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Alyssa Noel,
Carleton University Graduate


Alyssa's Blog

Sept. 27, 2006 — Genocide Memorial

I can’t remember ever seeing a human skull before, but today
I saw many.

We visited the Kigali genocide memorial. While the rows of bones and skulls encased in glass showcases thoroughly disturbed me, Brett was most moved by the display of clothes that were worn by some of the victims of the genocide when they were killed. They hung on a clothesline in a dimly-lit room creating a ghost-like quality. Walking through the exhibit I noticed one of the shirts said OTTAWA in bold letters followed by I HEART CANADA. That hit me pretty hard. Even though I was only 8 years-old when the genocide happened, I couldn’t help but feel incredibly ashamed and guilty on behalf of the west.

The memorial helped me to look at the genocide in a new light. Scattered throughout the display are TVs that play commentary from genocide survivors. There was one woman who talked about how her two sisters hid in a septic tank when the violence broke out. They were eventually found and stoned to death. I have two sisters who are also my best friends. As this woman was telling her story I suddenly saw myself in that situation and my sisters in a pool of faeces fearing for their lives. I felt like throwing up.

While I might be here in Rwanda now, trying to make a difference, it feels like it’s not enough. The one million people who perished will never be back. Would it all have been possible if the media hadn’t been used as such an evil weapon? It’s a hard question to answer, considering I still can’t connect the people here with such atrocities.

I think this project is a really amazing idea, but as the first bunch of students to take part in it, I don’t think we’ll see much change. The four of us have spent quite a few half-drunken dinners (one beer here equals about two Canadian beers and I’m a lightweight) heatedly discussing what we’re doing here, the state of the media and what we should be doing.

There are a few reporters here who truly love what they’re doing and are pushing the boundaries of what a government-backed newspaper can do. But still, questions about ethics often arise. There are also issues with a lack of training, English as a second or third language and a desperate need for a Canadian Press guide equivalent.

In the newsroom we mostly edit and co-write stories with reporters, which both feel like productive tasks. But I worry about coming off as arrogant or being dismissed as trying to westernize the paper. Then my mind will wander back the rows of bones and I know that making even the smallest amount of progress is better than ignoring Rwanda again.


Sept. 21, 2006 — Safari

I saw baboon penis yesterday. The little guy was sitting on a stump, very human-like, with his elbows on his knees and his hands crossed loosely in front of him. As fascinating as it was to see an animal sit upright, we couldn’t help but giggle at the peep show he gave us.

As you might have guessed, Brett, Corina, Chris and I went on a Safari yesterday. We headed to Akagera Park, about two and a half hours from Kigali (the city we’re staying in). We got there, ready to go elephant hunting, and realize we’re starving. There was a very random large hotel at the edge of the park so we decided to head up for some pre-safari pizza. (I should probably preface this by explaining that in Rwanda you have to go to a restaurant while you’re still full because you’ll be hungry by the time the food actually gets to you.)

An hour later, we decided to take our pizzas to go. So we’re in the squished vehicle, pulling out our pizzas - and inadvertently elbowing each other in the face - and we hit the trail where we discover that, ironically, SUVs would be more than just a blatant display of excess money in Rwanda – ironically, the place where no one can afford them. The trail is so incredibly bumpy we all ended up with “shit buffets” all over our pants and more-than-slightly nauseous stomachs.

We saw some buffalo, impala, etc. etc. Things didn’t get exciting till we reached the fishing village where the bunch of baboons and baboon penises lived. Down by the lake there was what I still believe to be a group of pterodactyls. These birds were so massive I feared for my life.

But, besides the wildlife, the most interesting part of the trip was driving through the countless villages in the valley. They’re literally made up of mud huts, dirty children, and goats wandering the streets. It was like seeing the Sunday morning infomercials for World Vision. It absolutely blew my mind. These people work to stay alive. They get water from a well. They build homes out of the red dirt and sticks. They simply sit when they’re done their chores for the day.

That drive gave me what I hoped I would be able to take from Africa: perspective. I just hope it lasts once I get home back to my warm showers, reliable electricity and gigantic grocery stores. I hope I can remember that I just happened to be born in a first world country. I could have been any of those runny-nosed, dirt-caked children. In a way, I feel guilty, but in a bigger way I feel really lucky.



Sept. 27, 2006 — Genocide Memorial

Sept. 21, 2006 — Safari


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