Day 4 ~ July 26, 2011 (I know, I know… I missed day 3 – I blame jet lag)
Today, while the entire Agahozo village went on a picnic to celebrate the end of the school term, we took advantage of the time and went to Kigali. The lure of the grocery store (with peanut butter, coffee and chocolate to boost our rapidly dwindling supply… okay and beer – I confess – Rwandan beer is as cheap as soda and I can now attest, quite tasty) was strong, though that wasn’t our only reason for going in.
Media came with us as our unofficial tour guide and, as I’ve found in other foreign places, it was so helpful to have a local person with us. She knows Kigali well (it’s a small town – we literally ran into about 10 people she knew on the street) and was able to make a day when we had to be in many different places in a strange city go very smoothly. On the ride in she told us about one of the students at Agahozo, D. When D. arrived, he never showed his face. He would pull his hood over his face or hide behind his hands. He barely communicated with anyone. Along with being a counselor, Media also does art with the students and she gave D. a notebook and told him to draw whenever he had free time, whatever he wanted, and it didn’t have to be good. He began to do it and through that drawing, found a way to express what was going on inside himself. Now, he is drawing his past and his present. She described him as not just happier and out of his shell, but finally able to have relationships. Someday he wants to have a family – a family that he’d fight for. When she said, “he’d fight for his family” I took it as one of those things you say – it has meaning but, you know, it’s not necessarily literal. But then Ilan, the camp director who was driving us, pointed out, it was a very significant thing for him to say because when the genocide happened, the majority of the Tutsis didn’t fight. Preparations for the genocide were happening publicly, for months and years before April 1994. Militias were being trained, hate propaganda was all over the radio, and there had already been earlier killing sprees that left thousands of Tutsis dead. So D, saying that he would fight for his family, was showing a huge change.
Kigali is small but busy. There are construction sites everywhere. Besides the grocery store, the other reasons for our trip were to see the performance space where we’ll be at the Centre x Centre Festival, to meet one of the festival organizers, and to go to the Genocide Memorial Centre.
We’ve got 8 days left to make this play. We’ve had 2 full days with the students and now feel like we’re getting a handle on their strengths. They’ve done some writing assignments so we’re starting to generate material. Tomorrow we start in earnest with the creation of the play. On August 4 we tech and on August 5 we present it at the festival. Tick tick tick…
The second last stop was the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre. (http://www.kigalimemorialcentre.org/old/index.html)
Didi knew a friend of a friend who worked there, Emery, and he gave us a personal tour. The museum is what you’d imagine it to be – beautiful and horrific and so, so sad. We were there for about three hours, listening to Emery speak to us in his soft, quiet voice. Emery was 20 when the genocide happened. Afterwards we stood on the balcony and he showed us the house, far off in the distance on an opposite hill, where had hid out while it was happening. “Afterwards,” he said, tracing his route with his finger, “when the RPF liberated Kigali, they tried to gather us all together – there were about 1000 of us – but I split off and ran through the swamp, where the bridge is now, and up this hill where the museum is. At that time it was just bushes. I knew it was RPF territory.” He pointed to part of the garden outside the museum, “that’s a mass grave”. Two large bouquets of flowers were sitting on it, wrapped in plastic.
I didn’t know what my reaction would be to this place. Sadness, obviously, but sadness mixed with horror and disbelief and feeling powerless and far away and guilty. There was one room that we came to after we’d gone through the pictures (horrific) and videos (personal testimony). It was a small room filled with glass cases containing clothes that had been on victims found in mass graves. They weren’t soaked in blood, like you might think they would be. They were old and faded and torn – some with holes. They were lifeless; ghosts. In one case was a child’s t-shirt that said “I (heart) Ottawa, Canada”.
It was blue with white lettering.
That was my home.
Emery is the first person we’ve met here who has spoken to us about his experience. The students talk about genocide but it is removed, more like it’s an abstract concept. I doubt that it really is, but that’s how they talk about it. Emery too said that the way he speaks about it when he’s “here” has to be from a certain distance. In the US or Canada (where his fiancé lives) he would be more emotional. He would be able to be.
After the Memorial, we made our trip to the grocery story, stocked up on supplies, and got on a bus. Nothing feels like a more authentic experience than riding a public bus. Rwandan buses are tame compared to the Tanzanian dala dala’s. For one thing, when every seat is taken, they actually stop letting people on. Granted, there may be one or two more people squished onto the seats than is comfortable, but at least no one is hanging out the door. And, another bonus, the suicidal desire to play chicken with ALL oncoming traffic that the Tanzanian dala dala drivers have has not crossed the border here. The bus traveled fast – everyone here seems to drive fast – but it stayed in its own lane. The city was beautiful driving out. We’re just south of the equator so the sun rises and sets at 6am/pm, every day of the year. The sky turned a darker blue and the lights came on in the city as we drove away from it. Kigali is all hills with roads winding down then up then down again. Like in India and TZ, stores are lit by bare florescent bulbs. People walk and ride bikes along the side of the highway in complete darkness and at every little stop there’s a shop selling phone cards and soda stacked in red plastic cases. The air smells like unfiltered exhaust and dust and it’s both hard to imagine and impossible to forget that we’re on the other side of the world.
We’re home now and had a dinner of beer, peanut butter on chocolate wafers (because we forgot to buy crackers), Pringles (made in Jordan) and tuna, straight from the can (seasoned with some left over airline salt and pepper). I realize that sounds both decadent and disgusting, BUT we have been living on a vegan diet of rice, potatoes, plantains, and beans, so it was delicious and welcomed.
Back to the play tomorrow.