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! http://avegaagahozo.org/ 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.