Monday, July 2, 2012

We've Been Busy

Day 5
After some of our routine tasks, like eating lunch at Yvone’s and visiting Covaga, we get a chance to play sports in the community. Lindsey brings a Frisbee and one of the basketball team member’s brings a couple of basket balls.

“Cracked cement, faded lines on a court, rotting wooden backboards and hoops without nets greeted us when we reached the basketball court after working at Covaga. We didn’t even have a basketball. We weren’t sure what we had gotten ourselves in to. No one else was on the court so we just started to throw a Frisbee between ourselves and two local kids who had been absorbed into our group. After a while of people slowly trickling in, there were 40+ people using the combination basketball/volleyball court. Finally, the director of youth recreation rode his bike up to the court with his basketballs bungee cabled to the back of his bike. The other team started to warm up, while slowly, with no shade to protect us, the WWU students became drained of all moisture in their bodies. Warm ups and stretching turned into a friendly half-quart scrimmage which eventually became a full blown, full court match: the Western Vikings (plus Rogers, of course) vs. the Gashora Cougars (so named because Washington State University had been in Gashora the previous week). The final score was 19-20, and we went home defeated, but happy to have finally done a physical activity.” –Jon Kaimmer

With the assistance of Rogers, Sara, and Carrie, Lindsey sets up a Frisbee drill for some of the kids who have gathered near the basketball courts. Children in second-hand clothing covered in the dust of Gashora rush over to throw the disk. Rogers helps mediate between Lindsey and the kids to get all of the kids in a line. Their throws are wobbly at first but they get better quickly. They clap when their friends catch the disk and we teach them to say akazi kanoze in English, “Good Job!”
At dinner, we decide to get beers. The first beer we try is Mutzig and compared to beer in Bellingham, it’s pretty weak. We also taste Cedric’s beer, Turbo King, which he says is beer for men. Therefore, we like it a lot. Cedric takes us out to a local hotel that plays music and has an outdoor dancing area. We hear the music when we’re still half a mile away and can see green and pink lights glowing.
We’re excited that there are real toilets at the hotel even if they don’t have proper seats, because we won’t have to squat and aim into a small hole in the ground.
No one else is at the hotel, but we take up three plastic white tables in the middle of the yard. We all order banana beers, because we were told we had to try it. They gather a round of banana beers from some shed out back, and return with weathered green bottles.
”Why didn’t anyone tell us it was so awful?” It’s kind of salty, dirty, green, gross, sewage-like…
We follow Cedric’s and Rogers’ lead to dance like Africans with lots of hip movements and stepping. They’re hard to keep up with, because dancing is such an important  part of Rwandan culture. We look pretty ridiculous doing the lawnmower and the robot. Big Dog shows up for a while, hopping around the grass with one hand behind his back and the other pointing forward. He holds onto a smile the entire time and then leaves because he has school the next morning.
 When we look up to the sky, the orange moon, with all its pocks and holes visible, reminds us that we’re in Africa.

Day 6
A sleepy day. More teaching at Covaga, more basketball (our team wins and we leave with red faces and sore legs), more smiles.
Day 7 
In the morning, Steve and I go to Gashora primary school to observe an English lesson. Upon arrival, Big Dog peers out from his classroom to wave hello and present us with his indescribable smile.
When we enter the classroom, it’s dark and cool, almost melancholy, and we notice that there are three or four kids to each desk. But the children snap their fingers and wave their hands in the air when they want to answer a question, “Teacher! Teacher!”  The teacher smiles, and clearly enjoys his job. Even though he’s still learning English, but he teaches it with confidence and energy. After completing an exercise, the kids are happy to have us grade their papers. Despite the difficulties in switching from teaching French to teaching English, the teachers and pupils have positive attitudes.
After the English lesson, we visit a kindergarten class, where tiny faces rush to hug our knees. The teacher shows us the materials she uses to teach them English, and we ask if we can teach the kids a basic lesson. She suggests a song, and the only one I can think of is “head, shoulders, knees, and toes.” In no time, I’m circled by kindergarteners trying desperately to follow along with the words and the movements.
After attending the school, we meet up with the rest of the group at “Gashora Girl’s Academy:  School of Science and Technology,” a high school-level boarding school funded by Costco. The school is a huge cement compound placed on a beautiful plot of land near Lake Milayi. Half of the property is used for agriculture and includes: pineapples, tomatoes, carrots, papayas, mangoes, avocadoes, bees for honey, and corn. Some of the food feeds the girls at the school, and surplus is sold to the market to fund the school.
The girls that attend the school are the best in the country. Their days begin with cold showers at 5am. The day consists of classes and study halls that go until 9pm. We tour some classrooms, and Filimon points out that the anatomy they study is something he just studied in college; Jon says the same thing about the physics they’re studying.  The busy day is broken up by recreational time, clubs and meals. We are fortunate enough to join the girls for lunch. We stack our plates and fill bowls with fresh papaya from the gardens, which gleam orange. We relish in the fact that there is drinkable water.
We all sit with a different group of girls. The girls speak English very well. On top of that, most of them speak French and Swahili in addition to their native tongue. They ask questions about what we want to do for our careers; some of our majors sound pathetic when they express their dreams to be pilots, engineers, doctors, and astronauts. They ask about the books we read; they love The Hunger Games.  Some girls ask Carmelle if she’s going to marry a man from Rwanda or Burundi, and how many kids she wants to have. They ask “why Rwanda?” They ask if we bought our own plane tickets, and we further realize the extent of poverty in Rwanda, as well as how privileged we are.
There are mixed responses about how much they enjoy the boarding school. While it’s a great place, ripe with opportunity, they miss their families. Also, they wish they could go out more.
When we tour the grounds, we see the trenches they’re digging to irrigate the fields; they’re working with what they have. We learn that hippos used to come out of the lake to eat the crops, until they got a light near the lake which is a natural hippo deterrent. I can picture the hippos waddling up out of the lake and lugging their huge bodies to the field, ears twitching in the night.
To learn more about the Gashora Girls Academy, you can visit the following links:

After visiting the girls school, we take bicycle taxis back to Covaga to teach more. As our bikers lug us through town, we are an entire train of Muzungus. The back of the bike that Carrie is on doesn’t have handles and she has to squeeze her thighs to hold on. One bicyclist plays music, and we’re thankful to not have to walk in the heat. Still, even the bicyclists have a hard time lugging the 6’1 muzungu, Jon around.
During class that night, we discuss sustainability of foreign projects and aid. We talk about the importance of whether or not projects create jobs and how they work with the local culture and community. We’re starting to think about how to form the best project, as well as what will work well with the Gashora community.
Day 8
Today is a national day of service in Rwanda called, Umuganda. Everyone in the country must work on a project needed in their area, only women with several children to care for are excused from the service work.
We walk into town and stop at Covaga to grab tools. Three of us leave with machetes, and many of us leave with hoes. We walk to the service area where residents seem surprised to see us. We toil in the dirt and machete bushes behind the local “cell” building. One man holds up his hand and begins to machete one of the bushes to show us how it’s done. He completes the same amount of work in one minute as three of us completed in 15 minutes.
After a little bit of work, the Rwandans want us to stop so they can sing us a song. They gather in a circle wearing matching blue work uniforms. As they sway side to side, one lady begins singing. After the singing, we learn that she was making up the song as she went along. It said something to the extent of, “We are happy to see you, we weren’t expecting it,” and we feel appreciated.
Then, they ask us to sing them a song. We try to think of a song that we all know that sends a similar message. We come up with “Lean on Me.” You can probably guess where this is going…We stood in a line, swayed, sang out of tune, and their reactions were…well, I’ll just stop there. Rwandans have rhythm, we’ll say that.
After the clean-up, it’s a race to the showers.
Then a large van transports us to a local genocide memorial side in Nyamata. It’s not a place you want to stay in long. Although churches served as a place for protection when Tutsi’s first started experiencing persecution, genocidaires eventually began storming churches where Tutsis were seeking refuge. At this particular church, the Catholic Nun who was protecting the Tutsis was eventually killed, and two years later, the genocidaires attacked the church which was filled with over 2,000 people.
The group agreed that a more abstract portrayal of the experience would be more appropriate since it’s so difficult to put into words:
Nyamata Genocide Memorial

Mary, in peaceful posture, looks over
piles of bloodied clothing, tears
stripes, human life still visible
beneath dust and pain.
We’re walking on death.
 “This is just to show.”

A stained sash covers the alter
behind which human heads hid,
before the grenades, guns, and pangas,
flung shrapnel toward the ceiling,
human flesh toward the bricks.
“This is just to show.”

The woman in the casket,
raped, raped, raped, impaled
with a sharpened stick and strung
together with her baby, who was swung
against the wall. Crack.
“This is just to show.”

A fever of silence.  
A cellar, not a cellar, but a mass grave
filled with hairs from visitors’ necks,
and the stench of bones with bullet-holes.
“This is just to show.”

Now, there are people in the country-side,
singing and dancing, with ravines
on their cheeks, from tears.
Children chase notes in the choir
and chirps ride on wind. The birds
have returned.
This is just to show.

-Ali Beemsterboer

Nyamata Memorial 

We will never leave Nyamata,
the blasted black iron 
and red beaded rosaries 
where hopes and prayers 
were placed, pews piled 
with shredded shirts; "I swear
I saw that dress on Alice yesterday."
Bodies below ground, roses above,
remains of a heroine to remind us:
never forget Nyamata.

-Anonymous from our group

To read more about the Nyamata memorial center, you can visit the following link:
For dinner, we go to a place in Kigali which serves pizza. The path up to the restaurant, which is on top of a small hill, is lit with several lights. When we enter the restaurant, we’re surprised to see tables full of white people and a wood-fire oven. Carrie talks with missionaries from Orange County, California, can’t help but judge them “hard core” and makes sure to speak Kinyarwanda in front of them, just to show how much better WWU is. Lama explains that typical Rwandans, including Rogers and William, can’t afford this type of Muzungo dining, another reality that we have to face as financial superiors.
We hear a dog barking from the fenced-in yard next door. I assume that Westerns live next door, because in Rwanda, residents don’t typically have dogs. Before the genocide, dogs were kept mainly to defend houses and not as pets. Our group has joked several times that Rwandans would freak out if they saw how we dress and walk and cuddle our pets. One of the girls at the Gashora Girls Academy laughed about how she saw a dog in a car when she was in Seattle.
After the genocide, dogs fed on the dead bodies which were scattered across the country decomposing. Because of this, dogs became a symbol of the trauma which the people of Rwanda faced, and they eventually eradicated dogs.
On a lighter note, we eat pizza by candle-light complete with all the right spices, pineapple, mushrooms, peppers, and CHEESE. After such a rough day, we deserve it. 

Day 9
At 6:30AM, we head to Amahoro stadium in Kigali to celebrate, 50:18, 50 years of independence for Rwanda, and 18 years since liberation from the genocide. We wait in line amongst the Rwandans who stare at us ceaselessly. It’s hard to get used to the fact that staring is not taboo in Rwanda.
When we enter the stadium, we sit on cement bleachers with no seat backs. The celebration doesn’t start until 11AM, so we read, play cards, and watch as the people filter into the stadium. Some of us nod off, because we had to wake up so early. Eventually we’re sitting knee to knee with each other and some Rwandans. There’s not a single bit of misbehavior in the stadium. Rwandans sit patiently through the hours of waiting and listening to speeches, barely even squiggling anxiously.  
Two young boys, probably around nine or ten years old, plop down in front of us. As we pass snacks around, they peek over at us, hunger in their eyes. Tim holds a bag of potato chips out to them and they each grab a handful. Later on during the celebration, one of the boys creeps his hand toward a chip that fell to the ground, clearly ashamed. I nod at Jon, and he opens a bag of chips and offers the kids more. We have enough to share, at least with the two boys.
Our position in Rwanda, as ethnic minorities who are financially superior, is hard to get used to. We want to give all that we can, but we realize that we cannot sustain anything beyond community service, beyond building relationships.
After hours of sitting, the celebration begins with a parade of the Rwandan Patriotic Army and the police force.  One of the sections of the police force is made up of all women, a representation of females that’s typical for Rwanda. We wave our paper Rwandan flags as the army marches and the sun beats on our backs. Only us Muzungus need sunscreen, and we’re thankful for every gust of wind.
Traditional dancers wearing silk, pink dresses move to the beat of a drum. Other dancers, men with long blonde wigs join in, flipping their hair in unison to please the crowd. After some important visitors make it into the stadium and take their places beneath the canopied area of seats, Paul Kagame and his family pull into the stadium. Paul Kagame walks across the field, passing the members of the army and police force. He’s tall, skinny, and walks with confidence. We feel lucky to see him, the man we’ve read so much about, in real life.
The ceremony focuses on reflection of the past to build a brighter future, rather than sustained celebration. Kagame’s speech, which he reads in slow, articulate English, addresses Rwanda’s past, and their hope to continue developing independent of international interests. The Rwandan government faces a lot of international criticism for the authoritative actions despite elections and exponential improvement of the country. The post-colonial and post-genocidal era has been a struggle, but Rwandans are hopeful. At lunch, Rogers says that citizens of Rwanda trust that Kagame’s decisions will reflect what is best for the country. Despite the government’s heavy-handedness, Rwandans are happy to be improving. 

To read Paul Kagame’s awesome speech, you can visit the following link:
To see videos of the celebration, you can visit the following links:

Day 10
At dinner, Brooke asks the waitress for “Top Up,” the Rwandan version of ketchup. Instead, she receives Turbo King, a local beer.
Close enough.

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