Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Focus Newspaper interview

A few weeks ago, I gave an interview for a local English Paper called The Rwanda Focus. Here's the link to the article:


It talks about my job, Peace Corps Rwanda, and the pastor's work. Enjoy!

Funeral and Umuganda

I figured I'd combine two traditional events into one entry, especially since both events happened during the same weekend.

The housemaid for my counterpart's family is a woman who I've never gotten along with, but when I found out that her husband had just died, I knew that I had to got visit her and express my condolonces.

This is not the first funeral I have been to since arriving in Rwanda. I live close to a very large cemetary that was recently built, and it's just a fact that people here in Rwanda die younger than those back home. It's common for people to not make it past their mid 50s.

Still, this event felt a little different since it involved someone I actually knew. When I arrived at the mud hut, there were many people, but mostly women and children. Some were outside, some sat inside in a circle, singing religious songs. My counterpart (the pastor)'s wife was there, and so were his daughter and nephew. They ushered me into another room, and they asked me if I wanted to "see it". I looked down at the bed, and the long, bumpy form that was covered by a thin sheet, and immediately told them that I did not. I have seen bodies of the deceased before, both people I know and people I don't, but it's just not something I like to experience. They seemed weirded out by the fact that I did not want to see the body. Hopefully I didnt offend them. I ended up seeing it anyway, as the put the body in the coffin and then put it in the center of the living room. A pastor (reverend?) led prayers over the coffin, and after staying for an hour I decided to leave. Maybe I'm a wimp, maybe I'm disrespectful, but Im just not comfortable in situations like that. I guess seeing or even touching a dead body is nothing unusual in this culture, even for kids. This was a sad, moving, and eye-opening experience.

On a brighter note, when my friend and fellow PCV Edison came to Kigali for the weekend, we decided that we would participate in Umuganda. Umuganda is a longstanding, country-wide tradition that takes place the last Saturday of every month. Basically, it's 4 hours (from 7 AM until 11 AM) of the community getting together and cutting grass or doing other things for the community. Its also a way for people in the community to get together and become closer with one another.

Since I've always worked Saturdays, I had never participated in it, and wanted to seize the opportunity. I got up early, found out once again that there is absolutely no water in my community, foudn a guy to fetch me water, negotiated a price, and handed him my two jerry cans to fill (it's too heavy and too far for me to carry two jerrycans full of water up and down a mountain, so I pay out the ass everyday to get it). On my way back to my house, I saw a huge group of people coming down the road, clapping and singing. I was told that they were doing it for umuganda, so I assumed they were making noise to wake everyone else up to participate. Edison and I joined the crowd, where we of course stuck out like sore thumbs. People were really nice to us, and even wanted us to be in the front of the line and lead songs and dances. We danced and sang for over 2 hours, all while walking down the path until reaching the cemetery between my house and the school. There were a few police officers among us, and it was quite entertaining to see them doing traditional dance in full uniform.

I began to think that umuganda was more like a party than anything else in my umudugudu (village), what with all the singing, clapping, whistles, and dancing in a circle. However, the woman leading the group (who is a nurse), told me that the umuganda for the month of July is very special, since it is the first umuguanda after the 100 days of the genocide. Across the country, umuganda is led by people hired for the day as sort of "cheerleaders" to motivate people to get together and have fun, to bring solidarity in an effort to never repeat what happened in 94.

After about 2 hours of this, Edison and I were getting very hungry, thirsty, and tired, and decided that since all we were doing was dancing and singing the same songs over and over, we might as well call it a day and go home. We felt a little guilty since right when we left, a truck arrived with machetes and hoes so that people could finally start cutting the grass and cleaning up the cemetery. Oh well, I still think it counts for something! We regretted not bringing our cameras along with us to document the event, but maybe its all for the best because we may have been viewed even more as outsiders.

Egyptian Embassy

So on the 23rd, I had the priveledge, along with a few other PCVS, of going to the Egyptian Embassy for Revolution Day.
The event was starkly different from 4th of July at the American Embassy. While the 4th of July celebration was an afternoon, backyard barbeque event, this was a more formal, indoor night time event. There were less people, and it was really nice.
The Egyptian Ambassador greeted everyone at the door, and later gave a speech in English(deciding not to use the faulty microphone). Even though the food we were given wasn't in abundance, I still preffered it to the food we got on the 4th. Im still thinking about it now and it's making me hungry--especially the dates.
I met some cool people and I look forward to going there again next year.

Saturday, July 25, 2009


So, it's high time I added some visual stimulation.

My House:

View from my house

My Neighborhood is really into American Hip Hop culture



Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Links and References

So, I thought I'd dedicate at least one entry to links and references.

Web Links:

The first is a link to a recent interview between President Kagame and CNN’s GPS talkshow host Fareed Zakaria:


The second is a speech Kagame gave about the new arrival of Peace Corps in Rwanda:



I strongly, STRONGLY recommend the book "A Thousand Hills" by Kinzer. I just finished reading it, and, although it is definately written through Kinzer's point of view, it is an extremely comprehensive book about the history of Rwanda, the events leading up to the genocide, and life in Rwanda afterwards. The book includes interviews with Kagame, quotes from Romeo Dallaire (the UN General who was in Rwanda during the genocide), and many, many others. Some of the people mentioned and interviewed in this book are people I have actually met and spoken with--- Rwanda is a small world.

I also recommend "Land of a Thousand Hills" by Rosamond Halsey Carr. This is less of a historical manuscript and more of an autobiography by Ros Carr, an American who lived most of her life in Rwanda, from the early 50s until her passing a few years ago. At the time, she was Rwanda's oldest living resident. I didnt enjoy this nearly as much as Kinzer's book, but it still offers a different perspective, and it's worth a read.

I've also been told that "We Wish to Inform You" is a good book, but I have not read it yet. Comments to come later.


I have not yet seen that many movies and documentaries, but the ones I've seen and liked were:

Sometimes in April.
Once again, about the genocide, but I feel like it paints a much more realistic picture than most movies. Personally, I'm not a big fan of 100 Days or Hotel Rwanda. They seem contrived and I am told that they are historically innacurate.

Shake Hands With the Devil: The Journey of Romeo Dallaire, is a CBS documentary film about, you guessed it, Romeo Dallaire. I missed the very beginning of this documentary, but I enjoyed it very much. It cronicles Dallaire's return to Rwanda after ten years. It won a Sundance Film Festival Award.

I have yet to see, but plan to see, Ghosts of Rwanda, a PBS Frontline documentary. I have gotten mixed reviews about it.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Ups and Downs

These last three weeks have been full of ups and downs. Ill only mention the pros, since I feel somewhat obligated to keep this blog as upbeat as possible.

I started taking karate/kung fu lessons. I actually like it a lot. It's only 2 days a week, for about 2 hours, and it's really fun. I was so damn sore after the first class, but that actually makes me happy-- it means it's a real workout. I might at some point also take dance lessons here if I can. For know, karate is enough, because it fits perfectly with my schedule. I'm the only female in the class so far, but the teacher doesnt treat me any differently which im very happy about. As a result, im also getting to expand my Kinyarwandan vocabulary.

I had an interview with a small local English paper call Focus, and the girl I interviewed with also wants to interview the pastor i work for, which is good because that means he has an opportunity to get the name of his organization out. He told me he's happy about the publicity. I also set up a meeting with the manager of Cards From Africa to see if our organisation can work with his (we have a group of women who make cards and are trying to find an international market). Hopefully this is a sign that i'm doing at least a halfway decent job.

Im also looking forward to IST (in service training), as well as my 2 week trip to France directly afterwards. Going back to teaching might be a little weird, but im looking forward to doing literature with my students. Hopefully it wont be over their heads.

Monday, July 6, 2009

4th of July and the Pastor's Return

So, this is my first 4th of July in a long time that was spent outside of the U.S. However, I spent it at the American Embassy, which is considered US territory, so I guess technically this is no exception.

My weekend was pretty crappy, mostly due to personal reasons I wont divulge. Lets just say Im not jumping up and down for joy right now.

My original weekend plans were to go to Kibuye and take a boat out to Amahoro Island to camp out for the night with 5 other PCVs. However, when I went out to dinner Friday night, I realized while I was paying the bill that I only had 10,000 RWF, which wouldnt be enough to cover the travel and all the expenses for the weekend. The banks would be closed on Saturday, the next day because 4th of July is also Rwandan Independence Day. Of course, all the banks are also closed on Sunday. I knew that borrowing money from others was a possibility, but I didnt want to take the risk of getting stranded over there, and not being able to return to my house until Monday. Instead, I stayed in Kigali and went to a function that the U.S. embassy was putting on. It wasnt exactly what I had expected, but I got to see a lot of people which was nice. I listened to the Ambassador speak, ate food, and thats pretty much it. THe function was only a short afternoon thing, so there werent any fireworks or anything.

Today, I woke up bright and early, went to the bank, and then took 2 buses to go to the airport to meet the pastor I work for, who has been in America since early May. I hadnt been to the airport since I first arrived in Rwanda, and at that point it was nightime and I was so groggy I really wasnt all that aware of our surroundings. So I got to see the airport in the daytime, and I realized how small it really was for an international airport. Im so used to LAX and CDG airports. While I waited for the pastor and his wife to land, I chatted it up with his family and some members of his congregation who had come to greet him. I realized, waiting there, how emotional it must be for them to return to their home after so long, especially for the pastors wife, who has never been to America. She had tears in her eyes as she hugged her sons and various friends. I think seeing my parents when i arrive at the airport in Paris will be very emotional for me. I left America over 5 months ago. I think thats the longest Ive ever gone without seeing my parents. After the two weeks in Paris are up, I wont see my parents for an entire year, since they plan on coming to Rwanda summer 2010. I seriously cant wait to see them. I think a lot of us PCVs are going through a low period right now. I spoke to an RPVC when I was at the embassy function and she told me that the first few months are the hardest. I hope shes right.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Kwita Izina (the Gorilla Naming Ceremony)

So I got the opportunity to go to Musanze to see the Gorilla naming ceremony, which is a huge event in Rwanda. After all, Rwanda is famous for two things-- the G word (that I don't need to mention), and the mountain gorillas that Diane Fossey studied. It was the 5th annual gorilla naming ceremony (it's the 5th annual everything here-- 5th annual amahoro week, 5th annual film festival, and 5th annual Kwita Izina).

I didn't really know what to expect, but it was pretty fun. We didn't get to see any actual gorillas, but we did get to see people dressed in gorilla costumes, which I promise isn't as lame as it sounds. There were a lot of them, even young children dressed as baby gorillas, and they acted really well, banging on their chests and making gorilla noises as they crawled across the lawn. They interacted pretty well with the people.

So there were A LOT of performances, which I'm happy to say heavily outnumbered speeches, thought the speeches were good. Paul Kagame was not there as I'd hoped he'd be, but the prime minister was.
Some of the performances were exceptionally good, especially the traditional dance groups and a group of middle school aged drummer girls.
So each year, the government picks people who they feel have had a positive influence on the country to name the baby gorillas of Virunga National Park. This year there were 14, so 14 "special guests" got to name them-- one of whom was a former student of Diane Fossey. Another was a musician from South Africa. None were people I'd heard of.
There were definately some big names in attendance, which of course included the prime minister, the American ambassador to Rwanda, Jack Hanna from the Discovery Channel, and a bunch of NGOs.
When the ceremony ended, we waited in line to eat under a large group of tents. I couldn't really see much of inside, due to the fact that we were pretty far back in a long line. However, a person who I assume was working the event spotted us in line and told us to skip the line and come right in, so we did. We not only got our own table, but we got tons of very good food (all the food and drinks there were free for everyone). I felt a little guilty that we didnt' wait in line, but I couldn't help but savor the wine, meet, and delicious rasberry pastires we got to eat.
All in all, it was a really fun event and a really good oppotunity to meet a lot of important people. However, I feel a need to mention a few other things (I'm always critiquing things, I can't help it).

The people attending the ceremony were a certain crowd. Diplomats, ex-pats, rich poeple who'd flown into Rwanda for the event, NGOs, and upper class Rwandans. The people on the other side of the fence, who got to watch the performances but mostly saw the performers and the speakers backs, were the "real" population of Rwanda-- the ones without shoes or in sandals, the ones with old clothing. There were so many of them, and they had to stand the entire time to see anything. I wonder how all that works, exactly. I mean, tickets to the event are free, they can be aquired from a website, but they don't necessarily check tickets at the door. It's kind of like when you go to a club, and the bouncer doesn't necesarilly care if you pay or not, as long as you portray a certain image. On the one hand, I know most people in Rwanda probably don't have access or don't know how to use internet, and therefore didn't have the connections to get tickets, but I can say with some confidence that it's also the guard's way of keeping certain people out of the event, worried that they'll cause a rucus and disturb people of quality. That made me feel a little uncomfortable, like I was turning my nose up at people, which is something I'm sure all of us do when we live in or visit a developing country. I was really happy when one of the people who had been chosen to name a gorilla turned around and faced the crowd of people, and told them "this event is for you". I was also pleased that the prime minister took a significant amount of time as he exited the event to talk to and shake hands with the people on "the other side" of the fence. At some point, the guards must have gotten more relaxed or the crowd went wild, because towards the end of our meal (when I think they were encouraging us to leave), a large part of the crowd behind the fence came in and stormed through the dining area and all around, taking food and collecting empty bottles. They were chased away, btu of course, I was left feeling a little guilty and awkward.

I would still say that Kwita Izina is a great event, and I look forward to attending it next year.