Monday, July 11, 2011

Zebras are for tourists.

Tuesday, July 5

Tuesday was the first day of classes at the Interdisciplinary Genocide Studies Center. After our "Opening Ceremonies" at the school, where the faculty members each spoke about his or her focus in genocide studies and plans for the program, we had lunch at a nearby hospital. Yes, we ate at a hospital. We thought it sounded a little strange, but the view at the rooftop buffet turned out to be phenomenal:

After lunch, we visited the "Neighborhood House"/"Rwanda Avenir," a healing place for widows of the genocide. When we arrived, there were several women sitting in the gazebo making traditional Rwandan paintings. I found a zebra that I really liked, but during the discussion I learned they only started painting zebras for the tourists. Of course, the "cultured traveler" inside me didn't want a zebra after that. I decided I wanted a painting that had historical significance in Rwanda, like the one on the second row, far right, in the below picture:

This design is the same design used on the woven mats that shielded the marriage bed from visitors in Rwandan homes. I thought that would be a neat story to tell when I brought my painting home, but of course it got snatched up right away. I decided I wasn't going to buy one at all, but then every other person in my group was making a purchase. #peerpressure. I got the zebra. (Judge me. It's okay.)

But the real reason we went to Avenir was to learn about the organization and hear testimony from the widows. Above is a (very bad) photograph of Avenir's guest house. It is a place for people to stay when they need a cheap bed while passing through Kigali. You can rent a room for 12,000 francs per night, which is only $20. Aside from the guest house, Avenir provides monetary and psychological assistance for the widows of the genocide. There is a resting room in the Neighborhood House that is used for the women to sit, converse and reflect on their experiences. Today, Avenir has expanded to a village of 180 houses for widows and orphans to live in. (No one lives in the Neighborhood House itself.)

The traditional paintings I talked about earlier are one way Avenir helps the widows. They create these paintings both as a form of art therapy and a way to earn a small income. (I bought my zebra painting for 7,000 francs, or a little over $10.) 

One of the women who spoke to us at Avenir is a counselor by profession, and she shared one of her most difficult experiences with us. She counseled a man after the genocide who visited her for several sessions. On his fourth session, he finally opened up and confessed about the murders he had committed during the genocide. While describing one act, she realized he was describing the death of her father. As soon as she realized he was her father's killer, she asked him to leave and told him she could not treat him anymore. When the genocidaire (someone who has committed acts of genocide) realized it was her father, he publicly confessed to the community, but she still can't see him. (And I can't really blame her.)

And now, to end on a lighter note:

I just thought this swaddled baby was the cutest thing I'd ever seen. I was a little nervous when the mother first tied her baby onto her back, but the baby held on tight until the blanket was snugly around her. And she made funny engine-like noises when her mother walked around.

1 comment:

Colbey said...

For some reason, I get the impression that the "#peerpressure" was directed toward me. :)