Saturday, May 31, 2014

Day 3 of Trip

Before I forget, "Thanks, Michael, for helping me to set up the blog."

Umuganda!!! Today was Umuganda in the morning. On the last Saturday of every month, Rwandans gather in communities to do some work and meet. This morning, one woman told me that they are all so busy that this one time each month is so nice for members of communities to get together.

We walked from our hotel about 10-15 minutes into the nearby community. They were cutting down weeds. On out way there, someone handed two people in our group of 7 a machete and another cutting tool (shaped like a golf club). I think the man handed Christine the machete and she handed it to Michael (our one Holocaust and Genocide - HaG - students on the trip). What a thing to see - a HaG holding a machete in Rwanda. Just off the road we cleaned up weeds and then the people began to move up a hill - to cut weeds at the top of the hill against a lovely wall. Becasue I broke my ankle hiking in Switzerland in 2000 (sliding on loose stones), I chose not to go up the hill. I sat below and talked with some young people. Many of the community members tried to convince me to walk up the hill, noting that there would be a community meeting after the work. BUT, I know my limitations. When I saw the community meeting only halfway up the hill, I decided to try it and quickly said to myself, "This was not a good idea." I was slipping on the gravelly (is that a word?) path going up and coming down would be worse. So, I simply sat down on the side of the the sun. The meeting was in the shade and about 1/2 hour into the meeting, one of the men brought down a woman's unbrella for me. I was appreciative; it was a hot sun and the meeting lasted about anotehr hour. My fellow travelers were able to learn about what the community members were discussing - from a translater. Interesting! There was an agenda with items about health care in the community, noise, innappropriate behavior by members, paying funds due... I heard Aaron and our students talking about an Umuganda on WCU campus. Perhaps we could do some work within West Chester Borough and talk with borough citizens and part of our community. Thoughts?

This afternoon, we visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial. I was impressed. It has both inside and outside experiences. Outside are areas of mass graves, a wall of names (in progress), and themed gardens. Inside, the memorial museum moves in a circular fashion, looking on the inside only. Exhibit materials are in three langauges - native Rwanda, French, English). It is chronological and offers film clips of survivors. I was suprised in one explanation panal the use of "we." That is personal...not like the USHMM in DC. I was walking behind a local school group of about 10 Middle School age pupils. Their teacher was offering explanations and the youngsters were talking many notes. When the exhibit came to the actualt genocide and became graphic, the pupils were entranced. I noticed that their teacher told them to move along when one video fottage showed surviving children with deep machete wounds in their heads...and one boy with his fingers cut off and gangrene setting in...

The exhibit included a section of encased skulls and bones laid out nicely as well as a photograph exhibit with room to grow as other victims become identitified.

The most moving part of the Memorial Museum is the Children's Exhibit on the second floor...perhaps 16 individual children with their large photos...names and ages...favorite food, best friend, etc...and how they died.

(HaGs: This Memorial Museum has an archive...)

Time will tell if the forgiveness within Rwanda holds. President Kagame wants everyone to move forward as "Rwandans," not Hutus or Tutsis or Twas. Of course, it was colonialism that brought the divisions. He has maintained a great peace in the country, but what will happen when his term is up in 2017? One of our drivers, Alex (the other is Omar), told me that it is in the Rwandan constitution that a president can serve only 2 terms (of 7 years each). Are the people really ready to be Rwandans? "Identity" is such an interesting concept as I tell my students.

Off to bed...

Day 2 - Rwanda Group trip

Some thoughts first:
Kigali (the capital city) is quite clean...and many flowers and flowering bushes.  Most of the people are extremely friendly...big smiles, fist bumps.  When the children see us in oir vehicles, they yell, translated "white people."  White are rather conspicuous here, yet I do not feel out of place at all.

The pace is extremetly slow...45 minutes to an hour to have one's meal served.  I am such an American in that way...I'm always looking for the quickest way to get my food.

The students have meshed quite nicely - 5 of them - 3 young men and 2 young women.  Dr. Rundus is so laid back and it makes all of our travels so easy.  His luggage did not arrived for three days.

For those of you who might want some images of Kigali: we just came home from the shopping center.  There, obe can find a Rwandan version of Walmart...selling everything from TVs and fans to bread and yogurt.  We have seen many signnoting the twentieth anniversary of the genocide and people talk about it freely.  There are no fast food restaurants here.  A bottle of Fanta of Coke costs 600 Rwanda Francs (just uner $1).  The pizza is pretty good and I've two different soups - both tasty.  The cooked vegetables are excellent - fresh green beans, carrots, and cauliflower.  There are at least two kinds of taxis that I've seen - regular with a driver (cost me about $7 to go from one hotel to the other) and motorcycle taxis...and they are all over the roads.  The children play like American children of old - kicking empy bottles down the street, running and laughing.  And the young people all have their cell phones.  We have mosquito netting in our rooms, but so far, I have not seen a mosquito or been bitten.

So day 2 - We went to the Natural History Museum - small but very nicely laid out and an excellent guide.  He talked early civilization to colonial period to genocide.  He noted that so much of the history is oral history and the younger generation is not continuing it.  Perhaps one of you (talking to students) would like to come to Rwanda and work on a/the project to save this oral history.  In the afternoon, we walked the city center.  For those of you who know me, you know that as soon as I hear music, I start to swing and sway.  As some of our group were looking at merchandise, I was swinging and swaying to the music at the delight (or they found it humorous??) of many people.  We say some nice itens to buy, but we'll wait until we return to Kigali at the end of trip to do the actual buying.

Students: If you find grammatical errors or stylistic errors (i.e. passive voice), know that this is not a formal history assignment.  Hope you and fam and friends are well!


Rwanda - the first few days

Not being a tech person, it has taken me awhile (my 5th day in Rwanda) to sit down and write...nothing photos...just meat and potatoes. The flights over were long, but easy.  When I arrived at the Hotel des Milles Colline at 4:30 p.m. (Rwanda time) Tuesday (having left Philadelphia Monday at 10:30 a.m. Phila time), I took to the bed and got up only a few times for the next 24 hours.  By Wednesday evening, I was service, CNN and some more sleep.  I did watch "Hotel Rwanda" at 1 a.m. while lying in a bed in "Hotel Rwanda."

Thursday afternoon, with a late checkout from the hotel, I took a taxi to the Hotel Chez Lando, where we are currently overnighting.  The others arrived short one little Ram (as Dr. Rundus is calling the students).  One of the young ladies that was to be here with us experienced a tremendous loss  Her mother collpased at the airport and died the next day.  When we received the news about her mother's death, we were shocked and filled with sorrow.  We wish M. could be here with us.

Friday, May 9, 2014