It’s been awhile since I’ve updated – I’ve been so busy here! But I’ll give a brief run through of a few days last week and will post more when I have time...
This weekend we had more time than usual to ourselves nothing major was planned. Saturday was our second market experience and I felt like I got a better hang on the bartering thing though it is still a challenge, It's how it works but I still can't help feeling bad asking for a lower price. In The afternoon we had our first full workshop experience at Inema arts studio where we presented our play had discussion and then we built a story together called Talking heals the Heart. It was a blast.
Dinner at Mr. Chips a Rwandan version of an American burger place was good, so much better than American fast food though it was a shock having so much grease after eating all the fresh Rwandan food we've been having.
Sunday Morning we went to church at a Zion Temple. The energy in the room was so amazing. I loved looking around the room at the people while they were singing, Such passion. The music was great. The rest of the service was preaching. There were some points that I just disagreed with. It seemed to me like the preacher was expressing that he had all the answers. His sermon was about describing the thoughts of God. I just don't think anyone can claim to have all the answers or have the only answer and definitely not claim to know the thoughts of God. That being said though he did have some really good points that really resonated with some of our experiences so far here in Rwanda.
Thanking before asking.
That is something that many Rwandans do that is so great. Our server last night after dinner said thank you for the opportunity to serve you. He then gave us each Kinyarwanda names. My name is Umucyo which means light. This is such a good way to live to first take in all that we are given even when it seems like little we can be so much happier. Then if there is still a need after we have thanked God for what we do have then we may ask for more blessings.
Peace before Justice.
This is so profound and it connects right into what we experienced at the prison camp. In America we are so focused on justice it is destructive. Justice is placed before everything else it seems. We always have to get even somehow. In a way justice becomes just a cleaner, more polite word for Revenge. If everyone continues to be set on justice all the time, if we always have to be right it will always be an endless chain. Be the one to break the chain. Seek peace before justice with your neighbor, your friend, your spouse, with the perpetrator. Put yourselves on level ground, see each others common humanity then later you can resolve issues as brothers and sisters in creation.
It was interesting to also connect this with a conversation we had later that night. Carl brought in a friend who was a professor and a survivor of the genocide to meet us and share some of his story. He told us about how he pleaded with the people who were going to kill him to let him tell his story first then they could kill him. The killers debated but then agreed to let him speak. After he spoke they debated some more but none of them was willing to kill him. What happened was that by stopping to listen to him they humanized him whereas in order to kill like they did they had to dehumanize their victims. He was now on level ground with them and they could no longer hate him. If we just let go or our intense need for justice and take time to really listen to and humanize the person with whom we have a problem we can make peace and and come up with solutions together as brothers and sisters. May we all be inspired by Rwanda and their power of forgiveness.
Though our weekend was less busy it was just as thought provoking. On Sunday afternoon Ashley and I had a nice walk and conversation with Pacifique and I bought some wonderful paintings from him that were painted by a 12 year old boy.
Murakoze na Amahoro - Thank you and Peace
Yesterday we went back to Buffalo's sister city of Muhanga to meet the mayor and donate two cows to two families. In Rwanda a cow means a lot. It provides milk and fertilizer for the family and their neighbors. A cow measures wealth, it raises a families status significantly. Though the ceremony was long and I had a hard time understanding it I could see the immense gratitude in the people's eyes. I could really appreciate how much this donation meant to them.
We then went to visit a couple families who had received gifts in the past. One family we visited had received a solar panel which made a huge difference for them because it allowed for their children and the children of the surrounding neighborhood to perform better in school because they could come and study after the sun went down.
After a nice lunch with the mayor we were in for a fun afternoon. We went to visit Mama Arlene's school and youth home. Here we had our first teaching endeavor where we presented our play for the teachers at the school and had a discussion with them about the use of drama in education and the impact that theater can have. It was fun doing an improv to demonstrate the equation 2+2=4. It seemed that the teachers were very receptive. We then went to visit the children at Mama's home. Mama Arlene was this great old woman from Pennsylvania who had established this whole complex on several acres of land for these children and the surrounding community. We played with them for awhile and then had to depart but most of us could have stayed there all day.
This was the beginning of a hopefully long relationship between Mama Arlene and the Anne Frank Project. Special thanks to Melissa and GEI for introducing us and scheduling us to visit there.
Thursday was a nice change from from the day before. We went to a small village in Muhanga and spent the whole day with a cooperative at two houses in an Umadungadu - neighborhood. We peeled Cassava root we cultivated the earth with hoes for a bit in their field and then carried grass on our heads and then went down to fetch water from a down the hill. We had lunch with the group of women. It was a feast, fresh off the tree avocado, Cassava, sweet potatoes, beans, corn and pineapple. We were stuffed and yet they kept bringing us more food. They are so hospitable. The afternoon we we sat in the shade with the women and were shown how to weave jewelry. My favorite part was playing with the kids, they were everywhere. I love how everyone there is part of one big family. We concluded the day with some dancing and then performed our piece for them. I really appreciated learning about how the people in the villages live. It's a humble lifestyle by our standards but it was very peaceful and I am constantly amazed by the sense of community here in Rwanda. We can learn so much from these people.
though it is afternoon Mwaramutse! to you all at home
Today we had one of my favorite experiences so far. We visited a beautiful school/orphanage run by a hilarious old white woman from Pennsylvania. She wore a lime green muumuu and everyone called her Mama. She started by showing us around her new building which holds a library, art room, music room, and small stage. Absolutely gorgeous, I didn’t want to leave. We performed for her teachers and spoke with them about incorporating drama-based education. They seemed a bit hesitant at first, but became more an more interested as we explained just how much storytelling can help kids to understand and engage with.
Then we were set loose to play with the kids. Mama had them sing a few songs for us- You Are My Sunshine, Happy And You Know It- then a few of them (including a one-year-old) led the rest in prayer. It was the cutest thing. Then she said “Alright, everyone grab a Muzungo (white foreigner) and go at it!”. They swarmed us. Their English was incredible, and they were full of questions. “My name is David,” one boy said (Earlier when talking about drama based education Mama said “David will love this-he can’t sit still”). He definitely had a lot to say- “Is there snow where you live?” “Why is Rebecca’s hair pink? Who did that to her?” “Do you have a boyfriend?” “Do you have a girlfriend?” His energy was all over the place and he reminded me strongly of a camper I’ve had- I’m sure any of my camp friends will know who I’m talking about. Finally he said “I don’t want to have a girl, I want to have a boy!” and left (“Ditto,” said Rob). My other kids kept changing, but I had a boy named Emmanuel and a girl named Sarah who loved singing camp songs with me. Sarah was especially fond of the Penguin Polka and kept asking for “the penguin one again!!” I loved playing with these kids. After so many months away from camp I couldn’t be happier to have kids to sing with, and I felt like I was back in my element. When the donations that we brought came out Emmanuel was thrilled. “Did you bring FOOD?!” he asked, but was equally happy when I said no, just toys and games. I was so sad to have to leave, this incredible place filled with kids and the arts (not to mention their farm that we didn’t see) was like a little utopia. I hope through AFP I can become involved with storybuilding in classrooms, because working with kids fills me with such a joy and energy that I can’t find anywhere else.
Wednesday we started the day with some good acting exercises at the GEI office followed by lunch once again at one of our favorite restaurant buffets, Karibu which is Swahili for welcome. I just have to take a moment to brag about the food here. I always eat too much. It has been amazing Fresh fruit every day, oh and the avocado here, wow so good. I bought a mango the other day at a local market, I overpaid because I didn’t barter but it was beautifully delicious, worth every franc.
In the afternoon we took a long drive to visit the Murambi Genocide memorial. Fortunately we first stopped for lunch and wonderful homemade ice-cream from Sweet Dreams, a ice cream parlor opened to help support the women drumming group called Ingoma Nshya. Here's a link to check out what they are about.
The afternoon was difficult I don't know how to really describe what happened at this memorial. Murambi was a technical school that was under construction during the genocide where tutsis were told would be a safe place for them to go, but it was a deceit. Thousands of Tutsis died in the classrooms at this school.
Murambi is unique in that they display actual bodies preserved in Lime in the classrooms. The experience seemed surreal. As we went through the memorial I knew that it was real but just the way that they were presented it seemed like a grotesque art exhibit. I respect making sure what happened is remembered but I still don't know what to think even several days later. As we walked through the rooms I felt like I needed to feel something; grief, sorrow, anger, even confusion I searched and searched looking for something to move me but all I could do was walk through stone faced. An approaching thunderstorm seemed poetic to where we were but even still the feelings were blank. I know what happened, I know it was terrible I just could not connect with Murambi. Fortunately at the end the atmosphere was ironically lightened by Rebecca Rob and I getting stuck in a blackout and Molly laughing in the rain. Perhaps later I will have something else to say about Murambi or perhaps my blank stone faced reaction was the best most appropriate reaction I could have had.
Captain Samuel M. Merriman of the ship HisThoughtsAndExperiencesAboutRwandaTrip2014/2015 (who comes up with these names?) signing in, it is Information Age Date: January 3rd, 2015:
Today we went to our second Genocide Memorial: Nyamata Genocide Memorial. The interesting fact about Nyamata was that it is a church and thought to be a holy/safe place for the Tutsi. The tragedy happened were the Hutu came and started shooting on the church. The slaughtering happened quickly and a few people able to flee to the forest and survive. It was very tough to listen to our tour guide has he led around the church. The most difficult moment came when he took us to a memorial added under the church. From ceiling to floor white laminate square tile swallowed the room and in the center was a glass triangle. The contents of said triangle from top to bottom: Bones of arms and legs, next many skulls with different fractures or bullet hole, and lastly at the bottom was a coffin with a woman resting inside.
Here is the story behind this young lady:
She was raped multiple times, by multiple men and then was killed. But her story does not end there, after being raped and murdered the soldiers tied her hands to her feet in a looking up to heaven triangle pose, and then interested a stick through her private area all the way up to her shoulder – I also think they cut off an arm as well.
Needless to say that was an extreme story and very hard to take in, just the complete and utter destruction and violence of the Hutu onslaught on the Tutsi. The picture only worsened as events were furthered explained. After the majority of the adults were killed, the Hutu came in and rounded up any remaining children lined them up against the back of the Alter, and then started shooting or bashing them against the wall. We moved out of the church and to the mass graves in the back. The tour ended there with our guide saying the site is still finding bodies and the body count is increasing always.
The real gift of this trip came when a man with a sweater vest started talking and his translator said, “I would like to tell you my story, I was here when the killing happened”, his story continued and he told us his wife and four kids (eldest was 5) were all killed here. He thanked us for coming and for honoring all the dead. His name was Pastor Vianney Ntez’ryayo and his story touched the whole group, this led to a group prayer led by Carol! This pray was powerful it was just beautifully said off the top of Carl’s head.
There is a picture I will upload as soon as I can! Internet is being not very nice!
On the bus ride back I reflected on what happened and wrote this poem. This poem like the first is not finished, but I just wanted to throw it up on the blog so you all had something to read! Again it is just a reflection of how each one of us could be stoppers or helpers of genocide.
I Am Who Am
I am Sam, Sam I am
That is what I know.
But who is Sam?
That is what I want to know.
I am who can never let genocide happen again.
I am who can let genocide happen again.
I still don’t know what is to come.
Hands ever present, guiding me along.
Are we all too far gone to change?
I’m struggling to see where I belong.
All I know I’m not I am who am.
The other day I met a young man, Pacifique, at the hostel and I’ve been meaning to write about it. He was visiting the hostel for the free internet and is a local Rwandan in Kigali. He asked me about my day and was really friendly, despite my quiet and stressed demeanor – this was after I visited the prisoner’s community camp and I was still shaken up about it.
Eventually we got into conversation about his amazing work. He is a survivor of the genocide and his family, like many others, suffered financially after the genocide. He had to resort to becoming a ‘street kid’ – begging for money and food. He couldn’t afford schooling and eventually looked for work to help his mother with money. He was working near a Canadian man who questioned why such a young boy was working and not in school. This Canadian man, after hearing his story, then decided to pay for the rest of Pacifique’s schooling. Pacifique still kept in close contact with his fellow street kids, often teaching and sharing what he learned in school. He mentioned that these kids became his brothers and sisters, always looking out for each other.
Now, Pacifique has graduated. He is an artist – but he doesn’t just sell his art for profit. He still has a great love and devotion for the children living on the streets and a large portion of his profits go to paying for these children’s education! He shared some of his documents with me that reviewed each child’s story and the costs of their schooling per year. Some children don’t have parents, have parents suffering from HIV, some suffering from extremely low-paying jobs or other heartbreaking stories. The children’s’ schooling is roughly $100-150 per year and he pays for nearly SIXTY children! Schooling is free for most Rwandan children, but not for the homeless children – the “street kids.” He shared that he faces a lot of difficulty, one year he didn’t sell enough artwork and had to promise the school’s he would eventually pay them back.
As if the schooling wasn’t enough, he actually just acquired a large space that will allow him to invite TWENTY of the children to live with him. You can see his determination and love for these kids, he is spending so much of his money just to keep them safe and to give them a chance at an education – a chance he was given by luck by that Canadian fellow. Some of the pictures he showed was a large holiday dinner he cooked for the children, even serving meat because they love meat so much. I can’t imagine how expensive it was! But, he was so excited to talk about how much he loves to cook for them – especially for the holidays. I remember another batch of pictures were of boys drumming and also a “Miss Rwanda” activity. The kids seem so delighted when they’re with him.
I could sense this love for the kids as soon as we started talking. He immediately wanted to show me pictures and videos of the kids. Not only does he help them with schooling, but he also runs a cultural center on his own. He teaches them dancing, music and art several times a week. This helps keeps the youth busy, as a life on the streets can often persuade them into dangerous hobbies, as we see in America as well. The skills the students learn aren’t just hobbies, but a way for the children to develop a talent that can help them provide for themselves. He creates free events where the children can perform their new talents and the audience is merely asked to donate. These donations further help the children. It gives them a sense of dignity and ownership at a young age, that they no longer need to beg for money or food – they can earn it on their own. I asked him to share the dancing video because it immediately captured my heart when he showed it to me. You can see how happy these children are. I’ve attached it below.
His cultural center, NIYO Cultural Center, has recently been given an NGO status, so he is able to ask for help. He asked if I plan on returning to Rwanda and I shared that I have been chatting with some people about some of the possible education programs I could apply to. He mentioned that with this NGO status he will be able to grant me a volunteer visa for 6 months-1 year. I’ve said it before, I feel really lucky to be in Rwanda – being sent in a way that makes me feel that I’m meant to be here right now. I wonder if this is where this pull is sending me. I’m not sure how helpful I can even be in his center though. I can graduate with my masters this December, but I’m wondering if I should wait until May… and do my master’s project in Rwanda. I’m not really sure what I do with a master’s project so this idea may not even make sense. Still, something to consider. I’d really love to come back.
Unfortunately, PayPal and GoFundMe aren’t accessible in Rwanda. I feel that people would want to donate to his center after hearing his story, I know I do. But, there isn’t an easy way to do so. A woman who joined us for a bit explained the extensive steps one has to go through to send money to Rwandan citizens. The easiest way is to have a trusted foreigner set up a PayPal/GoFundMe account and send the total money through the extensive steps regularly (this is what she does for the designer she helps). It’s frustrating to know that he’s being held back by such a trivial thing, because I really think (and hope) that people would be interested in donating. I mean, one entire school year is only $100 – even a donation of $25 would be helpful. Especially when you consider he’s paying for sixty children – some in secondary schools that cost much more than $100.
Oh… by the way, Pacifique is 23 years old.
Makes me feel like quite the failure! He has such a fascinating story and a huge heart. What other 23 year old in the world can say they fund education for 60 homeless children and have just purchased a space so 20 of them can finally have a home with him? He’s so committed to these kids and I hope I find time during my stay to visit his center. He’s a person that warms your heart. Despite the struggles he faces, he is dedicated to creating opportunities for children that wouldn’t have a chance without him. We need more Pacifiques in the world. I feel lucky to just have met someone as special as him.
I hope I can come back.
Since writing this blog, Pacifique and I have created a GoFundMe account. If you’re as touched as I was by his story, please consider donating. Any kind of donation will be appreciated.
Here is the link: http://www.gofundme.com/jw5p24
Here is a video of the younger children at the center doing a traditional dance:
This day was perhaps the most unique and most enriching experience of the trip so far. This day we were to travel to a prison camp. This was far from anything you might expect. When we first got there it was awkward. It was intimidating considering these men had once participated in a genocide. Tons of questions ran through my head. Were these men angry were they still in denial? Did they resent us being there? As we spent more time there and Carl and drew helped begin a conversation between us and the prisoners. these questions went away. After the initial fear went away I didn't even think about how these men's criminal history at that time they were just people with stories just like the rest of us. This experience was truly amazing. The prisoners sense of community is so strong. This is an open air camp with no fences or chains or even armed guards, the prisoners could even interact with the local village folk, the children and they could even go home ten days and sometimes more for special events each year. They always came back. It was mind boggling considering our justice system in America. Such a thing would never happen in America. Lock them up! Throw away the Key! They are criminals! They're evil! They're animals! No These are Men, yes men who committed terrible crimes at one point but they are men all the same, they are not their crimes.
When can we let forgiveness into our hearts? We do not have to fear forgiveness because it does not mean we are excusing or forgetting the deeds, it means we are giving ourselves and the perpetrator permission to go on living. The people of Rwanda are a true inspiration for forgiveness. These prisoners danced for us and with them danced Pelle, the woman in charge of all corrections in all of Rwanda. This moment brought tears to my eyes and I don't just say that it did actually happen.
I pray that one day too in America the Prisoner may dance with the guard, I pray that the perpetrator may dance with the victim, I pray that the lion may lay down with the lamb. May Rwanda be a testimony for us. Violence only begets violence, Hatred only begets hatred but so too can Love beget love.
We shared in common humanity with these men as we performed for them in the rain and as they all helped us get our bus out of the mud and up the mountain.
We must always remember the vast potential inside each and every one of us for great evil and for great goodness.
Yesterday we had a visit to the all-male community camp of prisoners. It was quite a long ride and consisted of many hills. We were joined by their commissioner, the woman who checks up on the 32 community camps throughout the week. It was interesting to have her with us because I was able to see a huge difference between her and the correctional staff back in the United States.