May 27

 
 

ali_blog Melodie Cardin

I have the itchiest hands in the world. This at least is a step up from the stinging before. On the hike on the way to the gorillas, there was a section of forest with stinging nettles taller than me, and although I was wearing long pants and long sleeves, I have welts all over my exposed hands.
This was partly because I kept falling in the mud or brambles and then reaching out to steady myself and accidentally grabbing nettles, (sounds stupid, but it’s a reflex to steady yourself when you fall) but I don’t think that’s most of it because most of the welts are on the backs of my hands. It was just impossible not to get stung, and they stung through my thick corduroy pants, through my sweater, and just hurt so much.

Maybe I will start at the beginning. We were four going – Emilie, Kyla, David and I. When we got to the gorilla centre, we were split up into two different groups, but they said both hikes were about an hour and a half each way.

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First we drove down a road that could give you whiplash just from being on it; it was crazy bumpy. Then we were given walking sticks and we walked across some fields for maybe twenty minutes or so. (I don’t think this part was included in the hour and a half.) We got to the edge of a bamboo forest and the real hiking began. We couldn’t go terribly quickly because the mud was really thick and it was hard not to fall down or lose a shoe in the mud. The guides wore rubber boots and I’d recommend to anyone going to bring some – also some gloves due to the aforementioned stinging nettles. The bamboo forest was really beautiful. We came through that and started walking through jungle, but pretty mild – there was still a path, although a narrow one so we walked pretty easily and I hadn’t fallen down yet. But this is where the stinging nettles began and it was seriously unpleasant.

The hike was mostly uphill with just enough downhill that you know you’re still going to have a lot of uphill on the way back. As we walked, the jungle got thicker and thicker. At one point, our guide picked up the largest earthworm I have ever seen – it was the size of a millipede.

At some point the path stopped and we had two men ahead of us, hacking through the jungle with machetes. The guide was communicating with the gorilla trackers by walkie talkie. It felt like forever, putting one foot in front of the other on three feet of squished underbrush, trying not to get stung by nettles, get a foot stuck in a hole, or fall down. At this point, I fell down quite a bit. I definitely fell down more than anyone else, but I was not the only one falling down.

I was so caked in dirt from the muddy bits that I felt like I couldn’t get much dirtier – which it turned out was not true, and there were just enough stinging nettles all the way there that just when the pain had gone numb I’d get stung again. I was cheerful and having fun regardless of all this, because that’s my personality, but it did wear on me.

When we saw the gorillas it made it all worthwhile. Seeing these beautiful creatures, hanging out in their natural habitat, doing what they do – it was so amazing. We saw some baby gorillas that were just the most amazing thing. I took may pictures, although it was hard to move around because of the hill and the bush and holes underfoot, so it was hard to get into a good position to take their pictures. I also took far fewer than most people because I didn’t want to experience them through my camera viewfinder – I wanted to see them.

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The hike seemed even longer on the way back, and I fell in the mud a couple of times, proving wrong my previous thought that I couldn’t get much dirtier. Kyla and Emilie’s hike had ended at 12:30 – it actually took about three hours. Ours, seven and a half hours later, had been way too long. I came back tired, hungry, dirty, but still pretty cheerful about the wonderful jungle trekking experience to see mountain gorillas.

Before getting in the car, I used some tissue from my bag and the last of the water in my Nalgene to try to get most of the dirt off my hands and attracted a crowd of about fifteen people watching me. Although it may have been my general dirtiness that was the attraction.


May 24

 

ali_blog Melodie Cardin

So I know I said that feeling isolated wasn’t a common feeling, but apparently I spoke too soon. Today I shadowed a journalist named Sylvie, and the story we did was about a Senatorial Committee visiting Kigali Central Prison to investigate the conditions there. Anyway, we sat in on a meeting between the senators and the prison staff, and the entire thing was in Kinyarwanda for two and a half hours.

Last time at least I was able to read my book because I was in the back of a crowded room, but this time we were seated in a circle and half of them were government officials – I was afraid it would have been way too rude to yank out my book and start reading. So I wrote in my notebook under the guise of taking notes for about ten minutes and then my pen ran out so I sat there like an idiot, wondering vaguely if I ought to try to look interested even though it was glaringly obvious that I didn’t understand anything.

When we got back to the station, I asked Sylvie to fill me in on all the details of the story and it actually turned out to be interesting. I wrote a story in French that was a detailed look at the Kigali Prison. The prison is suffering from huge budget shortages and is at more than twice its capacity because of the genocide, but the fact that a committee is coming in and investigating the specific problems to come up with solutions is encouraging. Another thing I found interesting is that there are 47 children under the age of three living in the prison, because their moms are in prison. When they turn three they have to leave.

Anyway, I finished the story and voiced it and I feel like this one is much more interesting and informative than the last.

I did go to market yesterday with Nura. At first, walking around the rows and rows of merchandise, I was a little disappointed because everything seemed to be American – it was like walking into Value Village. But you just have to dig into certain corners and you can find the most phenomenal stuff – beautiful African textiles and such.

After the market I went to work, where I found and rewrote press releases on Somalia, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Lebanon and of course, football, and I did a practice round of reading the news. Faith corrected some of my mistakes and gave me some great pointers for next time (kind of obvious stuff for radio, really, but I’ve been out of the loop for awhile; stories go in order of geography – Africa first, and then further away; don’t read the story, tell it; etc.) and I will apparently be doing a newscast soon. It’s a bit intimidating because Radio Rwanda has a much broader reach than Midweek (no offense, Carleton) and also because although all the stories are scripted, the introduction, conclusion and connector bits are all ad lib. I’ve never had to ad lib on the radio before, this will be a new experience.

At work people are always asking me about Canada, and how I like Rwanda. I wish I could come up with something really creative to say, it sounds trite to just say that the landscape is lovely and the people are friendly, but honestly if I was asking a visitor to Canada what they thought, I’m sure that answer would make me happy.

Faith asked me how I like the weather here. I said it’s really beautiful, something along those lines. She said she hates winter. I asked her where she’s experienced winter.

“I went to South Africa.”

“I didn’t know it got cold there. How cold does it get in South Africa.”

“Sometimes… it can go below zero.”

“Really?”

“Yes. How cold does it get in Canada?”

Oh – here it comes.

“It can get to about -30.”

Here I really wish I could get across the accent.

“No! Ah you shu-ah?” (She says this a lot – I’ve realized it’s just her way of saying “You’re kidding!”) “But you must live in the far North.”

“Well, no.” We were standing right next to a map so I showed her where Ottawa is. “See, it’s right there near the border.”

It actually boggles my mind at home sometimes, how we can have those hot muggy summers and then frigid winters, but telling people here about it, they are amazed. They also ask if I’m so hot here since Canada is so cold, and when I tell them Ottawa summers can get hotter than Rwanda, that does it – Canada is crazy!

There’s this one guy who works downstairs who is constantly asking me questions about Canada, and then laughing his head off at the answers.

“So Melodie, if cows are not such a big deal in Canada, what do you give the bride for her dowry?”

“Well, we don’t really have dowry so much in Canada.”

“Bahaha – no dowry – bahahahaha!!”

Fortunately for me, the conversations have been pretty benign and funny for the most part, and some of the other interns have had decidedly less pleasant conversations, particularly when discussing issues of women’s rights, which I’m sure they’ll write about.


May 23

 

ali_blog Melodie Cardin

Since I work at the Radio station, my day is a little different than most of the interns here. They work early in the morning every day, whereas I start at 8 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, but 3:30 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. I work ‘til 9 p.m. on those nights. This is great because it means I get to go exploring during the day, and get other work done, but it’s easy to let it be wasted time so I have to start planning projects for the daytime. So far I haven’t slipped into sleeping late, and I’d like to keep it that way, and be productive.
I told Nura, our housekeeper, that I wanted to go to the market and she agreed to take me this afternoon – actually, she seemed pretty excited about it. In the meantime, it would be far too easy to spend too many hours in Bourbon Coffee, the internet café where all of us Canadian interns are already on a first name basis with all the staff. I went in this morning and was greeted with “Hi, Melodie. How’s Kyla? Still in Butare?” It’s easy to see who their favourite is.

Yesterday I had my early day of work, and it was the first time I got to do a story from start to finish. Granted, this was not Pulitzer Prize worthy stuff but it’s a start, and it was in French so I felt proud of myself for that. I was told to go with another journalist, Consolate, and attend a conference and get an interview with one of the organizers. The conference turned out to be entirely in Kinyarwanda. I sat there for a few minutes, then took out my book and started reading. A man next to me leaned over and asked, “Are you feeling isolated?” “Yes,” I said, and resumed reading. I was but it’s not a common feeling – mostly despite language barriers and the fact that at work, I’m usually the only white person in the room, I feel pretty included and I like being in the minority. At one point, Consolate ran out to get an interview and I followed her and asked my question in French, “Quelles sont les objectifs de cet atelier?” I recorded the answer, went back to the station, wrote two paragraphs about the conference in French, edited the tape, and voiced it. It was not yet 1:30 p.m. and my story was complete. As I said, it is hardly hard-hitting investigative journalism but you have to start somewhere, and at least I’m being allowed to do whole stories now, not just contributing research.

Every day I’ve worked, a different journalist has offered to take me to lunch, and they all want to make sure they’re taking me to somewhere I haven’t been, and then they insist on paying for me. I will have to make sure that the next time I invite them, so that I can pay back the meal – either way they’re just such warm, helpful people. The woman I work with the most is Jidia, whom I’m scheduled to shadow three days a week. We get along very well. She’s 24, three years older than me – so about the same age as the rest of the interns here. I’m planning to invite her over to hang out with us soon – I would have already but we always go dancing on the weekends and she told me that dancing is against her religion. (She’s in the Christian Life Assembly.) Anyway, I’d really like to invite her over because I think the two of us could genuinely be good friends.


May 19

 

ali_blog Melodie Cardin

Yesterday I went out in the field again. First we spent two hours chasing a story that turned out to be happening today. Then we went back to the station and I watched Gilbert, the journalist I was shadowing, record a bunch of announcements and then edit them. (Cut, roll, cut, tape with blue scotch tape.) Then we went to lunch, and after lunch we went to Kisosi, the Genocide Memorial in Kigali, to do a story about some rural Rwandese teachers coming to see it.

I had been to Kisosi already, with my housemates, on Tuesday, and we did the tour. A genocide memorial is sad for anyone to see and I tend to be really sensitive, but I think it was just way too much to process and I haven’t even started to respond to it. It is very well done, both museum and grave.

Outside, there are mass graves holding 258,000 bodies, according to the guide who took us through. Some of their names are on plaques but nowhere near the number who are buried there because so many were not identifiable. Inside, there are there exhibitions. The first is an explanation of the 1994 genocide. There are pictures, explanations and quotes in Kinyarwanda, French and English, and some material from the genocide, like weapons. There are also rooms filled with pictures of victims and televisions playing testimonials from survivors. There is also a room full of skulls and bones in glass cases, probably several hundred in all, and a room full of clothes found on dead bodies. They other exhibitions are a room dedicated to children who were killed in the genocide, and a room dedicated to previous genocides, with explanations of the Armenian genocide, the Nigerian genocide, the Cambodian genocide, the Holocaust, and the Balkans.

The first time I was there the room dedicated to children hit me very hard. I looked at a picture of a little girl who was killed when she was eight years old, and realized that in 1994 I was just one year older than her, living far away from the tragedy of here short life, totally oblivious to it. I thought about fate and how unfair it is that one person should be born into the middle of strife and be killed, and another should be born into luxury and peace.

Yesterday I didn’t really enter into the rooms as we followed the group around, I just stayed off to the side and waited. My job was just to be there, because as I don’t speak Kinyarwanda, I couldn’t do the interviews. So I followed and ended up chatting with the guide quite a bit in the parts where he wasn’t presenting, and he turned out to be a totally down-to-earth guy that I really enjoyed chatting with.

When we got back the station I chatted with the editor-in-chief for a while, and he told me about his visit to the United States and similarities he saw between the American media and the Rwandan media. He said he did not perceive that the freedom of the press they go on about actually exists there. He said when he was there, he saw protests against the war in Iraq happening all over the place, but then he would turn on the news and see President Bush giving a speech about all the reasons they should go to Iraq. He asked a journalist there if this was freedom of the press, and the journalist said in America it is necessary for the media to be patriotic for the good of the country. He said this is what they do in Rwanda too.


May 17

 

ali_blog Melodie Cardin

Today was my first day of work at Radio Rwanda. I got to work ridiculously early. Yesterday when we did the media outlet tour I was told to be at work at 7:45 – which was definitely earlier than I needed be there. Then, I didn’t know how long it would take me to get there and budgeted half an hour. It only took 15 minutes. So I was there at 7:30 and really would have been better off arriving anywhere from 8 to 8:15.

Note to interns to come: err on the side of late, not early. Early will leave you standing around feeling like an idiot with nothing to do and will not impress anybody, late will have you fit right in.

About 8:30 there was a story meeting at which it was determined that our A story was a Chinese military delegation arriving at the airport. Our B story was a press conference for information technology day. (May not have been called that, but that was the essence of it.)

I was assigned to tag along with Jidia, one of the reporters there. We started by going to the university; she wanted to pick up her diploma since she just graduated. We walked there but the person she was looking for was not there, so we went back to the studio (I use this term loosely) and then took a van to the airport. We waited for a long time and a bunch of other press showed up so Jidia was chatting with everyone in Kinyarwanda, and then after more than an hour, the Chinese delegation showed up, said two very public relations-y sentences, and left.

We had lunch, stopping in a tiny shop where we got something that was called a samosa but was a long piece of dough with peas and cabbage in it that was fried. It was good, and piping hot which is the rule we’re supposed to go by when deciding which food not to eat. My doctor said as long as it’s piping hot or has a peel, it’s ok. They were 100 francs each, which is about 50 cents for 2. Can’t beat that.

We went back to the studio and wrote that story. Jidia wrote it in Kinyarwanda, and I wrote the copy in English. I was trying really hard to have good broadcast writing, short sentences, checking all my facts, etc, seeing as this was the one journalism-based task I’d been asked to do all day. However, I think my efforts may have been lost generally, particularly since the computers were down so I had to write my copy longhand.

The last part of the day was story number two, the IT conference, which was super long, featured a tour of the very under-construction and paint-smelly IT building, where they are developing what is apparently the first software in Kinyrwanda, and then a speech by the Minister of Technological something or other (I’m sorry, I wasn’t in charge of the actual journalism on this assignment and microphone-holder is just not that demanding a job.) The speech involved a lot of explanations of why IT is bringing up the Rwandan economy, how it leads to progress, etc. It would have been totally exciting in the morning but by this time I was just dead and kind of wondering why the TV Rwanda guy kept pointing his camera at me instead of the Minister.

Anyway, Jidia finally sent me home, and actually had the Radio Rwanda van take me although I insisted that I was perfectly capable of taking a moto. Mototaxis have ceased to scare me at all after three rides and I love the simplicity in flagging down a ride around here. It’s like being a celebrity – I don’t have to look for a moto, they flag me down. Along with the shoe vendors, and the phone card vendors, and the women carrying bowls of bananas and papaya on their heads.

All in all, it was more than 10 hours from start to finish today.

The facilities at Radio Rwanda are a bit depressing – they have some digital editing equipment but don’t seem to use it, instead preferring to record interviews on minidisk and then transfer them to tape in order to edit them with a cutting machine. Kyla reminded me that this should not be depressing, but rather a source of amazement that they can pull together a radio programme this way. I got along amazingly well with both Jidia and Faith, another reporter at the station who was assigned the job of looking after me. She sent me a text message at the end of the day, hoping it had gone well and telling me to pass her regards to my housemates, whom she has not met. So all in all a good first day.


May 15

 

claude_blog Claude Adams

You may leave Rwanda, but it doesn’t leave you. I’m back in Canada with Emmanuel’s genocide story in my head. And Theogene’s take on the process of forgiveness. And Emmy on the difficulties of practicing journalism in Rwanda. And the light in Jean-Bosco’s eyes when he talked about how his TV story helped fix the potholes on Kigali streets.

They were four of my students and I like to think they taught me as much as I taught them. Only half of my time in Rwanda was spent in the classroom, but that time was a rich vein. At its best, teaching for me is a joyful negotiation: I’ll give you something, and you give me something back. Occasionally, I get the best of the bargain. This was one of those times.

But it all happened accidentally. I was never supposed to be a Rwandan classroom at all. Blame it on a few loose words.

Ever since my first reporting trip there in 1994, Rwanda has taken up residence in a small corner of my brain, in the form of an anguished question mark. How could this genocide possibly have happened? When I signed up for the Rwanda Initiative last year, I thought this might be a unique (and oblique) way of getting me closer to an answer. I agreed to spend three weeks in the newsroom of TV Rwanda. I would help the reporters develop some professional reporting skills. In return, I would use those contacts to pursue some stories of my own, as a freelance journalist.

But something happened. In my first week in Kigali, I wrote a blog that upset some influential people, and these people decided that I would not be welcome in the country’s only TV newsroom. Something about my obsession with “shadows” that one still finds in Rwandan life. It was my first civics lesson in 21st-century Rwanda: Be careful—very careful—what you say about life in the aftermath of the genocide. People are listening and reading, and weighing every word, every nuance, every opinion, especially if there might be an international audience. Some things in Rwanda may only be whispered. On reflection, I shouldn’t have been surprised. Rwanda is still in post-traumatic shock. When a visitor comes and unburdens himself of an opinion that may be even mildly critical of the government, it will set off alarm bells.

As a result, instead of going to TV Rwanda, I was re-routed to the campus of the National University in Butare. I would be teaching the fundamentals of broadcast writing to a group of journalism and communication students. As it turned out, the fuss over my blog was useful preparation for me as a teacher: It gave me insight into the environment that these prospective communicators would be launched into after graduation. If they decided on journalism, they would have to learn to walk a fine line. Tightrope walking is not necessarily a bad thing in this business: if nothing else, you learn to step carefully, you learn balance, you learn to be intensely aware of your environment. Up on the high wire, you learn to focus. Or else.

Happily, a number of my students also worked at TV Rwanda in their spare time. I could watch their work on the nightly news. We could discuss it. And day-by-day, I began to see things that they could do to improve their product—to create a better newscast—without risking the displeasure of their bosses, who have to be so mindful of politics. I told them that this was vital work: Television news can be—should be—a forum for public dialogue, and Rwanda was in urgent need of as much public dialogue as it could generate. Here are some of the things I told them:

“Let me hear more voices, and see more faces, in your news reports. Average people, talking about things that matter to them, in simple language. This is where politics starts. People talking to other people. Make your newscast a more democratic platform.”
“Don’t be in such awe of the politicians. Drop the titles, like ‘honorable.’ Ask them tougher questions. Be polite, but politely skeptical. Don’t take everything they say at face value. Ask them, politely, to back up their statements with facts.”
“Convince your editors to expand their news agendas. Rwandan domestic news consists almost entirely of press conferences and seminars. The images are boring to the point of catatonia. TV news should not be a government bulletin board, it should be an informed conversation. Take the cameras outside, videotape people where they live and work and play, and tell stories that have a greater social import. Rwanda is full of powerful human stories. Tell these stories. Over time, both your editors, and the politicians who rely on television to ‘get their message out,’ will see that this makes for far more compelling TV news.”
“In your writing, try to simplify, and try to stay away from bureaucratic jargon. You are professionals. Don’t parrot press releases. You are not publicists. You are journalists trained to think critically. Let that be reflected in the language and the scope of your reporting.”
“Let me hear more people talk, especially in close-up. I want to see their eyes, glance into their souls. And don’t paraphrase them. Don’t put your narration over video of their lips moving. Give them voice, even if it’s in an unfamiliar language. That’s how you get authenticity.”
“You, the reporters, are the agents of change. This change does not have to be confrontational. These things I’m talking about are not subversive, they’re common sense. So tactfully convince your bosses, convince officials, heck, tell the president, that it is in everyone’s interest to develop a more watchable, balanced and independent news media. It will be more work for you, but ultimately, much more satisfying. And it’s an exciting enterprise: you’ll be pioneers.”
And so on. Some of the students complained that, in their work, they were constrained by what they called “the editorial line.” One student called their work “appeasement.” That sounded dangerously blunt, but it may hold some truth. Public broadcasting in Rwanda is not public broadcasting in Canada. “Freedom of the press,” in the Rwandan context, is seen by many as a dangerous two-edged sword that needs to be managed and contained. This argument has some strong historic underpinnings—in 1994, for example, leading radio stations and newspapers were organs of genocidal propaganda.

But I also got the feeling that my students were holding themselves back, even censoring their own instincts. One student who worked regularly at TV Rwanda bluntly called it a culture of “laziness.” Many of the reporters, he said, just didn’t want to do the work needed to expand the boundaries of their craft. We didn’t have the time to explore this further in the classroom; it would be a great subject for some future master’s or doctoral thesis.

With the lessons out of the way, I asked the students to talk about themselves, their own life histories, and their own motivations. To my pleasant surprise, they were expansive and candid—more candid, in fact, than any students I’ve ever taught in Canada. And this is where my learning came. I learned things about how they viewed the limits of forgiveness: where the personal anguish and loss they suffered in the genocide came crashing up again the social imperative of national unity. One student gave me insight into reconciliation of the “heart,” as opposed to reconciliation by political decree. As they talked, they gave me hope that the next generation of Rwandan journalists does indeed have a strong voice and a social conscience that will help to break ground and heal wounds.

All that’s needed, perhaps, is a little more oxygen, a little more empowerment—an acceptance by authorities that the rewards of more open expression in Rwanda, may well outweigh the risks. Especially if the voices doing the expressing belong to people like Emmanuel and Theo and Emmy and Jean-Bosco . . .