Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Witness to Genocide

Learning from Rwanda

NEW Web Site

Click on www.WorldOutsideMyShoes.org

- To learn about Wilkens speaking tour and much more.





Monday, July 30, 2007

Kigali Journals July 2007

Adrainne sent these emails the last couple weeks of July. Great word pictures of a school teachers first visit to Rwanda. Not her first time to Africa, she took 15 of her highschool students to Tanzania last year to the war crime tribunals there.


July 18 - 07
Hello friends and family,As most of you know, I left Boston yesterday for a 2 week trip to Rwanda and my traveling partner Marisa and I arrived safely in Kigali, the capital, this afternoon. Our flights were LONG- Boston to DC to Rome for refueling, to Addis Ababa Ethiopia and then to Kigali. A total of about 24 hours traveling time- but we made it here safely. We booked an interpreter, Sam Gasana, who picked us up from the airport & took us on a mini-tour of Kigali- a city much more sprawling than I had imagined. All of the feelings of nervousness and anxiety that had been building up pre-trip were gone as I was getting my first view of Kigali. It's a lovely place that I'm anxious to see more of. (that, incidentally, has far fewer English speakers than I had imagined. The ol' French is going to have to surface, much to my embarrassment!) Sam took us to our guest house- the EPR, or Eglise Presbyterian du Rwanda, where we'll be staying tonight and tomorrow night. We'll be working on our schedule a bit more tomorrow with the help of Sam, but it looks like we'll be doing some touring of Kigali over the next few days, with Sam and also with Ernest''s (A Rwandese friend from Boston) brother Egide, who just came to meet us at our guest house. (Ernest- we also met Eric- I didn't know you had a twin!!) Our other plans include visiting the Youth Healing Center in Ruhango, going to Butare to attend gacaca hearings- village-based hearings that try and offer forgiveness or further jail time to genocide perpetrators. We'll also be visiting the infamous silverback gorillas of Dian Fossey fame and also spend some time at Lake Kivu in the west. We'll be meeting with teachers here at several schools to learn about their history curriculum and hopefully visit some orphanages. We have lots of school supplies donated to us to distribute- I'm looking forward to that. I don't have a lot of reflections to offer you as we just arrived a number of hours ago- but just give me a few days and I'll send out more emails as our journey gets underway. I'm so excited and interested in spending time in this beautiful little country and I'm so glad I'm here. Hope you are all well!Adrianne


July 20 - 07
Hello from Kigali at sunset. It's about 6:15pm here and the sun is already almost set- it gets very dark very early here- something that has surprised both Marisa and me over the past few days.
We have had a wonderful few days here in Kigali so far. Much of it has been spent trying to straighten out meetings and things that we'll be doing here, but I feel that we've also really had the opportunity to see a lot of Kigali. Yesterday we went to the Ministry of Justice in Kigali to get our permits to attend the gacaca courts- these are the courts (I can't remember if I said this in my last email) that are trying the 70,000+ perpetrators of the genocide who are still in jail and who committed 'lower level crimes'- i.e. looting, destruction of property but also killing others. Even just going to the Ministry offered us views of Kigali. Rwanda, by the way, is the 'land of a thousand hills'- I personally think Kigali alone has 1,000 hills! The city centre, which we've stayed very close to, is on a large hill among a number of other hills where some of the embassies and home of Rwandese are- it seems like the major business center is on this main hill in Kigali. We're at an internet cafe at the top of it right now- which, by the way, is next to a coffee shop called "Bourbon coffee'- it serves the most delicious coffee and has Bourbon St. signs (of NOLA fame) inside of it. There's a marathon in Kigali every May- it's the 'peace marathon' and while the idea of it sounds great to me...the reality, with all of those hills, would be something not so great, I think!
We got a Rwandese lunch after getting our permits- consisted of rice, cooked bananas, cassava plant and beef- delicious. We then walked down to a market at the bottom of the hill and on our way there, we stopped at the Hotel des Milles Collines- the hotel featured in Hotel Rwanda- where Paul Rusesabagina saved so many lives. It's an absolutely beautiful hotel and it was difficult to imagine what had gone on there- how it had served as the place where so many people were kept alive. The view of Kigali from the top of the hotel is magnificent. The market we visited reminded me of many of the markets we visited in Kenya and Tanzania and sold things not only Rwandan but East African in general. Some beautiful pieces of jewelry, home decorations and baskets, which are Rwanda's specialty craft.
Today, we spent a lot of time trying to make arrangements and meet people- none of the meetings really worked out well and by the time we were set to go to Nyamata to visit a school and some memorials there, it was too late in the day for it to make sense to head there. We'll go to the school on Tuesday instead. I'm learning that Rwanda is even more laid back than I had imagined- that times (for meeting, calling, whatever) are VERY flexible and usually things do not happen when you expect that they will! A good lesson in not being so neurotic and just going with the flow!
The highlights of today, however, were visiting the memorial to the 10 Belgian soldiers who were murdered at the start of the genocide and also visiting the Kigali genocide memorial. It's difficult to say that those were the highlights of the day because both memorials were very difficult and at times, it was easy to feel a bit suffocated by the reality of what happened here in 1994. Even in visiting the Hotel des Milles Collines, it's been hard for me to imagine that this is actually where these atrocities took place- where, effectively, the genocide began. It wasn't until today- that we saw where these Belgian soldiers were murdered and their blood is still on the wall, and we went to the absolutely beautiful genocide memorial of Kigali, that it began to strike me the enormity of this and the fact that it has affected all Rwandese. The memorial for the Belgians is a the barracks where they were station and killed- they have constructed 10 pillars to each of them with the years they lived notched out of their pillar that honors then. The youngest was 25 and the oldest 32. The barracks are riddled with bullet holes and there are candles inside the barracks from the families of the victims, who also wrote messages on a blackboard inside that has now been encased in glass. Some of their messages are directed at Gen. Romeo Dellaire, the head of the UN peacekeeping force at the time of the genocide- who the families of the victims blame for the death of the soldiers. The Kigali memorial, dedicated to the victims, is on an adjacent hill to the main hill of Kigali- it consists of 2 houses- one that has the memorial itself and the other has a library. The gardens of the memorial are absolutely beautiful and serve not only as gardens but also as mass graves for the victims. As gacaca continues to bring out stories of the genocide, the people here are learning more and more about where the bodies of their family members are buried. Many who were killed in Kigali are buried here at the memorial and a long black slab of stone will be used to inscribe their names- some of the names have already been put on the wall. The memorial inside tells the story of the genocide in painful detail and includes bones of the victims - so that no one can ever deny that this horrific event took place. We went to the memorial at the end of the day and we hope to return to go to the library.
Tomorrow we'll head out with Egide, Ernest's brother, to attend the funeral and burial of a genocide victim whose remains were just found. We'll also visit some other sights before heading to the Rwanda Youth Healing Center, where we will go on Sunday. Our plans are not fully set for next week yet- but it looks like Tuesday we'll visit a school, Wednesday and Thursday go to gacaca in Butare and then maybe to Lake Kivu next weekend. I'm trying not to think too much about what's coming up because I don't want to make the time go by fast...it's inevitable, though, that it'll go by faster than I could probably imagine.
I'm really loving it here- it is a wonderful place with warm people and an atmosphere that is full of life. Everyone should come to this beautiful country!!
Not sure when I'll email again- thanks for indulging me and reading my reflections.


July 24 - 07
Amakuru? (That means what's up in Kinyarwanda! The answer is ni meyza. Muraho is hello.)
Hello again from Kigali. It's been a tremendous few days here for us in Rwanda. It seems impossible to describe to you everything we've seen, experienced & felt. I'll do my best by offering you a few glimpses of life here in Rwanda--
The weather is absolutely beautiful. It's warm but not humid and there is almost always a beautiful breeze that blows and cools you off a bit. There is a big difference when the sun is out and when it's behind the clouds. The weather was especially beautiful today- we went to visit a school that is being funded by donors in Boston and was envisioned by Sister Ann of the Paraclete Center in South Boston. It's in a village called Nyamata, about 30 minutes or so on a newly paved road from Kigali- the road is being built by a German construction company party in preparation for the new airport that is being built in Nyamata. The school will be opening in January and will be a boarding middle school for girls- a leadership school- that will take in 25 girls in its first year and continue to take in more students over the next few years until it reaches 75 students. It is being built now and promises to be absolutely beautiful- complete with a science lab, computer lab, and a common area in the middle of the campus to allow the girls to dance and spend some time together- so the architect told us today. We toured the school with Sister Felicite (who we met in Boston as she just finished a 4 month visit, visiting American schools)- she will be the principal of the school and also toured it with the architect who is building it. I'm so anxious to come back and see the school when it is finished and filled with students! Marisa and I have claimed our rooms in the school's guest quarters for our next visit. :)
There are so many interesting things I'm learning about Rwanda. Kigali has struck me as a very safe city- at home I'm always concerned about leaving expensive things in my car, etc. and that doesn't seem to be something to worry about here (though before any of you freak out, I'm still being cautious!). As I experienced last year, when children see a 'muzungu' (Swahili for foreigner- basically means white foreigners but can apply to anyone not African- they'll yell it at you as you drive by and sometimes run behind your car yelling it at you- all in a friendly, very funny way!) they wave frantically. It's so cute and so different from the American message of don't talk to strangers we drill into our children at home (with some good reason, of course). But it's certainly made me reflect on the difference in making strangers feel welcomed when the children wave at you instead of looking away. The primary and secondary school girls here wear their hair very, very short- Marisa and I thought it was just a style but Sam explained that it's part of the dress code- that getting your hair done is a status/wealth symbol and it's forbidden to keep girls from resenting each other's level of wealth. I think it's brilliant.
The people are tremendously friendly- especially when I clumsily maneuver my way through my 3-4 words of Kinyarwanda I've learned. I'm surprised to report that my French is getting me by just fine- obviously we would be nowhere without Sam but I'm able to communicate fairly well with most people I meet in French. Merci Madame Primmer! (My high school French teacher! She was the best!)
I'm constantly surprised by the juxtaposition of the vitality of life here-- and the constant reminders, that are basically unavoidable, of the tragic history. On Saturday, we were fortunate enough to attend the funeral of 5 genocide victims from the same family-- it was at a Catholic church near Nyamirambo, which is actually the Muslim section of Kigali. As I think I mentioned in my last email, these victims' remains were found because of gacaca- which we'll be attending tomorrow and Thursday in Butare. I wrote an email to Jeremy Sunday night and said that it is a completely different thing when the victims you've been studying become the personal losses for the families right in front of you in the church. It was a beautiful service but very, very sad. The families of the victims spoke (as was interpreted for us by Egide) about how lucky they were to be able to have this service- to give respect back to their family members who were so disrespected. The admiration I have for the people of Rwanda is hard for me to describe, and this is just an example of why I have such admiration......Today we visited two memorials that are impossible for me to describe to you all over email. Both of them were churches. Sufficed to say...this is a tremendous country that is trying very hard to give respect back to the people it lost and rebuild after being completely deserted by the international community only 13 years ago. We have so much to learn from this country.
Over the weekend we also visited Ernest's Rwanda Youth Healing Center, in Ruhango- a trauma/healing center that brings about 70 students together monthly to have group therapy and has created an incredible sense of community for these kids. I say kids but some of them are actually close to my age- while some are as young as 14 or 15, some are 25, 26 or so. I was really struck by the sense of community the RYHC provides- they spent a lot of time discussing ways to better communicate to each other between meetings to make sure everyone knows about the meetings, when they will be, etc. Many of the kids at the center are heads of their own households- many, many of them lost their parents in 1994 and are taking care of younger siblings or cousins. Some of them are not able to go to school because they don't have the funds to. They were warm, funny and so welcoming. Marisa and I are planning on having a fundraiser for the Center when we get home.
We've been invited to 2 weddings on Saturday!! So many invitations. So little time. :) We've decided to attend one of the family we stayed with last Friday night- a man named Leonard whose daughter Chantal is having her traditional Rwanda wedding on Saturday. We're really looking forward to it and....we had traditional Rwandan dresses made for the occasion!! Sam took us yesterday to the business district of Kigali, where people flood the streets selling bananas, other fruits, bags- you name it, it's there. Every once and a while a policeman will walk through the section and the people selling scatter immediately. We went into several shops that have the most beautiful fabric you've ever seen and were able to choose whatever fabric we wanted to have made into a dress- we just picked them up today- so gorgeous. Maybe we'll wear them to our fundraiser! I'm excited to see the reaction of Leonard and Chantal when we arrive in our traditional dresses- I'm sure it'll help us blend in....two muzungus in traditional Rwandan dresses!! :)
Ok- it's time for me to go. I'd say goodbye in Kinywarwanda but I don't know how to. So au revoir for now- and thanks again for reading.


July 28 - 07
Rwandese city streets

So, it was hard coming up with a clever title for this email- I've basically run out of all the Kinyarwanda phrases I know, so I thought I'd explain a little bit to you about streets here in Kigali.
I've just walked up here to the internet cafe from the guest house we're staying in which is down the hill on which the city center sits. It's Saturday morning, and Kigali has just begun to wake up. Until about 11am (or later...stores seem to open sort of at their will....) things shut down here in Kigali for 'public works'- I forget the word in Kinyarwanda- but so the streets can be cleaned, the sidewalks, the shrubs trimmed, etc. We knew that things would be quieter, but we had no idea that the city would be dead when we walked out of the Auberge at 10:30am! We hiked up the hill, on certainly the hottest day since we've arrived, and the city was silent. This is in complete contrast to the noise, the people and the fumes that flood the streets at every other minute of the week.
In America, cars move for people. Here in Rwanda- certainly in Kigali but also I've observed this outside of the city too- the people have to move for the cars. This means, of course, that cars pull into parking spaces where people are standing, pull onto streets when people are crossing- and every time the pedestrians have to hightail it out of the way. It's pretty amusing and sometimes, to be honest, a little frightening! I was convinced we were going to hit someone the first few days we were here but now I think I've actually become accustomed to it, if possible. It's funny how quickly you can become accustomed to things.
The streets of Kigali are always bustling and it would take me a very long time to get up the courage to drive here- there are way more people than there are cars. But there's a livelihood to having all those people mulling about.
OK- so it's been a very eventful few days. To avoid writing a tome here in this email, I'll just give highlights.
We've been so lucky in that we've been lucky enough to experience many things that we'd hadn't planned on and definitely could not have imagined. The funeral I described in my last email was one, the wedding we'll be attending this afternoon is another. On Wednesday morning, the families of the Belgian soldiers -- whose deaths convinced the Belgian government to pull their troops out of Rwanda in April 1994-- arrived for the annual commemoration at the site of the killings. Sam found out about the ceremony on Tuesday & brought us to it on Wednesday. It was tremendous. The Belgian & Rwandan ministers of defense were there, many Belgian soldiers, a few Rwandan and of course the family members too. It was very moving and very sad.
We visited gacaca courts on Wednesday & Thursday in Butare- a city about 2 hours southwest of Kigali. I wish I had the time and the words to be able to aptly describe all of the things I've been thinking about since sitting in on these trials- I certainly do not. They were so interesting and the 2 courts were very different from each other. The first gacaca was for Butare town and one of the prisoners on trial, who has been in jail since 1994, is the former Vice Dean of the university and is in jail for being an accomplice in genocide. There was so much to her trial that was confusing, challenging- the most poignant moment for me was when the judges called any and all university professors present to testify to something she had said - and her father had to testify at his daughter's trial. Her father was the rector (which I understand to be the president??) of the university & is a prominent man in town. It was amazing to me to watch this prisoner cry when her father got up to speak- not on her behalf or against her, necessarily, but it is amazing to me to think about the levels of meaning that moment had for so many present- not the least of whom are the prisoner & her dad. The trial will be continued next week- we did not see her judgment.
The second trial was in a small 'cell' (which I understand to be kind of like a neighborhood) in a village about 1/2 hour - 45 minutes off the main road in Butare. While the first gacaca we observed took place in a large auditorium-type room, this was much more the traditional gacaca- on the grass (which is the literal translation of gacaca in kinyarwanda, as I’ve probably mentioned) under the trees in the village. Two prisoners were on trial and we were able to see the completion of only one of the trials. Both men were directly involved in killing Tutsi in the genocide- one claimed responsibility for taking part in the death of 10-12 individuals- the other for 28 individuals. It is so hard for me to comprehend that. There was one moment that Marisa & I discussed as a particularly poignant moment for us- and sort of speaks to one of the reason gacaca was begun: at one point we looked up and the perpetrator was sitting on a bench directly next to the grandson of the woman he had himself murdered. That image illustrates to me the challenge facing this country: the reality is that people whose families or themselves were victims have been and continue to have to live next to and associate with the individuals who were perpetrators. How this is possible is beyond me but it's happening, and maybe not always peacefully. I don't want to suggest that this means Rwanda has reconciled- there are many things that get in the way of stories, history and truths being told. But an attempt is being made which I suppose is the first step.
I have to run to a wedding now! Hopefully I'll be able to log back on before we leave to send one more email.
Hope everyone is doing well-Adrianne


July 30 Declaring gorilla contact at customs
So, I'm not really sure- do I have to declare being 2 feet from a baby gorilla when I re-enter the US, the way one is supposed to declare being in contact with livestock?
Lots to report here on what is probably my last email from Kigali. It's definitely with some sadness that we leave but also with a bit of excitement. I'm really sad to leave this beautiful country that I feel I'm just beginning to understand. It obviously takes a lot longer than 2 weeks to understand a place but that doesn't mean I haven't learned a tremendous amount. I'm actually astounded at the amount I feel I've learned and that's where my excitement comes in about going home- I'm really excited to tell people all about this place and convince you all to come visit!!
The wedding on Saturday was wonderful! Just to give you a little glimpse into the pace of life here....just after Marisa & I left the internet cafe on Saturday morning to put our beautiful Rwandese dresses on, it started thundering and eventually, about 20 minutes before the outdoor ceremony was about to start, it started pouring. Totally, completely pouring- very rare for the dry season. So Sam came to get us and told us we had to wait- despite the tents that the parents of the bride had put up, the wedding would wait until the rain ended and all the guests arrived- most of whom came about 2 hours late, so that's when the wedding began. TIA, as Sam puts it- this is Africa! Time has a very different meaning here.
The wedding was a traditional one- their church ceremony will be in another 2 weeks and after that Chantal & Emmanuel will be officially married. This wedding was so wonderful and entertaining! First the family of the bride arrived and sat below a tent on one side of the yard. The father of the bride & her uncles all sat together in the front row of chairs and her mother and some aunts were next to them. After all of the bride's family and guests arrived, the family of the groom & the groom himself arrive- the bride was inside this whole time. As soon as everyone has arrived, the "bartering" (for lack of a better word!) begins- the negotiations between the family of the bride and groom for her dowry- in cows. From what I understand, the whole thing is scripted- the brides family began by explaining that they were sorry, but Chantal had gone off to Liberia to head up the police there, but there were many other lovely women for Emmanuel to choose from. The groom's family retorted back by offering banana beer. This went back and forth for some time. Once it was established that Chantal had not, in fact, gone to Liberia, the real negotiations began- and the families settled on 6 cows- the groom's family will give the bride's family 6 cows. Marisa and I were secretly hoping the cows would make an appearance, but unfortunately they did not! Once this has been finished, and it can sometimes take up to 4 hours, the bride is announced and is brought out accompanied by traditional Rwandese dancers & singers, who had taken part in the negotiation portion too. The bride & groom & their ushers and bridesmaids- all in traditional clothes- take their seats under their own tent and the dinner & drinks begin to be served. HOWEVER- before the dinner was served, Sam had mentioned to someone that we- he, Marisa & myself- would be leaving early & would like to give Chantal our gift before everyone else does- usually in a ceremony when each guest presents the gifts to the couple. So, what happens? The MC calls us up, announces us as special guests of the bride, and turns the microphone over to me. Smooth as ever (ha), I mumble a few words about being happy and honored to be there and we went up, with all of the photographers and videographers following and presented our gift to the new couple. We were worried about having to get up in our dresses simply to present the gift- we had no idea what the reality would be! Probably a good thing! It was a wonderful day and we felt so lucky to be there.
We left the wedding to head up to Ruhungeri, only to sleep for a few hours before getting up at 5:30 am to go visit the mountain gorillas. We arrived at the office at 7am where the office workers split us into 5 groups to go visit the 5 habituated groups of gorillas in the Volcanoes Nat'l Park. Our group was called Titus, consisted of about 20 gorillas including 2 Silverbacks, and was named after one of the Silverbacks. We hiked for about an hour before getting to the stone wall that marked the entrance to the Park. We were met inside by a ranger after only a minute or two of walking- his job is to track the gorillas from about 7 am to 6pm to protect them from poachers, who come to the Park from Rwanda as well as from Congo, the border of which is right near where we were. He walked us into the park- which is truly rainforest-like- mud covering up my sandaled feet!- and after only a few minutes walk we saw Titus, a younger gorilla, a female and her 2 week old baby, who I'm not kidding you, looked like a human baby, just a lot hairier! Its feet could have been human feet. The office tells you to stay 7 meters away from the gorillas- and in this case, the group of 8 of us were literally about 4 feet away. It was incredible. The next hour was just awesome- there's no other way to describe it. We probably encountered 10-12 of the group and at one point I was so close to another baby gorilla I actually had to pull my camera, which only had my small lenses on it, away because I was too close to take a picture. We watched them play, eat bamboo which I'm told makes them drunk, and then play more. You only get one hour with the gorillas before you have to leave and there's only one visit a day to each group that leaves at 7am. We were so lucky to get these permits- we got them my chance, mainly because 2 people had cancelled their visit and Sam is a miracle worker & managed to get us in. He was able to come with us as well. I can't describe to you how incredible this experience was- it is tremendously expensive to go see the gorillas but worth every penny. I'm just going to have to show you my pictures when we get home to really convey to you how cool it was!
We drove back to Kigali from Ruhungeri, after experiencing yet another thunderstorm, only to meet one back here in Kigali as we then took the road to Kibouye town, which is in the west of the country on Lake Kivu. I hate thunder and lightening- I guess that's what having your house struck twice will do to you- but I have never in my life seen lightening like this! We could still see it as we entered the mountains in Kibouye district, about 1 and 1/2 hours away from Kigali! We arrived late so we were not able to see until this morning what an incredibly beautiful place Kibouye is. Like so many places in Rwanda- beauty is paired with some sadness. Kibouye experienced the most extensive slaughtering of Tutsi in 1994. It was interesting- as I sat having breakfast this morning by this incredibly beautiful lake that looks like the ocean, I realized that I felt very differently this weekend than I had for much of my time here- and I realized it was because we hadn't toured any memorials or visited any genocide-related sites. Realizing I felt so much lighter than I have for so much of this trip, it struck me just how much of an effect this history can have- and I'm only a visitor.
We'll spend tonight in Kigali and our flight leaves at 5pm tomorrow- we may go visit the office of the ICTR (the International Tribunal- the UN trials that try the masterminds, that we visited last year in Arusha, Tanzania) and maybe go and run a few errands before heading home. I feel like I should leave you with some insightful thought-- but I won't even try! This country is so beautiful, complicated and welcoming, and I just feel like, as I mentioned earlier, that I've only just had a small peek into it. I hope I haven't bored you with my ramblings and if you want to know more- just ask- I'll be more than happy to share any of my trip with any of you! Thanks again for indulging me.
A bientot!