Thoughts from Gihembe Refugee Camp

-I’ve been here before but it’s still shocking how small the homes are, how many people are here. I feel like our American perception of refugee camps is that they are going to look like UNICEF commercials, and even though I had been there before I was still stuck by how many people were smiling and waving. People are the same everywhere, regardless of race or social class or circumstances. The people on this camp are full fledged, three-dimensional people, exactly like us. To paint a different picture back home in the states is to deny these people their humanity.

-Waiting on the bus while Drew talked to the administration-kids surrounding the bus, banging on the windows, waving and smiling. One boy pressed his hand against my window and I pressed mine against his from the inside. This boy was about 10 and wearing a maroon sweatshirt. I felt especially connected to him throughout. He asked me my name through the window and smiled at me with bright eyes, giving me a thumbs up.

-Our friend Clovis invited us to his small home. Now his mother and all but one of his siblings have been sent to America. I can’t imagine being separated from my family like that.

-I spoke to the camp manager, David, about his job. Like many Rwandans, he presented as very kind and softspoken, but he was more than willing to answer questions if we asked. I asked him how long he’d been working at the camp.

“Three years. Too long.”

“It must be very hard work.”

“It is very hard. Some of the things I have seen…it is too long to work at a refugee camp.”

This conversation gave me immense respect for people who work with refugees. The job presents so many struggles against seemingly insurmountable odds. I don’t think I could do it, not on that level. It would be too painful.

-As we got ready to perform on the basketball court area, the leaders trying to gather the children to watch, we were suddenly upstaged by a loud noise, kind of a buzzing, that sounded like a motorcycle starting. I looked over to see a huge black and white bird drop down from the powerline- it had been electrocuted. We stared at one another, horrified. Several of the kids ran over to crowd around the bird, and I was reminded of a time in third grade when we found a turkey foot on the playground and the teachers had to tell us to leave it alone. 

-The performance was vibrant and electric. The kids laughed and listened, totally engaged. We had to extend our physicality to illustrate because our play is in English, and it only made it clearer and more specific. Dancing with the kids at the end was so much fun- I danced with a little girl who must have been only 2. They swarmed us afterwards, eager to touch us and shake our hands and ask our names. I was sad to leave. 

-I saw the boy who was my friend in the beginning again before leaving. I wanted to communicate that I cared about him and would miss him so I waved to him and held my heart. He looked back and did the same. I hope he can get out soon.