Welcome to Rwanda!

Muraho, abashuti! (“Hello, friends!” in Kinyarwanda)

We’ve been here for a week as of Monday afternoon. The first week has been dedicated to a gentle transition to living in Rwanda. Here’s a quick over-view of the week. We spent the first morning at the Kigali Genocide Memorial, which was an intense must for anyone visiting Rwanda. From there we drove up to Akagera National Park, where we spent two nights in order to do an all-day game drive and a morning boat safari. Kigali lies between Akagera and Musanze, which is where we’re staying while we work at Kabwende Primary School in Kinigi, so we spent another night in Kigali before finally getting to our primary lodgings on Friday. Before we left Kigali again, however, we stopped by the national public library and an art exhibit led by a young genocide survivor as part of a larger program he started to help other survivor youths and children who need help. Saturday was a special day, called Umuganda, where all Rwandans go out and clean their neighborhoods/the town where they live until noon, when business can continue as usual. It happens on the last Saturday of the month. I think it’s a brilliant idea; it forces people to think about what they do with their trash and gives them a stronger sense of involvement (maybe even attachment and responsibility) to their town/neighborhood. As foreigners, we didn’t have to participate (I found out later they didn’t really want us to either), so we just relaxed in the morning until we could go explore the shops in the town. Training started Sunday, but fortunately it wasn’t going to start until after the end of the church service of L’Église de Pentecôte, so I was able to go to church with several others in the group. The following are some thoughts and descriptions from the first week.

Initial Comparisons (Monday, July 20)

It’s so good to be back in this region of the world. Even though I’ve never been to Rwanda before it kind of feels like I’ve come home (minus all my friends and family). As I listen to some of the familiar birdsongs with which I grew up, I can’t help but feel grateful to be here. So far, the only comparisons I can make are from the drive between the airport and this hotel, and the hotel itself. Kigali seems to be much cleaner and less crowded than Nairobi and Lusaka. It’s also much hillier; I can already see why Rwanda is called “the country of 1000 hills”. Some in the group compared it to San Francisco, but I bet Kigali is prettier. [Sorry if I’ve offended any San Fran lovers] Flora-wise it seems similar to my memories of Western Kenya and Uganda. The same goes for the landscaping style of the villa hotel (for posh places, anyway).

Kigali Genocide Memorial (Tuesday, July 21)

The entrance to the Kigali Genocide Memorial.

The entrance to the Kigali Genocide Memorial.

Wow! What an overwhelming experience. The 1994 genocide was so horrible – so traumatic – that the extent of its impact cannot be fully comprehended by an outsider. And yet, that memorial does an incredible job of bringing you close. It starts broader, more general, and then progresses ever deeper into the chaos and pain of what happened. They show clips of interviews with various survivors at several key locations along the memorial “path”, and the clips get ever more powerful and emotional. I am amazed at the bravery and openness of those who shared in the videos; they shared intensely personal things, which were clearly extremely painful and meaningful to them. I cried quite a few times. I think it was particularly meaningful to me because of my experience in Kenya during the 2008 post-election violence. I kept thinking that it could’ve turned into another horrid situation like the Rwanda Genocide if there hadn’t been so much emphasis placed by both the domestic and the international world on reconciliation and making peace. Even while we were going through it I kept thinking of the genocide I’d heard about in my first boarding school.

A couple of the videos’ interviewees talked about feeling guilty for surviving. That I know all too well. I, too, felt guilty (sometimes I still do) for coming through Kenya’s internal violence without a scratch. I knew I was safe, but I didn’t know about many of my friends. I had no way of knowing if they were safe, injured, or dead. The not knowing was the worst part – worse than being afraid to leave my compound; worse than having to be ready to evacuate; worse than the water, toilet paper, food, etc. rationing.

There were many interesting quotes on the walls, but one was particularly poignant. It talked about how genocide isn’t the killing of any people, but the killing of one person, then another, then another, etc. I wish now I had written it down. We tend to hide behind the huge numbers and statistics, and we forget that these events have a huge impact on individuals. One of the main goals of the memorial seems to be removing that shield from us, thereby helping us realize better the extent to which this event – and others like it – impact people as individuals, communities, and whole countries.

Another goal of the memorial seems to be the emphasis of the preventable nature of such atrocities. They had an entire section dedicated to other genocidal periods in the modern world, which was really cool in a sad and depressing way. They acknowledged others sufferings also, and made a point of illuminating the current fallacy of “never again” pertaining to genocide. After the Holocaust, Westerners at least said “Never again!” and created a committee to help prevent future genocides. Hah! Fat lot of good that’s done. Just look at the Balkan war, the Armenian slaughters by their Turkish countrymen, or Rwanda. The exhibit even had sections dedicated to two wars/genocides I didn’t even know existed. One was about Cambodia, and the other was about Namibia. Each and every case of genocide could have been stopped if the international world had been willing to accept the news of its occurrence and to take some responsibility for active involvement in peace-keeping. There was another great quote that talked about genocide never being a sudden occurrence, but something that has been deliberately set up and planned for.

Cooking Banana vs. Plantain (Tuesday, July 21)

I was verified in my belief that cooking bananas are a separate entity from plantains. Françoise, one of our guide/leader peoples, described the banana plantations we were seeing during our drive as cooking bananas. When someone asked if they were the same as plantains, she explained that no, they are different. Cooking bananas always stay green, while plantains turn yellow like normal bananas. *insert childish victory dance here*

Banana plantations and farms on the way to Musanze.

Banana plantations and farms on the way to Musanze.

Game Drive (Wednesday, July 22)

Highlights of the trip are being chased by an elephant, being introduced to a new fruit at lunch (tomato fruit), seeing a fish eagle, and helping Andrea undo her hair. She had extension twists, and we had a lovely chat about hair stuff. … These are the animals we saw: water buck, bush buck, impala, warthog, hippo, elephant, monitor lizard, crocodile, zebra, giraffe (Maasai and Rothschilde), baboon, and vervet monkey. The two kinds of birds that I actually paid attention to were a giant owl in its nest, and a couple fish eagles.

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A bush buck.

Zebras and impala running.

Zebras and impala running.

I caught a zebra staring straight at us.

I caught a zebra staring straight at us.

A couple male impala fighting.

A couple male impala fighting.

A maasai giraffe.

A maasai giraffe.

A Rothschilde giraffe.

A Rothschilde giraffe.

The elephant, Mutware, slowly retreating into the thicket.

The elephant, Mutware, slowly retreating into the thicket.

A couple hippos, chilling.

A couple hippos, chilling.

More hippos, possibly a mother and child.

More hippos, possibly a mother and child.

The fish eagle, a king among birds.

The fish eagle, a king among birds.

Boat Safari (Thursday, July 23)

This morning was my favorite part of going to the game lodge. … I love boat trips; they feel so refreshing. The sun, the water, the wind in your face … *sigh* so lovely. Actually, I pretty much enjoy everything where there’s wind blowing past me, but the water makes it so much better. I wouldn’t have cared if we never saw anything other than water for our hour-long trip, though I’m glad we did. We saw white breasted cormorants (aka great cormorants), African darter birds (aka snake birds), open-billed stork, intermediate (white) egrets, a black bird that likes to hide out in papyrus (I forgot the name), another fish eagle (!), and a couple plovers. At one point our guide took us in close enough to climb onto the land in order to see a crocodile laying on her eggs, probably not more than 3 yards away. My favorite creature was, of course, the fish eagle. Such a beautiful, magnificent bird. No wonder Zambia chose them to represent their freedom and to be their national bird. As for flora, we saw lots of morning glories, a relative of mangroves, some cactus trees that were about 1000 years old, and lots of green elephant grass. I didn’t know elephant grass could grow in water; in my memory it’s always brown/yellow and far from a visible source of water. Papyrus was also growing in abundance. Did you know that Rwandan baskets, mats, roofing, etc. come from papyrus? If you did, good on you.

My boat safari group.

My boat safari group.

A plover picking its way along the shore.

A plover picking its way along the shore.

This is the best shot I could get of the mother crocodile because of all the foliage between us.

This is the best shot I could get of the mother crocodile because of all the foliage between us.

A morning glory, which always makes me think of my mom.

A morning glory, which always makes me think of my mom.

A snake bird (African Darter), about to take flight.

A snake bird (African Darter), about to take flight.

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An open-billed stork.

Peek-a-boo!

Peek-a-boo!

Another fish eagle!

Another fish eagle!

Musanze Guest House (Friday and Saturday, July 24 & 25)

It’s a lovely, large house with five bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen, a “dining room” (it has a small table upon which we set the dishes to serve ourselves from, but we don’t eat there), and a huge living room. The living and dining rooms separate the bedrooms and bathrooms, with three bedrooms and a bathroom on my side, and two bedrooms, a bathroom, and the kitchen on the other side. In the living room there’s a nice set of couches and chairs, a wide coffee table, and even a TV. All the bedrooms save one have beds, mosquito nets, and a closet. Behind the house is a rocky area with laundry lines, a spicket, and a couple charcoal burners for cooking purposes. We have several basins, which we use for doing laundry (by hand, of course). The bathroom on my side has a water heater mounted on the wall above the tub as well as a shower head (which you have to hold), but the other bathroom doesn’t have a heater. We turn the heater on for an hour and a half first thing in the morning, and then that bathroom is supposed to have hot water for the rest of the day (I haven’t tested it in the evening to verify, though). Bathing in the other bathroom is done with the help of a bucket and a plastic cup (unless you want a cold bath). You boil water, pour it in the bucket, and then pour cold water in until it’s the right temperature. Then, once you’re in the bathtub with the bucket, you use the cup to pour water over yourself. Both styles remind me of a couple places I’ve stayed in both Zambia and Kenya.

Mosquito nets are a must, unfortunately, as we are definitely in mosquito country. It’s not as bad as, say, Kigali, but I guess it’s a lower elevation than Kijabe, since we never had to use mosquito nets at RVA. Actually, at least one person in the group sleeps without a net, but she says the mosquitos just don’t bite her. I wish they didn’t love me so much.

Here’s the thing that really reminds me of Zambia, though: power outages. Every day the power goes out in our block for a while both sometime during the afternoon, and then it goes out again at night. We don’t have a generator to switch to, though, so we just have to wait until the power comes on again to be able to use lights or electrical appliances. It doesn’t matter so much during the day, and a bunch of people brought flashlights or headlights so it’s not a big problem at night either. It does, however, affect the people who like to shower/bathe at night, as no one seems to like the idea of showering by flashlight.

The Group (Monday, July 27)

I love coming with people for whom this is all different and new; they’re so fresh and enthusiastic about everything. There are things that I have grown up taking advantage of (like the beautiful views of nature in rural East Africa, game drives, non-altered foods, etc.), and things that they have grown up taking advantage of (like easy internet access, potable tap water, not having to worry about malaria, etc.). Actually, I’m really enjoying this chance to get to know about all their lives and their cultural backgrounds. There’s a lot of storytelling that goes on (particularly when the power’s off at night), which is a great way to learn about people’s views and beliefs. Some of you know how much I’ve been struggling adjusting to life in Bloomington – how much I feel like I don’t belong and don’t understand how to interact with people here. I think I’ve learned more to equip me for that during this last week than I did in the entire school year. Sometimes I still feel like a misfit, but everyone in the group is so welcoming and encouraging that those times have become increasingly few and far between.

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This has been just a small look into this past week. A lot happened, and there’s lots more I could go into, but won’t for space/time reasons. For the most part everyone has remained healthy through this first week, so thank you for praying for that. So far we haven’t had any problems on the road, nor have we had any major mishaps. Today people were pretty tired and worn out after the morning’s training, though, so please pray that we have enough energy to continue facing every day with enthusiasm and persevere cheerfully through whatever tasks we face.

Thanks, everyone! As always, I love and appreciate you all.

Hannah