So soon!

Woohoo! My first blog post, of what I imagine will be one of the most exhilarating and meaningful experiences of my life. In exactly one week, I’ll be landing in Rwanda, Africa.

While others are planning their news years resolution, I’ll be on a fast track to start mine – a new insight on community and forgiveness, the powers underlying systemic evils, and how to effectively use storytelling and theatre to approach both of these issues.

So, theatre. I am not a theatre person. I spent this past summer in Italy teaching English under a company that prides itself on its “Theatrino” program (but you didn’t have to have a theatre background). However, I was working closely with an actor from Miami for the majority of the time, and I always felt second-best in my performance. He had an amazing amount of energy and worked so well with the kids – he was able to let loose and really become a kid himself. I thought it was just his special self, and I adapted a lot of his ‘tools’ for my future placements.

After recently attending a few rehearsals with this group, I realized that, although he of course is special, a lot of his talents of working with the kids were very similar to what I was seeing in these rehearsals. After my first rehearsal I remember speaking to Tamara about how much fun I had, and I was still on a high of excitement from it. I was nervous because I realized theatre isn’t about putting on a mask and faking it – it’s really about making the story your own; making it meaningful to yourself.  Which, although I was told this is easier, it felt much more daunting to me! Having to bring in my own personal ideas and feelings about the script felt very intrusive. As the sole education major with no theatre background, I felt my ideas were silly and unwanted. But I never got that reaction after sharing my ideas, the group has been so welcoming and encouraging towards me to open up. At first I was nervous as the only non-theatre student, but now I’m actually grateful for it! I think if there was another apprehensive student I would’ve felt more connected to them and would’ve held back because of our shared fears to perform. But, being ‘alone’ made it so much easier to force myself into acting, and to let loose with the rest of the gang. I’m feeling more confident about it! Dr. Paterson told me, a teacher is constantly acting. And I think this experience is going to do a lot for my teaching/performance ;)

As far as the history of Rwanda, I’m a bit ashamed that the only bits I knew about the country was from the movie – Hotel Rwanda. My history lessons were very minimal in regards to anything in Africa, and I can’t say the news has been all that informative either. I feel that our country generally considers Africa to be full of savages; we don’t ever hear about the beautiful or great strides they are making in several countries. The first remark I get about going to Rwanda has been about Ebola, even though I’m incredibly far from the outbreak…. Africa is massive… not a country, a continent! I’m hoping to get a better understanding of the country through this trip. It’s been amazing to read about it thus far. After the genocide in 1994, 70% of the population involved women. This meant women had to build up society again, in the midst of all the destruction. I find this amazing! Not only did the women have to maintain their motherly roles of the home, but they also had to fix a whole new nation. Even more so remarkable, the justice system was nonexistent after the massacre so many of the Hutu-extremists remained in Rwanda… even living next to the same people they tried to kill. This website provides a great perspective on this – the Tutsi survivors meeting, and forgiving, the Hutu perpetrators who’ve slaughtered their loved ones. It seems unfathomable, but beautiful. It’s so hard to even try to wrap my head around what that must feel like. It’s incredible what they have been able to do... to have the strength to move forward.

The power of influence is really interesting for me, and I’ve been reading a psychological book, The Lucifer Effect, which focuses on how “good people turn evil.” It was recommended to me after I visited the concentration camp, Sachsenhausen in Germany years ago. In addition to my lessons on African history, my lessons on the Holocaust were also rather questionable. Before visiting Germany, I was inclined to think that those Germans were simply ‘bad apples’ - that the water was temporality tainted and all the Germans lost their minds. That’s a problem. Why? Because that teaches us to think that atrocities and cruelty like genocide could never happen again – but yet it did, and it still does. I’m not sure if it’s because of the lack of resources or my own teachers’ avoidance of talking about such an emotional topic, but I think it’s important for students to understand the psychology, and overall history that goes on behind these horrific events - focusing purely on the terror creates just a superficial and distant attachment to what happened. It wasn’t until my visit that I learned that the majority of Germans did not support Hitler, and several of the consequences citizens and soldiers had to face which led to their questionable reactions. Similarly, there are reports from Hutu prisoners who claim that they didn’t want to take part in the killings but had to “in fear of being accused of complicity.” The reports go on to show that the Hutu were influenced to consider the Tutsi as enemies, as threats to their communities – even though they worked beside and befriended each other before. The use of dehumanizing the Jews and the Tutsi created a lack of emotional attachment or moral responsibility, and the added pressure to comply with authority’s demands in fear only worsened the situation. It’s been an interesting book so far and really looks into what forces influence people to act in cruel and incomprehensible ways. It doesn’t serve as an excuse, but I think it’s important to understand it. I don’t think its good to distant ourselves away from these events as if they’re isolated and incapable of being repeated… I think it’s best to understand so we can critique the questionable powers and pressures at work right now and do our best to operate against them. Even with recent events here in our own country, it’s getting pretty tense and it’s easy to fall into the role of passive bystander..

I also find it interesting that before colonization, the terms Hutu and Tutsi were merely associated with economic status- one could change between the terms over their lifetime. But, colonialists made specific definitions by measuring facial features to decide who is Hutu and who is Tutsi – it was a trivial term that spiraled into a way to segregate the population. These ‘new’ definitions created groundwork for genocide. The repeating idea of ‘separate but equal’ does anything but create harmony.

Quite a long post but being able to jot some of these ideas down is helping me synthesize everything. I’ve always tried to journal in all of my travels but I always ended up giving up - spending time doing other things rather than sitting down and writing about my day. I’m glad were asked to write because I think it’s going to be a really interesting experience and I think having some time to write about what I’ve experienced will help make sense of all the information I’ll be taking in!

Overall, I think it’s going to be a mind-opening experience in all kinds of ways. I cannot wait!