Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Dysentery Be Gone

OMG I am so excited.  After four weeks of waiting today was my first real day of work.  I found a buffet to eat at nearby, for 2,500 francs you get the whole buffet, but it is only one plate.  A fact I have been warned about repeatedly here.  So, it was a bit more expensive.  Tomorrow I will bring my lunch and hope the lousy Tupperware I found wont spill all over my backpack.  Also, I have a sunburn because I got off at the wrong stop and it was all very difficult.  I am now having beers about it.

I am going to have to buy more equipment in order to make this work in the time allotted.  It has really hurt me to be waiting for over four weeks, but, I suppose I know a GREAT deal more about Rwandan culture as a result.

Additionally, I no longer have dysentery.  Also, I am sure, because I took the medicine to deal with it and it worked, that I actually had dysentery.

Other stuff:  a friend of mine, a Rwandan, recently told me a story explain why she loves muzungu.  She calls it the tea bag analogy.  First, she recounted the story of how her mother was very sick for a long time.  Everyone thought she had HIV and this made my friend really, really sad.  She saved money and then took her mother to a doctor in her province.  This Rwandan doctors, she says, did a few tests and couldn’t figure it out and then said that her mother must have HIV and she should try to get the medicines for it if she could ever afford it.  This sent my friend into a depression.  After a while, as she was so sad and pondering the state of things, she decided that because her mother showed none of the signs of the other people she knew with HIV that she must seek another answer.  She remembered this analogy…wait for the rest of the personal story before I tell you the punch line…jeez.

So, she decided to borrow, beg, and, no not steal, she is a good person, for the money and took her mother on a bus to the big hospital in another region where all of the muzungu doctors are.  Once there, she told the doctors that she didn’t have much money but she would be willing to pay anything for the answer.  So, the muzungu doctors began testing.  Then my friend ran out of money.

Seriously.  Don’t we know how that feels.

The muzungu doctors decided to keep testing anyway because the problem had become a personal challenge.  After a few days, they found that her mother had some atypical symptoms for the relatively common and dreaded but totally treatable TB.  6 years later, my friend’s mom is doing very well and grows her own beans, etc. (but see below for more on beans).

Ok, now for the punchline:  the tea bag analogy for muzungu.  My friend told me why she knew that muzungu would help her.  She said it was because of tea bags.  The tea bags in Rwanda are stronger than the ones I have used in the USA.  If you pour boiling water on it, you should really have a large cup.  But even if you don’t, you can just keep using the bag.  You can get one REALLY strong cup, one relatively weak cup, and one pretty weak cup from the same tea bag.  My friend says that she knows this too because the only people in Rwanda that do this with tea bags are muzungu.  Rwandese (I recently found that the people (abantu is the word, remind you of Ubuntu?  It should) themselves prefer this term over Rwandan and I will now make an effort to use it).  Anyway, Rwandese throw the bag away after the first use.  My friend says this is because of the peculiar character of those from the West.  Though there are some real disadvantages in our attitudes, she remarks, she tells me that it is only muzungu who keep trying on principle, regardless of money.  My friend tells me that she respects this quality above all, even though it's weird and muzungu seem to drink more and have more problems, she says, than Rwandese, but for this reason, she has for 6 years and will now always love muzungu, because these tea bag milking freaks saved her mother.

I love this so much.  I have already remarked upon the common belief that Rwandese are “naturally” obedient people.  And, believe me, I will have more to say about it in the future.  But, this begs many important sociological questions as the peacecorp worker I live with recently pointed out:

Peacecorp friend’s point of view – the buses in Kigali are REALLY irrational.  They have X amount of seats.  Nonetheless, they will seat ZZZZZZZ amount of people.  This is irrational because the buses are really cheap.  If they didn’t all crowd onto the bus, unsafely I might add, because I would add that, then there would be more demand for buses and more people would be employed, less people would get hurt, etc.

But, the truth is, that Rwandese have been “making do” for the unforeseeable future since the unforeseeable past.  I sympathize with them.  But as a person who was already using my tea bags at least twice before I was told either of these stories, culture shock is a bitch.

Other updates:  Nicole left yesterday.  I miss her already.  She was a kindred spirit both academically and in our hearts, I believe.  I really hope that she enjoys her Halloween (which Rwandese have never heard of and think is crazy except when I told them the origin that it was to get evil spirits away, and then it made sense to them but they would still never do it).

On beans, as I mentioned before.  This is the hottest and nonrainiest rainy season anyone here can remember.  Apart from the drought, yesterday there was a storm that was strong enough that it reminded me, and prompted me to tell nostalgically, of many Texas hitting hurricanes.  Hey BNL, remember those exploding transforming and that awning that seemed to want to fly away?  Remember what got us the vantage point?  What a weird thing to do.  I would do it again.

Anyway, almost everyone is talking here about global warming.  It really seems that more Rwandese believe in it than Americans.  This is funny.  When people say that everything in Africa is different, that everything is backwards, it's in ways that you don’t think of.  Like believing in science, for heaven’s sake.  I have much more to say about believing in science, but I think that is for another post.

On this point of believing things and backwardness though, I was recently told that Rwandese, especially educated Rwandese, believe that the Illuminati are controlling the world.  When I asked the peacecorp worker about this, because she has been here for three years, she starting laughing hysterically and told me that there are a few people I should, first, buy a beer for and, second, should ask about the illuminati to.  I intend to do so.  Anyway, the Rwandese believe in the illuminati.  If I manage to take her advice I promise not to forget to tell you.

Another random tidbit:  when a Rwandese friend of mine and I went to the local store recently, I got a bottle of water.  She carried it for me.  I took it from here and said, it's ok I think I can handle this water.  I’m not so weak.  The local women hanging out in the store said a bunch of things to my friend on the way out.    After we were out of the store, my friend told me that they were telling her she was crazy for not carrying the big bottle for me.  Here it is REALLY taboo not to carry things for people older than you.  Get that?  OLDER.  I am exactly 3 years older than my friend and feel, based on our life circumstance, both 10 years younger and 20 years older than her.  But seriously, do I really look that much older?

My friend told me that Rwandese can't tell how older muzungu are.  It's because we are white.  I laughed and told her many important scientists have argued this problem in the USA, that, first, we cannot tell other races apart and second, that we cannot tell how old they are.  She assured me that in a line up a Rwandese would know it was me and not someone else (I think that is because I am the ONLY muzungu that lives in this area apart from my constantly moving housemates) except that they just cannot tell how old I am.  This raises an interesting point:

People in the USA think I am blond now.  I feel defensive about this.  My hair is grey (my husband would chime in here and say SILVER!) but it was different shades of auburn beforehand and I was teased as a child for being a ginger.  Thus, I am defensive about being blond.  But, here in Rwanda, everyone KNOWS that I am silver haired.  Some think it is really, really “smart”, as in cool or pretty.  But others think it must mean that I am a good deal older than I am.

This mixes together with the competing views of my weight, though that will have to wait for another post.  I think I am going to wrap up here now.  If most of my days go like today, I will be tired and not working in the evenings which should give me more time to blog if I feel like it.  Additionally, if after I grade this evening, I feel like it then I may blog more.

Hey you guys, remember that time I was stuck in Rwanda for four weeks with dysentery?  Yeah.  That happened.  I think I am cooler now, in a world citizen sort of way.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Why Can’t I Keep up with my Posting Schedule?

I don’t know…

Some updates:

I am annoyed and bordering on depression for two reasons:  first, it has been three weeks since I got here and I have yet to get to work.  I am still waiting.  Every day there is a new reason why I have to wait.  This means I am waiting by my email.  This means I can't really leave or do anything like explore the city, which is difficult to do by yourself anyway.

Second, I am pretty sure that I have dysentery.  That’s right.  Dysentery.  The last week I was pretty sick.  And it's funny, it's really common here to get it so people have no compunctions about speaking about it.  I said to Agnes, I have been sick.  She said, oh you have your period?  I said no.  She said, oh you have diarrhea?  Yes.  Yes I do.  It's common place to speak about your bowel functioning.  Often, depending on exactly the reason for your dysentery, it goes away on it's own.  And I have always had a lot of stomach issues.  But, if it will go away it is meant to last about a week.  The last few days I have been feeling a lot better, less fatigue and I am hungry again (I weighed myself and actually I have lost 10 pounds in three weeks).  But I give tomorrow as the deadline.  If I am not feeling better, I will go to the local pharmacy and I will buy Flagyla, the three day antibiotic that is meant to clear up amoebic or bacterial dysentery (virul has to just run it's course) for about 2,000 francs or three dollars.  That’s right, it's over the counter and it's three dollars!  Alas, there are no photos to share concerning this experience.

Next, updates on the animal farm that is the guest house:

Archie no longer lives here.

Sofya moved out and I moved into her room so I have wifi in my room now, when the power isn’t out that is.

Katie is leaving for 10 days to go to South Africa for something and is usually only here about two days a week anyway.

Nicole is still here and we have been really thick together for the last week and a half, hanging out a lot and sticking together when we leave the house.  It's been really nice to have her around and our theoretical backgrounds are similar and we are having some of the same research issues.  We have started to come up with a list…see the end of this post for that list…anyway, she will be leaving on the 26th or something.

There is supposed to be an older muzungu gentlemen moving in right as Nicole leaves.  I am interested to meet him and find out his story.

Keksy: is doing much better and getting fatter all the time.  She is a pain in the ass though.  She gets caught around bushes and trees and it's difficult to get her untangled because she freaks out about anything having to do with the collar.  Recently, Glenn received an email from a person living in the house, no one knows who it is, saying that the dog cannot stay because of the trouble and the smell and the concern for the bunnies, though she seems really uninterested in them.  So…

Heike and Martin are moving out this Friday with Keksy to a place that will have her.  They are still deciding whether or not she will join them in Germany/Austria and it will mostly be based on the expense.  We are waiting to hear back from my husband about phone numbers to call to find out or when they have time to go to the airport to try to find out.  But finding a nonstop flight from Kigali to Germany is difficult.  Anyway, waiting on Keksy’s fate still.

BUNNIES!  So, originally we thought there were five baby bunnies because they were all piled in so tight together.  One of them died and so we thought there were four.  Now, they are getting pretty adorable.  They are thriving, it seems, and they are growing hair and their ears are distinguishable and their eyes are open. And…there are 6 of them.  That will be a total of 9 bunnies in the compound.  Who knows how this will turn out.  This I have pictures of…
This was from a few days before when their eyes were barely opening and with cabbage for their mum in the cage.

This is a few days later when their eyes are really opening, they have more fur, and their ears are up.  See, no longer grody.

And this is from just the day after the last photo, when we built a "pin" or circular barrier out of chairs and rugs and plates and things and pet them and let them run about a bit.  This is Heike.


Heike and Nicole.

Martin with huge hands and tiny bunny.

I also have a video....but it is just too big and there is no uploading progress bar so I have no idea how far along it is.  Maybe when I have a smaller one I will post it.
I have now also been, at least, to the Gacaca archive.  I can't tell you where it is but it's living in a police compound, high security, lots of AK47s.  The best way to describe the almost two million cases is…

Have you seen Raiders of the Lost Ark?  Remember at the very end when they store the Ark in a box and then the guy wheels it into a warehouse that is full of infinity boxes all holding, what you can only imagine, are equally esoteric, magical, and precious objects…that is what it looks like.  It just goes on forever.  Except the boxes are all of uniform size and they are stacked on top of one another in rows instead of on shelves.


On Saturday we went to the city center to shop at the big more western style grocery store called Nakumatt.  It is much more like a western grocery store only with less stuff in the grocery department, not as many options, and also with lots of other stuff like clothes and toys and furniture and appliances and a hardware department.

We have been concerned that Keksy is not getting enough protein but the dog food is really expensive.  I thought that I might donate a bag of better dog food or, in the event that it really is too expensive, buy a chicken and boil it and give her the meat.  But…there is no better dog food.  The dog food doesn’t even have meat in it.  And a whole chicken was just as expensive as the giant bag of non-meat dog food.  So, no luck there.  She will keep living on a diet heavy in cheese and milk on top of her normal potatoes, avocadoes, and rice.

The bus ride there cost 200 francs, like 25 cents or something, and was completely packed and smelly and lasted for half an hour.  Also, I really hate being in moving vehicles in Kigali.  Back on the sides of hills barreling downwards at what seems to me a million miles an hour in a vehicle too heavy with squealing breaks with a drop off right on the side of me.  I felt like we were all going to die.

Just in case you think I am crazy to be afraid of moving vehicles, when Nicole went with D to another memorial site, they came across an accident.  Remember, the roads in the country are on the sides of mountains so there is a cliff on one side and a deep ditch on the other side against the mount.  There was a big truck just right sitting right across the road and another car, a smaller car, that was unrecognizable crushed into a cube by this truck.  D asked the police what happened, the police said that ALL died.  That the car was full of people and they ALL died.  And if they hadn’t died on impact, they probably would have had injuries too severe and hospitals are so far away and without the latest tech and skills.  This terrifies me.

So, we arrive and walk about 10 minutes to Nakumatt from the bus stop.  Downtown there were many many more muzungu.  Right now I live in a village and this village doesn’t have that many so we are more of a novelty.  But downtown there are more.  Even thought there are more, we are still stared at only now people are asking for money and asking if we want to buy phone time for Tigo and phone time for MTN and phone time for Airtel and then all over again and do we want a taxi or a moto, etc. 

We saw a sort of parade of cars and trucks and buses with people on top and hanging out the windows all blowing those big annoying horns that are such a problem at sporting events now and whose name I cannot remember.  Their faces were painted whitish and looked scary, like they were meant to look scary.  We think they were going to an important Rwandan sporting game somewhere because when we got back on the bus they were playing, loudly, what sounded like a sports announcer.  I wish I could imitate it for you.  If I thought it wouldn’t take an hour to do, I would record myself imitating it and post it here for your amusement.  The announcer was squealing and undulating and letting is voice rise and fall over really long periods and then fall away until there was no air left in his lungs.  It was funny.

I took one photo of the building that Nakumatt is in, it is Kigali tower, the tallest building in Kigali, and it is on the ground floor.

This was a photo I took from the bus stop of another bus.  This bus is larger than the one I was on, I think this is an express from the countryside.

It's funny, while waiting for the checkout, I noticed some adverts for upcoming movies.  I was wondering if they have those funny names that often times happens when a movie title in English is translated to another language and then retranslated to English again and turns out differently.  But the movie is titled Runner Runner.  I looked it up, apparently that is the title of the movie.  Funny.

OK, I said I would give you a list, that will be for another time because I find that I am not posting so much because I am trying to post too much at a time.  Tomorrow maybe.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Rwanda Inc or Sustainable Rwanda

Some things I left out of the Nyarubuye trip that were interesting and mostly on the way back and then some other things related…mostly about alimentation:

First, rabbits and fish.

This is a photo of the fish farms now being cultivated throughout Rwanda.  They build these fish farms, then they put rabbits in cages over them.  The idea is that you feed the rabbits, the rabbits poo into the fish farm, the fish eat the rabbit poo.  Then Rwandans can eat both the rabbits and fish as they feed and multiply.  It's pretty awesome.  There are lots of these from some aid workers being created in the DRC and now they are moving into Rwanda.  I think it's an excellent idea.

Second, Imigongo or Kakira.

This is the sign of the Imigongo making company on the way back from Nyarubuye.  We stopped there with Nicole and D to look at them.  They are paintings made from the raw pigmentation materials around Rwandans and are pretty ubiquitous in Africa.  The reds are made from the red of the soil, the whites are made from the white clay deposits that can be found around, and the deep deep blacks are made from burning bananas and then taking the ashes and mixing that with aloe juice.  Imigongo are the names of the pieces of art and Kakira is the name of the process.  They used to be made from the hide of cows stretched and then scraped into shapes and patterns and then painted upon with the pigments.  This creates a three dimensional painting.  This is how they came to be called imigongo which means “back” in Kinyarwandan (from the back of the cow).  But now they are put on sanded boards or particle board which are then sculpted onto with clay and baked and then painted.

After the genocide, many groups of women got together to start making different things that were part of traditional Rwandan culture, papyrus woven baskets and these paintings, in order to keep the pride of their culture alive and also to begin to make money for themselves while selling to others around them and also to tourists.  Most Rwandans have at least one of these types of designs on the walls of their house, there are two in my room, and lots and lots of things have designs similar to them.  Most of us can imagine the designs associated with Africa and they are outrageous and brazen and look deeply deeply modern except that they almost always use red and white and black, and sometimes yellow from flowers.  That is why they have this preference for these colors.  Because they are easy to get and make into paints.

The proprietor of this company took us through the workshop to show us things in various stages of completion.  It was really interesting.  A large group of children was standing on tiptoes to peer in the windows at the muzungu there in the middle of Rwandan nowhere.
Here is the wiki article on it:
This is the entrance to the cooperative:
This is traditional looking imigongo:

and this is more modern imigongo:


Next, Girinka or One Cow One Family.  I was recently made aware of this program, Girinka, which aims to give one cow to one family at or below the poverty level in Rwanda sometime between 2010 and 2015.  It will total about 350,000 cows given out and they have already given out 100,000.  So, here is the way the program works.  They find a family that is so poor that they do not have any cows and the children are suffering from malnutrition.  There is lots of food in Rwanda, everyone grows something, but it, in almost every case, is carbohydrates.  There is not very much protein to go around.  If you do not give a child protein, even if they have enough calories to eat, this is very bad and is malnutrition.  So, they give this family a female cow.  The family is then getting milk from the cow.  Cows here give up to 5 liters a day of milk.  That is a LOT of milk.  Then, the cow gives manure.  This manure is made into fertilizer which is put on the crops so they no longer have to buy fertilizer.  And cows give a lot of fertilizer.  The cows eat papyrus leaves and other things that can be found all over the country and is free and grows like weeds.  So, now the crops are better.  Then, the family will try to find another family with a bull and breed the cow.  The first female calf that is born from this free cow must be given to a neighbor.  That neighbor will now have a cow that will grow up to give milk and fertilizer and then will have a female calf that will be given to another neighbor.  This happens relatively quickly.

The outcomes have been outstanding so far.  Here are the effects:

1.     Cow are really important to Rwandans culturally.  They are the preeminent sign of wealth.  Apart from what they give, Rwandans really like cows and they immediately raise the pride and social standing of a household.  This is one of the reasons that over 90% of the cows in the country were also slaughtered during the genocide, the killing of the wealth and pride of other families.

2.     Second, the pride maintains because even though the family was given the cow in a sort of bizarre welfare agricultural state model, they then have to work hard to get the benefits of having the cow.  So the pride maintains.

3.     The entire family now drinks milk and is no longer malnourished.  They drink so much milk, in fact, that the incidence of typhoid dysentery goes down because they drink less water.

4.     The entire family now eats better because they grow bigger and better crops because of the fertilizer.  Eventually, they can grow more than they can eat and they begin to supplement their income with this extra crop in a country with a year round growing season.

5.     The entire process increases both reconciliation, community involvement, and the quality of life of the entire area through a few different mechanisms:

a.     5 liters a day is really a lot.  Rwandans also have very large extended families who generally live nearby.  Whenever their cousin or neighbor or friend comes over they are also drinking milk.  Their health is also getting better.

b.     5 liters a day is really really a lot. First, as soon as the cow begins to produce milk, the family is able to sell the extra milk.  This is even more income for the family.  Second, as more and more neighbors have milk, the government has set up cooperative milk collection stations so that an entire village becomes incorporated through giving their extra milk and they now sell this to people in the city and everyone makes more money.

c.     Giving your neighbors a cow and having to cooperate in order to breed the cows fosters friendship and cooperation in the community.

d.     As all of the sociological, economic, and political scientific research shows, people who benefit directly from a social program, first and foremost, develop loyalty to that program.  But, as side effects, they develop loyalty to the regime and the state and the party and the policies and the overall idea of democracy.  Social programs increase political stability in a country where a large proportion of the population is benefiting from them (compare this to tax cuts for the rich).

I think this is about the best social program I have ever heard of.  So far, 100,000 have been given out.  And additional 50,000 females calves have been born and have been given to other families.  It's so freaking cool.  Here is an article on the idea if you want to read something more official:


Next, I recently read a book called Rwanda Inc.  It grew out of research that Visa was doing in Africa to try to decide which of new African country it was going to offer it's products too.  At the end of the research, it's says, the choice was exceedingly clear.  Visa is now in Rwanda – the reason I can't use my bankcard, it's a MasterCard – and is helping a lot.  The infrastructure is already there, Rwanda has been running fiber optics for almost a decade throughout the country.  So Visa is cooperating with all three banks operating in Rwanda now.  They are also in cooperation with all three major cell phone companies where you electronically send money to people.  This is particularly important because travel costs are high.  So, everyone, and I do mean everyone, in this country has a cell phone.  There ARE no landlines.  But even the poorest family in the country has a cellphone.  So, when a member of the family is the one that everyone gives money to in order to afford the boarding and university school fees, that person moves to the city to get a good job where he/she is making a great deal more than the rest of the family.  The agreement is then to help the family.  So this person can choose to take an expensive and time consuming trip back to the family and bring cash, or they can just transfer funds to the people via cellphone.  Anyway, those are some of the things that Visa is doing in Rwanda.

If you want to check out the book, look at this:

More importantly, back to the content of the book.  The forward is from the CEO of Visa and it is saying that Rwanda is ready for lots of foreign direct investment.  The book reads like a love story constantly praising this and that social or economic program or policy of the Rwandan government but particularly praising “CEO” or President Kagame for running his country like a successful startup business.  At first the book is repetitive and doesn’t provide much evidence, but by the end I am starting to feel more convinced as I am seeing in print the words for all of what I am seeing on the ground.  Rwanda is developing and quickly.  So, after reading this book, I looked up a few reviews.  One was from the Boston Globe:

This review makes some good points, but it also makes a silly Western mistake.  It argues, “However, Crisafulli and Redmond fail to persuade on the economic viability of a country in which subsistence agriculture supports 80 percent of the population…”

In response I say, first, Rwanda has made the infinitely wise choice to avoid the catastrophes of so many STILL developing or underdeveloped nations by not getting in debt to the World Bank and not following the totally obscene policy and budget strictures WB places on its debtor countries.

Second, subsistence agriculture supporting 80% of the population makes it sound as if the country is in abject poverty.  The truth is, that 80% of the population eats its own crops and then sells the rest to those without farms in the city.  It is a nation of farmers and it feeds its non farming population by itself.  It does not have to trade for food.  So, why is that bad?  It does not have to exchange the nothing it has, or rum and tobacco and coffee for instance in the case of so many Latin American countries, for a bad trade in rotten beef.  Rwanda feeds itself.  Why is that bad?  Additionally, almost all of the farming practices here are increasingly, and in some ways always were from traditional farming practices, sustainable and organic.  The small amount of land that it does use to cultivate the components of coffee and beer are considered some of the best in the world, gain boutique prices on the international market, and are almost always certified fair trade to smaller growers.

And this was all planned.

Rwanda still has a long way to go, but way to go Rwanda Inc for planning infrastructure from the bottom up, for wanting to make it itself, and for neither a lender nor a debtor being.  Otherwise, of course, Rwanda still receives a lot of aid.  But this aid does not end up in the pockets of corrupt politicians, is not used to cultivate big agribusiness to ship silly things long distances to people who can already grow tomatoes or whatever, and for using this aid to, as quickly as possible, feed itself.

That saying that libertarians are so fond of…give a man a fish and he eats for a day, but teach a man to fish…

Well, Rwanda seems to be teaching itself to fish.


More on this topic of food.  Heike and Martin and I made a pizza from scratch over the weekend.  It had the local gouda cheese, dough from scratch, tomatoes, more tomatoes, and even more tomatoes in the sauce and on the pizza, onions, oyster mushrooms and then, after the pizza was cooked, minced garlic rolled in olive oil layered the top of the pizza.  It was divine.  Here are some photos of the process.  You do not see me because, first, I am behind the camera, and second, my job was chopping, pizza construction, and dishes and those aren’t that interesting:
Initial mixing:

Kneading and Marting adding flour:

Just done kneading it:

Look at how much it rose!!  Same hands!
Rolled out.

On Saturday, to get the toppings for the pizza, we split duties.  Heike and Martin went to Nakumat, the big western like grocery store nearer the capital, and Dinah, Nicole and I went to Kimironko (pronounced chimirownko).  Kimironko, if you recall, is the place on the label for the grand nuts.

The market was totally crazy.  We walked some distance to get on a bus, small, crowded, stuffy, smelly…then we got off at the market.  It's a big open warehouse looking thing that sells everything.  From the moment we walked in people were pushing and shoving us, Nicole and I, trying to get us to buy things.  On this day I was the rudest to other people that I can recall being in years.  “Oya…OYA…Murakoze…OYA!!!”  (no…NO…Thank you…NO!!!).   We bought a lot of things at very cheap prices.

Even if I could have taken pictures in the crush of people and things I would not have.  There were people everywhere and no room to walk between the large tables covered with beans and rice and vegetables of all varieties and underwear and shirts and shoes and bags…  Even on the ground, there are a few people here that I have seen that have something wrong with their legs.  Maybe polio?  But, they have small and underdeveloped legs it seems.  The more affluent often have crutches or recumbent bicycles they pedal with their hands.  But the poorer, are crawling on the ground.  There was such a person at Kimironko crawling on the ground in this crush and dragging a shopping bag full of things.

So, more on bags.  I needed a shopping bag to carry things in.  Dinah took me to her friend, btw she has friends EVERYWHERE.  The people around here are particularly nice to me, Nicole and the Germans have remarked, and they charge me less for things.  I asked Dinah if this is because she is popular.  She smiled her shy smile and giggled and said yes she thinks so.  So, she took me to her friend and showed me some bags.  I said, I wanted a nicer bag.  The nicest bag.  She took me to a different stall with another friend and showed me what she says she thinks are the nicest bags.  There are a few with all different colors and with beads of painted and rolled paper that look a little like shells around the top.  She says that she loves these.  I looked at a few, there is a yellow and blue one and a red and blue one and a green and yellow one and then also a brown and yellow and green one.  I am thinking of the green and yellow or yellow and blue.  But, I ask her which is her favorite.  She picks the brown one.  It's good that I asked her because she was admiring these bags so much.  When I leave I am going to give the bag to her as a present.


Monday, Heike and Martin and Nicole and I went to quiz night at Sol e Luna.  We won third place which was amazing because we felt like we didn’t know any of the answers.  It wasn’t as fun as last time but hopefully will be more fun again.  I saw the Americans and one of the Italians I met last time there.  The place, it turns out, is owned by an Italian man and his Rwandan wife.  So it is really a perfect mix of Italian recipes and Rwandan products.  Here is the one good photo I salvaged from my roll, this is of the bar and a bartender who graciously permitted me to include her.  All the staff is really nice there.  I got the same pizza I got last time, salami, and it was just as delicious.

A few more food items:  I got this papaya from Kimironko.  It was delicious, but as I was eating it I decided that I would like to share with you all just what I think about papaya seeds:  they are clearly evil things…just look at them… nefarious.

This is a country that doesn’t really eat butter.  They use oil to cook with, and not very much at that.  They use cheese on bread if they use it at all.  But mostly they use the milk.  Butter is right out.  For others who have a taste for butter, having either come from or visited for a while in the West, there is this…
Medium fat spread.  Ugh.  It tastes OK like a mix between butter and margarine, but the texture is weird.

Last, and on the subject of food and then also culture shock:  I am really missing home.  More on this and exactly what I miss next time, but for now, a good friend of mine told me that I was going to miss something American, whether a French fry or buffalo wings or whatever, and that when it happens I should not feel ashamed.  I was skeptical about this to begin with.  But now, 2 and a half weeks in or about 1/6 of the way through my journey, I can say that I would absolutely kill for some broccoli.

Surprisingly, there aren’t that many good memes or jokey images about broccoli.  But these three made me laugh.

I don't know who this is but it made me laugh out loud.


I miss broccoli.

P.S. I hope you guys really appreciate all the photos.  It is really annoying to include them.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

There and Back Again…Nyarubuye

Friday I went to Nyarubuye…This is a memorial site, a church.  Here, over 35,000 Tutsi ran during the first part of April 1994 as they heard that the rebel groups were coming to kill them.  The rebels did not stop because of the church, churches here were no sanctuary during the genocide.  But, I am not telling the story chronologically.  Interspersed through this post are the photos from the trip.

Nyarubuye is about 4 hours away to the southeast in the Eastern Province and just near the border of Tanzania.  It is near a place on the map I have added:

First, we got up to go and left at about 8:30am.  I went with Nicole and D, the taxi driver who only takes calls, he isn’t hailed from the street, and does a lot of tours of different kinds all over Rwanda with students and others, but usually expats.  He is a very nice man.  He drives a Toyota Corolla but it's long and looks like one of those Subaru station wagons that are so popular among the hipster crowd in the USA.  The trip cost, for about 10 hours of D’s time and 8 hours of driving gas, 100$ total which Nicole and I split.  We took off and I enjoyed riding in this smaller car more that the big car Damas drives (which, btw, I have found is called a Prado whatever that means).
Rwanda is so beautiful.
Pictures, as any of you who have been to the Grand Canyon know, in no way capture what you are seeing.  Pictures are flat with no depth and no sense of the distance or proportion of dramatic landscapes.

This is the Akagera national reserve where there are giraffes and hippos and crocodiles and monkeys and baboons and zebras, etc.  They are about to reintroduce lions and rhinos which were poached almost to extinction.

So dramatic the drop offs on the other side of the car...terrifying and majestic.

 I got about halfway through interspersing the photos as I promised and this blogger interface is just too cumbersome.  So, there will be some more later, but here are the rest of them for now.

About an hour into the drive, I have a bathroom emergency.  There are not really any public bathrooms in Rwanda.  I don’t know what people on buses do when they have to go.  How does this work?  We stopped finally at a hotel where I used the bathroom.  In another addition to a continuing and future post of mine that will be entitled, “You Might be a Muzungu” I found that if you really, really have to go, you do not care about the general state of the place you intend to make your deposit.  No seat?  Doesn’t matter.  Filthy or stained?  Don’t care which.  Smells peculiar?  Doesn’t bother me.  Has a big window that everyone can see in?  I’m no muzungu when experiencing that kind of urgency.

Here I try to take a picture of the terrifying downward grade of the steep decline we are driving down away from Nyarubuye later.  It doesn't really capture well.

After D and Nicole had waited for me for an embarrassingly long amount of time, we were back on the road.  Conclusion, my stomach problems, from birth, do not care if I am in Rwanda.

Nicole and I noticed these really really beautiful trees here.  We ask D about them who says that they are really important to Rwandan culture.  They are called the protector tree or umuko umurinzi in Kinyarwandan.  They have the most absolutely brilliantly red flower on them.


D then begins to tell us the mostly lovely story.  This music can go with it if you care to listen:

One of those words for the tree is the name of the tree.  The other one is the name the tree is now called, protector or guardian.  There is a folklore story in Rwanda, that there was once a hunter and a very important man named Ryoangombe.  He was a very important spiritual man that D describes as a Rwandan prophet on par with Jesus.  He says, in the time before the missionaries, the Rwandan people knew there was a god but that they didn’t know him and were afraid of him.  But, this Ryoangombe was very special and he could communicate with god and so he facilitates the relationship between the people and god.  Thus, he is similar to Jesus.  If you would like to read more on the Bantu religious stuff, here you go, it's interesting:

Anyway, this story.  Ryoangombe went out hunting one time.  Then there was this buffalo and the buffalo charged him and was chasing him and he didn’t know where to go.  He was trying to climb some trees but the trees wouldn’t let him.  Then, this tree, the protector tree, offered itself and he climbed up and was saved.  Thus, the tree is now named the protector tree.  And most Rwandans plant them either at the entrance to their land from the road or in front of their front door or both to guard them.  I don’t recall having seen any of them in Kigali, but the further away from the big city we went, the more and more and more of them we saw.

At this moment, D was expounding very seriously on how the relationship with god was finally facililitated and Nicole and I were completely enraptured (he has a very big sticker on his windshield that says “JESUS!”).  We were following the soft tones of his lilting voice just loud enough over the hum and thrum of the engine and the sound of rocks splashing around us when….BAM!!!

It took us a few seconds to figure out what happened.  Here is the order of events.  D first saw the bird coming microseconds before it hit the side window frame of Nicole’s front passenger side open window.  We all heard the crack.  There it smashed itself and died instantly and was promptly deposited into Nicole’s empty lap where her hands were lying open and up facing.  The dead bird landed in nicole’s hands.  At this moment feathers exploded into the car and flew back straight between the two front seats and into my face where I had been eagerly leaning forward to listen to D’s story.  A few microseconds later, Nicole registers the dead fluffy thing in her hands and shrieks and throws it out the window.  D begins to pull over.  Nicole holds up her open palms and regards the large amount of spattered blood all over them.  I begin to laugh quietly while trying to ask if Nicole was OK.  D hears me start to giggle as he regards the look of abject horror on Nicole’s face and begins to laugh also.  Just as we pull off the road, D and I begin to, verily, HOWL with laughter while Nicole starts to make disgusted and flabbergasted noises.  She opens the door and cleans her hands off this a bottle of water and some tissues.  Children come running to the car door screaming, with the absolute elation of having seen Elvis Presley alive again, MUZUNGU MUZUNGU!  Minutes pass before D and I can stop laughing before we are able to begin driving again.

After a while, D attempts to finish is spiritual exploration but cannot pick up the strain again because I continue laughing in fits and spurts as the event replays in my head again and again.  Quietly Nicole says, “I hope that wasn’t a sign…”

The drive continues.  You know, Rwanda is called the land of a thousand hills.  I thought, from looking at Rwanda and because Kigali is at altitude, yes, I can see that exactly.  Some people here, when they try to say in English this statement, land of a thousand…sometimes instead say mountains.  I thought that they were making a mistake of translation.  But as we were driving further into the heart of rural Rwanda, I am convinced that mountains is the right word.  It is so breathtaking and so infinitely dramatic.  There are rice paddies in every valley and banana and potato and other produce growing all over the terraced slopes.  It is so freaking green.  And they are SO STEEP.  Closer to Tanzania, they get more rolling and, apart from the red soil, could almost be mistaken for Ireland.

So, if you know me then you also know that this trip was very tiring for me because driving around corners up high in a place with no speed limits with lot's of people and motos and bicycles (though increasingly less of all of these) and buses and trucks and goats and stuff was a very tense day for me indeed.  D was kind enough to go slow on the turns after I asked him and I was much more comfortable.  Also, on the way home I found myself getting used to it.
The dirt road we turned down to get to the memorial off the main road.

We eventually arrived at Nyarubuye.  I cannot show you photos from the museum because it is not finished.  Nicole took some with special permission from CNLG because this is her research.  After I come back I can show you the pictures in person but I cannot post them online. 

If you would like to see some photos from after the genocide, when the bodies were mostly cleaned up, but before the compound had begun renovations to become a memorial, go here and click on the image to start the slide show:

We met with a tour guide that did not speak English very well and Nicole and I speak very little French.  D was obliged to come on the tour with us and translate which was nice of him because he would liked to have stayed at the car, I think.  He was visibly uncomfortable.  I have heard that he lost a lot of family and that he sometimes gets emotional at sites.

For a short write up on Nyarubuye to get a feel for what happened, you can read this:

We compound includes what was a convent, mass graves, and the church itself.  The convent is being turned into the memorial museum and the church, while under heavy construction, is still in use.  We first go to the mass graves.  There are 35,000 people buried there who were killed at Nyarubuye in just a few short days starting on April 13th 1994.  An additional 16,000 were also interred here from the surrounding rural area.  That is a total of an estimated 51,000 people right under the garden we were standing on.  The guide asks us to observe a minute of silence out of respect for their pain and their souls.  We do.  We then walk inside the convent area.  There a lot's of empty rooms whose floors and walls are being redone.  The gardens are being redone.

Often churches and priests and nuns were either complicit or they downright instigated the killing in their areas.  Officially, the church locally supported the Hutu power movement as did many governments having switched from officially supporting the Tutsi decades before.  But that is for a history lesson another time.

We walk into a long hallway.  At the beginning of this hallway are moldering items made of wood that look mildly like canoes.  We are told that this is equipment normally used for making banana bear but, since the sides are of a certain shape, lend themselves nicely to beheading.  Almost all of the implements of death in this region were not bullets because they could not get the guns and ammunition.  So they are the implements of life turned to atrocity.  These wooden items were buried because of their use and because they were so thoroughly soiled that they could not be used again for their original purposes.  And these in particular because apart from their use for beheading, they were used to collect the blood of the Tutsi.  The locals had a theory that because the Tutsi had so many cows and drank so much milk, that there blood was part milk.  They collected the blood and waiting hoping that it would turn to milk.

Further down the hallway was a pile of equipment of all types.  Mostly the heads of hoes that were used to kill people.  But there, right in the center, is a meat grinder.  D explains to us that they would cut out the heart of the Tutsi and grind them up, cook them, and eat them.  They thought that eating the hearts would make them taller and lighter skinned with longer noses and therefore would have better lives.

Behind the table of iron equipment there are very large tables, tables and tables, of clothing and shoes etc that were on the victims’ persons when they died.  The difference between the memorial sites in Rwanda and those concerning the Holocaust is primarily the distance observed between visitor and memorial items.  You can touch these items.  They are right there.  They are not behind glass.  You can smell them.

When all the masses of bodies lay mangled and broken and shot and sliced and bleeding and covered in blood, the rebels were concerned that people may still be alive and would survive with some injuries.  They then took those delicious hot peppers that I adore so much here in Rwanda and they mixed them with water and poured them on the bodies so that those that were still alive would awaken to the burn in their eyes and on their faces and in their wounds.

D later says that this was the only area in which eating of the Tutsi occurred.  He later said, quietly and thoughtfully, that the people of this area especially turned to animals during the genocide.  He wondered aloud what was wrong with them.

Further down the hallway are tables, and tables and tables of bones.  In front of them, in open top glass cases, are tables and tables of skulls.  Each bone piece seems to bear witness to the violence that its previous owner enduring.  There are machete slices in the faces, in the sides, on the top, in the femurs, in the tibias, and so on.  The skulls of children are the worst.  In almost every case, their fragile little faces are completely crushed in along with crushing at the back or top.

Lest you slide into racist thinking, don’t.  There is nothing special about the Rwandans that is not a mere product of circumstance and history.  You too would likely have smashed a child as well if you were in their place.  The guilt that most of them feel over their behavior is tremendous.

I read an interview recently from a man who started an organization after he was released from prison building houses for the orphans and widows of the men that he killed.  They often feel intensely about what they have done.  In this interview the man said, “God and my victims had so much mercy where I had none.  They have forgiven me.  But still, I will sin no more washed in their mercy.  I must stay clean and harm no one again in all my life.  I would rather die myself and should have died myself instead of doing what I did.”

At the end of the site was a small guest book filled with names.  I didn’t want to be rude and look them over, but now I wish I had.  There was space for name, where you are from, etc.  There was also a space for comments.  Many had written things like “powerful” or “moving”.  Nicole and I didn’t know what to write so we didn’t write anything.

Strangely, the guest book was before the rest of the tour.  On the outside corner of this building there are a number of large stones sitting, out of place, in a corner.  Additionally, the striation pattern on the rocks made me think of something in Alaska and not something in Rwanda.  I soon find out why.  They tell us that these are the stones on which the rebels sharpened their hoes and machetes as they got dull from slicing people.  They said there used to be blood but it has been washed by the rain after 20 years.  Next, there is a small room next to the four latrine rooms.  This small room, we are told, is the place where they took all of the women to violate them before they were killed.  They say that mostly they were raped but some of them were also violated with the wood used in some part of brewing banana beer. 

Nyarubuye is an important site for Nicole to visit as she is studying the mass rape and gendered aspect of the genocide.  This is the place where the most rapes occurred in one place.  Here in the room of a bloody convent.  After they were violated and killed, they were thrown into the deep holes under the latrines just next door.  Up to last year they were still finding bodies in the deep sewage holes under the latrines.  We are told that the excavation is done and they believe that they have finally found all the women.

The last stop on this horrid tour is the outdoor brick oven.  The convent here was renowned previously for its bread.  But the oven will never be used again and the recipe is lost because this oven was used to cook the bodies and the hearts of the Tutsi.  It will never be used again…

After this, we go into the church.  Just outside the door is a statue of Jesus with his arms open as in the last supper beckoning all who can see or hear to enter into a state of shalom within the arms of the mother church and the umukiza (savior).  This statue of Jesus is lying on its side.  It has no head, no arms, and no legs.  It was chopped to bits by the rebels because it looked Tutsi.

Do you see the harm of racism?  You must feel pity for both the perpetrator and the victim.  In almost every case, a perpetrator was previously a victim of something and this caused their behavior.  The Hutu previously felt left out even of spirituality and forgiveness and heaven because they didn’t look right to those with power, both ideological and material.

Even as I write this I am so sad for Rwanda and its history.  Even as I write this I can hear the singers at a local church singing traditional Rwandan religious music.  It is so moving and powerful.  I didn’t really think of Nyarubuye as powerful or moving.  I thought it was sad, unassuming in its incomplete state.  Outside there were children playing and following our every move with their eyes, or just following our every move.  There were workers working and banana beer is still being made.
Here is a house of a person with moderate wealth in rural Rwanda.

So, this was over.  We drove away in relative silence back down the dirt road for an hour towards the main paved road and back towards Kigali.  The clothes get less and less shabby and dirty, the shoes less often flipflops.  Out there in the country the taxis are not motos.  They are bicycles.  We often saw a bicycle with three people on the back or like, seriously, 200 or 300 pounds of bananas.  I saw someone ferrying someone sitting on the back holding two goats.  I saw someone ferrying a very, very large, and it looked heavy and hard to balance, wooden chest of drawers. 
This is a banana tree grove!

I think that’s enough for now.  There are a few more observations from the trip, but that can wait for tomorrow.  This was a bit of a weight I think.

Love you all and I am so grateful not to have been so oppressed and not have had the amount of division and trauma and slavery and terrible terribly suffering that the Rwandan people have endured on top of such continued prejudice in the world.  Did you hear, the US recently suspended aid to Rwanda on account of child soldiers?  This is patently wrong.  There are no and have never been any child soldiers in Rwanda.  There were very, very isolated incidents during the genocide but no child soldiers in the RPF.  There are some suspicions still about the role that Rwanda is playing in the conflict with rebel groups in the DRC, but that is definitely another post.
Small mud brick homes that are pretty ubiquitous in rural Rwanda.