Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Cultural Notes

  1. When getting to know a person here a common question is “do you have parents?” I think I’m correct to infer that this is directly related to the huge two-fold impact that the genocide and HIV/AIDS has had on Rwanda.
  2. When you are served drinks anywhere, the waiter/waitress will always open the bottle while you are present. This is to prevent poisonings which are surprisingly common here. The rule is that you must be able to see the bottle being opened in front of you. If it isn’t, it is perfectly acceptable to send the bottle back and ask for another one. But its never happened to me.
  3. Honestly, Rwandans love guilt trips. It’s not meant to be taken personally though. If you don’t visit someone promptly you will never hear the end of it. In fact one of the most common phrases that I’ve heard is, “warabuze!” (literally, you’ve been missing). Now this person has no intention of making you feel bad and probably had no intention of visiting you but regardless it will kinda make you a little defensive. So what I do is try to beat them to it and tell them “warabuze!” before they can. (mwah-ha-ha)
  4. When people call you, they (the callers) have to greet you first!! Not the normal American interaction where the receiver of the call says “hello?” before the caller says anything. So what ends up happening to me every single time I call someone is there is an awkward silence for the first moment while I’m waiting for the person to say something like “hello?”. And when others call me, I still answer “hello?” impulsively, which I say at the same time they say “hello”. This is an awkward way to start every phone conversation.

16th Annual Genocide Memorial Week

The genocide memorial week begins April 7th each year. This date marks the night that the presidents plane was shot down over Kigali. Along for the ride was also the Burundian president. Within minutes road blocks were erected all around Kigali with militias and the government troops manning them. By the end of the first day, 8,000 people were dead. Tutsi leaders, such as journalists or political leaders, were targeted first.The killings happened at ten-times the rate as the German holocaust and in only one hundred days around 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu were dead.

This holiday is one of the most important in Rwanda. On this day, events are held around the entire country at local government offices to remember that fateful day. People give their testimonies, guest speakers talk about the importance of unity, the President of the Republic makes a public speech and people gather to remember their lost loved ones.

On this first day of memorial week everything is closed all day. Then on April 8th-12th, work continues as usual in the mornings but in the afternoons places shut down again and memorial activities are held. During the entire week no amusement or entertainment activities should be done. The 13th is the official end of memorial week but people never forget. In the following months there are memorial activities around the country and many people take journeys back to the places where their friends and families were killed. All in all, these months are bleak. And during these months we as visitors in the country need to be particularly understanding.

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

When there is injury, pardon;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

And where there is sadness, joy.

Grant that I may not so much seek

To be consoled as to console;

To be understood as to understand,

To be loved as to love;

For it is in giving that we receive,

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

And it is in dying that we are

Born to eternal life.”

St. Francis of Assisi

Monday, April 12, 2010

Camp GLOW Website

I spent a good chunk of time creating this website for our project Camp GLOW. And now I am very excited to announce that it is up and running although there is one page that is still under construction. Click here!!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Quick Update

I haven't made a blog post in a while. I received very good feedback on the cultural notes posts so I will do my best to continue those. There's plenty more to tell... for now I just want to overview the happenings since my last post.

As some of you might know, my birthday was March 5th. I celebrated it with close friends and at a benefit concert in Kigali. The concert was planned by fellow PCV's to raise money for the Books for Africa project they had started a while back. It's a big project to bring tens of thousands of books to Rwanda for schools and libraries around the country. For the concert, many top Rwandan artists volunteered their time to play free of charge. I was very happy to be a part of it. Unfortunately, a rumor spread around Kigali that there were three grenade attacks that night (f.y.i. Kigali has been the site of several grenade attacks in the past several months that have killed several and injured dozens more. It's thought that the attacks are related to the presidential elections that are planned for this August.). The rumor had no factual basis but it was enough to prevent many people from coming to the concert. Luckily, the concert was still a success.
Also in March, I attended a training of peer educators in Rwamagana for one week. At the meetings I gave presentations on the transmission of HIV, reproductive health and other topics. I also had the youth (ages 14-18) put anonymous questions in a bag for me to answer the next day. The questions revealed a lot about what information, misinformation, or lack of information Rwandan youth receive. In the first round of questions, over half concerned the proper use of condoms! This was quite revealing. Rwanda, along with many African nations, still shy away from the use of modern contraception and especially condoms. Just the Kinyarwanda words for penis and vagina can cause a room full of people to laugh hysterically. This is changing little by little. When it comes to a persons health, people must be serious. HIV is no joke. Over 28 million people are infected and Rwanda is no exception. So, the next day I paid a visit to my good friend Justine who is the head of community health in my sector. She gave me a wooden penis and a box full of condoms (a few female condoms too). I gave demonstrations on the proper use of the male condoms. I was facilitated by my counterpart Jules and a guest. I also had a stockpile of condom flyers that PSI (Population Services International) gave to me a while back. It went well and I felt accomplished.
I later learned that all 32 of the youth at the meeting are out of school! I was appalled. Many expressed interest in continuing school but they just don't have enough money! This is outrageous. Honestly, I saw 32 kids... most of them survivors of one of the worst conflicts the world has seen... denied of what I consider in unalienable right has a human. The right to a decent education. Most of them have only completed some elementary school.
The month passed as other have in the past. With plenty of peaceful interactions with my community, a few rocks in my rice and as always the constant reminder that I'm a muzungu... thanks kids. All in all, I'm still loving it here. Sometimes things may bring me down but every morning, as I am drinking my tea or coffee... my tiny 1 year old neighbor waves and calls out, "Mwaramutse Blandoni!" (good morning Brandon!), waving both of her tiny hands at me and standing in a worn out pink dress... I then realize why I'm here and why I've chosen this life.