Thursday

Guma Guma - Noah

Today I looked back on the past two weeks while being in Rwanda and thought to myself, what was the best part of my trip? I looked through my photos of the trip and explained some to my friends as I showed them the highlights and sites visited. Yet I can't come to pick one to be better than the other. From gorilla trekking to basket weaving, the trip was full of experiences I will not soon forget. The only part I hope to forget is the mass amount of hours spent in terminals and airplanes! I'm not sure the exact time spent from Kigali to Minneapolis/St Paul airport but it was well over 30 hrs! It took a couple of days to get back into a regular sleeping schedule and I can feel the effect of so many hours sitting on the plane in my legs as well. Yet I know that I would go through it again if I had the chance to return to Rwanda once more. The country has taught me a lot about restorative justice and reconciliation both academically and by interacting with the Rwandan people. Yet most of all I feel that Rwanda has taught me a lot about myself and how I live my own life. I wish everyone had the opportunity to visit Rwanda and see how much Amahoro (Kinyarwanda for peace) can spread.

Guma Guma - Kinyarwanda for "keep going"

The Return - Christian Taber


As I woke up for the final day in Rwanda I felt excited to return to the great state of Minnesota but sad to leave such a beautiful country.  My time in Rwanda was filled with so many great memories that I will never forget.  Once we arrived at the airport we all took pictures and said our farewells to our amazing tour guides.  I then began to mentally prepare myself for the long trip ahead of me.  We first made our way to Uganda for a quick stop then we continued to Amsterdam.  This was very strenuous to me as I find it impossible to sleep on planes.  I watched 3 movies and went to the bathroom numerous times and on a couple occasions I would look around the plane to find everyone in a deep sleep.  Eight hours later we arrived at Amsterdam and I immediately looked for a bench to sleep so I could catch up with my classmates.  Before I knew it I was walking to the next terminal for our ride to Chicago.  Sleep deprived and all I watched more on-flight entertainment to pass the hours.  Finally arriving in the States I had relief of no more flights over 8 hours but the trip was not over.  Being so close to home I could taste American food that I so much missed as I nearly lost 15 pounds.  Arriving in Minneapolis was a very joyous occasion for me as I was picked up and rushed to Culver's where I indulged in a big, juicy, greasy burger.  As I was satisfied with my meal I began to think of the great times in Rwanda which satisfied me even more as I knew this experience will be in my heart for years to come.

Wednesday

So this is home - Cami Marie

Coming home is always filled with mixed emotions for me. It's comforting to see friends and family and return to a familiar environment. Yet so many opportunities seem out of reach and it's easy to get sucked into an inactive routine. Rwanda gave me a daily dose of motivation and inspiration. Change was visible. I felt like I knew who to contact to get involved in good programs. To me, it seems a lot harder to do so in the US. The application process is long, and I so often don't have the needed experience or schooling. I guess what I'm trying to say is Rwanda felt accessible. (I recognize a lot of this is probably due to the trip itinerary.)

One of the most outstanding experiences for me was at the Children's Peace Library. When I was a child, going to the library was my favorite outing. It was inspiring to see children excitedly doing the same there. I leaned over to the person sitting next to me and told her I wanted to read with some of the children in the room. After an introduction to the program, we had an opportunity to ask the kids a few questions. Within ten minutes I was sitting in a circle interactively reading aloud. At that moment I knew I never wanted to stop. I was saddened when I had to let the children go home for lunch knowing it would be a long time before I would have another opportunity like that.

I keep this memory with me as inspiration and a reminder of what I love. Completing the final paper for this course marks the end of my undergraduate experience. Coming home is different this time. I am not thinking ahead to my next semester; I am looking for jobs in order to make a living, to pay the bills. My job search began late Monday night, the first night home. Remembering the Children's Peace Library, I am searching for a job or at least a volunteer position where I can have similar, regular experiences. This one afternoon in Rwanda has already impacted my future.

Changing the pace: Gorilla Trekking.
One of the most common questions I hear is, "How were the gorillas?" For any of you still wondering, the gorillas were amazing and adorable. The hour we were allotted to observe and take photos flew by. I could have easily spent all afternoon there. I will never forget the gorillas or the hike to them. I would certainly do it again if the opportunity ever came my way.

On Returning from Rwanda - Salisa

We were only gone for a short time but I honestly feel different. I keep seeing the faces and hearing voices of all of the amazing people that we met while in Rwanda. Our amazing guides: Yvan Gisele, and Aime. Danny, Charles and everyone else from Beausejour. The two Thierrys from The Bar Stella. The girls from the Gashora Girls Academy and the boys from Les Enfant de Dieu, and beautiful little Daria. Our guide at the Ntarama Genocide Memorial who was a genocide survivor, the Rasta man at the market in Kigali, Grace from the other market in Kigali who remembered my name and gave me a free bracelet as a gift, the beautiful people at the Pygmy village that we visited in Musanze, the Intore dancers at the Amahoro Cultural Village (especially the man with the 100 watt smile), dancing with those dancers again before going gorilla trekking, the brilliant staff from Never Again Rwanda, and of course the lovely women of the basket weaving collective in Musanze who weaved baskets with us. The woman who taught me how to weave spoke no English and when she found out that I was not Rwandan she smiled and  put her arm next to mine and pointed back and forth. I took this to mean, "We are the same." I could have cried, but I didn't, I just smiled, nodded, said "Yes! The same!" and made sure to hug her extra tight when we said goodbye.

I'm so grateful for all of these people as well as everyone else who made this trip amazing and made it possible. I'm grateful for the conversations that I was able to have with the people that we met as well as my classmates especially Ms. Cami Gysland! Many times we would talk late into the night or early in the morning about what we were experiencing and the truths that we were learning. The commitment to truth and healing through truth telling that Rwandans seem to have is something that impressed me the most. I plan to incorporate this practice into every area of my life and various communities.

There were several highlights of the trip many of which I have already mentioned. One that I haven't talked much about was gorilla trekking. Gorilla trekking was definitely an experience and even though it was not one of the main reasons or draws for me to go on this trip, it was an amazing experience to see actual mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. It was very cool to see mothers and babies and big silverbacks and to observe the way that they function as a family and a society. We got to watch them for an hour and as we observed them (from no more that five or six feet away from them) you can bet that they were observing us as well.

A few falls and journeys in and out of sink holes later, and we were out of the mountains and left with only our memories and as many pictures as we could snap. The trek was kind of like the entire trip in that way. It felt extremely long as we were there because of all that we were doing, but as soon as we got back, it felt like we had only been gone a short while.

I truly cannot wait to get back to Rwanda someday, hopefully sooner than later.

Love from St. Paul,


Salisa

Monday

The Return - Yvonne

I'm writing this in the Chicago airport. We are maybe three hours away from breathing some semi-fresh Minnesota air. It's been a long day(s) of travel but everyone is in a decently good mood. I encountered some interesting people along the way. The first woman I sat next to on the plane to Entebbe, Uganda was coming from Amsterdam to check in with the field office of the NGO she works for outside of Kampala. She said she has not had an opportunity yet to see any gorillas but is trying to work it into a future trip to Uganda. The next person that got on that plane was from Georgia. He was part of a mission group. Apparently, they spent a week evangelizing and "saved" six people at one point. They also visited a hospital and prayed around a young boy that was malnourished and refusing to speak or look at people. The boy apparently began to make eye contact and interact after they prayed for him. Another story he told was about a 24 year old man they met that was also "saved." The man had left Uganda to join a child army in the DRC but during an ambush felt that he needed to escape and find his sister back in Uganda. This sparked a conversation with an American woman in front of us who said she works in the Congo at Virunga National Park. This was especially interesting to hear because of how close we were to the border just the day before. The morning that we left Gisenyi (the town by the border) the news station mentioned briefly that the DRC claimed 300 rebel troops were trained in Rwanda. It will be exciting to keep track of the future political situation in Rwanda. I think the encounters with the different people on the plane was a great way to wrap up the trip. Of all of the different ways to see and visit Rwanda (missions, business, etc.), I think traveling for education is the ideal way to go. I am so thankful for all of the incredible people I met and have come to know on this trip. It really doesn't matter where you go but rather who you meet along the way.

A few more...

A few photos from our stay in Gisenyi -



Our fantastic crew, Yvan, Gaspar - who drives the Coaster like nobody's business - and Aime!



The wall outside our hotel, facing Lake Kivu.




Across from our hotel... a different sign said 1.3 km to the DRC.



Apparently the last colonial era home in Gisenyi.

We left Gisenyi at 8:30 on Sunday morning. Very quickly we were stuck in the midst of the Kwita Izina Cycling Tour. I was thrilled! I've been reading about Team Rwanda for several years and actually got to see them in action. From there it was on to Kigali, after a brief stop in Musanze. Once we hit Kigali it was power shopping at Caplaki Artists' Village and one final stop at Kimironko Market as some of the students had ordered clothing to be made.

We arrived at the airport at 4:30, for our 7:30 - which became a scheduled 8:20 and and in reality 9:00 - departure. Arrived in Amsterdam at 6:50 am this morning (Monday, in case you're getting lost) - same time zone - and are now waiting for our 12:40 departure to Chicago.

My seat companion turned out to be the Rwandan Minister of Public Service and Labour. I told him about the trip and about seeing - and having followed -Team Rwanda's development. He said, "You are a good friend to Rwanda." when we landed he gave me his card and said, "Next time you're in Kigali." I'll definitely be following up.

Now it's off to buy some cheese and chocolate!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday

What's the first thing you're going to do? Angela

What's the first thing you are going to do when you get home?
Kari - play with my pets, unpack and do laundry;
Melissa - shower and go to bed;
Jennifer - eat a salad and some orange juice;
Cami Marie - cry 'cause I'm not here anymore;
Jasmyn aka Princess - talk to everyone on my phone when we get to Chicago, eat, and go to sleep;
Salisa - eat fried chicken;
Yvonne - show my mom all my pictures;
Greta - eat a Norwegian hot dog from a gas station;
Nasteha - eat, 'cause I haven't been able to eat much here;
Lauren - eat American food, McDonalds or something from a drive thru, and show my family what I got;
Noah - rent a truck to move into my house;
Christian - take a shower where I can drink the water and let it just come down on me and eat at Culver's;
Me? I'm going to smother my children with hugs and kisses, then set up a 501(c)3. Thanks to Professor E-H's Facebook link to my blog post, there are several individuals and organizations who are interested in buying sewing machines for the women at the Musanze local market. I've received some good suggestions for the name of this organization - a stitch in time, sewing for change - but I've decided on 'begin'. The definition of begin is: to do the first part of an action, to come into existence. This trip has reminded me that reality is created in the present moment - that if I take one step and start right now, the next step makes itself known. I've learned that Umuregwa will be the contact person for Yvan and Aimé's tour company, Eos Visions. When Eos Visions bring tourists through Musanze, they will be directed to her to get their African attire sewn. She will also be my contact, purchasing sewing machines and get them to other women. Who knew a simple study abroad to Rwanda would provide this kind of experience? Thanks Professor E-H for taking on the task of organizing and tackling this trip. I'm smiling. I hear the sound of African sunshine coming down.

Saturday

Last Day in Rwanda - Greta Opsal

Today is our last full day in Rwanda and we are spending it in Gisenyi. Gisenyi is a city in Northwestern Rwanda right on the border to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Our hotel is 1.3 kilometers away from the border. Today most of the class went to the market, but a few of us stayed behind at the hotel. Christian, Yvonne, and I hung out around the pool today. We found a lizard, but it was too quick for us to catch it! Tonight we are going to have our farewell dinner with our tour guides, Yvon and Aime, then we will prepare for our departure back to Kigali tomorrow morning. 

Tomorrow we leave for the airport, where most students will head back to the states. This trip has been very educational, depressing, and fun all at the same time! I am very thankful that we have had a lovely time together and that everyone in the class got along pretty well. It has been amazing getting to know my classmates.



Two Weeks

We arrived in Rwanda two weeks ago this evening. It has been a busy couple of weeks. After we return, I'll post my own observations about the trip. For now, here are a few more photos from our journey.






































Looks like fun, eh?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday

Joy!--Salisa

We arrived in Gisenyi today, but not before visiting Imbabazi which is an orphanage in Rwanda that was created by an American born woman who spent over half of her life working with the people of Rwanda (pre and post-genocide). I was moved by the efforts that have been made and continue to be made to improve the lives of Rwandan youth. We once again heard about the phasing out of orphanages that is occurring in Rwanda and we learned about the work that is being done to foster independence within Rwandans who have experienced living in or being supported by orphanages. I was generally impressed by the work done at Imbabazi and loved learning about the history.

As I was looking around the fields of Imbabazi today, I was imagining what beauties and wonders will be alive in Rwanda ten years from now, twenty years from now, and beyond. I can only imagine, but I am certain that this nation has a stunning future awaiting it. From what I have seen over these last two weeks, Rwanda is a nation of survivors and a nation of resilience.
One of my favorite parts of the day was when local community members treated us with a traditional Rwandan Intore dance at Imbabazi. It was only day seven of their training in the traditional dance and I was filled with so much Joy as I watched them move with such grace. Their dances were dances of welcome and of community, and I loved the gesture.

Side note: I also got my head shaved today at a local salon in Gisenyi town center. It was a semi-spontaneous decision that I had been going back and forth about for the duration of the trip as well as prior to the trip, and today I finally did it.

I feel amazing.


Today was a good day even though I am very sad that these two weeks have gone by so quickly. We've done so much and met so many wonderful and kind people but I just need more time. I never want to leave Rwanda but I know that someday, I will be back. I am so grateful for the sacrifices that have made it possible for me to be here, grateful for the Joy that I have found in this beautiful and kind country, and grateful that I am able to bring the Joy of the Rwandan people back home with me to my various communities. I know what an amazing gift this is and I plan to share it with as many as possible.
My journey to The Motherland has been extremely fulfilling. I know that it doesn't end here.

Love from Gisenyi!
Salisa

On the border of the Congo -- Jasmyne

Today was an adventurous one! This morning we left Musanze and headed to Gisenyi, which is a town that is about 45 minutes away. When we first
arrived, we toured the city a little. The coolest part of this tour was finding out we were so close to the Democratic Republic of Congo's border. Since we, as Americans, aren't allowed to travel to this country, it was exciting to get the chance to get near the border.

Upon approaching the border, we saw many Rwandans and Congolese crossing back and forth and interacting with each other. Many of them were
selling fruits, vegetables, and other goods. Besides seeing all the people everywhere, it was interesting to the difference between the two countries. Just a few feet across the border, you could see that the streets, houses, land, etc. were completely different! The houses on the Congo side were in poor condition and were placed very close together. The roads were not paved at all; just dirt and rocks. This was strange because there was a nice road going from Rwanda up to the border of the Congo, then it just
stopped. It was a complete change from what was going on a few feet
before. It was obvious there is a high level of poverty within that
country.

I would one day like to visit the Congo to see more of the city so I can get a better picture of what the entire country looks like. Although, just seeing the huge differences between the two cities gave me a great appreciation from Rwanda and all the hard work they do to advance their country. This was one of the most memorable things we encountered today. :)

Be the change you want to see in the world - Angela





During the last few days in Musanze, I spent a considerable amount of time at a local market because I was with fellow students who were shopping for fabric and having African shirts, dresses, and skirts made. I took advantage of the opportunity to ask the seamstress about her life. Yvan, our tour guide, translated for me. I found out that this woman, whose name is Umuregwa, has two children ages 2 months and 3 years. Her 2 month old, a sweet baby girl named Joyce, was sleeping behind her machine on the platform where fabrics are displayed. Joyce woke up while we were talking, Umuregwa nursed her and then another woman, who sold the fabric at this particular stall, carried Joyce on her back as Umuregwa went back to sewing. I learned the women at the market help each other and take care of each other's children, but are only friends, not relatives of any kind. Umuregwa went on to tell me that she makes 30,000 RWF (Rwandan francs) or about 50 USD per month, and from that she pays 20,000 RWF or 33 USD in rent for her sewing machine. Her husband is unemployed and working odd jobs since he was demobilized from the military two years ago. Her income supports the majority of her family's basic needs and definitely doesn't allow for anything extra. They net only $17 a month. I was astounded to learn that the cost to purchase her own machine would be about 70,000 RWF or 115 USD. Cripes. I spend approximately that much on my cell phone bill each month.

Yvan introduced to her the idea of starting a cooperative in the market, telling her that, if women owned their own machines and had more money, they could reinvest some of it in their community to benefit their children - for example building a kindergarten or green space for kids to play soccer. Yvan's tour company focuses on community based tourism, working to establish associations and co-ops in order to bring visitors to see what local groups of people are doing. In this way, tourists are able to learn about local culture and purchase products directly from the people who make them, providing a personal connection related to product consumption. How often do you know who makes the products you buy? Usually as consumers we are so far removed from the source of the product it takes a herculean effort to find out where it came from, who made it, and what that person's life is like.
I was bubbling with the idea of somehow helping these women by raising the funds to help them buy their machines, while Yvan could help them begin to understand what a co-op could do for them. Then it hit me. What if I could start right now?

Yvan took me to a local bank with an ATM, but we weren't sure that an international card would work - the availability of the international credit card network is still pretty new here. Guidebooks still say that it's not possible. I withdrew the amount I needed and we brought it back to her. Her response was priceless. After hugging me and crying and telling me she would never be able to find the words to thank me, she said she wanted to bring her three year old to meet me at the hotel before we leave Musanze.

As I was going to sleep last night, I realized that I could buy one more machine before we left town. I had received a grant from the anthropology department at Hamline to do an independent study on surviving violence in Rwanda, but Professor Hoffman told me if it doesn't work out for some reason, to donate the money to a group or organization as I saw fit. After eating an early breakfast, I set out for the ATM again and was able to pass along the money to Umuregwa when I saw her this morning for another woman that we had talked with, so she could also buy her own machine with the Hamline funds. I feel like there were so many factors to how this worked out - the support of my professors, the shopping by students, the interpretation and ideas by Yvan, my desire to 'do' something, Umuregwa's willingness to converse with us, and even the timeliness of international banking options. The timing was perfect.

Mothers help mothers. It's what we do. It doesn't matter where or who we are, we understand the work it takes to care for children and the struggle it can sometimes be. Who says a supportive group of fellow moms can't be global? Everything else in the world seems to be. Maybe the world will change one sewing machine at a time.

Thursday

Almost There - Jennifer Hamilton

Bright and early, we started our long day. The guides told us to leave our snacks in the car that drove us to what I thought was the beginning of the mountain. Not quite. It turned out we had an hour long hike to the mountain. Then the real hike began. I don't think I have ever been hit in the face by so many branches in my entire life. I also doubt that I have ever encountered so much mud before. Most of the time I couldn't even see the surface we were walking on. There were rocks and fallen trees where I was trying to walk. The walking stick the guides lent me at the base of the mountain was my best friend. Then the walking was paying off when our guides told us, "We are almost there."
...half an hour later, they said, "We are almost there."
...forty-five minutes later...
...twenty minutes later...
...ten minutes later...
Finally we were actually almost there because the guides told us to leave our bags and get out our cameras. The gorillas were amazing and well worth the trees, rocks, and mud. We went to see a family of twenty-three gorillas; the most important, of course, being the babies. One was only three months old and cute as can be. She was trying to walk but kept falling over. Another little one climbed a vine to get to some food. I could have watched those babies playing and rolling around for hours, but our precious sixty minutes disappeared in the blink of an eye.
Our descent was a "shortcut." I took this with a grain of salt remembering the guides' measures of distances as a bit different from my own. I was expecting it to take about as long as the way up. I was not expecting it to be a walk through a swamp. I think I crossed a mud river, some mud lakes, and maybe a mud ocean. All I know for sure is that I survived.

Muzungus in the mist - Angela

Gorilla trekking ranks second on my list of most memorable, physical endurance tests; second only to the birth of my children. It was incredible. We started our hike at an elevation of 1500 meters and ended up at 3000 meters. Breathing was a challenge, but somehow the whole hike got easier as we got nearer the top. As we gathered around the dominant male silverback, a female with a small baby, and another younger gorilla, it seemed as if it was a Muzungu parade with as they followed our every movement with their eyes. Our guide taught us 'gorilla language', which consisted of a series of grunts, asking if it was okay for us to come close. I'm pretty sure the only people who used the language were our guides because I for one couldn't take my eyes or mind off our surroundings. There was a heavy mist that rolled in just before we reached the ape family, but as we stood watching them during our hour, the mist cleared and we could see the volcano rim that we were next to. There were about six other gorillas that surrounded us at different times during our observation of them. A few were younger, perhaps between four and five years old, and they'd scamper up trees only to get too close to the edge and break the branch off, tumbling to the ground. A few times we were worried they'd end up on top off us because they were up in back of where we were standing. No worries though - everyone in our party left the site intact. I swear that some of the gorillas were watching us with as much interest as we were watching them. Others were napping- gorillas that is, not students. These mountain gorillas were the same ones that Dian Fossey wrote about in her book, "Gorillas in the Mist", which later became a movie. She worked to save the mountain gorillas from extinction from poaching. I'm so grateful for the work she did in raising awareness for this cause. Today there is a cooperative effort on the part of Rwanda, Uganda, and Congo, the three countries who share gorilla habitat, in gorilla conservation. For lack of words that can describe this experience, it was definitely one of the coolest things I've ever done.

Being Sick! - Greta Opsal

So far I have been the first one on this trip to get really sick. At first I thought that it was just malaria because it felt just like it; I've had it twice before! It is not a great feeling. After we ate, Yvonne, Nasteha, Noah and I stopped by a pharmacy to get a test for malaria. After being pricked in the finger 5 times, apparently I'm a bad bleeder, we found out that I had some sort of a bacterial infection. After two liters of hydration salts and worrying my mom, I am almost back to 100%!

My Off Day - Christian Taber

As my classmates left for the gorilla trekking I had to find something to entertain myself. The first thing that came to my mind was finding food. A couple other classmates who didn’t go on the gorilla trekking and I went to a restaurant across the street called Shakeys. As we ate other Americans came in and ate. We had a conversation about why we were all there. They were missionaries from Arizona and were greatly interested why we were also in Rwanda. It was great connecting with them and sharing stories of our experience in Rwanda.

Mzungu in the Mist - Yvonne

Today began at five a.m. with a cold shower, hot tea, and some mini bananas. The night before a representative from the Gorilla Trekking Headquarters came to give us information about the gorillas and their conservation efforts. I had a hard time getting to sleep with the anticipation for the next day. When we arrived at the Headquarters Intore dancers got us excited with some great drumming and dancing. Then we met our guides Emmanuel and Julie. There were four of us from Hamline and two other couples. All of us were American. However, one of the couples said they live in Rwanda and work for the U.S. Embassy. We climbed into our respective cars and drove the 12+ km to Volcanoes National Park. The drive up was unbelievably bumpy, our guide jokingly called it an "African Massage." Getting to the more exciting part... Our walk began in a village close to the mountain. We walked at a slight incline to the edge of the park through the plowed fields. I was told we were at about 2500m up the mountain. The air was thin to say the least. We crossed a log bridge to enter the park. By log bridge, I mean three slippery logs over a 5ft deep trench - not a bad fall but not a fun fall either. Then began the steep climb through the jungle. We had a decent number of breaks. The porter named John held my hand through the more treacherously steep parts. He basically pulled me up the mountain. Before we went on the trek, the journey was described as giving birth. Though I can't exactly relate, from what I know it involves a lot of breathing and pain. So this description was pretty accurate. Once we saw the gorillas and even before when we could simply see the trees moving the pain (from the stinging nettle forest that existed throughout the hike) disappeared and we were all completely at peace. The gorillas were absolutely worth everything it took to reach them. They were awake when we arrived but were settling into a nap. One of the younger juveniles had his hands behind his head and his leg over his opposite knee, just hanging out in the mist. We were able to observe how the gorillas make their nests in the trees by folding together branches. One gorilla made its way down the mountain and crashed over an entire tree behind me. Then it proceeded to walk right in front of me, so close that her hair brushed my leg as she passed. It felt like the last 18 years of my life had culminated into that one hour that I was able to see the gorillas; From the first times I watched Planet of the Apes and Mighty Joe Young as a kid to my declaration of anthropology as my major at Hamline. In all, it was incredible and definitely one of those once in a lifetime experiences.

Gorillas and the market -- Carolyn

Gorilla trekking today was absolute murder, but was more than worth the hard work! We hiked up to an elevation of 3000 meters through thick brush, slippery mud, and steep hills of jagged rocks. We even endured a plant filled with thorns that stung you if you were unfortunate enough to run into it. The stings still hurt even hours after getting back. Breathing at such a high altitude was very difficult too. However, once we reached the gorillas, all the pain and fatigue was forgotten. We came across a silverback and his family right away. We got to stand just a few feet away from them! Before we knew it, another one came from behind us and layed down in a pile of leaves in front of us. After that, a few smaller ones emerged in the trees above us. One of them even knocked down a whole tree by itself! We even got to learn what some of the grunts meant so we could understand what they were saying. The hour we got to spend with the gorillas went by so fast. By the time we got down the mountain, we were tired, hungry and covered in mud. But I had no time to rest because I had to run to the market! Yesterday, I got the opportunity to have a skirt made out of a piece of cloth I picked from the market. However, I quickly learned that we had different ideas about an acceptable length for a skirt! The women in the market were shocked, but laughing that I wanted a skirt shorter than my knees. Despite how surprised the woman was, she made me a beautiful skirt out of some very lovely cloth. I was very grateful for her services. I was also thankful for the conversation I had with our guide, Aimer, and the woman making my skirt. We learned so much about each other and the places we live. I explained how this was the first piece of clothing I have had made especially for me. They explained to me how safe Rwanda was and how anyone can walk around at night without any problems. Overall, the day was full of so many amazing experiences and I am starting to realize just how fast this trip has gone by. I am making it a new life goal to visit Rwanda again and meet with all the same amazing people again!

Trekking - Noah

Wow! What a day! It started before the sun was up. We jumped in our jeeps and headed to the Volcanoes National Park Headquarters. When we arrived there the group of Intore dancers that we saw perform yesterday performed again for us and the others as we were getting ready to go trekking. Some of the dancers remembered us and we exchanged hellos. After their performance, we joined them to the side of the stage and spontaneously started to dance. It just seemed like the right thing to do! After that we gathered up into groups of eight and headed up the mountain. My group was scheduled to see the Amohoro group of gorillas which consisted of 18 gorillas in total. As we headed up the mountain we began to feel the elevation changes immediately, so we took many breaks along the way to catch our breath. When we finally arrived to where the family of gorillas were nesting, the elevation was 3,000 meters! Yet most of us were so excited to see the family that it didn't matter how tired we felt. It was amazing how close we were to the gorillas! I was only a couple of feet away from the dominant silver-back and a few of the younger gorillas. They didn't seem to mind the company though because they were either napping on the brush or nibbling on some bamboo. One of the younger gorillas was climbing a tree behind us and startled us when he took down an entire tree without any struggle! Overall, it was an amazing experience, one I know I will be talking about for a long time. It makes me sad to know that there are still poachers who set traps and seek to kill these amazing creatures. However, I am very happy to know that our $500 directly helped the conservation of the gorillas and local community as well.

Missionaries and The Market - Nasteha Ahmed

Even though I was sad about not being able to go gorilla trekking after hearing about it the night before, it was still an interesting day. I had the whole day to do what ever I wanted so Greta and I went to the market and did a little shopping for friends and relatives that we will be seeing over the summer. We went to the craft market and bought earrings and bracelets. After shopping we went to get lunch and met missionaries from Arizona. One of the guys was really interested about what our class was doing in Rwanda and what we had learned. As we explained to them what we were doing and learning, I realized how much we really knew, which was a lot. Even though we didn't get to see all of the cute baby gorillas like the other group did, it was still an eventful day.

Wednesday

More baskets? Alright! -- Cami Marie

Today was the first physically exhausting day, and I'm thankful for the experience. The morning hike reminded me I am physically more capable of more than I often believe. We crossed streams by two, not so sturdy, logs laying across the water. At first I wanted to turn around. After crossing the first one successfully, I was reminded that I do have a sense a balance. I was ready to take on the second crossing. Besides my body image boost, the hike granted me with the opportunity to see villages and fields first hand. I have often felt removed from the people while I gaze at them and hear children yelling "muzungu" from the bus windows. Today I was on the ground. I shook many hands, exchanged smiles and short greetings, and gained a limited, but better, perspective of the everyday terrain traveled by the local people. No matter what I am an outsider, and in no way is it possible to begin to understand the daily life of the people around Musanze (my current location). However, just spending one morning on the ground was so delightful and provided me with a new and desired outlook.

After the hike, we worked with women in a basket weaving collective. I've been seeing (and buying) many baskets over the last week and a half. Today, I welcomed the opportunity to meet women who do it and to attempt doing so myself. I really liked weaving. I think I could get more into if given the chance. I'm going to hang up the souvenir of my work when I return to MN. For all you blog readers, I hope your friends here in Rwanda bring you a basket.

I spent the afternoon at the local market. I was waiting for a couple of shirts I ordered to be finished. Angela, Yvan, and I spoke with some of the seamstresses and cloth sellers about their job and babies. I found out how very little seamstresses actually make. After the cost of renting a stall and sewing machine, one woman reported making 5,000 RWF or about 8 USD per month. On a different note, child delivery is free at the hospital, but it the government charges if they find out a woman delivers at home/outside of the hospital. These are a couple of the interesting things I found out. Many thanks to Yvan for translating! Many conversations thus far have been limited to one topic or in a short time period. I was thankful for the opportunity to have speak with people casually about important topics.

Overall, today was another great day!

Wildlife, mountains and volcanoes! -- carolyn

Despite how difficult the climb down today was, I was very happy we did it. The view was incredible and I loved getting a feel for the countryside. It made me so excited for gorilla trekking tomorrow! I was also very excited to take part in the basket weaving (even though mine turned out looking terrible). I love that we get the opportunity to interact with local people instead of only going to tourist places. It truly gives you a feel for what Rwanda really is like. The most amazing thing so far has been the wildlife. Every single creature here is so beautiful! I will be so disappointed to leave on Sunday. Everywhere you look here, there is something new and awe-inspiring. I absolutely love the view of the mountains and volcanoes here. That is something you rarely get to see when you live in Minnesota and I truly appreciate the opportunity to be here.

Tuesday

And now, the photos - Professor E-H

The first two photos are from a Twa (aka 'pygmy') village. This group originally made its living as poachers in the Virunga mountains. They were relocated, but remain close to the area, as part of the mountain gorilla conservation efforts. They now earn a living as farmers and potters. The local tour group with which we are working, Amahoro Tours, centers on offering community-based tourism opportunities that offers a benefit to communities such as these, as opposed to exploiting them without financial gain.







The rest of the photos are from the Intore Dance presentation. This is a traditional Rwandan dance, once performed for the monarchy and which typically tell a story. In one dance we observed, a young man was attempting - without success - to court a young woman. His replacement succeeded. As you can, see the students had quite a good time!



















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Tuesday - Angela

It's all about details. It's often details that adds richness to an experience or gives it depth. Without that depth there is less meaning taken from experiences shared by people. Sometimes those moments are the most beautiful, laughable, and can be insightful.

As we left Kigali this morning, I realized that our group has coalesced. Our group has been together many hours over the last week. We all know who the Princess is, who gets separated easily (causing delays and a bit of crankiness of the part of those waiting), who has money left for food and who might not, and who is absurdly afraid of primates with long tails. There was camaraderie on the bus this morning during our two hour hike to Musanze. Good natured teasing each other about their idiosyncratic ways. These are the details that add a richness to our group experience of Rwanda, Africa, and each other.

This afternoon we were able to observe the performances of two different villages near Volcanoes National Park. The two groups displayed versions of their traditional singing and dancing for us, which were different in dress and lyric but similar in that each was specific to their people. The details distinguished their renditions from each other, while at the same time uniting them as Rwandans celebrating their culture. I've wondered whether or not performances like these, displayed for tourists, fit in with the idea of restorative justice. By celebrating the differences between villages, is tolerance fostered? I think so. Just less than twenty years after the genocide, distinct groups of people in Rwandan society are able to publicly perform their interpretation of history, the details of each group being encouraged and celebrated.

Arriving in Musanze - Lauren

Today we left the big city of Kigali and winded our way around the mountains to arrive in the beautiful city of Musanze, formerly Ruhengeri. Upon our arrival, we checked into our hotel and were able to visit two villages, both of which greeted us with a song of welcome. At one of the villages, we got to witness a Rwandan dance given to us by the Intore Dancers. These men were dressed in traditional clothing and put on quite a show in long, flowing blonde headbands and spears. There were women singing and dancing as well, and the group collectively put on a memorable performance. I would say the best part of this was when we, as the visitors were pulled onto center stage by the dancers to learn to the best of all our abilities some authentic African moves. I belive this happened at least three times throughout the dance, and the dancers were even willing to share their costumes with us for the sake of a good time. In the midst of this dancing and singing and getting lost in the experience, I couldn't help but feel a bit jealous. I admired the dancers for taking such interest in their culture and appreciated their willingness to share it, but I couldn't help but wish that back home we had something such as this, that did as well a job combining such old traditions and bringing a community together in participation. America most definately has its own unique culture and traditions, that is for certain, but seeing this spectacle of singing and dancing in its traditional form, bringing the village together to welcome strangers just had a much different feel to it than anything I have ever experienced in the U.S. There was something about it that was so organic and the pride taken in sharing this experience with us was obvious. It was really cool seeing this one piece of Rwandan culture that was able to unite not only the people of this country but us as outsiders as well.

So You Think You Can Dance--Jennifer Hamilton

We visited an orphanage where the "children" ranged in age from three to twenty-five! I never thought that an orphanage would have people over eighteen, but where else are they supposed to go? Many of the people that ended up at the orphanage have had breaks in school so they may be twenty-five and still in high school. After we had our tour of the grounds, we got to hang out with the kids.

The first thing I heard as I walked up to the orphanage was "Bad Romance" by Lady Gaga. I was confused until I saw the iPod and docking station and the volunteer it belonged to. It turned out that there was a group of five volunteers from University of Western Ontario (London, ON, Canada) which spent the afternoons there after teaching English at the local elementary school. Each volunteer sacrificed his or her phone and camera to the kids for the afternoon. One went above all the rest by also lending out her music.

Jamming to the music inevitably lead to dancing to the music. Unfortunately, when we went closer, the boy that was dancing got really shy. It took some getting used to, but he eventually showed off his skills to us outsiders. Then three really young boys walked onto the stage and showed everyone up. They were extremely talented and fun to watch. On the sidelines, I saw others who were younger and more shy doing the same moves! This home for orphans has turned into a home of dancers.

Note: Visit www.gisimba.org and http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-12978946 for more on the fascinating history of Gisimba.

BAGELS? - Nasteha Ahmed

Today we had the opportunity to go eat at a bagel co-op place started by a woman named Robin Smyth and her husband, Rich. She and her family moved to Rwanda six and half years ago for a missionary journey. She told us about how they first wanted to help street boys with things like medicine and housing, but discovered that not all the boys were homeless, but that they were living in extreme poverty. As years went by, Robin and her family decided to started a home for women and children. That turned into a workshop showing the women how to live on their own by making earrings and, eventually, bagels. The bagel operation became successful because there was a high demand for bagels from other moms whose children went to school with Robin's.They went from making just bagels to making tortillas, quesadillas, chips, and dip. They are the only supplier of doughnuts in Rwanda. Robin explained to us how there are lines out the door on Saturdays for the doughnuts. Its amazing something as small as bagels can help so many people!

Note: You can check out the African Bagel Company on facebook or Google them for more info about their work.

Sunday

Hamline on Safari - Professor E-H






















Need I say more?

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The Safari--Christian Taber

Many words come to mind as I try to describe our safari through Akagera National Park. Breathtaking, best describes this experience for me. In the days leading up to the safari I watched National Geographic before falling asleep. This led to dreams of wild, majestic animals that can only be seen at zoos back in the U.S.

As we first entered the park, baboons hopped around and gave us an occasional stare to declare that it was their territory. As we settled in our rooms we all had a rule sheet as to “how to behave around baboons” which is when it hit me—I am now a part of National Geographic.

The early morning sunrise took my breath away as it rose behind the mountains of Tanzania and above the lake within park. Our safari began at 7 A.M. sharp and lasted an entertaining 5 hours. We first came across Water Buffalo that were being bothered by swarms of flies. These flies became immediately focused on us. These biting flies did not makes us close our windows or the roofs of our Land Cruisers, but instead prompted us to put on extra layers of clothing as we did not want to surrender in anyway. We then made our way to Hippo Beach for a chance to see these huge and territorial animals. These Hippos were shy at first but within minutes we saw them poke their heads up and blow water in the air as a Whale would. We then wore our welcome out and set off to see our next animal. I extremely desired to see an Elephant and, sure enough, as we drove a group of these large animals crossed the road ahead of us. As I looked around, everyone was sticking
their heads out the roof for a chance to capture a picture. They then made
their way further into the trees, but we were still able to see their giant
white tusks through the brush. The next stop was the grassy plain where several different groups of animals were grazing but still seemed to be all one with each other. I looked to the left and saw a family of Giraffes squatting as low as they could to get a drink of water. I looked to the right and saw a
herd of Zebras doing a horrible job of blending in with the grass. Ahead of us
a herd of Impalas looked at us with curiosity, and behind us many different
species of animals that I couldn’t even identify (due to my lack of knowledge
of African animals) were breathtakingly grazing with no fear at all. We even saw Warthogs in the distance, which immediately made me think of movie The Lion King.

As we departed out of the park we saw a bird fly next to us with such great color we questioned if it was real. This experience was amazing and unforgettable as I was finally able to catch my breath as we made our way back to Kigali.

SAFARI!! - Noah

What a weekend!! It has always been a dream of mine to go on a real African safari. Actually being in a jeep driving through the park was a dream come true. Although there were a few bumps in the road, it was an experience I will never forget. This morning started off smoothly with one of the best omelets I've ever had and a great view of the sunrise from the dining hall. Then, we all piled into the jeeps and started on our journey north through the park. We were told to put on some extra bug spray and wear long sleeves due to the amount of bugs we were going to encounter, but I was still surprised at how many made it into our jeep. At first, it seemed like there were one or two buzzing around inside. I would swat a couple here and there, yet they kept coming and even started to annoy our driver. We even stopped a couple times so he could get the flies off of him, which I thought was pointless because of the fact that there wasn't a top on the jeep. Therefore, we were starting to fall behind the rest of the jeeps and the driver kept focusing on the flies rather than the road. Then, all of a sudden, the jeep strayed from the road! We off-roaded it for about 10-15 yards! It was completely unexpected and we suddenly stopped after hitting a tree and some bushes! It woke everyone up, and made us realize that we should probably close the tops and catch up to the other jeeps. Thankfully we were all okay and nobody was hurt.

The rest of the day definitely made up for the early mishap. One of the highlights of the day was seeing a group of elephants hiding behind some trees. Our tour guide told us that she had been on the safari five times before and had never seen an elephant, until today. Also, we were able to see a group of giraffes roaming around and they even stopped for a drink of water. Overall, we all had great time exploring the park. It's an experience I know I will never forget!

Saturday

Baboons and more baboons! - Professor E-H

We spent late yesterday on safari, seeing giraffes, zebras, antelope, impalas, water buffalo and... baboons! Here are a few snapshots.
















I asked the guide if he knew the population of baboons and was it in the hundreds. He said, "Higher." I said, "Thousands?" He said, Higher. Hundred-thousand." I'm not certain that's not a translation issue, but they are everywhere! This morning, on my way to breakfast, I stepped out to the open hallway only to see two baboons, one carrying its baby, strolling toward me. I'm not afraid to admit that I went back into my room until I heard someone else leaving his/her room! Safety in numbers. I heard a door closed, called, "Helloooo," and saw one of our guides, Gisele. We walker together to breakfast, chatting loudly. Sharing the hallway with a baboon is too close for comfort in my book!

We're off for five hours in another part of the park and then back to Kigali later today.

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Spiders on safari - Angela

After I ate dinner this evening, I headed back to my room, wondering if my roommate would be sleeping already. I really wasn't interested in waking her, but I didn't have a key, so I knocked quietly on the door. Imagine my surprise as I hear her screech from inside, "We have a problem - I'm not sure if I can get to the door. There is a huge spider blocking it." When I heard the part about the problem, my first thought was that the toilet or shower overflowed, and our room was now flooded - our stuff ruined. But when she got to the part about the spider, I couldn't quit picturing a spider the size of a small dog. C'mon. Really? Could it be that huge? I know we're in Africa, but just open the door already. I wanted to know what we were dealing with. Are there tarantulas in Rwanda? I wasn't sure.

I urged her to just scoot past it and let me in, and finally, in a screaming flurry, she came bursting out the door, jumping around and asking if it's on her body, her arms and legs flailing. I assured her it wasn't, took my can of bug spray and bravely entered to check out how huge this thing was. I should point out that my roommate is not someone that I'm familiar with, I didn't know her before the trip, so I don't know how to take her paranoia - does she overreact, could she be accurate in her depiction? I'm not a fan of spiders by any means, but I'm not usually too afraid to kill one. She said he's fast...I wondered how fast that could be?

All of these thoughts raced through my mind as I looked behind the door and into the bathroom, which is adjacent to the entry. At last I saw him in the shadow of the sink in our dimly lit bathroom. I use the bug spray and he scurries - quicker than most Minnesota spiders, I will admit - under the shower curtain. Blast, but I didn't want to lose him in the shower 'cause I planned to use that later. I pulled back the curtain and let him have it with the Ultrathon 8 hour super strength insect repellent. As he ran back and forth between the sink and the curtain, I followed. And he slowed down, until at last he couldn't take the 25% deet advanced 3M controlled release technology any longer. He was very nearly swimming in it when he gave up. One last leg kick, one last loud, terrifying shriek from my roommate and it was over. I wondered if this is how Teddy Roosevelt felt after a big kill on the African plain. My safari is now complete.

Friday

Time Zones

I just noticed that the blog is (still) set for Central Time. E.g., it's Saturday morning here, but the post I just added says it's Friday. I'm not going to change the settings, but know that we're 7 hours ahead of Central Time and that will affect how our posts are logged. Cheerio!

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Off on safari - Professor E-H

In a couple of hours we will pile into the 4x4s and head east to Akagera National Park (http://www.rwanda-direct.com/rwanda-akagera-park/). We seem to be guaranteed (insert knock on head) to see birds, zebras, giraffes, and all kind of antelope. Whether we see a hippo and some of the other wildlife is questionable. Not only was poaching a problem in the 1980s, but in the post-genocide years the size of the park has been reduced. And, during the genocide apparently a lot of the animals fled or were killed and have only recently started to repopulate the area - some naturally, some by introduction. We are also guaranteed to see baboons as they apparently hang out around the hotel, which is situated in the middle of the park. In fact, I guess if you're on the main level and don't keep your patio door closed they might just come in for a visit! Yikes! I'm told that it's normally a two hour drive, but we have to take a detour because of recent flooding and it will be closer to three. Either way, it's all interesting.

On a more academic note, one of the things that we discussed prior to our departure was the impact of the park/tourism on local communities and the need to involve those communities in decision-making. What we haven't discussed is animal rights and the ethics of photo safaris by vehicle. So many issues, so little time. Although I don't like zoos, I also know that having the opportunity to see animals has the potential to encourage folks to be mindful of our impact on the environment, etc. Like so many things, a double-edged sword. In this case, while I do think there must be some impact from having vehicles go cruising through, at least they're not confined and are living (otherwise) naturally. I'm looking forward to the opportunity to see these creatures in their natural habitat!

If possible, I'll post some photos!

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Thursday

Highlights of Rwanda with Yvonne and Greta

Yvonne: So Greta, what has been your favorite part of this trip so far?

Greta: I have enjoyed it all, but one of my favorite places that we went to was the reconciliation village in Mbyo. A reconciliation village is a village where perpetrators and survivors, as well as returned refugees, of the 1994 genocide live together in peace. When we first got there, some of the village elders welcomed us with a song and dance, which everyone enjoyed! After the welcoming, they gave us a brief history of the genocide and their village. A man admitted to killing six people and said that he lost humanity. He told us that he was very heavily influenced by the government to kill, but now through asking and receiving forgiveness from the family of his victims, he has repaired his lost humanity. After he spoke, a survivor spoke about her experiences during the genocide. They now both live happily in the same village and work together to move forward, “I feel like I’m in heaven!” said the man who spoke about killing.

Greta: Today we went to Never Again Rwanda and to the African Great Lakes Initiative, what did you think of these visits?

Yvonne: I thought both of the visits were unique approaches to teaching youth about peace efforts in Rwanda. The first location, Never Again Rwanda was centered towards youth ages 14 to 28. One of the speakers was a professor at the national university. Compared to some of the other places where we have heard the history of the genocide, his reflected some of the academic discussion on the genocide. I enjoyed this style of discussion because not only is it familiar but it added another layer to my understanding of what happened and the type of debate that is happening in some of the schools in Rwanda. In my opinion, education in the form of debates and the emphasis on critical thinking is one of the greatest steps they are taking towards reconciliation here. The other place that we visited was in line with this focus on education but they target primary 5 students (the equivalent of fifth graders). The place we went to was a small library called the Children’s Peace Library. I finally had the opportunity to play some soccer, which was a nice chance to interact with the kids and have some fun (though I have been having fun everywhere we go). The library was a great example of what the people at Never Again Rwanda talked about, which was that small efforts could contribute a huge change for peace.

Yvonne: We have consistently been eating at a lot of great restaurants and even breakfast every morning has been pretty tasty. What has been your favorite food that you have eaten here so far?

Greta: Fou Fou at Afrika Bite! It has been my favorite food because I grew up eating it in Côte d’Ivoire and I haven’t had the real African Fou Fou since.

Greta: What are you looking forward to for the remainder of this trip?

Yvonne: I think this weekend is going to be really exciting. I am really looking forward to getting some sun and hanging out by the pool at the Hotel des Milles Collines - the hotel that the movie 'Hotel Rwanda' is based on. It is going to be surreal to be swimming at the hotel where historic events of the genocide occurred. Then hopefully we will be able to see some great animals on Saturday and Sunday at Akagera National Park on our morning and afternoon safaris. From what I can see, the next half of our trip is going to be just as great as the first half, if not better.

Greta and Yvonne: Mzungu* out!

*Mzungu: Kinyarwanda for white person/foreigners

Potpourri - Professor E-H

Greetings from Kigali! We've had a jam packed week, but I think things are going very well. Yesterday was filled with visits to the Gashora Sector to hear about Vision 2020, the government's plan to eradicate poverty by the year 2020 and the challenges faced by rural communities; a maize cooperative that works with the UN's World Food Programme; a local collective bank, essentially what we would know as a credit union; the Gashora Girls Academy; and Mbyo reconciliation Village, where survivors and perpetrators live together, working toward reconciliation.

Re the latter, check out either www.asweforgivemovie.com or www.livingbrickscampaign.org to learn more, including a trailer for the film. You will, I think, find it an amazing story. "As We Forgive" was one of the first, if not the first, documentaries I saw that focused on restorative justice in Rwanda. As we were leaving the site yesterday and several men were shaking our hands, I was stunned to realize that I was sure I recognized one of the residents who had been featured in the film. And, shockingly, I remembered his name. That's not typical for me. Clearly, the film had stayed with me more than I had realized. I asked one of our guides, Yvan, to ask this fellow if he had been in a film; if his name was Saveri. Sure enough, it was. It was so bizarre to have watched a film in North America and, several years later, to be standing in rural Rwanda face to face with one of the individuals profiled in the film.

More of the small world... In what I think was 2009, while living in Canada, I had the good fortune to hear Florence Ntakarutimana speak about the reconciliation workshops sponsored by the African Great Lakes Initiative. That was when I first saw part of Patrick Mureithi's film, "Icyizere: hope" (www.josiahfilms.com). He's the filmmaker that, with my First Year Seminar class and the support of several colleagues, I brought to campus last November. I highly recommend it. But, I digress... It was quite fun to have heard Ms. Ntakarutimana speak in Fredericton, New Brunswick and to meet people today, here in Kigali, who know her. It really does make the world feel quite small.


This fellow, above, spoke to us about having killed during the 1994 genocide and his process of reconciliation. He lives in Mbyo with other perpetrators and survivors.


This is the type of home built by perpetrators for survivors and themselves, often with the help of survivors.


And, just for something light - have you had your banana today?

Tomorrow morning we hear from a representative of the National Service of Gacaca Courts. The students then have the afternoon free. Some will lounge by the pool at the Hotel des Milles Collines - aka 'Hotel Rwanda' - while at least one student plans to pass on that leisure activity to return to the Children's Peace Library. Then, on Saturday we head to Akagera National Park for a weekend of recreation - aka safari.

Also, a note to parents - I don't know what our Internet access will be like once we leave Kigali so if the blog goes silent for a bit, don't panic. It just means we're having trouble with access!

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Just a quick note -- carolyn

What I will miss the most when I get home are the people (especially the children). These people have truly made their way into my heart.

Tuesday May 30th - Jasmyne



Yesterday was a very eventful day! My favorite visit of the day was our stop at the Gashora Girls Academy. When we first arrived, we talked to the headmaster of the school and he told us about when the school was founded, the opportunities they offer, challenges they have, etc. I was just very excited to meet the girls.


When I first sat down to eat with them, they seemed a little shy. After going around the table, introducing ourselves, they started to loosen up. Right away you could tell that these girls were incredibly smart and very serious about school. This was obvious because school was all we talked about during lunch. They asked me about Hamline, the process of getting into college, tuition, and different scholarships you could apply for. I was extremely impressed with these girls and their dedication to their education because when I was their age (14-15), I knew I wanted to go to college, but wasn't thinking so far ahead as to what I would need to do to get there. Also, the fact that I majored in Math and Education really made me interested in these students. When I become a teacher, I would LOVE to have students like these girls.


Overall, I loved visiting them and it was great to be in the presence of such intelligent women of color. I absolutely enjoy their company!  


Gashora Girls Academy--Salisa

Yesterday we had many site visits including a basket weaving collective from which we all received peace baskets as gifts from the women who made the baskets and run the collective. It was truly amazing to receive those gifts from the president of the collective. The day was full of wonderful moments like that one.

One of my best moments was a conversation that I had with a table of young Rwandan women at the Gashora Girls Academy. We visited the school and spoke with the headmaster before eating lunch with the girls. We talked about everything from future plans and university education in America to The Hunger Games and literature vs. science. I was extremely impressed with the girls at Gashora as well as the work of the headmaster.

That conversation was one of the best conversations I've ever had with anyone. They wanted to know about me at length. They asked about my Africa tattoo and my time in Rwanda, asked about my dreams and aspirations ; I was so inspired by them. When I told them that I was a writer they asked me if I had written a book yet and what kinds of things that I wanted to write. I told them that I love fiction but that I am primarily a poet and they instantly wanted to see my poems. I promised them that I would send them a poem and I got the email of the headmaster so that I will be able send a poem or two to the students.

I am so very excited to send them some of my work and continue building a relationship with the academy.

Wonderful day,

Salisa

Wednesday

The Events of Tuesday the 29th - Cami Marie

First of all, so far this trip has been exciting, intense, and emotional. I am grateful to be here. As a near graduate, it is refreshing to have an experience so closely relating to what I studied. I have been interested in restorative justice and mediation since my second year of college. The events of Tuesday really highlighted how this process can work, even in extreme cases. After a genocide leaving one million dead, it is hard to imagine what the proper steps would be to encourage and support the healing of a community. Yesterday we visited with a man from the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC) and the creator of Prison Fellowship Rwanda. The meeting with the NUCR really exposed me to the role of the government in community healing. This compared to the small organization of the Prison Fellowship really emphasizes the benefit of grassroots organizations and the government working together. It amazes me the turn around that the country has made over the past 18 years. Both meetings really inspire me. In fact, I am seriously considering applying for an internship with Prison Fellowship Rwanda in the next year.

Hearing Pastor Deo from Prison Fellowship Rwanda speak was bone chilling and beautiful. This man lost a significant number (45) of family members to the genocide. To this day, he doesn't know their location or death details. Yet he finds the strength in his heart to speak with prisoners, perpetrators of the genocide which harmed his family and has caused him great pain. He doesn't only speak with them. He has forgiven offenders and has even befriended some which he now works with. His work also includes mediating meetings that bring victims and perpetrators together, collecting supplies for women with babies in prison, and caring for street children. As we were leaving, one of the street children he has cared for came out and spoke with us and told him how this man, Pastor Deo, is his father and has changed his life. It was proof of the great work Pastor Deo has done. The young man also showed us a rap, dance, song, and flips that Deo inspired him to learn. Pastor Deo has truly moved me. I hope I am able to contribute such needed love and dedication to the world one day.

Other highlights of the day include a delicious lunch at Afrika Bite and short trip to the market where I made many delightful purchases.

More later -

Tuesday

Tuesday -- Carolyn

The past few days have been so overwhelming and so exciting. Only being here for a few day has allowed me to learn so much. Its amazing to be able to have a conversation with people you meet in restaurants and hear straight from them all about the topics we have been learning. I never thought I would receive the opportunities I have already received since I've been here. I've met so many new friends and the people here are so nice. So far, the most eye-opening experience has been the day we spent at all the memorial centers. Seeing the pictures of the victims reminded me of the photos I have of my family, and it truly allowed me to wrap my head around just how tragic this event truly was. It was almost overwhelming to truly be able to understand what happened here and to finally see it in a real way instead of trying to understand it through readings. While it was extremely frightening and painful to learn about, I am so grateful to get the opportunity to get a glimpse into what these people have been through. Despite their horrible experiences, most Rwandans are so positive and have so much hope for the future. I am so amazed at how much strength it must take to forgive the perpetrators of these crimes. The courage these people have is so much more than I have ever even heard of before. I know I will miss this place when it is gone because it has already left such a great impression on me and I cannot express in words how proud I am to know these amazing people.

Monday

Monday - Angela

Our group just returned to the hotel from a family style dinner at a
Rwandan restaurant called Republika. I have to admit that I have been a
little worried about food. Last evening we ate pizza together at O Sole
Luna, which is an excellent Italian restaurant. Today as we traversed
through our day, people pointed out many restaurants – none of which were
Rwandan. I worried that most of my gastronomical experiences here would
default to cuisine from other ethnicities because they’d be more familiar
or conveniently located. Rest assured; I tried new foods tonight. The
most daunting was a little fish about the size of a minnow. It was deep
–fried whole and served with a dipping sauce that resembled tarter. Kari
suggested not eating the tail, but the rest was to be devoured in a single
bite. Thankfully what I’ve heard is true – it tasted mostly like something
deep-fried. And the eyes didn’t have a slimy texture. The rest of the
meal was recognizable – fried bananas and plantain, goat, beef, chicken,
seasoned rice, Irish potatoes, and steamed spinach are just a few of the
dishes we were served. Most things were seasoned with curry or other
spices that are common here. Our meal was delicious and filling.

Besides eating, we spent the day visiting three different genocide
memorials in or near Kigali. At the first site this morning, the thing
I’ve had the most trouble coming to terms with is that at least 500,000
women who survived the genocide are rape victims. I’m wondering what kind
of counseling and therapy is available to these women. How can these women function normally in their lives, without shutting down a part of
themselves and their memory to do so? And by shutting out these painful
memories, can true reconciliation take place? In restorative justice,
there is an emphasis on open dialogue between the victim, perpetrator, and
members of the community. However, if only part of what happened is
acknowledged (I’m not sure at this point how openly instances of rape are
discussed), how can true reconciliation take place? I understand that in
the next several days, we will be meeting with organizations whose goals
are oriented toward social welfare, and I hope to find out more about what
kinds of services are available to the citizens of Rwanda. My interests
include not only how women are being helped, but everyone who has suffered from the violence during the time of the genocide.

At dinner last night, after I had question Rwandan access to medical
treatments, our guide mentioned that he contracted malaria last summer. I
was interested to find out that he quite able to obtain the quinine needed
to treat it fairly easily. It seems that Rwandan national health care is
quite helpful. Yvan went on to say that being ill for two weeks wasn’t a
picnic, but that he has no lasting effects of the disease and that there is
no preventative medication that citizens here take. He said that cases of
malaria in Kigali are only about 5-6 per year and, in the country as a
whole, the worst areas are only at about 1-2 cases per month. These
numbers are significantly better since the government has given out
mosquito nets and regularly sprayed in most areas.

Kigale Genocide Memorial Centre - Professor E-H

I didn't know that this was part of the plan, but...as a part of our visit to the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre, our local contacts arranged for the "Hamline delegation" to more formally remember the victims of the 1994 genocide. As trip leader, I was asked to place the arrangement. Everyone else in the group then placed a single flower. This was followed by a minute of silence. In the photo, you see the flowers resting on one of the mass graves at the Centre.




When we left the Centre, we visited two memorials that are about an hour outside, Kigali - Nyamata and Ntarama. Hopefully at least one of the students will choose to offer a post about today's experiences.

Tomorrow we visit the National Unity and Reconciliation Commisson where we are scheduled to meet with its president, Bishop John Rucyahana. After lunch, we will visit Prison Fellowship Rwanda. Stay tuned!

Rwanda Day 2 - Lauren

Today was very mentally taxing as we went to visit three memorials of the genocide. The reality hit pretty hard for me. We had seen some of these places through different videos in the classroom, but actually being there is an entirely different story. It has never been in my character to cry much at all, especially in front of people, but I found it difficult to not let the setting get to me. I think the most sickening and most memorable part was seeing the churches full of the clothing the victims were wearing, their remains, and the wall of the church with it's gruesome reminder of what happened. Being in these places made incredibly real the past. I almost felt like I had no business in these places as I could never fully understand what these people and their families went through, but I realize how important it is that everyone try to allow themselves to understand the tragedy so as to prevent a recurrance. Being in Rwanda is interesting because going to these places was more than somewhat depressing and has made me question humanity, but at the same time they are doing so much to move forward and reestablish themselves as a united, successful nation that my faith is restored a little. Going to these sites provoked a heavy feeling that I would have liked to avoid, but I think that's the point of these. Hiding in a comfort zone is easy but letting yourself fully experience the situation will at least allow for growth.

Boys Boys Boys -- Jennifer

Our first day in Rwanda was incredible! Kigali is a gorgeous city I am absolutely in love with! I love seeing all of the different kinds of cars and buses, and the amount of people who travel on foot still surprises me. The best stop of the whole day was at Les Enfants De Dieu, a center  for street boys. When we first get there the founder had a few words to say about the institution and how it is run.  The center has set up a ministry system for the boys to teach them responsibility. The boys elect eight different ministers to oversee the administration, staff, sports, money, and other things which are escaping my memory at the moment. The ministers are the bosses of the institution controlling how money is spent and who works there. This system really stuck with me because I am in Education. Giving young boys who were living on the street such responsibility is an incredible self-esteem boost. In the ministry positions they have trust, responsibility, and the power to make a difference. One boy spoke to me about how he used to be angry and full of hate when he was on the street, but the center has taught him to see love again. He has found happiness at the center and is studying hard for the examination that will get him to the next level of schooling. He wants to learn, and ultimately share his experience with others wherever he can find them. This boy, along with all the others I met, will stay in my mind forever. I can't wait to see what the rest of the trip has in store for me.

AMAZING, Nasteha Ahmed

Words can not describe how amazing the first day in Rwanda has been. We got to tour the Kigali (pronounced Chigali) and I can honestly say that it is one of the most beautiful cities I have had the opportunity to see. I did not expect it to be so green and lush. The people were unbelievably great to all of us and our tour guides have been very helpful. Visiting Les Enfants de Dieu was amazing and hearing about all the kids' backgrounds and stories. I was impressed with the way they were willing to try out their English by communicating with complete strangers. One of the kids who used to be part of the youth center but now comes back regularly told me about how much he loved being part of the youth center and his upcoming adventures to London to present a hip-hop film he made. Being from Africa myself I thought Rwanda would be familiar to the other places I have been to and in some ways it is but there are great differences as well. I am so excited to learn so much about this amazing culture and its people.

Sunday

Murakaza neza (Welcome): First Day In Kigali--Salisa


I have never felt so welcomed in any space, Rwandans really know how to make you feel special, like family. I am happy to say that the joy that I felt overtaking me as we landed in Kigali last night is still floating around my stomach and spilling from my smile. I am so happy to be here, so happy. I am constantly trying to control my urge to scream and sing and dance. I'm in AFRICA, the Motherland.

Today we took a two hour tour around Kigali which is where we will be staying for a good chunk of our stay in Rwanda. It was pleasing to hear Rwandan history from Rwandans first hand and not simply from books or people who have studied or lived in Rwanda for short durations. Giselle (one of our guides) told us a bit about pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial Rwanda as well as pre and post-genocide Rwanda. Our guides are kind people who smile and laugh with us and thank us a lot. I try to thank them at least as much as they thank us, they have to put up with 14 inquisitive Americans for the next two weeks so I appreciate them.

I was very conscious of looking and feeling like a tourist today so I was extremely happy to be received so well by so many. As a Black American woman, I have made Africa very much a part of my identity, and yet there is that subtle fear that the love that we, as African Americans who were stolen from Africa and know only America as home, have for Africa will be only a romanticized dream of a home that was lost so long ago. After today I know more now than ever that this is not true. When I look at the beautiful people of Rwanda I see people who look like me, people who look like those that I know and love back in the U.S. And when they see me, many of them see an African woman, not unlike their mothers, sisters, wives, daughters, and friends, which is what I am. While I know and understand the differences and the cultural context that is at play (because I know that I am not Rwandan and that I was indeed born in the U.S.) I no longer fear that Africa is not for me to call home, my ancestors called it home and I will never trade that for the title of "American" alone. So much has been confirmed for me today and my heart is the fullest that it has ever been.

While on our tour we visited the Belgian Troop Memorial where 10 Belgian troops were killed in 1994 which was very moving and unsettling at the same time, as well as the Hotel des Milles Collines where approximately 1,200 Rwandans were saved and where the movie Hotel Rwanda is set. We will be returning to the hotel on Friday for the afternoon. One thing that I appreciated about the Belgian Troop Memorial was a display of global genocides that was hung on a wall inside. This display illustrated all global genocides that they recognized, and it included North America on the list of genocides beginning in 1492 and with no end date. I appreciated this because in America we are often quick to turn our noses up and look down upon other nations with difficult histories yet in my opinion we have so much of our own mess to be concerned about before passing judgement on others.

After the tour of Kigali we visited Les Enfants de Dieu which is a youth center for Rwandan street boys. That organization was so amazing. They greeted us with a dance and pulled some of us in to dance with them. The little girl that I danced with had the smile of an angel and when she grabbed my hand I felt like I was flying. There we learned about the history of the center from their project manager, a man with so much joy in his eyes that I instantly liked him. We met the students and were welcomed by one of the eight youth ministers before we had lunch with the boys and some of the girls who came for the dance.

We met so many wonderful young men today. We talked about everything from Nicki Minaj to Kobe Bryant to nationalities. Many of the boys were taken aback that I, a Black woman, was also American and even more so that I was born in the U.S., and even further more so that my mother was also born in the U.S. One of the young men, the minister of administration who welcomed us to lunch addressed Jasmyne and I in Kinyarwandan which is the native language of Rwandans. He assumed that we were Rwandan and one young man even exclaimed, "But you're Black, aren't you African?!" To which I replied, "Yes, I am, I'm African American." Identity is oh so interesting and I learned so much from these young men today.

We had dinner at a beautiful Italian restaurant close to our hotel called O Sole Luna and finished the night with a nice walk around the area. The night was beautiful, the day was beautiful, Rwanda is so beautiful.

Can't wait to see what tomorrow brings!

From the Land of a Thousand Hills,


Salisa

Les Enfants de Dieu

A few snapshots from our visit...













Sunday - Angela

On the way to MSP on Friday, I saw a hearse and I had to chuckle.  Was this a sign?  My mind flashed to the extent I've gone through to prepare for a trip of this nature.  The required yellow fever shot, updates on other immunizations for diseases that we don't usually encounter in the US anymore like measles and TB, anti-malaria meds, as well as an assortment pills to deal with GI issues. Hand sanitizer, sunscreen, bug spray...the list is a little exhausting and so is my bank account now. Sadly, the amount of money I've spent on drugs for the trip will probably dwarf the amount of any souvenirs I buy.  The main reason for this is, as I understand it, is that buying handcrafted African items is not very expensive.   We talked in class before we left about negotiating prices for anything we buy at markets.  I feel uncomfortable bartering with someone who makes approximately 500 US dollars a year, so I can get their product for half of the price they originally ask. I feel like I'm contributing to the perpetual ideology that Africa is less. I'd feel much better about the ability to negotiate for the malaria preventives-and I'd definitely save more money. Instead, I feel like I just lost an arm wrestling match. Drug companies are very powerful to be able to state the price they want, and with no allowance for negotiation by the consumer, get it. Why do I, again as a consumer, get to arm wrestle a street market vendor in Kigali? Who makes up the rules for these games, and why aren't the rules questioned more often? I guess it goes back to the hearse. How much is the idea of health and wellness worth? Or a life for that matter? I wonder how many Rwandans have access to, and the means to purchase, anti-malarial meds...

Saturday

Kigali - Professor E-H

We arrived in Kigali just after 7 pm last evening. From our Friday noon meeting time at MSP, it was a 24 hour trip as we're 7 hours ahead of Sint Paul. As expected, Kigali was hopping when we arrived. Except for the birds, an occasional rooster, and infrequent car, it's very quiet now - at 6:50 on a Sunday morning. I'll leave it to the students to post anything more about our trip and/or arrival, if they wish. Just wanted any friends or family who might check to know we've arrived safely. On to our first day!

Friday

This is all REAL! --Cami Marie

In a matter of a few hours I will be making my way to the airport. I'm inspired to write long sentences in all capital letters exclaiming my excitement!

I'm glad gorillas have been a theme of these posts. I spoke with the same man as Yvonne at REI. Marc was extremely helpful, and I greatly enjoyed everything he shared about his own gorilla trekking experience. He even showed me pictures! Last night I watched Gorillas in the Mist with a couple of friends. The DVD player decided to quit working in the middle, but I saw enough to decide I'm just not going to leave the mountains after the trek. Gorillas, I'm moving in! (I wish.)

Is it bad for me to admit I have yet to complete packing? I mean everything I'm bringing is right next to my packs. It's just a matter of putting it inside. For some reason this is always the hardest part for me. I can't help but wait until the last few hours to do so. But once I do it, I'm going out to breakfast and going to the airport! I'm hoping for an easy time sleeping on the flight. After all, I generally can't stay awake when I want to no matter where I am.

In just a few hours I will be sweating. Two years ago I would have been grimacing at this thought. Now I am simply delighted.

I think the most difficult part of this trip will be physically being in a place with such an intense recent history. A lot of the literature for class has put me into tears. I'm interested to see how I react once I'm actually there.

Enough ramble for now-

See you in Rwanda.