It takes a lot more than spending one month in Rwanda, three weeks in Ghana, taking a few classes and reading books and article to really understand Ghana and Africa. Still I wanted to share my perspective from the little I know about this very large and interesting continent that I have learned to love.
Like most things we have an idea about certain cultures, countries and ethnicity groups. We hear stories from other people, read articles and books, watch videos and other visual which helps us create an imagine of what we think it is like. The north/south relationship, first world/third world idea has not helped how most people view less developed countries, and especially Africa. Pictures of babies with large bellies due to malnutrition, little children with little clothes and scars on their bodies from the hardship of living in the streets, and natives in their traditional clothing hunting for food.
There is also created an image that they are hopeless and cannot take care of themselves.
George Ayittey, a Ghanaian economist, argues in his TED talk presentation that the government and the leaders are the problem in Africa. Patrick Awuah, another Ghanaian supports his thoughts and adds that Ghana and Africa needs good leaders. They both talk about the cheetahs, the new generations of Africans who are tired of blaming colonialism and ready to start a new chapter. They are innovative, take advantage of technology focused on new thinking. They understand democracy, believe in accountability and push for good governance. The cheetah generation is Africa?s answer to the Asian tigers. They are Africa?s hope for the future.
The continent has a lot of resources and there is no lack of help from other countries outside. Africa has received billions of dollars over many decades, but somehow the poverty level is Africa is still sky high. In her book Dead Aid, Dambisa Moyo, a Zambian economist discuss why aid is not working and how there is another way for Africa. She has many good arguments and ask economist who still believe aid is the solution where the money went and where it is going today. Corruption and poor accountability in leadership are some of the factors that has contributed to the trend in African poverty. She also blames the INGOs, International Non-Profit Organization, for not always helping as much are they think they do. If a local African make a living producing mosquito nets, she explains, he or she will be out of business, lose his job and income, if an NGO brings and donates free mosquito nets to the whole village... A better solution would have been to buy from the African producers and then donate to the people.
Moyo and Ayittey both attack the government. From a Western perspective, I think the thought of cutting off the government is scary and not wise. However, Ayittey argues that the governments are Western institutions and this does not function with African culture. The TED talk is very interesting and he has a lot of good arguments.
Michael Williams, the owner of the Aya center, has his own ideas. He believes that Africa, first and foremost, needs to take advantage of the many resources the continent has and establish infrastructure to increase market within Africa. As of today, most of the resources travels out of Africa to Europe, America or Asia. African countries should cooperate better and start opening up their borders for trade. They need to find a way to appreciate their differences, celebrate the cultures, and cooperate instead of fight over space and ruin for each other.
I do not know enough about economics or development to be able to come up with an answer to Africa?s issues. What I do know is that the continent is amazing and has so much to offer. I wish more people could see that, and the potential, instead of only looking at Africa as hopeless and needy. I have experienced both the good and the bad of Africa. I have seen sickness and despair, poverty and helplessness. But I have also seen the people?s energy and joy. Their love for life and passion for other human beings. I have had a little child come running towards me and jump into my arms, a total stranger, with the biggest smile on her face, full of curiosity and love. And I have had a young boy take my arm, and with his back towards me, he has rolled his arm around him and hold it tight. His face was not joyful. Feelings of being scared and frustrated were showing in his eyes. I have stood between a school full of life with children playing on one side and a church left with nothing but bloody clothes, old belongings and horrible memories from 1994. I have seen survivors and perpetrators live side by side in hope for a better future for the next generations.
Every day I felt so welcomed. So full of hope and inspiration. And so thankful that I was able to experience a day in a continent as colorful as Africa.
Monday we had the chance to join the team and go out in the field to observe them conduct information for their research. The research manager for access to health, Kwame, is a Ph. D candidate with a background of anthropology and women and gender studies. After typing up some of the surveys last week, I was curious to why Kwame had chosen to go about the project the way he did. From my knowledge of anthropology and WGST perspectives, especially when conducting research about someone?s attitude about a key population, a project does not necessarily produce the best result based on a quantitative survey. I asked him about it the next day, and as I expected, he agreed with me. He was given this project proposal and guidelines on how to go about it before he even had the chance to give his input. As an intern and because the process had already started, he was not in the position to change anything. This is very unfortunate, because Kwame seems to be very knowledgeable, and I believe he could have conducted great research if his hands were not tied. Even though it might seem like NGOs have a lot of freedom, they are often very restricted due to different factors. For example, the countrys government might put restrictions on their research or complicating their work by not providing the right information needed and so on. In addition, NGOs might find themselves restricted based on their donors and partner organizations. Depending on what they believe the money should be used for and what it should not be used for, the NGOs are not always in the position to do exactly what they believe is the correct use of money.. I do not know enough about this project to be able to analyze it more than I already have, but one thing both my majors have thought me is to always be critical and question what is being done, who is doing it, what is the purpose and so on..
Visiting the health clinic was very interesting. David, Chiara and I all went with a group of seven other people. When we got to the clinic we were partnered with another Ghanaian so we could film different people. I joined Steve and we ended up to what seemed to be the clinic for newborns. The hall was packed with parents, caretakers and their babies. The information desk was at the end of the hall. From what I could see there was one single doctor in a room waiting for patients and a few nurses running around doing other things. The space was very small and I tried hard not to be in anyones way while trying to get video of Steve interviewing one of the nurses. The nurse was very clear that she was not going to be in the video and I had to reassure her several times that she was not in the picture. She did not seem very interested when Steve, who was very respectful and gentle, asked her the different questions. Steve even made a comment after that he did not get a lot of her as he would have liked to, but, that again, has also a little to do with the framing of the questions.
Its been a long time since I saw a newborn and these babies were absolutely adorable. So small with their tiny hands and feet. One of them was extra little and when I asked about it, the nurse told me she was born almost two months early and it all depended on the mother if she was going to survive or not. If the mother was able to take care of her, give her sufficient nutrition and keep her healthy she would live.. I could not help thinking about all the statistic of how one in five children dont live past the age of five.. I hope for the mother and for the baby that she does not become a part of the statistic.
A lot of the time that day went to driving and to waiting. You definitely need patience to be able to live in Ghana and if you dont have patience you will get it after spending some time here.
We were dropped off by the mall and walked across the street to catch a trotro (a big van that function as a private bus). Like most days we received some attention from a little boy asking for money. Once they see our white skin, they automatically think money. One of the hardest things I do is to tell them no and look away. I feel like I am failing. At the same time you know that if you start giving money everyone will flock around you. Theres is not just one little boy. I have been exposed to these things a little more frequently than some of the others and poor Chiara has a very hard time. The little boy sensed that and would not let her go. Then another girl came and an old man.. Eventually I was able to make him leave..
Today, Wednesday, has mostly been used for editing and finding music. Tomorrow is our last day at the Human Rights Advocacy Center and Friday afternoon everyone but me leaves returns to their home countries. I have very mixed feelings about leaving. On one hand I am excited to go home to see my friends and family, to start figuring out what I am going to do for this semester and in the fall. On the other, I wish we could stay longer to get more insight about the organization and their work. Though I have done my best in regards to the tasks we were given, I do not feel like I have contributed a 100%. With the short amount of time it is difficult but I hope that the organization will be able to use the videos we have been working on and hopefully it will help them reach their goals.
Ghana is divided in several regions. Last week we were in Cape Coast which is in the central region. Accra is its own region. This weekend we drove to the Volta Region, and we are stayed in Ho.
You have not tested your car sickness tolerance until you drive through Africa. It is either constantly shaking from driving on gravel (red stone and sand), or driving zigzag to get ahead of traffic or avoid wholes. Whatever it is, it makes the ride a lot more interesting for some and a lot more exhausting for others. I love when we get out of the city and drive pass the towns and villages. There is so many things to see and look at; everything from baby goats walking around, children playing on the side of the street, women carry different things on their heads, people laying around or working, to little huts and larger building. Even though most of Ghana is pretty flat, it is not like driving through Missouri. There is always people around selling food or supplies on the sides, everything is colorful, beautiful and interesting.
On our way we had a quick stop at a beads place where we bought some cute wristlets. We eventually made it to our first stop, the waterfall. After a 40 minute walk through the rainforest we made it up to a little area with an amazing waterfall. It was not very tall, but the water fell beautifully down the hill of the mountain. We stayed up there for a short while, took some pictures and some walked out in the water. Returning to the bus, we bought a cocoa plant. They opened it for us and inside was lots of white oval looking thing attached to the core (it looked like enlarged white corn). You could break them off and then taste it. It was pretty sweet and did not really taste like cocoa, but they explained that the seeds inside was brown and purple, which is what they use for cocoa production.
The next stop after the waterfall was the monkey sanctuary! It was definitely the highlight of this weekend, at least for me. We had a guide who helped us find and call for the monkeys. This particular area was the home to about 400-500 monkeys, but they usually stay with their family which consists of one male leader and the rest are female or babies. The monkeys we interacted with are called the Mona monkeys. It was incredible how they gathered and came close to us. We brought two bags of bananas which was plenty of food. To feed them you have to have a good grip on the end or the monkey would just steel the banana and run away. Once you had a banana in your hand they came jumping on you. At some point I had three little Mona monkeys hanging on my arm.
Once they finished all the bananas we went back to the bus. We stayed at a hotel called Sky plus. It was pretty nice. Everyone was pretty tired after a whole day of driving and being out in the sun so we ended up going back to our rooms around 9pm. Chiara and I fell asleep watching some Ghanaian or Nigerian TV, not very entertaining..
On our way back, we stopped by the Volta River for a boat trip. We drove by the Akosombo Dam, a dam that was done in 1964 to generate electricity. It was an investment by an American company who was interested in the aluminum. Today it is state owned and produce electricity to the citizens of Ghana.
Back at the Aya Center we had a group meeting where we planned out what we wanted our videos to look like and our plan for this week. Hopefully we are going out in the field Monday, doing the last interviewing and filming Tuesday and use the rest of the week mostly to edit. After the meeting we watched a documentary about the Witch Camps which is a concerning social problem north in Ghana. Older women are accused to be witches. They are beat and abused before they are sent to witch camps where they have to stay and live. An NGO named Sosywen are fighting for the women and travel to the villages to educate the people. Old traditions and beliefs are hard to change and the governments does not seem to be paying too much attention. These old women are not a resource, so sadly few people care. However, it has received a lot of media attention and the presence of the NGOs seems to be helping. It is a sad reality and shows the challenge between the developing cities in the south and the lack of attention to the north.
The past two days has been pretty busy. Yesterday was a long day. We woke up a little after 6am as usual, had a quick breakfast before we left a little after 7am. It is a little shame to not get the full experience of Judith?s breakfast. There is always fresh fruit and scrambled eggs. Sometimes she makes oatmeal or amazing scones and the other day she even made small donuts. She?s amazing and every night I cant wait to wake up for breakfast.
However, we finally arrived at the HRAC. The drive there is always different. Depending on the taxi driver and how daring/adventurous he is about getting there. Today we drove through what seemed to be a landfill (where all the garbage goes) with broken cars and barely a dirt row. The morning traffic is a mess and the drivers honk more than they break and drive in zick zak in between all the cars rather than standing in a line. It?s very interesting and a little scary at times.
After doing an interview with George, the program leader, in the morning, we were excited to get out of the office for a change and bring the camera to film people on the street. Chiara, I and one of the other interns (from Ghana) went to a large market in Accra. I doubt that a lot of tourists go there because it was crazy. Lots of people everywhere, food, fabric, water, and lots of fruits and other things for sale.
Our mission was to ask people one not so simple question: What is human rights?
First of all, two white girls (one tall and blond and one not so tall or blond but still white) dressed up and walking around with a camera can only mean one thing! CNN, BBC.. Are you journalists? What station?
Luckily we had our Ghanaian friend with us who helped with translation and explanation of the project. At first we did not really know how to go about it. At first we started out by explaining everything and even giving them the question. Then we tried to ask without sharing the question ahead of time but asking as the question as the camera was rolling. We experimented a little about how to go about it and got some different responses. It was very interesting and fun and hopefully we will be able to make a video out of it. We were also drenched in sweat by the time we got back to the office.
Right after work we went to Accra Mall where we were meeting up with everyone else to go see a Ghanaian movie.. Bachelors.. It was just as bad as it sounds like. It was a very interesting cultural experience and not at all what I am used to see on the screen. The movies was about these three guys living life dating at least two girls at the same time, one of them even dated three girls who lived together. The girls were presented as ignorant and unintelligent, while the men was the bachelors who controlled everything and lived life. It had some funny scenes but all together it was a little rough to watch. Some awkward (kinda) sex scenes and weird comments.. The acting was pretty bad but it is was interesting. For foreigners who does not really understand the culture a 100% and may not totally understand everything that is going on it was a little weird. David and Monika made a good point when they mentioned Legally Blond and Mean Girls and how does movies were probably viewed just as stupid and silly to non-Americans.
It is finally Friday and thought we were not as productive as yesterday, it has been a pretty busy day. Did some more filming and worked on our prezi presentation. When we lost internet we could not do much of our on work so I asked if there was anything they needed help with in the office. Most of the interns and workers went on a field trip today so the office was pretty empty. I ended up typing the answers from survey that had been done earlier this year and last year. The survey was a part of a research trying to conduct information about access to health care for key groups (LGBTQI, female sex workers, pregnant teenagers, HIV/AIDS..) It was pretty interesting reading the answers to some of them. I had two piles, one with HIV/AIDS patients and one with female sex workers. The questions were not, in my opinion ideal to find out about their life and experiences as a stigmatized group, but some of the answers relieved some interesting facts. Next week I hope to be a part of the group who goes out on a field trip and maybe meet/talk with some of the health care providers.
Without internet and electricity it was a pretty calm afternoon. I tried to do some laundry in a bucket of water with some soap. When the water started disappearing as well it got tricky. After a wonderful dinner at Michael Williams restaurant with good food and live music, we finally got back home to a house with power and water.
Tomorrow we are going on a field trip to the Volta region! The plan is to go see the monkeys at a monkey sanction and make a trip to a waterfall.
On Monday we had our first visit at the HRAC, Human Rights and Advocacy Center. David, Chiara and I will be working together at the center the rest of this week and next week. The Ark still were not ready for us on Tuesday so Katie and Bell came with us to the center yesterday. Hopefully at some point next week, the rest of us will be able to take a visit to the Ark Foundation. While the HRAC is a larger organization with a broad focus on human rights and minority groups, the Ark Foundation is a little smaller and focuses their attention primarily on women?s issues and advocate for equality.
Being in a new environment, especially when it comes to working for a new organization, it takes some time to get used to the new routines and the environment. Unfortunately, since we will only be here for less than two weeks, we will not have the chance to really understand and appreciate the work culture at the center. From my first impression it seems very professional. We start at 8am and finish at 4pm. Lunch break is from 12-1pm. Dress code is business (casual). Even though it may sound a little stiff everyone is very nice and helpful. They want everyone ? employees and the intern to have a good and positive experience, and learn. I can tell they are all very busy, but they take time to answer questions and provide you with the resources you need.
Yesterday we had a meeting with George, one of the directors, and then Robert, who serve as the executive director. We had a vague idea of what we were going to do, but luckily Robert gave us pretty clear tasks of what he needed help with the most. As a growing organization, they want to expand to the international sector and need some help with multimedia. He wants us to make a video about the organization and some of their projects. We have already been working on a video about gender based violence. Tomorrow and Friday we will do some interviews of the employees and interns for the info film. Then at some point we hope to take the camera with us on the street and ask people about human rights. We hope to make a video that will show the need for advocacy about peoples rights, which will also clarify and help people understand the concept of human rights.
The HRAC also want to learn how to be efficient with social media such as Twitter and Facebook. David is putting together a quick reference guide with small tricks they can use to be more efficient and create more activity and attention for their organization.
In addition, they want some help when it comes to communication with staff. We are not exactly sure what this means yet but we will talk to Robert again about that later.
Overall, I believe we have had a good start. The travel is a little struggle. We have to leave the Aya Center at 7:10am ish and the past two days we have not been home before 5pm or later. The traffic is pretty bad which is why it takes so long. However, the office is nice and I have no complains other than the traffic. Everyone is very nice. I hope to get to know some of them a little better, so if time allows it, I can help with some other stuff to get a feel of what the organization does.
When I was in Rwanda this past summer, someone thought me the expression of TIA ? This Is Africa; meaning things take time and things change. Today we had some slight changes in our plan. The plan for was to visit both of the NGOs (non profit organizations, also known as non governmental organizations), and also pay a visit at the National Broadcast TV station. The Ark Foundation ended up not being ready for us and will not be ready to meet with us until Wednesday. ended up going to the national tv station first and recieved a tour in the studio, control room and news room. We were even allowed to be in the room while during yhe live news which was really nice.
Then we walked over to the part where they radio were produced. We talked to the host and after a little he wanted us to be guest at his talk show. The three other students, Bell, Katie, and David had the mics. Though I have experience with being interviewed, I felt like this was their field and I saw David?s face light up when we were asked to be the hots guest. Everyone did very well and we had a great time.
We had lunch in Osu and I had some very interesting, very spicy spinach stew with nutmeg spice. My mouth was burning and if I was not sweating enough from being in pants and a skirt in 30 C, I was definitely sweating from eating the food.
After lunch we took the van to the Human Rights Advocacy Center. We eventually found the right people and sat down for an introduction. They gave us a short presentation of their organization. Though the organization is only five years old, it has grown to become a pretty large NGO as far as we understand. Their goal is to be internationally recognized and they have already had interns from all over the world. They touch on many issues, everything from LGBTQI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Queer, Intersex), domestic violence, reproduction rights and more. Tomorrow (Tuesday), we will be having a meeting and talk about how we can help their organization with visuals, videos and so on. For more information about the NGO and their work, go to http://www.hracghana.org/.
Friday morning we drove out of the busy city Accra to a little less busy but still lively city Cape Coast. The drive was about two and a half hours and we got a view of what village life in Ghana is like. To my surprised, I saw small huts made with woods and leaves. Comparing Ghana to Rwanda, from what I know, Ghana is more developed. I thought the development would be visible across the country, but obviously I was wrong. In Rwanda, I never saw any huts because the government had made an effort to improve living conditions (small houses) for everyone. What seems to be different in Ghana, is that the focus and development is mostly in the cities. One of the guest speakers also mentioned that more and more people are moving into the city for this exact reason, but, as the director of implementation of priority projects said, they want to start build schools and other institutions around in the country mostly in the villages to spread out the population and reach everyone.
We finally arrived the Anomabo beach resort, a wonderful resort with huts pretty much on the beach. The view of the beach and the ocean was absolutely stunning. After taking a few pictures and exploring we took the bus and drove into Cape Coast to visit the old European castles.
Cape Coast was the former capital of Ghana. It is also known to be the most important area for trade, especially the slave trade. It was one of the destinations in the Atlantic Triangular Slave Trade that operated from the late 16th to early 19th centuries. We took a tour through the Elmina Castle, also known as St. George, which is the oldest castle used for slave trade that was ever built in Africa. It was built by the Portuguese but ended eventually up in the possession of Great Britain. Our guide told us stories about the horrible conditions the slaves were under and how the Europeans fought amongst each other to be in control over the very resource rich area.
The following day we traveled to Kakum National Park where we walked high up amongst the trees on tiny wooden planks. It was secured with a net and rope. At the highest, we were 40 meters above the ground (130 feet). Walking between the tress in the rainforest was an amazing experience and another thing I can cross off my bucket list. At the same time, one of our professor had the not so joyful experience of visiting the hospital. She cut her toe open and needed some help with cleaning and covering it up. After our adventure we met up for lunch. While we waited for our food (which seems to always take a long time), some of us checked out the markets around the restaurants and bought some souvenirs. After lunch we went to Cape Coast Castle, another castle used for slave trade. On the Gold Coast there are about 30 castles that were used and owned by the Europeans. We had another guided tour through the castle. Great Britain used their slaves to build the largest castle in the area. The whole building took 50 years to build using only human labor.
Slave trade and slavery might be abolished (though still practiced many places today in the form of trafficking, labor work, and so on), the large castles are there to remind us of what happened and prevent any future generations to be treated like slaves again.
After the tour we got back to the hotel and enjoyed the rest of the day by the beach and in the water. We had dinner at a different resort. We ordered some wine, but only after asking for it (about 30 min after we had ordered), they told us they did not have wine. Thought the fish soup I ordered was very good, it was full of bones which almost ruined it. More than three hours later (waiting for our food for two), we finally got back to the hotel.
Sunday was another exciting day. We woke up around 8am and walked down to the beach, had breakfast and eventually found a sun bed. After a little while, we noticed a group of boys and men in all ages were pulling a rope towards land. One of them called on us to come help and of course we ran down and started pulling. After about 20 minutes we saw a large fish net. We pulled it all the way into land. It was very heavy and hard work but so much fun to be a part of. They seemed pretty happy about their catch.
Before I went up to shower and get ready to leave, I saw this little girl walking around with a large plastic bottle of coke. The bottle was full of sea shells with snails. I watched her for a little as she watched the sand looking for any type of movement. Then she suddenly jump forward and reached for the sand. Two second later, a new snail was in her hand. So amazed.
After we got checked out, we drove back to the Aya center and had some downtime before our dinner guest showed up. A Ghanaian reporter who had worked with the Agriculture department at Mizzou. She was super nice and shared her experience as a reporter in Ghana.
The food has overall been very good, a little spicy for some, but I like it. Today we had peanut soup with chicken, rice, salad, and gisors (the food inside a chicken, liver, heart..) I had no idea until after I was done.. It was very chewy and not the best, but now I have done that too.
After she left and we thought the day was over, a tailor suddenly walked in. She was supposed to come Tuesday afternoon but for some reason she decided to stop by today. Some of the girls ordered dresses and we looked at some skirts and blankets.. Now the day and weekend is over and we are ready for bed. Tomorrow we are visiting the two places where we will be interning; the Ark Foundation and the Human Right Advocacy Center.
I almost forgot ..
11. Don't be afraid to leave food on your plate. They will give you two ton of rice and lots of whatever else you order.
12. If you need to get someones attention you make a sssssss sounds. They will turn around and help you with what you need.
I am sure I am still forgetting something but that is all I got.
After spending five days in Ghana we have already noticed and experience a lot of cultural traits and differences. When we first arrived, we had a short lecture of ¡¥how to be Ghanaian¡¦ by Mr. Williams (Michael) and it is pretty simple. When I say simple, its meant to be a little ironic. It is by any means not simple to jump into a new culture and pretend to be a part of their culture no matter where you go.
Anyways, here are our tips on how to be Ghanaian. So if you happen to visit Accra in the nearest future, you know what to do and how to act. Some of the tips are also for tourists ¡V a little extra something if you do not want to stand out as the person not knowing what is going on..
1. Be super friendly ¡V everyone here always says hei, how are you. They always greet each other and smile
2. Don¡¦t be afraid to be lively and energetic. Ghanaian (and most Africans from my experience) are full of energy and humor.
3. Be okei with loud noises. There is usually always music, people screaming to get your attention, traffic, or other noises that will make your ears ring if you are not used to it.
4. Stay calm! The traffic is crazy. Even though I am not sure if I understand it quite yet, they have a system, and for them, it works.
5. Be patient. Africa time is 2 or sometimes 3 times as long as most western countries know time as. Things take time so do not go to a restaurant if you are starving.
6. Learn to ignore .. At times having people around you at all times can be a little annoying. Like any other big city, Accra is full of people. People who wants to sell you stuff, people who want to be your friend, people who wants to marry you, people who only wants your money, and people who wants to go to the US or whatever other country you are from. Sometimes it is better just to ignore what is going on around you. Be nice about it, but if you are going to talk to everyone, you will not get anywhere.
7. As well as being friendly, it is important to show appreciation for their hospitality. Ghanaians are very polite, conservative and will do everything they can for you to feel welcome.
8. Dress nice. Even though it is 30 C (85F) ish, plus humid, Ghanaians dress up in suits and fancy clothes. They are very aware of how they look and how they present themselves.
9. Be ready for the spicy food! The rice is called Jolluf rice and is very spicy. They eat lots of chicken and rice, some fish, and chips (as in pommes frites). They have some traditional food such as fufu and Banko which is some dough that is either in a soup or you dip it in the soup.
10. Have fun! They love to joke around and play games (some more fun than others, as a girl I would advise you to be a little careful with what you say and do but most of them just want to talk to you. As a boy ¡V they will do everything they can to be your buddy)
Hopefully this will give you a little better idea of what it is like to be in Ghana. So far it has been a great start and I know it is about to get even better. Tomorrow we are leaving for Cape Coast, where a lot of the slave trade happened. On Monday we are going to the NGOs. I¡¦ll post some of my thoughts about the lectures but I need some time to reflect on it. Have a great day!?º
The special occasion of starting a new year is celebrated differently in different parts of the world. So far, I have experienced the Norwegian and the American way, and now, the Ghanaian way. I cannot say we really celebrated the way Ghanaian did because we did not take part in the ?10pm to after midnight?, but we witnessed how they came together to worship and bless the new year. I also heard that they pray for the world not to end as we enter the upcoming year, but I am not a hundred percent sure if this is right or if something was lost in translation. Anyways, the churches were full and everywhere else was empty. All the restaurants and bars were either closed or there were few people there.
We ended up eating at a restaurant right next to the beach. We could hear, smell, and see the ocean. The food was good and the music interesting. They played everything from Cher, to Celine Dion to Kanye West. Two of the girls ordered a Martini each and all they got was a glass with a shot of Martini & Rossi. Trying to find a place to hang out until midnight was easier said than done. We ended up on Oxford Street, grabbed some ice cream and tried to stay away all the people running around to sell us stuff. We bought one stick of fireworks
Sena, our guide, is great! He is very kind and even though I could probably break him (reminds me a lot of Steve from Rwanda!), he protects us and takes care of us. Today, he took us to the beach. Ghanaian doesnt really lay out so there were few beds, but plenty of chairs and tables under big parasols.
To sum up our eventful day on the beach; went horseback riding! (my horse was the fastest: ), swam in the warm ocean water, found some seashells, had a nice lunch, watched some acrobats dance and flip around, witnessed a dance off between a Ghanaian man and woman, had a touchy/emotional moment with some small children, and just enjoyed the time at the beautiful beach. When we left, more and more people were arriving and the music got louder. Now we are back at the house getting ready for a meeting about the NGOs, what to expect and prepare for.
Tomorrow we have two lectures and on Friday we are driving to Cape Coast!
Hope everyone had a very happy and safe New Years Eve celebration.
May the new year bring many interesting, challenging, wonderful and joyful moments in your life! :D
Most of yesterday went to exploring the area and waiting for everyone to get here. David and I had lunch at a sports bar and hang out the rest of the day. Even though we are in the dry season it rained enough yesterday for the power to go out. Luckily it was less than 30 minutes. There is no hot water here, unless you boil it, which means cold showers for three weeks. The rooms do not have air conditioning but with a few fans in the rooms it works.
This morning we woke up to breakfast all made and ready to eat. None of us knew, but Judith will be here every morning to make breakfast for us. She made scrambled eggs, cut up so much fruits (papaya, pineapple, banana, mango), had bread and jelly, coffee and tea. Everything was very fresh and good.
Right after breakfast a group of us went to the grocery store and this is when I started to realize why they call Ghana perfect for beginners. For people who has never been to Arica before, I have been told it is a good start. Compared to the rest of Africa and even some developed countries, Ghana is a relative safe country and it is also pretty developed. The supermarket had everything. The very
Ghanaian food and English and American food. We have a kitchen in our little house and will be making lunch ourselves.
After we got home and had an info session about Ghana and the Aya Center, our ?guide?), Sena, took us on a tour around Accra until dinner. The restaurant we had dinner at was very close to an open marked area with tons of small shops and stores filled with colorful dresses, bags and purses, jewelry and other small things. We ordered our food and walked around in the area. The streets are full of people and full of cars. People are basically running after you with their stuff asking you for a price.
The day is almost over and we are all watching A Walk To Remember.. A good end of a long day.
Ps, to give you an idea of what we are doing down here I posted the first few days of our schedules. Next week we will be visiting the NGO and start working :)
Oslo ? Copenhagen ? Cairo ? Accra (Ghana)
SAS to Copenhagen. The trip went really fast. We had a little turbulence but nothing to be worried about. When I checked in my bag in Oslo, I was told I had to get a new boarding pass in Copenhagen.. However, according to the man helping me, I was not supposed to go out of the terminal. Somehow I managed to get off the plane. Exit. Check in again. Get through security and to the gate in 35 minutes. The man seemed a little upset with me, but he helped me through the Fast Track security. I need to figure out how to have that permanently ? it is so nice.
The flight to Egypt was a little different. I have never flown with EgyptAir before and it was an experience in itself. After the boarding was completed, a deep, male voice came on the speakers. Not the normal, unclear flight attendant announcing the security rules and flight information. This came after. A picture of a temple popped up on the screen. The voice was deep and very clear. Everything was in Arabic (my guess). Sadly I could not understand what he was saying, however, the rhythm made it sound like a prayer or some sort of declaration. After some tango music, which is a lot more common outside of the Western travel world, we were in the air.
We landed t hours and 45 minutes later in Cairo, Egypt. The screen now showed a map of Egypt and the Middle East. They didn?t even recognize Israel on the map .. Though no countries were recognized, not even the cities of Israel was on the map ? coincidence? I don?t think so.
With no internet or functional phone, I am trying to kill time by reading about Ghana and the NGOs we are working with the next few weeks. On one hand, it feels very strange to already be out flying and I don?t think I realize that I am going to Ghana yet. On the other hand, this seems so natural to me. I have to remind myself to take it all in and enjoy every minute of the trip. So far I find Egypt (the airport and all its cultural history, costumes, and food represented) very fascinating and I hope to come back one day and really experience the real deal.
The last flight felt like forever. I slept most of the time from Denmark to Egypt, and, in addition to sitting in the middle, I had a hard time sleeping. A very nice man from Jordan sat next to me and we talked most of the time. Another person from .. (some African country) sat on the other side. Not shy what so ever and were basically sleeping on top of me half the time.
I finally made it to the center. A very nice man, the leader of the center, picked me up and took me to the center. It has several big bed rooms with four beds in each room. Most of the with separate bathrooms. It is similar to Rwanda but also very different. No motos! The roads are a lot better. Probably because it seems pretty flat. One thing is for sure ? it is so humid here!
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.
Here is one of the pictures I took from inside the church. You are able to see Virgin Mary on the wall, some of the clothes in front of her from victims and the table on the side with the large cross and other weapons that were used.
Today was definitely the hardest day so far. First, we visited a memorial site ? an old Catholic Church were many people tried to hid and ask for protection, then we drove to a little village nearby to a community where perpetrators and survivors were living together side by side.
In this post I will stick to the visit to the memorial site and post about my experience in the village later. I will try to describe my experience, what I saw and what I felt. It is going to be very graphic and might be hard to read. You can only imagine what it was like to really be there. I feel like it is my duty, as a foreigner, as a visitor, and as a person from the outside to tell their story. Every time we visit somewhere or have someone talk to us, they always tell us how happy they are to have us and how nice it is to see someone that care and who wants to understand. At the same time, they also ask us to advocate for Rwanda and help others understand so this never happens again anywhere.
We arrived at the memorial site and got off the bus. Outside the church there was a man waiting for us. He gave us an introduction and description of the church before he let us go inside. As most Catholic Churches, this was used for worship and praise to God. The killing of the Tutsis started as early as 1959. A lot of Tutsis saw the church as a safe place and went there for protection. In the earlier times the church was able to save many lives and there as especially one nun who was known for her bravery and ability to stand against the opposition. Sadly, she was killed before the genocide in 1992 for trying to protect a group of Tutsis. In 1994, during the genocide there was nowhere to hide, not even the church could protect you. Still many Tutsis went to the church hoping for a miracle and protection.
Our guide did not say how many people died in the church, but from what we saw, it most have been hundreds of people. He showed us the original gate to the church and explained how the perpetrators broke in. You could see broken parts and bullet holes. We walked in to a large room and open space.
They kept all of the clothes from the victims and it was laid out on benches. Piles of clothes everywhere. It was very overwhelming to be in a room full of clothes after hearing the stories, watching the movies and the documentaries we have watched. Having all that information in the back of your mind while walking through the church made me tear up. Seeing Virgin Mary hanging up on the wall knowing that about 19 years ago someone were lying on the floor in front of her praying and screaming for help. Visualizing a group of people with machine guns breaking in and shooting everyone, including the people who are down on their knees praying.
He told us that at one point the room was all red from all the blood, and you could still see traces and spots. The amount of clothing was overwhelming and made it so personal. Next to the statue of Virgin Mary was a table with belongings to some of the victims; an ID card, some wallets, bracelets and other small things. One single dead rose laid next to it. On the other side they had placed the weapons that were used. In addition to the machine guns they used machetes (a large round knife) and clubs. It was very disturbing, and maybe even more disturbing to see a large cross laying in between the weapons and to find out that they used that as well to beat people to death.
In addition to the information we already have, the guide told us specific stories of what happened in this particular church. I will share two stories that stuck with me. A few days after the attack of the church, they would come back to look for survivors and beat them to death. They would take babies and young children in their legs and throw them against the wall. The worst story was about this young woman. As most people know, rape was used as a tool during the genocide, both to humiliate, to destroy, to torture and to kill. This particular woman had been raped over several days by 30 men. After a few days of torture and rape they killed her by .. (Im even having a hard time writing) .. sticking a sharp object up her private parts and pushing it all the way up to her head.
Under the church, they had built an additional room to portray some of the remains of the victims. There was a large glass box with layers. One layer displayed skeleton skulls and the other had bones. At the very bottom was one single coffin. This was where the young woman was buried. Her story is supposed to honor all the women who were raped during the genocide.
Behind the church was a mass grave. Instead of burying the remains like they did at the other memorial site, they had chosen to show the remains. You walked down some stairs and entered a little tunnel. It was dark but you could still see everything very clearly. More skeleton skulls, bones and remaining. Lots and lots and lots placed on shelves. The view was terrifying. The tunnel was so small that two people could barely pass each other. Everything was so close to you and you could see the holes and breaks in the skulls.
I looked at it and all I could think about was how in the world can anyone do such thing and kill so many people? And how did we allow it to happen?
The emotions were overwhelming. Everything from anger, to sadness, to frustration, to guilt.. What happened happened.. And even though it is hard to accept we cannot change the past. But we cannot ever forget. It needs to be told and it needs to be remembered. That is the only way we can prevent it from happening again.
I am learning new things every day about the culture, about the people and their beliefs, how the society functions and how they are working for a better future. Rwanda is still healing from the genocide in 1994 and they have a ton of research projects and people working to develop a strong and healthy political, social and economic country. As of right now they still have a lot of international support from NGOs and other countries, but their 2020 vision and goal is to be fully independent. I have seen a lot of positive influences from organizations within the country, from the locals, from the government and support from outside. I am happy to see that a lot of countries and the UN have stepped up and supported Rwanda in rebuilding. They might not have been there when they should have, but it is good to see that they are at least making an effort and showing their regrets by supporting them now.
Later today we are going to a village where both perpetrators and survivors live side by side working together for peace. It is amazing to see a country that went through so much, felt so much pain, and was so broken down was able to raise again and now work harder for peace than any country I have ever seen. It is very inspiring to be here.
Monday was a busy day from start to finish. I worked out in the morning. Went on a little jog around the neighborhood. I am so out of shape it?s a joke. Not fun so I am starting back up. No excuses.
Topic of the day was education. The first speaker was a bureaucrat and worked for education in the district of Kigali. He told us about how the system has developed post genocide, some of the challenges they face and their goals for the future. So far they have implemented free schooling up until 9 grade for everyone which is a large improvement. We also discussed teachers and the issues of division between public and private schools.
The second guest speaker was so interesting and had so much information we asked for him to come back. He explained the whole educational system in four areas; pre-colonial, colonial, post-colonial and post-genocide. It was very interesting to see how the Europeans and especially the Catholic Church influenced the school system and social system in Rwanda.
As he was finishing up, Becky, Anna and I was invited to the schools we will be interning at the next two weeks so we ran over there. I am ?teaching P.E.? at an all-girls Catholic Boarding school .. I met Sister Helen and Edward who are the principles and vice-principle. I also met the P.E. teacher or instructor and had a few words with her.
This is some of the information I got:
-She does not really plan anything. Just come up with something that day
-Each class (12) have 50 minutes of freetime/P.E./creativity/drawing/singing/dancing.. Basically they do anything she comes up with
-I have class at 10:40-11:30 and then 15:40-16:30.. So I have to figure out what to do in the mean time
-She asked me if I even needed her (?). Then Edward told me, when they have interns, the teachers usually stay away. They don?t even attend.
-They asked me if I could introduce something new.. Which might be a little challenging seeing that I only get two hours with each class all together. But we?ll see. Hopefully I get a chance to meet her sometime this week and we can brainstorm.
After a quick stop at the market, we dropped off some people at home before we went straight to dinner ? a very nice ?Zen? restaurant. They had sushi and other Asian dishes. It was very good and we had a good time hanging out. I sat with Beth, Anna, Adrianne, and Becky. Beth and Anna are the weirdest and best girls. Beth with her awkward thumbs and Anna with her poor humor and storytelling. Adrianne is the quiet one. She barely speaks and that one time we made her speak up because the waiter gave her red wine instead of white wine, thy ended up not having it and she got the red wine after all.
We went back and I started planning my research paper. I think it will consist of two parts: gender roles in Rwandan culture and how genocide has contributed to changing the values and tradition concerning gender roles (I may or may not focus on sports depending on how much time I have and how much information I find).
Times flies by.. We have been here for a week already. Even though we have seen and experienced so much and it feels like we have been here longer, it is going by so fast. Next Monday we are already starting our internship! I am super excited to be a teacher (gym teacher hopefully) for an all girl school. Hopefully I'll have a chance to teach them about teamwork and leadership, and they can teach me!
Today was another long day and this morning we were invited to a church. The church was an hour away. Mariam, our housekeeper, went with us. It was in her hometown. They had already started when we arrived. The priest were outside greeting us and we sat down in the back. The church was full of people sitting on chairs. The wall behind the priest was covered with a big curtain in several colors; pink, green, yellow and white. It seemed to be several priests, one of them happened to be Jean Claude, the owner of the place we are staying at. The first hour the service were mostly singing and dancing. First the children which was very cute, then different people. They were singing about the travel to Israel, ?in your darkest struggles, trust God, he is on your side?, ?you have everything, what more do you need?.. They preach and truly believe that everything happens for a reason. I can?t help wonder to think if this helps them to justify or heal from the genocide or if it is something they have always believed. Next week we have a guest speaker that will talk about religion and I am really excited to hear what he has to say. Majority of the population is Christians, some Presbyterians, a few Catholics, a few Baptistes.. I believe the church we when to was Presbyterian.
They stopped and took a minute to introduce us, Bea talked and we all said our names. Then they introduced other people that were there for the first time. The whole service was in Kinyarwanda, impossible to understand what was going on. Luckily, Emmanuel sat next to me and translated a little. A little girl was sitting next to him and he saw that she was looking at me so he made room and put her next to me. At some point early in the service, the priest asked if anyone wanted to sing, Steve jumped up and dragged all of us up there. He took the microphone and we gathered around him facing the big crowd. Then he started singing and dancing. At firsts people did not respond, but when he picked up the tempo and we started clapping the whole church joined in. It was awesome standing there looking at all the people. They were all smiling, clapping and some people were taking pictures and videos. Most people had older phones but I was surprised to see how many people had touch screen. We sat back down and the ?service? started. The priest started preaching and we had no idea what was going on for about two hours. I was sitting next to Jordan, a gorgeous blond girl studying medicine, and at the end we had attracted four children. We showed them our phones and I am pretty sure I have about twenty pictures of Becky?s back head all taken by the little girl when she was playing with my phone. One of the girls was only three years old but very smart and picked up things very quickly. How to work my phone; take pictures, look at pictures, zoom in and out. She also learn how to open and close the lock on my watch and were playing with it. She barrowed my sunglasses and put them on her head. She was adorable and kept me entertained.
The service kept going and going. At some point a couple walked up and Emmanuel told me they were engaged and that they had to be ?shown? to the church before the wedding. They did not look happy at all. As a normal tradition, the man invited everyone in the room to the wedding. Later a man came up to talk about how much income the church had made the past month and I thought that would be the end.. I was wrong. Eventually Bea said, let?s go. And after three hours, we stood up and walked out. All the children stood outside and waved goodbye.
We had lunch at the restaurant where Mariam usually work and headed to another city to see the King?s palace. They showed us the old hut the king and the queen used to live in before the colonization. He ruled with his mom but stay with his wife. They had two other huts next to the Kings? hut, one was the milk room and one was the beer room. A teenage girl was selected to work in the milk room, and a boy to work in the beer room. They banana beer and honey beer and a combination. Both of the teenagers working had to be virgins and live alone in the little hut. It was a privilege to be chosen as a milk or beer person. Then the guide showed us the cows. I have never seen cows with bigger and sharper horn. They were all girls besides one and they all had the same shaped horn facing inwards. The cow is very symbolic and is a sign of wealth and power. When they dance and sing they try to imitate the cow. If someone tells you that you look like a cow or have cow eyes ? they think you are very pretty.. (?!) Then he showed us the house of the last king built by the Belgium colonizers which was pretty nice. The last thing he showed us was on the other side of the hill and it was the ?upgraded palace?. After the king visited Belgium, he noticed how their palaces were a lot bigger and better than his so he went back and built a new one. Sadly, he died only a few days before it was done and no one ever lived it in. Today it is a museum. We did not have time to see it today but will be back at some point Bea said.
Even though we drive a lot I don?t mind because there are so many things to see along the road. The houses, the farming, the people.. It gives you an idea how the daily life works for different people. Children are playing and running around. Some are helping their mothers wash clothes outside their houses in buckets of water and other are carrying stuff on their heads. I often see children outside walking or doing things by themselves. They seem very independent which makes me think that we are way overprotective sometimes. At the same time, one can argue, that we have to be more protective because there are more dangers in the west.. Or?
We woke up super early and left the house a little after 6:30am. On our way we picked up the people from Marquette. One of the girls got sick and decided to stay. Every day since I have been here someone has been sick and stayed home. Luckily I feel good and have not had any problems.
Anyways, the reason we left early was so we could get to the national park early and see as many animals as possible. I guess they have a tendency to ?hide? or move when it gets warmer in the afternoon. We arrived the park a little after 9:30am. They had the cutest little store with animal printed pillowcases (not real once of course) and hats, and other small cute stuff. I wanted to buy a hat but it was 33,000 Franc (about 330 NOK) and it wasn?t worth it. We jumped back in the bus with our guide and were on our way through the jungle. We saw two different types of prime apes, giraffes, zebras, African fish eagle, hippopotamuses, a small second of a crocodile, and could smell the presence of a snake ..
It was a very cool experience to see the wild life of Africa. I took a bunch of pictures but is having a hard time transferring them to the tablet. I will work on it.
The trip there and back was almost just as fun because we were able to see other than city life. We were able to see small houses and villages and how they do and act. Even though we drove pass everything pretty quickly we still got an impression of the village and farming life. A few things that I have noticed and some new things I noticed is how there are people walking and biking everywhere. They are carrying stuff on their head ? everything from the ?classic? basket with fruit and wood material to large water bottles. The other day I even witnessed a women carrying a modern suitcase on her head just casually walking. The bikes too, are always loaded with stuff way more than you would think that little bike would be able to carry but it works. Another thing is the way the women carry their children. It is super cool to see how they just put the child on their back and wrap it on. On the way I also noticed a group of guys playing football. A bar field, sand, and their goals were made up of three wooden stocks. I don?t know how they made it to stay but again, it worked. They have ways to solve solutions and be creative with the resources they have. It?s different, but it works.
So beside the exotic animals, the other very exciting thing happened on our way home. I really don?t mean when I say this is one of the best things that has happened down here, but we stopped by a new store and I found oatmeal!! So happy. I cant wait to morning so I can have oatmeal with the taste of the small and sweet bananas we have.
We got back to our current home and some people went out to eat and other people stayed. After being brown from all the dust and sand during the safari trip a shower was very needed. And I cannot tell you how happy I am to have experienced cold tub and have built up some tolerance for cold water, because right now, that's all we get!
Tomorrow we are going to church in the morning, something else and then an unofficial memorial site..
Today was a great day. The morning lectures were though again but we also heard a few uplifting things. The first lecture was about an organization called RAWMREC. It started out with nine men who wanted to help create culture change. They are trying to spread the message that gender based violence is wrong. They are working to help Rwandans understand that to become a great nation, they should empower and support women. One of their challenges were that men would lose their ?manhood? if they ?gave up their power? to women, which is not true. It is about having more perspective, different views, letting everyone have a part and practice their human rights. He had a lot of stories of how important masculinity were in the Rwandan culture. One was about a man who drowned because he was afraid to let the woman know he could not swim. I really liked this lecture since I just took Domestic Violence class in the USA and could compare and contrast. They have similar programs in the US but it is mostly targeting men that have already been charged for batting their partners. But there is also some outreach. A part of the program to have the men understand was to split up the men and women. They would ask the men about their view points of women and then told to pretend that they were in their spot, pretend to be a woman and have those view points against them. The speaker said it had been a very successful exercise and later the men shared their experience with the women and apologized. The next lecture were a mix. Rape as a tactic in the genocide and the legal issues. We were told horrible stories of how women were treated. But then we also got the ?justice? part and how the genocide in Rwanda changed international law.
After the lectures, we had lunch at a very nice international hotel. They had a buffet and a menu. The buffet had a lot of seafood and salads so I went with that. They had tuna salad in tomatoes and a crab mix on avocado ? very good. Since we will be driving to the national park tomorrow, which is a four hour drive and we will be using the bus to get around (not a jeep), they wanted to take it to the car dealer to make sure that the bus is in good enough shape. The hotel was very nice with a work out room, spa, small shops, a little more westernized than other hotels we have seen. We had lunch and then we had a few hours to hang out while we waited for the bus to get back. It ended up being close to four hours but luckily I know better than to sit around.
A few people were going on a walk and Emmanuel one of the chaperons asked if we wanted to come. I was sitting with Steve, the other chaperon, and decided to go with. When we walked out, they were gone already and Steve and I started walking down the road. We walked and talked about everything from his dream of studying in the states to international law and human rights. He has only been speaking English for two months and taught himself by watching tv series and listening to music. He also speak French so we did a little bit of both. We share the same passion for human rights and it was interesting to hear his opinion. At some point he mentioned God and said he was the reason to why he was able to take an education and still be alive. Most of his family and parents died and he was alone with his brothers and sister. I admire him for believing in God after going through all that, but he said he believed in the good God everything happens for a reason..
We walked down the street and found a side street and I finally got my ?African experience?. Being a white person with a camera. Luckily Steve was the one with the camera most of the time and took pictures. He speaks the language which was also very helpful. People definitely starred but in a curious way. I smiled and said hei and they smiled back. In the beginning we meet a lot of young boys and girls in school uniforms. They were very curious. Some came running up to me and wanted to shake my hand. A little boy was at first very shy and just stood there without saying anything. But he wouldn?t leave so I tried to communicate and used Steve. Suddenly he started saying phrases in English. He wanted to try it and practice and it was very cool. We continues to walk and saw many people. We walked pass a SOS children?s home. As we were going the area got more and more ?poor?, you could tell by the people, what they were doing, how they were doing it. At the end we walked pass a small place. A women was sitting outside washing a shoe. Another were breastfeeding her baby on a stone outside her door. There were about five little kids. We passed it. I turned around and watch a little girl come running towards me with open arms! I will never forget the smile on her face, her pretty eyes, her arms wide open and her tiny legs running. I lifted her up and she wouldn?t stop smiling until Steve started talking and found the camera. I don?t know if she was scared of him or the camera but we got a few pictures. We went back and talked to the family for a little bit then we kept going. I thought a couple lollipops in a little shop to support and just in case I saw more children on our way. We got back to the hotel and people were still sitting around. I walk around and explored the hotel a little before I went with two other girls to explore more. We found a bookstore but that was it.
When we got back we only waited for a little while before the bus finally came and we drove home. After some thinking a few of us decided to go to this concert, eat and then some were going out to the bars. If there?s one thing I have learned about Rwanda and the people here, it?s that everything takes FOREVER. We sat in the bus waited for a good hour and ended up missing the French rapper concert we were going to see. We drove to the restaurant, a very nice bar/restaurant type place and ate. Then most people went home. Tomorrow will be a long day ? we are leaving at 6:30am and driving for 4 hours to go to the national park! Can?t wait!
Day 4 with lectures. People struggled a little to stay awake in class today. Some people still have jetlag, a few people are not feeling well. We had one girls stay back because she didn?t feel good and a few of us sneezing with a running nose but nothing serious.
Today was a little shorter day which was nice because I think everyone needed to catch up with some sleep. The beds are not the most comfortable and everything is new but at the same time we are settling, getting to know each other and having a good time. This group of people are a great group. Though we are all so different and come from different background and different experiences and knowledge, everyone are so excited to be here, to learn, to study and we all are engaged in what is going on. It feels great being in a group that like to discuss about the issues in the world and like discussing difficult and controversial topics. So far it?s been very interesting and as we are getting to know each other we know who to go to depending on what we need and what we want to talk about or not. There are a few girls that are very outgoing and take room, and there are a few people that are very reserved and go off and think a lot, at the same time everyone talks and interact with everyone. It?s a great mix and dynamic. At some point I will try to give a little better introduction with all the people I am surrounded by.
Today we had two lectures, one very long one before lunch and one that was only an hour after. The first one discussed the issues of family planning and how Rwanda deals with prevention, birth control, maternity risk and a little about HIV/AIDS. While family planning in general is getting better, one of the biggest problems in this country, due to cultural beliefs and values, is that it is still taboo to talk about sex. No one talks about it. They are trying to change the culture and make it more normal but they are still struggling with starting a conversation and teaching about genitals, reproduction etc. Since 1997, the government has focused on family planning and it has been appreciated by the people. The maternity death rates and all statistics shows great improvement between 1997 and 2012. They are one of the major countries when it comes to research and share their information with the rest of the world. He also talked about the health system and how everyone has a right to treatment. The employer has responsibility for their employees, on a local scale the district is responsible for the people living there and eventually the government. Kigali is divided in five district, just to give you an idea. The speaker also talked about sexual violence and how this has drastically changed as well. One of the reasons to why they had many cultural changes was because of how the laws have changed. Abortion, while still illegal, there are a few exceptions. If the mother is in danger, if she was raped, if the child is a result of incest are some of the excepted reasons. In addition to opening up for abortion, they also allowed women to heritage land. Earlier, Rwanda being a patriarchy, land was only heritage through the male. After the genocide, there were a lot of widows and orphans and they needed to change the culture to make it work. All together they have done a tremendous job, but still have a long way to go.
It was a little difficult to understand everything at all times. Both this lectures and a few others have been in French. I understand a lot but there are also times I get lost. Bea translates but there?s always some stuff that get lost in translation.
After lunch ? another buffet ? we had a lesson from a women who works close with Bea. Bea started an organization called Step Up, which focusing on mental health issues, trauma counseling and so on.
This women, Jeanne, works on the ground in Rwanda and helps Bea run the organization as well as doing other projects. She talked about how the country is trying to empower women and encourage them to have their own bank account and take part in the economy and help to make decision concerning the family budget and so on. She told us about a sisterhood project that started in West-Africa. Fifteen women go together and create an alliance. They give a little sum of money each week. Every week the whole pot goes to one of the women and she can spend it as she wishes. They are encouraged to invest in a cow or other investments and it also teaches the women to support each other and help each other out. This was a very uplifting and good session.
After we stopped by the market again, I had coffee with Bea and Jeanne about my internship in the fall and the NGO (non profit organization) I will be working for to see if we could create a new relationship and help out a little. I am super excited and think it will be very good.
More general updates from Africa: So far I have had eggs, meat, milk in my coffee, ice in my ice coffee, gotten about 5-6 mosquito bites, woken up starring at a spider, .. But no freakouts, not too tired, and besides having a little bad pressure in the shower with only cold water I can?t really complain
?Sometimes it hits you.. when you don?t have warm water ? you remember you are in Africa.? ~ Bea. During a discussion about the lack of warm water in our apartment ..
I have noticed all the guards standing around with large machine guns and security we have to go through when entering most buildings. Even though I have mixed feelings, I know it is for our security and I am happy about it. I have also noticed how they don?t like lines (kø). Especially the men, they cut in front of you all the time. Most times its very discrete but other times it is very obviously.
I ended the day by taking a walk around the neighborhood with one of the girls to look the beautiful view and just to get a feel for it. After we snacked a little before I took an ice cold shower and skyped with the people I love :) First my parents, then my boyfriend. I also talked to the most wonderful people the world and I miss everyone. There are so many people I wish could be here and experience this with me!