After a hearty breakfast today (TONS of fruit and veggies, both of which are incredibly sweet in Rwanda - not to mention the coffee), we headed onto our bus to visit the Nyamirambo Women’s Center just outside of Kigali. The bus was loud, jovial, and filled with singing - the evening had worked its magic, and our spirits were lifted from yesterday!! We all learned to count off the members of our group in Kinyarwanda, Rwanda’s most spoken language. I was granted the number 7 - Karingwe.
We arrived at the center, an unassuming building on the street with a GORGEOUS mural on the wall outside. The women greeting us were, in what appears to be a trend on this trip, incredibly welcoming and kind. The reception area doubled as a small public library. It was only one room, but bookshelves lined the walls, and the women informed us that children frequented the library to read. It became quite clear that Rwanda is a very women-focused culture. In fact, they rank number one in the world for women in positions of government (just over 60% of seats are held by women. In comparison, the US ranks a dismal 75th in the world for number of female government seats).
Before walking the city, we were handed a small paper of common phrases to use during our tour. We were also informed that people would VERY likely talk to us, and we should be able to communicate despite the language barrier. Some of our group, such Lila (who speaks several languages already) picked up the phrases in no time at all and could tuck the paper in her pocket for the tour. Others (like me, who can barely speak English properly) kept it handy at all times. I wished I could have glued it to my face! Languages are not my strong suit (not good for a world traveler), but luckily everyone got so excited and happy at our clumsy attempts Kinyarwanda that they were super patient and made their best attempts at English. Through gesture, facial expression, and a few universal words, common story was found.
Our guide, Sylvie, led us through the city with an unbelievable amount of professionalism. She expertly walked us through a seemingly endless brick wall of murals, down some back alleys where Cassava leaves were being pounded into pulp, and through a small open market to taste some of the leaves, veggies and spices right off the tables (the one thing I was warned NOT to do on this trip…I’m sure we’ll all be fine). Through everything, Sylvie was polite, efficient, and extremely informative. I was shocked to discover she was only 21, a student like we were.
I was enchanted by the children we saw on our trip. I mentioned people staring in our last blog, but it was even more noticeable with the young children we passed on our walks through Kigali. They were SO cute! Many would bashfully wave hello, stare through windows and then duck down, and speak to us in mixed English/Kinyarwanda. They were open and full of life, and they gave a wonderfully youthful atmosphere to the city!
After the tour, Sylvie brought us to the city center for a local home-cooked meal. It was absolutely delicious - plantains, root vegetables, beans, and Pilipili pickled onions (I gave them a wide berth). Conversation flowed like a serene river. This was a wonderful way to kick off our trip!!
I am traveling to Rwanda with the intent of a sponge - I want to absorb as many unique experiences as I possibly can, and bring them back to share with my culture. I am a multifaceted artist, and Rwanda is a treasure trove of valuable experiences to draw inspiration from. As a visual artist, I look forward to seeing unique handmade art, and letting it inspire an artistic vision. As a musician, I look forward to hearing vastly different than what I’m used to, and letting that inspire music from my soul. And as a teacher, I’m looking to see teaching methods different than what I have known. I want to bring these gifts back and share them with my culture.