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.
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: