That is a quote from Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa's "Daughters of the Stone." She captures the importance of story to humankind's progress.
Last week we spent lots of time doing exactly what we came to do: TEACH! We had the honor to train teachers from Kigali Genocide Memorial Center’s education team and Muhanga at the Urokundo Learning Center. I knew this trip would be transform my teaching and this is when I was able to experience it in real time.
Naturally I am an outgoing, loud, leader. When I’m in the room, I’m most comfortable taking up space. The modesty and gracious nature of Rwandan culture forced me out of my comfort zone. I needed to give space to others, especially those that may not be as outgoing as myself. As someone that's been stepping into the teaching role over the past year, this was an important and profound lesson for me.
Working with the teachers at Urokundo felt like a warm hug when you arrive home. But imagine your house was filled with 22 smiling faces that spoke varying degrees of English. It was was something to behold. My body became engaged in ways I hadn't used it before because when the English language no longer worked, body language stepped up to the task. We created a beautiful story about unity and coming together when one person in the village (umudugudu in Kinyarwanda if you will) had fallen. The energy and power in their voices and un their bodies was infectious and as they performed our story, everyone watching erupted with joy and laughter! I was humbled by how welcomed I was into their space and how much trust was placed in me to lead them in building and sharing their story.
The last few days have been spent learning more about Rwandan culture and life. We farmed in the Azizi Life village in rural Rwanda, we visited the Sweet Dreams all female drumming group, we walked the canopy of the Nyungwe National Park jungle, we visited a Peace & Reconciliation village, visited a coffee plantation, watched performances of traditional Rwandan dance, and had many other adventures along the way. Here are some notes I took from the experiences of those last few days:
Farming at Azizi life: working the land, pulling crop, fetching water, planting new crop-
-Naked and Afraid got a whole lot less interesting as I saw what rural Rwandans have wrought from the earth and it was more than anyone on that show could have created. They use only what mother earth has given them to create full lives, where every part of every thing is used to sustain the community. For example: the cow eats the grasses, the manure is used to nourish the plants, every part of the plant that grows is either eaten or given to feed the cows and the cycle repeats. Nothing is wasted. We could take a lessen or two from their book.
Sweet Dreams Drumming group/ traditional Rwandan dance performances-
I experienced who I am. I connect to the music I've heard here more than anything else. I feel it in my soul. It feels like Salsa, it feels like Hip-Hop, it feels like Dancehall, it feels like Reggae. I heard and experienced a story that allowed me to see a string from the spiritual music that moves me now to that which moves me every day of my life. I am a rhythmic being.
The jungle smells like seasoned earth. It smelled like all the best spices and herbs. But the air was light. That could be because we were so ridiculously high up in the mountains. On the bridge above the canopy, I could see the great expanse of the jungle through my terrified and awe-struck eyes. I was amazed at what God had created and grateful that it was being so vehemently protected.
All the different plants in the jungle need sunlight. But they all strive to get it in different ways. The massive older trees soar above the rest receiving the most sunlight but create shade that makes it difficult for other smaller plants to thrive. There are the vines that grow quicker and engulf the massive trees to receive sunlight but in the process kill the tree they used to rise. There are the orchids that grow within the mighty tress and use them as a ladder to get closer to the top of the canopy and reach more sunlight. Then there are the plants that sprout but are so shadowed and blocked from sunlight that they die almost as soon as they sprouted. They are weak and frail unable to use the support of the mightier trees and plants around them. Seeing these plants made me think about the different types of people in society.
Reconciliation Village- perpetrators and survivors live side by side reconciling the traumatizing and horrendous acts of the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi in Rwanda through confession, forgiveness and uplifting their community together.
Advice from a perpetrator of the genocide and a victim: (based on my memory) " we hear you are having problems between the whites and the blacks in your country. We ask that you forgive and practice Reconciliation or you can end up in the same situation." I think this goes beyond black and white but forgiveness and working together to improve the world we both share is crucial to avoiding Genocide and creating progress.
It's very easy to dehumanize perpetrators of violent acts and call them animals, savages, etc. This is an attempt to ease our minds and say that a human being couldn't do this to another human being. That would mean I, you, have the capability of doing this to another human being and that is terrifying. The truth was before my eyes and speaking to me with a family very similar to my own. A major step in creating a Genocide is the dehumanization of a group of people. The truth is that we must recognize our shared humanity always to avoid Genocide and to produce progress.
Humanity. What does it mean to be a human being? What does it require to be a human being as part of a much larger ecosystem that may flourish or deteriorate under our hand? What does it take to be a human being as part of a much larger SOCIETY that may flourish or deteriorate under our hand? What are we doing to ensure the longevity of our species and others?
Gabriella J. McKinley
, These 2 days have easily felt like 2 weeks. Time slows down for you in Rwanda. We wake up early to the sounds of birds and I can tell you, you would never be happier to rise at 7:00 am. We have been slowly integrating ourselves into Rwandan culture and history. But slowly doesn't mean it has been easy. We've learned a lot about the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi. It has been a visceral experience. We visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial, Nyamata Genocide Memorial, and Ntarama genocide memorial. I saw the blood stained, bullet ripped, and machete-cut clothing of adults, to the christening dresses of baby girls. There was a heaviness that weighed on my spine and chest. The stories of the children were particularly hard for me as I saw their beautiful pictures, read about their joys, then to learn ( in detail) how they died. Honestly, it became a lot for me. Surrounded by so much death. I felt I would pass out at one moment. This is when I became extremely grateful to be traveling with my troop who have been incredibly supportive. We allow space for each other to feel the pain but remain ready with open arms and hands, empathetic tears. These memorials, in juxtaposition to the immense progress of the country and the youthful pulse and joy, fills a person with anticipation for the future of this country and for the world.
Sharing my story of how the Genocide affected me tales some of the pain away, each time I do it.
Though I felt a lot of sorrow, I've also found found an incredible amount of peace. The air here is sweet as if God was cooking something delicious in one of the great valleys of the country. I love it. The food has been nothing short of heart-warming and soul-filling. The dishes are diverse and many of the items resemble things I'm used to being of Afro-Latino heritage. Rice, beans, goat, stew, but everything is flavored so differently and it's lovely. though somethings have been new too! I had my first taste of the cassava leaves. They were cooked in a way that made a creamy sauce-like texture. It tasted sweet, nutty, but also savory with the perfect balance of salt and other herbs.
This country is so beautiful. Kigali, (where we've been staying) makes me think of New York City, but garbage-free, smoke-free, even more hectic traffic, and significantly more impressive views of the hills and valleys. I love the buzz of the city. The bus rides and airport time with the crew has been my favorite part thus far though visiting the Nyamirambo Women's Center is a close second. I loved the story of creating a space for women to be entrepreneurs and self-sufficient especially after so many were brutally abused, raped, and slaughtered during the genocide. I appreciated this reclamation of womanhood.
That's all for now!!
- Gabriella J. McKinley (a.k.a Lunchbox)