This is the inaugural entry into the Sun Also Rises in Rwanda.I have decided to start a blog about my experiences traveling to Rwanda for a number of reasons. First, my husband, C, has asked me to. Second, I have been informed by those that know that one way to stave off loneliness and culture shock is to keep a journal. And last, as most of you on the list of invitees know, I am a flake about keeping in contact. This is not one of my favorite characteristics, but, in all honesty, is unlikely to change significantly once I am on the other side of the planet. Thus, this is a way for us all to keep in “contact” or for you to at least know what is going on with me, there, six hours ahead of you.
First, update. Then, explication.I am not yet in Rwanda. I will be buying my ticket today or tomorrow after the catastrophe of losing all my data in the last month I have received informal approval from my committee to commence my research of the Gacaca archives. In a future post I will talk more about exactly what I will be doing there, but that can wait for now. Most of you have some idea why I am going.
Yesterday, I began my malaria medication. It’s called Chloroquine and you can find more information about it here if you are interested: http://www.cdc.gov/malaria/travelers/drugs.html. My doctor told me that it is better than the alternatives taken every day, particularly for side effects on the stomach, which I should always avoid. I have always had a nervous stomach. What I suppress as a result of my cavalier attitude in life has to go somewhere, it has always been my bowels. So, all I have to put up with is the risk of hallucinations instead of extreme stomach discomfort. I think keeping a hold on reality has been a struggle I have always stood up to, so, OK.
I also got all of my vaccinations yesterday. Yellow fever, Hep A and Hep B. I am now officially a world traveler, full of infectious diseases! And let me just say, when I was a child I first became aware of the fact that the smell and taste of cherries makes me immediately retch as a result of allergies and cold medicines. Once, when I went to the doctor to get a flu shot and was afraid of the needle, I think I was about 4 because I was still in Dallas, my mother asked me: “Would you rather have this shot or take cherry medicine when you get sick?” I immediately grasped for the needle. “Give it ta’ me!” The result is that I have never had issues with needles as long as I can see them. “Oh, it hurts more if it’s not in my bum? Don’t care.” Pain is not the issue, I am a redhead, by genes if not by current color. Studies show that redheads are more tolerant of pain (I am sure that this is adaptation because they have not always faired that well in society). So, with this is in mind you will understand when I say that I was still really squicked out by this set of needles. It really creeped me out to have all those things going in my body. By the end of the day I could barely lift my arms and was running a low fever! But, it’s over and I am now safe. Though, the water is never safe traveling. And, so far, no hallucinations unless you count that little purple sunflower I see in my pockets from time to time (notice, in-joke there).
So, that is the first update. Second, explication. Why the “Sun Also Rises in Rwanda”? The title comes from, as most of you will at least recognize, the first of Hemingway’s novels of the same name, minus the Rwanda part. The book is called a roman a clef in style because it is a fictionalized version of witnessed and true, actual real events and places. It follows a cast of American and British ex-pats as they travel from Paris to Spain to run with bulls and witness bullfights and attend fiestas and things like that. It is considered one of the best travel books of all time.
When I was a kid, I LOVED Hemingway. Of course that was before I realized that I wasn’t going to grow up to be a man and before I realized that all women in Hemingway’s works were, what my good friend calls “cheeseburger girls”. That is, they are all flavor and no substance. They push the plot along and react to men and basically exist only as objects to the men around them. I think this came from something she read and she is perfectly welcome to post a comment explaining this term. But I didn’t absorb the source, just the usage. Anyway, I am not a man and I am not a cheeseburger. Also, I won’t be killing myself after death. But, I want to capture what I think is Hemingway-like about myself and about my work, in blog and in sociology. An all too serious and too histrionic need to capture my personal experience as if it were the essential zeitgeist of an important moment in human history, whether or not this is the reality. It turns out to have been true for Hemingway, but I think I will keep it more humble than him and hopefully can avoid shooting myself later on, to boot.
So, apart from what I believe are my similarities to Hemingway (I do love fishing and also tragic human sacrifice in the name of a lived and fully experienced, especially if it is only a dust in the wind, kind of life), why do I name this blog after his book? Rwanda doesn’t have much in common with France or Spain. But consider the source of the reference. “The Sun Also Rises” comes from a biblical passage, quoted in brief in the book but which I shall quote at length here, Ecclesiastes 1:1-11:1 The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.
2 Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.
3 What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?
4 One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever.
5 The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.
6 The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits.
7 All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.
8 All things are full of labour; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.
9 The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.
10 Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us.
11 There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after.
First, the newer translation of the word translated as “vanities” has later been translated as “meaningless”. It is all meaningless…
It doesn’t matter what you do in this life, it doesn’t matter what you build, what you earn, what you create. For when you die the sun will keep rising. Generations rise and fall. And this is what Hemingway was referring to, what Gertrude Stein called the “lost generation”. Hemingway agreed and disagreed with this. Generations are lost because their labors do not endure. Not because they are in fact lost. All generations engage in their vanities and their meaningless labors. Even that which appears or is experienced as existential will go on to become remembered later by that same generation, and the memory fades slowly and falls apart like a pair of acid washed jeans worn and washed for a decade. And after the generation is gone, they are not remembered any more.
What I am in Rwanda to study is, first, memory. How collective memories are important and remain important because they are ritualized. They are put into action. They are not merely remembered or the stuff of memory of a quiet evening by the stove or a quiet morning over coffee. They are not that ephemeral. Yes, even genocide can become the stuff of that delicate, web-like quality of symbols and impressions, of individual memory. But when it becomes the stuff of history, of the always and ever “old” and “new” myth of the nation, of the people, of the us and the them, then it exists not in the cumulative recollections of the population, but in the ACTING OUT of those memories together. It is narrated and re-narrated. It is old and it is always new in the acting out. Therefore, the sun also rises but there is nothing new under the sun. All new reenactments of memory are merely re-hashings of older and stronger tropes and themes and genres that we already know.
Hemingway and his compatriots of the arts and of the bottle were romantics in a number of senses but the most important sense is this sense of loss. They believed that they could say they were lost, forgotten, living and breathing the pain of art and of change. The simple, the mundane traumas of smart and observant and articulate people living in a time without cholera. Therefore, the themes of the book The Sun Also Rises play with these essentially vain ideas. Being lost without purpose their purpose became the vain understanding of the self. And from there came new understanding. Dramatic self-understanding through experience, however full of vanities and however meaningless. And we all find this beautiful because it mimics our life experience. How can we be important? What is important? Do I have value?
I know that the Rwandans have value, but when Americans here the name of this country they think things like, tribal warfare, the problem with Africa, etc. That is absurd. People are all alike, this I know. And people are all smart and all dumb. All feeling and all sociopathic. All empathy and all self-absorption at any particular moment. And this doesn’t change with location or development level. As a very important character in the extraordinarily significant and poignant film (talk about capture the spirit of an age), The Muppets Take Manhattan, once said, “Peoples is peoples…”
The Sun Also Rises concerns esoteric cultural experiences, according to Americans at the time, masculinity, love, and the lost generation along with anti-Semitism and other important topics. This blog will concern things of a similar ilk…I don’t even know what generation I’m a part of and for the most part I don’t hang out with them anyway. I don’t know what they are doing. I will discuss gender, as this is and has always been important to me, and away from my own culture, whatever that is, it will be an important topic to me as well. It will concern love because the thing I fear most about going to Rwanda is being parted from the love of my life, my team, my partner. I will consider this absence here. And I will consider hate and racism and the remembrance of these, the entire point of my work in Rwanda.
Having waxed poetic and dramatic for at least 800 words, I’ll end my first post here by say, please…Don’t pay attention to spelling, typos, grammar, slang, etc. This blog is as much for me as it is for you. So please, no judging. Having said that, I am so happy that you are joining my on this lonesome, albeit sure to be edifying and character-building, adventure to a small, sad tropical paradise…Rwanda. Prepare to have your stereotypes challenged, as I am preparing myself. Let’s go!
Additionally, if you would like the posts emailed to you, let me know in a private email, not a comment, and I will add you to the list.