Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Rwandom Rwanda

I just don’t really have the energy to do the long awaited photo post, especially with internet like it is.  When I have more time, when my job is done here, I will do.  I have lots now.  Speaking of job – I think I have 4 or 5 more days or real work at Gacaca now.  But, I will be here encoding videos until the 15th getting everything ready for the transcriber.  17 days left then home!

This will also be the very first Christmas that my husband and I will spend alone together, owing to lack of funds for travel.  On the one hand, I am bummed not to see family.  But on the other, I am sort of excited to be just us.

And my dog….I didn’t really think that I would miss my dog.  But it turns out I miss him desperately.  I can't wait to put my arms around his neck and keep him from desperately trying to lick me.

So, some stuff about Rwanda.  People run here.  I do not mean that they jog for exercise, though some do, or that they often just run from here to there because they are in a hurry, though some do that as well.  But…how can I explain this:

Remember when you were a kid and you and your friend were sitting in the living room and you wanted to show them something that was in your room but you wanted to stay in the living room?  You ran to your room and back.  Remember when you were outside playing and your mom called you in for lunch or whatever and you ran inside instead of walking, even though you could have walked?

Now remember how, somewhere along the way, you were taught to stop running.  Some of this was from direct orders:  no running in the house!  No running at the pool!  No running in the hallways!  And some of this was just from learning unconsciously about the norms around you.  Ever see someone run inside the sociology department?  Law firm?  IT department?  Grocery store?  No, you haven’t.  Not unless you work in a hospital or something.  Remember Star Trek, even?  They never freaking ran.  The universe is being sucked through a singularity in engineering and all the officers are walking as fast as their feet can carry them to the turbo lift (on that point, why not just use the transporter?  Anyway…).  Adults do not run in the USA.

BUT, adults DO run in Rwanda.  At my office there are about 20 total people working.  And sometimes, they run when they are going somewhere else in the building.  Sometimes people on the campus I am at are just running back from lunch.  For apparently no urgent reason, they run.  They run across the room to someone else’s desk.  This is so strange to me.  Playful though, I love the energy that it makes me feel to be near.  Additionally, I think this compliments the fact that Rwandese walk so slowly.  You can tell a muzungu with dark skin even amongst similar looking Rwandese because they appear to be power walking in comparison to those around them.  And the same is true of me.  Any walk any where is an act of bobbing and weaving through a crowd until I remember to just slow down.  Am I really in a hurry?  No.  Also everything is uphill everywhere, so...just slow down and try to sweat less.

Also, when it is the rainy season, it pours, in my life at least.  I am desperate to go home.  And my breath smells.  It's from the water.  When I first came here I noticed it on everyone else.  Now I can smell my own breath.  Because all water, though sanitary enough after being boiled, still smells awful.  I don’t know what it is but it seeps into your body and then seeps out.  I only feel better about it because everyone else smells that way, too.

So, on top of all that (if anyone says “first world problems” here, I will slap you) yesterday I felt something weird that felt like it was attached to one of my back top molars.  I was like, what could that be?  So I was digging into my mouth and picking at this thing with my fingernail when it came loose and came out.  I looked at it.  It looked like it could be, I don’t know, plaque or something.  Gross I though and got rid of it right around the time when I realized that there was now a GAPING hole in the tooth I had been picking at.  It took me a second.  Perhaps you understand right away…I’ll give you a moment while I tell you a story:

I have great teeth.  I was blessed with them.  My parents both had terrible teeth but in different ways.  Though my teeth were, like my fathers, designed to be so crooked, I was also blessed with braces at the right moment.  My teeth are a good color.  I have no problems with loosening and they don’t stain easily and they get whiter easily.  I don’t even floss.

When I was about 7 or 8 I went to the dentist and there were some problems in my teeth.  They filled the three spots and since then, apart from the receding gum line on my front bottom teeth as a result of a permanent retainer (I am supposed to have a gum graft – I can't think of anything more disgusting – at some point in the future when I am not traveling imminently to a developing country), my teeth have been perfect regardless of what I do or do not do to or with them.

Got it figured out now?  Yesterday I inadvertently pulled out one of my fillings.  REALLY?!  IN RWANDA!?  RIGHT NOW?!

I ran outside and told my friend who laughed hysterically.  Though I had to explain about fillings.  She says they are uncommon and that most Rwandese do not go to the dentist.  How then can you explain that fact that so many Rwandese I see have, seriously, sparkling white teeth and breath that only smells as bad as mine?  Maybe whatever that smell is, is good for teeth.  I doubt it.

Then I called my husband who has already made an appointment for me with my dentist.  What the hell!

Another thing, there is so much literature, and it is usually either literature or what passed for normative racial pseudo science around the turn of the 20th century, arguing about what darker and lighter skin means.  Let me tell you some of the things that having darker skin means in a day to day way:

1.     Blemishes just look like bumps and not so much like the PLAGUE that it appears on white skin.

2.     Woolier African hair doesn’t like to be dried out, my friend tells me, so while they do use something to clean it and it always smells and looks nice, they only have to wash it once a month and they think I am crazy for washing it every other day.  I explained that my grandmother’s generation felt differently about this and about the excuse to turn down a date because you needed to wash your hair.  She assures me that this is still a common excuse in Rwanda.

3.     Very dark skin refuses to obtain a so called “farmer’s tan” or “red neck” so prevalent in my own national heritage.

4.     Dark skin looks good in every single color.  Every single one.  Whereas I am a “winter”.  Really?  Pink is my best color and I basically refuse to wear it.

5.     And last but not least of this short weird and opinionated list, darker skin doesn’t show hickeys.  Why is this important to me?

Not because I have a hickey.  In fact, I have what is commonly called among the Irish a “strawberry mark”.  In fact, I have two of them.  One is directly on my forehead and comes from a long family tradition of weird forehead marks that only come out until extreme stress or bodily upset (as in crying for a long time).  My grandmother had what looked like a V on her forehead coming straight up from between the eyes up to her hairline.  We joked that this made her look more evil when she was really, really angry and therefore suited her.  My grandmother said it was a V for Victory as in her generation’s victory in WWII.  My mother has a check mark.  It's the same as grandmother’s except that she is missing part of one of the stems of the V.  And this is how we all know that my mom’s OK.  The joke was that when she was born, god came down to check her out and see if she was a bad egg but god said, nope, this one’s OK.  And I … I have a question mark.  Seriously, I have a question mark on my forehead.  This my mother loves.  She says that god came down and said, “I don’t know about this one…”

But this isn’t something I encounter often, not so much to cry about these days (knock wood).  But the second of these strawberry marks in on my neck.  If you look at it dead on it doesn’t look like much.  Like maybe I just scratched it a bit or something.  But at an angle, which is how most people look at this spot because it's on the side of my neck, and it seriously looks like a hickey.  It isn’t always there but sometimes it is there.  My friend was asking me about this…where did I get this “love bite” she says?!!?  Oh god, it's not a love bite.

In my department people have asked me, who I am close to, occasionally, how I feel about showing off my sex life in front of my students.  Seriously, it's not a hickey.  And being as white as I am (I am not so much white, either.  Even the famous, though you probably don’t know it, song from the very famous musical Hair says, “”I’m pink…” though I would say it was more like being depigmented (which in fact is the reality) and that I am more see-through than anything else) it's like I am hyper-colored.  You touch me and I change colors.  I scratch my face because the soft water here makes me itchy along with the changing humidity all day long and whatever I scratch looks like I have some skin disorder.

A couple more things while I am on a roll…

The day before yesterday I was walking into my office when a police officer came up to me.  He was tall and young and dark and good looking.  He carried, like all police, a loaded AK47 that always faces both at the ready and away from people, to the side and diagonally up.  We chatted for a moment, first in Kinyarwandan, what little I do know, and then in Icyongereza (eecheeyongahrezah or English).  Then he asked me out on a date.  I don’t mean to belabor the ethical problems with asking someone on a date while you carry a loaded automatic weapon.  But…what a racket this guy has!  I apologize in English and Kinyarwanda and perform all necessary, both female and general, performances of apology and humility and that of being flattered and appreciative and say, no, I am married.  Thank god I have this handy dandy ring on my finger.

Side note: even if I wasn’t married, cause this guy seemed nice and smart and good looking, I would have said no on principle because of the gun.

I’ll leave you with a couple of short lists (can you tell I like lists?  Huh?  Huh?!  This is seriously how my brain works) I am beginning and hope to continue.  List of my favorite Rwandan words because they look and sound absurd and are therefore really fun to say:

1.     Dodo (that spinach like stuff)

2.     Nyabugogo (a bus station that I frequent)

3.     Umudugudu (I think this is how it is spelled, the word for like the community or townships or villages or something along those lines)

4.     Gatandatu (the number 6, however you think to pronounce it, though it seems obvious, is probably wrong.  Emphasis is EVERYTHING in Kinyarwandan).

5.     Also, I can't remember the exact words right now, but Rwandese have no words that mean extreme version of descriptions.  Like, for the word tiny, you mean something like very little.  They actually say “little little”.  This is the same for very slowly, you say something like “slowly slowly” which results in repeated multi syllable fragments at the end of the same multi syllable word.  I like these words, they sound funny and cute.  The word for slowly slowly is gakegake which is pronounced gachAAgachAA.  I have not yet figured out the convention for when a k is a k and when a k is a ch as in Gacaca which is pronounced gachacha.

An addendum to my last post on sex, I wish I had this info before so I could have posted along with that one.  Hilarious condoms.  My friend here, who I have yet to tell you about and with good reason, though you will know more soon, recently went to a military hospital in order to learn more about HIV preventative medicines in Rwanda.  Here he received these, these best of all possible and most hilarious of things:


Quality military condoms!!!!  OMG, I still cannot stop laughing about these, be warned, the next bit is offensive but I can't help it:
1.     First, are they bullet proof?!?!!?  Protect your thing even when your government cannot afford Kevlar!  Foreign aid only cares about protecting the “little man”.
2.     “Are you armed?”  Ahahahahah!  Are you “third” armed?  Hahaha.  This is actually quite clever, underneath.  Are you armed?  Are you a man?  Do you have your “arms”?  Your “gun”?  Your “weapon”?  And if so, then are you “armed” with your condoms for your defense of your “weapon”?  If so, then you are a “real” man, the most manliest of men, a soldier.
3.     Are the actual condoms camouflaged?!  Protect your thing, have sex, even in the JUNGLE!  On combat maneuvers?  That’s ok, we have you “covered” during your “maneuvers”!
4.     “Protect yourself from HIV.  Protect the nation”.  This cracks me up.  Does the USA have propaganda condoms like this?  It should say, “Protect yourself WHILE you protect the nation”.  And of course, in true sociological advice from me, it should not say nation but state or country.  I can't help but think that just a slight change in the wording increased the incidence of rape during the genocide.  “Protect yourself, protect the “nation”” where nation means ethnicity.
5.     The comic book cover cracks me up.  There was an artist out there who came up with that!  Were they commissioned?  That’s hilarious!  If not, were they doing something else and then it was coopted for these condoms?  Equally hilarious!  It looks, as another friend of mine noticed, like the cover for an original NES game.  I think the game would be called “Arm your Johnson III”. 
6.     Also, my friend here reminded me about the enlargement of women’s “sex” here.  Maybe they have a “for her” version as well.  You could engage in your own personal battle of the sexes!
7.     What about all those stamps on the bottom!  These are so OFFICIAL!  Just like my bureaucratic letters that get me in places!  I LOVE IT SO MUCH!
8.     Did you notice that they were VANILLA FLAVORED!  Ahahahah!  It makes sense to flavor them nicely because you don’t know what people would use them for and it's nice to have nice flavors for your partner.  But really, that takes away from the hardcore “little” soldier aspect.  Really, it's in the upper right hand corner?
What do you think?  Any other good names for the NES game associated with the condom cover? 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Let’s Talk About Sex (and Blood)

Let’s just start right off with something less than usually publically appropriate.  My friend here told me that the reason that Rwandese women are not bodily shy, though they are intensely modest (they are different) is because of their mothers and a particular cultural traditional practice that, while falling out of fashion, is still prevalent enough:  giant clitorises.

It used to be, my friend told me which has been corroborated elsewhere, that mothers would begin with their very young girls just at puberty, and tug on their “sex” to make it bigger and longer.  Later on, so I have been told, girls now, in addition to the everyday exercise of tugging on it, they also use “medicine” to make it bigger.  I don’t know what that means.  Are they using some Harry Potter engorgement spell-like lotion?  Are they taking testosterone and growing them?

Anyway, my friend tells me that men often think that without a large clitoris and labia minor that you are not really a woman.  How different this is from the USA.  The purpose of this stretching and enlargement, apart from aesthetics, is to INCREASE sexual pleasure for women and men are taught foreplay with regard to women’s genitals as a result.  It looks like some cultures get it right.  If you want to make a woman pregnant, studies show that she needs to climax and this causes the cervix to dip down during orgasm’s contractions and it pulls in more semen.  Thus, unprotected sex that results in a woman’s orgasm is more likely to result in pregnancy.

If you want to read a tad more about these practices, the best place to start with something you know nothing about is always Wikipedia, so here it is:

Part of this article, and my further research has shown, that all studies categorize this practice as “modification” and not “mutilation” as it has no ill effects on women unless she is lied to about the benefits.  With one exception, my friend says.  You should make it X long and not Z long, and she uses her finger to show me.  She says her mother and other women told her this measurement, because any longer and it can obstruct birthing and the doctor may be forced to mutilate you in the process to get the baby out.

I told her that all cultures have some practice like this.  She says that she thought I would be shocked at this Rwandan cultural practice.  I told her no.  and she says, see, but you still think it's funny.  But you don’t think it's bad because you are very smart.  Anyway, I told her about the extraordinarily ubiquitous practice, in the USA, of decreasing the amount of body hair on women including on their sex.  She thought this was odd until I told her of the various methods of doing so.  Then she thought it will downright silly.  She said, HOW EXPENSIVE!  I agreed.  She said, how much time to spend!  I agreed.  She said, yes but it's not natural!  I agreed but told her also that labia and clitoral stretching is also not natural.  She is forced to agree.  But then she tells me, when you remove hair then you have problems with spots.  She means pimples and blemishes and in grown hairs.  I agree.  She says, HOW HORRIBLE!  I agree again.

OK, now that this is out of the way, more on a more general note:

This is totally crazy.  I have repeatedly received emails from an email address listed as coming from Saul Garlick and an organization called Think Impact.  Maybe some of you sociologists out there have also received one for travel to developing countries to do various kinds of work.  Anyway, staying at the house with us now is a woman who is almost 10 years younger than me who is a freaking co-owner of this company with whom I have previously considered employment.  It really, really is a small world.

Here is the website for what they do:

More on Rwandan culture and family:  people here often refer to various other people as brother and sister and mother and etc.  But they are not related.  Before and after the genocide it is common here to “adopt” people into your family.

People here drink each other’s blood to seal “family” which is oh so important, especially after the genocide.  They are “blood” to one another.  Lest you think this is another story of dark skinned weird and exotic cannibalism, I did just this sort of thing growing up with my dark skinned compatriots in elementary school and junior high even.  You think that tribe means something here?  It's the same in the USA.  The thing is, a rose does not smell as sweet if you call it something “different”.  The whole concept of Orientalism.  I reference here again that article on the Nacirema.  The way you describe things, if you already think they are “different” or “exotic” makes a difference.

Someone I know here recently told me their story about the genocide.  A good friend you will remember.  She was only about 9 or so when it happened.  Her father never came home again.  She said that she couldn’t even trust her closest friends that weren’t family after that.  That she went through a long period of crisis and trauma where she couldn’t even be around men who were wielding the normal implements of life in Rwanda (a machete, a garden hose, a knife, a stick (there are many special “sticks” used for various things here that were also used as murder weapons during the genocide) etc.).  It was painful to try to imagine the common utensils of life suddenly being forever linked with, not just death, but, the death of a loved one and the threatened death of yourself.  My friend now has many of members of her “family” and this includes a great love for muzungus in whose hands you can trust most implements, she says.

I am still trying to get around to posting more photos, but the rainy season has started to really live up to its name and internet is even harder to come by – thought the rain is exciting and the temperature completely comfortable.  It's night time now and I am wearing a sweater at the equator!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


So this will hopefully be a long post because of the long interim in which I have not posted.  The reasons:

1.     I am extremely immersed in work now and am rushing to completion.  My friend here is concerned about me because I work all the time.  Yeah?  Well, I don’t have to cook my own food or do my own laundry and that’s something.  Thanks friend!

2.     The time I have spent without either power or internet has increased by a large factor.

3.     Whenever I do have power and internet I have to spend that limited time grading for my online course and also in applying to post docs in order to make sense of next year for myself. 

Anyway, things are busy.  So much has happened that I have wanted to post about though and I make notes for myself that I can't seem to get around to.  This is not how I wanted this blog to be.  A good blog is often good because it is dependable.  Well, nothing about Rwanda is dependable…except my friend that is.

So, to the blog title:

Here is the Wikipedia definition for hysteresis:

It basically refers to objects that are removed from one system and yet still behave according to the prior system in a more general systems theory applicable in lots of places and theories.  One of those is the sociological theory of Bourdieu:

Hysteresis according to Bourdieu:  the condition that results from having a habitus that is not appropriate for the situation in which one lives

I would be delighted if you would peruse my lecture presentation on the day that I talk about Bourdieu, hysteresis, and moving to Rwanda prepared for my theory course last spring.  But, there are not lecture notes to accompany it.  However, I still think you will get a laugh from it.  And you know it was important because Jay-Z himself helped me to teach it:

Anyway, why is the title of this post hysteresis?  Because I am experiencing it like mad.  In other words, culture shock.  I am over the shock of the shock.  But I am desperately homesick.  I love Rwanda but without any real way to process all of the information around me (that is, without being able to really talk to people intimate to me and to adjust emotionally and intellectually) things are extremely hard.

It is not because:

1.     I have not had a hot shower in 2 months.

2.     Rwanda has really soft water.  In that freezing cold bucket bath I take in the morning, I have to use TONS of freezing cold water to get the shampoo out of my long hair.

3.     I have to bring toilet paper with me everywhere

4.     I cannot eat another bean nor would I like to for the rest of my life

5.     I am developing diabetes from the constant stream of carbs and sugar and my mood suffers for this as well (carbs make you crash and cranky and sleep funny ya’ll, learn it!)

6.     At my work when I ask for coffee they serve me boiled condensed milk with tons of sugar and one teaspoon of instant coffee totally inundated with powdered ginger, which while it tastes really good is like drinking a hot milk shake in 100 degree weather (it's not really 100 degrees it just feels like it to me in the specific place I work at which I can't tell you about because it's a secret)

7.     A dozen other strange things

It is because:

1.     I hurt my foot somehow and now walking the long distance up hill in the heat towards a bus where everyone will turn around to stare at me and be close enough to sweat on me and touch me and be concerned with what is in my backpack and where I am going and can I give them money is really really a lot harder than it was before.  I have been taking a cab to work.  And as cheap as the buses are is as expensive as the cabs are.

2.     I sweat so much that I am concerned about getting some sort of fungus or infection in my crevices

3.     The staring.

4.     The fact that my name is not muzungu and that just because my skin is light doesn’t mean I have ANY money.

5.     The staring.

6.     The fact that even though I have made a ton of “friends” they all just leave or don’t want to hang out with me anymore because I am leaving, but see below about Hamada.

7.     To reiterate…the staring.  It makes me crazy.  I get ruder to people everyday.  I just can't take it anymore.

Totally random bit of information, which is basically how this post will be throughout, my online course was recently observed/evaluated by a distinguished professor in my department who I respect very much but have little reason to interact with.  I would like to just quote the very last paragraph of their extended evaluation of my course:

“In sum, Ms. Mitchell’s course far exceeds the minimal requirements for an on-line course (or even an off-line course) taught out of the UAlbany Sociology Department.  She has created a rigorous and comprehensive program of instruction in the subject matter, and it is clear that she cares deeply about her students and their ability to master the requisite material.  This course could, in many ways, serve as a template for the development of successful on-line courses.”

A part from the fact that I am now a Mrs. (soon to be Dr.!), this obviously made me ecstatic.

Based on my calculations at work, I think I can be done by about December 6th.  In order to be safe, my husband and I agreed that it would be reasonable to buy a plane ticket for December 15th.  We have done so.

A few things about this:  I am so excited to go home.  Really, really, dreadfully missing home.  It's not that I want to be away from Rwanda.  In all actuality, I love Rwanda.  I said so to begin with, the idea of Rwanda I always loved and the first impression.  But upon further consideration, I really and truly love it here.  There are a few problems though:  my family, my friends, my dog, and my stuff.  Home is not in Rwanda.  Additionally, I could never live in Rwanda.  While I am here I am suffering from what, for me, is like seasonal affective disorder or whatever it is called.  It really is a never-ending summer for me.  Except that as a tropical and summery place, Rwanda is absolute paradise.  Unfortunately, I LOVE LOVE LOVE the autumn and spring.  Autumn because melancholy is my true nature and I feel as if the world is expressing me in the autumn from the colors to the crispness in the air to the crunch of falling leaves to the smell.  Second, because I love snow.  I really do love snow.  Last, because I really do not enjoy putting my hair up every single freaking day.  I want to “let my hair down” so to speak.  And last, last (you already know my issues with “last”), the gender issue.  It's true that the USA is in many ways as backward about gender as Rwanda.  But it is in ways that I was already trained to deal with.  I miss my department and being around sociologists, though.  Sociology departments and conferences, etc., are all like safe little cocoons in which I have felt more like myself than anywhere on earth (apart from the presence of my husband and my close friends and…my good friend here in Rwanda who I would do anything to take home with me).

So, since I miss so many thing about home, a few words on what I miss and the trip home.  First, it seems like I will be moving on back home.  I cannot continue to stay in Albany.  I am going to miss my department a lot.  So much so that I had a dream that, unable to find a reasonable job or post doc, that I decided to go back to school for my JD or something.  Because this is mostly memorization.  And that I am really good at.  And, compared to what I know, and what I know is intimate and informed, about both JD and top-tier department sociology study – law would be really, really easy.

Second, I am obsessed with my flight.  I will bring a change of clothes, I will be, at least bodily, in Istanbul!!! (not Constantinople).  I think I am beginning to count the days.

My good friend here who you will remember is not OK with the fact that I will be leaving.  She wants me to stay forever.  I want to bring her around with me.  I really do adore here.  In some ways, I was concerned that I had really romanticized her as some sort of in road or representative to the entirety of my internal Rwandan fantasy.  But, I assure you, I have spent a realty large amount of time with her.  And I REALLY like her as a person.  I think she is really great.

My friend, as I mentioned before, is trying to start her own business for beauty services.  I recently asked her for a massage.  She explained things to me even as I experienced them because she is good with muzungu.  Some interesting facts about Rwandan massages:

1.     There is no nicely placed or kindly held sheet to cover your naughty bits.  You are all there in your all together.

2.     They massage EVERYWHERE if you let them.  You have to tell them not to REALLY massage your derriere or your breasts, though if you have ever been pregnant or are currently pregnant they will not do it.

3.     It includes a hot washcloth with a bit of soap “bath” before and after.

4.     Good places will even massage your face and your hair…with oil.  Eeewww...feels good but leaves you feeling disgusting.  As my friend recently told me here, though, muzungu like their hair differently.  I came out of my room after a long day of writing and encoding and was feeling sweating and oily and grimy and needed a bath.  My hair was like an oil slick on my head.  I can't remember feeling that “naturally” gross without including something that didn’t come from my body.  I remarked to my friend that I was so gross and that I didn’t even want my hair to touch me anymore.  She told me, “see, it's funny, now I think your hair looks really nice!  After a shower when my hair is dry, you know, how muzungu like it, I think it's terrible).  Of course, I am paraphrasing.

I have also noticed my speech patterns changing from speaking to Rwandans all the time.  I can't really describe this easily.  Maybe I will try sometime, but if you speak to me near my return date then I can tell you and you will probably notice it yourself.

On my dissertation – from what I have seen in my work and in the culture and from the thousands of bits of anecdotal evidence that is entirely nonscientific and yet I think important, I believe that my dissertation hypothesis is utterly correct.  I feel really good about this and it helps me to sleep at night.

The other day, one of the Rwandan women here was trying to make sweet bread ball biscuit roll things in the oven.  She asked me if I can help her to bake it because she doesn’t know how to work the oven.  I helped her.  As I was helping her I told her that my husband does all the baking at home.  The women found this hilarious.  And after I told them about us, and based on more information they have received about us, they think that he is a spectacular person and are happy that I am with him.

On this point, the other day as my friend was painting my toenails, I introduced her to Manhattan Transfer.  Very few people will know who that is on here, but my mother will know and appreciate it.  I told her about the song “Operator” which is about a person trying to call Jesus in heaven on the phone.  “Operator, give me information, information, give me long distance, long distance, give me heaaaaaavvvvvvveeeeenn.”  I was whistling the song and telling her about it.  She started cackling with laughter.  I said what?  She said in Rwanda women do not whistle because it makes men feel bad.  Because only bosses whistle.  I can only imagine where this comes from.  I imagine Belgian or British or French or Germans whistling while overseeing darker skinned bodies working and that makes me sad.  Anyway…women cannot whistle here because they say it's like people will think that you think that you are the boss.  And it's worse if you are married.  You cannot even whistle while you are home alone.  A neighbor might hear you and tell your husband later!  And of course, with most gender bending traits, what a good married women cannot do, prostitutes have always been able to do.

Just another thing that I think is metaphoric for Rwanda.  Here, sometimes, in the heat of the day, I can see Umbria / Tuscany, Italy.  It is so gorgeous and they pay attention to how to use certain house types and certain building materials and certain window restraint at different times of the day (plus drapes) to deal with the heat.  And sometimes rosemary wafts on air.  They love to use this to cook, just like Italians.

So what is different, apart from red soil, sometimes what wafts on the hot (humid or dry depending on the day and time of year) is the sweet smell of rosemary.  And sometimes it is the acrid smell of human waste…PEE PEE ya’ll. Because what else are you going to do with it if the water is off?!  Put it in the gutter.  So, one part Europe and two parts medieval Europe and you have Rwanda.

So, what are my days like here now that I am working?  I wake up at 6am.  I barely put myself together and have some tea.  Then I walk a half a mile to the bus station.  Then I get on a bus (I have already described this experience…being stared at, harrowing danger around every high altitude corner, touching, and people talking about me  (my ears are finely tuned to hear the word muzungu)).  Then I arrive.  I walk in past many AK47s with a COPY of my passport (not the actual thing), an official letter with a thousand official stamps, and my handy dandy badge saying that I am an “official” visitor.  Then I start work.  At 7 AM!!!!!

Why 7am?  I have a theory about that.  By 8am it's really really hot in the sun and you cannot continue to wear what are the business norms for clothes here.  It's true that Africans often wear brightly colored clothes.  But the business class here wears like wool and silk and dark clothes and really nice shoes.  I can't even keep up with them with my clothes from the west.  Not because I don’t have them, but because I’ll melt.

Another thing, they don’t seem to really work all that much.  At first, they pray.  A pastor comes in and prays for like half an hour out loud, or actually he gives like a little sermon and then prays.  At the same time everyone else prays out loud.  So there is a cacophony of Kinyarwandan voices praying out loud.  And then they seem to work for a while.  Then they take lunch for an hour and a half.  And then they nap.  And then they watch videos or hang out or continue napping.  And then they leave precisely at 5pm.  Unless it's Friday and then they leave at 3pm.  Unless someone there is getting married or their cousin died recently and then they all leave on a bus for the funeral together.  It's interesting.  They think I am crazy because I arrive and work even through lunch every single second until I reach a good stopping point near the closing time and then I leave regardless of what actual time it is.

At the office they have assigned assistants that get boxes or bring things to you and assigned assistants that do the floors and clean your desk (in the morning while I am already trying to get to work).  And assigned assistants that bring you tea or bread and things.  It's pretty nice service.  They also have completely open doors and windows and wasps that come in whenever you have your hot milkshake coffee.

So I am petrified of wasps and bees.  It's a legitimate phobia among my other phobias (all of which I have met in Rwanda, it's a personal challenge that my phobias are winning for the most part).  Anyway, when a giant one came in and was really interested in my bananas, I basically ran and went part way up some stairs I the warehouse and crouched and watched the invader rampage around the room and watched everyone else not notice.  And if you think that you know what a large wasp looks like and if you think that everything is bigger in Texas, you have never seen a Rwandan wasp and hopefully you will never have to.  The people all started to stare at me wondering what I am doing.

They were all laughing at me.  This is a common occurrence.  When I tried to explain that I only wanted hot water only to put my tea bag in instead of my hot milkshake, when I told them that I am afraid of wasps, when I am sweating in the afternoon and they are wearing jackets still, when I ever say anything in Kinyarwandan this is good for fits of laughter, in particular from the women.

Sometimes on the way home I stop at a restaurant/pub called Joy Time (inspired name!) that is on my walk home depending on which bus I got on and which stop I get off at.  Everyone stares at me there too as I order my beer.  But they are really nice to me.  I wish I could spend more time there and that I wasn’t alone so much.

I have a ton more that I can post but I am afraid I will lose internet shortly as the power is flickering.  I will go ahead and post this now with my best wishes from Rwanda and my heart missing so many things.  Next time will probably be another long post or a picture post.  I have tons of photos that I want to share withyou, technology allowing.  Anyway, sleep tight.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Death and the Maiden (err, Married Woman)

I thought long and hard before posting this blog – I wrote the majority of it over a week ago – but have since decided that if you can read about my boogers then you can read this.  Warning: there are some triggers here.  If you have a hard time being in the presence of blood or reading about gore, maybe you should think twice about reading this post.  On the other hand, maybe you are in dire need of reading this post.  Studies are conflicted on this point.  Plus, since this is both sociological and personal, this is a way to get to know more of how my mind works, if you are interested, assuming you are because you are reading my personal blog.

I was thinking recently about death in films.  There is something really essential that they leave out of it.  It's easy enough to show someone being shot.  But not so easy to show what death looks like.  And it's easy enough to cinematically show someone hacking at, really, the ground with a machete, but not so easy to show what it looks like to hack a body with a machete.

A few thoughts on this:  The body wants to live.  It can survive really heinous and severe mutilation and live on for hours or even days afterwards.  Even if the person is not conscious, you would know that they were alive as their body fights.

1.     Consider a gunshot wound to the gut.  Gutshot, as the westerns call it.  You shoot someone in the gut, it takes them days to die.  And they die of infection.  Not blood loss, not severed arteries, not a broken spine, infection.  There are all kinds of things in your gut that when punctured leak things that are really bad for other types of tissue, bile, acid, waste, etc.  Death by gut infection.  This is not a nice way to go.  The only scene in a movie that describes this that comes to mind was from the film The Three Kings.

2.     Consider being strangled.  How long do you think it takes to strangle someone?  This is not the same thing as being “choked out” which is a much more severe move, usually nonlethal but can became lethal if the air passage is continually constricted, but immediately cuts blood flow to the brain.  But strangling someone is different.  Choking someone out is difficult and takes skills that most people do not have.  Strangling someone until they are unconscious will take over a minute.  Strangling someone until they are dead, because the body will keep fighting for the breath, takes over 6 minutes.  Bizarrely, if you look up the key words, “how long does it take to strangle someone to death” there are 1.5 million hits on Google.  The closest thing I have seen to this on film personally was an episode of Breaking Bad and the film No Country for Old Men.  These scenes were both gruesome and uncomfortable but also shorter than it would actually take.  Drowning works similarly, btw.

3.     Most westerners seem to have no idea what a dead body looks like.  It takes a day or so, but the body bloats and farts and skin and fat begin to, in a manner of speaking, melt off, blood pools into the parts for the body closest to the ground.  Does anyone know what dead eyes look like?  You know from the movies, but really, it's worse than that.  It's is the ultimate stuff of nightmares to me.  There are a ton of really interesting philosophical cum psychological ideas on this.  The “deadness” and depth of human eyes that creates fundamental horror in us.  Because they eyes are really the window to the soul.  They are the window to the ultimate horror – the other.  What are they thinking?  You can never really know, hence the horror.

4.     How easy is it to move a body?  Not easy.  Can you imagine moving a 150 pound, or more, octopus where each limb weighed about the same as the rest of the body?  Even dragging that dead gangly weight is difficult.  About the only exposure most people have to what moving dead bodies, really dead not dummies and not limp live people, but truly, no muscle use, dead bodies is from films of the Holocaust, of throwing those bodies into pits and onto piles.  And what does it look like?  It's awkward.  Human bodies are terribly, terribly, awkward.  This is almost unshowable in films.  And when they hit rigor, they are more awkward, because they won’t move in predictable ways.  It's not that they do not move at all, as if they were a log, but they do not move in predictable ways.  And what about the rotting body?  Moving a body that is already decomposing?  The ligaments let loose and skin pulls away from flesh and stretches, adipose tissue squishes and wounds open further and things spill out because the fascia is no longer working to get organs in place.

5.     Another thing we never see, we never see anything that realistically looks like hacking someone up in films.  There are just countless horror films with knife stabbings and ax hackings and sword jabbings, but there is no sense of what it is like to cut off an arm with a machete.  Let me give you a hint, do you know one of the highest paying jobs in medieval Europe?  The headsman.  It is very difficult to take off a limb or a head with one blow even with extreme skill and a very, very sharp blade.  This is the reason why Madame le guillotine was so treasured as a humane form of execution for so long.  Because it didn’t hack the head half off.  Do you recall all of those cases in the news, real cases, where some woman was stabbed by her boyfriend or husband like 76 times and survives?  That’s a thing.  That happens.  It happens relatively often.  It's amazing how many people can survive having the back of their neck hacked at with a machete more than 50 times in a failed attempt to severe their head, who were in a house that was then set on fire and so half their body is also burned, who escape to live in a stinking fly and mosquito infested swamp for over a month with no clean water and no food who then survive!  That is a real case in Rwanda.  The body wants to survive, if it can, it will.  But this we never see.  We don’t know what this woman looks like (because she was a woman).  We don’t know what it looks like to see someone hacked up with a machete outside of horror films.  And that isn’t because it isn’t on film somewhere.  It is.

6.     What about beating?  Can you imagine how long it would take, how many punches or hits with a baseball bat, it takes to kill a person if you were only beating their head?  The skull…it's really resilient unless you get a lucky shot.  People can be beaten, all over their body, until they literally do not look human.  People can have their skull fractured here and there and still survive.  I know this from personal experience.  No I didn’t try to beat a human to death (or did I…)  But there was an incident with a raccoon that was dying slowly that I had hit with my car.  It was the humane thing to do and I still bare the emotional scar from the incident.  The only scene I have seen of anything reflecting reality in this capacity is a movie that you will not want to see for any reason…it is a French film called Irreversible.  It is a really good film and I completely DO NOT recommend it.  It won awards at film festivals where people walked out of the film in droves because they could not witness it.

Our issues with death in the United States are really strange.  There is a good book that discusses the fact that we have the death penalty but we decreasingly use it in the US and everywhere because increasingly, as we remove ourselves from nature, we cannot bare to witness the messiness, the smelliness of death.  The book is by Phillip Smith and is called Punishment and Culture.

Academicians make arguments that video games and movies desensitize people to violence.  I think it desensitizes people to the IDEA of violence.  Makes it seem easy.

The thing is that Americans do not have to really deal with trauma and they do not have to really deal with death and extreme pain.  Of course, we deal with it personally, individually.  We have an entire industry designed to deal with trauma and emotional pain.  This way you can pay for therapy instead of allowing your culture to explain how you feel for you through the support of your community.  How else can you explain increased rates of PTSD for soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and Vietnam but not so much for WWII and other wars elsewhere?  How else can you explain that rape victims in the USA may not be able to function AT ALL but those in Rwanda go on with their lives.  Or even rape victims in the USA?  How can you explain that rape victims in the US military are totally shattered above and beyond the rates of those who were the victim of civilian rape?  Culture and support man.  If you do not have a plausible cultural story that allows you to fit your experience within and explains fully your personal story of pain, then it makes no sense for you and your identity is shattered.

But, first, the Rwandese do not have this individualization of trauma and they do have extreme trauma.  Every single person here was affected in some very intense way by the genocide.  And who helped them to deal with it?  Every single person here has seen what real pain looks like.  Whether through the genocide – seeing a person bleed out because their arm was chopped off and no one knows how to bind the arteries to keep them from dying (you can't just put on a tourniquet and bind the wound like in the movies to keep a person from bleeding to death), or because they have no recourse for the “regular” trauma of life.  That is, rape (and I know rape shouldn’t be a run of the mill thing that happens to people, except for the fact that it IS in patriarchal cultures), TB, HIV, random sicknesses, accidents, again “run of the mill” motives for murder, etc.

On this point I would like to note that, in western medicalized and beauty obsessed culture, we are no longer privy to viewing the normal range of human variation anymore.  You can change your looks, you can change your hair color, you can fix those funny ears or nose or chin or cheeks, you can lose or gain weight (mostly) depending on the prevailing standards of beauty in your locale.  Hell, you can even change your skin and eye color.  But here, there are people with untreated cataracts, untreated birth defects, un “treated” this and that.  It's times like these that I remember that gorgeous line from Robin Hood: The Prince of Thieves:  “Allah loves wondrous variety.”

On another but related note: since I have been in Rwanda, I have been obsessed with the next generation of zombie literature and films.  I am not sure why, but, after giving it some thought:  who are ALWAYS the real enemies in zombie films?  The living people.  The theme of the recent and highly acclaimed series The Walking Dead points this out.  Because, in fact, the title does not refer to the zombies but to the people left behind.  And this, I think, is one of the main themes running through the entire zombie genre:  genocide.  I think this is the reason I have been obsessing about this genre.  Zombies, they want to kill you.  Why?  Because you are ALIVE.

Mixed in with this is always other concerns of the day, all equally relevant: the general “end” of life as we know it culturally for a thousand reasons that small minded people fear, nuclear hazards, post-apocalyptic (for any reason) thinking, viruses and illnesses, the uncontrollability of either runaway multiculturalism or runaway racism as a response to multiculturalism, etc. 

But most importantly, the main point of the genre is always about globalization (that is, change that we cannot control (not that we have ever had much control)) and something fundamental about the nature of humanity which can only be seen in the most extreme of circumstances.  And part of this is genocide, bigotry, and that switch that turns off for SO many of us when culture no longer plays a part in keeping us in check – the narcissistic or sociopathic switch (BECAUSE WE ALL HAVE IT – don’t believe me?  I can give you SO many scientific and experimental sources on this).  Too much culture and we kill (Nazis) and too little culture and we kill (there are too many examples to list, but the Old West of the USA is a good example).  It's the same thing as that old Durkheimian study, and which, though wrong in some ways, was right on this point – too much culture and we commit suicide (officers in the military) and too little culture and we commit suicide (teen homosexuals and those others in isolation for whatever reason).

And last and not least – what is the zombie genre really “about”?  It is about chewing gum.  No seriously, chewing gun.  Remember in school when you wanted to chew gum in class but they wouldn’t let you?  Everyone wanted to chew gum and you couldn’t.  And what was the, totally reasonable, reason you were forbidden?  Because someone always, ALWAYS, will spit it on the floor or put it under a desk for you to find later.  Zombies and so many fears, including most political fears and economic fears, etc., come from the totally reasonable fear that someone will just ruin it for everyone.  There is always some jerk.  And what do you do about it?  Really?

Last and seriously not least, and to bring it all home – and the most basic “thing” that zombie movies are “about” – it's about westerners confronting death.  We are utterly protected from the messiness and gruesomeness of death.  Both of dying and of the dead body.  A person who passes out because they encounter blood?  This is a VERY recent thing in the annals of human history.  Again, here, I would like to mention the death penalty and it's evolution over time.  Phil Smith.  Punishment and Culture.  It's so good.  Read it!

David – I would really like for you to chime in here because I know you are writing a paper…

A last point, thinking even more sociologically about my current circumstances…Why do they think that Rwandese are “naturally” obedient?  To a large extent, they are.  It's a giant Milgram experiment.  I mentioned before about believing so strongly in science.  Don’t think you aren’t in the SAME situation.  If you believe that science is an authority, and if you know that scientific “knowledge” changes all the time, then try to understand that racism was an utterly “scientific” theory.  That the Hamitic principle regarding the Hutu and Tutsi was supported by science.  Everywhere are uniforms with the authority of skin color and guns and language telling them, with authority, to do things.  Even if those things are really, really bad, they do them, the same as Americans.  Here, the race ideology spoke with so much authority.

Side note: for those that don’t know, the Hamitic principle argues that those with lighter skin in Rwanda and elsewhere must have come from an Arabic origin and were lighter skinned and therefore “better”.  This is what, first, the Germans, and then and even more conspicuously, the Belgians did in Rwanda.  They divided people up by wealth and by looks.  If you had more cows or a “longer” head or a longer nose or lighter skin or straighter hair, you were Tutsi.  If you were darker, etc, then you were Hutu.  And they set the new “Tutsi” up to rule.

A last word (I know, I know, I keep saying “last”), if you didn’t enjoy reading about the true nature of people being shot or strangled or bludgeoned or hacked to death, is that you should always be suspicious of any claim or ideology:

1.     That makes claims based on anything “natural” or “essential”.  If you hear this, your Spidey senses should already tingle because you are hearing evil.

2.     That draws lines between people and says that one is better, particularly on the basis of being “natural”.  Just look at all these lines, carving like a machete through the flesh of humanity: women/men, black/white, religion/religion, religion/atheism or agnosticism, young/old, poor/rich, capitalist/communist, LGBTQ/heteronormative (or “straight”), fat/thin, healthy/sick, crazy/sane, and the list just goes on and on and on in a straight line of dead bodies from the beginning of civilization to what I suspect will be the end.

On a similar to my comment about the normal range of human physiological variation and slightly more upbeat note:  just think, science has recently found that it would take no more than 1,000 years for an isolated racial community with white skin supplanted to equatorial Africa to turn black and no more for a similar community of dark skinned people to move to, say, Norway, to turn white.  Take that science you…um…science!

Again, on a similar and this time on a terribly serious and totally silly note:  you should all read this compelling anthropological study of a little known tribe in the Western hemisphere here:

It's short and to the point and really interesting.

And if you don’t get the joke, or if you do, you should read (but only after you read the PDF you dork!) this Wikipedia article explanation:

I wanted to end up with a few zombie memes, but there are literally thousands of truly hilarious ones.  So, no contest about it.  If you have some time to waste, just look it up on Google images.  Otherwise, here are the immediate contenders:


If these images look bad and if I have less and of lesser quality than I would like, imagine my frustration at spending an hour trying to post a post that was already written!  Internet sucks today.