Umwaka Mushya Muhire!

Right now I am sitting on the third level balcony of the Discovery Rwanda Youth Hostel. A beam of sunshine is hitting my keyboard and I have a view of the thatched roof jutting out over the second outdoor common area downstairs. In front of the thatched roof is a tall tree. It’s branches are covered in small leaves that look like miniature ferns. To the right is a view that looks out over Kigali, the land of 1,000 hills. I feel really calm and nostalgic because this place has changed me, made me a better person and a braver artist. I am humbled to be back and thankful for each lesson I can carry into 2015, 2016, 2017…

I rang in the new year in Rwanda. Mwaramutze, 2015! Rwanda is the perfect place for new beginnings. Rwandans celebrate the birth of a new day everyday, so New Year’s Eve is amplified. They get together with family and friends, attend church, sing, and clink beer glasses once the sun sets. 

On New Year’s Eve our group was treated to a delicious meal under a canvas of trees outside the youth hostel. As the sky darkened we listened to spoken word artists and a guitar player around a bon fire. There were a variety of voices from around the world telling stories, laughing, and telling cheesy/naughty jokes. We mingled, made friends, and a few people went on a New Year’s Eve pub crawl. As much as a pub crawl in a Rwanda beckoned me (it’s one of the best ways to learn the neighborhood and meet new friends) my eyelids felt like they had five pound sandbags weighing them down. A strong reminder that I only slept two hours out of the past 36. You can sleep when you’re dead, right? Wrong. This girl needed some solid rest before embarking on a two and a half week journey filled with heart stretching experiences for our students. 

In the late morning we walked the neighborhood, stopping here and there to listen to stories about Rwanda’s history and present day. Carl Wilkens was the storyteller. He filled in about 150 years of history into a ten minute talk. It’s a wonder to have Carl here to fill in students on what happened before, during, and after the genocide. As many times as I hear him speak I always pick up new pieces of information each time he tells stories. That’s the magic of storytelling - stories evolve as people evolve. The more we reflect on events in our lives the better we can retell them and, in particular, share crucial lessons from the story. 

After the history walk, we ate lunch at Karibu, which is Swahili for "Welcome." Everyone told stories about their childhoods, college experiences, and asked questions like "If a genie gave you the chance to do one thing, what would it be?" I smile when I hear the crew energetically respond to happy and sad stories. It means they've all experienced struggle and joy in their lives. It also makes me think about how little we get to do this with people in our own communities, and if we did, how different we would handle each other. This is what makes Rwanda unique. There is natural ear for storytelling, and I wish the whole world could make a pass through this tiny country because they'd feel like they matter. And when we feel like we matter we shut up and listen to someone else’s story so they can experience that same connection. Opening up to our group’s story preps us for tomorrow’s trip to the Kigali Genocide Memorial, the first of a few memorial visits we will make. I am eager to hear the groups words on the lush gardens and the exhibit of the memorial. Heart stretching grows emotional vocabulary very fast. I also know, deep in my stomach, that it will be difficult as it is each time I visit because the contrast between the beauty of present day Rwanda is vast from the horrors of 1994. This is our very first day of research. This is when our new play begins.

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This evening the students rehearsed the short play “Anne Frank in Rwanda.” In a nutshell, acting outdoors in a brand new place filled with meaning and wonder does an artist a lot of good. World, meet the next ensemble of sensitive and courageous ACTivists.

I finished this blog well after dinner and a card game that I won in a landslide (had to boast, ha!) Christmas lights are still twinkling against the black sky and there is only one pale gecko resting on the stuccoed wall behind me. I wonder where his friends went to spend the night.