Sunday, April 11, 2010

Genocide Memorial Week

This week marks the 16th anniversary of the beginning of the genocide that took place in Rwanda. While this was a huge tragedy that marked every person living here and elsewhere), it's unfortunately the primary thing Rwanda is known for.

On April 6th, Philip Gourevitch, the author of the book, "We Wish to Inform You", came to Never Again to conduct an interview with some of the staff. I was fortunate enough to get to meet him. I told him how much I loved his book, and how I felt few Westerners really understood Rwanda the way he did.

April 7th marks the beginning of the genocide, and it is a national day of mourning. I joined a handful of my fellow staff members as well as some of the members of Never Again youth clubs in participating in the "Walk to Remember", hosted by Aegis. The march started at the parliament and ended at Amahoro Stadium. I was surprised by the lack of speeches, which seem to always accompany public events here. When we arrived at the stadium, there were many people, mostly Rwandans but also a good percentage of ex-pats. I ran into a few people I recognized, including some of the Peace Corps staff.

Most of the event included musical performances, gospel singing in particular. The singers were extremely talented, and I recognized some of the songs. Some of the songs were general, others were about the genocide in particular and the reunification of Rwanda. I opted to stay sitting on track instead of in the stadium seats- it made me feel closer to the people there. I ended up sitting right in front of Paul Kagame, who was in the stadium seats. He did not stay very long, at least from where anyone could see him.

As night fell, the stadium lights were turned off and we passed around the flame between the individual candles that had been passed out to us. This was the first time in my life I'd ever participated in a vigil, and it really touched me. Two years ago, before I knew I'd be living in Rwanda, I never could have imagined participating in this event. I remember hearing about the Rwandan genocide many years ago, but I never thought that I would one day get to know so many Rwandans, and be able to listen to their stories and take part in their traditions. Reading about some far away place in a newspaper article is so drastically different from actually participating in an event that, up until recently, seemed like it had nothing to do with my life. I don't pretend to know or understand everything about Rwanda and it's people, but while I stood there among thousands in silence, with the wax drip burning my fingers, it suddenly hit me. I may not be Rwandan, but I feel deeply connected to this country, and its forevor burned into my life and memory.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Burundi, Betrayal, and the Kasubi Tombs

A few years ago, my father gave me some words of advice. He said that I had to be extra cautious about who I let into my life, because I wasn't good at reading people. There are many things my father has told me that I did not feel were accurate, but in this case he's 100% correct. I can't read people worth a damn. Due to an instance that recently happened, I realized I sincerely have no clue who's genuine and who's fake. There were two people in my life who I held rather close and thought respected me. I was completely wrong. I got double stabbed in the back, and it's definitely forced me to re-evaluate how I read people. It's unfortunately made me feel like I really can't trust anyone, and it sux.

We all lie from time to time for various reasons-we did something we weren't supposed to do and we don't want to suffer the consequences, we don't want to hurt someone's feelings, we're unsure but don't want to admit it, etc. However, I had no idea how much people lie, and I honestly believe I'm one of the more honest people in this world. I really don't like lies and deceit, and most of the times I have been dishonest, I later came clean cause I can't handle the guilt. Maybe that's due to my upbringing. From now on, I'm going to be extra catious about who comes close to me, because I don't want to get screwed over again and played for a fool. Moving on...

I went to Burundi! I had a three day weekend due to Good Friday, so of course I took advantage. I flew in (it only took about 25 minutes)and walked out of the airport to see the most perfect rainbow in my life! My roommate, Emma, took the bus and met up with me at the hotel. We had an awesome time, and I can say with much confidence that this was one of the best vacations I've ever had. I got to eat and drink things I haven't had in ages, and I barely spent a cent! Emma and I spent most of our time hanging with this one group of people, going to the beach (sand by lake Tanganyika), and just walking around the streets of Bujumbura. It did rain for part of the time, but when it did we'd just drink mojitos at Bora Bora, this cute little bar on the beach, and watch the storm.

Burundi's not drastically different from Rwanda, and it was nice to be able to use my Kinyarwanda. In Rwanda, us PCVs constantly experience the following situtation: We ask a stranger something in Kinyarwanda. They laugh for a bit and before answering the question, they always go "uzi Kinyarwanda?!" (You know Kinyarwanda?) In Burundi, it's the same scenario, except people kept saying "Uzi Kirundi?", which was a nice change of pace. (Other than a few minor differences, it's the same language). I got to jet ski for free, lay out on the beach, and swim in clear water with waves! I found Burundians (Burundese?) to be very friendly and outgoing. After visiting both Burundi and Uganda, I've realized how reserved and quiet most Rwandans are.

Emma and I danced the macarena with some teenagers, and they told us that we needed to spread the word that Burundi is a good country with good people. Therefore, that's what I'm doing through this blog. Without going into too much detail, let me just say that this vacation was much more luxurious than I ever could have anticipated.
In sadder news, the Kasubi Tombs burnt down. Emma and I were fortunate enough to see them about a month prior. From what I read, there were some casualties, during and after the fire. The Kasubi Tombs is considered a world heritage site and active religious place in the Buganda Kingdom. It is the burial ground for the previous four Kabakas, therefore, the Kasubi Tombs is a place where the Kabaka and others in Buganda’s cultural hierarchy frequently carry out important centuries-old Ganda rituals. The fire is truly a tragedy, and I'm deeply saddened to hear about it.