My Life in Rwanda – Frank Bonner

Before attending this trip I had never been on a plane, let alone another country. So the entire experience starting from the moment I arrived at the airport was all new to me. I have always been a tad bit frightened when it came to the idea of getting on a plane so I was not looking forward to the plane ride on the way there. To my surprise the plane ride was not nearly as bad as I thought. I became more comfortable and relaxed with each plane ride. The three plane rides there, including the layovers, took over 20 hours.

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The hotels we stayed at during the first week were totally different from your typical U.S five-star hotel. Some were better than others, but what I liked most about the Rwandan hotels was that they created a very welcoming atmosphere. I was able to sit down and chat with a Rwandan professor by the name of Bonfills for hours at the Shalando Hotel. He gave me a Rwandan name of “Ntaali”. I really enjoyed conversing with him and he is the one who gave me my first sambusa. He is a physics professor at the Nation University of Rwanda and we exchanged emails so that we can keep in touch.

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While in Kigali we visited the Genocide Museum which was well put together and I recommend anybody who visits Rwanda to take a tour of it. With that being said, the museum is not exactly a place that you would want to visit multiple times. There were some heartfelt and disturbing things that were on display there but it was all very good information that everybody should know. What I like most about the museum was the fact that it recognized as many specific individuals and families as it could. At the very end of the tour there was a “Children’s Room.” Out of all the museums that I have been to in my life, the Genocide Museum is the only one that has ever caused me to shed tears.

We moved to Musanze after spending a week in Kigali.  We started the camp with the students a few days later. Working with those kids is an experience that I will never forget. We taught six classes a day for three weeks.

The three different subjects that we taught were reading, writing, and kinesthetic. The children loved us just as much as we loved them. The main reason why Books & Beyond traveled to Africa was to teach the children, but I learned so much from the children as well. Each day brought on a new challenge and with each new challenge I noticed myself growing as a teacher while they grew as students. What I like most about the teaching and learning process was that half way through the camp I realized the best way for them to learn English is by having them teach you Kinyarwanda. I figured this out when trying to teach colors in English to them.

When I was in front of the class showing them the English to Kinyarwanda translations of all the colors, I started to attempt to pronounce the Kinyarwanda translation for each color and to my surprise the majority of them said that I was pronouncing wrong. The students then started to teach me and showed me how to pronounce each color. After the teaching was over I had some of the students come to me and say “What’s yellow?” and I would reply “Umuhondo.” Many students came to me asking me to say each color in Kinyarwanda. The point of that was for the kids to know if I was saying the right Kinyarwanda word for green, they had to know what green meant in English first.

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 One thing that did surprise me about myself was how comfortable I got with the Rwandan culture of how physically close their same sex friendships are. In Rwanda, it is highly uncommon for an intimate couple to walk down the street holding hands, but it is natural to see two men or two women holding hands that are friends. I knew about this cultural difference before I stepped foot in Rwanda and I was not sure how I would react. My friend Steven who was on the trip with me embraced this practice right away. Me on the other hand, I was fairly uneasy. Then one day our bus driver Abdul grabbed my hand in order to show me something then we just walked down the street holding hands and I had no problem with it.

            Rasheid and I became really close, we started to joke around more as time went on and we even started to go play pool together. As time started itching closer for us to head back to the U.S., Rasheid would bring it up and talk about how much he was going to miss me and the rest of the group. On the last couple of days before it was time to go I knew it was not going to feel good saying bye to Abdul and Rasheid but I still did not expect for it to be as hard as it was when we made it to the airport. Arriving at the airport was such a bitter sweet moment for us all and I promised Abdul and Rasheid that I would keep and touch and hopefully come back one day. All in all, my trip to Rwanda was definitely a life changing experience that I will forever remember.

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