Day 6 ~ July 28, 2011    


They’re killing goats outside my window.

Despite having been a vegetarian for almost 20 years (but not anymore), I do understand that those cute scrawny goats I saw running around yesterday were destined for the same fate as the one I later ate (and loved) in small cubes on a stick.  Goat brochettes are a popular dish in Rwanda and for us yesterday, the protein was welcomed.  They were delicious!!  But still, at 6:45am, the desperate cries of goats being carried out of a truck parked outside our window and thrown down next to a large packet of kebab sticks is disconcerting, to say the least.

After class yesterday, Media and Longin walked with us to the nearby village of Rubona.  It’s a 20 minute walk away. As usual, we drew a lot of attention.  “Mzungo” is a word that crosses cultures and languages in Africa, though the adults are usually tactful enough to mutter it quietly.  It’s the kids who shout it and point – usually smiling and waving at the same time.   It’s cute, sure, but I wish they wouldn’t.  We just wanted to go for a walk.  We weren’t trying to create a scene, but creating a scene is inevitable.

I don’t think I will ever be able to reconcile the feelings I get in developing countries – this complicated mix of curiosity and guilt. Isn’t that what tourism is about – going to other places and seeing how other folks live?  But in Japan or France, I don’t feel this way.  Crossing cultures is fine.  Crossing culture andclass is a whole other matter.  Everywhere we go here, the spectre of colonialism hangs over us.  Rwanda is filled with NGO’s – while the world ignored the genocide, but afterwards the international community sprung to action.  Some good has come out of that.  The country is growing economically.  The dirt road we walked into town on isn’t pitted with rocks and muffler killing pot holes like the road we traveled each day last year in Tanzania.  Even with the work we’re here doing it isn’t as simple as “we’re here to teach some theatre games and help kids improve their English”.  Along with that is always the question; is this really what is most helpful to them?  Are we somehow saying our way is the better way?  I see the poverty and my automatic feeling is guilt, and relief that it isn’t me (which causes more guilt – oy vey).  But, as Sean pointed out, that guilt is also a form of judgment, saying that my life is better; our way of doing things is the better way.   All the food we eat here is local.  Never mind the Hundred Mile Diet – this is like the Two Mile Diet.  On the walk to and from the village yesterday, not one car or truck passed us.  There were a few motorcycles (taxis) but otherwise it was all bicycles and people on foot.  The air is clean.  People are different sizes but I haven’t seen a single obese person.  Kids are outside playing or working, not in front of video games.  And not a single dessert has been served in the Village.   All those things would be a big deal at home but here it’s the norm.

When we got back to Agahozo, Didi asked, “did you see the man in pink?”  Rwanda is a place where people might literally live down the road from the person who killed their family.  Because so many people are guilty of horrific crimes during the genocide, there’s no way they can all be in jail or at the Criminal Tribunal – that’s saved for the big wigs.   Locally, communities have combined a very old form of justice with the modern court process to create Gacaca’s – community trials.  These are carried out publicly and taken very seriously.  Many of the Hutus on trial have already served some time in prison and because the sentences are a combination of prison time and probationary time in the community, many of them are now in the community.  While they serve the remainder of their time, they must wear pink from head to toe.  At the Genocide Memorial there was a video of a man testifying during one of the Gacaca’s.  He didn’t break down or look guilty or angry when he spoke about what he’d done.  He spoke calmly and the people in the audience listened.   It seems the most important thing that comes out of these is the naming of the crimes, the naming of victims, one by one, person by person – acknowledgement of what happened. 

Yesterday our students wrote their play.  Sean is a big fan of using the Hero’s Journey (if you don’t know it, you’ve seen it in a hundred movies:  call the action, denial of the call, acceptance, introduction of the mentor, entering the belly of the beast, encountering obstacles…).  Having walked the students through the steps the day before, we spent several hours in the morning brainstorming.  See picture. 

The Centre X Centre Theatre Festival that we’re taking this play to is connected to the Interdisciplinary Genocide Studies Centre and all the other work there will be around that topic.  But we didn’t want to force our students to make their play about that.  I figured that no matter what, given who they are, the fact of the genocide would be there (a silent undercurrent) in whatever story they chose to tell – at least it would be for the audience members looking for it.  No need to worry though. As they brainstormed and then voted, the most popular ideas were the ones to do with a child looking for a parent after the genocide.  So that’s what our play is about.

From there we brainstormed obstacles and mentors, then, as a group, outlined the play. Then we sent them off in groups with a specific scene to stage and let them get to work. 

They performed their scenes for each other and gave each other feedback starting with what they liked and then asking questions (thank you Iowa Playwrights Workshop). 

Our afternoon session started with an impromptu dance session.  Unbeknownst to the students, it was also an audition.  We want to include a lot of singing and dance and Media, our savvy helper, set up the dance party and used it to get each student to dance.   I’ve got it on video but my attempts to upload it last night failed (we’ve got internet but it’s not the fastest connection) so that’ll have to wait.

The students were given the task of writing their scenes down, taking into consideration the questions their peers asked.  I’ve got those papers sitting in front of me.  It’s rough, but it’s a story we can work with.  Today we’ll keep doing writing exercises to push the character development and get some better language – – their poetry is great but their drama is pure realism.  There’s a hot debate going on right now as to whether the monkeys should be able to talk (we, of course, are advocating “yes”).

Three and a half days left before we present the play to the village.  Five days till the Festival.  No worries… I think.

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3 thoughts on “

  1. Hi Jennifer

    Am thoroughly enjoying your blog. I found your comments re the tug-of-war your mind seems to be having with itself re the things you see, with respect to “tourism”. I came across a quote some time ago from G.K. Chesterton you may find appropriate.

    “The traveler sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he has come to see”

    Based on your blog, as an external viewer, I would definitely put you in the “traveler” group. I try to keep myself in that frame of mind as well. When I remember to see myself as a traveler I find the journey more interesting, enlightening, and a lot less self- incriminating, if you get what I am trying to say.

    Please keep writing. It’s great.


  2. Great blog! I came across this via Facebook. I find this kind of work exhilarating and complicated and inspiring. Just got back from Romania where I was working with Romanian and Hungarian theatre students…the students were fine. It’s the faculty that are having a harder time integrating, in the wake of communism. Fascinating. I look forward to hearing more! I am trying to get to the rest of your entries to catch up.

    xx, Lisa

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