Kayla Hounsell's Blog
July 3, 2006 — Homeward Bound
I’m flying over Africa, listening to the African music playing in my plane headphones, and realizing this will be my last African experience, at least for now. I’m feeling mixed emotions as the rollercoaster ride that has been the last two months comes to an abrupt end.
Thirty per cent of me is ready to go home. I admit that I’m starting to miss the ridiculous ease with which we live in the first world. I miss Mom’s cooking (I’ve sent in a menu indicating no rice and no beans.), hot water whenever I want, and a high-speed connection; all things that don’t really matter. But Rwanda has taught me the value of relationships, and I miss my family.
The other 70 per cent of me feels as though I just live in Rwanda, and could go on living here forever. Leaving seems weird. I’m actually a bit nervous. How will I react to home? Will everything seem really fast?
The good byes started on Friday. Amanda and I stayed up until 3 a.m. the night before putting together a slideshow of photos for our class. Watching the images of our time here flash across the screen was almost surreal. We’ve done so much in such a short time.
Every time I leave Newfoundland it hurts to say goodbye, but I know I’ll be back. Saying goodbye in Rwanda included the impossible reality that I might never see these people again. As I reflect on the past two months, I know that it would have meant nothing if it weren’t for the people I’ve met. And so this is a farewell, thanking those that have been a part of my experience.
Solange: You were the first to say hello, and the last to say goodbye. I’ll never forget the trouble you went through to receive our luggage, the “adventures” at NUR residences, Akabenzi, sleepovers, visiting Alice, the list goes on. Thank you for welcoming us into your home on our last night in Kigali. It was the perfect ending. You are one of the most special people I have ever met. Remember your promise. I’ll get the luggage.
Nicolas: What a funny character. Thanks for the trip to Gisenyi, Akabenzi, and sleepovers. I know we all seemed anxious on our last trip to Kigali, but waiting for you made the trip that much more special. You’ve been a great friend. We’ll be here waiting.
To NUR’s second-year journalism class: You are the ones who have made our experience. I have been so inspired by you. I don’t think Canadian journalism students always realize the privilege it is to be journalists. We get bogged down in the workload that can be very tiresome, and forget what this is all about. It was refreshing to be surrounded by young people who understand journalism’s purpose. Helping Kanina and Robert teach you was truly rewarding for me. It’s up to you to change Rwanda’s future. Good luck. If ever you need anything I’m an email away.
Eugene, Sam, Providence, Sylvia, Totto, Emmanuel, and Alyce: Thank you for your time in allowing me to interview you.
Alyce: Thanks for being a friend. It was enlightening to hear your unique perspective having lived and understood both the Canadian and Rwandan cultures. You’re a fun girl! Canada misses you too. See you in Montreal!
Jean-Pierre and Antoine, and the School of Journalism at NUR: Thank you for hosting us, for helping us settle in, and for taking care of us.
Tarek and Omar from Matar: I told you I’d find a way to say thanks. Thanks for having the junk to fuel our North American cravings. Mostly thanks for being such friendly people. Sorry about the markers!
Jovin: Thanks so much for your positive and uplifting attitude. You were very helpful to us, even if you were always telling us ancient proverbs. haha
Onesphore and the Ibanga Staff: Working with Ibanga was a special way for me to learn more about Rwandan culture. Thank you for welcoming me into your newsroom. I appreciated your patience, translation, and journalistic views. If you continue to be the leaders of Rwanda’s media, I think your country will have a bright future.
Herbert: What a guy! I’m so sad we met you so near the end. You have a special spark. Hope you have a fantastic adventure in the U.S. Play safe, and don’t make up quotes!
Kanina: What can I say? You’re a very skilled professor, a fun person, and a spirited human being. Thanks for including me, and thanks for the insightful talks! Rwanda loves you!
Amanda: My other half! What a ride. We’re better journalists, better friends, and better people because of this experience. Rwanda is behind us, and Carleton awaits, but we’ve got the perspective now. Kill bugs, wear skirts, do your hair, and keep it real. See you on campus!
Allan Thompson: The brains behind the madness. Thank you for your endless hours, and dedication. I understand now why you’re so passionate about Rwanda. This is truly a wonderful project. I hope to stay involved.
My friends and family in NL: I have the largest support network ever. I am very lucky to have each of you behind me. Thanks for your encouragement.
To my parents: None of this would have been possible without you. You will never know how much I appreciate what you did to ensure I completed this experience. Thank you for being you.
Rwanda, you’re full of hills, full of challenges, and full of love. It’s a great story!
June 30, 2006 — Attending Class
After all the hassle of trying to find a class to take in this country, Amanda and I finally found one that was starting right away. We were told a professor from Uganda would be coming to teach the second years newspaper layout. We were excited because other than a brief introduction, we hadn’t yet been able to learn that at Carleton.
When we showed up the professor stated that though we were all informed he would be teaching newspaper design, he had been instructed to teach Computer Aided Research and Reporting, or CARR. He had spent hours preparing his lesson plans for CARR, only to arrive and be told that’s not what the students were expecting.
He decided he would teach a couple of days of CARR, and then switch to newspaper design. I was a little disappointed given that I’d already taken this course from Carleton, and really wanted to get into Adobe InDesign to learn newspaper design. In any case, I was still excited to finally be sitting in class with the Rwandan students.
Prof. Tayeebwa is a character, not at all like Rwandans. It was through him that I was able to start to see the difference between Rwandan culture and other African cultures. Uganda seems much more forward-thinking, much more open…much more like us. Prof. Tayeebwa seemed to be going crazy about people not showing up on time just as much as we were. He kept stressing how important it was and said he couldn’t believe the difference in Canadian and Rwandan students. He’s a great guy, very friendly, very approachable, and really knows his stuff.
So we started class. We had no Internet connection. How on earth does one teach a computer assisted reporting class with no Internet access? I don’t know. Prof. Tayeebwa didn’t know either. And he wasn’t long making it clear that he didn’t like the disorganization on campus. Instead, we learned how to create a folder and how to do a Boolean search. I’ll admit I was a little bored. But I’m pretty sure most of the Rwandans were too.
The funniest part was when he asked one of the students to give a demonstration in how to use MSN messenger, and then asked me to explain to the class how I use it to help with my school work. I heard Amanda chuckle under her breath, but I came up with a pretty good response. I sometimes use it to connect with other journalism students and discuss questions I have, and we also use it to send our assignments to each other for editing. I also explained however, that the only reason this works, is because Carleton students are pretty much all online, all the time. That would not be possible in Rwanda given the limited Internet, and computer access.
My favourite part of the class was when we finally started Adobe InDesign. I’m a broadcast journalist at heart, but working at Ibanga and getting into designing newspapers, has really made me reconsider print journalism. I worked with some other students to create a newspaper called The Rwanda Initiative. It was filled with all of my blogs and photos. Amanda called it “The Kayla paper,” but it was a good laugh.
The only thing I didn’t really like was at the end of the day when the prof announced that I was the only one who had made anything that resembles a newspaper. The thing is the only reason I was able to do that, was because I have a digital camera, a flash disk, and a laptop to store all that information on. It had nothing to do with ability or even work ethic.
I wish we had the time to stay and complete the entire course, but I’m glad we had the time that we did. Many thanks to Prof. Tayeebwa for welcoming us into his class. I feel I learned enough about the program to practice on my own. It was nice to see the way a class operates in Rwanda. It was encouraging to see that, although there are some differences, it’s not really too different than at home. We’re all students trying to learn. One thing— speak up ladies!
June 26, 2006 — Alice and Moses
Ethics is a part of what we’re trying to improve in Rwanda, but tonight I realized that there’s at least one Poynter rule that doesn’t always translate in Africa. In Canada they teach us, “Never ever pay a source for information.” There’s all sorts of ethical implications surrounding this rule, the first and foremost being, how do you know if the source is giving you correct information, or if he or she is even who they say they are. I could say anything if someone was going to give me a million dollars.
I feel so strongly about this rule that sometimes, even in Africa, I just can’t do it. (see ‘My African Reporting Adventure'). But sometimes your heart kicks in and the ethics fade into the distant thought that these people need money and you have it.
That’s the way I felt when I heard about Alice.
While eating dinner with Solange tonight, she told us about a story she’s working on with a T.V. crew from Internews, where she’s doing an internship.
Alice is a 10-year-old mother. She was raped when she was just eight years old. She now has a seven-month old baby boy named Moses. In Kinyarwanda his name means “miracle.” Alice lives at home with her mother and stepfather. Her mother tries to help her by teaching her how to take care of her baby, but she also has 10 other children. They live together in a house no bigger than an average North-American living room. They have nothing.
“There’s a difficult interview if ever there was one,” I thought. Great story though.
“Did the journalists give them money?” I asked
Of course they did. In Canada? Never, never, never. But then I doubt one would run into a situation like that in Canada. It can’t even begin to compare. I would have done the same thing.
I’d been trying to figure out what to do with the leftover money given to me by Ibanga for my trip to the field. Tomorrow, we’re going to try to find a way to get it to those kids; the mother and the baby.
Tonight the Internews crew agreed to drive us back to Alice’s house. It was just as just as Solange described it. The mother was at the hospital with one of the children, but Alice was there. There is no way to describe the horror that is Alice’s life. I asked why we couldn’t give the money to the husband. “No, no, no.,” I was hushed. “He might use it all for beer.” I asked if he couldn’t do that anyway once he discovered his wife had the money. “No, Rwandan women are very smart,” was the response.
So we set out to find the hospital with Alice and Moses. The baby appeared healthy, chubby even. He’s too heavy for Alice, and he’s got quite the grip. He held my thumb the whole way there. I watched his head roll back because Alice was holding him like a child holds a doll. When we arrived we gave the mother the money. I watched them together, Alice with her baby, the mother with hers. I knew I had made the right decision. I also had a couple of toys left over from the donation I made to some local orphanages: a puzzle, and a toy for learning ABCs and 123s.
I almost recoiled as I saw the 10-year-old child hand over her baby, so that she could kneel on the ground beside me, as the journalist and I explained how to use the toys. There was something so wrong about that picture. People talk about children being deprived of a proper childhood, but Alice has been thoroughly robbed of hers.
We took pictures for a while. Solange handed me the baby. He has no clothes. He was wrapped in a blanket soaked with urine. It was hard to leave, but the time came for us to drive them home. They said it was dangerous to go with the Muzungus, because neighbours would assume there was money, so the camera crew drove them home, while we waited by the side of the road.
June 25, 2006 — Editing
I received a text Thursday telling me there was a “crucial” meeting at Ibanga that night, just after the copy deadline at 6 p.m.
I arrived at the tiny house that is the Ibanga newsroom, and pulled my chair into the semicircle. The chief editor Fred wasn’t long taking charge. “I have an announcement to make, and it’s going to kill some of you. But I don’t care,” he says. His announcement was that the printer that they normally use was not able to print it this time because they have a daily paper to which they give priority. Instead they would have to use a much slower printer this time around, meaning everyone would have to work double hard to put the paper together by Monday. “We have no time for silly people,” says Fred.
Though Ibanga is doing a lot of good work, and correcting a lot of the problems of unprofessional journalism, deadlines are still a problem. The editor emphasizes them, but the journalists don’t meet them. So at the meeting we began assessing how many stories were written. Very few. “When do you think we can have them?” asks Fred. And then after a moment’s hesitation, “We are going to have them tonight, there is no question.” Still, most were not handed in until mid afternoon the next day.
We were set to start editing at 10 a.m., but most didn’t show up until 11:30. The editing deadline was set for 9 p.m. Amanda and I joined the English editor, Herbert, for the day. Herbert is a kind of kindred spirit I think; so easy going, such a warm heart, and so much fun to work with. He picked out all of the words and phrases I was having doubts about as I was writing, and picked up on several things I hadn’t thought about. Herbert and I got along great, until we ran into one touchy issue.
I was reading through the suggestions he had written on one of my pieces, and noticed a change to a quote. I figured he didn’t realize it was a quote. “You’re right that it would sound better this way,” I pointed out. “But I can’t change it because I didn’t write it. It’s a quote.”
“Yes, but you’re not changing the meaning of what he said,” Herbert says. Oh boy. Herbert says he thinks it’s fine to take three sentences of what someone has said that are too long and condense them to make a quote. I told him that’s called paraphrasing, and is fine, but you absolutely cannot put it into quotations. This launched an argument. I told him he might as well quit because there was no way he was going to convince me of that. I decided to see what Fred thought. “There is no question,” he says. That was a relief. When I told him Herbert wasn’t buying it, he told me I wasn’t “articulating” well enough. Those who know me know I was made to argue, and so I accepted the challenge. It took some elaborate explaining, but eventually Herbert told me he will never create or alter a quote again. Success. It became a running joke for the rest of our time together.
Not long after, I had a run-in with Fred, the big man on campus. Fred had told me before that one of the problems Ibanga faces is that its reporters are always new, and since there is very little practical work at NUR, most of them don’t know how to write a news story. They often collect lots of good information, he says, but they don’t put any of the good stuff into the article. To remedy this, Fred told me he sits down with the students and makes them tell him the story, and then they write it together. Good idea. I’m not sure why exactly, but I think Fred thought I also didn’t know how to write a news story. Either that, or he was trying to intimidate me. He drilled me, like I’ve never been drilled before, firing questions as fast I could answer them, challenging me with, “why?” for almost everything I said. It was a 15 minute conversation and when I was done, my brain hurt. But I was impressed. Yet another example of how Rwanda’s media will rise above it’s past.
I was proud that I answered all of Fred’s questions…all but one. How big are the lands the women cultivate? There are 3 of them. No, how big is each of them? I have no idea. Now this of course seemed like an obvious question to Fred, and now that he’s explained it, I also understand that this is important to the context of the story. Fred however seemed to think it was the entire story. The reason I did not ask, was because I had never heard the term ‘land” before in this context. Somewhere in the translation, I was under the understanding that land was a term for a set size of a ‘field’. Fred told me it was a simple concept that I should have understood. If there’s anything I hate it’s when people look down on others and tell them things are simple when they are quite obviously trying to understand. “It’s simple to you. But you have to remember that we come from very different backgrounds. I’m looking at this from a North American point of view, where 15-year-old girls don’t cultivate fields!” I fired back. Next we went outside and he tried to get me to guess how big the fields were. Since I hadn’t even seen how far they went back because the crops were so tall, I had no idea at all. Still, he wanted me to guess. This produced another argument that had me declaring I would not have my name attached to anything that had fabricated numbers on it. Eventually I asked him to actually read the story before he decided it wasn’t worth anything without this single number. “Ok, good story,” he said when he was done. Whew. Good editor.
I left around 10:30 because we had prior engagements, but I heard the staff was there much later.
Layout was to start at 8 a.m. the following morning. “This has to be redesigned. It looks lousy,” says Fred. “It’s like having a girlfriend who always puts on skirts. We have to change.” Layout was scheduled until 4 p.m., when proofreading was scheduled to start. Fred was quick to point out that proofreading should not be done by those who edit the pieces, but by someone who has not had contact with the articles. Then he started giving examples of why proofreading is so important. A headline on the front page of one issue was supposed to contain the words “30 ans.” Instead, it read only, “30.” “Trente? Trente quoi?!” thundered Fred. “Trente vaches?!”
In any case, editing and layout went on into the wee hours of the morning. It was to be sent off Monday morning. I was in class Monday morning, but was asked to go speak to the director at the Ibanga office late afternoon, where proofreading was still going ahead. I’m very impressed that so much work was done in so little time, but I wonder when this paper will ever hit the stands.
June 20, 2006 — My African Reporting Adventure
I packed my bag. Notebooks. Check. Recorder. Check. Microphone. Check. Camera. Check. Three years of journalism school. Check. I was Canadian ready for this reporting adventure! What I failed to recognize is that reporting in Rwanda is very different from reporting in Canada.
It turned out that we weren’t able to leave for the field on Friday because we had to wait for last month’s paper to be printed and the printer in Kigali has broken. (The papers are distributed by reporters to selling points in each part of the country). I finally set out for Ruhengeri and Kigali-Ngali (now called the Northern Province) with Onesphore Yadusoneye, an Ibanga reporter and editor.
I admit I was pretty skeptical when I discovered I was to go off searching for stories in Rwandan villages with a male companion. “Overnight? With a man? That I just met?” I thought. “This would never be allowed at home.” I asked around to some of the girls to see whether it was ok. “Yes, it’s ok. He’s saved. He believes in Jesus,” they said. Somehow that didn’t really comfort me since at home that can have many different meanings. Of course I needn’t have worried--Onesphore was ever the gracious gentlemen.
I was also intimidated by the experience itself. I’ve tried hard not to be a Muzungu who comes to Africa and is interested in doing only Muzungu things. I’ve embraced each aspect of the culture introduced to me, and tired hard not to fret about the inconveniences I take for granted at home. But I was worried about the lack of planning, and venturing into the unknown. And sitting in a “hotel room” in the middle of nowhere by myself with the power out, trying to convince myself that I was not hearing “Muzungu, Muzungu,” outside my room, wasn’t exactly enjoyable. Still I thought it was really important to get to see Rwanda’s countryside. Living in a house in Butare’s ‘ritzy’ neighbourhood, I think it’s sometimes easy to forget what most of Africa is really like.
We arrived in (the former) Ruhengeri at 3 p.m. On the bus Onesphore chatted to the women sitting next to us who told him she was a nun, and that she had helped start an initiative with a group of widows to help them survive on their own. Many of the women had turned to prostitution and drinking when their husbands died. They neglected their children, and lived in poverty. The nuns gathered them together in an association to pay 50 francs per month. (now 100 francs—about 20 cents) to rent land for cultivation. Since then many of them have turned their lives around.
We needed to get to the village where these women lived. We took a mototaxi from town, drove out into the village, paid the motos and discovered we had gone too far. We walked back for a little while to get to her house. There was no one home. We found her son, and he told us that she had gone to the bank and if we walked out to the main road we would find her along the way. I wasn’t convinced of that, but there was no other option, so off we went walking out the road we had just paid motos to drive us in. We got to the bank, and found that she had been there, and left. The son said she was most likely at the grandmother’s house.
As we were trying to find transportation back into the village, I realized to my dismay that we had to take a bicycle taxi. I’d been trying to avoid doing this, because I was afraid I’d fall off. Onesphore decided he should ride the bicycle with me on the back because the cycle drivers would drive too fast for me. Thank you Onesphore!
Things were fine until we crashed. The guys behind us yelled something in Kinyarwanda. Onesphore laughed. “They’re telling me the reason we crashed is because you’re leaning to one side. You’re not balancing properly.”
“Sorry,” I called out. “Never rode a bicycle taxi before!” And then we crashed again.
Eventually we reached the grandmother’s house. The mother hadn’t been there. Next the son suggested we try to reach her at the bars where she had gone to buy some things for the house. We went there and she wasn’t there either. I’m not sure what happened next but they had some reason to believe she would be there soon, so we waited. Sure enough, within 10 minutes she showed up.
I don’t think I’ve ever worked so hard to find a source, but it was perhaps the most inspirational interview I have ever done. I think I spoke two words to her, but even though I couldn’t talk to her directly, being in Rwanda has taught me that we can communicate so much without speaking. She’s such a strong woman, so intelligent, and so beautiful. I thought my heart might break when she asked Onesphore to apologize, and say that she would be sure to offer me something to eat or drink if she had it. I told him to tell her it was wonderful just to speak with her.
After walking around and around and asking people we saw on the street what was happening in town, we found two more stories- one about a man who is using his childhood love of football (soccer) to teach young women how to play, which is also a way of proving that women can be equal in society here. Our last story in Kigali-Ngali was about a businessman who lives in Kigali, and is using his resources to help develop his hometown by constructing offices and businesses, protecting the environment by terracing the land, and in turn giving people jobs. They make 500 francs per day (1 USD) and they have made it their own initiative to save 300 francs per month. They have a collective bank account and if anyone of the workers needs help, medical care, sending children to school, etc., they can borrow money from the account.
There were great opportunities for photos of the workers actually building and terracing the land. When Onesphore asked for permission, they said not unless I gave them money. (This is where my being a Muzungu became a problem.) I was raging inside, but I calmly asked Onesphore to please explain that the photos were not for me, as a Muzungu, to bring back to Canada, but instead for a Rwandan newspaper, for Rwandan people. They wouldn’t accept, so I walked away, explaining that as a journalist, I would never pay for information. We can’t use photos for every story anyway.
These stories are just a few examples of the innovation in Africa. I have been thinking about this since my arrival in Rwanda, but I was struck by the reality of it on this trip to the field. It seems to me that innovation in Africa is a way of survival.
This is my kind of journalism. I felt like it was getting down and dirty (well quite literally actually), as opposed to sitting at a desk and making a zillion phone calls which is often what happens at home. Of course they still teach us to go into the field, but in our fast-paced world it often doesn’t make sense when a phone call can get it done in 10 minutes, especially for students. But stories like these are what makes it all worth while.
I also realized the struggles African journalists face when I got back to Butare and realized the equipment I had brought from Canada wasn’t working. My camera crashed, and I lost all of my photos. That was disappointing, but luckily Onesphore had enough photos. We weren’t so lucky when we realized that my recorder hadn’t recorded anything. This has never been a problem for me because I always take notes and never rely on the recorder. I took excellent notes this time as well, but they were all a translation, so I had no quotes. Onesphore had hardly any notes because, with English as a third language, it was a struggle to keep up with the translation. I felt a bit silly when my immediate reaction was to pick up a phone and call the sources back. That’s what I would do if I was in Canada. The people who live in these villages don’t have phones, and they certainly don’t have email. This meant we wrote one story with no quotes. I was rather embarrassed by this, and wondered whether they would even publish it, knowing we definitely would not, at home. Onesphore said they would. No one mentioned the lack of quotes.
June 14, 2006 — Story Meeting
Ibanga. It’s the name of a student-run newspaper here. It means ‘secrets’ in Kinyarwanda, and I think Amanda and I may have discovered the secret to the paper’s success when we attended our first (five-hour) Rwandan story meeting tonight.
“We’re a good news newspaper,” says chief editor Fred. “Or a good news Bible.”
Ibanga sends its reporters, who are interns from NUR, to each region of the country to find stories about average people doing interesting, innovative things.
Fred explains that Ibanga doesn’t write anything about the government…ever. I thought that interesting since most of the mainstream media here write a lot of “X politician said this, and Y politician said that.”
This began my list of many questions for the evening. “Well, are you pressured to write about the government at all?” I inquired, knowing that seems to be the case for other media.
“No, we’re not pressured because we don’t write any good about them, nor any bad about them,” Fred says. “We suggest change, we don’t criticize.”
That sounded a bit problematic to a journalist from Canada, where we question and criticize the government on a daily basis. It’s our role as watchdogs. How can you never write about the government when it affects so many things? Where is the accountability? But then I realized where I am, and where this country has been.
It’s a country who’s media sector has literally been devastated by the slaughter of 800 000 people. So many journalists were killed, and many more were directly implicated in the 1994 genocide through hate media. Because of this most of the media here is not professional, and not respected. I’ve been told by students and journalists here that there is no credibility because journalists write only positive things about the government, they make up quotes, and often don’t include facts. It’s not critical, and it doesn’t accomplish its role of informing people.
So you’ve got to start somewhere and if ‘suggesting’ change is what you have to do, then kudos to you Ibanga.
The paper is run almost the same way as Centretown News at Carleton, except Ibanga is distributed all over the country. Also, at Carleton every student gets a chance to work for Centretown. In Butare it’s an honour to be selected to participate. Students must be very involved in the school, and volunteer for the New Butarean, the campus newspaper (the Charlatan equivalent). As such, Amanda and I were quite appreciative of this generous opportunity. It’s a chance for us to get a peek inside this country’s media, and finally a chance to get our hands on some real reporting.
I’ll admit that I didn’t know what to expect from this meeting given what I’d seen and heard so far, but I was immediately impressed. The dynamic personality of the paper’s chief editor, Fred, is a sign that this paper is headed in the right direction. I can already tell that Fred is very hardworking, and he knows what he wants his reporters to do.
First he pointed out that there were some staff members that were not yet present, and that they would be penalized for being late. Lateness is the first problem of professionalism I noticed in this country, so I was happy to see he was trying to fix it.
Fred told us about some of the stories Ibanga has covered so far. One was about a guy that wants everyone to be literate, so he goes all around the country selling every paper but the New Times (because it’s in English, and thus for the elite.) He sells the papers at the very small price of 50 Rwandan francs (about 10 cents). Another story was about a man who invented a type of plastic bag to wrap around crops to make them grow faster, like a type of greenhouse. “When you’re broke, you’ll think of so many ideas to get money, but when you have money you don’t think of how to get more,” says Fred.
We were paired up with Ibanga reporters (My Kinyarwanda vocabulary is expanding, but to date it’s reached only 11 words.), and told we’d be heading out on Friday. We’ll go out absolutely cold; we don’t know where we’ll sleep, what we’ll eat, or how we’ll get transportation. We don’t know anything really, except we’re looking for two stories for the economics section, one for the sports section, and some information to contribute to what’s called the ‘dossier’, and is like a feature of sorts, that showcases information on a common subject from each province. I’m not sure I’ve ever been this nervous, but I can’t wait to get started.
June 13, 2006 — The story of Murambi
“If you knew me and you really knew yourself, you would not have killed me.” It’s a quote I took from the Murambi genocide memorial we visited today, and it’s something I keep wondering. How could anyone bring themselves to do these horrible things, and to such beautiful people?
More than 50 000 people were slaughtered on Murambi hill on April 21, 1994. They were seeking refuge, but they were really awaiting their deaths. They were rounded up by authorities and told to hide in classrooms that were still under construction, and would soon be opened as a new school. They waited for nearly two weeks, starving and exhausted, until the militia swarmed in from the hills, set off grenades, and then finished off the rest with machetes. Few survived.
I’ve known the story of the Rwandan genocide for quite some time. I’ve read the books and watched the movies. I was brought to a rude awakening on my second day in the country when I saw human remains. (See A Day with Becky.) But now I’ve been in Rwanda for more than a month. I’ve made some very good friends, and seen so much goodness in this country.
I’d heard about Murambi, and even seen the photos taken by our colleagues before us. I knew I would see bodies preserved in lime. I wondered how that could ever be seen as a memorial. It just seemed so awful. Now I get it. It’s the only way to show what really happened. When I read the literature, I was dismayed by what had happened here. But when I walked into room after room of bodies lying on tables, overcome by the combined stench of lime and death, I was affected in a whole different way. Many of the bodies had their arms over their heads, as if they were awaiting the inevitable. There was one room dedicated to children. Some bodies had no heads. Some heads had no bodies.
I wanted to bolt out of their, but I forced myself to look into each room. I thought about my friends, some of whom I know the stories, and some of whom I still wonder. I looked out over the hills, at what is arguably one of the most beautiful places in the country, and found it hard to look back at the ugliness.
I couldn’t help but break down. One woman who spoke only Kinyarwanda put her arms around me and gave me a tissue. We couldn’t talk to each other, but words weren’t necessary. Still I couldn’t help but feel guilty. What right do I have to be upset by this, when those around me lost everything?
I still don’t understand the genocide any better, but I understand its impact.
There was one man on the grounds, with a mark from a bullet on his head; a survivor. I tried to talk to him in French. “Kinyarwanda,” he said, shaking his head. He spends his time wandering the grounds. I couldn’t help but think how difficult it must be for him to spend so much time there. How depressing, I thought. I didn’t get it. When we viewed the museum portion, we saw the same man in one of the videos. His words, though warming, continue to haunt me. “This is my way of taking care of my people.”
June 12, 2006 — Mototaxi
I’ve been in Rwanda for more than a month, but I took a Mototaxi for the first time today. Mototaxis, or just Motos to the locals, are motorcycle taxis. I haven’t taken one until today both because I didn’t need to and because I was scared for my life.
The university pays for a driver to and from school for the professors, but with the tearful departure of our dear Kanina today, us students had to find a more resourceful way. We could have taken a normal taxi, but Amanda (who has come to love Motos) set out on a campaign to convince me otherwise. First, she thinks Motos are actually safer because the drivers in Rwanda are crazy anyway. I’m sure there are no “rules of the road,” and we’ve discovered that we’ve driven with drunk drivers at least twice already. It was a fair statement, but I still wasn’t convinced. Then she pointed out that cars are nearly eight times the price of Motos. That did the trick.
First we found one with a helmet. Then I tried to explain in my broken French that he had to promise to go slow. He agreed, but I think he was laughing at me the whole way.
It was pretty frightening, but what an exhilarating way to get to school!
June 10, 2006 — Friendship with a price
Money causes problems for me wherever I am. In North America I never seem to have enough. In Africa I have too much…at least that’s what Africans think.
It’s been clear to us from the beginning that we are considered to be rich here simply because of the colour of our skin. I’m aware that in comparison to many of the people here, we are rich, but at the same time I can’t help but be frustrated by how much is expected of us here.
When we offer to pay for things, the response is a quick thank you. It’s not that I don’t think they’re grateful, but I don’t like that they seem to expect it. They ask us to use the minutes on our cell phones, when I know they have minutes on their own, they request any sort of food that’s in sight and some of them outright ask for money.
Today was the last straw.
We told all of our students that we were going dancing and that we’d like to see them there. We mentioned it casually because we recognized that many of them may not be able to afford the evening. We thought it would be a fun way to get to know some of them outside the classroom. We spent the afternoon with Solange and she very diplomatically pointed out that because of the difference in culture we might have a problem on our hands. In Rwanda, if you “invite” someone to go somewhere it means you’re going to pay for them. So by us saying we were going to be at Safari Club tonight, they thought that meant we should pay for admission for all 25 students, and buy them beer and Fanta.
I was distraught. They don’t understand that the government doesn’t pay for our tuition the way it does here. Students in Canada are often poor. What’s more, not every white person is rich.
As much as I’d been looking forward to the dancing, I kind of wanted to call the whole thing off to avoid any awkward confrontations. With Solange’s guidance, instead we opted to call the class chief to clarify that everyone should take care of themselves this time.
Just as I was wondering if I could ever really have a true friend here, Nichloas and Solange saved the day, and proved the meaning of true friendship if ever it existed. We’ve known from the beginning that these two are very special. (See “I will stay to receive the baggage of my friends.”) But tonight they made me want to stay in Butare forever.
They had a big surprise planned for Kanina’s farewell. They wouldn’t tell us where we were going, just that we’d be eating African food. I’ll admit I was a little wearly.
They took us to a sports bar-type place called Kabenze. We ate in a little room that looked like a cave. There were little stools and a little table low to the floor. They ordered for us, and the waiter brought out one platter consisting of pork, roasted potatoes, and roasted banannas. It was the best thing I’ve eaten since landing in Africa.
The bill came and I reached for it, but Solange snatched it up, and insisted they were treating us. It was an invitation she explained. It’s so ironic that the people who have so little are the ones who want to give the most. I told them next time, I’ll ‘invite’ them.
June 9, 2006 — Success?
I think it’s going to work out. Today we met with Jean Bosco, the professor teaching both the second and third year classes. He really seems to know what’s going on around this place. He thinks it will be better for us to join the second year class after all! Yea! We’re set to start Current Affairs and Media Critique in a week. For this week, he wants us to help out at Ibanga, the campus newspaper that is run by students, and distributed across the country. Amanda and I are both really excited. This is exactly what we want to do. Let’s see how it works out.
June 8, 2006 — Trying to find a class
Life is so simple in Butare, but the simplest things are so difficult to do. Amanda and I tried to start attending classes today. Yesterday we had a nice chat with the director of the School of Journalism here at NUR, and we thought we had everything figured out for today. We were a little disappointed because we wanted to stay with our class, but it seemed that because of timing, we would have to join the third year class instead.
We showed up promptly at 8 a.m., hoping to demonstrate the importance of coming to class on time. (Rwandans think its perfectly acceptable to show up anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours late. It’s ironic given the lack of journalistic professionalism in this country.) When we arrived, of course no one was there. We waited around, and soon discovered that the second year class was studying in the room we were told the third years were studying in. We waited until the third years showed up and they told us they didn’t even have the class we were supposed to be taking today. Apparently they’re taking two at once. We didn’t know what was going on because we’d been told the students take only one class at a time.
We went to the other class that the third year class WAS having today and talked to the professor. He welcomed us to join his class but said that he would only be teaching once or twice a week. That’s not going to work since we won’t be able to finish before we leave.
We called the professor that we think will be able to straighten things out. He didn’t answer, so I guess we’ll just have to wait. The phrase, “hurry up and wait” has a whole new meaning in Rwanda. We opted for some Fanta and ground nuts to pass the time.
June 4, 2006 — Traveling across the country: Kigali-Gisenyi-Ruhengeri
We’re on a well-deserved vacation. On Friday we put together a newscast with our class. I don’t think any of us thought we’d ever make it, and we almost didn’t, but team Rwanda Initiative pulled through and we produced the first installment of RITV News (Rwanda Initiative T.V. Clever don’t you think?) It’s far from perfect, but it’s a show, and it’s the fist one ever for NUR. We’d been working day and night to make it happen, and now that the course is finished we’re on holiday.
We left for Kigali yesterday, met up with the Carleton students there for some shopping and dinner. (And ice cream! It was a little lumpy, but it was ice cream nonetheless.) Kanina and I stayed at Auberge Beausejour, a quaint little hotel that gave us a nice breakfast of toast and fruit.
After our fill of good food, we were on the road to Gisenyi. We took a tiny little bus. (Thank God for short legs.)It’s a wonder to me how they fit so many people on these things.
It was a beautiful drive across the country; very peaceful, and the green here just seems to stretch on forever. I’m always worried about being able to use a bathroom once we get on these buses, but this time finding the bathroom wasn’t the problem.
Our minivan stopped, and Amanda and I were searching for a bathroom when a group of people waved us around the corner. We went in and I saw a stall with the universal women’s symbol on it. The door was ajar so I went in. I saw, not one, but three men. They were all standing around the toilet in the women’s stall, with the door open, doing their business. Great.
When they finally came out, I stood guard so that Amanda could use the bathroom. I was minding my own business, when I realized that the opposite wall was lined with urinals. “Bonjour,” said one of the men as he relieved himself. “Ça va?”
“Oui, ça va,” I said, shaking my head. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Amanda and I bolted out of there as fast as we could. We doubled over laughing and nearly fell into the bus trying to explain to Kanina what had happened.
As if that wasn’t enough, as we were waiting for the bus to leave, a women standing at the door of the bus started playing with my hair, and told me it was nice. I smiled, and she asked me if I would cut off my hair and give it to her so that she could wear it. That’s officially the oddest request yet.
We arrived in Gisenyi with sore joints from the cramped bus, but ready to take on a new adventure. Gisenyi is located on Lake Kivu. It seems to be a resort of sorts that caters to white folks. The beach seems to be the only attraction, but it’s stunning on its own.
We spent the day on the beach with our good friend Nicholas, who was visiting his family, just across the border in Congo. It was wonderful to finally relax, but the best part was when an Indian soldier asked to have his picture taken with us. How odd. It was even funnier when Kanina and I went swimming and a bunch of them lined up for photos with Amanda. We stayed in the water until they left.
That night we dined at the Kivu Sun, a luxurious hotel next door to ours. I had real chocolate mousse cake. Mmmmm.
The next morning I went for a walk along the beach. I sat on the sand and I could feel the water splashing me. I thought about how lucky I am to be here. I’m so far away, but I realized it’s not really as far as I thought. People here are the same as us in so many ways. They have the same basic wants and needs, and often the same dreams. I found myself lost in that thought as we had lunch with a beautiful pool on one side and a beautiful lake on the other.
After lunch, we boarded yet another bus to Ruhengeri, home of Volcanoes National Park and the last surviving mountain gorillas. Ruhengeri is also home to the two most beautiful children I have ever met, John and Anna. They were sitting in a hut with a display of art, mostly gorilla souvenirs.
“Bonjour, Quel âge as tu?” I asked Anna.
“I speak English,” came the response.
She wasn’t being rude. She just wanted to try out her English. She’s 11, and her brother is 12. We spent almost an hour chatting with them and looking at their work. I found out that they made most of the carvings themselves. John told me his dad taught him how to do it before he died. The children come to the gorilla guesthouse to sell things when they finish school each day. They give the money to their mother to help with the necessities. That just made me want to buy more. I gave them pins that say Ottawa and they were delighted. They didn’t want money. They didn’t want presents. They had but one tiny request.
“Can you send me an English book from Canada please?”
“You mean like a storybook?”
“OK, but we’d really like a dictionary,” explains John.
It’ll be in the mail as soon as I land.
We awoke to see the gorillas at 5:30 a.m. After some confusion over who would get to see which gorilla family, we headed off to see the Amahoro group. It means peace in Kinyarwanda. They were a family of 15 and we were lucky enough to see almost all of them.
The hike up the mountain, was a challenge, but not nearly as bad as I had expected. Stepping in a giant wad of buffalo waste, and being stung by approximately 30 stinging nettles wasn’t exactly pleasant, but the scenery made up for it.
The guides told us we were approaching and before we knew it there was a massive silverback sitting right in front of us. The silverback is the leder of the group. We sort of stumbled upon him. He was just sitting there, about two meters away from us, chowing down on a piece of bamboo. (I also tasted the bamboo. It’s much like celery, but not as strong.) He didn’t seem to mind at all that we were invading his home, but this silverback is known as the most approachable of them all.
We were also lucky enough to see a three-week-old baby. I was struck by how humanlike it was. It reached out for its mamma with five tiny fingers, as she carried it on her lap.
Perhaps the most special part of the day was watching a group of them play. They had clearly chosen a tree branch as the ‘toy’ for the day, and they all wanted a turn. One of them was a big bully, and kept yanking the young ones down.
As journalists we’re supposed to be wordsmiths, but I don’t think any of us could find the words to adequately describe these majestic creatures, so I’ll just leave it at that.
Now, it’s back to work.
June 1, 2006 — Come dance in Rwanda
Tonight us Umuzungu partied African style. We hosted a party for our students, the journalism faculty at NUR, and a few special friends we’ve met along the way. I had just dashed home from picking up the snacks (after conveniently opting out of the football game Professor Kanina organized to teach her students about team work.), when the faculty started arriving. They were 30 minutes early. Shocking. (Rwandans are always at least 30 minutes late.) But then, I’d forgotten that Africans love to party.
I was a little worried at first. I’d heard about all the crazy dancing, but I wasn’t seeing any of it. I was getting worried that they didn’t like our party. They just seemed to want to eat and drink.
“Fanta Citron please. Fanta Orange.” (Fanta is the soda here. I love the Maracuja one.)
I needn’t have worried. It only lasted about an hour or so, and once the dancing started, it didn’t let up. It just took a while for them to switch from Fanta to beer. Some things really are universal.
I wished the girls would have stayed longer. Most of them left shortly after the dancing began. I’m not really sure why. Someone told us girls here just don’t stay out at night. Nevertheless, a few of them stayed, and the guys passed us all around. And boy can those guys ever dance. I’ve never had that much fun dancing! Canadian men take note.
Soon Sam, the class politician, called everyone to attention to make what was a very touching speech. He told us how much they appreciated our hard work, and how valuable it was. He said usually they think “whites” are very serious, “busy busy running through the streets without saying hi,” but not us. I was happy about that.
He also said a little something about each of us. He said I’m very courageous and friendly, and my experience was very helpful to them. Mission accomplished. Someone in the crowd yelled out, “And she has a great smile.” I found that a little hard to fathom given all the grin-splitting smiles I’ve seen here.
They even gave us each a gift. I could tell they’d put a lot of thought into it. A very cool-looking hair barrette for me, because I “always have my hair pinned up.”
They asked us each to say a speech. By this point my emotional side had kicked in, but I managed to choke out a few words. I told them what an inspiration they have been. I told them how much I miss Newfoundland, and how much they remind me of the people there. It was all a bit weepy.
And then…the dancing went on.
2006 — Little girls
love you’ are very powerful words. But when
you’re 10 years old and they’re the only three
English words you know, the influence is beyond measure.
Kanina and I were walking home from a
swim tonight, when a trio of smiling little girls came bouncing
across the street. “Bonjour, bonjour, bonjour,”
they chimed one after the other. They each came to clasp our
hands, as is the typical Rwandan greeting.
They wanted us to take a photo, so they
stood in a row; one in a pale blue dress, another in peach,
and the other in white. I think they were just coming from
a church service. I could only wish the teddy bears I brought
from Canada weren’t still tucked in my suitcase.
Their excitement when they saw their image
on our digital cameras was enough to melt your heart, but
the 10-year-old turned mine into a puddle the size of Africa.
She held my hand for the full 10 minutes we spoke with them.
They all wanted to touch us, and the other two had their arms
linked through mine, but this one just wouldn’t let
go. They were with two ladies that looked to be in their twenties,
but who said they were not the mothers. They all spoke French,
but the little girls didn’t seem to know a single word
of English. At least that’s what I thought.
Then the little one turned up her big
brown eyes, and in perfect English, said, “I love you.”
When I said, “I love you too,”
her face broke into a grin. Pretty good three words to know
May 28, 2006 —
Sexy sailors on a bus
Canadians say they’ve
had a long day when they’ve been at work from 9-5 and
the computer crashes just before they’ve clicked save.
I don’t know what Rwandans would consider a long day,
but this Canadian in Rwanda counts yesterday as the marathon
of all marathons.
We left the house at 7 a.m. for trip number
two to Akagera National Park. It wasn’t that we really
wanted to go back to the park, as much as we wanted to spend
time with the students. The first trip to the park last weekend
was wonderful, but being attacked by giant tsetse flies, worrying
that they would give us sleeping sickness (trying without
success to figure out what exactly that means), and trudging
through the mud after our vehicle got stuck was enough to
make one trip enough.
Still, the second trip to Akagera didn’t
really compare to the first one. We were to be picked up at
6:45 by the director of the School of Journalism. As we’re
finding is a normal occurrence in Rwanda, wires seemed to
have gotten crossed and no one picked us up until three or
four phone calls later. We met at the university and realized
we were to ride on a minibus for faculty. Kanina and I were
bummed because we wanted to rise with the students, but soon
we discovered trusty Solange had saved seats for us on the
I figure the big bus should hold about
50-60 students but was actually holding more than 80. There
were students standing, sitting on each others laps, sitting
on the backs of seats, wherever they could find a place to
perch really. It was a bus full of sexy sailors. I absentmindedly
said the word J-Schooler to one of the girls. (It’s
the nickname for Carleton journalism students.) After I explained,
I asked if there’s a nickname for journalism students
at NUR. There is. The nickname is Malaya. Technically it’s
the Swahili word for prostitute, but when it’s used
among friends here it means sexy sailor. I still didn’t
get what that has to do with journalism students. “Well,
it’s because journalism students are sharp,” she
said. I love it.
Before we were even on the road, the music
and dancing had begun. There was all kinds of music; from
African music, to Backstreet Boys, Celine Dion, and a wide
assortment of 80’s tunes. One guy told me I was “too
calm,” so I got up for Aqua’s Barbie Girl. Too
funny. Soon they were belting out songs in Kinyarwanda. It
was fun to watch, but it looked like such a good time that
I found myself wishing I knew the words.
It was the most fun I’ve ever had
on a bus, granted it would have been better had my bladder
cooperated with me. (It’s hard to find bathrooms in
Africa.) The strangest part was that when we did find a bathroom,
they were angry when a bunch of girls lined up to go, yet
15 minutes later they stopped to buy beer. If that wasn’t
enough, they proceeded to stop repeatedly so that the boys
could use the bathroom on the side of the road.
Soon everyone was singing and dancing
again. It didn’t let up much for the entire trip. One
of the girls translated a few of the songs for me. One was
about a man who went to a bar and got drunk. Lots of them
just seemed to be about silly stuff to laugh about. One of
them was a French song about AIDS. They were all laughing
and clapping. I couldn’t catch the meaning of the song
exactly, but it still struck me as odd, given the percentage
of this population that suffers from the disease.
I asked one girl what the ‘J’
on her necklace stood for. She told me it was her husband’s
initial. He died three months ago. I also found out that she
has a three-year-old child that lives in another town. I’m
still struck when I hear these stories because the students
are so much “like us” that it’s sometimes
easy to forget they have very different pasts. I told her
I was very sorry to hear, and that it’s nice that she
wears his charm. She just smiled. And the singing continued.
I guess that’s the way life has to be here.
I also got to ask some questions about
how post-secondary education is funded here. The government
pays for “tuition.” It also provides each student
with 25 000 francs (50 USD) per month. They spend 15 000 on
a meal plan, and the other 10 000 is for hygienic products,
photocopying, and if there’s some left over, leisure
spending. Seemed crazy to me. I asked her if it’s enough.
“Yeah, it’s fine,” she said.
But what if a student has to repeat a
class for some reason? Does the government still pay? Well
that’s a different story. The government will pay for
the school fees she said, but they won’t pay the extra
25 000 francs. So how do they eat? Everyone in the class throws
in 500 francs so that the person can buy food. “We don’t
give them extra money,” she said. “But we don’t
want them to go hungry.” “Wow,” was my reaction.
The bus conversations were by far my favourite
part of the day, but the most adventurous was when we arrived
at the park. We were driving that hunk of metal down roads
which I know are only meant for SUVs. There were a number
of times when I was sure the bus was going to flip over. I
must have been visibly frightened because they all seemed
to be terribly amused. I was just happy to make them laugh,
even though I was mentally envisioning a rescue evacuation.
After visiting the elephants and giraffes
and having a nice lunch at the park, we boarded the busses
to head home. There were stops about every half hour, most
of which I still don’t understand. I was actually starting
to wonder if I would ever see Butare again. We finally rolled
up to our gate at 2:45 am. 20 hours on the road with a bunch
of sexy sailors. It was the longest field trip of my life,
but also the most fun.
May 26, 2006 —
I came to a realization
today that could potentially change my career. I
think one day—after I’ve traveled the world, reported
live to the point where I no longer get an adrenaline rush,
and taken over for Peter Mansbridge as the CBC’s chief
correspondent—I would love to teach journalism.
I’ve found that I really care about
making a difference for these students. I think they already
have a deep understanding of many of the problems that exist
in the industry here, and they want to be the ones to change
it. That’s the first step, but I want them to walk away
from this experience with an understanding that journalism
in Rwanda doesn’t have to be all about radio, and that
T.V. can be very respected if they make the decision to try
to change it. I hope we can help give them the tools to start.
Being a teaching assistant in Rwanda has
been a challenge. I’ve often thought, “I don’t
understand where Kanina and Robert get their patience.”
The students are very bright, but the constant skipping class,
showing up late, leaving the room, and not meeting deadlines
is frustrating. I can only imagine how frustrating it is for
Kanina and Robert, who have put so much work into trying to
condense a T.V. class into three weeks. It’s also been
a little daunting explaining the same concept repeatedly only
to find out that they still don’t get it. I wonder if
I’m just not explaining it well enough, if language
is a barrier, or if they just plain don’t care.
Today I saw how rewarding working with
some very bright and very hardworking students can be. I went
out on a field interview with two students to act as a sort
of field producer.
With my limited knowledge of television
in tact, I set off to meet them and their interviewee, Miss
Campus. I was already very intrigued, given my own background
in competitive pageantry, but I have to admit I was feeling
a little apprehensive as to whether or not I would actually
be of any assistance.
I surprised myself at how much I was able
to contribute. They were already doing great work, but much
like my T.V. class at Carleton, in the beginning it’s
hard to remember everything. My favourite part was that they
really seemed to get it. I felt like I had accomplished something;
that they had done a good assignment, and that future assignments
would be better because of it.
This whole experience has reinforced my
love for T.V., and my passion for journalism.
May 24, 2006 —
Careful…it might blow up!
My mother would say I still
have a lot to learn about cooking. My Rwanda mom
would support me in saying cooking in Rwanda is a challenge
even for those skilled in the art of culinary delights.
Not only do we not have the fancy gadgets
North Americans enjoy, but here we cook with a gas stove.
That’s a problem. Experienced campers might argue otherwise,
but they haven’t seen anything like this.
Besides the fact that we keep having to
buy new tanks, (because we drink a lot of water that needs
to be boiled according to our cook), this oven is frightening.
But like many things we’re finding here—whether
it’s paying the bills, or exterminating whatever arrangements
of ants, daddy long legs, or cockroaches that seem to be making
our home their home, it’s Mother Kanina to the rescue.
Jean is our cook. He’s a fantastic
chef, and an even more fantastic person. Somehow the lack
of utensils doesn’t seem to stop him from whipping up
a wide arrangement of dishes. When we arrive for lunch, the
table is set, and he’s bringing out the piping hot food
within minutes. He makes us dinner and leaves it in the fridge
for us to heat up.
None of us had any idea how to use the
oven. Jean showed Robert first. One night we had a roast of
some sort to heat up, but no matter what we said Robert refused
to turn on the oven. He decided to heat it on the stove instead.
Weird, we thought.
Kanina, being the strong-willed character
that she is, decided she’d better learn too. Jean showed
her how, and she informed us that Robert was right to be afraid....very
afraid. She tried it and succeeded, but none of us were sure
what went into the delicate operation.
Tonight I wanted to heat up the spinach
pie I had missed for lunch. I decided to target Robert. I
tried the sad eyes, and “I’ll give you a donut,”
but no amount of female winning-over tactics worked when it
came to the stove. I even asked whether it was hurting his
sense of masculinity that Kanina had done it. “Not at
all,” he says. “Kanina could kick my a**!”
Kanina, true to form, decided to try it
again. So off we go into the tiny little room adjacent our
kitchen. When I say ‘we,’ what I really mean is
‘Kanina;’ I was just there for moral support,
shining a flashlight over her shoulder.
So she opened the oven, lit the match
and threw it in a little hole in the corner of the oven. Then
you’re supposed to close the door, and wait for it to
go . . . poof! We waited, but it seemed too long, so Kanina
started to open the door to try again. Just as she did that,
it went poof. I nearly jumped a mile, and Kanina says it may
have even singed the hair on her legs (razors are a luxury
I need to figure out how to do this
myself before Kanina leaves.
May 22, 2006 —
Africa is said to be following
slowly behind the rest of the world in most ways, but tonight
I just couldn’t keep up with it.
Solonge took us to Gym Tonic, an exercise
class here in Butare. I used to dance for three hours at a
time, so I thought I’d be fine. Either I’m WAY
out of shape since those days, or these Africans sure know
how to work it. They certainly gave me a run for my money…and
I mean that in every literal sense.
It was 500 francs (1 USD) for an hour and
a half, and there sure was a lot of running—running
around a circle, running on the spot, running with your arms
over your head, even running backwards. If we weren’t
running we were doing abdominal work—situps with your
hands behind your head, situps with your hands in front of
you, situps with your feet in the air, and situps while you
It was like exercising in a sauna. Actually
I think it was exercising in a sauna. There were a bunch of
people lying on benches in towels.
The funniest part, was the way the friendly
culture here even makes its way into exercising. There was
lots of touching and working together. First we all held hands
in a circle. One of the guys got in between Amanda and I.
The guy on my other side told me it was because they wanted
to separate the circle by alternating boys and girls. Fine,
but I looked around and there were a bunch of girls standing
together. Hmmm . . .
For another exercise we jogged on the spot
and played pat-a-cake, then we linked arms and danced around
a circle, and we even grabbed on to each other’s waists
to form a choo-choo train. It was hilarious! I think Amanda
said it well when she said it was like a pre-teen dance.
Right now my tail bone feels like it might
crack (from doing situps on the cement floor), and I can’t
seem to get the smell of the non-ventilated room out of nose.
I’ sure tomorrow will be a day of moaning and groaning.
May 20, 2006 —
A fish on my plate
Today we set out for Akagera National
Park, but we decided to spend a night in Kigali to break up
the long drive. Jovin, our ever faithful driver,
proved his resourcefulness once again by suggesting we spend
the afternoon at Rwesero Beach, near Kigali.
To be honest, I wasn’t expecting
much more than a body of water. What I found was a spectacular
lake with more than spectacular scenery. It had a nice deck
with tables, and even boat tours!
But lunch was by far the most entertaining
Those who know me will vouch for the fact
that this down-home girl is the first to turn up her nose
at the smell of fish. I like it fine, but it’s not something
I would normally request. When you’ve seen fish hauled
straight out of the water, and cleaned the way I have…well
let’s just say it leaves nothing to the imagination.
Or at least that’s what I thought.
Here in Africa, where pretty much everything
on the menu is foreign to me, I figure fish is a pretty safe
bet. When I saw ‘fish and chips,’ (yes, they call
it that here too), I thought I couldn’t go wrong.
But when my plate came out it sure looked
like something was wrong to me.
There sitting on a fantastic bed of chips
(the best on the continent I hear) was a fish, a whole fish,
and nothing but a fish.
It was just lying there. I mean it was
cooked, but it still had its eyes and it was starring right
at me! And if that wasn’t enough I was supposed to use
my hands to pull off its scales, and then use my hands to
eat the fish! I asked for a fork.
Don’t get me wrong, the fish was
actually pretty good. (It’s called Tilapia.) But all
I could think about was Dad catching it and cleaning it in
the kitchen sink. Yeagh.
And it also didn’t help that Amanda,
who was raised on wild game, thought the whole experience
was oodles of fun. Jovin told her to eat her fish because
it would make her wise; wise like the fish.
“My experience is that fish are pretty
stupid,” she said. “Look I can show you the size
of its brain.” Then she proceeded to poke and prod,
saying she could even show us its heart if we wanted.
That was the end of the fish for
me. I loved the chips though.
May 17, 2006 —
Family + Boyfriend = Not in Rwanda
I got to talking to Julien in class today. He was asking me all sorts of questions about Canada. Many of the people here are very keen about the world around them. I’ve found that lots of them have friends and family in Canada.
Julien asked me where I live. I told him in Ottawa, the capital of Canada. He thought Quebec was the capital. I explain that Quebec City is the capital of the province of Quebec.
Then he asks if I live in residence. It seems that most of the students in our class do. I tell him no, I live with my parents, my little brother, and my boyfriend. I think he misunderstood.
“Ah, you live with your family.”
“Yes, and my boyfriend.”
“You live with your family and your boyfriend together?”
I realize this is strange even in Canada, at least in Ontario. Many people are mystified when I explain my living situation, but they end up thinking it’s “cool”. But Julien is visibly shocked.
“That could never ever happen here.”
May 16, 2006 — White Girl on campus
Being on campus is a little strange. Today was our second day as teaching assistants for Kanina and Robert, and Amanda and I already seem to be a hit. I’m pretty sure it’s because we’re white and not because of our charming personalities. I’ve never been stared at more intently in my life. It doesn’t bother me too much, except sometimes I forget I really am being watched ALL the time.
A few of the guys seemed to be scrambling for the chairs we sat on yesterday. I’m not sure what they were saying, but it seemed like they were fighting over who would get to sit next to us.
On the first day, Kanina showed them a newscast that my class did with her last term. That was pretty funny. They just couldn’t get over how many girls there are in the class. Carleton’s male-female ratio is pretty much reversed here in Rwanda. And when the blonds came on, well then that was a sight to behold. Again, I didn’t understand, but I think it was something to the degree of “Hot Damn! Check that out!” The same typical “guy speak” as home.
Seriously though, our class is pretty cool. They show up late, walk in and out of the room, and talk amongst each other during class, but we’d heard all of that from the others that came before us. It just seems to be the way here.
Culture aside, they’re not unlike Canadians in many ways. I took a notepad to jot down the questions they were asking. I gave up pretty soon. They were all good questions, but for the most part they were much the same as my class asked in the intro to T.V. journalism.
If there’s an event tomorrow, but the guy in charge will only speak with you today, can you put something on the news tonight?
How do you take pictures at night?
Do you write the script before or after you take the pictures?
How do you convince people to appear on camera?
They don’t know the correct terminology yet, but they’re asking all the right questions as far as I can see.
May 14, 2006 — 'I will stay to receive the baggage of my friends. . .'
Yahoo! We are now equipped with our own brand new socks and underwear! After many frustrating telephone calls (many thanks to Kanina), several days of being dirty, and a few moments of thinking that we were going to be stranded in Rwanda with nothing, getting our bags was pretty much like Christmas in May . . . in Africa.
And all thanks to our good friends from the journalism school.
Solange was staying in Kigali the night that we arrived, so she offered to pick up our bags the next day, and bring them back to Butare.
When our bags did not arrive, Solange text messaged to say she would stay in Kigali and wait. We wrote back to say that was entirely unnecessary and that we could return to Kigali ourselves.
“No, no,” she said. “I will stay to receive the baggage of my friends.”
I think this sort of thing is just unheard of in Canada. This girl is under absolutely no obligation to do this, yet she tells us she is here for us for anything that we may need.
When Solange received word that our luggage had indeed arrived this afternoon, she called her colleague, Nicholas, to help carry our stuff. Nicholas had never met us, but he went along to help.
They ended up waiting for more than two hours at the airport. The person who had the key to retrieve our luggage, had gone home for lunch, and they had to wait for him to get back. When he did come back, they had to chase him around the airport for a while. But after all that, they didn’t even have to show our IDs. Any random Joe off the street could have picked up our luggage no problem. And somehow Solange says she succeeded in pretending to be both Amanda and Kayla at once. Talk about order.
Apparently everyone thought they were les Canadiens because they had our luggage. So they decided to have some fun.
“We walked out of the airport,” says Nicholas doubling over in laughter, “ and we looked all around like we were discovering Kigali for the first time!”
“Yes,” laughs Solange. “We were speaking English and French, but not Kinyarwandan, so that they wouldn’t know.”
I don’t think I’d have quite the same sense of humour after all that waiting around.
May 13, 2006 — Underwear and socks
We’re desperate for clothes. Its day 3 and our luggage has still not arrived, so Kanina, Amanda and I set out for the market. What do we find? Clothes, yes, but what an overwhelming way to shop!
Almost right away we see a vendor (is that what they call them here?) holding some underwear. Yes, we need underwear. We start sifting through them for just the right size. The guys are giggling and mumbling something in Kinyarwandan that none of us understands. I think they find it amusing that white women are trying to buy underwear from them. We find a couple of pairs. But then we notice that they are all quite clearly used. We opt to stick with what we have for a few more days.
Next we see a boy with socks. Yep, we need those too. We pick out a few pairs of some well-worn socks, and start to barter. That’s the way they do things here. He doesn’t speak English, and he understands only a couple of numbers in French. We try talking with our hands, but that’s hard too. Soon we’re surrounded by a mob of people. “Mzungu! Amarfaranga.” White person! I want money.”
The guy wants 2000 francs (about 4 USD) for 6 pairs of socks. We try for 1500 francs. He says no, but we won’t settle, so he finally agrees. Now we don’t have the right change. Amanda and I put back a pair each and now we manage to get four pairs for 700 francs (not quite 1.50 USD). He’s not happy. But we have some socks.
May 12, 2006 — A day with Becky
It’s Day 2 in Rwanda and we’re already on the tail of a great story. A Canadian lady named Becky is here to build a boarding school for 1200 Rwandan girls, and she laid the foundation today. The hope is to have the school up in two years and teach them things like sexual and reproductive health and core subjects like science and math. They want to prepare every girl for university. Becky invited us along on her entire day’s events. WHAT a day!
We toured some of the schools in a small village close to Butare. Really they’re one-room shacks, with cement floors, a few rows of benches, and a blackboard. Not your ideal learning conditions, but these are the happiest children I have ever seen. They sang for us, and when Becky asked, “Who wants to be a doctor?” they are all shot their hands into the air. “Who wants to be the president of Rwanda?” They all do. Though education to grade six is “mandatory” the reality is that most of them can’t afford to go, and those that can, walk miles to get there. It’s certainly a contrast from Canadian students skipping class to go to the mall.
During the ceremony to lay the first stones of the school, I took part in one Rwandan tradition. The ladies brought out large clay pots containing sorghum beer. After the dignitaries tasted it, the crowd was invited to gather around the pot in clusters and drink the beer with long straws. This, for a girl who’s never even tasted Canadian beer! I don’t know anything about beer, but this looked like a mixture of mud and beer. Yummy.
There were also many speeches, which I’ve heard is typical in Rwanda. Becky’s really hit home for me.
“I would like to introduce you to my husband Henry, who is from England. My name is Becky. I am from Canada. The thing that Canada and England have in common is the same as America and Europe. When Rwanda went through its nightmare, our countries did nothing. I am here today to apologize to you and beg your forgiveness.”
The genocide. It was 12 years ago, but it’s still a part of daily life.
I think I saw my first glimpse of that today. I thought I was walking into another school room of smiling children, but it wasn’t a school room. It was a shack holding bags of human remains that had just been dug up from 1994. Three garbage bag-like bags held 35 bodies. There was another bundle wrapped in a blanket. This was one person, who had already been identified. They intend to give them a proper burial. Not only did it not look like a body, but it did not look like anything that had every belonged to a human. I wasn’t prepared, but then nothing could have prepared me for that. I wept.
Today was so much fun for us. We experienced many beautiful things, yet we also experienced sad things. But that’s the way it is in Rwanda. Fun is always laced with the constant reminder of the tragedy. There is no forgetting.
May 11, 2006 — Let the adventure begin
And we’re off! Amanda and I can’t contain our excitement and I think we’re driving our fellow passengers crazy. On the first flight from Ottawa to Toronto we chat to a man who runs a politics-based website. In Toronto we meet a woman who lived in South Africa during the Apartheid. She told us about chaining herself to the embassy to stand up against the Apartheid. During the flight, a flight attendant stops by my seat.
“Why are you going to Ethiopia?”
“We’re not, we’re off to Rwanda!”
“We’re journalism students from Canada. We’re going to Rwanda under a program designed to help rebuild the country’s media sector.”
He ponders this a moment, shakes his head. “I see.”
He clearly thinks we’re crazy.
Suddenly they tell us they’re holding our flight for us and we’d better get ready to run. And run we do. As soon as we step off the aircraft we’re high-tailing a British lady in the tiniest of heels! “Come on love. You can do it darling. You’re doing a great job!” Reminds me of back home in Newfoundland, except we’d say “me love” and “me darlin’”. We make the flight. But we’re told our luggage might not. This can’t be good.
On the flight to Ethiopia we meet a guy from Toronto. Three Canadians in a row on the way to Ethiopia. It really is a small small world.
Landing in Ethiopia is very exciting! Finally…African soil! Surprisingly, it was nothing like what we expected. From the sky, Addis Ababa looks like any other city. In a photo, I would not have known it was even in Africa.
The airport is great. We can already see the kindness of the African people. But it’s also the bearer of bad news. Our luggage has not made it. The good news is it should be on the flight tomorrow. In true Africa fashion, we’ll make the best of it.
Next stop: Kigali, Rwanda. Landing in Kigali is surreal. I am immediately struck by the sheer beauty of this place. Unlike Addis Ababa, it is not like anything we have ever seen before. Everything is so green. There are hills everywhere. Prof. Kanina Holmes is at the airport to meet us with Jovin, our driver, and Solange, a journalism student here. I can already tell they are going to be good friends.
The drive from Kigali to Butare is beautiful, but Amanda and I soon fall asleep. Soon after we arrive we realize that not only do we not have luggage, but no running water and no electricity. Somehow what would be a disaster at home really doesn’t seem to matter here. The British flight attendant was the crazy one. I’ve often said Newfoundland is the most beautiful place on earth. Already I can tell that it doesn’t compare to Rwanda.