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Lucy van Oldenbarneveld,

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 into schools.

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 — Remembrance

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 spectacular.

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 training here.


April 9, 2006 — Settling in

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 video camera.

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 it.

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 taking.

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.




May 1, 2006— Muganda

April 20, 2006 —
Letting adrenaline take over

April 20 . . .
Afternoon — 'Fishes and loaves'

April 17, 2006 — Time to teach

April 13, 2006 — Remembrance

April 12, 2006 — Running for laughs

April 9, 2006 — Settling in

April 8, 2006 — The baggage battle

April 5, 2006 — Off to Africa




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