Tuesday, July 26, 2011

We won three dollars!

Wednesday, July 13

A lot of interesting things happened today, so I will try to be concise and break up this post with subheadings:

From Voiceless Women to Representatives in Parliament.

This was the title of Professor Bea Gallimore's presentation at IGSC this morning. Bea - our own professor from Mizzou, developer of the Rwanda study abroad program and a co-founder of IGSC - received her graduate degree in linguistics and has used that academic background to study women survivors of the genocide in Rwanda. I found this lecture fascinating, both as an admirer of language and a woman myself. Furthermore, I am doing my final project for this class on women in post-genocide Rwandan society, so the information was very helpful in giving me a foundation for my paper.

A highlight of the presentation for me was the revelation that there is no word for "to rape" in Kinyarwanda. Instead, Rwandans use other words or euphemistic expressions to describe the crime, such as kubohoza, which means "to acquire by force, to make free, to loot," and guhohotera: "to impose injustice on someone." I was appalled to learn that another word they use for rape actually means "to marry": kurongora. This led to a further discussion, in which I learned that women cannot take the active voice for kurongora, only the passive. Therefore, women can never marry, but they can be married. Sexist much? Similarly, the only verb a woman can take actively is gusambana, which means to make love. Unfortunately, in Rwanda it has the connotation of the f-word and is viewed as a dirty word for copulation.

This lesson was very interesting to me and made me wonder what linguistic rules we have in English that would be strange to people of different cultures and native languages.

Aid for women with AIDS.

After our morning lectures, several other students and I walked over to Ineza, a nearby business, to purchase some gifts. Ineza is an organization that helps women affected by HIV/AIDS to make a living by selling various fabric products. Emmanuel escorted us to the house where the goods were made and sold, where we saw about 15 to 20 women sitting in the living room sewing. They waved and greeted us as we came in, and two older women took us to the room in the back where the products are on display.

They had everything from duffel bags to luggage tags and oven mitts to men's ties, in fabrics of all colors and patterns. I purchased a laptop case with a yellow, red and blue pattern for 8,000 francs, which is roughly equivalent to $13. Considering the laptop cases I had been looking at in the U.S. cost around $20, I was more than happy to purchase a case that would both help these women generate income and serve as a reminder of my time in Africa. After I completed my purchase, the woman who collected my money (who didn't speak much English) hugged and thanked me. It was truly a gift to see how grateful these women were for our business.

This is the sign that was displayed outside the gate to Ineza.

Widows and orphans of the genocide.
Instead of returning to the CNLG building after lunch, we walked next door to AVEGA, an organization for widows and orphans of the genocide. (We had already visited the organization once, for a memorial service.) The speaker explained that AVEGA was organized by widows in 1995 to address problems they were facing after the genocide. They didn't have any property or anywhere to stay, and they basically had to start at zero to rebuild their lives. AVEGA offers the following services for widows and orphans:
  1. Medical - AVEGA has started three health centers, including one at the location we visited. They offer assistance for rape victims and women with HIV, plus trauma counseling.
  2. Social - Among other things, AVEGA helps secure assistance for elderly women who have no children to take care of them.
  3. Justice/Information/Advocacy - AVEGA provides legal officers to help women secure property and assert their inheritance rights. These officers accompany the women to court when necessary.
  4. Capacity-building - Some of AVEGA's income-generating projects include jewelry making, beekeeping and starting small businesses. These projects also help AVEGA make loans to widows.
During the presentation, the speaker had mentioned that though men could not be members of AVEGA (the organization means "Association for Widows of the Genocide" in French), there is one man on the national board, along with nine women. (The speaker himself was also male.) One of the Rwandan students from IGSC found this to be unacceptable. He kept asking the speaker why there was only one man on the board. I'm not sure why he was so focused on this detail, but finally, another IGSC student became exasperated and said, "It's a women's association!" The speaker also asked, jokingly, "How many men do you suggest we have?" I'm not sure why this discussion became so heated, but most of the students found it amusing.

Too bad I didn't have any USD.

After dinner, some students were really craving ice cream. Emmanuel, my roommates, another Mizzou student named Tyler and I headed down the street to purchase some ice cream cones at a small market. After we had our snacks, Kiela shared her desire to visit the Casino Kigali, located in a hotel not far from our apartments.

That's me, hiding in the shadows to the right!

Once inside, I was surprised to see the machines only accepted U.S. dollars. I guess American tourists are the only ones who like to gamble? Unfortunately, I wasn't carrying any American money on me, but Emmanuel had a $10 bill. He loaned it to Tyler to try his hand at video poker. Very quickly, Tyler had won about $3, to bring his total to $13. (Actually, he had $13.80, but the casino truncates.) We waved down an attendant, who spent a few minutes trying to convince Tyler not to cash out.

"But you only have $13," he told Tyler. "You've only won $3."

Tyler insisted that he knew that, but he didn't care. "I have more than I came in with, so I'd like to cash out." It took a little while - and a small fib about Tyler needing to leave because he has gambling problems - for the attendant to finally give Tyler his $13.

Oh, and as we left, the elevator shut on me. Like, the doors pinned my arms shut and didn't automatically open back up again like normal elevators. But obviously I lived, and I still have both arms. Success!

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