muraho, muzungo!

>> Thursday, March 04, 2010

so, 5 days in country and here are the interesting things ive learned:

plastic bags are illegal in rwanda. So are cigarettes [mostly], homosexuality, crying in public, sniffing your food and discussing ethnicity.

malaria meds dont 'prevent' malaria; they just make it less likely. They also give you rampant hallucinogenic dreams

the length of your skirt dictates marital status. For example, my ankle length skirts mean i'm married [score], a few inches above ankle means you might be close to marriage, and from there, the closer to the knee the more cows youll be offered for your hand in marriage :)

You CAN be a vegan/vegetarian for 6 years, and then eat goat samosas with relative ease. They are, btw, pretty good and served ALL THE TIME

thinking of the above, the PC will try to fatten you up with them during training because youll need the extra calories once you're at site.

$100 exchanged in the capital gives me 56,000 rwandan francs.just for a gauge, while shopping, a sim card for a cellphone costs 1,000 [less than $2] and you can buy an avocado for about 20 american cents [yay guacamole!!] when you tell rwandans that avocados cost $4 each at home, they look shocked. Even more so when you convert your student loans into rwandan currency.

you CAN get 7 shots in 48 hours and feel pretty alright

randan people dont understand the concepts of pets, but it would be fine, even normal, for me to buy a pet chicken, as long as I can convince people I intend to eat him eventually. Yaaaay pet chicken!!! ndi fuzi kugira inkoko. i would like to have a pet chicken.

the weather here lives up to both its names [land of a thousand hills and land of eternal spring]. The elevation makes it not nearly as hot as other equatorial countries so it is eternally spring. Its been a lovely 70-80 degrees with cooler temps in the morning and evening. Rain every so often that eventually opens up to sunny delicious skies. Little yellow/orange-bellied birds sing so loud you swear your not in the city but in a jungle. There are rolling green hills and beautiful views from any point in the capital, and banana, mango, and avocado trees are all over. And the country is poor, yes, but they have so much other richness that its no wonder the government and people are so optimistic for its growth. Its no wonder its the bright sun of africa, the safest country, the up-and-coming. Its no surprise that only 16 years after a horrific genocide, the people survive and go about their every day with smiles and genuine friendly demeanors.

So we went to the genocide memorial yesterday and it was by no other words, overwhelming. Its amazing to me, to know that the victims of attacks and the victims of the propoganda, the people who commited the crimes, are still living day to day here. Gacaca, the court system used to bring the attackers to trial, are being held all the time. People are giving accounts of who they attacked, whose family, whose neighbor, and justice is being tried. But everyday there are still people who have lost an arm to a machete, or have lost a child to “beaten into a wall” [actual description of a 1 year old child in the memorial, given by the mother]. And live with the reality that their neighbors turned on them, and that they witnessed their families being tortured by friends. I still cant understand how this happened, but a lot of the books on it interview the attackers and they try to explain that when a mob mentally develops, and everyone grabs the machete and demands compliance, you have no other way of life but to continue. And I cant fathom that. I cant understand and I wish I could see the culmination of years of ethnic imbalance and extremist propaganda. I wish I could understand how these people still live with years of post traumatic stress and explain to their children why theyre still living in the same country. It's a loyalty that I simultaneously respect and doubt.

One of the most moving parts of the memorial was a wall dedicated to stories of heros of the genocide. A man spoke about how a neighboring woman [a Hutu, the ethnic group that was allowed to live, for the most part] was tending to his wife who was injured and very ill, and the mob came back to finish their attack and asked the Hutu woman to step aside. And she told them that she wouldnt and if they were going to kill his wife, they would have to kill her, too. And they did. And it's amazing to me because we hear this typical hero gesture situation on movies and pop culture, when the hero claims to give their life for a damsel or their love, but the movie isnt the same. The hero never has to commit their life. But this woman did. She gave her life for a stranger when she didnt have to die. Its a cultural loyalty that we from american cant even begin to understand. This is one of the reasons this country has so much strength. There is no part of the country that wasn't influenced by the killings. And while the genocide is not something you can ask people about socially, you know that anyone in their early twenties will remember how their families died.

I dont mean to end on such a macabre note, it's not my intent. But this isnt something we've ever addressed back home. I never learned about it, or found it in the news. Someone yesterday said that in america, we have the power of choosing to be ignorant, and mostly I think its true. Why are we not more proactive about our world? A statistic is just a statistic until you put yourself and your family in them, and then it's downright devastating. Those families are no different than my own.

I hope that in more time I can develop a better understanding of these incidents, and hear personal accounts when my neighbors begin to trust me. Even if I can't sympathize or begin to relate, at least I can be aware, because I think it's all they want.


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