A storm in the distance, seen from our backyard.
The view from our front door on a windy day.
I wake up each morning between 5:30 and 7. I go out to the back yard and hula hoop for a few minutes before cleaning up. If we have running water, I take a cold shower in our shower room, which is adjacent to our pit latrine; otherwise a take a bucket bath. I get dressed, and then take breakfast once other people are ready. Some days breakfast consists of avocado mixed with mayonnaise, vinegar, and sliced onions; other times we have bread with butter or jam and fresh fruit. Every morning we drink delicious Rwandan tea.
Depending on our schedules, after breakfast we might head into town for errands, or Papa might go off to work. I tend to spend my mornings right now reading, studying Kinyarwanda, or conversing with neighbors. Romeo and I have also started playing “abanani abasazi” (crazy eights).
Lunch is rice with beans and cabbage (just like at my old school in Kagogo) and a hearty scoop of urusenda sauce. After lunch I usually spend some more time practicing Kinyarwanda, conversing with my family, or taking a walk through the area– I’ve been learning lots of words through introducing myself to lots of people. In the evening, we often watch the national news in Kinyarwanda.
For the meat-eaters, dinner is usually the same. Papa loves ubugali, which is a cassava-flour pasty-bread-like substance– you grab a hunk with your hand and dip into a sauce of vegetables and meat. Each person gets their own bowl of sauce, but share from the same platter of ubugali. I get simple but delicious meals such as potatoes, rice, plantains or pasta with cabbage and beans. Sometimes I even get chips, or we have huge avocado chunks on top!
After dinner, Papa might whip out his laptop so we can watch a movie dubbed in French. Otherwise we may just sit around talking until someone admits they are tired and we all go to bed. Once I get to my room, I tend to be asleep within two minutes. And then a new day begins! Village life starts early.
A solemn procession leaving Kwibuka 20’s commemoration –(Nyanza, Rwanda)
A speech is about to start at Kwibuka 20 –(Nyanza, Rwanda)
I wish that this post had been made the day of the Kwibuka 20 commemoration of the genocide, and not weeks afterward when it was old news. At this point, there’s little I can offer that hasn’t been discussed elsewhere, and any urgency has been lost. Still, I think it’s important that I acknowledge the commemoration– both the event itself, as well as what it stands for. I want to share my experience and my thoughts, and I hope that it’s not too late.
Papa and I stood in the hot morning sun amongst a growing crowd. On any other day, we might have all been waiting here for the shuttle to town, but today the bus would not be running. It was Kwibuka 20, the twentieth commemoration of the Rwandan genocide. The residents of our cell slowly gathered and then we formed a quiet procession to the site of Nyanza’s commemoration venue, a driving school about ten minutes away. A large banner hung over the seats in the covered bleachers, and the field was set up with tent canopies and plastic chairs. Papa and I were seated close to the podium and we waited for the other cells of Nyanza district to arrive.
The commemoration was long, but it didn’t feel like it. There were speeches, then testimony from survivors– Papa translated the heartbreaking accounts for me in detail. The audience maintained near-silence throughout the commemoration, save for several people who broke down, wailing. One of them started to scream emotionally, but once she had regained some of her composure, began to shout repeated thanks to the RPF, whom she credited with saving her life. The crowd murmured with familiarity– twenty years may have passed, but the scars of the genocide were omnipresent for its survivors. While the commemorations once provided an outlet in which Rwandans could vent, the transition to “moving past” invariably meant that some people would explode– one could only bottle up their emotions for so long.
Later, a professional sound system was used so that we could hear the radio broadcast of the commemoration event in Kigali; that night at home we watched the video footage on the news. It initially seemed encouraging that the commemoration was getting such prominent attention on international news– much of the world seems to know Rwanda for the horrors of the genocide, and in America I have met a number people who believe it is ongoing. Maybe it’s good that news of the commemoration would reach around the world; that the image of reconciliation might replace that of the genocide. Yet I was reminded of a quote from John le Carre’s The Constant Gardener which “distinguished absolutely between pain observed and pain shared. Pain observed is journalistic pain. It’s diplomatic pain. It’s television pain, over as soon as you switch off your beastly set.”
And that’s what it is, isn’t it? Call me a cynic, but the world failed to intervene when the genocide took place, and it feels like paying a modicum of attention on the twentieth anniversary was the least that could be done. But a lot of the commentary (that I heard, at least) seemed to dwell on the current tensions between Rwanda and France. As far as I am aware, the media neglected to put these tensions in context– not once did I hear Operation Turquoise mentioned by name– and overall coverage was extremely superficial, highlighting power players’ participation more than the commemoration itself. Ban Ki-moon’s soundbite, “We could have done more. We should have done more” was replayed over and over again as if to say, “Okay, we’ve acknowledged our inaction. Twenty years have passed, and let’s move on.”
The rest of the world might be able to switch off their televisions and move on with their lives, but for me this was pain shared. I sat in the audience with the rest of my community– my papa, my neighbors, and my friends– choking back tears as we listened to testimony. I’m choking them back now. I appreciate that for me this hits closer to home, but I still don’t understand how the world can ignore such pain. Maybe the world just doesn’t care about Rwanda. I sure hope I’m wrong.
So you’re relaxing at home with your brother, and four village kids come in to visit. None of them speak more than a few words in English– what do you do?
My Kinyarwanda was definitely useful, but it could only get me so far with these kids. Faced with potentially sitting in uncomfortable silence for a couple hours, I sprang into action and found some ways of entertaining everyone that transcend language. First I showed off some human tricks: bending my fingers to the back of my wrist easily ate up fifteen minutes as the children continued to chant, “again, again!” After that, I showed them that I could whistle with my tongue– this turned out to be more impressive than I had expected, as none of the kids knew how to whistle, period. I then showed them I could whistle through my teeth, and finally my lips. Then I showed them– I don’t know what it’s called, but that thing where you bend your middle fingers down, flip a hand around, and suddenly you have these dancing middle fingers? I’m not sure if this has a specific name, but in case you’re still struggling to know what I mean, it’s something one of the Indians (I’d say Native Americans but they lived in Neverland) in Disney’s Peter Pan does in a song. I brought out my Kalimba and played a couple songs for the kids, and then let them make some music, too. We had a tongue-sticking-out contest (the six year old girl won that one… yikes, she has a longer tongue than me! We spent hours just being silly and making faces and having fun, and before I knew it, they had to go home for dinner. I hope that they’ll come again.
Willy took me into town and helped me run some errands. We got me SIM cards for my phone, ibitenge cloth, and he was a tremendous help in finding me a new umudozi (tailor). My previous umudozi, Mama Nyota, had moved to Kigali full-time and no longer worked in Nyanza. I decided someone local made more sense, and Willy helped me find someone who wasn’t going to cheat me. Through a combination of my Kinyarwanda and Willy’s assistance, I explained what I wanted, and the umudozi said I’d have it in a week. Afterward, Willy took me on a brief tour of the new market, which had increased in size and moved into the location which had been under construction the last time I was here. Willy is very knowledgable and it was great he was able to show me around.
My papa introduces me to Willy, a twenty-something technician who lives in our compound and frequently helps out around the house. Willy takes meals with us when he is around, and we’re becoming fast friends. I asked him if he might call the airport for me and check on my bag– the help desk informed him that the bag had been located, and was on its way from Doha! It would be here the next day. My papa and I arranged to travel there in the morning.
Little did I know that Papa had other business in Kigali, as well. After eating breakfast we took an early bus into the city and Papa took me around as we did some things on his to-do list. One of these things was visiting a military funeral! We traveled to a military cemetery in a grove of pine trees, and stood solemnly throughout the service, which included a gunfire salute followed by the burial. From there, everyone slowly journeyed through the graveyard– I’m glad I didn’t have my camera with me as I would have been tempted to take pictures– and regrouped at a nearby bar where there were some speeches and everyone enjoyed a Fanta or two.
From there, Papa and I walked to the airport, and it only took me a couple of minutes to collect my bag, which was in perfect condition and untampered with. We waited outside at a bus stop until Papa’s friend picked us up– we would spend the night at his house. He stopped after a few minutes of driving and Papa and I got out– the car drove off, my luggage inside. I was confused, but Papa explained we were having dinner with a different friend, first– after that we would head to the place we were sleeping. Knowing the plan, that sounded perfectly reasonable. We entered a very rural part of Kigali I had never seen before, and were ushered into a small, one-room house about half the size of my bedroom at our house in Nyanza.
The room had a made-up mattress on the floor, and hanging above it, a mosquito net.
There was also a wall-length shelf/ counter, which held clothing, cooking supplies, and on top, serving dishes of food and some drinks. Papa explained that our hostess, Josie, had graduated from cooking school and was now the cook for a white family in Kigali.
Josie treated us to a delicious meal, consisting of chips with mayonnaise mixed with ketchup (a delicacy here), mixed vegetables, some plain pasta, rice and beans, and some hot sauce. I washed it down with the Skol 5 (a new beer here) she had gotten for me. Papa doesn’t drink beer (just whiskey) so he had a small bottle of that. We thanked Josie profusely and I amazed her with my slowly-returning Kinyarwanda skills.
Starting to make eights, we then took a motorcycle taxi, then a bus, and then another motorcycle before continuing on foot. We arrived at the house and got ready for bed, falling quickly to sleep.
In the morning, we were treated to omelets, bread with butter, and fresh fruit for breakfast, with hot tea. The rain poured down outside and our host, Raphael, put on a movie dubbed in French: apparently it was an adaptation of Little Red Riding Hood that had come out while I was in Rwanda last time. I didn’t understand the French, but from context I was able to figure out what was happening… afterwards I got to explain werewolves to my hosts. Naturally. Everyone always asks me to explain supernatural things… and I always know the answers. Raphael had a super cute baby who had a full head of soft, frizzy hair that was like baby alpaca yarn.
In the early afternoon we thanked Raphael’s family and headed to another rural, village area of Kigali and spent some time with some more family friends. I was given a Fanta orange to drink (“like a girl”), and later we went en masse in search of a cellphone for me that wouldn’t come with a Muzungu price. Eventually after stopping at ten places or so, we found a suitable one and I got it. We did a little more shopping and then Papa and I headed home. It was such a great trip! Honestly it was the most fun I had ever had in Kigali (sorry RPCVs)– it was really like seeing the city for the first time.