June 28, 2013
Brian’s comments about the finish of his grant in Uganda echo my own, but are said much more eloquently than I can pen for the moment.
After ten months, 300 days, and thousands of moments and experiences, I am no longer a Fulbright Student. Although I extended my stay in Uganda for two more months, my grant period officially ended on May 30th. So a few weeks ago, I finally got around to filling out the Fulbright Final Report.
Explain in 1,000 characters or less what you’ll take away from the Fulbright experience.
This was one of the questions I had to answer.
But how do you distill a year’s worth of experiences abroad? How do you sift through the memories—the good and the bad, the moments of victory and annoyance? How do you remember the hundreds of people who made an impact on your life—many of whom you can never repay?
In 1,000 characters, it is impossible. It will take me years to reflect on my time in Uganda and to realize…
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June 20, 2013
My contract in Rwanda is officially finished. Now, sitting with my old pal and fellow English Teaching Assistant, Laurie, in the Vaal, South Africa, I still don’t believe that I have actually left.
Many of my friends continue to ask me how I feel now that I am leaving the land of a thousand hills. I will certainly miss a lot from that very strange place, but exactly as for what I can’t say yet. Rwanda was my first postgraduate year in a professional environment, trying to understand the new found freedom outside of the structure of 16 years of schooling. Growth has been inevitable.
Though my time in Rwanda is over, this blog is going to continue for a little longer. I’m going to continue to take advantage of my freedom and travel. After lots of fun seeing South Africa (starting in Johannesburg, then to Vereeniging, hiking the Otter Trail, festivals in Grahamstown and Knysna, a wine tour in Stellenbosch, then finally Cape Town), I will, then, head to Kampala, Uganda for the International Consortium for Social Development (http://www.simmons.edu/ssw/icsd2013/). Then, it’s off to Norway to celebrate the first anniversary of my lovely cousin and her husband. My final stop will be the Italian peninsula to visit a gang of the pasta lovers whom I met in Rwanda. Not bad for a few months of “funemployment”, eh?
Caught between the experience and nostalgia, I know I will miss my people back in Rwanda; the Fulbright Fam, Chateau Nta Ikibazo, and the Kibungo boys. They have been an amazing blessing this year, and I am so happy that I have made their acquaintance.
Currently though, after enjoying a meat-heavy dinner and drinking gallons of water straight from the tap, I’m quite content. I’m only a human, after all.
May 20, 2013
During the last two weeks of April, I was lucky enough to travel to Ethiopia for a Fulbright Enrichment Seminar. The Seminar lasted the better part of a week and I spent the week before traveling to the North of Ethiopia to explore a place coined “The Eighth Wonder of the World”. Both travel and seminar were absolutely refreshing and reflective experiences. Fulbright researchers and English Teaching Assistants from all over Sub-Sahara Africa were brought together to share our personal struggles, our intellectual triumphs and to be reminded of our purpose.
The conference and the trip, in general, allowed me to reconsider everything that I had been doing for the last 7 months in Rwanda. This place is a hard place to live in, but not in the conventional sense of being without creature comforts. The culture and the history have weighed on me, and other short-term travelers, even if its not always thought about in the forefront of our minds. Going to Zanzibar before and now Ethiopia, I felt a sense of release as if my psyche had been forced underwater for months and could take a big breath of air.
In fact, I have tried to ignore that weight in an effort to get to know people, not just memorials. And yet, that’s impossible. A history and its people coalesce organically and the separation of the two creates an even more stunted view of a such a unique, bewildering culture.
Upon returning to Rwanda in late April, I had a new understanding of, well, just here. My views of this place will be skewed with every passing day and it will take years after to grasp a mildly objective view. The people I met at the Seminar were an amazing bunch who were too intelligent and worldly to accept any superficial explanation of my experience, and I am greatly indebted for their patient listening. Vice versa, a banal conversation was nowhere to be found the entire week.
Ethiopia itself was a mysterious and wonderful place that I suggest everyone goes, whether they are in need of new eyes or not. Architecture, history and self-reflection were the themes of this quick trip; probably not a coincidence.
“I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.”
― Mary Anne Radmacher
May 7, 2013
Unfortunately due to some problems with our house, Olivia and I have had to move back to Kigali for the last 6 weeks (!!) of our contract. The move was quite abrupt and I was very sad to move from my home for the last 8 months. I will continue to work in Kigali on the literary journal and commute once a week to do some English program training for the staff at INATEK and it was the right decision to make. Nevertheless, it won’t be the same as living in Kibungo. Below, I’ve posted a few more pictures of the beautiful East Province.
April 26, 2013
As a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant, part of my responsibility is to spend time outside the classrooms (or in my case, our Language Center) contributing to community projects. The project that walked into my life last December was a literary journal with one of the few academic language and linguistics groups in Rwanda. With the help of one of my INATEK colleagues, I was put in contact with the Language and Linguistics Student Association of the National University of Rwanda and told a bit of their story. A literary journal had been tried there several times including a promised attempt by travel writer, Rick Bass (see his recently published book In My House, There is No More Sorrow: Ten Days in Rwanda for a terribly inaccurate, guilt-ridden, narrow view of Rwanda). So to say the least, I was frustrated for the group and embarrassed by another American’s false promises.
Literature has always wriggled its way back into my life, no matter how often I try to deny it out of a falsely practical standpoint. And today, I find myself in a project that encourages the study of literature in myself and others. The journal has been much of a success logistically: it has its own ISBN and is funded by the US Embassy of Kigali; but also in how it has affected the writer’s to see an actual product come from their efforts.The Language and Linguistics Student Association of the National University of Rwanda wrote and edited all the works in the literary journal and I have watched their excitement and enthusiasm for the project grow over the last few months.
The book will be circulated through secondary schools to encourage the study of literature in university (pending approval by the National Curriculum Development Center). It will also be available as an ebook. Below is an excerpt from the Foreword that I prepared for the journal (some of it is repeated info FYI).
April 7, 2013
Today marks the 19th anniversary of the genocide. Every year on April 7th, the Rwandan government sanctions a week-long, reflective holiday on one of the events that questioned the integrity and capacity of humanity. This period is, as I’m told, a time for discussion of genocide and the trauma that it has caused.
During this period, Rwandans have been asked to return to their villages of origin to reflect and discuss the events that traumatized and displaced hundreds of thousands of people. In theory, those with formal employment are meant to continue ‘business as usual’ during the mornings with community discussions and conflict resolution sessions in the afternoon. However given the emotions that envelop each citizen, I can’t imagine that work would be neither conducive to individual’s mourning nor productive. This is a new strategy for Rwandans to cope with this period. In the past, many people attended large scale events in Kigali with speeches and testimonies from prominent members of society. Colleagues have told me that this event was the cornerstone of the week’s program, often complemented with the media showing real footage of the genocide.
Returning to home to consider the effects of the genocide is significantly different than in past years. Those who were not able or willing to travel to Kigali before are now able to participate in the community events. In reality, it forces victims and perpetrators, sometimes neighbors, to face each other and acknowledge what happened. This decentralized way may encourage face-to-face reconciliation rather than simply provoke emotions as in the situation of a large-scale stadium event. Either way, the debate is still very present as to whether a week of commemoration actually encourages victims to relive the traumatic experiences after nineteen years, rather than create the intended reconciliation within the nation.
My role as a foreigner is glaringly evident during this week of commemoration. Repeatedly, I’ve been asked the same question: “Will you be here with us?” Many of my Rwandan colleagues and friends have encouraged Olivia and I to stay and participate in a few events as a way of sharing their reality. But there’s an ever-present conflict, am I not just a tourist to all this grief? This is and has not been my issue, so why should I stay for some voyeuristic observations?
And after thinking about these questions on my own narrow individual level, I realized that these are similar questions asked to the international community those 19 years ago. As I have been reminded sometimes, my country and the rest of the world refrained from acting out of a fear of self-preservation. Why should we send in some soldiers if they may die for a cause that does not pertain to our own country? This is and has not been our issue. And so, the genocide continued unhindered for a hundred days after its bloody commencement on April 7th.
I write this post to my American friends and family not to incite guilt, but to encourage a willingness to educate ourselves on events outside our front door. The genocide has become an infatuation for outsiders who are unable to look past this single event to see a people with a rich culture. The genocide was not just a ‘tribal’ conflict within a troubled African country, it was a human conflict. Our best interest lies not in the fear of emotional or physical self-preservation, but in our own education and shared experience. Even though most of the world may not be in Rwanda or have its problems, we can understand and acknowledge their past because it is also ours.
I will attend several of the community meetings this week because I was invited and encouraged to be a part. My role will be none but to show some small support, a hand to hold, as needed. This non-partisan role is the same for the rest of the international community and media. Take time to understand what happened (there are a few links to articles found below to start with) and offer the same prayers, thoughts or moments of silence that one would offer to a neighbor in crisis. My hope would be to divert attention from celebrity’s weight gain and that, instead, we can admit that we once had a role as passive bystanders in this piece of history. Because in the end, the world’s hope is united against all acts such as this; never again.
February 4, 2013
Everyone harps about the amazing security of Rwanda, particularly in the hoppin’ capital, Kigali. The police force is strict and well-obeyed. I feel much safer walking here with a friend than in most US cities. Traffic runs with a fair amount of order, even with the daredevil motos that frequently weave through sluggish cars. I have never heard of anyone having their house broken into or being mugged. Of course, life is not perfect here and there are the occasional incidents but they are definitely few and far between.
One such incident happened about a week ago in which my camera was briefly stolen. I was out dancing and had just walked my friend to her car. On my walk back up a winding staircase to join up with the larger group, a curious man walked up to me. He repeatedly touched my shoulder and slurred some English and Kinyarwanda jargon. His proximity to me was the first red flag: as stated before, Rwandans are incredibly reserved and often do not confront a muzungu, physically or otherwise. I sped up my walking pace while another man grabbed my accoster’s hand. A few minutes later, I saw him creeping near my friend’s purse and coat. I finally checked my own purse and discovered that my camera had been taken.
Immediately, I reported the theft to the bouncer. We searched around the club but to no avail. The man had disappeared, of course, and after about fifteen minutes had passed, I knew that I would never see my camera again. I went back to dancing, mostly miffed that all the pictures that I had taken were now gone. After a little while, I looked up and saw the funny man from the stairwell approaching me. I immediately motioned to my friends and the bouncer appeared behind the man. He took him outside for some “deliberation” (that in itself made me afraid for the man, given the size of the bouncer and my lack of understanding with how such things are dealt). Much to my surprise, the bouncer came up to me with my camera in less than an hour. After changing hands with six different people, the bouncer and later the police were able to track the camera down by checking the last dialed number in the thief’s phone. And somehow, they were able to lure each one of them back to the club. I would have never conceived that the return of my camera would have been remotely possible and yet, there it was. A similar, albeit more violent incident, happened several months ago with nothing but a small soap taken and even more quickly (with the help of a market full of vendors), returned.
Social justice and a sense of citizenship appears to be prevalent throughout this culture. Patrons and customers are well-protected by the everyday citizen, not just the police. Whether this ‘coming together’ is purely cultural or encouraged by the government (such as the community service day, umuganda, in which the country stops running for the last Saturday morning of every month to perform civil works) is probably impossible to know, but it certainly contributes to the general security here. In fact after my camera was stolen, I felt more at ease with the security in the country. Rather than being completely lulled into a false sense of security though, I am more conscious of the possibility of theft or other crimes. But if strangers were so willing to help me with such a problem, how could I not feel safe?