Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Apparently senators like champagne.

Friday, July 7

I had been looking forward to the Friday lectures because our guest speaker was Margee Ensign, the president of American University in Nigeria. I had read several excerpts from her book for my synopsis (a 5-page preliminary paper about our final project to be submitted before we arrived in Rwanda), so I wanted to see what see had to say in person. She has a pretty unique perspective of Rwanda when it comes to the country's reconstruction after the genocide. Her book, Rwanda: History and Hope, was originally supposed to be published by the Columbia University Press, but they didn't especially like her chapter on the post-genocide political development in Rwanda.

Dr. Ensign said her editor doubted her portrayal of the current government in Rwanda, so she asked him to find one sentence in her book that was not backed up by fact. Her editor responded that facts were not the problem. Instead, she was told: "It's the only voice out there, and we can't take that risk." So she got it published by the University Press of America instead.

After her presentation on the material covered in her book, we were lucky to have Dr. Ensign tell us a few stories of her personal experience with post-genocide Rwanda. One story she related involved the Gacaca Courts, a local level of trials instituted by the state to try the genocidaires in a quick and fair fashion. While teaching in the U.S., Dr. Ensign had a Rwandan student who left to go home, because he told her he thought his family was going to be killed. (This was at the very beginning of the genocide in April 1994). When she was in Rwanda years later, her student's mother's murderer was on trial in the Gacaca, so she went for support. After the genocidaire was sentenced to 20 years in prison, Dr. Ensign asked her former student how he felt. He responded:

"Justice has been done today. I feel free."

It was powerful to hear from such a strong woman, who not only has very close ties to Africa (as the AU president) but also has personal experiences with the aftermath of the genocide. She is truly an inspiration. She ended her presentation with an amusing story about the people in her office at American University, who would always call her "sir." She finally asked why one day, and they told her: "It is because you are doing a man's job." And doing it quite well, might I add.

The river of Tutsi.

For dinner on Friday, Senator Kagabo (who lectured in class on Wednesday) invited us to his home outside Kigali. It was our first trip outside the city, and it was wonderful to see what other parts of Rwanda looked like. We drove through some big fields with banana trees and schoolchildren who would bang on the windows and chase our bus excitedly. I saw lots of smaller, "traditional" homes with blue doors (I don't know what it is about the blue doors here, but I just love them) and women outside with their babies swaddled on their backs (remember this?). Some grown men even chased the bus at a few points, laughing with the young girls and reaching to touch the windows.

 This isn't from that night, but I took a picture of a blue gate by the hospital where we eat lunch, and I wanted to share it with you.

Eventually, we made it out to the senator's home, which was literally at the end of the road. He had a group of tables and chairs set up for us in his backyard, but first he took us to the edge of his property, where there was a beautiful view of the river. He told us about the role of rivers in the genocide, when the Hutu were told to throw the bodies of their Tutsi victims into the river, so they could go back to Ethiopia, where they came from centuries ago. Sometimes his friends will ask him why he, as a Tutsi, chooses to live above this tragic river. He answers it is so that he can keep watch and ensure a Tutsi will never be thrown in again.

After several hours of sitting and talking and playing with our camera settings in the almost pitch-black backyard, we ate kabobs of goat meat and cow intestines. Yum. But seriously - I love goat meat. The cow intestines were a little chewy, but they basically tasted like barbeque, so they were doable. Finally, the senator popped a (huge) bottle of champagne and we danced to Congolese music until it was time to return home for the night. Only negative: It was too dark to admire the scenery on the way back into the city.

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