Melodie Cardin 's Blog
July 7, 2007 — Luxury and African time
My idea of luxury has changed, not for the first time in my life and probably not for the last. On the way to Rwanda I remember constant frustration, tiredness, exhaustion. I hated flying; the cramped seats, the bad plane food, the long stretches without moving. On the other hand, I was super excited about seeing London and going to Africa and was in a good mood that kept adrenaline rushing through my system and removed the need for much sleep. On the way here, I slept maybe 4 uncomfortable hours in 48 and was fine. Even then, it took a few days in Rwanda for the excitement to wear off enough for me to be able to sleep properly.
Now, I’m sitting on a huge plane full of teenagers – and on the way here I probably couldn’t have imagined anything worse. I’ve barely slept as I was nervous my hotel in Paris “wake-up call” might not come through. I was wise to be nervous, it came but it was just one short ring on the phone which I’d have slept right through if I hadn’t woken up twenty minutes earlier on my own.
All I can think though is that I just spent two lovely months in Rwanda and two lovely days in Paris and now I’m sitting on a giant pod in the sky that is taking me across the Atlantic in less time than my bus ride from Kigali to Kampala – I certainly have more leg room – my seat reclines – people keep serving me food and coffee – I can’t hear any cries of “sistah! mille francs!” (and there are no goats, dead or alive, nearby) – and my diagnosis that my malaria pills were what was causing my nausea was correct, as I went off them five days ago and I feel great for the first time in two weeks. (So now let’s just hope I don’t get malaria.)
On the way here, it would have annoyed me that the sound for the in-flight movie is so awful as to be not worth it - but I couldn’t care less – actually I think the lack of sound might be rather improving this movie, as I can just focus on the long cinematic shots of Mark Whalberg. Instead of feeling awful about gross plane food like on the way here, I’m thrilled because they served me fresh salad with balsamic vinaigrette and Cadbury chocolate and so why complain about the chicken?
Roaming through Paris, I had a lot of time by myself to reflect on my experiences for the last two months. I kept seeing things that reminded me of my fellow interns – I saw a shop called “Kawaii shop” and thought of David, who is such an amazing photographer that I imagine someday I will tell people I danced with him “when.” I hoped the others are having fun in London and Lyon and Kigali, and really had fun going to all the tourist attractions and such – but it’s amazing how my experiences are coloured by the time I just spent in Africa. When I was at the Louvre, I was waiting in a queue for the bathroom, and the woman in front of me was complaining to her friend – there’s no toilet paper, there’s no soap. I reached in my bag and pulled out my packet of tissues and Purell and handed them to her and she exclaimed, “Wow! You’re prepared!” And I smiled and did not tell her that the clean flush toilet in a public establishment seems so luxurious to me that it would not occur to me to be upset over toilet paper and soap. (Actually I had soap on me too.) Not that there are no nice bathrooms in Kigali – the ones in the Union Trade Centre, where the famous Bourbon Coffee is, are very nice – although toilet paper and cleanliness is not a guarantee even there.
I hope all of this talk of the luxuries I have missed will not fool anyone into thinking I didn’t have a good time. I loved Rwanda and will miss it greatly, especially, and in no particular order:
1) Sylvanus, the librarian at Radio Rwanda. It used to be when I came in he’d glance up and say, “You are welcome, sistah.” Now every time I enter that library (which I do to see him, not because of any actual need to use the “library”) I hear “Aaahhh!! Sistah!! You are most welcome! I was wondering when you would be coming to visit me!” When I left, he presented me with a picture of a warrior carrying a shield which he said “represents the courage of the Bunyarwanda,” and a basket. He told me the basket is traditionally placed on the table in the main room, and it is where the women of the family “keep their secrets.” Their secrets? In the basket? Not sure how that works, but it was a lovely gesture and I will really miss him. He laughs kindly at everything I say, whether or not it was a joke, and sometimes, when he answers my questions, the answer has no bearing on the question, which leads me to believe there might be something lost because English is his third language, but the love is real regardless.
2)Faith – an indomitable reporter and fantastically fun girl – who, we recently discovered – can make it through two weeks in China with the tiniest suitcase ever. It was about the size of a makeup case. She left on the same flight to Addis with us – she must be in China now. I hope she will make it to Canada someday. She is brilliant.
3)Jidia, who has been a really close friend to me since my arrival at Radio Rwanda.
Having been in Rwanda puts things in perspective. Right now I’m on a high after spending time in Paris, where highlights were the Eiffel Tower, walking along the Seine, and the Musée d’Orsay, but I know there will be lows again. It’s easy to say that other people have it worse off then you and you should be grateful for what you have, but to be blunt, I think it will be easier to put that into practice now. When I think of how many people I met who lost their families – when I think of my friend Serge, who lost much of his family and works in the Genocide Memorial where their pictures are, along with so many graves, I can’t help feeling fortunate about my lot in life, and that I have nothing to ever be depressed about. That being said, my struggles are different but still struggles. It also makes me realize how profoundly I want to spend my life doing the kinds of things that will help prevent people’s sadness. I’m not having visions of grandeur here – but there was a quote in the Genocide Memorial that will stick with me forever. Paraphrased, it said that the Nazis did not kill 6 million Jews and the Interahamwe did not kill 1 million Tutsis – they killed one, and then another, and then another…. I think that is important to remember, and that the reverse is also true. Imagine if the genocide had still happened but my friend Serge’s family had been spared. In the scheme of things, that would have made no difference whatsoever – but for him – it would have made a world of difference. So it’s not visions of grandeur to say that if we all focus on good deeds, one peaceful act at a time, maybe things can change.
And you know, despite everything, he’s the life of the party. He can dance up a storm and he laughs and smiles and that’s a lesson for me when I feel down. The sheer joy and dancing and partying that goes on in Rwanda should be something that sticks with me forever – despite everything that’s happened, and the poverty, and the lack of press freedom – people seem to be as happy as anyone else in the world. They certainly have “Carpe Diem” down pat.
I was having lunch with Sylvanus and asked him when he had to get back.
“Oh, I have a short break of two hours.”
“Sylvanus, that’s a really long break! Two hours!”
“Ha ha. That’s African time, deah.”
I never thought I would say this – I’m always early for everything and it (used to?) bugs me when people are late – I’ll miss African time.
July 2, 2007 — Looking forward
I would not say that upon coming to Rwanda I experienced anything in the way of culture shock. I certainly noticed the beauty of the land and the first couple of days were a little overwhelming before I got used to the sheer business of the streets and the lack of personal space, but there was nothing shocking about it. Maybe this is because I have traveled before, and really Africa is not that different from Central America. There are differences for sure. Belize, where I lived for awhile, has brightly painted houses in every color in the poor areas, whereas there’s a lot of gray and brown in the poor areas here, and a lot of mud and concrete and thatch, sometimes brick. My Mom commented to me in an e-mail that in my pictures, Kigali looks dry, but actually I think that’s more because of all the gray and brown houses, and of course the redness of the earth.
I’m starting to remember the reverse culture shock I went through on returning from Belize – I remember being really upset by all the water waste in Canada, because I’d just been in a place where water was precious and sometimes the dishes went unwashed for days if there hadn’t been any rain. Canada is just huge too, and so clean and sanitized, that I think even when you grew up there you can feel bowled over by it when you’ve been gone for awhile. I remember just looking at all the well-paved roads and air conditioned buildings and gigantic shopping malls, and thinking, no wonder the poverty of the developing world seems so far away. I’m already anticipating a bit of that – particularly because I spent last weekend in Kampala, which is bigger and more developed than Kigali but still has the extreme poverty, so you see a bit of both worlds.
(Walking into a Shell station there was a bit surreal.) Nura, our housekeeper, unearthed a Wal-Mart bag in our room the other day and I was shocked back to the land where such bags are so numerous as to be thrown out in great numbers, and are given out for free. Nothing is free here – not the paper bags they pack your groceries in, not the paper cup you take for your coffee. I’ll miss bargaining and how the ticketed price is the price, there’s no tax to work out.
Just as I couldn’t have known what I was going to love about Rwanda, I can’t really anticipate what I will find shocking going back, but I know that Canada is going to feel luxurious in a way that it doesn’t usually. Not that I’ve gone without here – we live like kings, somewhat insulated from the poverty here. But it’s got nothing on the insulation of Canada – with its air conditioned houses and clean tap water and no malaria and two cars per family (and no goats tethered on the side of the road) – suburbia is a long way from Africa.
June 25, 2007 — A whole new meaning to “in the hole”
I have been feeling really frustrated lately about my general clumsiness, which in Africa seems to be far worse than at home. Not to say that I’m not clumsy at home, but other than the occasional shoe turning over and a quick glance around hoping no one saw, it never gives me any more trouble than that. But I feel like since I came here, all I do is fall down. The combination of deep potholes and lack of street illumination seems to be lethal to me.
This weekend I reached the epitome of this in Kampala. It was pitch black, we rounded a bend, and by the time I heard Christine yell “Melodie, watch out!” I was already half inside a gigantic hole. I had my arms on the edge of the hole, straddling it, and one leg out on the other side, and my right leg had scraped down the side of the concrete and was reaching probably 4 feet down into that hole. I nearly lost my shoe in the process, and then I realized that I was okay, balanced on the side of the hole, not terribly hurt but really scared. As I was trying to hoist myself back up, this guy named Steve who had been walking with us to the club turned around and made a beeline for me. He’d had more than a little to drink and I was petrified that he’d wind up pushing me in the hole in his attempts to “save me” – plus by this point I just didn’t like him at all, and so he was not the person I wanted helping me up.
I started yelling, “Get off of me, I’m not falling in!”, over and over, and finally the guy figured it out and let go of me, at which point I picked up my shaken, humiliated self and sat down on a curb near the hole to calm down. Steve sat down next to me and put his hand on my arm at which point I fully snapped, “Don’t touch me!” at him, to which David interjected something along the lines of “Don’t take it personally, man, it’s just a cultural thing.”
After a long hot day on a bus where even I, with my short legs, was getting sore knees, we finally get to the border. I was groggy because David and I had stayed up most of the night before so we’d been sleeping very uncomfortably and intermittently on the bus. We got off the bus, did the hour and a half border crossing experience. As we were getting back on the bus, the border crossing people took out all the luggage and went through every bag. When we got back into Kigali, the guy sitting next to me (who I’d had to shove off a couple times when he fell asleep on my shoulder) started grabbing at me and fondling my butt. I flipped a bit and went, “What are you doing?”
Turned out he was reaching between the seats for the plastic bags he had stashed there to smuggle past the bag search.
Market in Kampala
June 18, 2007 — Fresh meat
Please, please, please, don’t buy that goat. These are my thoughts as I sit crammed into a minibus meant for 15 with 20 other people - 21 if you count the baby screaming its head off on its sleeping mother’s lap in the backseat - because the man behind me, who has been digging his elbows into my back during the entire trip, is bargaining for an entire dead, skinned goat. The man on the road is holding it up by what I presume to be its ankle bones and the thing still has a tail.
“Deux mille cinq cent,” he shouts to me, and through my revulsion at the idea of that thing coming on our already musky-smelling bus I can’t help but notice that 5 bucks is a pretty cheap starting price for an entire goat. (Minus the head, fortunately.)
Fortunately, the bus got back on its way without the goat, and we got off to Nyungwe for a trek through the rainforest without a hitch – until we got to the lodge.
Cynthia had asked at the ORPTN offices before we got there about the cost, and had been told 30$US to enter the park. I don’t know if it was a breakdown in communication or a serious case of the infamous “muzungu price,” but the man at reception refused to let us in for less than 50$US – and when we asked if we could make up the difference in Rwandan francs, he allowed it only at an exchange rate of 577 to the dollar, when the going rate is closer to 540.
It was all worth it when we saw the beauty of the forest – although the steep uphill on the return nearly killed me and took quite a bit out of all of us. Today, everything hurts – muscles I didn’t know I had are hurting – but I have seen a bit more of Rwanda and after all these weekend excursions I am feeling like I am getting the most out of my Rwandan experience. We didn’t see any monkeys in the forest, but we saw tons of them on the road – driving too fast to get a picture but I’ve got a mental one that is priceless.
June 7, 2007 — Salma Hayek is figuring out Rwanda
I am starting to feel homesick for little things. In particular, bathrooms at home. This blog could really not be complete without a little mention of bathrooms here. This will be a bit graphic, but let’s just say that hole-in-the-ground facilities in many areas, not to mention dubious hygiene, have cause me to perfect the squat, and I have pretty good aim for a girl.
Which is more than I can say for some people at Radio Rwanda, who have no aim whatsoever judging from the pee on the seat, on the floor… and so on. I know I don’t leave the house without a wad of toilet paper or packet of tissue in my purse. Also hand sanitizer, which is something I never use in Canada but couldn’t do without here.
Things I have learned in bathrooms here: it’s easier in a skirt, notebook paper is not better than nothing, and newspaper is but doesn’t flush. Okay, graphic part over.
It’s not only bathrooms that take adjusting to, obviously. My work is mostly good now that I am figuring out the flow of it. I was working three evenings, two days a week but I found that schedule didn’t work well. It was too many evenings, and I prefer the work I do during the day because I get out in the field. So I had my schedule changed to two evenings, three days and I think that will work out better – but it is more work and another early morning and I am more tired than I was before. I am also starting to get used to what I am expected to do, and so can take some initiative. I’ve gone out on a couple of assignments on my own now (easy but I seem to have to convince them that I’m capable using baby steps.)
I went to a function that the President spoke at – but it was pretty anticlimactic to be honest, the most interesting thing about it was the big show everyone puts on when he’s around. Tight security, standing ovations when he enters the room, etc., and the second he leaves the building all the security falls apart. It’s weird coming from Canada, where we have cartoons making fun of our PM in the paper, and then being here and seeing the red carpet treatment. I agreed with the things he said though. He talked about the environment and climate change and talked about how many of the environment problems in Africa are because of the excesses of the developed countries, all of which was powerful to hear here.
For the most part, however, work is really good and I get along really well with most people there and enjoy their company. Several of them have been good about helping me to learn some phrases in Kinyarwanda, which is hard for me to learn but I’m trying. After only a month here, I feel like Kigali is small – I know lots of people and everyone knows everyone in this town. I’m really enjoying it too – I’ve always been the kind of person who takes pleasure in the little things and here those things are: moto rides; the little craft boutiques on every corner; passionfruit juice and fruit salad; driving through the countryside on the weekends; the smiles and giggles of the kids on the road. These are things I will remember – the things I didn’t know to expect.
Another crazy thing about being here is the women who will come up and touch my hair in amazement. These are women who are tall, thin, drop dead gorgeous and will come up and be amazed at my hair – but I understand because African women spend a lot of time and money on their hair. One girl calls me Salma Hayek because of my hair – which I don’t really get, I don’t see the resemblance, but I’m not going to fight it.
May 27, 2007 — Stinging nettles and jungle trekking
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.
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.
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, 2007 — The day I went to prison
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.”
“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, 2007 — Bourbon coffee, my first story, and making friends
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, 2007 — Kisosi Genocide Memorial in Kigali
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, 2007 — First day at work
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.