck in Kampala, waiting for permission to enter the settlement to go through, but Kampala is not a bad place to wait. I am staying at a hostel full of interesting people, mostly also doing research, and I spent the weekend at an Island in lake Victoria with a lovely American woman I met there.

So, research in Africa: always interesting, never what I expect, and always an adventure!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A New World!

 (Pictures are mostly by other people – my camera was stolen last month)

Hello my dears! Apologies for the long absence. My life has been full of too many transitions of late to document properly, but things are slowing down at last.

At the end of our program we went to the beautiful lake Kivu, hidden in rolling green mountains. It was a fabulous adventure of swimming in the clear water, and took a boat to a mysterious island full of cows and 5 million bats, which we climbed to the top of.

 High on the mountain-island 

Making new friends everywhere. 

The cloud of Bats we hiked through! 

Bats closer up

Now that my study abroad program is over I have moved to a new house for the summer, where I am staying with Kevin and Lizzie, two students from my program who are also staying through the summer. It has been a week of goodbyes at our house, as people have lingered in our house after the program and before their flights to America. We have had between 5 and 7 people in our tiny three-bedroom house, and we have big family breakfasts and dinners together every day. But by Friday everyone but the three of us will be gone, and it will be time to settle in to the summer for real!

Our house is  in the same complex as a brilliant artist’s studio called Ivuka! It is a jumble of bright colors and sculptures and paintings, which overflows into our bright orange house. There are dance practices outside our house every few days, and our concrete ‘yard’ overflows with the half-wild children who play in the streets by our house and come to play soccer with us and tie knots in my hair and snuggle.
In front of the painting in our living room

The art studio across from us 

Our house is the orange one!

The art studio 

I will spend my summer here in Kigali, and leave in late July for Europe and then home. I am doing research on forced repatriation of Rwandan refugees from neighboring Uganda. It’s a project I am very excited about, and I hope it will serve as a basis from my senior project. It will be a good summer! 

Playing with the babies -- Perfect and Bonett 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Measure of the Soul (a poem for Rwanda)

After a several-year dry spell I have at last had the itch to write poetry again! I mostly credit the amount of time I have on my hands here in Rwanda: I have a daily ritual of stretching out in my front yard and reading and writing poetry while the sun sets.My house seems made for beauty and creativity. I wrote this one a while ago, trying to capture some of the deep love and grief that I have for Rwanda. Thought I would share it, sense I have not posted in a while! 

Measure of the Soul

Dizzy in the darkness
secondhand horror.
I try your mask
a borrowed ache you
believe it.

This choir of death:
My love my blindness to
believe in you again.
I cannot forgive
life – white and dry and twisted.
And now I know
there is no limit
we do not break – even for mercy
built for pain and evil
a frankenstein creation.

And now I know
my skin is monstrous
and the shadows in my heart are bottomless.
And now I know
no God
but one that is broken.

And now I know
the bitterness of life
bitter: the beauty of it
the sweetness
the knowledge
the monster
that I cannot stop loving.

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Price of Memory

This week, commemoration week, genocide is constant. Strange twinkly songs spill from the radio, the only of word I understand is 'genocide', televisions flash image after image after image of the dead. Kigali turns to a city of the dead. The whole town shuts down during genocide memorials, by mandate, and so I when go out to buy a mango or an avocado I often wander past locked doors and darkened windows for miles.

Sunday I went to the main memorial: a long 'walk to remember' to the national stadium for an evening of songs and speeches and thousands of candles, flames spread from the memorial bonfire. In Rwandan culture when someon
e dies you keep a fire going for seven days and seven nights and stay by it, remembering the dead. This week fires burn all across the country, and we are all around them.

Candles at the stadium. You can see the lights better out of focus. 

Memory comes with a price. As we left the stadium on Sunday there was a scream in the dark: a howl of grief so brutal I cannot even comprehend the physical pain that must have been at the center of it. Three volunteers ran past us, carrying a writhing, screaming woman. She wailed and beat against them, lost in the torture of memory, while they repeated 'Ntakebazo' – it's ok – over and over again.

This is not uncommon during commemoration week. As we walked I heard screams again, and again, agony so physical it seemed to cut the dark and twisted my guts, made my skin prickle and shudder. Before Rwanda I thought there was a limit to pain. I believed because I cannot imagine grief beyond a certain point that the human spirit must not be able to take it, that we must simply break from the weight of it. Now I know better. We are made to endure, and this is our blessing and our curse. This is the price of memory. The dead never die. The screams in the night do not cease. Genocide in Rwanda is never entirely over. This week it goes on behind the eyes of every face I see.

I write this from another memorial. I am here with AVEGA, sitting quietly with my psychologist mentors to be there when and if the screams begin again. It is past midnight, raining and cold, and the faces around me are heavy with grief and exhaustion. I am on blood-stained ground: at the beginning of the genocide many Rwandans and foreigners fled to this school to escape from the Interhamwe. The UN came to the rescue: but only for the whites. They took the few foreigners out of the screaming begging crowd, and drove away. As the UN cars disappeared down the road the genocidaires moved in. Guilt seeps into my stomach -- I am nauseous with disgust. As a student turned researcher I feel out of place, a voyeuristic observer of pain too sharp for me to ever touch. In the cold air, orange from smoke and streetlights, I begin to imagine myself not an outsider peering into someone else's pain, but a mourner, keeping vigil for the dead.

Tonight we keep them close.  

Monday, April 8, 2013

Muzungus in Paradise

Life has changed a good deal in the past few days! I am now in the research portion of my study abroad, which means classes are over and for the next month I will do an independent research project on trauma. For this time we move out of our host families, and I am living in an amazing house with 5 of my friends.

Check out our Gazebo!

This is what I look at as I eat breakfast every day.

The house is lovely, has a fully equipped kitchen and we all have our own bedrooms. As a future development worker who expects to make very little money, this might well be the nicest house I ever live in. We even have a house boy, who is awesome and does our dishes and is confused by our insistence on cooking for ourselves. As a student I feel I don't deserve this, somehow, but it was the cheapest thing we could find with furnishing and enough bedrooms.

While I am doing my research, and for the next three months, I have an internship with AVEGA, an organization created for genocide widows to address trauma and healthcare. They later expanded to work on legal advocacy and economic projects, and pretty much awesome. Check out their website! I am working under two psychologist, which is perfect, because post-conflict trauma healing work is what I want to do with my life. So far I have attended a two day trauma counseling workshop!

Another piece of good news: I officially have a major! I applied and got into the Global Development major at my school! I have been planning on since I got into UVA, but have been a little nervous about because the major is small and competitive – less than 1 in 3 applicants got in last year. So its really nice to have a major :) I may also double major in religious studies, which is something I never would have planned, but I have just really enjoyed religious studies classes at UVA and have taken a lot of them, so I may as well get a double major out of it!

So life is pretty good :) Having my own house and making my own food has somehow made Rwanda feel mine. It is really home now. Some weird stuff is going on because of Genocide Commemoration Week, but that is a story for another day.  

Friday, March 29, 2013

Muzungus in Uganda!

Gulu, Uganda

Uganda has been full of some amazing tourist experiences! I wish I could write them out for you, but for some things pictures are just better. So here is a photographic journal of our adventures in Uganda!

On our second day in Uganda we crossed the equator!! Turns out the equator is a line painted across a road surrounded by cows. Who knew??

Then we crossed the Nile!!

And fed some crazy baboons who lie in wait and mob buses for their bananas. I am really not exaggerating that much. 

Then after a couple of days in Gulu we went for a field trip out to this amazing rocky outcrop in the middle of the Savanah, which stretched out forever. It was one of the most beautiful places I've ever been: the most spectacular thing I have seen in Africa! We spent the morning scrambling around the rocks, guided by the local king: Chief Jeremiah.

Gulu has been a lovely break from the comparatively large and busy Kigali. I enjoyed wandering the dusty streets in search of food – Indian, Ethiopian, Ugandan, even Pizza -- Gulu is home of the best food I've eaten in months. We learned a lot about Uganda's recent struggles with the LRA and went to the headquarters of the now somewhat infamous 'Invisible Children'. If you are looking for a place to put your money I would still not necessarily recommend them, but they are not the bumbling imperialist fools I have heard them described as either.

Look for a post on the ultimate tourist destination, SAFARI, soon!  

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Pied Piper of Refugee Children

Hello from Uganda! 

The beautiful mountains of Uganda, close to Rwandan boarder

I've been here a week with the whole group, with another week of mad adventuring to go before returning to Kigali. I will post about some of the awesome touristy things we have done soon. But on our first day in Uganda we went to visit Nakivale Refugee Settlement, a sprawling home of 70,00, more of a rural town than a camp. We drove through drizzling skys and rutted, muddy roads which pitched our bus at startling angles to the town, between rows of vegetable stalls and huts of scrap wood and UN-provided tarps.  

We got to meet with Rwandan refugees, and hear for the first time the voices in the shadows of the current regime. We heard of midnight disappearances, short jail sentences from which husbands and brothers never return, wives and children that had been killed in revenge for the genocide. It is the darkness of the sparkling story of resurrection we hear over and over, the sacrifices this government claims for the sake of stability, which the refugees claim is for the sake of power only. The truth is a shifty thing. I am convinced everything I have heard in this country has some truth to it, but many lies as well. Do I live in a democracy or dictatorship? Yes and yes. Is Rwanda a miracle of development or a festering of old hatreds? Yes and yes. But I begin to see the connections and what I think may be the turth behind the state. It is far cleverer than I could have ever guessed without living here. Nothing is simple. Nothing is only what it looks on the surface.

After the unsettling talk we wandered the camp with a Rwandan guide. At least, that is how it began but quickly my guides became the hoards of children who followed giggling and calling 'Muzunguu!” A brave little girl with six fingers in a torn purple velvet dress held my hand for an hour. She was quickly joined by at least a dozen children who held onto my fingers and wrists and elbows, and we moved like a massive shambling beast giggling madly whenever we looked at each other. 

This camp affirmed so much for me. In a town of 70,000 who had all suffered immensely there was not a single psychologist or program for addressing trauma. I want more than anything to work on trauma healing with refugees, and this day confirmed this completely. If I could move there tomorrow I would – though I will have to wait years until I've gathered enough skills to be genuinely useful. Now more than ever I know the path my life should take. 
The super amazing kids at the camp. The girl to my right reaching for the camera was my best friend for the day. 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

10 Reasons I love Kigali

I have now officially been in Rwanda for over a month, and Kigali feels more like home with every day that passes. I keep imagining myself years from now. I wanted to celebrate this feeling of home by sharing my joys of Rwanda with you, rather than the bones and sorrows.

In no particular order: 10 of my loves of Rwanda

  1. Transport

    I have a strange love of the rickety, overcrowded transportation system of Kigali. Crammed buses and ever present moto-taxis make the whole city available for a few cents. While buses challenge Western notions of personal space (like, the idea we should have some) and are occasionally a horrifying testament to the general lack of deodorant in this country, I have found I really enjoy the people watching on them as I sit next to university students, business men, mums with their babies, teens absorbed by cell phones: its a view into Rwanda.

  1. Markets
The truth is I love the adventure of labyrinthine, dim markets of thousands of oddly specific stalls (Need Katchup? Go two aisles to the right for the condiment sales-man) more than the sterility of our grocery stores. It's not as easy, but it turns shopping from a chore to scavenger hunt, and buying from a meaningless interchange of money to a conversation and depending on the extent of the bargaining: a game.

  1. Colors
From orange sunrises, misty gray/green evenings, to the explosions of vibrancy from women's traditional skirts, to the inevitable buildings painted as advertising for competing cell phone companies, everywhere I am surrounded by color.
Traditional dresses at a concert

  1. Beauty
I have found Kigali to be one the most beautiful non-European capitol city I have been in. Not for the architecture, which consists of basic concrete and 'developing-country-blue' glass, but for the mountains, which make every street a vista. I feel I can see forever from wherever I am. That I walk to school across the top of the earth. At night the hills speckled with streetlights look like waves of stars. 

  1. My Host family
Of course, I cannot leave out my vibrant, silly, wonderful host family. I spend my time at home with my host siblings: singing, playing cards, or watching bizarre movies (everything from allegorical christian horror films to 40 year old Kung Fu movies in the original racist accents).

Me and Mugisha (left) Christine, a family friend (middle) and Peace (right) 

  1. Kids
As a Muzungu in Rwanda, I am instantly loved by every child ever. I don't quite know why, but my foreignness warrants high fives, jumping up and down, and excited calls of 'How are youuuuuu?!?!?'. It also sometime warrants demands to 'give me money!', but this makes angry at the misguided whites who treat children like beggars, not the kids themselves. 

  1. Fruit
I can't even begin to tell you how good the fruit is here. I gorge myself on mangoes, passion-fruit, avacados and bananas at every opportunity.

Several kilos, and just a couple of dollars, worth of fruit. 

  1. 'Ailmentations'
While I may have mentioned the tragedy of Rwanda's potato-cuisine before, I do really love the little convenience stores that dot the city selling cookies, 'amandazi' doughnuts, samosas, chapatis, and fruit. I am always hungry here, so snacking is critical.

  1. Unpredictability
One of the greatest adventures of traveling is the break from routine. I am happiest when I can relax enough to be amused by the dubious coughing and rattling of my bus, suddenly canceled meetings, instantaneous hail storms, or power outages that leave us giggling by candlelight. The only unpredictability I cannot stand is that of my greatest addiction: the internet.

  1. Appreciation 
Travel teaches you more about yourself than anything else. Looking around every day I am reminded of how much I have and how lucky I am to have it. Though I am living out of two suitcases, I still have more possessions than even well-off Rwandans. My western privilege is disconcerting, but precious. And getting to truly know that is another privilege in itself. I am grateful every day for being here For getting to struggle with the depth of human darkness, but at the same time having the honor to witness the extremes of our resilience.  

Saturday, February 23, 2013

A message for America

“The weapon I had in my heart was love.”

People like Atanas and Samuel should not have to exist, but the fact that they do gives me hope, even among the bones and graves. They were Hutu, but when the orders came to take up machetes against the Tutsi these two men refused, even surrounded by neighbors, friends, brothers, who they knew might kill them at any minute for their refusal. Samuel told us “By then you were not thinking about your own life. You were between life and death, and knew you would die as soon as you were caught.”

Samuel told a story that will stay with me always. He overheard two women walked by his house talking about a Tutsi woman who was going into labor by the side of the road. He went out to find the woman, and found her and a 3 year old child, beaten and naked by the side of the road. The woman had spent hours in agony begging passerbys for help, but the most anyone had done was to bring her a little water. Samuel ran back and told his wife to bring clothes for the woman and her child, and then went to get a midwife. The midwife's husband refused to allow her to 'look at the legs of a Tutsi', and though Samuel cried and begged, they refused to help. So he went to the house of a doctor, who, though very ill, agreed to come and help the woman. Samuel had to half-carry the doctor through the rain to the Tutsi woman, who had by this time lost her baby, and was too weak and sick to deliver the placenta. The doctor helped to her to finish the delivery, and Samuel and his wife carried the woman and her child back to their home and hid them in the roof. She was still desperately ill from the delivery, and would have been killed if she went to a hospital. So Samuel taught himself to administer penicillin, and gradually nursed her back to health. Both she and her three year old child are still alive today. He saved 21 others by digging a trench for them to hide in in his banana field. I was honored just to shake his hand.

They asked us to bring the truth about the genocide back to America. They wanted us, and you, to understand that this genocide was not the ethnic tension of backwards Africans, but a carefully created evil that could happen anywhere. He said “I can assure you, you can change people and they will be how you want.” They told us that to end war “you must let go of your life as the first objective. In all means, you must fight for peace.”

I do not think that we all have to let go of our lives for peace. But I do think that we all have something to learn for Samuel, who chose not to turn away from suffering. I think most evil in the world comes not from aggression, but from apathy. From people who see suffering, and see no way to change it, and so pretend it is not there. I ask you not to give away your life as Samuel did, but to consider if your life encourages suffering by inaction. What companies might you tacitly support that create suffering among their workers so you can have things for a little less money? Can you ease some of the pain in your own town through supporting shelters or soup kitchens with time or money? We cannot be perfect, but we can remember how blessed we are. We cannot all be heroes like Samuel, but we can honor people like him by sharing some of that blessing.

Samuel and Terrance were not the only amazing people I met while in Butare this week! Our group took a picture with this women's organization of genocide widows, and the wives of genocidal working together for reconciliation and development.

The meeting was a school, and we arrived right at recess, and so were greeted by a mob of children who alternatively clung to us and fled in herds, screaming delighted in terror at the bizarre Muzungus. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Behavior Patterns of the Wild Muzungu

This is for mum; who wanted to know about daily life.  Love you!

I wake up between 6:30 and 7 to the sound of my family's roosters and my host sisters beautiful singing. I have started running in the mornings. Mornings are cool and misty, with heavy clouds hovering around the hills surrounding the lake I run around. The elevation and hills are killer here, it's going to take a lot of time to get used to. The national Rwandan breakfast food seems to be slightly stale hotdog buns, which I have with honey every day. Oddly there are no hotdogs in Rwanda, just the flavorless airy oblong breads.

The artificial lake I run around. 

My host family's lovely (and huge) house. 

By 8 I am trying to catch a cramped mini-bus to school. The buses friendly affairs, not just because we squeeze 4 or 5 people in rows of three seats, but I chat in broken English, Kinyarwanda or french with my neighbors. I have class every morning from 9 to 1 at SIT headquarters, a beautiful house near the American embassy. We start with a lesson in Kinyarwanda by the irascible JP, an enthusiastic guy who produces the music of Rwanda's top rap stars and apparently teaches American kids just for fun. We may get a guest lesson from one of Rwanda's biggest stars! JP teaches us Rwandan songs, has us do skits in Kenyarwanda and bounces with energy. Then we usually have a lecture on Rwandan history, or research methods.

Lunch we usually go to one of the anonymous buffet style restaurants with the standards of Rwandan food: rice, french fries, some kind of soup, savory plantains, and several other potatoes of various forms. Or we get snack food like Samosas and bring it back to school and eat in the garden. Did that today, along with mangoes and passion fruit which was fantastic!

Afternoons sometimes have more classes, sometimes we go to visit NGOs, or we go to the library with fast internet – a treat as delicious as food that is not potatoes. I spent this afternoon reading in the roof-top cafe of the library, overlooking mountains dotted with small red-roofed villages, drinking spicy ginger tea, and feeling incredibly lucky.

The view on the way to the library. Rwanda, the 'land of a thousand hills' is full of these vistas. Everywhere you go you can see for miles, as if you were walking to school along the blue ridge parkway. 

The lovely national library, overlooking the hills. 

I get back to my host family's house around 6:30, and hang out with the kids through the evening. I do homework while they watch dubbed Korean or Chinese tv shows, we play games, or sing songs. I kick them out of my room by 10 to have a little time to journal or read before I go to sleep. I actually get enough sleep here, a luxury compared to my bleary, coffee-fueled existence at UVA.

I am incredibly impressed with the SIT program. I feel like I've had at least a semester's worth of intellectual growth in the past three weeks. I understand so much more about how I believe the world to be: from world systems, to economic theory, to development, to human nature, to my place in the world. This is what education should be, and I am so grateful to take part in it!  

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Second Life of Rwanda

One of my goals of this blog is to give my beloveds at home a view of Rwanda beyond genocide. I came here to study the genocide, yes, but more importantly to study recovery. I came here to find out how a broken, bleeding society could build this beautiful city I live in, could become the lovely people I know, in less than 2 decades. I have no answers. Instead, I will share a couple of adventures that show the light of Kigali, not its darkness.

This weekend I went out exploring. I went to a market with a couple of friends, and wandered through the chaotic spread of beans, passion fruit, cucumbers, kitchen untencils, used American tshirts, Chinese shoes, and tourist nicknacks. My favorite: the rainbow of bright fabric which Rwandan women use as skirts, baby blankets, get made into shirts or dresses.

Then today I tried to walk from my house to my school, and while I was getting lost in a random neighborhood stumbled into an art studio. Overlooking a valley the studio was painted brightly, adorned with funky statues and paintings. And the art within made the fabric market look drab! It was collective, but all the art shared explosions of color. I expected art in Rwanda to reflect the torment of the past, but this studio was a celebration of life. I hope if I save my pennies while I am here to bring some home: a reminder of all that Rwanda has to offer.

Outside of the studio. 

A painting I loved using fabric bits.

You come to Rwanda for the darkness. To stare into it until you can make some sense of it, no mater how much it hurts. You come expecting victims, expecting broken, trauma, paralysis. You find smiles, strangers who call out 'hello' in a multitude of languages, kids who give you a high five as you pass, angels who point you home when you're lost. You eat mangoes. You watch brilliant birds play around tropical flowers. You find life.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

"To the children who should have been the future of Rwanda"

Feburary 6th, 2013

(Note: if you read this, please read it to the end. It ends on a somewhat hopeful note, and I think this is important.)

The title of this was taken from one of the genocide memorials we visited yesterday. A line above a collection of photos of children who were murdered with their names, their favorite games and foods, how they died. An attempt to put a real human life behind the numbers – something I would struggle with as I stood before piles of skulls at the mass graves we went to later. The smiling six year old who loved to play with his brother -- tortured to death. His last words: “UNAMIR will come for us.”

When I left the museum, shattered, I wandered around a garden – so beautiful I could hardly bare it. I wondered, how on earth am I supposed to live in the emptiness between the depths of evil and suffering, and this Eden of flowers of birds? How can I live in a world of such extremes and not be torn apart?

Then we went to the churches. During the killings that preceded the genocide churches had served as safe havens, and so thousands crowded into them for protection from the priests, and from God. These churches are graves now. Dirty clothes of the dead lie on worship benches like enveloping mold, as if death is growing in the shadows. Scattered around rusty bits of mettle that bashed in someone's skull, tore off someone's arm, rosaries, the identity cards with the single word *Tutsi* that meant the end.

I have often wondered how Rwanda can be such a religious country. How can people believe in a God that would allow this world? How can they not hate him with all their being? But yesterday, we came to a wall, stained with blood and brain, where babies skulls were smashed. When I saw it I wanted to fall to my knees and pray to a God I don't believe in. For the souls of the children, and for the broken souls who killed them.

All this weighs heavy. And yet, with the horror comes honor. I feel honored, privileged even to be a witness. Even as I struggle to understand, even as I fail, I am grateful for the opportunity to learn beyond the pages of a book. To make it real. I realize that bearing witness means more than just seeing – it means honoring the dead and the survivors by spreading their stories and dedicating yourself to seeing that they will never be repeated. It means honoring the life that somehow made it through this hell and is still standing. Of everything I have learned today, it reminded me how precious  precious life is. How everyone I see is something wondrous -- especially in Rwanda. I thought of this as I walked home, and chatted in broken Kinyarwanda with the helpful strangers guiding me through the bus system. Thought of their beauty, their strength, that they could be the ones helping me. Today I am shattered, but I am hopeful. 

Friday, February 1, 2013

Muzungu style!

February 1st 2013
Kigali, Rwanda

“Muzungu” is the affectionately patronizing word for foreigners, and as I blunder about Kigali on various adventures, I certainly feel like one! Moving to a new country is like being reborn: you can't speak, you can't cross the street, you can't work the bathroom, you can't find things on your own. Fortunately, Rwandans are very kind to us big white babies! It is a good thing, because information here is not regimented as it is in the states – you can't just ask google. Instead you ask: which bus, which stop, which street, which phone, how much to pay.... I am relearning everything I know, and I am learning it through the kindness of strangers.

I am now installed with my wonderful Rwandan host family! They are quite brilliant: within 10 minutes of walking in the door we were all dancing Gangnam style together. The kids all speak intimidatingly good English, preparing for American high school and college. I live in in a huge house next to an ambassador, with chickens scratching around the beautifully manicured lawn. I have three brothers and three sisters, ranging from 5 to 17.
With host brothers Omar and Mudisha 

I have also had a few good Muzungu adventures in the city! In my favorite assignment so far we were sent off to find information about communication, and I and two other students got to wander the city on the pretext of finding internet cafes and phone stores. We found a city of dizzying contrasts: highrises poking awkwardly from of rows of single story storefronts, kids hawking ipods on the street, somehow bustling and chaotic, but orderly and quiet at the same time.

Kigali, growing. 

The view standing in the same spot as above, but turned the other way!

We happened upon the Milles Collins, the famous 'hotel' of Hotel Rwanda. It looks like a standard 70s building outside, but inside chic and dotted with over-sunned Europeans, lush swimming pools, and tiny brilliant birds. Impossible to imagine, as we sat on the porch that 18 years ago this was the tense center of a slaughterhouse. When we passed a ragged man asleep beside the road I could imagine it. Almost.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013


Rwanda Blog 3


The perfect welcome to Africa – landing in Ethiopia to a pink sunrise lacing a mountain. As we touched down in Adis Ababa the sun crawled, bright orange and huge over the edge of the mountain as we rolled up to the airport.

Compared to Ethiopia, Rwanda is a mirage of green. The air in Rwanda smells of smoke and rain, wet but clear and light. The colors are brilliant. Even beyond the deep green of the plants and mountains, the colors of advertisements, signs, clothes, seem to shine they are so vibrant.

I haven't had time for photography, but here is a picture from near our hostel.

It is a beautiful, endless rolling green hills cluttered with redbrick rooftops and houses. Though in contrast to the vibrancy of the color, the city is quiet. Rwandans move and speak quietly, shadow-like, and the city seems to to reflect this calm. For a capitol city it seems soft, relatively slow traffic, quiet streets and lots of trees scattered among roads and construction sites. I know very little, yet, having just been into town for a few hours to send emails, but what I have learned leaves me even more curious.

For the next few days we are staying in a hostel close to school, recovering from days of travel, and getting to know each other and the country before we meet our host families. I am grateful for the rest time! I am so tired, though so excited to be here I can hardly sit still.

Update 1/30/2013:
My school is surprisingly lovely, in a big house with a eden-like garden and beautiful architecture. Our teachers are fantastic. I am a bit disappointed at how much time we have spent in the class room so far – almost no time to explore the city. But I am sure I will get plenty of time for that soon! I meant to post earlier but internet has been crazy hard to get. Just bought a USB modem though so I should be able to communicate more soon.   

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Five Minute Rwandan History

3 Days Out

The 5 Minute History of Rwanda

Hello dear friends! I am in a lull before leaving for Kigali, where I will arrive Monday afternoon. My bags are sort of packed, by room is sort of cleaned, and I've sort of said goodbye to my friends. For me, this is doing pretty well 48 hours before departure!

I realized Rwanda is a pretty murky place to most of us. SO, for your edification and amusement I present a five minute version of Rwandan history, which should give a slightly more nuanced view of the country than people running around after each other with machetes.

  • Pre-colonial Rwanda: Rwanda is pretty hunkie dory. There are Tutsis and Hutus is more of a class distinction than a race. If you have a lot of cows, you're a Tutsi. If growing sweet potatoes is your thing, you're probably a Hutu. People can change between Tutsi or Hutu during their lifetimes.

  • Colonial Rwanda: Belgians show up. This is bad news for any per-colonial African country. Being devious, white, and racist as a fox news pundit off camera, they decide a good way to control the country is to make the Tutsis the 'superior race' and put them in charge of all their exploitation/oppression schemes.
  • Post-Colonial Rwanda: Naturally, the Hutus are not too thrilled about all this whole exploitation and oppression thing. They eventually overthrow the Belgians and their Tutsi underlings, sending a lot of Tutsis off to Uganda to escape the violence.
  • 1992 Rwanda: The Tutsis get fed up of being stuck as refugees for decades, and sense the president won't let them come back legally, they go 'screw this' and invade the country.
  • 1994 Rwanda: The failing Hutu government uses the invasion (among other things) as an excuse to stir up old fear of Tutsi/colonial oppression, and incites mass violence. For 100 days, Tutsis and their allies are killed at a rate of 6 people a minute. Meanwhile, the US and the UN refuse to send peacekeepers, and won't even authorize the few on the ground to take any action to protect civilians. ….There's no way I can make a quip about this.
  • Rwanda Today: Miraculously, Rwanda is one of the most stable countries in the region. With the help of their plastic-bag-hating president/dictator (seriously, he made them illegal!) the country has universal education and health care, has abolished racial discrimination (legally, anyway), and is receiving massive amounts of development aid.

Too Long; Didn't Read? Colonialism is a bitch.

Rwanda got almost no press at the time because OMG CELEBS 

When they say 'never again' they meant 'never again to white people'. Just ask the Rwandans, the Cambodians, the Sudanese, the Palestinians, the Iraqis, the Syrians.... All our pretty international organizations and nice treaties are a disgraceful sham until we actually give equal value to all human life.