It’s officially the first day of our trip to Rwanda this year and I am ready to get going! We’ve got a long day of traveling ahead of us from Indianapolis, Indiana, to Kigali, Rwanda.
This year I am traveling alongside three other Indiana University students: Jeff Wise, Chelsea Skovran, and Madelyn Kissel. Also accompanying us on this trip are GV Assistant Director Lauren Caldarera, TEAM Schools teacher Ali Nagle, and two TEAM Schools students—Jordyn Marlin and Kiara Pettiway. It should be a great group!
We arrived in Kigali this morning and were greeted by our dear friends Simon Peter and Abdoul at the airport. As soon as I came out of the arrivals gate, they ran up to me and gave me a hug, welcoming me back to Rwanda. It was wonderful to see them again. After loading our luggage into the bus and picking up our boxes of books, we headed to our first stop in the capital—the Kigali Memorial Center.
The Kigali Memorial Center is also known as the Gisozi Genocide Memorial, and museum exhibits here cover not only the genocide in Rwanda but also genocides that have happened all over the world. It is very well organized and extremely moving. I remember visiting it during my first trip to Rwanda in 2009 and crying after walking through the exhibits. Visiting the museum a second time was a good experience as I was able to take in the exhibits and notice different things that I had overlooked the first time. In particular, this time, I was struck by the quotations that were featured in many different parts of the center.
At the beginning of the museum tour, there is a large quotation:
“This is about our past and our future;
Our nightmares and dreams;
Our fear and our hope;
Which is why we begin where we end…
With the country we love…”
The Memorial Center is entirely maintained by donations; they do not charge a fee for entrance. This time I decided to support the museum by purchasing one of their booklets about the genocide. It was very well put together and informative.
The rest of the day was fairly uneventful. We ran errands in the city and checked into our hotel, Chez Lando, for some much needed rest.
Today was our first big day in Rwanda. We had breakfast at Chez Lando and dropped off a copy of The World is Our Home Volume III at the Ministry of Education’s Curriculum Office in Kigali before heading to Kinigi, home of Kabwende Primary School. As we drove from the capital city out into the rural
areas of Rwanda, my feeling that I was coming home to something only grew stronger as I remembered the mountains and the hills of the Northern Province and saw the familiar sights of children carrying Gerry cans, women carrying baskets of bananas on their heads, and men talking in groups in the city centers.
Of course, I can’t say that Rwanda is my home. It is only my second time here and my first visit was rather short. However, being here a second time and being here with the group makes it feel like the project is becoming more and more established. The cycles of story writing and cultural exchange that we first envisioned in 2008 are really happening, and there is strong group of people working together here in Rwanda on the project as well, which is really exciting to see. There’s really a Books & Beyond family in Indiana, New Jersey, and Rwanda.
Once we arrived at the Kinigi Guesthouse and settled in, we headed over to Kabwende for the opening ceremony that they had planned for us. As we began walking up the dirt path to the school, we could hear the sounds of excited children’s voices and soon we could see them. There were hundreds of children running from the school down the path to greet us as we walked to the school and walk alongside us, curious about who we were, where we had come from, and why we were there. Of course, most of them must have known already why we were there, but it was a good chance for them to show that they had been practicing their English.
During the welcoming ceremony at Kabwende, Clement and his assistant, Theogen, gave speeches in English. This was really remarkable because the first time we visited, we could not even speak with Clement without a translator. Clement and his teachers have been working very hard to improve their school and their English skills. Since this is one of the main things that we support with our project, it was very encouraging to see. I wish I could say that my Kinyarwanda skills were comparable! I had better work harder on that…
For the rest of the ceremony, Kabwende’s dance troupe performed a few dances for us and even got Kiara and Jordyn to get up and dance along! Then, a group of boys did some acrobatics. Finally, the teachers introduced themselves and we took a large group picture.
I’m adding in a video below of one of the songs/dances that the students performed for us during the ceremony for you to enjoy:
This morning we woke up early and walked over to Kabwende to deliver the books to the school. Just like last time, we did the book delivering in two shifts—morning and afternoon—to ensure that every child got a book. We split up into smaller groups of two or three and each group would go to a classroom, introduce themselves, and hand out the books to the students.
In between the morning and afternoon classes, I had some time to sit down and talk with Simon Peter and Isaac at the guesthouse. Both men have been a wonderful help to our project over the past few years. Each time we visit, they accompany us to the school and help to translate between English and Kinyarwanda when necessary. I really enjoyed spending time with them and getting to discuss the project and their thoughts on it. Simon Peter and Isaac each had great perspectives about how the project is impacting Kabwende and things that we could do better in the future.
After delivering books to the afternoon classes, Kiara and Jordyn led a small writing workshop with students from Kabwende to begin brainstorming ideas for their stories. The next book will be centered around the theme “Hopes and Dreams.” The Kabwende teachers selected 30 students from grades P5 and 6 to write stories. After reading their stories, the best 15 stories will be chosen for the book.
When the work at the school was done for the day, we headed to Clement’s home to visit with his family. We got to meet his wife and his children and spend some time sitting in the living room chatting with Clement and his family.
Finally, we finished our day at Volcana, a restaurant in town where we ate pizza (yum!) and reflected on the day.
When I sat down to reflect on the day, I realized that it really flew by. In fact, the trip seems to be flying by! I feel like I have been making stronger connections with our partners here in Rwanda, including Simon Peter, Isaac, Abdoul, and the teachers at Kabwende, which has been really cool. I’ve been able to have more conversations than ever before, and have learned a lot by listening and taking things in. I feel like this time I’ve really been building relationships as opposed to just observing everything like I did the first time.
One of my highlights from the day was getting to tape a student reading her story from the last book. She was one of the few authors around that still attends Kabwende and she bravely read her story aloud for me so I could videotape it. Very cool.
I also had a big moment of reflection today while watching Kiara and Jordyn do the writing workshop. It was awesome to see the young girls take a leadership role and put on a workshop, but at the same time, it also made me realize how huge the disparity is between the education that a child in Rwanda gets and the education that a child in the US gets.
While Kiara and Jordyn talked about brainstorming as a concept for beginning story writing, the teachers watched curiously. They had never heard of a concept like this before and were excited to learn something new that they might use in their classes.
Watching this unfold and taking into account all of the things I had seen and learned in the past three years, it just hit me how a child’s education is so much more than what we think of on the surface. While getting a child to school and providing resources for that child to learn are big steps, there is so much more that goes into ensuring the quality of that education… It seems daunting and made me really stop and wonder if it is possible to expect that children in such a situation could achieve or perform at the high standards that the western world expects.
Of course, this kind of thinking can be dangerous, and I grounded myself in the observation of how much improvement we had seen at the school in just three years. I don’t think that Books & Beyond, or any project for that matter, can completely conquer the obstacles that children worldwide face in getting a quality education. But we can help to make it better, and that is something worth working for. With continued improvement, hard work, and staying focused on the big picture, I think that our project and many other non-profits can really make a big difference in people’s lives. It’s true—you can’t fix everything—but at the very least you can try to help, and maybe have some fun along the way.
Today was a very different kind of day. The group began by making a visit to Prefer preschool, run by Cathy Emerson. I stayed at the guesthouse to do some documenting work and joined the group for lunch when they got back. For lunch we had a lesson on chapati making with Rafiki, our friend from the kitchen of the Kinigi Guesthouse. I taped the lesson using the Flip video camera and Chelsea wrote down the recipe, so I could post a fun cooking video for everyone:
After our chapati lesson with Rafiki we headed over to the school for an interesting afternoon. Madelyn and Chelsea led computer training workshops for teachers while I had the opportunity to do a few personal interviews with teachers. Isaac helped me to translate a bit for the more difficult questions, and we both got a lot out of the experience. I loved hearing about the teachers’ lives and thoughts. Doing personal interviews is definitely one of my favorite parts of documenting for the project. I just love hearing people’s stories!
Later we held conversation circles with the teachers so that they could have a chance to practice their English with native speakers. We split into small groups with a couple of us in each group and talked about anything and everything from tricky English words to the geographic features of Rwanda. I had a lot of fun just hanging out with the teachers and talking. Like I said earlier in my blog, I really feel like I am becoming closer to our friends here this time, building real relationships and friendships. It’s awesome.
As the conversation circles came to an end, we turned our attention to Ali and Lauren, who led a brief workshop over the new curriculum for the third volume of The World is Our Home, including the hierarchy of questions (see image). Each conversation circle then chose a story to read together and discuss, following the suggested questions in the curriculum. Our group chose the story “A Friend for Yve,” about a new student who has some trouble making friends at her new school.
Our day ended with visits to two teachers’ houses. As a part of our trip this year, the teachers requested that we be able to visit some of their homes to meet their families. We had already visited Clement’s home, so today we visited the homes of John Bizimana and Emmanuel Niyonzima. Both homes were absolutely wonderful. We were graciously accepted into their houses and got to learn more about their lives and their families. Each place we were served plentiful amounts of Fanta and fruit and we enjoyed some time to chat and get to know one another better. I found the whole experience to be extremely humbling. Each person we have visited so far has invited us into his home so kindly and given us so much as their guest. Of course we don’t need the sodas and the fruit, but they insisted on feeding us as their honored guests. We are truly blessed to work with such kind people here in Rwanda. It just makes me wish I could do more!
As I sat in John Bizimana’s living room, I found myself imagining what it must be like to be him. I imagined how my life would be if I had grown up in Rwanda or if I were a teacher at Kabwende. In a way, by inviting us into their homes, they really invited us into their lives, to have a look at what it is like to be in their shoes. And I am extremely grateful for that experience.
At the end of the day we had dinner at the Kinigi Guesthouse and reflected on our experiences once again. I realized that I had learned a lot just from the conversations I had been having, especially when we did the conversation circles. Isaac told me that in Rwanda there is a saying that if a visitor comes with rain then he is blessed, and that we must be very blessed because it’s been raining every day since we arrived! I thought that was really interesting, and a more positive take on the rain, which many of us have been thinking was a bummer since it is the dry season and we were hoping for more sunshine!
Overall, today for me was filled with genuine happiness, excitement to learn, and a real feeling of a collaborative commitment to improvement through education. Although going through the curriculum at times can be discouraging because of how difficult it can be for the teachers, it is also very encouraging to see how many questions they have and how eager they are to try the new methods and learn new things. I continue to be amazed by the teachers of Kabwende. They are truly wonderful people.
It’s going to be so strange to go home after this.
Today was our last day working at Kabwende and it was awesome! I began my day by doing some prep work for documenting while part of the group went to visit our friend Alphonse at the park office.
Later in the morning we visited Kapanga School, a neighboring secondary school, where we met with Peace Corps Volunteer Stephanie Mulhern to learn about her experience working there and to see how some other schools in Rwanda are running. First we visited her classroom and answered questions that her students had prepared for us. We also ran into a few of the authors from The World is Our Home Volume III which was really cool! They’ve moved up from Kabwende to Kapanga and were very excited to see us again. We also spent some time in the teacher’s lounge, where we got to ask Kapanga’s headmaster and their teachers about the current P9 education system in Rwanda and how they are dealing with all of the changes that have come up in the past few years. It was very informative. Finally, Stephanie gave us some insight into what her experience has been like as a Peace Corps Volunteer, which was really good for those of us (IU students) who might consider doing Peace Corps in the future.
When we returned to the guesthouse, I took advantage of the free time we had to do a couple of personal interviews with Simon Peter and Isaac before heading over to the school to work with the P5 and P6 students on their stories. While the students worked on illustrating their stories, Isaac helped me to do short interviews with each of the authors in the corner of the classroom. I asked them questions like “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and “What do you like to do for fun?” I enjoyed this since it was the first time I have ever really been able to individually interview students at Kabwende. Meanwhile, a few of our students hosted a conversation circle in an adjacent classroom with a group of P5 and P6 students that had expressed a desire to work on their English. It was a very busy afternoon!
As the afternoon’s activities wound down, I began setting up for the Community Dialogue, something that I had been working on for a few months leading up to the trip. When Ellie, Ross and I attended CGI U in April, we made a commitment to action to improve the Rwandan side of the project, strengthening the reciprocity of it and hopefully providing more opportunities for students to learn. We originally intended to establish a strong mentoring program with students from a secondary school coming to Kabwende, but this wasn’t well received during the 2010 visit to Kabwende so we decided to take a step back and try to be a little more culturally sensitive in our efforts to improve the project. I really believe in the value of this as I think it is vital to include input from all of the project’s stakeholders when considering major changes. Thus, we came up with the Community Dialogue.
In the weeks leading up to the trip, I worked with Clement and Simon Peter to organize the logistics of the dialogue so that everything would run smoothly. We invited teachers from Kabwende, parents from the community, and students from P5 and P6 to the dialogue. I began by thanking everyone for coming and divided the participants into smaller groups with at least one of each representative in each group (i.e. each group had at least one teacher, one parent, and one student). I explained the importance of having a diversity of opinions and that we were very interested in what Kabwende thought about the project and its future. I distributed this handout and gave a short presentation about the project, its goals, and how it looks from each side (i.e. IU, TEAM, and Kabwende). Simon Peter helped me by translating my presentation into Kinyarwanda so that everyone would be able to understand completely.
After the presentation I posed the main question of the dialogue: How can Kabwende students and teachers be more involved in each of the three project goals? Within their small groups, I asked everyone to discuss and come up with what they thought were the best two ideas they had to answer the question. After about 15-20 mins of small group discussion, I invited each group to write their best two ideas on the chalkboard so that we could share them as a large group. A few of the groups sent their student representative up to write the ideas on the board which I thought was really cool to see. Students from Kabwende are beginning to take more leadership roles in the project!
The ideas they shared were very interesting and provided a lot of insight into their thoughts about the project. As a large group, we shared the ideas and then I asked if we could vote on the best two ideas of the day. By a majority vote, the group decided on two main ideas that were important for Kabwende and the future of the project:
- Kabwende students and teachers should have the opportunity to visit the US, just as US students and teachers get to visit Rwanda.
- Kabwende students could organize and make some small crafts that could be sold to raise money for the project.
Other ideas that the group ranked as important were:
- Kabwende needs more materials for learning (i.e. book, laptops, etc.).
- Kabwende students and teachers could start an English club to provide an opportunity for more practice and improvement in their language skills.
At the end, I thanked everyone for coming and stressed the importance of everyone working together to make these ideas a reality. I believe our project will continue be successful if each stakeholder continues to work hard towards these common goals, supporting and encouraging one another. Clement then brought in a few cases of soda for everyone to share in celebration of the dialogue and the end of our time at Kabwende. The overall feeling of the room was that of excitement for the future. I was really pleased with how the dialogue went and excited to see real community organizing in work. It’s one thing to study something like this in class or even talk about it among colleagues, but to really see community organizing and democracy in action—wow! I may have found one of my true passions…
We finished by saying farewell to our friends at the school and walking back to the guesthouse to board the bus for dinner in Musanze.
Today was a pretty slow day in comparison to yesterday’s action-packed schedule. We went to Lake Kivu in the morning and spent some time relaxing by the lake at a hotel in Gisenyi. It was really beautiful, and the sunshine was nice. Several of us took pictures and enjoyed exploring on the rocks by the lake. We even found a few lizards!
In the afternoon we drove back to Kinigi and visited one more teacher’s home—Onesphore Bagirishya. We got to meet his parents, grandmother, wife, and children! Quite the family. He also showed us the bike that he had, which was donated to him as a part of an initiative by Books & Beyond in its second year.
In the evening we returned to Volcana, home of delicious pizza, for dinner and a meeting with Jan Rammer, an Indianapolis-based veterinarian, who has been working in Rwanda with the gorillas for a while. Meeting Jan was really cool, and I think it helped to give all of us a different perspective on the issue of gorillas and tourism in Rwanda. She talked about how the tourism set up here is really good for the gorillas because it’s provided a way to protect them from poaching while also generating conservation awareness and providing income for the country. I found this perspective to be very interesting, especially because people question that all the time.
This evening also provided for one of the more interesting versions of our reflection activities. We were each asked to draw a picture of our experiences thus far and then had to share it with the group. It reminded me of the many “participatory evaluation” activities that we did this year in the US with the project and I laughed a little at first, but I really enjoyed the process.
Today was mainly spent in transit. We traveled from Kinigi to Kigali, ran errands in the city, and spent the rest of the evening at Chez Lando. I spent the time doing interviews with the students in our group and catching up on documenting work. We also did another interesting reflection activity at dinner. This time, we had to write a poem about our experience in Rwanda. I found these to be pretty interesting as well, so I collected the poems and typed up a few to share. You can view them here.
It’s the beginning of the second week of our trip, and it already feels weird to not be at Kabwende. I miss our friends already! We woke up early this morning to drive from Kigali to Nyungwe National Forest. We stopped on one end of the park to get out and do the Canopy Walk before heading on to our final destination—the guesthouse at Gisakura.
The Canopy Walk was relatively new, and hadn’t been available last time I visited Rwanda, so I was pretty excited to see the forest from a different trail. We had a great guide who led us down into the rainforest and to the breathtaking canopy walk high in the trees. It reminded me a lot of the walk at Kakum National Forest in Ghana, but the materials that they had built it with were different. It seemed much more industrial than Ghana’s walk…but very cool nonetheless. I loved walking across the bridge and seeing the forest from high up. I’m posting some pictures and video to go with it, but really nothing can compare to the real experience.
Finally, we checked into the Gisakura guesthouse, the same place that we stayed last time I was in Rwanda, and the rain began. I guess when they say it’s a rainforest they really mean it…(bad pun, sorry).
This morning I woke up feeling pretty sick so I stayed at the guesthouse while most of the group headed out for a hike on the waterfall trail. They returned in the rain but said that the hike was wonderful. Since I stayed in, I spent the time reflecting on the trip so far and the experience of being in Rwanda.
I thought of how a lot of times at home when I mention Rwanda, people immediately think of the genocide and assume that working there must be very dangerous and difficult. I thought of how strange this seems to me now, after having been to Rwanda twice, and how I could try to bridge this gap in understanding when I return home. I want to be able to show people that yes, the genocide happened, but that’s really a part of this nation’s past. They’ve come so far in the past decade. The Rwanda of today and the Rwanda of the past are two very different things. The Rwanda of today and (I think) the Rwanda of the future is a strong nation, built on the shoulders of hard-working, resilient people who are dedicated to make a better life for themselves and the future. If you talk to the average Rwandan person, he’s not going to jump right into talking about the genocide. He’ll tell you about his life, his family, and his hopes and dreams for the future—just like any other person in the world. It reminds me a lot of what Bill Clinton said at CGI U this year, “People need for you to give them the support they need to stand on their own two feet and take control of their own destinies. That’s all anyone wants.”
I hope that through Books & Beyond, and perhaps partnering with other organizations, Rwanda will continue to be supported as it works towards a bright future.
I also hope that the worldwide image of Rwanda will change in the coming years. The tourism sector is growing and foreign investment seems to be increasing as well. It’s really a lovely place to visit as a tourist. The national parks are incredibly well kept and worth visiting, from Volcanoes National Park to Nyungwe National Forest and the Akagara Preserve. Furthermore, it’s extremely safe. I remember speaking to a Kenyan friend of mine who remarked that the streets of Kigali are very safe in comparison to other capital cities in Africa. He said he would walk around Kigali at night and feel safe, but in some other capital cities in East Africa he would never do that. Just a consideration if any of you readers are considering a vacation to East Africa in the future…
Following a couple of relaxing days in the rainforest, we woke up early this morning to head back to Kigali for another busy day. Early in the afternoon we said farewell to Ali, Jordyn, and Kiara, who had to head back to the US a couple of days before the rest of us. We then drove to the US Embassy in Kigali for a meeting with a representative of USAID, Molly Bostrom.
Visiting the embassy was odd as they were decorating for the Fourth of July celebrations at the time. It felt like stepping into a tiny bit of America in the middle of Rwanda. Meeting with Molly was really interesting and informative. She works with the education part of USAID in Rwanda and had a lot of great stuff to tell us about what they had been doing in Rwanda. To be honest, I had very little knowledge of this prior to the meeting, so I learned a lot. It definitely gave me a good foundation for where I can go to do more research on education in Rwanda right now.
After meeting with Molly, we had another meeting set up with Nate Hamilton of the International Education Exchange (IEE). IEE does a lot of cool work with teacher training in Rwanda, and we’ve been interested in partnering with them for a while. In our first year working in Rwanda, we sent Kabwende teachers to a regional IEE teacher training to provide them with some professional development and support. Last year, we paid a local teacher to do additional teacher training at Kabwende. Moving forward, we’re not sure how we’ll continue to partner with them, but meeting with Nate was a great place to start.
First, Nate told us a little bit about what IEE does in Rwanda. He explained that they run a school-based teacher training program by placing a teacher trainer in a school and having them spend one-on-one time with teachers, observing their lessons and providing feedback and ideas for better lesson planning and teaching. After working here for a while, he talked about the particular areas that he and his trainers are emphasizing now. “What we really care about now,” he said, “is the critical thinking part of education, the creativity.”
Here, Books & Beyond comes in as a great way of integrating critical thinking and creativity as well as providing students with access to print material. Integrating books and print material in the classroom is an essential part of improving the quality of education here, as it has been primarily oral for many years.
In the end, the meeting was great as we were able to share our experiences with Nate and learn at the same time. We’ll see what the future has in store for B&B and IEE…
This morning we left Chez Lando early to drive to Butare, the university town of Rwanda. On the way we stopped in Nyanza to visit the Rukali Palace Museum and the Rswero Palace Art Museum. Both museums were excellent! At the Rukali Palace Museum we got to tour both an ancient and a more “modern” king’s palace and learn about the history and culture of Rwanda’s kings. Later, at the Rswero Palace Art Museum, we had a chance to see a great collection of modern art, some by Rwandans and others by various artists worldwide. I really enjoyed walking through and viewing the various pieces. I’m a big fan of modern art, and I had never seen anything like this in Rwanda before, so I thought it was really cool.
After stopping in Nyanza we made our way to Butare and stopped first at the National Museum of Rwanda, an ethnographic institution centered around Rwandan history and culture. They had a wide variety of artifacts on display covering various aspects of Rwandan life. It was very thorough, and certainly worth visiting for someone who wants to learn more about Rwandan culture.
Here we also met up with our friend Simon Peter again, who had come to Butare for the day to visit the University. Since Simon Peter needed to go to the University anyway, we drove over to the campus of Rwanda’s National University with him and went on a brief tour. Simon Peter is a graduate of the university with a degree in History. He was very excited to show us his alma mater and took us to several places on campus where he used to study.
As we walked through the university and later the streets of Butare, I was reminded of how different Butare is from Kinigi or Kigali. It really has a very unique feel in comparison with the rest of Rwanda. Last time I described it as “the Bloomington of Rwanda” and I still think that is somewhat true. It has a real liberal or intellectual energy to it. I really enjoy being here.
Today we left Butare to head back to Kigali. In the city we visited a few markets and ran some errands before ending the day with a visit to Abdoul’s home in the city. Abdoul is our dear friend and driver, and it was really cool to see where he lives. We had a good time hanging out and chatting with Abdoul and his best friend, Kalissa, before heading back to Chez Lando for the evening.
Our last day in Rwanda! I woke up early to go for one last walk around the city and take a few pictures, hopefully capturing Kigali to share with our friends and supporters back at home. I also did a few final interviews with the IU students at the hotel, hoping to get their final thoughts on the trip overall. For lunch we ate at Karibu, a delicious buffet style restaurant that serves traditional Rwandan foods. Afterward we headed to the airport for a long day of traveling home.
I’m sad to leave Rwanda a second time, especially after such a wonderful visit. This trip has been very exciting and very productive in a lot of different ways. I’ve watched my fellow students learn and grow through immersion in another culture, I’ve seen first-hand how much Kabwende has improved over the past three years, and I’ve helped to play a much bigger part in ensuring that the project will continue to succeed in the future. While I’m sad to go, I’m also very excited to see what this next year will bring with Books & Beyond. And I have a feeling that this is not my last time in Rwanda. I am certain I will come back someday, somehow.
Finally, I would like to extend a huge thank you to our friends and supporters who have made this trip and this experience possible. We couldn’t do it without your help. Thanks for standing by our side and making these efforts a reality, and thanks for reading my account of it!
Hi, everyone. This is Caitlin Ryan from the documenting team for Books & Beyond. I’m going to be documenting the trip to Rwanda this summer, through photos, videos, and written accounts of our adventure in Africa. Over the course of the next two weeks, I will hopefully post a couple of times on the blog to keep you all updated on what we’re doing in Rwanda, and when we return, I will update the blog to contain a full account of our trip. I suppose you could think of this page as being a sort of blog-within-a-blog. Feel free to comment, ask questions, etc.
06/18/09: 3 days!!!
I can’t believe we leave for Rwanda in 3 DAYS! It’s crazy. Over the summer, Lauren and Beth have been working like crazy to prep. for the trip. The amount of work that has been put into organizing the logistics of everything is incredible. This Tuesday I went to Bloomington to do some pre-departure interviews with Lauren, Beth, James, and Chris. I also interviewed Jeff Holdeman, Director of the Global Village LLC, and Diana Jacobs, who works with Residential Programs and Services for I.U. Everyone seems very excited for the trip, and there are still many small things to be done in preparation. My suitcase is still empty, and I’ve got sticky notes covering my desk with things to do before Sunday. I’m sure everything will turn out ok though, and soon we’ll be on our way! It’s so close!
More to come later today…
06/20/09: The Night Before Rwanda…
It’s Saturday night, the day before we leave, and I am now beginning to pack my suitcase for Rwanda. Ha! Of course I’m doing it the day before departure. I’ve spent most of the day running around town picking up last minute things that I forgot and trying to take care of business before leaving the country. Everyone I’ve talked to from the team is getting very excited for the trip. I still can’t believe that we’re going to Rwanda; it’s unreal. I feel so lucky to have this opportunity.
06/21/09: The Adventure Begins
The journey this morning began very early (around 6:45 AM) when I left Fort Wayne, Indiana, to drive to Indianapolis. I met Chris at his house and the two of us headed to the airport with our luggage in tow after a brief argument over how many socks one should take on the trip (haha). We met Lauren, Beth, and Jeff at the airport and checked in our luggage and boxes of books. We ended up being able to take all of the boxes except for one, checking them as excess luggage for each of us. Jeff harassed me (half-jokingly?) for not taking pictures of the process, but I was afraid of upsetting airport security by taking photographs in the airport.
From Indianapolis we flew to Detroit, Michigan, where we met the final member of our Indiana University team, Beth’s graduate assistant, James Kigamwa. I took some video footage of the trippy moving walkway tunnel in the Detroit airport while wandering around and taking in the last American sights and smells that we would experience for the next two weeks.
The next flight was eight hours long from Detroit to Amsterdam. Most of us watched the in flight movies or slept to pass the time. In Amsterdam we met the second half of our team, the teachers and students from TEAM Schools– Ali, Faith, Bethanie, Zahnik, and Whitney- and the Books & Beyond visionary, Nancy. With the complete traveling team assembled, we left Europe for Africa on another eight-hour flight from Amsterdam to Nairobi, Kenya.
In Kenya we were informed that videotaping or taking pictures in the airport was prohibited, which made me feel good about not taking images earlier in Indy. From Nairobi we got on a smaller plane for a relatively short (1.5 hour) flight to Kigali, Rwanda. At this point the date was already June 22nd.
06/22/09: Welcome to Rwanda, Land of a Thousand Hills
When we arrived in Rwanda this evening we were greeted by a travel group, Thousand Hills Safari, who took us to our hotel for the first evening in the nation’s capitol, greeted us. We were excited to find out that no one had lost luggage in transit to Rwanda, however we did experience a minor problem with the boxes of books. Rwandan airport security officials were uncomfortable with the amount of luggage and boxes we were carting around and asked us for a letter explaining the contents of our boxes for security reasons. Since we did not have one with us or a representative travel agent to vouch for us, we were forced to leave the boxes of books in an office in the airport until we could get things worked out in the morning.
The drive from the airport to the hotel was very exciting. Although exhausted, we all eagerly watched out the windows of the van as the city of Kigali unfolded before us. Immediately I understood why Rwanda is often referred to as “The Land of a Thousand Hills.” As I took in the beautiful landscapes, I wondered what it would look like in the daylight and thought of how blessed I was to be there with such an incredible group of people.
Today has been intense. After an interesting evening at the Sky Hotel in Kigali, we awoke to a traditional breakfast in the hotel of bananas, eggs, and toast.
We then headed into the city where we first stopped to change money at a bureau of change. Most of us received a rate of 565 Rwandan Francs to every one U.S. Dollar, which is pretty good. We also learned, early in the day, the word “msungu” which means “foreigner.” We hear that word a lot as we walk around in the city.
After changing money we headed to a Genocide Memorial Museum, called the Kigali Memorial Center. At the very least, I will say that going through the memorial was a very moving experience. I was very affected by the things that I saw and read there. The museum began with a historical sort of tour from the very beginnings of ethnic divisions all the way through the post-genocide culture and consequences. There was also a section on genocide in general, covering the history of genocides that have occurred worldwide, which was very eye opening and well put together.
Personally, I was most affected by the works of art that were displayed in the memorial alongside the exhibitions. This seemed fitting to me, as I feel that words often fail to convey the full meaning or result of a situation, especially when its existence is so beyond the logic of the human mind’s grasp. As a basic mode of expression, art often serves as an outlet for people to explain and let go of things that they cannot explain in any other way. Thus, it makes sense that, in instances where words may fail, art speaks in a way that can somehow fill this void of understanding.
The center of the building held a work of sculpture that depicted the people of Rwanda in four different stages: the unity that existed in Rwanda prior to the genocide, the elevation of hatred that led to the atrocities, the experience of the genocide, and finally, the aftermath and effects of it. Each stage had four different figures, each representing something different. There is an image of the sculpture set here and it is described on the page as being centered around three themes, although I saw it as being four as there were actually four parts to the sculpture set.
Another large artistic and powerful exhibit within the exhibit was in a room next to these sculptures. In this room, surviving family and friends donated images of their loved ones who had been killed in the genocide. These snapshots were hung on wires in rows that covered almost the entire circularly shaped room. On one wall that didn’t have photographs, a video played of survivors discussing their experiences. I spent quite a while in this room, looking at each face in each photograph and thinking about that person: who they were, what they did in their life, and how sad it was that their life ended so quickly and tragically. I thought of how important it is to know that each and every one of these people has a story and that their story deserves to be told. It seemed to be a very fitting and right way to honor the victims and remember that each person who died had a story and a life that should be remembered.
I could probably write pages and pages about the rest of the parts of the museum that affected me, but it is important to hear the reactions of the others in our group as well. I will post a video of some of these reactions and thoughts as I get the videos imported over the next few days. I think that each person in the group found the museum to be powerful in a unique way.
After leaving the memorial, we ate lunch at a buffet restaurant, where we found many more new and interesting foods to try. Then, after a brief stop at a supermarket to buy water, we headed to Kinigi, where we would be staying for the duration of our visit to the school. We arrived around 8 pm and sat together chatting about things over a buffet dinner that included lots of rice and potatoes before heading our separate ways to rest for the evening. I roomed with Lauren, and we watched EAT (East African Television), which included a marathon of music videos that was pretty cool. We both got pretty excited at the prospect of learning more about African music and wrote down a few artists to look up when we return to the states: Qristal di General, Witnesz, Chameleon…
06/24/09: Kabwende Primary Center
This morning we woke up bright and early, took nice cold showers, and had breakfast at the hotel before heading off for our first day at the Kabwende Primary Center.
Positioned at the base of Volcanoes National Park, the school was just about a quarter mile walk from the guesthouse where we were staying. As we walked up to the school, we slowly gathered a following of small children who would greet us with “Good Morning, how are you?” After replying and asking the same, each child would respond with “Fine, thank you.” Some children who knew more English asked other questions like, “What is your favorite food?” or “How old are you?” By the time we reached the school, there were swarms of children following us and even more screaming in excitement in the school yard. Many of the teachers, each dressed in a white lab coat, pushed the children out of the way and into the classrooms, welcoming us to the school with big smiles and open arms.
We first met with the headmaster, Clement, in his office. He welcomed us to the school, introduced us to some of the teachers, and thanked us for coming. The team brainstormed a plan for distributing the books in the classrooms that morning. We agreed to break into smaller groups of a few people each to distribute the books. In each classroom, we would introduce ourselves and our role in the project before handing out a book to each child. I took a lot of pictures and captured a lot of video footage of this process. It was very interesting to watch as Bethanie, Zahnik, and Whitney introduced themselves and spoke of how excited they were to be there. I didn’t know Whitney could talk so much! Even more rewarding was watching the faces of the children light up with joy as we handed each of them a book to have, as their very own. Even the teachers’ faces showed excitement and appreciation for the gift.Hopefully, you readers will see this captured in some of the videos and pictures that I will upload. I spent most of this morning in a frantic attempt to capture everything that was unfolding so quickly. It was a big day!
After we finished handing out books to the morning classes, we returned to the guesthouse to eat lunch together as a team. Everyone seemed very excited about what had happened in the morning and they were eager to return to the school in the afternoon to hand out more books.
Since only half of the community attends school in the morning, we returned to the afternoon classes to hand out books to the other half of the community who attended school in the afternoon. We had a little less time in the afternoon to hand out the books, so the process was even more frantic, but equally as exciting. In one class where I was helping to hand out books, the children had MANY questions for me. They wanted to know,
“How old are you?
What is your job?
Do you have children?
Who is your best friend?
What is your favorite animal?
Do you pray to God in America?”
I was a little overwhelmed by all of the questions at the time and being put on the spot. I also felt awkward because I wanted the spotlight to be on the younger students, and not on me. After that classroom, I tried to sort of step back and stay “behind-the-scenes,” concentrating on capturing the moment and documenting rather than being a part of it.Many of the young people we run into are very interested in the three girls we have with us (Bethanie, Whitney, and Zahnik). It must be very interesting and a different sort of experience to be a young African-American on the trip, as opposed to someone like me or Chris, 20 year old Caucasians. I asked the girls about it in some interviews throughout the week to hear their reactions and thoughts on the issue. I’ll post some interview videos later as well.
Another cultural side-note/observation: Many young boys around the school area carry small sickle-like knives which they use to cut grasses and weeds in the fields. It is a bit alarming at first to see small children running around with these knives, but after a while you get used to it. The differences in rural life here and rural life in the U.S. are numerous.
06/25/09: “Oh Come and See…”
Today was our second day at the school. We split up into three small groups for teaching short English lessons in the classrooms. Ali and Whitney taught in the P4 (grade four) classes, Faith and Zahnik taught in the P5 classes, and Lauren and Bethanie teamed up to teach in the P6 classes. Each team had a different teaching method, which was interesting to observe and record.
Ali and Whitney taught the song “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes,” to each of the classes that they went to, beginning by drawing on the board, and then having Whitney demonstrate for the children.
Faith and Zahnik began by reading stories aloud from the book to the classes they visited.
Lauren and Bethanie read a story from the book and had students read along with them, one line at a time.
At the end of the morning session, some students from one of the P6 classes sang a couple of songs to us. One of the songs was in English, “Oh Come and See the Use of Education,” and another was in Kinyarwanda. Hearing the sounds of the children’s voices and seeing them sing together with such excitement on their faces was probably my favorite thing that has happened yet on the trip. I got a really great video of them singing which I will post on here as soon as I get it uploaded.
[EDIT] Video uploaded! I hope you enjoy watching the children sing. It was one of the coolest things that happened to us.
In the afternoon session, the children sang again for us. This time, they sang in English a song about slaves in America. When you see the words and watch the children sing, it is actually a bit haunting. The experience was quite intense. I will post the words on here as soon as I can get them from James.
After teaching in the afternoon session, we went to the teachers’ room at the school for a meeting with the teachers and parents of the community. The headmaster introduced us to everyone and Beth spoke about the project, explaining what we were doing at Kabwende. She then spoke about her research proposal and gave the consent forms to the headmaster so that the teachers and parents could sign them, consenting to her study. Reactions to us and to Beth’s project seemed very positive. I spoke with James afterwards, and he said that it seemed that she had received the equivalent of verbal consent to do the study, which is great.
When we returned to the guesthouse that afternoon, Beth, Lauren, Ali, and Faith sat down and talked for a while about the future of the project and how Books & Beyond can meet the needs of the school that were brought up in the meeting at the school. It seems that many more discussions like this will come over the course of the week.
Around six pm we left for dinner at the Gorilla’s Nest, Jack Hannah’s restaurant. Before eating, we went out to the back of the restaurant and sat around a campfire where we were entertained by traditional Intore dancing. After an initial performance, the dancers grabbed our hands and made us dance with them, adorning our musungu heads with traditional headdresses and thrusting spears and shields into our hands. I imagine that we must have looked pretty hilarious. It was quite fun.
We then went inside for a delicious meal where we all discussed the events of the trip so far and how we had been affected by the people we were encountering. Back at the hotel, I took some time to reflect and write down things that I had not had time to document yet. I feel that there are many stories and experiences that I have not had a chance to write down as things have been moving a mile a minute. Although the pace of things is slow here (often referred to as “African Time”), I feel like everything is happening very quickly as I’m constantly trying to capture every moment of the team. It was nice to take some time to slow down and go over a few things that I had pushed aside in my mind.
One of the things I realized that I haven’t written about yet is Simon Peter, a friend of Beth’s from Rwanda who has been accompanying us the past couple of days. He is a teacher and student in Musanze (the district that Kinigi is in) and he is full of interesting stories to tell. And he is not shy about telling them either! I listened to his stories about how he got his first pair of glasses and how special they were to him, a story of a time that he skipped school and was punished by his father, and other important life lessons that he felt he needed to pass on to us. I was grateful for his wisdom and found the anecdotes to be useful insights into both Simon’s life and into the life and culture of a typical Rwandan student.
06/26/09: Imbabazi: “A place where you will receive all the love and care a mother would give”
Today we took some time away from the school because we don’t want to be too disruptive by going into their classes every day. The teachers and students are currently preparing for their national exams, and our first two visits already took time away from their usual studies.
We left the Kinigi guesthouse in the morning and headed to an orphanage in Gisenyi that Nancy connected with on her last trip to Rwanda. On the way to the orphanage, Nancy told us the story of Rosamond Carr, who
founded the Imbabazi Orphanage in 1994. It’s really an incredible story, and interesting to read about. I found a couple of nice articles on Rosamond for those of you that are interested in learning more about her and her story:
After visiting the orphanage we went to Lake Kivu to relax for a bit in the afternoon. The scenery was absolutely gorgeous and it was quite nice to sit by the water and chat. On an ecological side note, it was interesting to learn about the biochemical composition of the lake. Kivu happens to be one of three lakes in the world that experience violent overturns that result in the release of large amounts of methane gas, partly as a result of the lake’s interaction with a volcano.
We also happened to run into Savannah, a woman from IEE (International Education Exchange) that we had been corresponding with prior to our visit. It was a wonderful coincidence to run into her and her friends and we were able to sit and chat about the project and Rwanda’s educational system for a while, which was really nice.
On the way back to Kinigi, we stopped in town in Gisenyi to visit a local market. Several members of our group bought traditional fabrics with beautiful, bright patterns. I bought a couple of cassette tapes in an attempt to find some music similar to the things we had been listening to on the bus. The music I found wasn’t quite the same, but it was an experience nonetheless. We returned to the guesthouse at the end of the day to eat dinner together and discuss our individual adventures.
While we were away on our excursions, Beth stayed at the school and did her first teacher training session, and she recounted the session for us during dinner. Overall, it went pretty well. The teachers were very excited about the stories and the curriculum Beth had developed, and were eager to learn. However, Beth noted that many of them struggled considerably with the English comprehension and critical thinking that was required to understand and use the curriculum effectively. She discussed the need for more teacher training to empower them with the tools to teach well in English. Everyone agreed- the teachers we’re working with are wonderful people, and they care about their students, but they need more resources and more training, something that we will hopefully be able to provide.
06/27/09: Teacher Training- Day 2
Today was the second day of teacher training. This time, a few of us went along with Beth, to help and document the process, while the remainder of the group stayed back at the guesthouse to catch up on some much needed rest. Before the training session began for the day, Beth helped me to interview the headmaster. He preferred that the interview be done in French, instead of English, as he was more comfortable speaking in French, so Beth translated my questions for the interview. It was really exciting to hear his thoughts on what we had been doing.
During the training session, Beth reviewed the things that she had covered with them on Friday, asking the teachers to recall what they had gone over as a group. Then, they began new material by looking at the curriculum for a story which the teachers wanted to go over- “Good Things Come to Those Who Wait.” We thought it was interesting that this was the story that they had chosen as it was one of the more difficult stories out of the book. Beth covered the different aspects of the curriculum for the story, summarizing what happens in the story and asking different sorts of questions about the story. She also asked the teachers to come up with questions of their own about the story to ask their children. I learned a lot from watching Beth teach and it was very cool to see the different members of our group interacting with the teachers.
When the training session was over, I stationed myself outside of the teachers’ room and set up to take quick portraits of each of the teachers as they were leaving. They each wrote their name on a piece of paper and stood against the school wall for their picture to be taken. It was really nice to have a photo record of each of the teachers with their names so that we can remember who is who.
Afterwards we returned to the guesthouse where we met up with the rest of the group and headed into town for dinner at a hotel restaurant.
06/28/09: Making Connections
Sunday! This morning a few members of our group went to church with some of the teachers from the school. I was not part of that group, but I heard that it was quite an experience. At the same time, some other members of our group visited Alphonse at the Volcanoes National Park Office where he taught the group about gorillas and identifying them using nose prints. I stayed at the guesthouse to catch up on some documenting work that had been building up (i.e. reviewing tapes, writing interview questions, etc.).
Later on in the morning, Chris and I visited Alphonse and interviewed him about his involvement in the project. Alphonse has been such a huge help in connecting us with the school, that we knew we had to interview him at some point during our stay. He was wonderful to talk to and we even learned a bit about the project in the process.
When Chris and I returned to the guesthouse, we found that our group had been joined by some visitors. Sitting at the table with Nancy, Beth, et al. was a group of volunteers along with Cathy Emerson, a woman Alphonse had suggested we meet. Cathy, a Canadian citizen, and her friends have opened a preschool in Musanze. She has been working on educational development efforts in Rwanda for a few years and has been joined by volunteers who are assisting her at her preschool. Through discussing our different projects and efforts, we found that one of Cathy’s teachers would be perfect for working with our teachers on site when we left Rwanda. David, the teacher, will visit Kabwende every week through December to assist our teachers with their English studies and developing the Books & Beyond program at the school. The whole experience was another one of the incredible networking things that seems to have just fallen into our hands over the course of the week. We really are blessed to be working with such great people on this project. It’s amazing how things continue to fall into place.
We agreed to visit Cathy at her school on Monday and her group headed back into town. After their departure, we gathered our group together and drove to visit the headmaster, Clement, who had invited us to his home for the afternoon. It was very nice. His living room was decorated with magazine articles and paper chains hanging from the ceiling. We met his family- wife and children- and we sat together in the living room to chat.
We talked with Clement about his family, his life, and his experiences. His wife graciously served us sodas and fresh fruit as we talked with Clement. They were wonderful, welcoming hosts. It was a pleasure to visit their home.
On the way back to the guesthouse, we stopped in town to eat dinner at a different hotel restaurant. After returning to the guesthouse eventually, many members of our team gathered in the hotel lobby/restaurant area to watch the U.S. vs. Brazil soccer game. I chose to take some time by myself to think about the things that I had experienced during the week. Again, as before, I had been working so hard to document and take everything in, that I had neglected to take time to myself to process things. I thought a lot about the things that I had seen over the week, particularly about the things that are perhaps less obvious but present nevertheless.
For example, I have not written much in this blog about the genocide in Rwanda and the way that the nation is (or isn’t) healing in the aftermath. But on this night, I thought long and hard about what I had seen and sensed. The Rwandan government has said that the genocide is over; that all things have been forgiven and that the nation is moving forward. “There is no Hutu or Tutsi; we are all Rwandan now.” And yet, I couldn’t help but notice that, although the genocide is over and the nation is moving forward, there is a lingering sadness in every face that I see. And it’s not just in the faces of the people that the sadness exists. Sometimes, driving along the road, you pass scenes—abandoned towns, trees cut down, areas where something just doesn’t seem right—and it all seemed to fill me with this sense of a nation that is still bleeding. Perhaps some things have been taken care of, bandaged up and put to the side, but the wound is still there, and I don’t think it’s something that’s going to heal any time soon. I think it’s easy to think of things like this as being in the past and being over when you are detached from it, thousands of miles away, reading about it in a book or watching a movie. But when you stand in Rwanda, breathe in the air, and look—really look—at the nation that surrounds you and its beautiful people, you can see that it is still hurting. And I don’t know when, or how, or even if that wound will ever fully heal.
Over the course of the week so far, I have discussed this a bit with other members of the group. We’ve talked about how it is interesting that in the case of Rwanda, the stories of individuals have been repressed. It is illegal to ask about a person’s ethnicity and it is not acceptable to ask someone about their experience in the genocide. This is starkly different from the way that personal testimonies were stressed as a means of remembering and as a way to “never forget” the atrocities of the Holocaust and WWII. From our perspective, this oppression of personal stories in Rwanda is frightening. Furthermore, it is worth noting that there are virtually no resources for the countless people living in Rwanda with post traumatic stress disorder. In the end, a lot of people are left carrying around a great deal of emotional baggage—beyond what you or I could possibly imagine living with. It’s incredible. And tragic.
Those are just a few of the things I was thinking about this evening as I took some time to sort things out in my head. I’ve been observing and learning a lot over the course of the trip so far, and I have a feeling that there is much more to learn.
06/29/09: Murabeho, Kabwende!
Today was full of action, adventure, and emotion. We woke up very early to walk to the school and say goodbye to the morning classes. Again, just as with the other day, we didn’t want to stay too long because we didn’t want to be too disruptive as they were still preparing for their national exams. After a short goodbye and promises to return in the afternoon, we headed into Musanze to visit Cathy’s preschool.
The preschool was amazing. In contrast to many of the groups of children we had seen thus far on the trip, all of the children at Cathy’s school were neatly organized and extremely well-behaved. They focused on their teachers and were barely distracted by our visit. As we visited each
group/class, they waited until prompted, then ran up to us and welcomed us to their school with big hugs and shouts of “Welcome! Welcome!” It had to be one of the cutest things I had ever seen—swarms of children running towards our group members with open arms and smiles on their faces. I interviewed Cathy briefly about her work in Rwanda, and we thanked the group for their help with our project.
Then, we headed into the city center of Musanze where we had an appointment with the mayor. Only a few of us went for the meeting as we didn’t want to be overwhelming to the mayor. The meeting went very well! We told the mayor of our project and our intentions and he expressed his excitement about Books & Beyond and urged us to do it more formally by establishing a memorandum of understanding with the Rwandan government. He even said he would speak to the minister of education about the project! It was very exciting to hear that even the government of Rwanda is supportive of our work. The more support we can get, the better.
On the way back out of town, we stopped to briefly use an internet café and buy a few things. Lauren, Chris, and I bought cookies!
For the rest of the afternoon, the group was split between people resting at the guesthouse, visiting Alphonse, and visiting some of the local craft shops. I conducted a number of interviews with members of our group, including an interview with our driver, Abdul, who we had all grown to know and love over the course of the week. When it was time, we all headed over to the school to say our final goodbye to the teachers we had been working with all week.
We gathered together in the teachers’ room with Clement and all of the teachers. Clement said a few words before each of the teachers stood up and presented a gift to each individual in our group, thanking them for their work. It was very touching to see the personalized gifts for each person. Afterwards, each member of our group stood up to say thank you to the teachers for the gifts and the experiences we had at the school. It was sad to say goodbye, but it was also an exciting time to reflect on everything that had happened over the week that we were there and to both receive and give thanks. When we finished in the room, I interviewed a few of the teachers and students together, asking for their thoughts on what had happened during the week. It was very exciting to hear them speak about how they felt. They also asked us a few questions, which was funny and it sort of put me on the spot to speak for the project as a whole. As I conducted the interviews, other members of our group said their goodbyes to the teachers and students they had grown close to. Many people took pictures, exchanged e-mail addresses, and gave hugs to one another, grateful for the experiences of the past few days.
We walked back to the guesthouse and got the group together to go back into town for dinner, where we were meeting up with Cathy Emerson’s group again. On the way, we realized that some of the teachers were still walking home—some of them walked an hour or more every day to get to and from school. We stopped and picked them up, bringing all of our friends together for a final ride into town. Although it was sad to be saying goodbye, there was something about the moment that was also so joyful. That’s a moment from the trip that I will never forget—Abdul blaring his music on the bus and us laughing and sharing those final moments with the teachers as we drove them into town. I suppose, in a way, it was so happy because, as I thought about everything we had done in our time at the school, I looked around and saw nothing but happy, smiling faces of extreme joy and gratitude. Not only had we been genuinely helpful, we had forged powerful relationships with the people we met, the kinds of friendships that one should hold on to.
06/30/09: In Transit
Last night, after dropping off our teachers to their homes in town, we met up with Cathy’s group at a restaurant where we dined together and celebrated a number of different things: Cathy’s wedding anniversary, the work that had brought us all together, and the new friendships we were forming. It was a lovely time, and a new culinary experience for many, as the dinner that was served was rabbit!
This morning we woke up early again to check out of the guesthouse and say a final goodbye to Alphonse, our friend at the park office. We then made the long drive back to Kigali, where we had lunch and took care of some practical things, like buying bottled water and checking e-mail at an internet café. We also switched vehicles, from our van with Abdul as our driver, to two jeep-like vehicles with two new drivers. Before parting, Abdul got a friend to make some copies of his music for me onto cd’s which I purchased to bring back and share with everyone.
Once everyone had taken care of their business in the capital, we headed off for Akagara, another long drive. When we finally arrived, we found ourselves in a very nice hotel—the Game Lodge at Akagara, a stark contrast to the other places we had stayed in so far on the trip. We ate dinner as a group and then headed off to our respective rooms to get rest before the safari tomorrow.
When we arrived at the Game Lodge, I felt immediately uncomfortable because of how nice it was. After a long day of transit and separation from Kinigi, I longed for the simple rooms at the guesthouse and the peace of mind I had knowing that we would be going back to work at the school the next morning. Here, I feel more like a tourist, and it is awkward. I guess I just feel guilty because I grew so attached to the school. I wish we were doing more. At the same time, however, it is exciting to think that tomorrow we will be seeing so many different kinds of animals on our safari! I think Akagara will be a good place to process the events of the trip so far. It seems very relaxing.
07/01/09: Happy Rwandan Independence Day!
Today we woke up bright and early and met for breakfast at 6 AM before heading out on safari. We met our guides at the park office and began the safari on the south end of the park. This morning we saw impalas, zebras, giraffes, birds, warthogs, and a monitor lizard. One of the cars got stuck in the mud a lot, so there was a good deal of waiting around, which was ok because there was also a good deal of beautiful scenery to take in. We took a break mid-day and returned to the lodge to rest. Some people went swimming in the lodge’s pool while others chose to lounge by the pool and read or nap. There is a group of baboons that live near the lodge who roam the area freely and it was really funny to watch them run around near the pool and hotel. There’s a couple of guys whose sole job seems to be to follow the baboons around and make sure they don’t get into too much trouble. One of the baboons jumped up near the tables while we were lounging and got really close to Miss Nagle. It was pretty funny.
Around 4 PM we headed back out again to see more animals. This time, we took a path by the lakes and we saw hippos, baboons, monkeys, crocodiles, water elk, and more impalas.
Today I still feel that same guilt I felt yesterday for being in such a nice, touristy area, but at the same time, I am recognizing the value of taking time off to relax and rest. Everyone seems to be enjoying the time to rest and it’s been nice for me to take a break from documenting for a bit. I’ve had some time to think some more to myself, which has been refreshing.
07/02/09: Back to Kigali
Today we went on one more safari drive before leaving Akagara. We saw pretty much the same animals as we saw yesterday, but it was still pretty cool. We never saw any lions or elephants, which was kind of a bummer. Apparently there are not very many of them left in the park, so you really have to be lucky to see some. We learned yesterday that the park is actually quite low on animals because many of them were killed for food during the genocide and the park has still not recovered yet. They plan to replenish their stock of animals, but things like that take time. It was yet another reminder of the way in which Rwanda is still not fully recovered.
We left Akagara this afternoon and drove back to Kigali, where we will stay for one more night before most of the group departs in the morning. Most of the group that is departing in the morning—Faith, Ali, Zahnik, Whitney, Bethanie, and Nancy—are staying at the Novatel Hotel, while the others who are staying longer—Chris, Lauren, Beth, and I—are staying at the Presbyterian Guesthouse. James is also staying with us tonight, but he will depart in the morning with the rest of the group. We all met for dinner one last time to say our goodbyes and reflect about the trip. During dinner, I thought of how much fun I’ve had so far on the trip and how much I’ve enjoyed meeting and getting to know each of the people on our team. I am so glad that each of the people who joined us on the trip came. Everyone brought something new and interesting to the table, making up a great team of really wonderful people. It’s been such a pleasure and a blessing to work with so many great people here in Rwanda.
07/03/09: New Journeys
This morning part of the group left for the airport in Kigali where they will head in different directions. Ali and Zahnik are going on to Kenya for a couple of weeks where they will work at another school that TEAM schools have partnered with there. James is also going to Kenya to visit his family members in Nairobi. Meanwhile, Nancy, Faith, Whitney, and Bethanie are returning to the states.
Beth will be going to Lake Kivu for a few days to relax and finish up some work on her own, while the remainder of us in Rwanda (Lauren, Chris, and me) are headed to Nyungwe National Forest. Thanks to our awesome friend and former driver, Abdul, we secured spots on a mutatu (bus) from Kigali to Nyungwe this morning. The four hour bus ride was…interesting, to say the least. It was jam packed with local people, and we found open seats in the back of the bus. We attracted a fair amount of attention as the only msungus on the bus, especially when we pulled out our English—Kinyarwanda phrasebooks. The man sitting next to us thought they were pretty hilarious and was delighted to find out that we were interested in learning Kinyarwanda. He was also disappointed that we didn’t speak French, which seemed to be a reaction that we encountered frequently. Note to self: Become fluent in French before returning to Rwanda!
Most of all, the bus ride was fun as it was so very different from public transit in the states. At one point we made a sort of “pit stop” and many men got off to pee or buy a snack. Someone was selling corn on the cob nearby, so a number of people were eating that for the next leg of the trip. Later on, I felt something bump my foot, and looked down to find that I had been hit by a corn cob that was sliding around on the bus floor. For some reason, Lauren and I thought this was very funny at the time. Now that I am writing it out, it doesn’t seem as comical. Maybe you had to be there.
When we finally arrived at Nyungwe, I was immediately rendered speechless at the beautiful views from the bus windows. Miles and miles of untouched, lush, green rainforest were spread out before our eyes as we drove through the hills. It was like something out of a movie, I thought, and I realized that it a natural rainforest really is something I have only seen in pictures or movies until today. And I’m not trying to be cliché, it really is true that any combination of words or pictures can not do it justice. To see a real rainforest is a one-of-a-kind experience. As a result, I found myself constantly pinching myself and asking if this was really real. We’re in a rainforest!!!!
We ended up missing our stop, however, which was actually quite comical also as we ended up in the next town down the road from our guesthouse. We were fortunate enough to catch a ride with the government Electrogaz truck that was going up the road, and we finally reached the place where we are staying for the evening, the ORTPN guesthouse near the park office for Nyungwe.
After being cooped up in a bus for four hours, we were more than ready to get out on the trails and walk around. We visited the park office and found that there was still ample time to do the Colobus Monkey tracking on the tea plantation. We had a very nice, friendly guide who took us up the road through the tea plantation and into a forested area where we got to see a group of Colobus Monkeys eating Eucalyptus plants.
When we returned to the guesthouse, we cleaned up and sat outside talking while we waited for dinner. As we chatted, we were joined by a finance specialist from the U.S. Embassy! We spoke to him about our trip and what we had been doing in Rwanda and learned about his job at the embassy. It was very interesting to discuss Rwanda with him. At dinner, we joined him and his friends and discussed the Rwandan educational system as well as the English mandate and literacy efforts in Africa in general. At one point, it became a rather heated discussion. I chose to do more listening than talking in this case, and I learned a lot from the conversation.
Also, as a side note, Chris and I believe that Edward Norton was dining in the same room as us at the ORTPN guesthouse, although we could have been mistaken. Wouldn’t that be exciting if it was the case though? Haha!
07/04/09: The Waterfall Trail
This morning we awoke and ate a delicious breakfast in the guesthouse before heading out to hike the waterfall trail. We joined a group of women to hike with and introduced ourselves. The women were volunteers with WIACT, a non-profit group working in Kigali, who had come out, like us, to Nyungwe for a couple of days to enjoy the rainforest. On the way to the trail, we passed through an area of fire ants that our guide pointed out to us. Of course, we were all silly enough to stand there staring at them long enough for some of the ants to crawl up into our pants and bite us. I got a few bites on the legs before realizing that I was standing in the midst of the ants and moving out of the way. Haha!
As we descended into the forest, I found myself speechless a number of times as I took in the scenery around me. It was truly one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen in my life. Our guide was also very insightful and I learned a bit of information from him along the trail. In the beginning part of the forest, he showed us a plant that used to be eaten primarily by the mountain elephants that lived in the forest. However, poaching the elephants was a huge problem in the latter portion of the twentieth century and the last elephant in Nyungwe died in 1999. As a result, this particular plant has sort of taken over the forest in areas, killing a number of trees without having the elephants around to consume it regularly. However, our guide noted that the park is planning on reintroducing elephants to the area from Cameroon over the next few years, hoping to build the population back up and restore the balance of the ecosystem.
Our trail ended in the heart of the forest where we rested by a beautiful waterfall. Some of the girls wanted to go swimming, but the guide told them it was too dangerous near the fall and had them wait until we reached a safer part of the trail on the way back, where they stopped and swam in the cold water for twenty minutes or so. I took in the beautiful scenery and tried to capture even a fraction of its wonder on camera. I’ll post some pictures here for you to see, but, like I said before, I really don’t think that pictures do it justice. You have to be there and see the real thing. It’s like nothing else.
When we got back to the guesthouse, we made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and waited for our mutatu to Butare, where we would be spending the night. The bus ride there was about the same as the bus ride to Nyungwe, except that this time we had a crazy driver who took the mountainous curves at about 60 km per hour, causing everyone on the bus to lean left and right every time we turned. By the time we got off, several people looked a bit green in the face. We got off in Butare at the end of the town and walked all the way back through town to get to our hotel. It was nice, again, to walk after having been on the bus for so long and we got to see the city. It was very different from the other places we had been so far. Butare is the location of the National University of Rwanda and many of its residents are educated. I figured you could think of it as being kind of like the Bloomington of Rwanda in a way. At the hotel, there was a lot of Michael Jackson music playing in honor of his death, and the televisions that we saw were all playing Michael Jackson music video marathons. We had a nice dinner at the hotel and thought back on the experiences we had had on the trip thus far. It was really great to sit and chat with Chris and Lauren about everything in such a young, lively atmosphere.
07/05/09: Reunion in Kigali
This morning we were hoping to visit the National Museum of Rwanda, but we found out that it is closed on Sundays so we walked back into town and caught an earlier bus back to Kigali. When we arrived in Kigali we visited a craft village that we had read about in our Brandt guide and bought some souvenirs for friends back at home. We also visited a guesthouse that we had read about in the Brandt guide called the One Love Guesthouse. It was a really cool atmosphere and the grounds were nice. It’s run by a non-profit organization that helps people with disabilities in Rwanda. We took a tour of the place and noted that it might be a nice place to stay next time we come to Rwanda. In the evening we met up with Abdul and Beth for dinner at an Indian restaurant near the Presbyterian guesthouse.
Dinner was delicious, and it was really great to see Abdul again. Beth told us about her trip to Lake Kivu and we recounted our adventures at Nyungwe and Butare. As night fell and we headed back to the hotel, it finally sunk in that it was our last night there. I was beginning to feel sad about having to leave in the morning. I think I’ve fallen in love with Rwanda—I don’t want to go!
07/06/09: Murabeho, Rwanda.
This morning we left Kigali for Nairobi. Just as when we came to Rwanda, we will fly from Nairobi to Amsterdam, then from Amsterdam to Detroit, and finally from Detroit to Indianapolis. We should arrive home on the afternoon of the seventh. I think it will be really weird to be back in the states. Also, I think that I have to work on Wednesday. That will be weird too.
07/07/09: America is Weird.
As soon as we got into the Detroit airport, Chris, Lauren, and I headed right for the food. I didn’t realize how much I missed some American foods until I could smell it! We made it safely back into Indianapolis this afternoon where we were greeted by our family and friends. I then made the drive back to Fort Wayne later in the evening where I met my family and began to recount the adventures. It was difficult to know where to start when talking about the trip. I ended up telling my parents a bunch of random stories from the trip, a sort of disjointed collection of experiences that somehow made up the jumbled memories of Rwanda that are floating around in my mind. I imagine that I will start to make sense of things over the next few days, although being home is even weirder than I thought. Little things, like air conditioning and consistent access to hot water seem really bizarre.
07/09/09: Murakoze cyane, Rwanda!
I’m writing now after having been back in the states for a couple of days. The next day after returning, Wednesday, I was back at work already. The whole day I felt pretty out of it and sort of disconnected from everyone and everything that I encountered. Corporate America is such a contrast to the every day life that I was just beginning to grow accustomed to in Rwanda. Even every day interactions seem strange, and yet I find myself interacting with people just fine. It’s a bizarre sort of disconnect though, that I feel all the time now, and I’m not sure how long it will last. I think it is something that will fade over time, and I know that part of my job as a documenter is to bridge that gap between those of us who just experienced Rwanda and those who are at home but are interested in the experience.
Hopefully this blog has helped bridge the gap for some of you who are reading it, and I would happily answer any questions that you have about the trip or about anything that I’ve written in the blog thus far. Thanks for reading, and thank you for your support of our project!
07/23/09: Photos up and running
For those of you craving more photographs from the Rwanda trip, you’ll be happy to hear that our Shutterfly site is up and running. Visit our site at http://booksnbeyond.shutterfly.com/ and take a look at the numerous photos that different members of our group took on the trip. Photos will continue to be added over the next few weeks as other members of the team add their images, and check in soon for videos from the trip!
07/24/09: A Few Phrases in Kinyarwanda
I thought it might be fun to post a few of the phrases we learned in Kinyarwanda, the native language in Rwanda. Several of us picked up little phrase books in the capital to learn more along the way, so I’ve used mine to pull out some special phrases for your personal enjoyment and education:
Maramutse (ho) Good Morning
Murakoze cyane Thank you very much
Igitabo cyiza A good book!
Nyabuna mfasha Please help
Ndwaaye guhitwa I have diarrhea
Aka n’akaga n’ibyago This is unfortunate
Warasaze You are crazy
This concludes my blog for the 2009 Rwanda trip. I hope you’ve enjoyed it. I will continue to work with the project in the future.