Reconciliation Village and Refugee Camp

Today was a very eye-opening day. We started the day by going to Mbyo Reconciliation Village outside of Kigali. The village was set up as a way for perpetrators and victims of genocide to learn to trust each other again first by constructing the houses in their community together and then by living and working together as one community. As we arrived in the village one of the children who lived there chased after our bus trying to run next to it. When we got off the bus we were greeted by many people shaking our hands and saying "muraho" or "hello". We sat on benches under the trees in between two houses. The children of the village started by singing a song for us and performing a traditional dance. After the performance we listened to the testimony from three members of the village, two victims of genocide and one perpetrator of genocide. They each shared their story of how they came together, perpetrators and victims, first to share their stories and then to build their community. After the testimonies the children performed another dance and invited us to join them.

The dancing was beautiful but it wasn't just the dancing it was that the children from two different sides of genocide were able to come together and make something so joyful without any hint of tension. It was unbelievable. They made it seem as if forgiveness was an easy thing to accomplish. As someone who has had a hard time forgiving people for much smaller wrongs it is difficult for me imagine living and relying on someone who has hurt your family so much. The amount of forgiveness that went into that dance made it more beautiful than can be described.

The other eye-opening experience of the day was driving past a refugee camp fifteen minutes from the Rwanda-Burundi border. The camp was set up as a first stop for refugees fleeing political instability in Burundi. The refugees only spend a few days in the camp to be registered with Rwanda and the UN as refugee and be checked for diseases before being relocated to refugee camps further into Rwanda.

This was a UN-funded camp but still the tents were tattered and there didn't seem to be many supplies. Even though we looked only on the camp from our air-conditioned bus for a a few moments it still gave true impression as a difficult way to live. It was the first time I had seen anything like it. It was just indescribable.

Reconciliation Village

Today was almost a complete turnaround from the sadness we experienced yesterday. We started the day by heading to the Mbyo Reconciliation Village. This is a community where survivors and perpetrators of the 1994 genocide live next to each other, work together, and try to rebuild relationships and trust after the betrayal and horror many experienced in the genocide. The reconciliation process is facilitated by an organization called Prison Fellowship. We were fortunate enough to be able to hear both survivors and perpetrators speak about their experiences in the genocide, their life after the RPF took control of Rwanda, and their personal experiences with reconciliation and forgiveness. After seeing the memorials yesterday, I could not have imagined someone sitting down with a person who had done such horrible, violent things to their loved ones. I don't think I would be able to be that strong. Yet, today we heard from people who are building trusting relationships with those who killed their families.  The people we talked with today shared with us that when the reconciliation and forgiveness process starts, there is a lot of fear on both sides. Victims are afraid that perpetrators will seek to kill or hurt them as they hurt their family during the genocide, and the perpetrators are afraid of victims' seeking revenge. I think it has to be this mutual feeling of fear and vulnerability that really opens the door for forgiveness to start. Seeing similar feelings in a person you have feared may help both people involved to open up and feel a little more safe. From the first meeting between victim and perpetrator, it is a long road to true forgiveness. In the village, building houses for each other, working together towards a common goal, is one of the ways trust can be facilitated.

After hearing their stories, we were able to ask questions about the reconciliation process to learn more about how this is accomplished. Throughout our time there, I could not stop thinking about how strong all of these people were. It takes a lot of courage to be able to even consider forgiving someone who as wronged you. On the other end, I can't really imagine how perpetrators must feel when talking with those they have wronged. One man we spoke with talked about how they need to ask forgiveness of God before they can ask forgiveness of survivors. I can only imagine this to be an incredible amount of soul searching and faith. The power of faith and religion seemed very strong amongst those we spoke with, and I think that is what really allows forgiveness to be possible. To be able to accomplish what they have is incredible and I am in awe of the resilience of each person we met at the village today.


Off Day

We had an "off" day today in regards to the pure excitement and adrenaline of simply being in the 1,000 hills of Rwanda for the past two days. The Kigali Memorial Centre, the Ntarama Memorial, and the Nyamata Memorial left everyone emotionally drained. In order to process and wind down, all of us were divided into two small groups for discussion. Sadness, confusion, and every other emotion under the sun were expressed during these times. Today we put faces to some of the 800,000-1,000,000 people lost to genocide. We were given photographs and back stories. With the addition of the Nyamata and Ntarama Memorials, we were introduced to the massive amount of clothing of the deceased, mass graves, skulls and crime scenes. We were left exhausted and emotionally drained hearts and minds, so it was nice to hear everyone voice their personal experiences with the memorials. The idea of reconciliation seemed far away today, but it didn't stop us from touching on the amazement and beauty that comes out of the darkness from the forgiveness, the love, and the hope of the Rwandan people.

Day 1 in Kigali!

Sunday was our first full day in Kigali, Rwanda. We started off the day with a wonderful breakfast courtesy of our lovely hostel. It consisted of homemade bread, freshly picked bananas, a veggie dish, and omelets. After the hearty breakfast we went on a tour of Kigali via van to gain a better understanding of the city and its history. I was surprised at how beautiful and how amazingly clean it is! The “land of a thousand hills” is not an exaggeration! It is so incredibly amazing how clean and green it is. We learned that the reason that is is so clean is that communities are in charge of cleaning their villages and that it is a community and citizen obligation. In addition to this we also went to the Belgian troop memorial, the presidential palace and the market where the majority of us had clothing made to fit us. It was a wonderful first day filled with a balance of adventure and unfortunate history. The presidential palace was particularly moving to me as it really made the genocide of 1994 feel real and as though it was as recent as it was. All in all it was a great introduction to the history of the 1994 genocide of Rwanda and prepped us and gave us background information for the next day. 

Memorials and Mishaps

Today we visited three different memorial sites. Needless to say, we dealt with a lot of heavy material, and by the end of the day we were all drained. It was an unforgettable experience, unlike anything I have ever encountered before. To polish off the day we enjoyed a tasty Italian meal at Sole Luna where Greta and I mistakenly ate part of Jessica's dinner. We gave her the remainder of her meal as well as our appetizer as an apology. On a bright note, I hear she was quite pleased with her end of the bargain.

Lesson for today: If something doesn't quite look right with your food, it might not be yours after all!

First full day!

First full day, complete. I woke up early in the morning to go running with Abby and Patrick. So many other locals were running, it was beautiful. A truck full of men drove by and gave us a thumbs up and a group of children cheered for us, amazing moments. After the run and the great hostel breakfast (very yummy bread), the day was full of visiting many sites. We started with a city tour followed by the memorial for the ten Belgians killed in the first days of the genocide, Hotel des Mille Collines, the Presidential Palace Museum (full of many secrets), and the Kimironko market. The market was a new experience for me, I'm not use to the bargaining so it was uncomfortable and stressful. Overall, it was a stressful day due to the many new experiences and sites, but also an amazing, exciting, and beautiful day.


We made it!

After two days of traveling, including an overnight in Qatar, we've made it to Rwanda! The long flights, long lines, and long waits in airports were all worth, because this country is breathtaking. I see why they call it the land of 1,000 hills, they're everywhere! Our guide, Yvan, is very welcoming and informative, I see why our professor likes him so much. We haven't walked around much of Kigali today, we drove some, the motorcyclists are everywhere and we got to see the landscape and buildings from the van. We had dinner at Republika Lounge, the staff met us with smiles and LOTS of food. The food was traditional Rwandan food served family style, there was rice, fish, lamb, beef, chicken, spinach, beans, plantains, and samosas. Everything tasted delicious. The hostel is really cool, with a nice patio to socialize. We're all pretty tired from our travels, but so happy to be here. Tomorrow we will explore the city! If the first day was this amazing, I can't wait to see what the rest of this trip holds.

Airports, Hostels, and Little Fried Fish

We woke up in Qatar and are about to fall asleep in Kigali.

That may sound exciting, but really it was just exhausting. Minneapolis to Kigali took roughly 48 hours. We are inches shy of ODing on airport coffee and tray meals. Several of us almost fell face-first into dinner and slept at the restaurant.

That is a great thing about Kigali that I've discovered. For me, I'm all or nothing when it comes to my taste in food. I love Japanese cuisine but can't do Chinese. Authentic Mexican food hates me, but poorly-imitated American Mexican food is fine, and Italian food is even better. So going in, I knew that I was either going to have three weeks of cuisine heaven or I'd be rationing whatever snacks that survived the airplanes.

Luckily, Rwandan food is the bomb. I was chomping on little fried fish like French fries.

Now we're going to surrender to the crushing weight of 48 hours of travel, take full advantage of our beds, and get some much-needed shut-eye.


Travel Day

We have been waiting so long and its finally here! Today is the day we get to start this trip and I couldn't be more excited. From safaris to school children there are crazy beautiful things ahead of us and I can't wait not only to immerse myself in this experience but to see everyone else do so as well.

Muraho Rwanda!

In a few short hours we will meet at the MSP airport to embark on our trip to Rwanda. Fourteen amazing students, one incredible professor, and me.

I am reminded of the eve of my own college study abroad experience in 1997 before I left for the Global Semester. Mother Teresa had died and at the same time the press coverage was all consumed with the premature death of Princess Diana in a car accident. I remember feeling both exhilaration and trepidation. What had I gotten myself into? Was this going to be the life-changing experience I hoped it would be? Indeed it was an experience that would change my life forever: I became a globally-conscious citizen, better travel companion, thoughtful observer, and a person with an insatiable curiosity about the world.

Rwanda will be a new experience for all of us. I am thrilled to accompany this group of amazing individuals as we hear stories from people not so different from us, learn about the country's reconciliation efforts, explore unfamiliar places, and begin to understand a bit more about our shared humanity.


Note to Self: Anti-Malarials Should Be Taken At Night When Dizziness is Allowed

What the title says.

We're going to be in Rwanda in two days, so I started anti-malarials today. I popped a pill right after class (so around noon) before taking what was supposed to be a one-hour nap before going to work.

When the alarm went off, I sat up to turn it off, and the floor tried to throw me out the window.

Oh, I do not have time for this, I thought, muttering curses that should not be repeated on a school blog. I had to cash a check at the bank, last-minute stuff to buy, a suitcase to pack, and, obviously, work: that thing that pays for food and rent.

Medication-induced dizziness is nothing new; it happened a lot when I first started taking anti-depressants. So I set the alarm for another fifteen minutes, figuring an elongated snooze was in order to screw my head on straight, and laid back down.

Fifteen minutes later, the bed deposited me on the floor when I tried to get up. Stupid bed.

If I had an office job, I would've soldiered through it. Dizziness is manageable when you're sitting down. Unfortunately (well, usually it's very fortunate, especially with this weather, but not today) I canvass for a living. That's door-to-door sales. That's walking out in the heat and sun for at least three hours straight.

I texted my supervisor, who is a saint, what was happening and hit the fifteen minute snooze one more time. It'd make me a few minutes late, but I'd be certain that I wouldn't collapse in a sweaty heap on some potential customer's porch. That's not a good sales technique.

No such luck. My brain was still swimming in a fish tank. So I called up my supervisor and told him that I was sparing him a potential lawsuit by taking a sick day. Lucky for me, I'm the favorite of the office (totally true, ask my boss), so I got the day off.

The dizziness only lasted a few hours, so I was able to do all the other pre-trip stuff I had to do. As I continue to take more my body will realize Oh, this is a good thing and we don't need to make the Boss's life miserable when she gives it to us, so this annoying side effect should taper off.

Until then, I'm taking the anti-malarials right before bed. Dizziness is only allowed when I'm asleep.

The Countdown Begins!

I am soooo excited and nervous at the same time in this trip. As I was packing tonight reality set in that I am going out of the country and my destination is AFRICA! I have a tendency to overpack on trips so, I hope that I did not do that for this adventure. In class today we watched some videos regarding the killing that's happened in a church. I can only image what those people could have felt like. Coming to a church is supposed to be your safe place. But, during 1994 it was not. Knowing that I am religious myself, I think it is going to be very hard for me to go to these museums about the killings that happened. As I go to these museums though it will be hard to look at I am very excited to learn something new and appreciate our country in America. Another thing that I am excited about is gorilla trekking. This is a once in a lifetime experience and I cannot wait. Though I do not know what to expect the long hike is going to be well worth it. What a way to set off my summer with this trip! I'm soooo happy for this opportunity and once again just cannot wait!!

Adventure Awaits!!

I have now gotten past the pre-travel nervous jitters - it's setting in that in 24 HOURS I will hopefully be sleeping (but will probably just be rolling around in anticipation to get up and go) and eventually wake up and arrive at the airport! I am excited about renewing perspectives and bonding with others over unraveling the history of Rwanda layer by layer.



We've only had a few classes in prep for the trip this Thursday, they've been crammed to the point of stretching and breaking. Today we had a guest speaker come in to tell his of own experience as a Rwandan.  However, this man has brought forth many more questions - many of which are sensitive in nature - to the topic of Rwanda, in general. The political complexities of the genocide and its aftermath are incredible.  While the events of and leading to the genocide are difficult to understand in their own right, the effects that are seen after and today are only compounding. This whole experience brings important questions of morality from the act of murder to the ends and means of its prevention. But, within the country, itself, this will likely be a topic that, for its controversial nature (as seen in the guest speaker's experience) is best remained unspoken. There are certainly plenty of other lessons and questions to be raised from the coming weeks. Some I will not expect until I see, hear, feel, smell, and taste Rwanda.  Above all, this will be an incredibly immersive experience, overwhelming at times. I can't wait to experience all I can, but I am also excited to come back with this experience and see how it fits into other events that cannot be seen while I am immersed. Tonight I pack. Tomorrow I have class, pack some more, and double check all my packing.  The morning after that, I depart for Rwanda. I can't wait.

Almost Time

It was great hearing John's story today in class and getting another perspective of the Genocide of 1994. It's incredible how the impact of the Genocide still has a strong effect on many Rwandans today. Regarding the trip, I am very excited and definitely nervous as well. Also, a little stressed about packing, I keep putting it off but I'm reaching crunch time and need to get it done.

It's finally here...

I can't believe we only have a few hours left till we embark on this journey. I just packed my gorilla trekking boots, so that means I'm ready. I am super excited to be going home and this time around, with my fellow Pipers!  I'm definitely not looking forward to the long flight, but I keep reminding myself that it is worth it. I'm looking forward to all the cool things we will to do, the people we will meet, and all that we will learn! 

Oh my...

Oh my, we leave in one more day. I feel like there is so much more to do before we leave. After over a year planning and preparing for this course it still doesn't 100% feel like it is going to happen. I am more convinced of that we are leaving soon than I was a few days ago, but I've been waiting so long for this course I am just used to waiting.

One more day!

I can't believe how quickly the past few weeks leading up to the trip have gone.  I am full of nervous excitement and keep having simultaneous feelings of dread over possible problems and anticipation over how much there is to learn. Overarching all of this is an incredible feeling of gratitude that I have the opportunity to go on this trip and get to experience it with friends.  There is so much to do and so much to look forward too!

Almost Time

Today is my first time posting in the blog and it has set in that we are leaving in two days for Rwanda. We are all very excited and anxious for our trip. I can't wait to see what our adventure has in store for us!

Calm Before the Storm

Can you believe Thursday, roughly 48 hours from the time I’m writing this post a lovely group of Hamline students will begin their adventure to Rwanda? For most of us we are already experiencing a whirlwind, trying to get packed, getting everything together, tying up loose ends before we depart along with trying to mentally prepare. It’s funny, while I presume most of us feel so busy right now, it is still in a sense the calm before the storm. As I sit in my my hammock drinking my morning coffee and listening to the birds with my pup while writing this, I am thinking about how, in a sense, the next 48 hours is the last time I’ll be this version of me, and likely is the same for my peers. I, when sitting in this very place a month from now with my morning coffee, listening to the birds with my pup I’ll have new ideas, new thoughts and new conclusions than I have right now. I think of it much as a snake, shedding an old layer of skin, still keeping its form but with growth comes new skin and with new skin a new, broader version of itself. Mentally we will be challenged, what we thought to be true about the world may no longer be so, and we will likely come back with more questions than before. I am most exited to build onto what I think I know and broaden and perhaps change my current thoughts and perspectives on how I see the world and how it works, especially in regards to human nature. This is the nature of seeing the world through a different lens, feeling and experiencing it opposed to simply reading it and using our imagination. While I am in the midst of starting a new job, moving out of one house to live between three homes, preparing and packing for the trip and tying up loose ends, I recognize that still, in a sense, this is the calm before the storm.


Counting down the days!

Wow! We're getting ready to leave in just 3 days. As I look at the little box in my room, filled with my passport and necessary items for travel, I grow more excited. It's a surreal feeling, and I don't think it will feel real until I actually step onto the ground in Rwanda. Even after the classes we have had, and the books we have read, and my grandparents asking me to explain my trip every chance they get, I still find myself anxious and unsure of what to expect in these next few weeks (don't worry professor, you have prepared us as best as you can, but some things need to be experienced). I am interested to see how the the "Land of 1,000 Hills" compares to the "Land of 10,000 Lakes", because I'm sure the pictures don't do it justice. I am also eager to be a listening ear to the stories of Rwanda, and learn everything I can on this adventure.

3 More Sleeps!

Only three more days until we depart for Rwanda! It is finally starting to sink in that we are leaving and it's making me feel both excited and terrified! The suspense is killing me! Even though there are a lot of things making me nervous about this trip, I know that it will be an adventure of a lifetime!

Let the Countdown Begin!

Well, here's my first blog for the course. As we're winding down, it's still difficult for me to believe that we will be leaving for Rwanda in only three days! I honestly don't think it will fully hit me that we will be in Africa until we're half way through the course.