Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Week 4: (Oct. 7th - Oct. 12th) Kigali, Rwanda

BE FREE…like your hair in the Piki wind breeze

So this week has been really tiring with meetings and just all around getting to know the place. I find that when you’re in an entirely new environment your mind is constantly on overload with new smells, tastes and, sounds and sights that by the end of the day, you feel like you’ve been hit by a bus…and you’re just going to fall over (which careful with Kigali city centre traffic…yikes!)

Not to mention, we have been making progress on the project and have already gone to many meetings to pitch our ideas for the project to many different organizations.

We started our week with attending a public lecture at the Kigali Health Institute (KHI) our hosts for our exploratory visit. This lecture was the perfect opportunity for us to visit the campus and meet some of the faculty, as well as meet some of the students that would also be attending the lecture. The guest speaker was a young woman named Marvelyn Brown from Tennessee who is well known for her public engagement activities with HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention. Her testimony was very well received by the students and faculty and we were happy to meet her afterwards. We told her about our project and talked to her about her tour. She was very friendly and wished us luck with our project even though she jokingly told us that she hated yogurt. We laughed it off and hope that one day, she will change her mind after trying our “Fiti” yogurt…THE MOST DELICIOUS YOGURT IN THE WORLD!!!

This also helped us get into the discussion along with other students to gage the problems with stigma in Rwanda. For us, it was clear that Mwanza was struggling with stigma on people living with HIV/AIDS and although we were told that there is no stigma in Rwanda, it was nice to hear the student’s opinions on matters that Marvelyn was commenting.

Later this week we met with the Dean of KHI. He told us more about KHI and its programs. We were able to pitch our project to him as kind of a test run and it went well. He was very enthusiastic about our ideas and what we have come to do. He gave us a lot of ideas of where we could set up. Although for us, Kigali is the main point to set up shop, it’s good to know that the entire country however small could do well with a project like this. Most people are very excited when they hear of our plan and reassure us that it will work here in Rwanda, just for the mere fact that they are willing to work for it.

Back on campus, KHI and KIST (Kigali Institute of Science and Technology) were teaming up at the official launching of KIST and KHI Gender club. It’s always good to see people our age mobilizing, showing leadership and making something their own. They had invited the minister of Gender who gave a lecture on gender roles in Rwanda and the power that women have over their own futures and bodies.

And speaking of bodies, can I just say that having malaria is not all it’s cracked up to be….granted we are only suffering from 1 and 2 ring…but still the meds we’re on make us so tired, making it sometimes hard to sit for long periods of time no matter how interesting the discussions are. I know our parents and even coordinators in Canada would just tell us to rest up and concentrate on getting better, but it’s so hard when there is so much to do!! So we just keep on trekking upwards and onwards to the next event…Downtown, always an experience. This time we were able to find out a few things concerning material for the yogurt mama’s like prices for supplies etc. which is also good!

We also took our first piki piki ride and I swear Helen almost shat her pants! In Mwanza we encountered our first Piki Piki’s but were too scared to take them….they are basically motorcycle taxi’s and are known to be kind of dangerous in Mwanza. But in Kigali, they are regulated like a real business, so they have helmets and everything. They are apparently very safe here…so we decided to go for it. I’ll admit I was a little nervous too but after being on it for a few minutes felt quite at ease. It was soooo much fun and really safe for all those holding their breath right now. Helen was so scared though…she was holding on to the driver for dear life which is quite funny because normally most people hand onto the sides or behind the bike if at all, but no…not Helen, she wanted to make sure that if for any reason the bike were to fall over…she would be right behind the driver at all times!

On Friday we went to the Genocide memorial here in Kigali, although there are memorials all over the country, it’s supposed to be the biggest one. Listening to Didier, who is becoming more and more comfortable with us and we with him, tell us stories about his past is very difficult…but seeing all these images and reading more into what happened, while the rest of the world let it was harder than I can put into words. You go through so many stages of pain, grief, anger, rage, helplessness, inspiration, hope and amazement. Throughout the entire memorial, I could only think of Didier and his family, every now and then he would point out to a picture or during a video he would tell us that he knew that person or that they were related to him; friends, cousins aunts and uncles…it was too much. And yet at the end of the day, it was him trying to comfort our sobbing faces in some backwards way. At one point I felt like I couldn’t breathe, it was in the children’s section. There were stories and pictures of children that were killed and although this wasn’t even a fraction of the children murdered, it was enough to make you stomach turn. Knowing that their last moments of life were nothing like the smiling pictures was devastating.

There was also a section of the memorial dedicated to the acknowledgment of the various genocidal tendencies from all over the world which was very informative. At the end the tour leads to the outside where there is a burial site for those whose bodies have been found. By this time it was getting ready to downpour which pretty much embodied my insides…on the outside. We quickly got on the bus and headed out for dinner in town. We were able to talk a bit more about what we saw and read and although we were very sad…we also were tremendously inspired and grateful for this country’s tremendous success, because to look at Rwanda right now, you would never be able to tell that this happened only a few years ago. We decided to do what Rwandan’s have taught the world to do best, move forward with great strength and courage. We will never forget, but we will continue to work hard for the benefit of this country.

Since it was Friday night and also one of our new friend’s birthdays, we decided to celebrate! Man do Rwandan’s know how to party! One thing we’ve noticed is that it’s all about the dancing, which is good for us because we all love to dance!

It was definitely a good way to end the emotional rollercoaster we were just on and have a good time with our new friends!

On Saturday we went on a city tour where we learned morea about Kigali and the different districts and a bit more history. We learned that Nyamirambo, where we live is the oldest neighbourhood in Kigali which makes it special. Also, that there is an orphanage close to our house where aman named Damas Mutezintare Gisimba hid over 400 children and adults during the genocide saving them from almost certain death. He is known as one of the seven heroes of the Genocide. Knowing that on every street corner hundreds of people’s lives were ended is so strange…the streets are literally drenched in history. We also got to see where we can buy food at a local market instead of going all the way to town to the crazy expensive supermarket…Nakumat and Simba…which is better for us because it’s close by and it’s a lot of fun.

On Sunday we celebrated thanksgiving with some of our friends. We decided on just going to a restaurant where most of us ended up getting pizza…which is not very thanksgiving-like…and I’m going to be quite honest I really really missed my mom’s turtey as we like to call it at the Marroquin-Ponce residence…then we all started talking about our favourite thanksgiving foods and how we each prepare it…which sort of made things worse…but it’s OK…because we’re in Rwanda living the dream…SO THERE!

…plus my parents told me that they would save some Christmas turkey for me when I get home!!

What was nice about this thanksgiving though, was that we went around the table and each got to say what we were thankful for. Sometimes, we forget that living is gift enough and that there is so much to be thankful for on top of that.

Everytime we look at the calendar we can’t believe how fast time is going by…it’s already been two weeks and now Missy was leaving us for good…after a month of Team Spectoring it all around…we would be separated until we all get back to Canada in December. We decided on having a goodbye party for Missy on Monday night seeing as her plane left the Tuesday at 2 in the morning…we would all just stay up with her until she had to leave. We invited Didier or course…who we have begun to nickname Didler…or The Did…just for funzies…we all have nicknames for each other…Browntown for Nilmi…of course…but she’s also Mhindi, Nilms and Nilmalot…

Helen is also Helster, HULLEN, Pod, Podster, Podulous and iPod!

For me it’s Silvo, Silverado and Sully (it’s silly but with an accent) and Mzungu for all those people on the streets of Kigali...this one I can’t escape as much as I try!

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