Mar 30

 

betz_blog Michelle Betz, 2006

So not only was I apprehensive about returning to work with the fledgling university radio station, Radio Salus, which went on the air last November, but it seemed my fears were confirmed upon my arrival. The first thing I saw on the interim station director’s desk was a copy of a newspaper from the precise week of the station’s launch — no current newspaper either daily or weekly — just a paper dated November 2005. Yikes, I thought, this can’t be happening. Surely they realize some four months have passed.

I tried to ignore the paper, but couldn’t, I mean it was right there — one of the few things on his desk. It wouldn’t escape my peripheral vision no matter how hard I tried.

With the old newspaper as our audience, the interim director began to fill me in on the happenings of the past four months. It didn’t start well. The previous director had left almost two months previously (which I had been aware of) and Aldo was the interim director. What I didn’t know was that Aldo had already taken another job and would likely already be gone by the time a new director was hired. I was mortified. There would be no continuity, no historical memory.

Our chat continued and despite my abhorrence of the word ‘problem’ it was used a lot…and not just by Aldo. I was just as guilty. There had been several technical problems many of which were solved by our French savior, Vincent, who worked for the university’s computer department. The second transmitter was still being held hostage by Rwandan customs and there seemed to be no idea when it would be released, nor when it could then be installed. This second transmitter will allow the station to reach Kigali and will mean Radio Salus will reach almost 100% of the country’s population. It also means there is greater potential for future regional radio partnerships.

Currently, the signal reaches the southern half of Rwanda extending into northern Burundi. And while we don’t get all the way up north, depending on whether you’re on a hill or in a valley, you can get the signal all the way in the northeastern part of Rwanda. The station often receives call from Ruhengeri, famous as the starting point for visits to the mountain gorillas.

Three days have passed and after numerous meetings and chats I realize how far the station has come. Yes, of course, there are issues, or problems (I still prefer challenges) but I’ve been completely impressed with the initiative of the students and the journalists. They believe in what they are doing and that is something that I’ve always found encouraging — the fact that the journalists I’ve worked with in Rwanda want to make a difference. And that is clearly the case here at Radio Salus. Somehow, despite the absence of solid leadership (or, dare I say, any leadership at all) they’ve organized themselves, their programming and the station as a whole.

They’re archiving their material, maintaining program logs and basically doing the best they can with what they’ve got and while we still have a lot of work to do, at least for the moment I’m impressed.

But I have yet to find out why last November’s newspaper was sitting on Aldo’s desk.


Mar 24

 

betz_blog Michelle Betz, 2006

My husband keeps asking me how I feel about my trip to Rwanda. He’s a psychiatrist and I leave tomorrow for my third trip to Rwanda and my second since November of last year. I keep telling him I’ve been too busy “to feel” anything. But now I’m being forced to think about it as I prepare for my departure.

Funny, this time I’m departing from within Africa as I now live in Accra, Ghana. I’ll be flying overnight across continent to Nairobi then catch an early morning flight to Kigali. I’m looking forward to what I call “the smoky African” smell when I get off the plane in Kigali; that smell is hard to come by here in West Africa, but for me it is almost symbolic and incredibly evocative of East and Central Africa.

I’m looking forward to the drive from Kigali to Butare, a route that I know well now. I can’t wait to see my good friend Ines Mpambara, a Rwandan-Canadian who moved back to Rwanda several years ago and became the director of the School of Journalism for a few years, and her newborn baby boy. I’m looking forward to seeing my friends and former students with whom I stay in email contact when I’m not in country. And I suppose I’m looking forward to seeing the state of Radio Salus, the university radio station I helped get on the air last November.

But I’m also incredibly apprehensive. The station manager recently resigned and I keep getting coded messages from a number of students about a myriad of “problems” at the station – students not getting the stipend they’re supposed to, programs not being produced and instead replaced with almost non-stop music, equipment issues (mostly lack of), and so on, and so on.

I can’t help but feel at least partially responsible for the success (or failure) of Radio Salus. I was around in 2003 during its inception (on paper) when I participated in talks at my then home, the Credo Hotel in Butare, with a rep from UNESCO and an American Fulbrighter and professor. The professor has since passed away, the UNESCO rep is on maternity leave which leaves me – the only one with any kind of historical memory about Salus.

But together with the apprehension is an energy, an energy that seems to wondrously kick in when I need it most. I’m going into this knowing I’ll be working incredibly long and very likely frustrating days. But I’ll be working with students who want this station to be a success, who believe in what they’re doing and who desperately want the legacy of the Rwandan genocide and the complicity of the media in the genocide to be something of the past. They want to show the world that Rwanda is not just about genocide and hate media; they know there is so much potential in this incredibly beautiful country.

And so do I.