Today was an endless and emotionally draining one. Nevertheless, it is one I will never forget. To start off the day, we went to the school MindLeaps. Rebecca Davis was the mastermind for this school after she witnessed homeless kids dancing on the street. Kids go to MindLeaps for school and dance. To say I was in heaven would be the understatement of the year. My heart blossomed watching these remarkable children dance their hearts out. Their passion radiated from their souls and it was so hard not to join them. Going to this school was definitely the highlight of the trip so far, especially as a dancer.
Next on our schedule was a visit to a TIG camp. The people who inhabited this facility were war prisoners who confessed to killing in the 1994 genocide. I was uncomfortable at first. Coming from a long line of civil servants, I didn't think that I wanted to listen to those who stood before me because of what they had done. However, each prisoner was open to tell their story of being brainwashed, taken advantage of by the perpetrators, confessing their crimes, and going to their victim's families to express their sorrow and ask for forgiveness. I began to not see murderers, I began to see these people who have made an immaculate recovery and want to rebuild their country. All have been forgiven and they are determined to serve their sentence by working outdoors to cleanse Rwanda from the inside and out. I was crying. Forgiveness is a huge part of Rwandan culture and it's something that we (Americans) cannot even fathom.
Only having time for a quick lunch, we ate fast and went straight to downtown Kigali to host a workshop at the Kigali Memorial center. Many people there were from different backgrounds, but all left with a new found appreciation for theatre and Anne Frank. We were broken into groups to teach them the same warmups and games we used in teacher training. Our objective was to create a story. I had my friends Eve and Liz in my group and we all had a blast creating a story, using the theme " Peace is everyone's responsibility". One girl named Binte lit up the room with enthusiasm and it was her first time doing theatre. She was a natural.
To close the evening, we had an Indian dinner with a group from San Jose University. As this trip comes to a close, I reflect on everything I have done and learned on this trip. It was a big process and I had many challenges to get where I am, but the journey was more than worth it. I always seem to find my way by going places or doing things other people wouldn't normally. This day seems like a Dixie Chicks day. For today's song, it is The Long Way Around by the girl power group. "I opened my mouth and I heard myself. I could have made it easier on myself but I could never follow. I've been long time gone now. Maybe someday I'm gonna settle down. But I've always found my way somehow by taking the long way around." Nothing good ever comes easy and no one ever made a difference by being like everyone else.
Umadugadoo: cow distribution ceremony where someone contributes to a village by buying a cow.
4 cows were distributed to the district of Muhanga with the collaboration of the Anne Frank Project. We gave away Paul, WestHer, Sophia, and Kate.
Umuganda: a monthly community service where the whole community does outside work as part of igniting that unified Rwandan spirit. We helped hoe a field and make bricks.
Anne Frank in Rwanda: the play we performed for Beatrice, the mayor of Muhanga, and the district.
Make a Man out of You: Today's song. Alone, one will not improve. Working and supporting each other, the possibilities are endless. For hoeing, making bricks, and perdorming on a huge hill, you must be swift as a course in a river, with all the force of a great typhoon, with all the strength of a raging fire, mysterious as the dark side of the moon.
Before I left for Rwanda, I saw the HBO series of Angels in America. I had heard about the play from my theatre classes and am fascinated with stories that touch on the AIDS epidemic and the LGBTQ community, so I figured that I had to see it. Additionally, I heard that Andrew Garfield was nominated for a Tony Award this year for his role as Prior Walter in the revival. Likewise, Nathan Lane was nominated for portraying the role of Roy Cohn. I don't really follow the Tonys, but when someone who has not received an Oscar yet gets nominated, I do. To my delight, I woke up that Monday to jump out of my bed with joy. Both thespians won tonys.
Needless to say, I was in a good mood already. However, the day got even better when we paid a visit to a different school in Muhunga. Once we pulled into the parking lot, we were swarmed by tons of children. They kept reaching their hands out to me all at the same time. I wished I could have had more hands. Better yet, like Roy Cohn, I wanted to be an octopus at that moment. I felt like a celebrity. Not to the extent of a famous person, but someone who was new and interesting.
With my partner, Reuben, we observed a classroom that was taught by some of the teachers we trained in Drama based education. It was remarkable how they could apply everything we taught them. They did warm ups, built a cow machine, and they built a chicken machine. Their students committed fully to the session and reflected what they learned. I did not want to leave that school. It was so magical.
Afterwards, we had a great lunch and paid a visit to Mama Arlene at Urakundo. Her story is truly unimaginable. Everything seemed to fall into place for her in regards to going to Africa. She was a nurse, has great grandchildren, and came to Africa the first time to clean up after the genocide. Her staff gave us a tour of the grounds, followed by us performing Jack and the Bean Stalk for her. It was our last night with the kids, so we played football and basketball with them and had dinner too. What seemed like 3 weeks ended within a matter of 3 days. We built up a bond with the kids. As we were talking with Mama Arlene, she mentioned that her dad was a coal miner, so she was like Loretta Lynn. This has inspired today's song Coal Miners daughter by Loretta Lynn herself. Lynn wanted to fulfill her calling and be more than just a wife and a mother. She achieved that, but never forgot her background. Mama Arlene did this and since I am graduated, I will have to figure out what I'm supposed to be doing. For now, I am enjoying every moment of the present.
Last day of teacher training. The lesson was learning how to implement drama based education into the classroom. History of Rwanda was our group's topic. We continued with the routine of starting with warmups, which everyone loved. When looking at the specifics, Kabide looked at precolonialism in Rwanda as our focus area. We split our big group into smaller groups, using our story building knowledge to make stories that exemplified kingdoms, culture, and economic activities. Thrilled and relieved, the groups lefy there thinkibg hats at home and just did. For the kingdoms group, one was the king, wearing a party hat as a crown. These teachers soaked up our lesson like a sponge. After lunch, we looked at colonial Rwanda to build a machine and make an abstract museum as part of our curriculum. Paparazzi ambush took place after the lesson. In Rwanda, some might refer to me as a mizungu. This means white person or tourist in kinyerwandan. In this training, I did not feel like a mizungu. I felt like a human being, a teacher surrounded by other passionate teachers. This experience was so rewarding. It's incredible that the training was only 2 days. From there, we joined the kids of Urakundo for a bubble date, which included playing football (soccer) and Chinese checkers. We joined them for dinner again, where I made many new friends like Benita, Jenny, and John. One of the highlights of the night was when the delegation put on a production for the kids. Completely improvised, our group closed the night with a production of Jack and the Bean Stalk, which they loved so much we had to do it twice. I played the mom and the kids imitated my actions before I wished them good night. To sum up today, I am using a classic to depict the day, All you need is love by the Beatles. This trip has opened my heart, my eyes, and my soul to this miraculous country and the people of Rwanda. There is a misconception about the continent of Africa. Many even refer to it as a country still. The truth is that you can't have one general view of 56 countries that happen to make up one continent. It's just illogical. In the wise words of the Beatles, there's nothing you can do that can't be done, nothing you can make that can't be made, no one you can save that can't be saved. You can learn how to play the game, it's easy. Really, all you need is love. Urakundo means love in kinyerwandan. All we need is Urakundo and a lot of it. This song probably capsulates my experience in this magnificent country. However, I still have another week here, so we will find out.
Monkey trekking in Africa one would say is too good to be true. That is what happened yesterday morning. Nguyene National Park has a whole section of a forest dedicated to display and protect monkeys. Seeing the flat top trees remind you of movies like Lion King. They served as a reminder that you were truly in Africa. After hiking a little while we saw a whole family of monkeys in the trees. We were admiring their crazy nature and their grace, hopping from one branch to another. I couldn't believe it. One was extremely huge. I felt bad for the branch. I was overjoyed we had a hike that morning. It prepared us for the long drive we had back. However, the drive was miraculous due to the fact we saw nothing ahead of us but hills and jungles. On our way back, we stopped at the Ethnographic museum, one of Rwanda's famous history museums. A lot of the information was really interesting. The last king of Rwanda lost his mother because she was executed for a palace scandal. His successor, his son, only reigned for a few months. A rebellion broke out during his reign and the pressure led him to commuting suicide . Finally , we reached the hotel in muhungo again. I have been from one side of Rwanda to the other within a matter of 2 days. It's incredible. The song for today is one most of you know from the movie Forrest Gump, Running on Empty by Jackson Browne. Like Forrest, we were just running around, seeing a lot of the country side. We had our first day of teacher training today. I will tell you all about it later on.
It seems that we have been here for three weeks instead of 3 days. The village has been through and done so much together in this beautiful country. Today, we had breakfast, ran through our play twice, and packed up for our transfer to Muhungo. We stopped by our third genocide memorial, the Belgian memorial. On April 7th, 1994, 10 Belgian U.N. soldiers were transferred to an army camp to help the Rwanda Patriot Front. There, soldiers came and massacred all 10 with guns. The memorial did not sugarcoat the tragedy. The bullet holes are still visible both inside and outside. You can feel the density in the air as soon as you walk in to see the spot with hundreds of gun bullet marks on the wall. Even though this memorial was immaculately orchestrated and powerful as the other 2, I could not cry. All I could do was stand in utter silence, close my eyes, and pray for the victims. There were stones outside the building that had the victims initials written on them and lines to show how old they were when they perished. The oldest was 32 while the youngest was 25. These were tall statues that, shockingly, reminded me of the twin towers. To finish off the visit, I wrote in the notebook " YOUR story will be told through generations. Your souls will never die."
From there, we had a great lunch at an outdoor patio restaurant. I took a walk with some of my village members. We then went to Urakundo and hugged the most adorable kids one has ever seen. Their passion and energy were infectious! We joined them in song
and dance after dinner. It's truly remarkable experiencing a new culture. The song today will be Halo by Beyonce. Those kids and the troops who died have halos. I'm surrounded by their unified embrace. Tomorrow is going to be very long but so worth it. I can't wait .
I thank God everyday that I am an artist. Note how I don't say specifically that I am an actor, a producer, a dancer, or a director. These positions all have a common language of telling a story. We are artists because we provide our audiences with an escape, awareness, and hope for a better future. We tell stories for those who are not here to tell them anymore. This morning, the village and I had rehearsal for our rendition of The Diary of Anne Frank. We have everyone playing either a Jewish or Rwandan Anne Frank. Because we explored the genocide memorial yesterday, everyone could connect to the piece on a deeper personal level. The energy and life was incredible today. Additionally, we saw things today that people have seen only in their nightmares. We traveled to the nyamata church, a Catholic church where about 10,000 women, men, and children were killed mercilessly by Hutu extremists. The clothes of the victims were spread out on the benches, there were bullet holes in the ceiling, a layout of skulls and bones, and mass graves. We went into a room where dozens of coffins were lined up. Witnessing this horror, I lost complete feeling in my legs. It did not feel right to disrespect these graves. Some were open. It's one thing to see an assortment of skulls but to see a body decomposed and the bones completely shattered in a tiny coffin in front of your eyes can make you completely shatter inside. I went to our tour guide, a woman named Mary, I hugged her as I was bursting into tears, expressing my deepest grievances towards her and Rwanda. She comforted me, assuring me that everything was alright. I think that I am changed forever from this day alone. Because of our physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion, the village enjoyed an amazing dinner from this place called The Hut. Wonderful atmosphere, hot towels, incredible food, and great service, we were all served to the 9s. I had a hard time picking today's song. All I can think is that my desire to enact social justice through art is even stronger. To that, I have picked We are the World by Michael Jackson. There are people dying, it's time to lend a hand to life, the greatest gift of all. We are the world, so let's start giving. Tomorrow, we travel to muhungo for drama based education training. Talk to you soon.