My cousin watches a lot of films that have been dubbed in Kinyarwanda. I don’t mind the *idea* of that, but the dubs are SO BAD! It would be one thing if the translator just translated but he botches the attempt so poorly it renders the film virtually unwatchable.
Imagine this: you’re watching a dubbed film and the translations are being done… then the movie pauses, rewinds (and has the rewind symbol on the screen) and starts back twenty seconds earlier, the guy still translating. I know what you’re thinking: maybe it takes longer to translate the English into Kinyarwanda, so he has to run it back. Nope. It takes longer because he does his job poorly. He takes time to mock actors, laugh at the film, and make groans or screams for characters– last I checked onomatopoeia didn’t need translation. He seems to fancy himself an action star, and never misses a chance to deliver a pithy one-liner himself: in ENGLISH. Mel Gibson or Bruce Willis says something that sounds cool and this joker immediately repeats it: in ENGLISH. Um, thanks? I don’t see why anyone could possibly need this feature, since they either don’t speak English or they do and they don’t need a random guy parroting the star. It’s selfish self-aggrandizement, and it’s grating to hear this.
Furthermore, the guy has a thick accent. In a recent film someone was watching, they mention Tampa, Florida. Or, “Tom-Pah Flow-Reeda” as the narrator explained it. He also seems to explain what happens on screen at times, as if the audience is blind. Maybe some of his audience *is* blind, but then why does he only do this sporadically, usually when the sound effects would explain this for him? It’s a really shoddy production and it gets on my nerves so easily.
You know what would be a whole lot better than this guy and his junky dubs? How about this little thing called subtitles? People who speak Kinyarwanda can [generally] read Kinyarwanda… why doesn’t someone just set up a subtitling business? VLC, the program that like everyone uses here to play movies on their laptops, has a feature that lets you pop in subtitle files, so this seems like it would be not only a superior option but also easier. Someone should get on this.
The powder-blue bucket in these pictures is a traditional Rwandan sorghum beer. After the baptism everyone headed over to the proud parents’ home where they were treated to sips of the beer, good company, and a tasty home-cooked feast.
The village kids were peeking in to the compound to see what all the fuss was about, and there was enough beer to go around so they were invited to enter and partake.
A few weekends ago, my Papa’s friends had a baptism ceremony for their infant child. Papa chartered a matatu bus and we crammed into it, along with fourteen other friends and relatives and rode out to the town of Kibeho, which Rwandans call “The Holy Land”. This title is due to the town being the site of a number of visions of the Virgin Mary, which has made it a site of pilgrimage and meditation for Catholics from all over the world.
The church in which this ceremony took place was an extremely nice one; far fancier (yet more modest in size) than the Rwandan churches I have seen thus far. Once we stepped inside, we might have been back in the United States– unlike most churches in the country which are brick or cement in construction, this edifice prominently (if not boastfully) showed off the finery of its gleaming wooden interior. The pulpit had been made special to match the wood finish.
The church was packed, both with attendees who had made a special trip for the scheduled baptism, as well as regular church attendees there for their weekly Mass. Most of these churchgoers were secondary school students, immediately identifiable by their school uniforms which they wore (likely as their Sunday best). An organ-synthesizer tucked away in the corner played soft “background music” while people met and greeted each other; cameras flashing periodically as people sought to capture the special day.
The service began thirty minutes later, as one of the students rose from the pews and stood atop the podium. The congregation grew silent, and the girl rose her hands in the air. The organ played an introductory note, and the students began to sing– joined by any other guests who happened to know the hymn in question. As it was a Kinyarwanda translation, I merely hummed along, watching the students as they slowly swayed back and forth with the music, and filled the church with their singing. The conductor’s eyes were precisely focused, their hands zipping this way and that while the students’ voices harmonized expertly.
There were a number of songs, then the priest took the podium. There was a Mass in a combination of Kinyarwanda and Latin, and which also included communion. Afterward, it was time for the baptism. The mother and father brought their child to the front of the congregation and the child was prayed over. The priest anointed the baby with holy water from a goblet, streams of it running down through the baby’s frizzy hair to the white tile floor below. At this, the audience knelt; the priest leading the congregation in praying over the baby.
Two more hymns concluded the service, and then those who had come for the baptism began to file out of the church. We rounded the building, and came upon an enormous nativity scene, featuring painted plastic statuary. All of this was arranged under a circular canopy, making the scene slightly reminiscent of a stationary merry-go-round. Everyone took pictures here along with the newly-baptized child and his parents, and that concluded the baptism event.
While I was born and raised in the church, I’ve always been hesitant to worship in other communities. Partly this is due to my coming from a non-denominational background; I believe that there are many roads to God, but I am more comfortable worshipping in the ways in which I am accustomed. Other churches– and particularly so in other countries– are fine, but particularly in cases where services are conducted in other languages, I haven’t felt very compelled to attend.
Peace Corps addressed this during training, and noted that it would be an individual choice. In Rwanda, services can last anywhere from 3-7 hours, and as such, few of us were particularly enthusiastic about attendance. Those who made the decision either belonged to the religion of their local place of worship, or else did so in order to participate in the choir. Religion is a big deal in Rwanda: churches fill up quickly on Sundays and the buildings are subsequently surrounded by tardy adherents, wishing to glean as much as they can from the words which escape the opened doors and windows. Responding to the fact that many of the volunteers were not likely to attend services, Peace Corps offered an easy “out” to anyone not wishing to offend their community members as they declined to worship: “I belong to a different church”.
My line is that I’m a baptist, as it also helps me avoid having to embarrass myself by dancing in public. My [American] mother was the daughter of a baptist minister and she grew up in a very “Footloose”-kind of situation. To date, my white lie of being a baptist has served me well, and avoided hurt feelings. I can also offer that I don’t speak enough Kinyarwanda, but the more I learn the harder it is to pull that one off. Sometimes people even offer to translate for me. I tried that once, and the priest would preach a paragraph or so, and my translators would say, “Oh, here he talks about God’s love.” I think I could have gotten about as much from simply reading the Bible on my own. For the most part, that’s exactly what I’ve been doing.
The thing is, being invited to this service opened my eyes to something that I have been missing in Rwanda. The students’ singing was good– really good. Had I been blindfolded, I would have believed I was listening to a professional choir. They held copybooks in front of them, and from my seat I could make out the hymns, handwritten in the same red and blue cursive scrawl that they use in class. Here, with the same materials they had in their schools, the students were displaying astonishing proficiency– was it because they were more committed to their faith than to their education? I considered that this was fairly good evidence that my students don’t apply themselves sufficiently in class. But then I wondered if perhaps this was indicative of a more affluent school, or that perhaps these students attended a Catholic institution connected to the church. My Papa explained that they came from various secondary schools in the area, and that none had any affiliation with the church, “Yet many students practice singing together in a formalized time. They are responsible for arranging it, though.” They sing so beautifully I don’t want to fault them, but at the same time this goes to show what students are capable of when they care about what they are doing.
This blog post is dedicated to questioner Sarah Ring, who asks about the difference living in Rwanda my first time as well as at present.
After my Peace Corps service was over, my heart remained in Rwanda. I would have these beautiful, wonderful dreams on a weekly, sometimes daily basis: I was back in Rwanda; back in my old life in Kagogo. Things were as they should have been, and life was good– until I would ultimately wake up. And then I’d notice that I wasn’t encapsulated under a mosquito net, and I wasn’t back in my old bedroom, facing my dresser with its scene of African animals on its cloth front.
It was always hard, re-realizing that I was not in Rwanda. I never seemed to get used to it, and Rwanda followed me every day. I would slip into Kinyarwanda while pulling out the ingredients for a sandwich, grab my right elbow with my left hand while shaking people’s hands, and wore ibitenge couture to classes. I cooked Rwandan meals and listened to Rwandan music, and bided my time until I could return.
I returned to Rwanda in April of this year, and it has been such a treat being back. This new experience has started very similarly to the last one– I’m living in Nyanza (in the same village even), and spend a lot of time with my host family that Peace Corps gave me. When I was a Peace Corps Trainee, this was just a training town; ultimately the volunteers in my group would be scattered across the country and have new friends, new lives, and new homes for the duration of our 27 months. This time, it’s the real deal.
Last time I had a home on my boarding school’s property– three rooms that shared walls with some teacher chambers. I had an entryway/ living room, a bedroom, and a kitchen/ dining room. I also had a fireplace, which was nice for warming up after getting soaked to the bone on the hour and a half trek back from Kidaho, for cooking, and also served as a bed for my sweet puppy, Remington Steele. I had the cleanest pit latrine in all the land about six steps from my front door, and next to it, a shower house where I took frigid-cold bucket baths. From my yard you could see not one but two volcanoes.
Now I live with my Papa, my brother, and my cousin; and on our compound we also have Elysees, our umukozi. We have three bedrooms in the main house, and one of these is mine. There is also an entry room, a living room/dining room, and a storeroom for vegetables and cooking supplies. Outside we have a “slant-style” pit latrine, and next to it, a shower room– but my Papa has hooked up a real shower head to a pipe running from our outdoor sink spigot, so you can get real showers! Well, when the water is running, anyways, which is like 4-5 days a week. The water is brisk but so far has never been cold– I’ve even taken showers during pouring rain. It’s really nice to have this luxury, but I still take a good number of bucket baths.
A big difference is that since I have a family, I have different responsibilities. Elysees does the shopping, the cooking, and the dishes. He also sweeps, mops, and pretty much all the rest of the household work. I’ve felt it was important to do my own laundry, but any time he sees me doing it, he swoops in the second I leave the clothes to soak, and finishes them for me. I’m going to get him a nice gift to thank him, since I have realized that trying to get him to let me do them is a battle I am not likely to win.
I had definitely built up Rwanda in my head during my time in America. Any of its weaknesses had been excreted, and its positive attributes embellished. People listening to me ramble about Rwanda must have thought I had viewed it as the promised land– and perhaps it was. Now that I’m back, I’m just as positive about this amazing country, and I could see myself living here for many, many years! The biggest difference this time around has been about the PCVs. As of now, there are maybe five volunteers in Rwanda who were here during my service– and more than one is on their way out shortly. I had imagined spending time with volunteers, collaborating on projects, and otherwise just getting to hear about volunteer life here. The few PCVs I met within my first weeks here were especially friendly and invited me to an all-volunteer conference, but when I didn’t hear back from the country director, I decided not to be a distraction. I didn’t go, and since then my contact with PCVs has been virtually non-existent.
A representative of the southern region invited me to a meet-up in Huye, about an hour from here. I got to the restaurant early and waited– and waited, and waited. A few hours later, it was clear it wasn’t going to happen. One of the waitresses had asked who I was waiting for, and finally relayed that they had moved the meeting. I went home feeling dejected, and every time since I’ve asked about a meet-up they tell me it has either just taken place or won’t happen for a long time. It’s hard not to take that personally.
Nyanza even has its own PCV– like a ten or fifteen minute’s walk from my house. She’s in charge of overseeing the Peace Corps/ USAID project in collaboration with the Rwandan Ministry of Justice in which volunteers help to teach English to judges, lawyers, and other courtroom staff. I had been a member of this project back in the day. I reached out to this volunteer a number of times through the phone, and every time she offered just a curt reply which ignored much of what I had said in the message. After a month or two of this, she finally explained that she spends all her time with her boyfriend and has no time for new friends. How nice. My interactions (or lack-thereof) with the volunteers have been my one disappointment since I have arrived. The Ed 6 group just got to country, though, and the Nyanza volunteer will be replaced in a couple of months, so I have hope for the future.
I truly love Rwanda. This country was and is my home. I’m in love.
There was a guy seated in my row on my flight from Toronto to Addis Ababa who was going to be volunteering in South Sudan as part of a missions trip. He had never been anywhere in Africa yet but was optimistic and eager to get involved with his organization. As the plane boarded and ascended into the sky, we discussed our work and I gave him some tips, such as “ALWAYS adhere to your organization’s safety tips”. He agreed that made sense, acknowledging that South Sudan wasn’t going to be a cakewalk. I wished him well for his one-year assignment. Hopefully he will do some good work while he is there.
While waiting for my flight to Kigali, a twenty-something girl approached me hesitantly. “Are you an American?” She asked me. I said I was, and asked the same of her. She nodded, clearly stressed, and I motioned for her to sit and join me.
It turned out that we live in the same town in the United States, and were both heading to Rwanda to do some volunteering. This was her first trip to Africa and she was a little nervous about it. I helped to calm her down and assuage some of her fears, telling her about cool things to do or see in Rwanda, relaying some personal experiences, and making her a simple Kinyarwanda phrase book of the most crucial sayings for someone new. We exchanged phone numbers and email addresses and made plans to get together next week once her orientation is done.
It’s always exciting to encounter other people who similarly want to make a difference, and it’s nice to be in a position to offer advice or counsel, being the more-experienced volunteer. I hope that they will be impactful in their communities and return to the United States with opened eyes, ready to tell others about what they have seen and what they did.