Day 7

Well, I was right. I have a cold. This will be my whiny post, so feel free to skip it. I woke up during the night and felt absolutely horrible. The rest of the night was awake/doze/awake. I was 'dreaming' that because I haven't yet confirmed Monday's flight they gave my seat away. Then, at one point, I was awakened by this tremendous - I'm not sure how to describe it - 'growling' sound, but not from an animal. It was an engine of some kind. Eventually that stopped and what was surely the smoke from diesel fuel permeated the room. Next I heard the famous monkeys scrambling around on the roof. I've not seem them yet and wish I had, but I've heard about the racket they make. Then the rains began. I actually like the sound of rain on a metal roof, but not when I'm wishing I could go back to sleep. Eventually I got up and, presumably because my light was on, someone came to see about breakfast. I got my hot water for tea and three pieces of cold toast with the 'medium fat spread.' I then had my third cold 'bird bath' - one really can't call it a shower - of the trip. I haven't had hot water since Thursday morning. My arthritic left hand and my left shoulder are killing me, presumably from my pack which I just can't remember/get used to carrying on my right. I'm dressed and ready to go, but it will be about two and a half hours before Kazu is due to pick me up.

It's about two hours to Kigali. Oh, a note on that. As I was riding down on the bus I was thinking, this is like a roller coaster only it will last two hours - the time they say it takes to get to Huye - and only cost about $3.62. We made the trip in 1:50. I mentioned that to both Celestin and Kazu. Both were shocked, responding that he must have been going really fast. Uh, yup. Really fast, even when the big red signs said "DANGER" and warned of a maximum speed of 40 kmh, or about 25 mph.

So, when I get back to Kigali I'm hoping to get to the market, unless it's pouring. I've not yet picked up anything to bring back, except for some tea from Nakumatt. On to the day!

Day 6

Having no Internet, no companions, not being up for wandering Huye in the dark, and having read for a while, I turned in around 8 last night and awoke some time during the night to absolute silence. Not a cricket, not bird, not a car, not a footstep. Not a rustle of leaves or a drip of water. It was really eerie in that I really didn't hear a thing, not even the buzz of a mosquito. I went back to sleep and when I awakened around 5-something birds were starting to chirp.

There's a bit of a language barrier here at the hotel and though pulling French from the recesses of my brain has been helpful in some instances, not so much in others. From the reading I had done before traveling, I knew that the breakfast consisted of coffee or tea and toast w/ jam, but that you could, allegedly, order eggs and pay separately for them. One of the things I've noticed is a tendency to convey understanding only to find out that there was no understanding at all. So, gluten insensitivity be damned, my breakfast consisted of tea and three slices of toast with what is labeled "medium fat spread," a type of margarine I presume. Honestly, the jam - in what was formerly a mayonnaise jar - looked a tad questionable. When something is unidentifiable, I consider it questionable. So, I stuck with the stuff that while no doubt bad for my arteries, had an identifiable provenance.

1:00 pm
Later this morning I met with, Celestin, a faculty member from PIASS. Also a Presbyterian pastor, he just completed his masters degree in peace and conflict studies. He has moved from what was - I'm unsure if it still is - a Faculty of Theology to the Department of Peace and Conflict Studies. He is originally from (the former) Gitarama. Though we didn't discuss it, I know this to be one of the areas often mentioned in writings on the 1994 genocide and, I believe, an area then controlled by the Hutu and the location of some of the key figures in leadership. We had a nice, albeit somewhat difficult, chat about students, tuition, academic calendars, etc. I say difficult not because of content, but accent. The official language of instruction changed from French to English sometime around 2008 and 2009, so most adults who completed secondary school before that time are fluent in Kinyarwanda and French, but not English. As students who go on to university speak Kinyarwanda, English, and French to varying degrees, their instructors are, in some instances, playing catch up on the English. But, as I like to point out when people apologize for their English, it's light years better than my Kinyarwanda!

When Celestin and I parted ways I went around the corner to the Hotel Ibis to see about lunch. Let me say for the record that I just had the best chicken I've had in four visits to Rwanda. I'm not enough of a cook to even know how to describe how it was cooked - braised, perhaps? But, it was not only amazingly tender - a rarity here, but had the best flavor. And, I had the good sense to order rice. Hard to believe, but even I am tired of French Fries. Even the vegetables, while reminiscent of the mixed vegetables of my elementary school cafeteria, were tasty. Clearly I was hungry! I sat on the patio while the world, or a good part of Huye, passed by. I returned just minutes ago, got out my iPad, sat down and, as I type this it is raining. So far my timing with regard to the rain has been very good.

I paused for a moment to read what I've typed and now the sun is shining. The sky is a mix of blue with puffy, white clouds and stretches of more ominous gray. But, I've no place I have to be, so I'm content to sit here on the patio until my 3:00 meeting.

8:30 pm
It's time to turn in - ack - I'm getting a cold and am not feeling so great, but I had an absolutely wonderful visit with Kazu, chair of the Peace and Conflict Studies program at PIASS. I don't want to share much of it here as it's his research, but know that I learned all kinds of things that in more 'formal' visits I did/would not. Feel free to ask me about it! It made the trip to Huye so very worthwhile. And, as an added bonus he and his wife are going to Kigali tomorrow and he offered me a ride. Fab!

Day 5

After a nice breakfast and coffee that was so smooth I could drink it without milk - a shock to anyone who has seen me drink coffee - Linda came to get me. We went to her dad's office where I was able to take a photo of the Kayonza flame of remembrance and say goodbye - and a huge murakoze cyane/thank you very much to her dad. His generosity was overwhelming! Linda then took me to the bus park and insured that I got on the right back back to Kigali. Another uneventful ride on a beautiful Rwandan morning. I've actually been very lucky with the weather!

I was, I admit, a tad nervous about navigating Nyabugogo on my own. Fidel had pointed out the Volcano Tours desk so once I was on my feet I made a beeline. Uvuga icyongereza? Do you speak English? A nice fellow - amidst chaos and confusion - ensured that I had my ticket and boarded the correct bus. I was very thankful as the young woman had sold me a ticket for the noon bus and it was 11:25. He asked if I minded taking the 11:30 bus. Um, no. Did I look like someone who wanted to stand around in Nyabugogo for 35 minutes? I was soon on the bus and on my way.

After a while the fellow seated next to me asked if I was going to Huye. Jean Claude asked a bit about how long I had been in Rwanda, etc. Then, hearing I was a professor, he showed me, with - I think - a bit of pride, his provisional certificate for award of a Bachelor of Education. He is now teaching English and French at a secondary school somewhere between Huye and the Burundi border, which is only abou 25 km away from Huye.

As we approached Huye he asked if I knew the town, needed a guide, etc. I assured him that I knew where I was headed and we said our goodbyes. Bon voyage, Jean Claude!

I walked the 200 meters or so to the Motel du Mont Huye. Not surprisingly, the young woman couldn't find my reservation. My multiple names often lead to confusion, even when there is no language barrier. Eventually, all was well and I was taken to my room, chambre 1, to get settled.

One of the things about Rwanda that is a particularly good exercise for me is that one always has to expect the unexpected and be prepared for things to not go as well as one hopes. Well, after over three hours on a bus, one likes to find a working toilet. And, if not, it's nice to be able to communicate about the issue with those who can help. I have to say, to my high school French teachers, thank you! More than once on this trip, my very limited French has come in quite handy. My toilet is now functioning.

But, let me back up. As I was walking to my room, a young woman on another patio waved, saying "Hello" in English. She looked settled in, like she'd been here a while. After discovering the toilet issue I went back to ask if there was some trick I needed to know. On that front, no, there wasn't. But, turns out she's with a group of Canadian nursing students that come here for four weeks to volunteer at the hospital. And, they're not just Canadian, they're from Nova Scotia. And, she's from Moncton, a city a couple of hours from Fredericton, where I've been living. We had a nice chat and I met her colleague - and then went off to find toilet assistance.

After getting settled - which doesn't take long when you've only a small backpack - I broke down and used my iPhone to access email. Pathetic, I know. Then I ventured to the restaurant, did some reading, and returned to write.

The clouds, as I typed the above, seem to have dissipated a bit. It's getting dark. We're just below the equator, you know. The mosquitoes may soon be swarming so I think I'll head inside.

Tomorrow I am schedule to meet with two faculty members from PIASS, the Protestant Institute of Arts and Social Sciences. That will likely fill my day. I've decided to return to Kigali on Saturday instead of Sunday as there is more that I'd like to do there than there is here. I may make it to the Kimironko market after all.

As I wrap this up I hear what sounds like live singing, from the cathedral perhaps. I hear the nurses visiting. People have been strolling by, "Hello," "Goodbye," "Bonjour," a wave... A room here goes for 10,000 RWF, or about $15.00 so it's popular with students, NGOs, etc. But, I don't think I'll have trouble sleeping. What I've written doesn't even begin to capture the ups, the downs, the stress, the joys... Sleep, I will!

Day 4

As I write this, it's 5:30 on Thursday, Thought I can see blue sky and sun in the distance, threatening clouds are gathering overhead. This is Rwanda in April. I may be moving inside soon. The winds are picking up as well. Back to Wednesday...

Around 9 am I packed everything into my two bags, packing what would get me though four or five days into my "backpack" so that I could stash my "travel pack" at Heaven. Knowing that I would be taking public buses - think sardines - I couldn't imagine dealing with two bags. Fidel, the same driver who had escorted me to Nyamirambo, arrived to deliver me to the central bus station, Nyabugogo. Now, you know it's serious when even Rwandans comment on how dreadful, busy, noisy... it is. But, Fidel insured that I made it to the correct bus, got my ticket, and boarded. I was soon on my way to meet Kayonza to meet Linda, the student who will be attending Hamline in the fall.

The ride was uneventful. It was a beautiful, sunny morning. I was able to text Linda regarding my progress and knew that she would be waiting at the bus park for me. When we arrived and I disembarked, imagine my surprise to see a large, black Toyota Prado awaiting me. I had recognized Linda's dad standing next to it. Her parents, Linda, and I traveled to the hotel where they had made arrangements for me to stay and then left Linda and I to discuss everything from classes to what to expect in an airplane to how cold it is in Minnesota to what she should bring to what weekends on campus are like to how cold it is... We had lunch and continued to visit. We had a snack and continued to visit. Around 6 pm or so we were picked up and went to her dad's office so that we could use the Internet. We tried to catch Kari Richtsmeier via Skype, but that just wasn't to be. It was right around 9 pm when we went back to the hotel and her dad said, "Let's have supper," or words to that effect. We were still stuffed from our snack. I thought I might get away with nibbling on something when the plates started coming. Large, whole tilapia, quarter chickens, the requisite fries... We ate.

I got in bed some time shortly before 11 and was immediately asleep.

Day 3

Back in Fredericton I had met with a woman who speaks Kinyarwanda to get some help learning a few more phrases than the, oh, three I already knew. Being raised abroad she and her family returned to Rwanda in 1990, only to have to leave in 1994. She's never been back, but she still speaks Kinyarwanda. She also has extended family who still live here. I offered that I would be happy to deliver anything small that she might wish to send to them. So, this morning, armed with the phone numbers of her aunts and with the help of the office staff at Heaven off I went to Nyamirambo, a particular neighborhood in Kigali. I met her aunt, saw the school at which she is headmistress, and delivered the goods. Fortunately I had the presence of mind to ask if I might take a photograph for my friend back in Fredericton! What I hadn't had was the presence of mind to remember that she had also sent a box of chocolates for me to deliver with the other gifts. When I returned to my room and went to get a bottle of water, there they sat, in the refrigerator. I was so disappointed. I couldn't travel back to Nyamirambo. I quickly fired off an email of profuse apology that has since been graciously accepted.

As soon as I walked back into the inn, the skies opened up and torrential rains were beating down on the metal roof making all kinds of noise. I was fairly certain that, as is often the case, they would not continue so I took care of a few things under a dry roof with plans to go out later. When the rain did stop, I went back to the UTC, picked up the paper, and had a couple of samosas at Bourbon Coffee, and then checked with the Volcano bus folks about my upcoming journey to Huye. I was going to be meeting the third of my language study friends soon.

At 2:30, Vincent found me waiting and we settled back down in Bourbon Coffee. I was shocked when he started presenting me with gifts. A while back he had asked that I send a photo. This didn't seem unreasonable as it's nice to have a visual of the person with whom one is communicating. Imagine my surprise when he presented me with a small plaque with my photo and reading, "Welcome to Rwanda Melissa" and a tinier, "From Vincent." He then gave me a small drum with Rwanda etched on the side and a woven plate, also reading "Rwanda." I had brought only us-Rwanda flag pins to give. But, I do think he genuinely liked it. Needless to say, I bought lunch!

From there I raced back to the hotel as I had an interview scheduled with CBC's Shift New Brunswick. I'll spare you the details of our getting connected, except to say that it involved dropped calls, no land line, and me sending an incorrect cell number. Fortunately the Skype-spirits were on our side and we ultimately spoke without interruption. As I type this I've not heard it as I couldn't stay up late enough to listen live and when I left the world of Internet access it the link hadn't yet been posted. I'm writing this without a connection and will post it when I'm back in Kigali.

When I finished, I found Tony sipping a Mutzig on the patio. I finally had my fish tacos and we spent a lovely evening talking about our respective days, less than progressive family members, and when we might each return to Rwanda.

Day 2 - continued

I'm writing this on Thursday, from the porch of my room in Huye, formerly Butare. It's been a busy few days, let me try to recall...

When I met up with Tony and Jean Paul in the stadium, we found our way to seats on one end, just to the side of the Jumbotron. It was a beautiful morning, but soon the sun was frying us in our seats. We had started chatting with a young man who had arrived with a large group who found seats in front of us. His name was Regis. He had very good English and soon offered to sit with us and interpret some of what was happening. So, Regis joined us. He was wearing a long-sleeved grey dress shirt made of some sort of synthetic fabric and soon he, too, was broiling. After checking with one of the many uniformed personnel stationed throughout the stadium, Regis suggested we move to the seats that were to the right of the section reserved for dignitaries as there was a chance we could find shade. When we moved Tony wanted to sit a bit further down for better photo ops and we did though I think it's fair to say that he later regretted giving up the shade!

I can't begin to adequately describe the speeches, the "sketch," the singing. In short, it was likely something the likes of which I will never again experience. The Secretary General of the UN, Ban ki-Moon spoke, offering expressions of apology for the UN's failure to act. The president of Uganda - I refuse to dignify him by using a name - spoke, and went on for far too long. It was hard to hear anything he had to say about reconciliation knowing he would just as soon see my Ugandan GLBT brothers and sisters, and their allies, killed or locked away. Yes, it was very strange to be in a stadium in Rwanda hearing such a hateful man speak of reconciliation. The Chair of the African Union Commission, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, spoke. Being from South Africa, a nation that has granted same-sex marriage, I found her words much more believable. There were others, including the testimony of a survivor, translated by Regis. Again I'm left thinking, "How do people go on?"

I think the part of the entire seven hours that was the most striking, sad, horrifying... were the people who were carried out of the stadium prostrate, screaming, flailing, crying out, overcome by grief. I'm told the the number of those requiring such assistance has been far fewer this year. One person told me that a number of years ago, half of all those in attendance would ultimately leave in tears or be carried out.

The last speaker was President Paul Kagame. I found his remarks a mix of inspirational and chastising. That he spoke one expression in French signified, to me, that he was speaking to the French, without saying so directly. The French refuse to acknowledge complicity in providing weapons to the Interahamwe, etc. and training those who, in 1994, acted against the Tutsi.

The event ended around two, with a short musical performance, including a song titled "Never Again." A young man and woman, perhaps around age 12, had key roles, indicating not just that 50% of the Rwandan population is under the age of 20, but that the future is quite literally in the hands of the nation's youth.

Tony, Jean Paul, and I offered our deep gratitude to Regis and left the stadium, hoping to find something to eat. As the day was an official day of mourning with everyone expected to participate, in some fashion, in remembrance, most places were closed. We did manage to find a Lebanese restaurant and were able to grab a bite. From there we went to the Walk to Remember, though we missed the first wave of marchers, led by the President. We walked from Parliament, which still shows damage from rounds fired in 1994, back to the stadium. Along the way we met up with Warren, a Canadian scholar that I also met via facebook, and the three of us walked the last half of the distance together. Tony and I had planned to attend the vigil that was going to take place in the stadium that evening, but we were toast, figuratively and literally, and decided to find Jean Paul and head back to our respective hotels.

Although I would liked to have seen the candlelight fill the stadium and the lighting of the large flame of remembrance, aside from being exhausted, a part of me felt that the evening should be a space for the Rwandans alone. The earlier event was intended for everyone, particularly dignitaries from around the globe - with which I am not to be confused - though I did have some misgivings about taking the seat that might have been filled by a Rwandan who had been turned away. In retrospect, having heard that the lines for searching/entry were even longer than those in the morning had been, I was glad we had packed it in.


Day 2

I'm actually writing this on Day 3 as last night all I could manage was a facebook post.

I awakened at 5:45 am. Fortunately I had the presence of mind, on Sunday night, to ask what I might take for breakfast, knowing that nobody would be in the kitchen at that hour. They gave me a bowl of granola, a bowl of fruit, and a yogurt to keep inmy fridge. Good thing as it was going to be a long day.

I went out to the gate at 6:45 and Tony, my new friend from the UK, and his driver for the day, Jean Paul, had just pulled up. Off we went and in a few minutes we were at Amahoro Stadium. We had to get in separate lines as there were hands-on searches being conducted by members of the Republican Guard. My line didn't seem to move at all, but soon I could see Tony and Jean Paul waiting on the steps, on the other side of the gate.

Other lines were formed, men moved past us, and there we stood. Then, a woman came up, spoke to the woman behind me in Kinyarwanda, stepped in front of me, smiled, and said mwaramutse (good morning). I wasn't about to argue, we'd get in soon enough. A little while later, same thing, minus the mwaramutse, but a young girl. "Okay," I thought, "I'm the mizungu (foreigner/white), it's your event." We inched our way forward. The soldier was letting five people line up in front of the soldier doing the searches, followed by a break of about six feet and then the rest of the line, eventually with me in front. At one point, as the five became four then three, a group of five or six women ran up and got in the "front" line, ahead of me. Now I was annoyed. I'm used to hearing kids hollering "Mizungu, mizungu" as a bus load of white people drives by. But, to feel - rightly or not - that people were cutting in front of me because I was Mizungu and they thought I'd do nothing was annoying. Now, to be fair, I did see other women cut the line. But, they were promptly called out for it. This time, with the rush of women, and not caring if they actually understood me, I said, gesturing to my face, "Oh, right, Muzungu, so you can just cut ahead of me." They all started smiling and furiously gesturing... for me to join them! I did not as they were already a larger number than the guards were permitting. I smiled back and waved "No." At about the same time a Republican Guard who I think knew what had transpired gestured for me to move to the front of the line next to us. It was not yet 8:00, I'd already had an interesting day, and we weren't even inside the stadium yet!


Day 1

First, a note. This blog was begun to document the travels of Hamline folks to Rwanda, and that it has. The emphasis was on what we were experiencing, learning, etc. This trip, I'm on my own. Rather then try to post in two places, one in a personal blog and about my days, generally, and another here and more limited to my experiences as a faculty member, I'm going to post only in one place, here. So, pardon the comments that may be a bit more in the realm of "what I had for breakfast..."

This morning was a beautiful day in Kigali. I began by reading some news regarding Rwanda and the commemorative events while waiting for brunch. And, speaking of 'breakfast,' I had a nice Heaven omelette with Gouda, avocado, and tomatoes along with home fries, hold the toast. I then headed over to the Union Trade Center where I was able to exchange some cash - and at a slightly better rate than in November and get a cell phone so that I could more readily be in touch with my contacts here.

Then, I visited with a young Rwandan woman, M, who recently completed her undergraduate degree and is working for a bank. We had 'met' via an online language learning site. It looked like the skies were going to open up - it's the rainy season here - so I encouraged her to grab the bus while she could still do so without becoming soaked. I stayed at picked up a few things at the Nakumatt. While doing so, it poured. By the time I was done, it had stopped and all that was left were gutters running like rivers. I walked back to the inn and soon the phone rang. It was another person, D, I had 'met' via the language site wanting to meet at the UTC. So, back I went. We, too, had a great visit, though I have to say that Rwandan tendency to be soft-spoken, an accent, and my bad hearing made both conversations quite a lot of 'work,' though absolutely worth it. I had brought US-Rwanda crossed flag pins with me to give folks as a little token. D was quite tickled with it but, unfortunately, I forgot to give M hers. Insert sad face here.

I had dinner with Tony, a guy I 'met' - yes, all this 'meeting' - through a facebook page about the 20th anniversary of the genocide. He's a British fellow who was so taken with his reading of Romeo Dallaire's 'Shake Hands with the Devil' that he decided he had to come to Rwanda. We had a terrific conversation about his experiences thus far, President Kagame, books, traveling, family, and so on. Tomorrow at 7 am we're going to head over to the commemorative event at the stadium, followed by the Walk to Remember.

I really should have posted about my journey to Rwanda first, but it already seems in the distant past. A recap? Left New Brunswick for Boston - in the snow - at 9 am Thursday - that's 2 pm Kigali time; Bangor Savings wouldn't change my $20s into $100s because I wasn't a customer, but Bangor Federal Credit Union came to my rescue; almost had a fender bender in a parking lot; first flight was delayed... but my layover was long enough that it didn't matter. Ended up with an open seat next to me on the first flight. Yay. Walking through the Detroit airport the sole of one of my Tevas peeled off in one piece. not kidding. Had an interesting elderly woman as a seat companion on the flight to Amsterdam. Three cheers for Yotel Amsterdam where I was able to shower. Saw a Kigali-bound Oklahoma woman with big hair that turned out to not be hers get seriously body searched - I'm talking real breast pinching - until she demanded the search be completed elsewhere. She was so not happy. Watched 'Out of the Furnace' and 'Gravity' on the flight to Kigali. We landed at 7:15 pm. When, at landing, they switched on the Muzak it was Pharrell's 'Happy.' Perfect! Being just south of the equator, it's dark at that hour. While waiting - and waiting and waiting - for my bag, the power went out. Just briefly, but enough to be freaky. Got the hotel and collapsed. So, including the travels to Boston, I'd call it about 54 hours door-to-door. But, I'm here and I had a good day. Tomorrow will, I'm sure, have a very different feel, but I'm sure it will be no less interesting. G' night!


Heaven, etc.

Well, I never did get to making that additional post about Heaven. So, as I prepare to leave for Rwanda, there's no time like the present, eh? Really, the best way to learn about Heaven is to read the book. It's a wonderful account of Josh and Alissa Ruxin's experience traveling to Rwanda, getting settled, and - ultimately - founding Heaven. 

As their website notes, "Heaven is more than a restaurant & inn, it's a social enterprise. Heaven is helping Rwanda develop its most important resource: it's people. Prosperity creation is one of Rwanda's many challenges..."

I had wonderful banana chips and guacamole, followed by my current addiction - terrific fish tacos. We sat on the beautiful patio, looking out at the lights of Kigali. You can't see the lights here - check out their website for that - but you get the idea.

In planning my fourth visit to Rwanda, but my first without a guide, I decided to splurge and spend my time in Kigali at Heaven, the inn. I've worked with Alissa and Caleb, their office manager, to iron out the many details and they have been tremendously helpful. I'll be able to walk to the UTC if I wish - Bourbon Coffee, Nakumatt, and MTN and I'm familiar with other restaurants in the area. So, all in all I think this will be perfect. I arrive on the 5th!

I will spend the first three days in Kigali, meeting with a few folks - details in other posts, I hope - and participate in the Walk to Remember as the official period of mourning begins. From there I am planning on traveling to Kayonza, in the Eastern Province, to meet with the Gashora student who will matriculate at Hamline next fall. After a day there, I am expecting to travel down to Huye where I will again meet with people in that area. I'm not posting a lot of details since things have a tendency to, um, evolve over the course of one's travels. But, after three nights in Huye, I'll return to Kigali, spend the night, and fly out the next day, returning to the US on the 15th. 

As the availability of Internet permits, I will post about my experiences. Stay tuned and thanks for checking in!