A roller coaster is a great way to explain the trip thus far, I would also describe it as “heart stretching”, as our fearless leader Drew Kahn often says. We are experiencing extreme highs and then extreme lows of emotion. It's hard to be pulled in both directions, leaving me in the middle, almost numb at some points. But reflection through our group discussion and the blog posts help shift those emotions back to a positive.
New Years Day was a time to re-cooperate from some of the jetlag that still is following me like a mosquito. We started the day by coming together in a group to discuss our time at the first two memorials. This discussion lead to all of these realizations about the genocide in Rwanda but also our American culture. A major theme of the discussion was how the Rwandan’s have tackled the process of healing together, as “One Rwanda”. Instead of forgiving and forgetting they have taken the philosophy to forgive but never forget. After learning and seeing first-hand the carnage that happened here 20 years ago, this notion of forgiving seems almost impossible to me. But, the Rwandan society has really adopted this philosophy and continues to amaze me.
Having these discussions have really helped put words to my experiences. After New Years Day, we had the opportunity to visit two real co-operatives in the Eastern Province of Rwanda. This was our first trip out of the city of Kigali and the scenery was absolutely breathtaking, Rwanda really is the land of a thousand hills. The fist co-op we visited was in a small village and the co-op had a concentration on corn agriculture and processing of corn. As soon as we stepped off the bus we were immediately greeted by 20 children. They happily ran up and grabbed everyone’s hands and played with our watches and cameras. The children lead us through the village and accompanied us at the market were all the adults showed us an equal welcoming. I can’t stress enough how kind and friendly the people here are. Proceeding the corn co-op, we visited at a weaver’s co-op where we shopped and learn about the weavers.
The weaver’s co-op was a particularly emotional high for me. The experience was very overwhelming. The whole shop was full of thousands of beautiful colored and patterned baskets and other weaving products, from the floor to the ceiling. As I picked the basket I wanted, a woman came to me and was ecstatic that I liked the basket that she made. She kept saying thank you and gave me a bracelet, that she made, as a gift. After everyone made their purchases, the woman of the weaving co-op gave a talk about their mission and how most of the money goes back to the people that weave the baskets to help them feed their families, send their children to school, and other daily activities. Following the talk, the woman then presented each of us with a hand woven "peace basket" as a gift for taking the time to stop by and help support them. Even though they need the funding from the baskets to help support themselves, they gave us all a gift.
These experiences are really helping put into focus my own life, my own “problems”, and my upbringing. Making me feel so thankful for everything that I have and everyone in my life. As much as I think that I am here to help and teach in Rwanda it seems to be helping me, tenfold.