Last night I finished washing some clothes for the week ahead. Luckily it isn't raining so they should dry rather quickly.
Breakfast had this eggplant/tomato looking fruit. I texted it to a friend in Buffalo as I was hesitant as to what it was. His response: "it is a tamarillo. It is good for your blood. Don't be picky, eat it" so I did and it had this tangy bitter taste that was surprisingly pleasant.
In the morning we went to the Les Enfants de Dieu transitional housing to work with the children. It was located in more of what felt a rural area of Kigali. The boys immediately ran up and grabbed our hands, and we all went into their main hall to sit and be paired into groups for storytelling games. It was so wonderful to see these boys in action and really watch them expressing themselves in such a positive way. I was paired with Monique, and when we got to a game where we turned our bodies into machines, the boys were creating moving bicycles, donkeys, horses, and from one group a barber shop! It was interesting to see the items chosen and in such frequency, as it sheds light as to their lives prior to the transitional housing.
After the exercises were over, the director Charles took us for a tour across the grounds. I took special interest in hearing how they utilize empowerment with the children, and how much they use positive reinforcement to normalize activities we take for granted such as brushing our teeth, reading, and waking up at night to use the bathroom.
In our group was the psychologist (Louise) for the agency, and it was so great to begin a connection with her, as they utilize trauma informed interventions in all of their work. We exchanged cards and Whatsapp numbers to keep in contact and share information.
We departed and went to a place called MindLeaps, and showed the students who were waiting for lunch an exercise (we made an ice cream machine that was filled with children's smiles and laughter). They then asked us some questions and showed off some dance moves before their lunch was ready and we departed.
\nLunch was at the very upscale Hôtel des Mille Collines, better known by us Americans as "Hotel Rwanda." It was surreal for me to watch children and adults play in the pool, and the air of normalcy. In the lot there is a plaque and flame in remembrance of the genocide, and the role the hotel played.
At last we had an afternoon of 'down time.' I called up a friend's family member and she came over with her friend and also her two sons. When I met her all I could do was cry at first because I just couldn't believe it. We spent quite a while hugging before going to a cafe to sit and have some pop. I updated her on her family and showed her a present I got for her mom.
These children are spitting images of their relatives in the states and I did not want to let them go. They were so sweet and calm. At around 530 they left, as their home takes a while by bus and the kids had school in the morning. Hopefully soon she will be in the US! (Fingers crossed!)
Dinner was at a restaurant called 'Zen' and then we returned to the hotel. Tomorrow we pack up everything and depart first for Nyamata to visit a church memorial of the genocide, and then on to Muhanga to finish out the week.
This morning I woke up to a man singing hymns and rain absolutely pouring down. I went and grabbed a cup of coffee and met another friend before eating breakfast to drop off some gifts from her family in Buffalo. She was all dressed up for Eid today (national holiday here!), and I wish I got a picture of her outfit- it was a stunning mauve colour. After chatting for a bit she left to begin celebrations in her neighbourhood and I went back to breakfast.
\nWe did storytelling practice all morning. This was the first time we all were together as an in-person group participating in these activities. We began with our warm-up games and then went right into building our stories, taking snippets of our emotions from the day before at the Kigali Genocide Memorial and inserting them into the sketches as appropriate. Even though it was a bit exhausting, it helped to build our bonding as a group.
Lunch was at a very nice buffet. I have become a large fan of fish soup in these two days.
After lunch we stopped by the Kimironko Market. I bought some kitenga, traditional cloth, for myself and some community members and bracelets for friends. Honestly everything was so cheap I didn't mind not haggling as much as I could have. For example: each piece of kitenga (4yd) I bought was only $10 and was hand dyed and from the DRC. If I were to buy this in Buffalo it could be easily $50-$75. So, I will be taking full advantage of this price difference.
The market was absolutely huge, with piles of fruit and salted fishes everywhere. It was extremely crowded and noisy but full of life and colour. I liked speaking with the shopkeepers and we will go back to finalize the rest of gifts for friends and family in Buffalo as now we have had our 'trial run.'
This video will not be shown on my page, but I have a feeling AFP will be sharing this. We learned a traditional dance with drum in the afternoon. This was even more exhausting than the sketch creations. I never knew how much bodywork and effort goes into (not even) 2 minutes of dancing. Christian, the dance leader, had us hold our arms up resembling cow horns and would constantly have to fix us. It was so much fun and everyone spent the dance laughing along. After we attempted, the drummer and Christian swapped places. The way they both moved in these dances were absolutely mesmerizing.
We stopped by the hotel afterwards to drop off our new goods and had dinner at a restaurant called 'The Hut.' Upon suggestions from a close friend, I ordered the goat brochette and it did not disappoint.
At dinner, Monique (fellow AFPer) and I had some very intriguing conversation with our tour guide, Françoise. We discussed everything from schooling in Rwanda v the US, to the emergence of Kiswahili in the country, and also an in depth conversation on mental health (they have a 4 week internship in June every year to study and work in this field. Open for US applicants...)
Tomorrow we begin in sharing our storytelling games. In the morning we will be in a transitional housing center for boys. These are children who were from the street and are now in school/transitioning to life in foster homes. I am so excited.
\nI woke up this morning to the sounds of birds chirping amd light filling the room. After getting ready, Travis and myself took a walk outside. It was quite a sight to see so many people walking around, cleaning up, and so bustling...all before 7am! It was quite funny to see all the stares, though not at me. Travis' dreadlocks were quite the focal point for many around.
\nBefore I began breakfast, I was finally able to meet in person the son of one of my friends. I had some small gifts for him, so he stopped by quickly. It was so great to meet him after months of only whatsapp communication!
\nAt breakfast new friends were made! There was a group from Sud-Kivu in DRC that were attending a 4 day tournament for sport here in Kigali. We sat and ate together, using a mix of swahili/french/english. This was there last day before departing so unfortunately it was a hello/goodbye breakfast.
\nOur morning program consisted of a tour of the Nyamirambo Women's Center and part of the Nyamirambo neighbourhood. There was so much information given by our wonderful tour guide and it was interesting to hear the history of the neighborhood and its own subculture within the city. We saw how bunga was made and the time and effort that goes into crushing the cassava leaves for dinner. The neighbourhood people were extremely friendly and creating connections with some made me feel the smallness of our world. After Whatsapping some friends from home, it turns out they are from this area!
\nLunch was absolutely delicious- a homecooked meal. There was dodo leaves, cassava, potatoes, cabbage, and beans. It is safe to say I was comfortably full after that meal.
\nWe left Nyamirambo (I honestly could have stayed there for the next two weeks) and embarked to the Kigali Genocide Memorial. In one word: heavy. Working with refugees and repeatedly hearing traumatic events I have learned my triggers and know what I am capable of handling at a given time. With that being said, there is still a lot to process and a lot of notes written down to review. It felt quite personal to me so for now I don't feel I should write more on this.
\nHowever in the museum I met some people in fancy suits. They are actually all elected mayors from towns in Kenya amd were at the memorial to learn about the genocide and see the rehabilitation over ethnic tensions, as they stated this is something they are currently seeing though of course on not such a grand scale. We chatted a while about shared social issues before they departed.
\nIn the memorial there is a whole room devoted to 'psychological counseling.' I walled in out of curiosity- it was a refreshing shock to see a mental health portion of the memorial. The volunteer and I chatted as best we could and exchanged cards. The interventions used are tailored to the experience of the memorial visitors, and that they are currently receiving more Rwandese coming to this office after walking through the exhibits. I am amazed at the acceptance of an office such as this, as from experience there has rarely been a time that mental health assistance was ever accepted by clients of mine. I look forward to learning more from them.
\nA note to my interpreters in Buffalo that are reading this: I have now experienced traffic here and there is no way to negatively compare my driving to this. Clearly my skills for cars are better suited to this country, haha!
I am honored to have been given this opportunity to go to Rwanda and look forward to growing from this experience, both professionally and personally. The Great Lakes region in Africa is of great interest to me, especially as a resident of the Great Lakes region in the United States. I currently work as a refugee resettlement case worker at a local agency in Buffalo. Conflict resolution and community building are two topics that are crucial in my work, and I am eager to both share my stories on those subjects and learn from the stories of others. Ultimately, through our collective stories, I hope to witness and engage in the solidarity that has developed in Rwanda since the mid-nineties. My hope is to bring that knowledge back to my work in Buffalo. The lessons learned can then be put into action by aiding in the development of programs that will have a positive effect on the families and communities that I serve.