I learned the expression from the acrobat I met after apologizing and blaming the internet for late reply to one of his messages. He responded by TIA ? This is Africa, I understand haha. The last week has really been Africa from morning to night. I have barely had any internet and when I did it was usually only for two minutes because we were running somewhere or something was going on. Right now I am at the airport in Istanbul, Turkey and I will be home in Norway in only a few hours!
A lot of exciting things happened the last week. The three first days I were still doing my internship, teaching the girls all the different games. It was always sad when they started talking about next week all excited and I had to let them down by telling them I was leaving. They got so disappointed and asked when I was coming back. That?s always the hardest question and everyone asks. People I randomly talk to on the streets, little kids we play with, people I worked with and people we?ve become friends with.. ?When are you coming back??.. It?s been an amazing journey and Africa definitely have a way of finding your heart and stay there. I really hope that I one day will be able to come back and visit all the wonderful people I?ve met. Maybe I will be able to give something back one day.
My last day of internships ended with volleyball with some of the teachers. I also visited Anna and Becky?s school and donated some soccer balls and tennis balls. They got really excited and we exchanged emails.
Oh and I cant forget.. I earned the biggest laugh of the trip, or at least one of them when I came from school one of the days. It all started the end of last week. Davite, the woman I worked with ? super cute, energetic, tiny woman ? wanted to take a picture. Of course we were going to take a picture. She kept pointing to the place, I nodded and said we could take it any time. I usually met up with Beth for lunch but one day she was sick, I told Davite I did not have any plans and we could take the picture. She took my hand and started walking out of the school. I got a little confused and asked her. Her English is very broken and sometimes it was really a struggle. She acted like nothing and pointed ?over there?. So we walked out of the school area, past a few restaurants, and turned the corner.. Suddenly I see a professional photo store.. Oh yes.. We were about to have a 20 pictures photo shoot in a studio. We posed with and without a chair, changed places and it was really funny. We paid half (about 10 kr per picture, nothing for the actual shoot) and picked up the pictures the next day. They added a background and the pictures speaks for themselves. All the other students, teachers and everyone would not stop laughing. The next day Anna and Beth went to the same place to take their own pictures just for fun.
Thursday and Friday was mostly spent to go shopping the day. We went to a place in cooperation with We Act ? HIV/AIDS patients making beautiful fabric everything. Bags, wallets, ties, costars, all types of things. The other place we went to was my favorite place. About 20-30 little stores filled with statues, jewelry, traditional things and so on. The best part ? you could bargain. So much fun. I felt like I was back in China. The other students was not used to it and struggled a little more than me, but they eventually got it. Both of my bags are now full.
Friday, our last day, I also had the chance to go to the ?prison fellowship", a place for children to go after school or just to hang out. Most of the children there were single or double orphans and very poor. Some people could not afford going to school which is really sad and barely take any money. This place provides them with a meal and a place to hang out, be safe and play three days a week. Two of the other girls had their internship there and I just came with them the last day.. It was really fun and sad. Their clothes are ripped up, shoes broken and some don't even have shoes. Small scares and wounds on their little bodies. We played a version of basketball and had a lot of fun. This one boy would not leave me and it was really sad saying good bye knowing that we were going back to a safe and warm place and they had nothing .. That was there warm and safe space..
Later the same day we had a closing ceremony and banquette with some of the people we all had worked with and who made this program possible. It was very nice and everyone wore their African clothing. I was lucky and sat next to a woman who is now working at the gender monitor center in Kigali. She worked for the UN in New York for 12 years!! So I had a really good talk with her and got her contact information. It was super exciting. I definitely have a little better understanding of how things works now and what it takes. I've met so many inspiring people who use their platform to the fullest and help the people in their communities and it was very motivating.
It?s been an amazing travel and journey. I?ve pushed my emotions and challenged my knowledge and creativity. Soon I?ll be home in my safe zone and my African journey is over this time.. I?ve tried my best to describe this past month I?ve spent in Rwanda but I still feel like there?s so much that?s unsaid. The past 30 days I have spent with a great group of people and I cant wait to hear about their journey after this and how each and every one of them will use their platform to change the world. I have listened to sad stories that have only made me frustrated, but also inspiring stories that have brought me joy and hope. I have witnessed a country, people, culture, a past, development and now, that I will always be with me. Africa touched my little heart, and hopefully, I will be able to go back one day.
The memorial site was divided in four parts. The first one was the overview and history part. Official documents and presentation of what happened which we have gone over plenty of times.
Before we arrived I had heard both Bea and Lauren tell us to be prepared because this as considered the worst memorial site by most people. When they told me there would be bodies displayed and placed as they were found, for some reasons I had it in my head that there would be only a few.. Even after visiting so many memorial sites and heard about all the mass graves, why did I think this would be different and more ?censured?? I couldn?t have been more wrong. 50,000 people were killed at this place. After walking through the museum part and going over history once again, we walked over to the small houses. At the time, this place was a secondary school being reconstructed and the Tutsi were told to go hide here. The real reason to why they were told to go there was because the Hutu wanted to gather as many people to one place and kill as many at once as possible. We walk through the rooms and I couldn't even count how many skeleton bodies were in each room. So many.. The smell was the worst for me and you could see their bodies and traces of their faces..
Bodies on bodies on bodies. Skeletons on skeletons. You don?t understand the meaning of a mass grave until you witness it. It?s indescribable, unbelievable and unforgettable. All the different bodies, the tiny feet of small children, the broken head skulls, traces of their faces. I saw the eyes of a dead person. I felt like she was looking at me. I felt like I knew her. I will never forget these eyes. Her eyes were gone. Skin was still there. I get chills only thinking of it. I could see her fear. I could see her pain. Her cry for help.
The third part was a presentation of a mass grave. The guide showed us the place where it used to be. It wasn't really anything, just plane grass right now. He did told us that during operation Turquoise, when the French soldiers came to help and do humanitarian work, one of the places they camped was at that school. With or without knowing what had happened, they were playing volleyball on the mass graves.. That made me angry and a little frustrated. In my head, with all the bodies and all the traces we could still see today, it seems impossible to me that they did not know. I understand that the graves were covered up with new dirt and grass but they can?t have been that oblivious about it..
The last part was a dug out mass grave, no bodies, just to illustrate what it looked like when they opened it. It was a small grave but yet they fit 8,500 people there. It?s insane to think of how little respect the perpetrators had for the victims. Just like with the Jews in World War II, they were just throw on top of each other like they were dirt or waste. I had a hard time just looking at the bodies, especially the ones who you could ?recognize? and see because of how well it was preserved. I can only imagine when they were just killed. Throwing people, little boys and girls, women and men.
The guide said: This was strategically planned and executed by authorities. The Hutu were psychologically prepared to kill and the Tutsi were psychologically prepared to be victims. They were just waiting.. Not waiting for life, but waiting for death.
I cant help but ask myself. Why are we doing this? Why cant I not take my eyes of the skeletons? Why do I feel the need to read every single testimony and why do I need to listen to all the horrifying stories?
I?ve heard enough. I?ve seen enough.
On my way out I wrote in the guestbook in Norwegian: ?One day we must learn from our mistakes, come together and create peace. We are all the same.? After being at a memorial sites, I am always left with a feeling of emptiness, a feelings of helplessness, and more questions than before.
Whenever we visit the memorial sites, no one really says anything. We walk around, the guide talks a little but other than that it?s just silent. People cry, some more than others and everyone keeps to themselves. After each memorial site we usually talk (debriefing) but since we got back so late and everyone were so tired we decided not to. Bea said her door was open and the ones who wanted to go talk with her. I still felt like the smell of dead people were still there so I washed all my clothes when I got home. I can wash away the smell from my clothes, however, it is going to be harder to wash away the smell from my memory..
I have said it before but I need to say it again. Though the horrible things that was done, I'm not losing faith in humanity for something that happened in the past when there are so many people in the world who believe in a peaceful future and do everything they can to make this a better place. Their work is the important work .. Not the perpetrators.. It?s important to know and to learn but it?s in the past and we cant change it. We can only use energy on making this world better, making today better.
The past three days I have not been able to blog for different reasons. Lack of internet or just tired from long days. Friday was a pretty slow day. I had two sessions at the school. We played tag and I introduced ultimate freebee. Which was interesting teaching other people how to play a game I have never played myself. I had one of the other American students teach it to me a few days ago. My problem with this game is that there can only be so many people playing at the same time and I have about 40 girls each time. I hate placing half the class on the side line and making them watch when they only have 50 minutes a week to move around. The teacher I am working with does not see this as a problem and thinks it is important for them to watch so I cant really do anything. This was probably the most troubled and difficult game I have taught so far. 1. They have never seen a freebee before. 2. Whenever they are unsure or someone does something wrong they start yelling at each other in Kinyarwanda and I have no idea what is being said or how to help. 3. Even though they are teenagers, they act like children and everyone runs towards the ball/freebee, depending on what we are doing at the time, at the same time. They have a hard time understanding that if they spread out and cover more of the field it?s easier. They do get really into which I love and it is so much fun watching them master each game.
We ended up not going to the Swedish Embassy due to lack of space which was a little sad but at the same time it was very nice just to go back and relax. After a long week, knowing that Saturday was going to be just as long we ended up having a pretty laid back afternoon/night. For a little while the power went out and we were stuck in the dark using flashlights and candles. I ended up taking a cold shower in the dark which made me realize how much I appreciate hot water and electricity. We ate dinner with candles, played cards and had a pretty good time after all.
Saturday was a long day. We were gone for over 13 hours. We left early to go to Buthare to go to the National Art Museum and another memorial site which I?ll talk about later. They say it's the worst memorial site in Rwanda and even in the world. I'll write another post to explain, but lets just say, I will never forget.. Sunday was our real first ? no schedule day! A few of us took the bus to a hotel with a pool to hang out. We had breakfast there and it was so good! We hung out, I took advantage of the workout room and then we headed to Bourbon café. Ordered food to go and went home. Most of us stayed in and worked on their papers and blogging while a few people went out to a restaurant. Tomorrow we start back up. Leave the house at 6:30am! Three more days of internships!
Today started even earlier than yesterday. We were up and ready to leave at 6:45am. They dropped us off at the café and drove the med students to the hospital.
At my internship today I taught 40 girls how to play tag (harn) and BASEBALL(!). It was so cool and inspiring to watch them figuring out the game and eventually managing it. Even though it took patient and several explanations, they seem to understand at the end. It's a little challenging because there are so many of them and I don't always know if they understand. Some classes are better at asking questions than other but it usually works out anyway.
Wednesdays and Fridays are only half days so I was done by 12:30pm. Bebe, our driver picked us up. He is super nice but very shy because he thinks his English is bad. The first two weeks he didn?t say a word to anyone. Now he is getting more comfortable with us and talks a little more. When he picked me up I was the only one in the car and we talked the whole way. Then he took me to the out door market! AMAZING, INSANE.. There are no words to describe. It was dirty, there were flies everywhere, but it was cheap and so much fruit and veggies everywhere. Some meat, some clothes, spices, beans, rice.. Endless. So much fun. Bebe laughed at me when I took pictures. It just had to be documented.
When we got back to the house I invited him in and we played cards. Steve and Bebe taught me how to play a Rwanda card game. Really fun. Then Mariam helped me wash my fruit in hot water and vinegar.
Later, when everyone was back at the house, we had a meeting with Bea. We talked about our internships and then she told us we were not allowed to take any motors. Motors are motorcycles that work as taxis. They are everywhere! It reminds me of yellow taxis in New York. A lot cheaper and you get to your destination faster, but since there are so many accidents she is not a fan. And when she caught one of the girls taking one and banned them.
There?s a building nearby the house we live in called the Peace House. I have tried to stop by a few times but I think I get there too late. Hopefully one of these days I?ll be able to catch one of them working and they can explain to me what they do.
On Friday the Swedish embassy is celebrating Midsummer Day and we are invited. The acrobat I met at the beach is performing with his team and he invited us to come. I can only remember celebrating Midsummer one time in Sweden before so it will be a little weird to celebrate in Rwanda but I?m sure it will be fun.
Since I am done working at 12:30pm on Friday I will also have time to go to the Prison Fellowship with Danielle and Kacey. It?s a program that works with orphans and poor children. The staff that works there tries to provide as much as possible to fill their needs, give them a meal, teach them language and math and more. It is simply a place for them to be for a few hours and hang out without having to worry about anything.
This Saturday we are going to another memorial site. They say this is the worst one because it is barely touched. All the corps are still in the same position and places they were found which makes it very real.
Second day of internships and it is so much fun. It?s been a long day. We were up and ready to leave at 7am but our bus driver did not get there until 7:30 which was a problem for the medical students who were supposed to be introduced to all the employees at the hospital and attend a meeting at 7:30k. Education, Anna, Becky and I, did not start until 9am and was dropped off at café bourbon. We had coffee and breakfast before Bebe (our bus driver) came and picked us up. Even though he is super shy and rarely speaks, except when he talks to Emmanuel in Kinyarwanda, he is something else and everyone loves him. On our way to the karaoke bar, he played ?This is why I?m hot? the whole way. It was fun the first 10 minutes .. On our way to the lake he had a bunch of old songs and techno, Cascada, which made everyone go crazy. He is a little crazy when he drives but at the same time a really good driver.
He dropped me off at the school. I found Divate (the woman I work with) at the library and we got ready for our first session. Today was my day. We had three classes. She was going to do the first one and then I would introduce a new game and my made up ?baseball? game. The first session we played basketball again, like yesterday. The girls who did not play surrounded me and asked a million of questions. First question is always ?Do you have a boyfriend?? or ?Are you engaged??.. Then they usually ask where I am from, what I study etc. A few questions threw me off today and I did not really not how to respond.
?Do you like our skin?? Me thinking race and color right away said yes with a little question mark after. Then one of the other girls jumped in.. ?Like our skin and how it is so tick and resilient of the sun..? So I said without hesitating, ?of course, I wish I had it?. And they all started laughing.
?How do you feel about the genocide?? When I introduce myself I say I am here to study the country and learn about the culture. I never mention the genocide just because these girls are young and most were born after 95. Since I don?t know how much they know and such I usually leave it with that and focus on other thing. So when she asked, I stopped for a second, and gave her my best possible answer. I told her I was here to learn about it. I said I thought it was sad what happened and that I was very sorry for what happened, that we have been to a few places and how it is hard to understand. They were nodding and I felt like I was doing a good job. Then I turned it around and acknowledged all the improvements of the country and how well it has developed.
?Do you like blond hair or black hair better??.. I tried to explain how I think it depends on the person and what fits the best. It?s not what color I prefer. They seemed to be okay with that answer tooo.
They were super intrigued by my blond, ?long? hair. They are not allowed to have long hair when they are in boarding school so all the girls have short, ?boy cut? hair. It?s a distraction and they don?t need it was the explanation I received when I asked.
After the first session we went back to the ?office? and I explained a couple new games we could play. As a warm up I wanted to relay (stafett) and then I introduced ?Hit Ball?. It?s a version of baseball we used to play when we were children. It took a little while and multiple explanations for them to get it, but when they first did, they had so much fun. I think they liked it.
I was picked up by the bus at 4:30pm after class. And somehow I did not get home until 9:30pm. We drove to the tailor to try our clothes on. I look like a clown.. Halloween costume maybe? I liked one of the skirts I got but it?s a lot of print overall. The tailor always take a little while so we decided to go to dinner right after. Because we only have one bus and people are everywhere and doesn?t always want the same thing, we always end up driving for a long time, dropping people off, picking people up and so on. We ate around 8pm and got home around 9:30pm.
Last night right before I went to bed the electricity went out, no light, no internet.. ?Luckily? we have to leave the house at 6:45am and have time for breakfast and coffee at bourbon.
Today was the first day of our internships. The class was very different from what I am used to. We showed up. We ran a few laps around the court and stretch a few muscles before we played basketball. 10 girls on the court, 30 girls sitting watching (or asking me questions). The second class was pretty much the same. She also had me introduce myself and talk a little about what I was doing there. All classes are supposed to be taught in English and I notice that most of them speak very well.
A few of the girls asked about the USA and said all they wanted was to go there and study.. In a way it makes me sad because even though I know the opportunities for education are much better there than here, ?the American Dream? isn?t as it used to be. The way they asked and talked about it also made me feel like it was the best and only country in the world. I don?t know enough about the school system here or opportunities here, but I have talked to many people who have studied in Africa and received good education. It makes me sad that all she wants is to leave this beautiful country just because she has an idea that being in the states will be so much better. Being at the school and talking to all the girls and teacher is a great experience. I learn about the culture on a very personal and real level. They ask questions, I ask mine and we learn from each other.
The woman I work with is great. Super energetic and fun. Sandra, Sandra, Sandra.. All the time. She includes me, introduce me to everyone we meet, and keeps me entertained. She is teaching me a little of the language but it?s a little hard to remember.
?Marikaase? ? Thank you
?Amakuru? ? how are you?
?Nimesa? ? I?m good
That?s what I got so far.
When we got back, everyone shared their stories about the internships. Some very good, pre medical students are watching open heart surgery tomorrow, and some people are very lost and it seems like they only see the limitations and problems in everything. Bea advised me to use my free time to read about the school and the history of the school so I think that?s what I will be doing tomorrow. So far I have just observed and I'll probably do that tomorrow as well, but hopefully I'll be able to show them how to use the baseball bat and maybe teach them how to play tag (harn) .. We'll see :)
So far I have touched on horrible stories and negative consequences of the genocide Last week we had religion as a topic for a whole day. There was especially one man I liked listening to. He was a priest and came in asking us for questions. He did not want to preach and speak about something not knowing what we really wanted to hear and learn more about. One of the topics we started talking about was being able to understand. I really liked his answer and without answering the questions I still feel at peace with his answer. He told us that to even try to understand the genocide would be insane and impossible. Trying to understand how someone can be a normal person one day, a serial killer the next, and then going back to being a normal person is not worth trying to understand. It would make you lose your mind and your faith in humanity.
The last part stuck with me. Lose faith in humanity. When you are in an environment and you learn about all the horrible things people are capable of doing, it?s hard not to give up and to lose faith in humanity. That?s why I want to share the stories of two people I met this past weekend. Both of them are survivors of the genocide and both of them decided to step up and not only move on, but to help others.
We met the first man at a nunnery. He was a friend of Emmanuel and wanted to share his story with us. He was holding his arms behind his back when he first started talking and everything looked normal. As he was telling the story of how he, as a Hutu, had refused to kill Tutsis, he slowly showed one arm after the other. The Hutu soldier did not take no as an answer and to make sure no one else betrayed them, they tied his arms together and used a machete to cut both of his arms off to demonstrate to other people what would happen if they did.. He had two elbows and some forearms left but no hands. He was in the hospital for a year to be able to function. Today he is doing well and with some help from one of his friends, he started an organization to help youth, orphans and especially handicapped to move on and to teach them that being handicapped does not mean that you are powerless.
Later I met another person, an acrobat who was playing on the beach with his crew. His story also began with the genocide, when his mom was murdered and he suddenly became an orphan at the age of six. He couldn?t tell me the whole story because he said he would cry, but he too, found strength in helping others. He watched circus du soleil on tv and needed something that would distract him from him situation and allow him to dream. He started playing around on the beach and eventually started an acrobat group. Next Friday, they are coming to Kigali to perform at the Swedish embassy.
These stories and others are so inspiring. Visiting memorial sites and hearing testimonies from survivors really tests your faith in humanity. All the horrible things people are capable of doing is more than scary, but when you hear how people have learned to cope with their sorrows and created organizations and constantly work for unity give me hope. There?s so much good and love in the world and I think it is just as important to learn about the heroes and the people who rise as hearing about the victims and the terrible techniques that was used.
These are the stories that keeps me from losing faith in humanity.
This weekend we left Kigali to get out of the town and relax a little. Friday morning a few of us got up and went to our internships again to clarify some things. I had a very good talk with the woman I am working with. She showed me around at the school and I meet some professors and students. They are all very nice and always smile and say hei to me. The school day goes from 7:30-4:30 with some breaks in between. As a gym teacher I only have two hours a day so I don?t think I have to be there the whole day. I still have a bunch of questions but hopefully they will be answered tomorrow and as we go.
We went back to pick up everyone else before we headed to the market and café bourbon for lunch. The lake is a large lake between Congo and Rwanda, we actually stayed at a hotel right by the boarder. After driving for about 3 hours we finally made it. It was a very nice hotel with pool and a restaurant. The hotel, supposedly had internet but I only got it to work one time for tens during the stay. When we walked off the bus I saw a sign for a fitness center but later I found out it ?under progress?. It would have been nice but I have plenty of experience working out in hotel rooms, on the beach and so on from vacationing with my family : ) Both Saturday morning and Sunday morning I ended up running to the boarder and back which was only 1.3 km and then I did my own little thing after the run. Worked out perfectly. I was a little disappointed by the boarder. It was a gate and two guards. On the Rwandan side there was a few offices and immigration building. You need to have a visa and more to be able to enter Congo. However, I did not see anything on the other side ..
On Friday we went to a restaurant and bar around 10pm. Around midnight we went to a club right under the restaurant. We were pretty much the only people there at the time. We danced and had fun. It had been a long day so we went back at 2am.. That?s when people started coming and it got crowed. My roommate, Lauren, came back around 3am and 5am the next day. When the bars closes in the States, is when they open in Rwanda.
The next day was supposed to be pool day but Bea wanted to show us some stuff so we went to a nunnery or convent (place where nuns live). Besides the nuns, there were was also other people who used the building or lived there. We took a bunch of pictures of the beautiful view of the lake. Then we went to the place we were having dinner later because Bea wanted to show us the hotel and what it looked like in day light. It was a very cute, little, intimate hotel. Honeymoon location? The only drawback with this place is that we are advised not to go in the lake because of all the different bacteria.
Then we went to another hotel, where Beas cousin works. He was not there and the service was super slow. It took about two hours before we got our food ? half an avocado and tuna in the middle.. I have learned that Africa is slow and laid back but I don?t think I could ever get used to it. We went back to the hotel and hung out for two hours before we left for dinner. This is when we walked to the beach and met the acrobats. Of course, as a gymnast, everyone wanted me to flip and show them. My whole body can feel that I have not done this in a while, but it was very fun and seeing them flipping and jumping made me realize how much I miss it ..
Dinner was amazing and an experience. Bea had requested the professional and traditional dancer. So while we waited for our food, they performed for us. Drums, bells, singing and dancing. For dinner I ordered grilled tilapia. I got the whole fish! With the head, fins, tale, just lying there staring at me. But after I picked at it and tried it I could not help myself and ate the whole thing. It was so good. After dinner we went back to the hotel. I sat down at the restaurant with some of the people and hung out before I went to bed.
The next morning I went for another jog and jogged back to the beach and met the acrobats. We played around a little and I showed them how to do some skills. The weather was not pool weather so Anna, Kanwal and I went for a walk. We found a culture center and some children dancing hip hop. The culture center was sponsored by many organizations, UNICEF being one.. Maybe that?s something I could do .. Now we are on our way back to Kigali and at 4pm we are going to a wedding.
Today was a little less dramatic and a little more hopeful. We had a famous, comedian and writer come talk to us about media and how he choose to teach others about genocide through acting. It was interesting and he showed us two parts from one of his shows. OnNe was about the journey of being a boy and becoming a man and soldier. It was without words (except for the soldier?s song at the end) and he used his body and facial expression very well. It was very passionate and emotional in a different way. The second part he did was all in Kinyarwanda. It was supposed to imitate the hate radio host but we could not understand a thing so we just sat there. Then he sent out a little brochure with his picture in it. I read the text next to it and it was in NORWEGIAN! I had a little freak out and smiled. Apparently he went to some International Teater Fest in Oslo earlier this year. That was pretty cool.
Our second speaker worked for a large NGO focusing on HIV/AIDS patients. Helping them understand what is happening, treating them with medicine and counseling, having support systems and outreach programs.. All I could think of was Princess Diana..
Then we went to lunch at this hotel nearby and soccer was on. U21 Norway-Italy! So obviously I have been thinking of Norway and home more than anything all day!
After lunch we went to visit WE ACTx which was the name of the NGO I was talking about earlier. We stopped by a market on our way home and was back at the house by 6pm. It was still light out so Adrianne and I went for a walk. Very nice. Temperature is perfect. The sky was covered of stars which always makes me think of my mom :)<3 Good day.
When I walked out of the memorial site I noticed a school on the other side of the street. The colonial countries used to build schools right next to churches. This school was probably build at the same time as the church but in contrast to the church, which was now a memorial site, the school was in full use. I saw a lot of children running around playing. They were laughing and smiling and having a good time. We all came out quiet and calm and it was almost uplifting to see all the children having fun. It was strange to me to have the two important buildings right next to each other. One representing so much horror and death and the other excitement and life. On one side we was exposed to the past and was told to remember, on the other side, we witnessed a new generation and hope for the future.
It was a very powerful and uplifting from what I just experienced.