Tuesday, July 12, 2011

There's a hole in my mosquito net!

Wednesday, July 6

Now that we had already been to the CLNG building once (where our classes are located), a few members of the group decided to walk to class Wednesday morning. We gave ourselves an hour just to be safe, but our stop at the coffee shop took longer than expected. We're used to Starbucks' counter service, but here in Rwanda they like to make it an experience, meaning you sit and have a waitress, even if you're getting coffee to go. So at 8:35, as we were walking down the street, our bus pulled up by the side of the road. We were late. Oops. The bus drove us the rest of the way, and we had to start class a little late. (Note: We have now timed the walk and it takes about 36 minutes. So we don't stop for coffee, and we haven't been late again.)

Just for your information (if you continue to read my blog), a typical weekday for this program is set up like this:
  • 8:30 - 10 a.m.: Guest speakers/lectures, part one.
  • 10 - 10:30 a.m.: Coffee/pastry break!
  • 11 a.m. - 12 p.m.: Guest speakers/lectures, part two.
  • 12 p.m. - 2 p.m.: Lunch and rest.
  • 2 - 4:30(ish) p.m.: Visits to organizations/memorial sites/etc. or another guest speaker.
  • 4:30(ish) - 7 p.m.: Free time, shopping, cultural experiences, etc.
  • 7 p.m.: Dinner.

Our first speaker on Wednesday was Jose Kabago, a former professor and current Rwandan senator, who lectured about the history of the country and genocide in particular. Although he shared a lot of good information, I found the post-lunch session to be much more interesting and helpful to my understanding of Rwandan society as affected by the genocide.

Mr. Ngoga Aristarque from the Association of Rwandan Student Survivors of Genocide was our second speaker of the day. This association (abbreviated GAERG in Kinyarwanda) aims to make Rwanda "a beautiful, shining country proud to be inherited by a healed, confident, motivated, hopeful and successful generation," according to a handout he gave us. The association was created after the genocide for students because many of them had lost their families in the genocide. Through GAERG, the students are able to get new families, composed of a mom, dad and multiple children. One of the IGSC students who has been traveling with us has 26 students through this organization. Although the children can be older than the parents in some cases, they are expected to adopt the traditional roles of their place in the family. For example, the parents are caregivers for the children, who in return respect and obey their parents, and it becomes "a real kinship," as Ngoga said. "We create a relationship to be in the place of those who were killed in the genocide." In fact, Ngoga is going to be in his GAERG sister's wedding this summer, and their father from the organization will give her away.

The main objectives of GAERG is the commemoration and prevention of genocide in Rwanda, so another major thing the organization does is to commemorate those families that were completely wiped out by the genocide. Since 2009, GAERG has sponsored an event to remember those families that have no living relatives to remember them. The organization also conducts a census in different districts to try to get a number of how many such families in exist. For example, in Karongi District alone, almost 3,000 families totaling over 13,000 people perished. The census gathers information from neighbors who might remember their names, which can then be read at the event. When possible, their pictures are projected and their place of death is identified.

In addition to all these statistics, Ngoga's presentation led to a very difficult discussion. He mentioned that he personally would not be able to marry a Hutu woman after what happened, even today. This raised some questions from our IGSC students that are not Tutsi, who wanted to know what type of reconciliation would be necessary for him to be able to interact with a Hutu on that level, at which point our professor asked, "Does the reconciliation need to be coming from the survivor?" This discussion made me realize how recent the genocide really was. Most of the people who survived the genocide are still alive today; they remember the atrocities that were committed; they recognize their family's killers. I can't think of anything analogous to this in America, as the most severe racial tension I can think of - slavery - was so long ago that no one alive today can remember it, nor even their parents or grandparents.

And finally, I have to include a picture (or two) to leave you on a happier note:

We got mosquito nets in our apartments Wednesday night. We had quite a fun photo shoot inside the bridal-looking nets.

And then of course I found a hole. Oh well. That's why I take my doxy daily. Good times in 221B.

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