Lucy van Oldenbarneveld's Notes
From the Field
May 1, 2006 — Muganda
They call it Muganda. It's why most towns and cities in Rwanda are so tidy. Last Saturday morning about 8:00am we headed into town for a quick cup of coffee before boarding the bus on our way to Bujambura, Burundi. Most mornings this town is teaming with people. They walk three or four deep along both sides of the road. Wrapped in layers of fabric to ward off the morning chill, they skillfully carry loads on their heads so massive, heavy or just awkward you wonder if you're witnessing an optical illusion or discovering a Cirque de Soleil branch office. Barefoot they march along. All have a unique cargo on its way from here to there. A man with six chairs balanced without rope, or a teenager with two full bunches of bananas (each is a tall as a four year child). Then there are the women, who balance things like hand woven baskets overflowing with green avocados, or pottery water jugs, sometime three or four stacked on top of each other perched precariously. The woman moves her head with every sway of the precious pots trying to protect them. She often has a baby strapped to her back as well. And on and on it goes. Yesterday I saw the most impressive transport yet. Freshly made red bricks were stacked like a vertical puzzle and loaded up on heads, some in piles of thirty or more. Carrying the weight is one thing but the balance it takes to move these things up and down mountain paths, is a show stopper.
Back to Muganda. While most mornings are like the ones described above, Saturday morning was like nothing like this. It was quiet. There were no cars, only a handful of people, and all the shops, except for the Belgian owned restaurant, were closed. Strange we thought, was this just a regular Saturday and we haven't been paying attention? Then a green pick up truck full of men in maroon uniforms, pulled up, parked width wise across the road the men jumped out. They fanned out and started rounding up all healthy looking young guys and ushered them into the back of the truck. They didn't go willingly, but there wasn't a lot of protest. We thought this must be some crime prevention initiative something. Take all the guys who look like they might be loitering and lock 'em up. It didn't really make sense, we thought, but what else could it be? It's Muganda.
On the last Saturday of every month, we later found out, city crews troll the streets looking for unwitting 'volunteers', to help with beautification tasks. Things like picking up litter, cutting the grass, (not with lawnmowers but meticulously by hand with machetes or garden shears), planting shrubs, or sweeping clean the roads. It's meant to keep Rwanda beautiful. If you can show you are on your way to work you don't have to go, but if you are idle and forget to stay at home with the doors locked on the last Saturday of the month you're spending the day on Muganda! You don't get paid and you don't have a choice. But Butare looked great this morning.
April 20, 2006 —
Letting adrenaline take over
Sometimes learning can be a scary
business. All this week we've been talking about
the STORY. We've talked about how to find a story, develop
it, focus it and tell it. With each lesson comes an assignment.
When the end of the week came around I
was stumped about how to teach, 'covering a breaking news
story'. There weren't really any breaking news stories happening
between 9:00am and 12:00noon. Peter Bregg had an idea about
how to stage a news story. It was a bit risky so first I checked
with the class leader Emmanuel if it would work. He agreed
and was willing to play along.
During the first part of the class we talked
about things to think about if you happen to be on a breaking
story and you need to do a REPORTER ON CAMERA debrief or in
radio a LIVE RANT with only a few minutes to prepare. We reviewed
principles like, focus, a good opening line, a simple chronology
of what happened, what you saw and some sort of relevant conclusion.
Just as we were finishing up the lesson,
Peter, with precision Swiss timing burst into the room. He
stormed up the front where Emmanuel was sitting and accused
him of stealing his laptop. The students were frozen in their
seats. Emmanuel stood up and convincingly denied the charge.
Then as planned both of them marched off to 'have the Rector
sort this out'. The students looked to me for reaction. Most
of them were still unsure about what just happened and were
looking around to see how their classmates were absorbing
the event. When I said ' you have ten minutes to prepare a
live report, on what just happened', the lights went on for
those who still had doubts about whether it was real or a
piece of journalistic theatre. There were giggles of relief.
They all prepared and presented fine reports
on what happened in their classroom. Only one student reported
on the phony stunt. The others played along and reported on
the accusation of theft and the drama. I hope the students
'enjoyed' the exercise. One or two admitted being very scared
at first, but then seemed to really get into preparing their
reports with just enough adrenaline to focus the mind.
. . . April 20 . .
. Afternoon — 'Fishes and loaves'
Leopold is a Rwandan who works
for the UN food program. He's based in Butare and
over the past few months has become good friends with people
like Sylvia and Michelle (past teachers with the Rwanda Initiative).
He dropped by earlier this week to apologize
for not coming sooner but he'd been busy and was getting ready
for a trip to the U.S. As we were chatting I mentioned that
Andy and I had lugged along a full duffle bag of clothing
and toys donated by our CBC colleagues. We thought he could
recommend a place to take them. He said he had an idea and
would contact us later in the week. So this morning without
many details he told us to be ready to go after class. He
would arrange a taxi to pick us up, and we were to meet him
in Gikongoro about 30 km west of Butare. (Gikongoro is the
town near Murambi the grim genocide memorial I wrote about
earlier). We loaded up the bulging bag and headed off . .
. to an orphanage we thought. After the rendezvous in the
mid-village Gikongoro, our taxi bumped along behind Leopold's
sturdy UN issued Toyota 4x4 down a series of dirt roads and
along narrow paths, not built for motorized transport. In
spite of the rain, barefooted kids (mostly boys) came running
from all directions and sped alongside our vehicles for as
long as they could keep up. They laughed and yelled their
heads off, impressing each other with their stamina. (Are
boys the same everywhere or what?) They wore mostly long sleeved
shirts, and cut off pants to just below the knee. The clothes
were filthy, and worn. All the outfits had the same hue, a
kind of dull brown stain. Then it dawned on me, the red dirt
dust these road runners stir up playing and running and working
becomes part of them. You can see it everywhere you go in
this country. It's a uniform of sorts, different clothing,
same colour. It's what being dirt poor looks like, I guess.
The houses along this road were different.
They weren't the small one room mud huts we'd seen along many
other roads in Rwanda, these seemed to be made of something
sturdier. Some sort of cement exterior. I saw later they each
had three small rooms and a kitchen. There was no electricity
or plumbing, but it was shelter. (I later found out that World
Vision had built a number of homes in this area) While you
couldn't hide their shabbiness, the boys we met lovingly decorated
their dark and dingy living space by sticking on the wall,
childish pictures, ripped from a colouring book.
And what a story these boys have. For a
few years now Leopold has been keeping an eye on this family.
He helps out whenever he can. Michelle
has also been helping out with these boys over the past while.
When we stopped and stepped out of the
car, Leopold brought over two young boys for us to meet, they
looked about 14 and 9. He said something to them in Kinyirwandan,
and they hugged us. I still wasn't sure what was happening.
As kids from around the neighbourhood began to gather around,
Leopold explained in bits and pieces how these genocide orphans
were raising themselves.
Alphonse who I thought was only fourteen
is actually twenty-one. Bariwanda who looked nine is really
fourteen. These two boys and their thirteen year old brother
all live together in the house that we were standing in front
of. The youngest boy was off visiting relatives this afternoon.
The boys live alone. Their father was killed during the genocide.
Their mother died five years ago from AIDS she contracted
after being raped during the genocide. The youngest of all
the children, Ariwanda died last year of AIDS, he was only
eleven. He would have been conceived during the those murderous
months...but no one was talking about that. The boys had been
living together with an older sister for awhile after their
mother died, but she's since married, moved away and is no
longer able to look after her brothers with a growing family
of her own. So now they take care of each other with some
help now and again from Leopold and others.
We lugged our duffle bag down a muddy slope
to the front door of the house. Inside there were just three
wooden chairs on the concrete floor of the living room. It
was so dark inside that when the front door accidentally got
knocked shut you couldn't see a hand in front of your face.
The only light source here was opening the door. With our
duffle bag on a chair pulled near the door we started handing
out the loot. I have to admit it felt great. Fourteen year
old Bariwanda was ecstatic with a batman figurine and two
hot wheels cars. Unfortunately most of the clothes we brought
from Canada were for younger kids but we did manage to find
a few turtle necks and shirts for both boys and their brother.
Even at twenty-one and fourteen the boys picked up and cuddled
the stuffed animals. They tucked away a few extra, Leopold
said, for their sister's kids. Bariwanda was also thrilled
with a denim Toronto Maple Leafs cap and Alphonse could not
be separated from a frilly red GAP hat (I think it was meant
for a girl, but he didn't care).
By this time Leopold was playing umpire
at the front door. Dozens of kids converged looking for a
little, of the boys were getting. This duffle bag had a 'fishes
and loaves' quality to it. It just wouldn't empty out. Most
of the kids at the door got something, a small toy or a piece
of clothing. A few mothers with their babies came to look,
and they took away a few brightly coloured little baby shirts.
Leopold was working hard at crowd control. Dozens of little
hands at the doorway grabbed at everything that was put up
for offer. Leopold put a stop to the giveaway when he saw
everyone had something. There are more needy kids in Butare
and these things should be shared, he said.
We packed up the bag, gave the brave boys
a hug and got back in our cars. Leopold says he's planning
to keep an eye on them and he's making plans to get them all
I'm sure he'll do it.
April 17, 2006 —
Time to teach
Easter Monday. We taught our first
classes today. I was told that I have eleven students
and I was also told that I have twenty two students. No one
knows for sure, but twelve showed up today. The course is
‘Presenting and Announcing TV and Radio’ we’ll
cover things like on -air presentation, writing scripts, interviewing
skills and how to moderate a panel. Today we began with some
ice breakers and the beginnings of interviewing methods. I
hope that many of these soft spoken souls will find their
inner Ethel Merman and belt it out. Standing just three feet
from them I couldn’t always hear what was being said.
We’ll have to find some ‘projecting’ exercises.
While I think most of them were engaged
and had many questions, there were a few who just continued
to chatty chat chat throughout the class and didn’t
seem to be getting much out of the lecture and exercises.
We’ll see if they’re more engaged tomorrow. For
those who are there to learn, they really want to be journalists
and had lots of great challenging questions.
I presented the made up case of the negligent
mini-bus company. The students came up with a question line
and we did some role playing for the interviewer and interviewee.
We’ve talked many times about the
freedom of the press in Rwanda and whether a professional
journalist could even operate here? The students do admit
that there isn’t an open free press now, but they are
certain that if a batch of skilled journalists begins to ask
questions and to publicly challenge the status quo, they will
be well received and not end up in jail somewhere. Maybe.
April 13, 2006 —
Power outages are so common here,
we marveled last night because we didn’t have one. Things
get dark quite early and quite fast. At 6:00 pm just as you
think, its getting close to sundown, it’s sundown and
you can’t see a thing. Its just about then, that the
lights go out, the hum of the refrigerator fades to silence
and the scramble for candles and matches begins. We have those
handy MEC headlamps for reading and Canadian Tire generators
for the computers. We’re getting used to living like
a bats, creatures of the night. On occasional evenings the
clouds will clear and you can see every constellation you’ve
ever heard of. The twinkling stars in a dark African sky are
When the lighst go out...
Today wrapped up Rwanda’s week of
mourning. At ten this morning Andy and I joined students for
a memorial march. The procession began with a slow loop around
the stadium and made its way through campus to the genocide
shrine. At least two thousand students crowded around to watch
the wreathe laying and prayers. In the lead up to and during
the genocide, the University did not have clean hands. A few
professors here provided the ideological foundation for the
ethnic cleansing. Although Hutu extremists didn’t need
academic support to carry out their mission, the complicity
of intellectuals seems to make the genocide even more sinister.
I’ve heard different stories about where these professors
ended up. One story is they are now in jail awaiting trial
(there is a backlog of thousands waiting for a hearing. A
Gacaca system of village justice has been put in place to
speed things up, more on that later.) The other story is that
some of them fled to places like Canada...
As you can tell by these blogs the genocide
is still a significant part of the Rwanda experience. It influences
just about everything that you do or see here. That’s
because virtually everyone who was here in April 1994 has
first hand experience. One of our guidebooks quotes a National
Trauma Survey done for UNICEF in 1995 which estimated that
99.9 percent of children witnessed violence; 79.6% experienced
death in the family and 70% witnessed someone being killed
or injured during those months.
With so many to remember there are five
official memorial sites in Rwanda and many more adhoc shrines
and mass grave sites.
This afternoon we hired a car and went
to the Murambi a memorial about thirty kilometers north of
Butare. We had seen Allan’s alarming pictures of the
place. Yet even with a mental image as preparation I wasn’t
quite ready for the sight. It is numbing. Solange, a student
of Sylvia’s came with us. After just a quick glance
inside, she gasped and couldn’t continue on. She waited
for us outside on the grass.
Murumbi hill is ideally situated. From
the top you can see 360 degrees. In every direction there
are rolling green hills with their patchwork of farming terraces,
that alternate between brownish red dirt and lush vegetation.
Banana and avocado trees offer shade to the mud huts that
are scattered up and down the hillside. Heaven. A perfect
place to build a technical school complex. One with many buildings
divided into dozens of classrooms. Hundreds of students would
come here from as far away as the eye could see to learn a
trade. But the school was never completed.
Instead, the buildings now serve as an
‘open air’ graveyard. Preserved in powdery white
lime, hundreds of bodies, exhumed from mass graves, lie in
a partial state of decomposition. Room after room is filled
with leathery figures lying on wooden platforms about two
feet off the ground. These bodies tell the stories of life’s
final moments. Some people cover their heads before the fatal
machete blow, others reach upwards, in one room a mother’s
arms seem to wrap and shelter a child that is no longer there,
others lie with arms next to their sides as if resigned to
fate. On some, you can still see stubborn tufts of woolen
hair attached to battered skulls. Many corpses still wear
the clothing they had on at the time.
Murambi hill must have seemed ideal to
the Prefect of the area. He decided to round up local inhabitants,
nearly 60,000 people, and assemble them here for ‘protection’.
The interhamwe attacked on April 21, 1994 and within four
days most of them were dead. And now here they are....bearing
witness. They are a numbing reminder. The man who showed us
around the site has the round dent of a bullet hole still
visible on the left side of his skull. He told us about losing
his wife and five children here. He shuffles back and forth
between the parking lot and the classrooms full of bodies.
There is a distance in his eyes that comes from enormous loss.
He says he spends his days here now as one of the few survivors
left to tell the story of what happened here during those
four days in April, on Murambi hill.
April 12, 2006 —
Running for laughs
There are times when I think I'm
amusing. You know, telling an alright joke, delivering
a decent one-liner, that kind of thing. But I have never been
as entertaining, to an audience, as I was last evening. I
went jogging. Right down Butare's main street, I ran. Geared
up in shorts, a red t-shirt, some smart Saucony shoes, a pair
of white sockettes, I was ready for thirty minutes or so.
It was a cool sunny evening, perfect weather. I started off
behind our house down a red clay path until I hit the main
road. It's the Butare to Kigali road and it takes you directly
from downtown to downtown, with about 127 kilometers of rolling
hills and agricultural land in between. I thought I would
start my run heading in the direction of Kigali. Along the
near deserted path behind our neighbourhood there were a few
smiling faces as I ran by, but it was once I hit the pedestrian
traffic on the main drag that the real amusement began.
There aren't many Muzungo (WHITE) in Butare,
to begin with, so getting stared at for just wandering around
is common. Running for the sake of it seems beyond comprehension
to many of the Rwandans I encountered heading back home after
a day in town.
As I ran along, people would hear the thud
thud thud behind them and glance backward. But then as if
witnessing something so inexplicable, so strange, they would
stop, nudge their companions and all would turn, with a bemused
look, trying to understand exactly what was coming towards
them. Perhaps later that evening conversations around the
family meal would begin with…'and then, there she was,
a big white woman running, just running past us down the hill.
She ran until she got to the bottom of the hill, then she
ran right back up again. It was hilarious but I can't explain
why she was doing it'!
That sentiment seemed to be on the faces
of three elderly women, I passed. They were slowly plodding
their way home to the countryside. Barefoot, loaded down with
baskets and dressed in bright patterns, they too heard the
sound and turned to look. Huge toothless grins broke out on
all three as they watched me go by. There was a similar reaction
when I passed them on the way back up.
And on it went. The children weren't sure
whether they should smile, but they watched. Then there was
a younger woman, who really got into the spirit. Also barefoot
on the pebble strewn path she wore a long skirt and a men's
suit jacket, she balanced a backpack on her head as she ran
along with me for a few steps. Mercifully she stopped just
as she started gaining on me.
I eventually arrived back at the house,
just as tuckered from the run as from all the smiling, and
waving. With that kind of encouragement and interest in my
fitness regime I should be ready for Beijing '08, if I keep
April 9, 2006 —
Our KLM kerfuffle seems like ancient
history now. We're here in beautiful Rwanda. Even
though its rainy season, we've seen lots of sun and glorious
25 degree weather.
The University sent a driver to come and collect
us from the airport. Michelle Betz, came to meet us as well.
She's the latest Canadian journalist, working with the Rwanda
Initiative. She's based in Ghana, and spent the past two weeks
here. We didn't have much time with Michelle, less than 24
hours. But she quickly showed us how to find the University,
where to change money and where to buy groceries.
One thing we were quickly reminded of, this
is Genocide Memorial week. The butchery began on April 7th
1994. Friday was a full day off for Rwandans. This coming
week means half days of work or school and then afternoons
spent at 'conferences' or watching special films. Purple is
the colour of mourning here and Rwandans wear armbands, headbands,
wristbands and necklaces to remember.
There are banners hanging from buildings and
spanning the streets, with slogans in kinyarwandan. The one
we saw in english said 'We will never forget the genocide'.
There is a dedicated memorial to the victims, on campus where
black and white photos and short biographies of murdered students
hang in glass cases. The grainy images are haunting and the
somber expressions on the young faces seem prophetic. The
'conferences' are part of an ongoing government initiative
to promote peace and reconciliation. Very few are seem willing
to talk openly about their own ethnicity... in fact its officially
discouraged by the government. People appear to be getting
on with their lives as much as possible, but this very modern
history still appears close to the surface. In two different
conversations I've had someone will tell me, quitetly, that
they lost many family members during the 'hundred days'. In
both cases they were the only ones left after mother, father,
brothers and sisters were all slaughtered.
Other than our walk to the campus on Sunday
it was a quiet day. A late breakfast of eggs tomatoes, toast
and coffee was found the Credo Hotel. Although I haven't seen
it yet, the sign outside says they have a pool. We stopped
by one of Butare's grocery stores on the way home. Not a huge
selection of items, but we found a bag of pasta, some tomato
paste and a can of tuna. Dinner. By the time we got home,
the power had gone off but luckily there is a gas stove at
our University rented home, and we made dinner by headlamp.
After dinner, the lights were back on by then,
the Director of the School of Journalism, Jean Pierre Gatsinzi
stopped by with his two kids to introduce himself. We talked
about the week ahead and plans to integrate the campus radio
station with the journalism program. After a round of Fantas
(orange and lemon lime) he left with a promise to pick us
up at 7:45 the next morning for our first day of school. It
would be orientation day for the new teachers.
April 8, 2006 —
The baggage battle
With the Sawatsky notes safely packed
(I found them in a pile of papers deep in a neglected closet)
we boarded the bus for PE Trudeau airport. We easily
had the most stuff with us; two hockey sized duffle bags,
one about half that size, two laptops, two backpacks and a
The luggage weight was a bit of a concern. However
Allan and Sylvia both wrote that KLM had been very generous
with the weight allowance, once they explained why they were
lugging so much. But the Royal Dutch Airline was not feeling
very generous last Thursday when we checked in.
They wanted forty dollars to cover the problem.
We explained that one of the duffle bags was entirely full
of children's clothing and toys to give away and the other
bags had mainly teaching supplies. We didn't persuade them.
As it turns out we weren't even paying for extra
weight, we were within the allowance. What they didn't like
was how the weight was distributed. One bag was much too heavy,
the other too light, the third, apparently, was just right.
'Next time', they so helpfully advised us as they rang through
the VISA card, 'balance things out a little more'.
I then delicately suggested that, next time,
they balance out their baggage policy, a little more.
April 5, 2006 —
Off to Africa
Where the #$^% are those Sawatsky
notes? I've looked everywhere. We leave tomorrow
for the endurance test that is the trip to Butare, Rwanda
and those notes are critical for the course I'm teaching.
But before I can devote my full attention to worrying that
they're lost, bags need to be packed and this place needs
a good scrubbing. It needs to be ready for the house and dog
sitter. (Bless that Micheal B).
In about 24 hours we'll get on a bus to Montreal
(2 hours). We'll catch a KLM flight to Amsterdam (7 hours),
then to Nairobi (8 hours). We'll overnight there before flying
to Kigali (1.5 hours). Then in Rwanda's capital we'll find
a bus to take us to the University in Butare (2 hours). Finally
getting there ... sleepless.
'We' are, my fellow, Andy Clarke and I. Andy
is the senior coordinating producer for CBC radio and television
news and he'll be teaching a course called Radio Techniques.
He'll have his own blog on the Rwanda Initiative site. www.rwandainitiative.ca.
As we move into the final stretch of getting ready, I'm wondering,
with a kernel of mild panic starting to grow, how we'll fit
all of the stuff covering bed and floor into the assembled
duffle bags. The bags seem a lot smaller than I remember and
the stuff here appears to be reproducing everytime I survey
There are the piles of CBC training manuals,
journalism books, mini disc recorders, a video camera to shoot
a story or two for CBC News at Six to carry along. Then there
is the mountain of donated children's clothes and toys we're
Sylvia and Sue the previous teachers in Butare
wrote about the childrens' hospital and orphanage which needs
everything and will take anything. My generous co-workers
at CBC have been carting loads of donations to work for the
past week. How will it all fit? How much extra is KLM going
to charge for this heavy cargo? Others have written that the
royal dutch airline has been very accomodating once you explain
why there is so much baggage. Our fingers are crossed. Hopefully
my people will come through once again.
Okay I should get back to it. Packing and searching
for these notes. The course I'm teaching is 'Performance and
Interviewing'. A former Carleton Prof John Sawatsky perfected
the theory behind interviewing, he also developed a very methodical
way about teaching it. I took a workshop from him about seven
years ago, and those notes would come in very handy...if I
can find them.