Monday, 29 June 2009

From the Silence

Today I couldn’t think aloud even if I tried. After a nasty cold and a good deal of dust consumption I have totally lost my voice, so as of 2 days ago my conversations have been as silent as my thoughts. But today is also the first time in two weeks that I find myself in complete solitude – even the guesthouse I live in has been completely vacated. So I take this time to reflect.

It’s been a mad 2 weeks. A baptism of fire. It’s hard to summarise when so much has has being going on. So far it’s been a nightmare. But it’s also been immense.

After a very fragmented and hazardous flight(s), I arrived in Kigali airport on Sunday the 14th, and waited in baggage claim until Becky’s flight came in. We were greeted by, I think, anyone who has ever even heard of Becky, and were taken to the center where the 30+ boys that Becky works with live. There we enjoyed an epic celebration with food, gymnastics and traditional dance performances, and about 100 speeches by various important people who neither of us had ever heard of.
We spent the next couple of days with Becky’s adoptive family here, where I learnt that the phenomena of silent babies who tidy up after themselves and do as they are told actually exist. On Tuesday morning I was transported to MOUCECORE (stands for something in French that I can’t remember right now), where the director introduced me to everyone and talked through the various options for my stay. The idea for the first 2 weeks was to learn as much as possible about the organization, so I spent the following couple of days talking to all the staff and finding out all about what they do, and reading any information I could get hold of on the organisation. I also had opportunities to start exploring the local area. Without a car the only ways to get around are the ‘taxis’, which are basically over-crowded mini-buses, and motos, which are motorbikes or motorbike-like contraptions. But I’m lucky to live not far from the area of Kigali where all the embassies, hotels and important buildings are, so I have some luxuries within walking distance. Like one of the hotels that has become a regular meeting place for Becky and myself. I was also invited to a party at the British embassy, because apparently it was the queen’s birthday. It was very strange to find myself suddently surrounded by english people. I still can’t decide whether I like going there or not.
But this first week was a very trying one. For most people here English is their 3rd or 4th language, so communication has been a challenge. And people would mostly just chatter away in Kinyarwandan with each other, which left me feeling quite isolated. I also felt entirely out of place and out of my depth in the culture. Which was especially hard, as I was brought up in Kenya, so felt like it should be easy for me to adapt. Added to these was the fact that I could do almost nothing without help, because I didn’t know how anything was done, how to get around, etc. And if you know me, you probably know that I like my autonomy! So I won’t lie – my first week was miserable, and I hated it. But the challenges it leaves me with, will, I expect, be a great source of growth as I work through them.

Week 2 the rollercoaster intensified. After the first week I spent the weekend with Becky and her family, where I could get some much needed rest. I went to their church on Sunday, which was a 3 hour long service, the format of which went something like this: first the adult choir sings, then the congregation sings, then the children’s choir sings, then the student choir sings, then the adult choir again, then a solo, then the independent choir, then the congregation, then tagged on somewhere at the end is the sermon, before some more singing. After that Becky came back to Kacyiru with me and spent the night. The next morning we spent at the hotel, where I acquired some patchy sunburn from uneven and ineffective sunscreen lotion.
On Monday I also met the team from Burundi with whom I was to spend the rest of the week. They had come to MOUCECORE for a kind of training week, where they would learn all about the work here, and then travel all around the country to see and hear about how the projects have been implemented and what their impact has been. So we spent the following 4 days travelling all over Rwanda. First we went North to the volcanic area of Rwanda, near the border with Uganda. We went east the next day, somewhere not far from Kigali the day after that, and west on the final day. Each day was an intense program of many hours of travelling, visiting people and churches, listening to testimonies and stories of the impact of MOUCECORE initiatives, and in-depth demonstrations of the kinds of projects in existence, how they work and the material results. For example, I now know exactly how to create a highly productive banana plantation. I know I came here to learn about conflict resolution, not how to grow bananas, but what I’m learning is that even a conflict on the level of genocide is inseparable from the most mundane details of everyday life. Though I have learnt an awful lot directly about conflict resolution, too.
English is even less spoken in Burundi than Rwanda, so I had similar communication problems, but there were several who spoke English, and a few who actually spoke it really well. And despite a high frequency of conversation occuring in French or Kirundi, people really seemed to make an effort to talk to me in English or to translate for me. So it was actually very enriching to my whole learning experience to talk to these people from Burundi and learn some things about their own work, and how Burundi compares to Rwanda. I was sad that they had to leave this weekend, as I really enjoyed the time I spent with them, despite my fitting-in problems.

Well this is a very basic outline of my experiences so far. More will follow, fear not.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

First Thoughts

I feel that the first words on my brand new blog should be somewhat profound, but at 12:01am on the day before I leave the country, I think you must banish all such expectations. This whole blog thing is all quite new to me (I'm always several years behind everyone else in catching onto these things), as is the general practice of "thinking aloud". Though it's actually quite a poor title, because probably these words will pass from my head, through cyber space and into yours without ever being expressed 'aloud'.
I'm also anticipating the dilemma I'm going to have in Rwanda when I sit down to write an email to someone, and wonder whether it shouldn't be posted in blog form instead. People are going to be surprised when an hour or so after they've recieved an email from me they find a minimally edited version on here. Or I'm going to write a blog and then just copy and paste it into the email to save myself just repeating everything in paraphrased form in the email. How do people deal with these kinds of problems?
Well, I'm going to leave it at this for now, but you'll probably be 'hearing' from me soon when I blog again (and/or recieving an exact replica in email format).

Take care.