9 Rwanda Highlights
There are hundreds of highlights from Rwanda that I want to share with you all, but that would extend this blog indefinitely. Over the next several months and years, I will share Rwanda via programming, workshops, talks, and more so stay tuned.
In the meantime, I looked through my Rwanda photos and pull 9 highlights from the trip!
Check them out!
I've realized that life is a movie and we are all actors! So getting to practice what I/we always do was an exhilarating experience!
The Anne Frank Project (AFP) challenges drama-based education participants to explore the freedom and power inherent in the story-telling process by using body and other interactive activities.
The question we repeatedly asked ourselves throughout our preparation and DBE education work was how do we shift from sharing our stories primarily using our brains (i.e. (over) intellectualizing our stories) to sharing our stories using our hearts and bodies (i.e. BEcoming our stories).
Thank you Drew, Eve, and fellow AFP villagers for the opportunity to develop these skills and receive feedback on my acting and other theater skills.
**Back of the Bus Antics**
After the nearly 24-hour journey to Rwanda, I vowed to stretch my 6'4 frame wherever and whenever I could, including on the bus that we rode on for the majority of our trip. When the back of the bus was not carrying our luggage, there was a back row with 2-3 feet of extra legroom available! As you can imagine, this became home for the remainder of the trip.
Later, Eric and Willie would join the back row and it was 'lit-insky'!
We cut jokes, laughed until it hurt, and watched Eric seemingly talk to the entire city of Kigali through the back window of our bus! We sometimes had guest members too!
**Conversation with Pastor Yves**
Following a tour of Urokundo village, Pastor Yves, pastor at Urokundo village and father-like figure to many of the kids living at Urokundo, and I found time to chat before dinner with the kids at Urokundo.
I noticed Pastor Yves's heart by his presence and the outlook on his personal journey. He is grateful for his role at Urokundo and for the opportunity to be a role model and figure for Urokundo children who do not have these figures in their life.
I felt the depth in his humanity when he shared with me the difficulty he experienced after learning the stories of many of the Urokundo village children (and other children growing up in poverty and without education Rwanda). Moreover, Pastor Yves expressed his pain and complex sentiments around a government mandate (indeed, a complex issue that deserves your own research) that requires Urokundo village (and other orphanages) to transition children to foster parents and or extended family within the year. These children will be placed in new and unfamiliar environments...some for the best, others for the worst.
These individual stories and the interlocking systemic complexity were enough to bring me to tears.
I am thankful for the conversation with Pastor Yves, the cry, and the feelings of sadness I felt that day.
I think it is humanizing to be in touch with the suffering in the world.
This way we can smile and give light to those around us...much like Pastor Yves.
When I'm asked about Rwanda, I am quick to share that, "My trip to Rwanda was not a vacation"
Rwanda with the AFP was an intense cultural immersion and "heart-stretching" experience that challenged us as individuals and a collective. The journey required an intellectual, emotional, physical, and spiritual investment that we all recognized as both envigorating and laborious.
Our group meals served as a break from that experience and were perfect moments to practice self-care, recharge, and recalibrate as a group! We worked to be present with each other as we shared our meals. This process was aided by tasty meals...every bite!!! :)
Kids have much wisdom built into their spirits.
If we older people allow it, I think kids can teach us older people about love, freedom, and joy...if we allow them to.
The kids I met in Rwanda hold a special place in my heart. Many of their stories are of relentless challenge and resilience that was a times difficult to sit with. Their strength was inspiring.
The children we met were sunbeams of light and hope. You could feel it coming from them!
I soaked it in!!
**Meeting new friends through DBE**
Drama-based education (DBE) challenges participants (and its facilitators) to BEcome present with fellow group members in order to develop individual and collective stories. This looks like a lot of collective breaths, laughing, listening, collective problem-solving, and do-ing with ones heart and body.
During this "heartstretching" process, a natural group phenomenon occurs where participants begin caring deeply about fellow group participants. In DBE this is called village-building! During the DBE village-building I added friends to my village!
**The Market and Eric's Finesse**
During the end of our trip we traveled to a market in Kigali. The market is an active entrepreneurial center for many buyers and sellers of local Rwandan goods including: fabrics, seamstresses, collectables, souvenirs, and other items. The AFP group definitely stood out as tourists (remember large groups of white people are not the norm in Rwanda, Africa, and many other places outside of the United States) and we quickly became the center of attention for many sellers (which deserves its own analysis at another time).
Many of us engaged in bartering, which is a tricky game if you haven't had practice. Even with practice, I knew I had the best purchasing power with someone from within the culture, so I was quick to find Eric to help me barter some gear.
Watching Eric work was hilarious, I wish I understood Kinyarwandan to truly understand, but the non-verbals said a lot.
Nonetheless, Eric finessed an amazing deal on a lil sumn' sumn' you all might have already seen at a speaking engagement or a musical performance!
**Views from Kigali**
While in Rwanda, there were several moments I pulled out my phone to capture a place, group, or sight that was beautiful, but stopped. I realized that it was impossible to capture the beauty of many of the moments that I experienced with photo and/or video.
BEing present with Rwanda was how I captured most of it and because of that my soul is forever etched!
Here are some moments I did capture!
Willie, my roomie and fellow African brother (from Burkina Faso), went through transformation during our Rwanda journey that me and others in the group were privileged to witness. One of those transformations led Willie to cut his locs.
Early in the trip, Willie mentioned he wanted to cut his locs for future business endeavors and a desire for change! I suggested that Willie make the memory in Rwanda and I saw the light bulb go off (even though it flickered at times haha).
During some downtime, Eric set up a barber appointment with a local barber and soon after Eric, Willie, and I were on the way to the barbershop.
I remembered how hard it was to see my locs go in college (Yall remember dreadhead Reuben) so I recognized the complex emotions Willie felt, but after some laughter and support my guy Willie transformed into 'new Willie'!
And we documented it all!
Experience with Rwandan Nature
I am grateful to experience the wonder of Rwandan nature. My efforts to describe my experience with Rwandan nature inevitably fall short because the depth of beauty cannot be captured with words. Nonetheless, I will do my best through words and photographs.
**Nyungwe National Park/Colobus Monkey Trekking**
After a 6-hour drive up the hills of Southwest Rwanda (shout out to our driver Noel), we arrived to Nyungwe National Park, one of Africa's oldest (rain)forests. We spent a night in a hotel with an amazing view (see below) and, of course, amazing food and would begin our monkey trek the following morning bright and early (6:30-7 a.m.).
The following day we ate a quick and tasty breakfast and headed to the park. After registration with the park rangers, we sprayed mosquito repellant and were instructed to tuck our pants into our socks to prevent any critters from getting into our clothes. Next, we climbed back on the bus with our guide/park ranger to head to the 'entrance' where we would meet 2 other rangers who would help us track the Colobus monkeys.
Sidenote on Colobus Monkeys: Colobus monkeys are primates that are native to Africa. The word "colobus" in greek means "docked," which describes their genetically stumped thumb. They live in dense rainforests and are important to the ecosystem for (plant) seed dispersal via "sloppy eating habits" and typical digestion. Colobus monkey's greatest predators are humyns that kill the monkeys for meat and destroy rainforest habitats for logging and land development. Can we, as humyns, do better to save the monkeys, ourselves, and the Earth?
As we entered the forest, a sense of humility quickly jolted through me. The rainforest was DENSE and ALIVE. It seemed that with every step, you felt the life underneath and around you. If it were not for the rangers and their machetes creating paths in real time, we would have easily been lost in the rainforest. It was captivating to watch the communication between the Rwandan rangers that used sounds between each other (and sometimes a quick cell phone call to each other) to track the location of the monkeys. We were told at different moments to be still, while the rangers went ahead of us to locate the monkeys.
The rangers helped locate the monkeys, but I had the sense that it was the monkeys who allowed themselves to be found for us to see them. When the rangers pointed out the monkeys, we actually heard them (interesting screeching sounds) before any of us saw them. I think this was the monkeys way of letting fellow monkeys know that humyns were approaching.
After a while we spotted several monkeys, who eventually began to surround our group. It was beautiful, we came to check out the monkeys, but we were being checked out too. We took many pictures, but after a while noticed that the monkeys started dropping shelled fruits (see picture below) and poop, which I knew meant they wanted privacy! In other words, it was time to go!
As we trekked out of the rainforest, I left the rainforest with a renewed respect for nature itself and the consciousness that animals possess. They are 'smarter' than us humyns in ways that we do not always acknowledge (until you're in their home). Moreover, I continued to reflecting to myself...what kind of strength did it take for thousands of Rwandans to flee death by genocide in these rainforests? and survive to tell their stories?...
**Akagera National Park**
During the last few days of our trip, we traveled to Northeastern Rwanda to the Akagera National Park for a 2-day safari trip. The journey to Akagera took about 2-hours and was beautiful. The rural communities, also known as villages, have a beauty and pulse to them that, in my experience, Western media has never portrayed in an empowering way. I will never forget the beauty and energy in these communities. Again, pictures and video do not capture everything, but I think you can get a sense of what I am talking about below.
During the 2-day safari, it was evident, again, that we were the visitors. Akagera is about 463 square miles and has a variety of habitats including savannahs, mountains, and swamps. During the journey we saw many animals including: gazelle, antelope, hippopotami, zebras, baboons, impalas, water buffalo, giraffe, and several other animals that I had never heard of! Oh and the biggest, fattest, persistent, intelligent mosquitos that I've ever seen haha!
Eric was our driver and tour guide. He knows seemingly everything about Akagera and is one hell of a driver. There was a moment during the trek when a HUGE buffalo did not seem so happy to see us, as we were to see it. Next, we watched the buffalo began to charge our 'safari mobile' Everyone was scared, BUT Eric. He helped get us out of dodge! How many friends with nerves of steel do you have?
I left Akagera with a lot of dust in my sinuses and an appreciation for the vast life forms on our planet. There is so much wisdom that these animals use each day to survive and I am thankful to be able to witness their life in person.
How did we get to the place as humyns where we forget the beauty and life in other species on this gravitational ball called Earth?
Before I arrived to Rwanda, I knew the food would be tasty, especially growing up in a Nigerian household, but given my new journey into plant-based eating I was skeptical about my options for food. Nonetheless, I kept an open mind...
I was pleasantly shocked by the tastes of Rwanda.
Rwanda's soil is highly fertile and provides the country with locally grown (i.e. FRESH) coffee, tea, sweet potatoes, beans, corn, peas, millet, plantains, cassava, and fruit. The typical Rwandan diet is high in vegetable and low in meat. In other words, I was in veggie heaven during my trip to Rwanda. For the milk drinkers, Rwanda has high quality, fresh milk! Ask fellow villager Willie, who would earn the name "milk man" for the quantity of consumptions during the trip.
I can easily say that I did not have a 'bad' meal in Rwanda and everything that I ate was flavorful. Actually, the best meal I ate during the trip was made in the Azizi village (beans, avocado, and yam) and had NO SEASONING. Rwanda introduced me to what REAL food tastes like and I will never forget. To be honest, I was tempted to make this blog solely dedicated to food. Maybe on the next trip...
My favorite foods were served often (almost at every meal) and consisted of plantains (stewed, fried), peas, rice, and tropical fruits (bananas, passion fruit, tree tomatoes, pineapple, and more). We also had these croissants at this one hotel (shoutout to Splendid Hotel) that we coined "criscuits" because they were buttery like a croissants, but had the thickness of a biscuit.
Last, I can't forget to mention the infamous sauce known as pili-pili, made from African bird's eye (a chili pepper). The hot sauce is served everywhere and rides a fine line between burning your face off and adding beautiful flavor notes to any dish. I ate this with the peas and plantain often, but only a few drips. Everywhere makes the sauce different, but in each place it was tasty!
I hope the pictures give you a taste of Rwanda! If not, experience it for yourself :) !
I am thankful for the opportunity to learn drama-based education from the Drew Khan and the Anne Frank Project (AFP). The skills are adaptable to various settings (K-12 education, colleges/universities, community agencies, organizations, etc.) and have been vital in my journey as an educator, particularly with helping create spaces for individuals and group transformation.
**What is Drama-based Education**
Drama-based Education (DBE) is an active learning approach that uses the story-building process to engage participants in identity development, community building, and conflict resolution. DBE is participant-driven and challenges participants to utilize their their bodies to create individual and collective stories. The process looks (and feels) silly at times, but the skills and experience developed in the process become a powerful learning tool for future experiences. Sold?
**DBE with the Urokundo Village/Learning Center Teachers**
We return the Urokundo Village, which also includes a primary school called the "Urukundo Learning Center" open to Mama Arlene's 'children' and other local Muhanga children in the village. There are about 702 students in PreK- 6th grade (also known as "primary") and about 32 teachers total at the Urokundo Learning Center.
During the first day of training, we performed our play, Anne Frank in Rwanda 2018, to give teachers a sense of the DBE story telling process and outcome. The play attempts to connect the experience of young children during the Jewish holocaust and Rwandan genocide, in our play, this was Anne Frank and a young Rwanda child. The play was intended to be an icebreaker for Rwanda teachers to show teachers that there is a universal element to story telling.
Following the performance we split into 4 groups based on subject area. I was matched with social studies teachers teaching their students the history of Rwanda! Talk about an amazing opportunity! I get to teach Rwandan educators tools to talk about a rich, beautiful, and gruesome history? I had some nerves about this, but there always is a learning opportunity in a good challenge!
Early in the DBE training always seems to be the most challenging for new DBE participants, because it requires a high level of vulnerability and participation. I remember when Drew came to the University of Missouri College of Education (MizzouEd) for my first DBE experience in 2015. I think I laughed for the first 10 minutes after he introduced the "warm up" activities. Games like "pass the pulse" and "Ka Balls" were judged as childish before. Now, I see them as crucial activities (still hilarious) to bring groups to the present moment and focused on building (stories) as a collective. Plus, I understand the deep wisdom that kids model for adults in their innocence and playful BEing. I think we need more of that in the world! Nonetheless, in Rwanda, it was my turn to be the goofball and ask for presence and focus to tell the story of the Rwandan social studies teachers!
My co-facilitator, Maddie , and I introduced the "warm up" games/activities that would help our teachers build their stories as a collective. The goal of these warm-up activities are to get teachers to challenge any tendency to overly intellectualize educational content for students and to challenge them to use their voice and body to BE the content that they want to teach and learn. After the introduction, I modeled many of the games/activities we would use, which meant being goofy, which if you know me, is super easy for me. I think this modeling helped the Rwandan educators feel comfortable trying the new style of learning. Shortly after the introduction of the activities, I noticed the teachers began to own the activities as their own evident by the group participation. I could tell these educators were committed to learning skills that would help them develop as educators, even if that meant leaving their comfort zone!
Next, our social studies teachers broke Rwanda history into 3 domains for student understanding (pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial Rwanda). We spent time discussing what these themes meant to each participants and important elements that they wanted to include in a story about each domain. We would use this infomration to create stories during the next day of training.
On the second day, it was apparent the teachers quickly owned the DBE skills as their own (i.e. stopped thinking content and began BEcoming/acting content) and were ready to use the skills to tell the story of Rwanda's history. I noticed many smiles and bright energy from the Rwandan educators, maybe best described as a sense of freedom. Asking educators, to stop thinking and BE the content they want to teach is not easy and challenges a traditional "know it all" model for many educators across culture. Nonetheless, the Rwandan teachers responded positively to the challenge. In the stories of Rwandan history, the teachers told shared powerful stories about the beauty of Rwanda during pre-colonial times which included prospering agriculture, trade, informal educational pratices and cultural practices. They also discussed the challenging moments during colonial times in Rwanda which included the introduction of missionaries, segregation, war, genocide, and resistance.
**Reflections on the Training with Urokundo Educators**
Discussing Rwandan history with Rwandan educators was fun and inspiring, but this was no easy task. Out of respect for Rwandans and Rwandan culture, I had to become a learner to learn the nuance of Rwandan culture that I could not have learned from any documentary or article online. For instance, I knew a lot of the facts related to the Rwandan genocide from articles and documentaries; however, nothing compares to the personal stories of Rwandans that experienced the genocide, many of which were in my group. The beauty of DBE is that it does not impose content on participant, but only requires that participants be allowed to tell personal stories unique to the content agreed on by participants. This is in line with Paulo Freire's work in the Pedagogy of the Oppressed; how can people use the their story and experiences and mutual collaboration to develop knowledge and use it to create change?
Other challenges associated with teaching across culture included language barriers, as a monolingual English speaker, and nuances associated with collectivistic culture. As previously discussed in the blog, most Rwandans speak Kinyarwandan, while only some speak English fluently or as a first language (more youth will speak English because it is now taught alongside Kinyarwandan and French in Primary schools in Rwanda). This presented challenges in communication for me as a facilitator. For example, there were times I wanted to give directions for group activities and recognized that I was speaking English too fast to be understood and, for some, that the language barrier was too great to be understood at all (I learned quickly that I have taken communication for granted as an English speaker in a English speaking country. I challenge you to place yourself in environment/s where English in not the first language spoken. I think you will have a humbling experience that will give you an idea of what I'm attempting to describe.) Luckily, I had several amazing translators in my group and used this challenge as an opportunity to practice my DBE skills as a facilitator, specifcally by using the combination of voice and body to (i.e. non-verbal communication) to enhance communicate with participants.
Next, I soon became aware of the depth of collectivism in Rwandan/African culture. There is an activity called the "Machine Game" where participants build an abstract machine based on a common theme (e.g. We built a "love machine" and a "Rwanda Pre-Colonial Machine"). Participants are asked to join the machine one-by-one and perform original functions of the machine using only voice and body. At first, 3-4 teachers would join the machine together and would perform the same voice and body movement as other teachers. I was confused about why this was happening, particularly after modeling the activity with my co-facilitator. After a while Drew stopped by and reminded me to remain patient with the group. As Westerners, our individualism can create blind spots in how we interact with ourselves and our outside world. In this instance, I was witnessing the collective nature of educators in a collectivistic country. What may have been perceived as doing the 'wrong thing,' really was a beautiful cultural nuance. I am thankful I witnessed this level of collectivism, which is different than what I have been exposed to in the U.S.
During the final day or training, we were invited into our teachers' classrooms to watch our teachers implement the newly learned DBE skills! I was impressed to see the teachers own the skills as their own and engage their students in DBE! The litmus test was the smiles exchanged between students and educator. Every student was involved in a way that might be difficult to find in the typical U.S. public school. As outlined in DBE education framework, it is crucial that DBE remain fluid and customizable to unique educational and contextual demands (i.e. culturally sensitive and adaptable). Given what I observed, I imagine that our Rwandan educators will continue to adapt the DBE skills, as I have as an educator, to meet unique content, student, and culture needs.
The 3-day teacher training was exhausting considering the emotional and physical investment, but it was well worth the energy exchange. I believe these skills can free many educators and students from the indoctrination machine that we have come to know as education. Nonetheless, at the end of each training day, I looked forward to hanging out with the Urokundo village kids. These fun and curious children even asked questions about what they observed their teachers learning during the DBE training. They were excited to hear that their teachers were learning new skills to be better teachers and expressed gratitude for helping make their teachers better at their job!
I am grateful for the opportunity to teach across culture, particularly in Rwanda. Despite challenges in communication and cultural differences, I feel a greater sense of connectedness to our global (humyn) story that I believe we are writing everyday. With my teaching experience in Rwanda, I feel better prepared to navigate the challenges and successes of teaching, formally and/or informally across culture, particularly using the power inherent in our individual and collective stories.
A lil' teaching preparation never hurt anyone!
The story built and performed (Part 1)!!!
The story built and performed (Part 2)!!! Can you guess what is happening in this story?!
Another story built and performed! You see the smiles (and co-facilitator, Maddie :) )
Team Kabiri (#2) 4Life!
2 Team Kabiri members/educators using DBE in their classroom during the final day of training! Twas a beautiful sight <3 !
Urokundo hangin' post-workshop!
I am grateful for the opportunity to practice sacrifice, a form of non-attachment. This practice has enabled me to push myself into uncharted territory emotionally, intellectually, and in my life adventure.
Sacrifice, in my experience, means to give up something in favor of something else. This has meant allowing myself to let go of things (comforts, expectations, assumptions) I can not control and taking responsibility for matters I can control. At times, sacrifice has been difficult because I have felt like I was losing something; however, I now realize I always gain something in return.
Rwanda has provide opportunities to practice sacrifice.
**Pre-Rwanda Sacrifice/Sister's Wedding**
Last Fall (2017), I was asked by my sister to play guitar at her wedding. I was honored and hyped about the idea and immediately started brainstorming what the performance would look like and which one of my girlfriends (i.e. my guitars) I would bring to the matrimony. She wanted me to sing Shania Twain's This Moment On which was vocally a stretch, but I figured I could get another family to sing while I played (smart right?!)!!
Then, the opportunity to join the Drew Kahn and the Anne Frank Project in Rwanda. I remember having 3 days to make the decision before the application deadline closed. Talk about experiencing cognitive dissonance...
I could go to my sister's wedding, but I did not see another opportunity to leave the country in the foreseeable future, especially considering my year-long pre-doctoral internship and my desire to become a licensed psychologist following internship (i.e. additional time completing clinical training). I also felt that I would disappoint my sister for missing what I believed was a once in a life time event.
After a phone call with my sister, I was happy to receive her support to go to Rwanda. I also knew (truly only felt) that deep down she still wanted me at her wedding. After sifting through the confusion and emotions, my inner voice screamed RWANDA.
I would listen to this voice and decided to join the AFP in Rwanda. This decision meant I would miss my sister's wedding while away in Rwanda, which was difficult for me (and I imagine difficult for my sister even though she never expressed this) emotionally, but I knew that I would gain something.
My sister's wedding was this past weekend and that day I experienced sadness that brought some tears early in the day; however, after soaking up some (African) sun and hanging with some kids, I realized the reason I sacrificed to come to Rwanda. I gave up my physical presence at my sister's wedding, to gain a life altering experience as a teacher, facilitator, and humyn soul. Moreover, I have only received love and support in return from family and friends (including my sister) since my decision to come to Rwanda.
Though I was not physically present, I was able to contribute to the wedding by writing a speech and singing the Shania Twain song she asked me to sing during the wedding ceremony.
Check out the song, without the speech, below!
** Sacrifice while in Rwanda **
Since my arrival in Rwanda, I have had additional opportunities to practice sacrifice.
For example, prior to my arrival, I planned to write a daily blog post during my trip in Rwanda to share what I believed would be a rich learning experience with family and friends. This frequency would require consistent internet connection, which I believed would be available. However, though Rwanda has powerful Wi-Fi capabilities and technology in larger cities such as Kigali, we would eventually venture out of the capital city into more rural areas and hotels, where internet connection was inconsistent. I had to give up my beliefs about how frequently I would blog, which was not favorable. However, sacrificing this frequency in posting has allowed me more time to process the experience in Rwanda. This is the reason you see less frequent posts to the blog. Moreover, I realized that I can continue my blog after my trip to Rwanda and still be able to share the experience, while giving myself time and space to process the experience! Win-Win?!
Another example, includes the sacrifice of comfort in being able to communicate with fellow humyns. Though English is an official language of Rwanda, all Rwandans do not readily speak English or prefer speaking in English. I understand this choice, particularly when I consider the privilege and preference I have in the United States (U.S.) of speaking, writing, and reading in English. For this reason, English language learners are challenged by their inability to fluently speak, read, and/or write in English, which often means these people are left out of conversations, literally and figuratively.
Though we have had an amazing translator in Eric, my newest Rwandan friend and our guide during the trip, I felt "othered" when I could not connect with some Rwandans because of my inability to speak Kinyarwandan, the native language of the country. This was most apparent when working with some Rwandan teachers and wanting to communicate nuance in my instruction. In terms of sacrifice, I lost my ability to communicate in the traditional fashion that I might in the U.S., but I also gained a sensitivity to body language and use of non-verbal expression to aid in communication; in addition to humility and compassion for those in the U.S. who do not speak English, it can feel alienating.
These are only a few of the ways I have been challenged to sacrifice. Others sacrifices include: consistent hot shower during the journey, proximity to loved ones, the ability to attend events with friends and loved ones, 'vacation' time, and many more.
Nonetheless, regardless of the specific sacrifice, I am grateful for the ability to find the lesson/wisdom/growth/opportunity/benefit in sacrifice (a form of non-attachments).
My heart and mind are open to whatever is ahead.
The Power of (Rwadan) Womyn
On Thursday, June 7, 2018 we visited the Azizi community to immerse ourselves in the experience in the life of the Azizi community and family. We arrived at about 7:30 a.m. to meet the Azizi womyn in the community. (We were originally expected to begin the experience at 4 a.m., since this is when the Azizi womyn begin their daily activities, but that was a bit early considering our schedule and the 6 hour drive we had to our next location later in the day.) During the visit we were invited to participate in typical daily activities in the community. One Azizi womyn in the community hosted our group in her home and involved 8 other Azizi womyn, 3 babies, and several small children who brought innocence and youthful bliss to the experience. The Azizi womyn gave us a warm welcome in Kinyerwandan, which was translated by two translators who led us into their community. Though language acted as a barrier to direct (verbal) communication, there was a welcoming undeniable communal presence that was communicated verbally through our translators and nonverbally through our hosts (nonverbal) vibrations that made myself and others feel connected.
During our short visit, we were taught how the Azizi womyn prepped yams, cooked, cared for their children, wrapped traditional clothing (for the womyn in our group), constructed/designed their homes, traveled for water, and cared for their cows. These experiences were challenging and made me consider the level of convenience (i.e. privilege) we live with in the United States of America. For example, we trekked almost a mile down and up a hill (with unpredictable terrain and bush, at least for us Westerners) to fill water jugs with water to cook and wash with. The size of jug ranged from less than a gallon to 20 gallons in volume. As you might imagine, when filled, these jugs became heavy quickly, particularly on the way back up the incline to the home! When we made it back from filling the jugs we all were out of breath and the womyn gave us warm smiles after witnessing our fatigue. An Azizi womyn shared that Azizi womyn (and children) made the trip 3 times a day, sometimes with firewood, and a baby on their back. When was the last time you had to hike for water? with child? and firewood?
Another impressive moment in the immersion came when learning about how the cow is revered, cared for, and nurtured in the community. In Rwanda (and other African countries), the cow is seen as a symbol of economic success and wealth. The cow provides manure for crops, milk for children and cooking, and is used as a gift (e.g. dowry-gift for bride; we bought a cow for our hosts that we will give later in the trip to show appreciation to our hosts.)
The Azizi womyn took us to a crop of "elephant" leaves that are prickly and inedible to humyns; however, the crops are tasty to cows and highly nutritious (as opposed to the corn-based feed we feed cows in the U.S. that are heavily processed and have questionable nutritional benefits to the animals that ingest the feed). We were taught to how to chop the plant, tie the plant in bundles using banana leaves, and carry the leaves on our heads to the cows (see below)! When we arrived to the home of the cows it was obvious that the Azizi community cared for the cows deeply. For example, after feeding a cow we saw that an elder cooking in a hut next to a cow and her newborn to assure the care of the mother and calf post-birth.
Later, we learned how the Azizi womyn used plant fibers and dyes to make bracelets, ate a traditional home cooked meal, and sang and danced to celebrate our meeting and time together.
The collectivism in the Azizi community was powerful to experience. As participants in their lifestyle, I recognized the convenience (i.e. privilege) we are afforded in the U.S. It is difficult to understand this if you have never experienced life without electricity, running water/plumbing, vehicles, etc. Nonetheless, the Azizi community does not let this prevent them from living with joy and happiness. Actually, in some ways, their lifestyle is far more 'advanced' than ours because they co-exist with each other in a way that we have yet to figure out in the U.S. How many times have you and members of your community come together to cook meals, co-parent, welcome visitors to the community, and engage in song and dance together?
I left this experience with a greater understanding of the strength, beauty, and challenges of living as a Rwandan Azizi womyn.
**Rwandan Womyn & Leadership**
Rwanda is advanced in its development of womyn in the society, which appears to be intentional considering the brutal experiences of Rwandan womyn during the genocide. For example, sexual violence and other forms of violence against womyn were weaponized on a massive scale during the genocide in 1994 against the Tutsi people to further the political goals of Hutu extremists (Tutsi and Hutu womyn were both victims of this violence from both sides). Now, Rwanda has taken steps to place womyn in positions of power and now has more womyn per capita in leadership than any country in Africa. For example, there is a mandate that 1/3 of Rwanda's parliament must be womyn. Today, 64% of Rwanda's parliament are womyn, which is nearly double the mandate. President Kagame and Rwandan's understand the strength, courage, and leadership ability of womyn, which I have had the opportunity witnessed first hand with the Azizi womyn, Rwandan womyn, and womyn in my personal life.
What do you think the world would be with womyn in leadership positions? How many wars have womyn started in our world? How many womyn are in leadership positions in our country?
Collecting "elephant" grass to feed the cows!
Happy cow eating elephant grass :)
The best tasting yam, avocado, and beans I've ever tasted (no seasoning necessary).
The AFP village and some of the Azizi womyn.
I am grateful for the depth of this trip. The moment I feel as though I have a level of understanding of Rwandan culture and the genocide, I learn more that challenges me reconsider my thoughts, feelings, and my role in the world as a change agent.
Before we left Kigali, we had a final rehearsal in the front yard of the hostel in Kigali. The play continues to improve as we increase our number of repetitions as a group. It is impressive that many of us are not trained actors, but have found ways to use our emotions to 'be' actors. I think we each are finding ways to use the play as a tool to process our emotions and learning about the genocide, which seems to add a powerful and organic feel to our play. We will likely perform our play tomorrow and possibly everyday for the rest of the trip. I love stretching myself in new roles. However, in some ways I'm comfortable with this challenge because life itself in my mind seems like a movie and maybe we are all actors (This revelation is another blog experience).
During this rehearsal time, we also prepared for our 3-day teacher training with Rwandan teachers. We plan to engage social studies, science & technology, and math educators in drama-based education, which aims to help teachers use stories to engage their students. Drama-based education has informed my own teaching style with much success and allows students to take a break from over intellectualizing their education. Instead, this style of learning utilizes the power of story to engage students in their learning experience. The challenge with this type of education is that TEACHERS MUST CARE ABOUT THIER STUDENTS. In other words, students and their stories matter.
This type of education requires teachers develop vulnerability and relationships with each student to allow students the freedom to create their story and educational experience. The beauty of this type of learning is that it reminds students that they matter in the educational experience and it can be useful in any topic area (even the 'hard' sciences) with any group of people (students, teachers, organizations, etc.). This seems to be opposite from how most of us were educated, particularly in the culture of standardized testing and the school-to-prison pipeline.
I'm looking forward to facilitating this training to share this weapon for transformational educational experiences.
**Belgium Peacekeepers Memorial**
Today we visited another memorial site. I imagine as a reader these memorial visits may seem repetitive, but for me, each memorial/site we have visited holds a unique message about the Rwanda genocide, history, and humanity. The common theme across each of these memorial experiences is that the death that occurred at each of these sites was senseless.
At the site, we learned of the courageous actions of 10 Belgium soldiers placed in Rwanda on a United Nations peacekeeping mission prior to the Rwandan genocide. The soldiers were underarmed and understaffed due to rules of engagement of non-engagement and reluctance from the international community (United States of America, France, Belgium, etc.) to bolster support for the Belgium UN peacekeeping force.
See this article for more details on the UN Assistance Mission In Rwanda and events that led to the deaths of the 10 Belgium peacekeepers:
The ambush by Hutu extremists and their accomplices was ugly (see photo below). The aggressors were equipped with assault rifles, grenades, and artillery shells, while the UN peacekeepers only had several handguns and limited ammunition to defend themselves. In other words, the 10 UN peacekeepers did not stand a chance and were eventually over taken after a courageous commitment to their peacekeeping mission.
This event would be the catalyst for continued genocidal events, particularly after Hutu extremists realized that the international community would not prioritize intervention to stop the violence.
Inaction is a requisite to genocide.
We took a 1.5-2 hour trip to Muhunga, a rural community Southwest of Kigali. In Muhunga we met a Rwanda hero named Mama Arlene. We sat in Mama Arlene's living room and received a brief history the Urukondo Learning Center, a primary school for PreK-6th grade students she created in Rwanda. We also learned that Mama Arlene received her name from adopting unwanted children in Rwanda for decades. She started with one child, which eventually increased to dozens.
As an educator, she has provided education for all of the children she had 'adopted' and opened up a learning center for other local children who might not have the opportunity otherwise. She now teaches about 700 students with a group of 32 teachers. These students are provided with a one of the best primary school education in Rwanda (rated #2 in Rwanda) and are provided with opportunities to engage in arts, recreational activities, and development of trades.
No lie, I had second thoughts about a white womyn being called "Mama" by African kids. This thought triggered my thoughts about colonialism in Africa. However, I held this thought lightly and continued to listen to Mama Arlene tell her story about her work with Rwandan children.
The reality is that without Mama Arlene's philantropic humanitarian work many of children would be in dismal situations and environments.
Mama Arlene is a revolutionary for humanity, which transcends racial separateness.
Mama Arlene can teach each of us a lot.
After a meal with children at Mama Arlene's home, we sang and danced with the kids! We will return on Saturday to perform our play and deliver the drama-based education workshop to the educators at Mama Arlene's school, the Urukondo Learning Center. We also will be able to spend more time with Mama Arlene to learn more about her story. I am looking forward to this learning!
My heart and mind are open to whatever is ahead.
On break from rehearsal!
Belgian Peacekeepers Memorial
Mama Arlene & Drew
Replaying the Drama
I am grateful for the opportunity to learn about the Rwandan genocide in Rwanda, develop my skills as a performer and educator, and to help fellow educators, students, and community members learn to share their stories using drama-based education.
After a tasty breakfast (see below), we began rehearsing our play "Anne Frank in Rwanda 2018," a story about the Jewish holocaust and Rwandan genocide. Since January 2018, I have been meeting with Drew Kahn and fellow villagers via Skype to help create the play. Today was the first day that we were all physically together to rehearse the play.
The play tells the story of Anne Frank and a fictional character named "Anana," who could be one of thousands of youth that survived the Rwandan genocide. The mutual connections between the Jewish and Rwandan genocides and experiences ideally will help audience members see the interconnectedness between the conditions that incited the genocide which led to massacres of the Rwandan and Jewish people.
In the play, each of us plays either Anne Frank or Anana and we all perform ensemble parts where we each speak. We have created a powerful work of art that we hope Rwandans and other humyns should be able to readily connect with. I haven't had any formal acting training (outside of this humyn experience :), so I appreciate the opportunity to develop these performance skills. Throughout our rehearsals, Drew reminds us to "stop thinking and begin acting through the body/heart." (D. Khan is an theater professor but often times doubles as a philosopher/Buddhist monk at times)
We will rehearse the play again tomorrow and begin the performance (and teacher training-more on this later) in the next few days!
I am looking forward to this energy exchange with our future audiences! We have come a long way as individuals and a collective/village and I believe what we are learning through our experience in Rwanda should make the play informative and empowering for our ourselves audiences.
We shall see if I am right about this hunch.
**Nyamata Memorial Visit**
After another tasty lunch (Are you seeing the trend with Rwandan food and I?), we took a 45-minute drive to the Nyamata Genocide Memorial, a church about 19 miles South of Kigali. The church in Nyamata was a refuge for Tutsi people before and during the Rwandan genocide in 1994. The Hutu-majority government and other perpetrators of the genocide against the Tutsi's attacked the church during the genocide where about 10,000 Tutsi people were seeking refuge. The church, initially locked from the inside by Tutsi people seeing refuge, was infiltrated by Hutu extremists by throwing grenades inside of the building and using machetes, clubs, and guns to kill the remaining Tutsi people in the church.
We were guided through the memorial and witnessed the damage to the building caused by grenades and hundreds of bullets. We also were given the option to view some of the remains of several hundred of the victims from the massacre. There are 44,000 people buried at this memorial. Each time I consider the causes of the Rwandan genocide of 1994 and the events that led up to this carnage, I ask, why?
I never am able to come up with a 'good' answer.
On the casket of one of the victims a note was written in Kinyarwandan, the official language of Rwanda, that said, "If they knew you and knew themselves they would not have killed you."
The challenge for humyns seems to be to remember what we really are, not who we think we are...
We have been warned that the days ahead will be more difficult as we begin to perform, teach, and learn the stories of Rwandans affected by the genocide. I'm ready...
My heart and mind are open to whatever is ahead.
Another tasty breakfast
Another tasty lunch after a GREAT 1st group rehearsal.
The entrance to Nyamata Genocide Memorial, another powerful learning experience in Rwanda.
A beautiful, powerful reminder found on the Nyamata memorial grounds.
See You Later Comfort Zone
I am grateful for the richness of experience granted today! I woke up at 3:30 a.m. due to some jet lag. It seemed like others in my room were up in the room but no one wanted to wake anyone else up haha. Nonetheless, I got up and had a “compound workout” with some of the stones outside of our hostel (Shout our to Coach T for those junk yard workouts). After a short while a few others joined and we had a nice sized workout group! Energy is contagious.
**Mall trip/Cash Exchange**
After a lovely breakfast, we went to a local mall to exchange our U.S dollars for Rwandan Frances. The southerner in me attempted to connect with everyone I saw at the mall by making eye contact and smiling at passers, but I quickly learned I was not in the South based on the looks I was receiving. Rwandans were looking at me like something was wrong with me (I get these looks in the US too), maybe as if I was a tourist! :)
After a conversation with Drew, I learned Rwandans tend to be more quiet and subtle in communication, especially nonverbal communication. So instead of the head nod up or down (i.e. like the what’s up gesture) and a smile, a subtle eyebrow gesture expressed the humyn connection I was looking for. After some practice with Drew, I started to get the response I was looking for from the locals. This learning sequence reminded me how culture is vastly different and similar, at the same time. We all want to connect, but have different avenues to achieve that connection.
Another interesting observation from our time at the mall was the representation in advertisements. I sometimes forget that U.S. media and pop culture socializes us to see our white brothers and sisters as the ‘default’ demographic in our country, while everyone else is ‘other.’ I realized this after experiencing the droves of dark skinned Rwandans/Africans and noticing the people of color in advertisements around the city. I have a better understanding of why our white brothers and sister have developed and sometimes maintain a superiority complex over people of color. It truly is empowering to see yourself represented in the society.
**Womyn’s Center/Community Tour**
Next, we went to the Nyamirambo Womyn’s Center in Kigali, a community center launched in 2007 by 18 women to provide education and skills training to disadvantaged womyn to enhance better opportunities for employment. This community offered free classes in literacy, English, computer skills, crafts and sewing, and empowerment training on gender-based violence, and responsible community-based tourism. One of their initiative, a “Responsible Community-Based Tourism Initiative,” offers tours through the urban environment of Kigali in a format that is informative for tourist, but does not exploit the community like so many tourists have in the past and continue to do today.
We took the community walking tour and explored a beautiful community. We met elders, visited seamstresses, local hairstylists, witnessed how the community sustained itself via trade and crops, watched how trade of goods occurs in the community, and ended with a tasty meal prepared for us at the end of the tour. It is impressive to witness true community. For example, during our tour a group member had to use the bathroom. I didn’t get the sense that there was a bathroom nearby; however our amazing tour guide, Sylvia, knocked on what seemed like a random door and was given access to a bathroom. For me, this highlighted a deep interconnectedness within the community of Rwandans/Africans that isn’t typical, in my experience, in the U.S.
Would you let a 'stranger' use your bathroom at your house?
I am grateful for the trip to the Kigali genocide memorial. During the visit we saw the government’s efforts to remember the genocide against the Tutsi people. I walked into the memorial thinking that my trauma work with survivors in therapy would have prepared me for the gravity of what I would witness, but I underestimated the power of story.
The site has several beautiful gardens and a grave site for about 250,000 of the 1 million+ Rwandans killed in 100 days in 1994. We each carried an audio recorder that had pre- recorded description of the intent behind each of the gardens at the memorial site. Everything was intentional and told a story of pre-colonial Rwanda, Rwanda during the genocide, and the reconciliation process that continues today. I opted not to take pictures out of respect for the victims and survivors, especially since most Rwandans, including employees working at the memorial site, were affected by the genocide.
After entering the main memorial site things became significantly more challenging emotionally for me. I understand (cognitively) what happened in Rwanda including the colonial establishment of an ethnic-based classification based on arbitrary features (I.e Hutus, Tutsis), collusion of the French government that funded genocidal rebels, and failure from the international community to proactively address pre-genocidal violence that could have prevented the entire genocide from taking place.
Again, if you haven’t watched Ghosts of Rwanda it gives a historical overview the genocide. However, despite this background, nothing could have prepared me for the stories of the Rwandan genocide. Right now, I don’t have the emotional capacity to put words to my feelings but if you can try to imagine your closest family friend/s being convinced by mainstream media/propoganda that you and your relatives are less than humyn because of false pretenses. Next, your entire family is captured, tortured (e.g raped, dismembered, etc), and murdered while you watched (or even being forced to engage in the violence towards your own family).
These actions occurred for 100 days and ended the lives of over 1 million people. Over 2/3 of the country was displaced (divide the U.S.A. Into 3 parts and image 2/3 being forced from their homes due to genocide). I still am not in the space to fully understand what I saw, but I was able to have a good cry by myself in the “Peace Room” in the memorial. In this room, people come to process and sit with their emotions. A Rwandan womyn came seemingly out of no where and gave me kleenex for my tears. As I sat next to a window in the Peace Room, a perfectly timed rain occurred to help me process and was away the sorrow that overtook me (Thank you Universe). From this pain, I was confronted with a question:
How do we, as humyns, become so far removed from our “shared humanity” that we begin to inflict violence on other humyns? entire groups of humyns?
After my cry, I was able to reconnect with the group. We were lucky to time our visit to the memorial at the 24th “Kwibuka,” an annual government-sanctioned time of remembrance of the genocide. We were each given a bouquet and roses to place on the tombs of victims of the genocide. This was a heavy moment for everyone as everyone seemed to carry the burden of the genocide and also understand the senselessness in the entire ordeal. We engaged in community breaths as a group and were given space to process our thoughts and feelings in the present. Drew helped facilitate this process, which was both cathartic and therapeutic. I think being present wit these emotions was preparation to deliver a meaningful play for our audiences in the coming days and for visits to the actual locations where the genocide occurred in Rwanda.
Today was heavy and I am thankful for this emotional experience. I think my experience with sadness, frustration, and anger allowed me to empathize with those who have been unable to forgive themselves and others following the genocide. But also, hope is very much alive. The community we visited earlier experienced the horrors of the genocide and have found avenues to reconcile with each other (both victims and perpetrators) and create self-sustaining communities of Rwandans (not Tutsi and Hutu).
There is much wisdom to learn from in Rwanda and its people.
My heart and mind are open to whatever is ahead!
My face when I noticed the amount Black people in ads.
You won't see this in the U.S. :)
This is our AMAZING guide Sylvia teaching us how cassava is processed in the community.
Another home cooked, tasty plate, of course veggie/vegan friendly.
Me at the Kigali memorial center.
The Arrival 'Home.'
We are in Rwanda!
I am grateful for safe travels and the beauty of Rwanda/Africa!
To be honest, my senses are overloaded by the beauty of Rwanda/Africa. I can’t quite put everything it into words yet.
Some of my initial observations include the radiance of the sun, the kindness from our hosts, and the cleanliness of Kigali, the capital city.
First, friends and family (my parents are Nigerian) have shared how Africa is 'different' and 'unique,' but now I understand for myself. The sun, my favorite source of inspiration, is simply different here. The way the sun hits your skin and speaks to the soul is unique and unlike anything I’ve felt in Georgia, Missouri, California, or any other place I’ve been.
Next, our host Eric, a 34 year-old Rwandan native, is a beautiful humyn soul. He and another gentle humyn, named Noel, helped us load our bags in a van and took us to our hostel. Eric has a sunny spirit and smiles often! My kind of friend! I can tell his knowledge and passion for his home is vast and he appreciates sharing it with us. I will learn plenty from Eric and his story.
Last, I noticed how pristine the city of Kigali. Drew had told us about the governments efforts to maintain a pristine country by taking proactive steps such as banning plastic bags from entering the country (you can get fined up to $6 dollars if you bring them into the airport). On the way to our hostel, I could not find any trash littered on the streets or sidewalks. This was a major departure from what I saw in NYC during my layover before meeting the group for travel. We can learn a lot from Rwanda and how we care about our country.
Our primary location during our stay in Rwanda is called the Discovery Rwanda Hostel located in Kigali. The hostel is dormitory style. Drew, Alice, Eve, and Liz are faculty (or friends of faculty) and have their own rooms. Students, me included, share two rooms segregated by gender: 4 guys in 1 Room (Andrew, Sean, Willie, and me-Reuben) and 3 womyn (Lizzy, René, Maddie) in another.
This set up is new for me since I had football privilege when I was at UGA and was granted access to suite-style dorms on campus during my first year. These suites included multiple bathrooms and single rooms for 4 or 2 students (shout out to ECV 1512-326 & Rooker-104). Nonetheless, this intimate living seems to be an opportunity to develop deeper relationships with my fellow villagers! I’m looking forward to learning more about their stories.
I have an open mind and heart to whatever is ahead in the journey.
Questions for you?
The Radiant (Rwandan) Sun
Our Primary Home
Views (from the Hostel)
Our First Meal (Veggie/Vegan Friendly)
Greetings Fellow Humyns BEings!
I am Reuben Faloughi, a fifth year doctoral candidate studying psychology at the University of Missouri (UM). I recently defended my dissertation and will move to Gainesville, Florida at the end of Summer 2018 to finish my doctoral training at the University of Florida as a psychology intern.
Before graduate school, I had the opportunity to play Division I football at the University of Georgia (UGA) during my four years in undergraduate. During each of these milestones, I have wanted to travel abroad, especially since my family is Nigerian and many of my siblings have returned to 'the motherland' to visit. However, given my commitment to athletics and academic work during college and graduate school travel was nearly impossible...until NOW!
After committing to the trip in Fall 2017, I have maintained steady excitement about this journey. Now, I feel (excitement) knots in my stomach as I await the 18-hour journey to what I believe will be a life altering learning experience.
You might be wondering how I made it to this point?
In August 2015, I was invited to participate in Drew Kahn's drama-based education workshop, a 3-day workshop held in the University of Missouri's College of Education. The workshop aimed to help myself and 12 other participants (including faculty, staff, students; see photo below) develop skills to use our personal and collective stories as tools for community building, identity exploration, and conflict resolution. At the time, I remember walking into the workshop with plenty of (righteous) anger and frustration considering my experiences with individual and institutional racism at the University. However, by the time the workshop ended, I had a renewed sense of the deep interconnectedness between each of us, also referred to as "our shared humanity." Immediately following the workshop, I would begin using the techniques and language learned in the workshop during the Fall 2015 student movement at the UM, speaking engagements, therapy, and within classroom settings.
I am honored to join Drew and 11 fellow 'villagers' as a representative of the Anne Frank Project and the United States of America (yes, the good, the bad, and the ugly) during our journey to Rwanda. During our trip, we plan to engage in collaborative learning with our hosts, specifically by engaging teachers in drama-based education training, performing an original play, learning about Rwandan culture, and the reconciliation process that has continued since the genocide of the Tutsi people in 1994. (If you do not know about this genocide, you should check out the documentary Ghosts of Rwanda: https://youtu.be/VJAuyIRfYIM )
My goal with this blog is to detail my learning and internal processes during our journey in Rwanda. I plan to make this blog interactive so that you and others can join in the learning process.
If you have ideas for content, questions, or comments, please feel free to leave feedback below or contact me at www.ReubenFaloughi.com .
Fall 2015 Mizzou 'Village'
Reuben Faloughi, M.Ed., is a fifth-year doctoral candidate studying psychology at the University of Missouri (MU). He recently defended his dissertation, which examined the effects of an intergroup dialogue-based diversity and social justice course on students' multicultural development. The course, now required for all MU College of Education students, was heavily influenced by personal experiences in the AFP/Dr. Kahn's drama-based education training, Division I athletics, the Fall 2015 student movement at MU, and other transformational life experiences. Reuben will complete his Ph.D. on internship at the University of Florida and graduate in Spring 2019. For more visit: