Make 'em Laugh Make 'em Laugh Make 'em Laugh

>> Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Let’s talk about Lucy.

In previous posts I’ve mentioned the “crazy” girl in my village that always made me very nervous, that I would dread like an attack. I’ve heard her described in many ways, in both English and Kinyarwanda. The most notable explanations were:

The people came and put something in her head.
She has a bad, bad mind.
She is an umusazi, a crazy person.

This is Lucy.

Even before I heard this, Lucy terrified me. My first few months at site were hard but doable. You just make yourself a friend to everyone and they learn to make themselves a friend to you. But Lucy would just cackle at me. She has this laugh that’s slightly maniacal and off-putting. She has very erratic motions and an inability to communicate.

Actually that’s not true. It SEEMED that Lucy couldn’t communicate. With me. I noticed over time she would respond when other people on the mountain called things at her. They still burst out laughing before during and after the exchange, but there was some level of a call-and-response. With me, Lucy would just yell MUZUNGU! And if I tried to respond her expression became one of a person who wasn’t actually there, like she disappeared behind her crazy mask.

If she said, [her favourite expression for me] Bite, muzungu? [what’s up, white girl!] I couldn’t even respond before she was already cackling in a way that just unnerved me and made me feel like I wasn’t expected to answer, nor would an answer be acknowledged. I used to watch to see if she were coming and try to sneak by, as if that were even possible. [I had some volunteers come visit for Halloween and from my mountain, you could see them walking down the other mountain, an absurd distance away, distinctly white. In theory, I can be seen coming for a half a mile. I don’t know what part of me thought that if I shuffled close enough to the shrubbery, I would simply disappear into it.]

Anyway, Lucy unknowingly put terror on the surface of my every day existence for 6 months. She continued to heckle me loudly and publically much to the amusement of anyone around. And I continued to try and disappear as quickly as possible. It’s terrible that I was even afraid of her, for faults not her own, being mentally handicapped in an environment that doesn’t accept such a thing. She was just rolling with her defense mechanisms of a stranger invading and changing her environment, and I was rolling with mine. This would have kept going on, I think, except that one day I saw Lucy, sitting in a ditch with her hands in her lap and her head down. No jericans strapped to her head or back, no erratic or loud motions. No running down the mountain with her igitenge [African fabric] held up behind her like a cape. No energy. Just very sunken. And I was so taken aback by this that I actually stopped instead of running from her as usual. I just stared for a moment, and even though I hated her normal disposition toward me, I was upset by what could subdue such a hurricane of a person.

I asked my walking buddy at the moment what had happened. They told me Lucy’s friend had died of AIDS. A friend on the mountain. Lucy herself has to be between the ages of 17 and 30. Hard to tell. But I assume her friend was a similar age. I spent the whole week after scouring the mountain for the people I knew just making sure everyone was accounted for. [I live across the road from a compound for children living with HIV/AIDS.]

Lucy remained in that state for several days. The next time I saw her, she was waiting at my gate, just to say hi. I don’t think she’d ever stood still long enough to give me a direct address or look right at me. I said hi back to her, and stood dumbstruck for a moment as she just as unexpectedly ran off. I’ve come to acknowledge our relationship as something reminiscent of Tom and Jerry.

From that moment, Lucy and I became friends. We had been scared of each other in a way that danced along the lines of love-and-hate. And now? She skipped down the mountain next to me [still erratic, still mentally questionably] but she could look at me now. She would suddenly take off sprinting, barefoot, cackling, with her waist fabric held high above her shoulders like superman’s cape. And eventually she’d stop and stumble around, curiously, until I caught up and sometimes even passed her. But she’d eventually start running to keep within my bounds, like an orbit, until I left the mountain and she found the water pump. She asked me questions. She learned my name and I wasn’t afraid to say hers. I help her carry her 5 jericans of water [three strapped to her head, one in each hand] up the mountain when I have the opportunity [she loves this. The perks of being in cahoots with the village muzungu. Because not only is it super strange for a white person to be helping a Rwandan carry her jugs of water up the mountain, but to be helping the village crazy person... unheard of].

Now we regard each other with humour and excitement, as it seems to amuse everyone else. Like it was the last obstacle to cross to be officially in the village. Getting the crazy person to be a little less crazy with you. It’s as if we have a bit now when we pass at the water pump.

“Good morning, Ms. Lucy!”
“What’s up, Ms. Jenni!”
“Not much, Lucy! Can I take some of those jericans for you?”
“Let’s go, Jenni!”

And so on and so forth with the over-acted stamina of two people who know how absurd their friendship looks from the outside. Undoubtedly, others saw my former hide-in-the-shrubbery tactic from the first few months.

Anyway, there are quite a few neighbours that I visit regularly, and I don’t know any of their names. The old grandmas are called Umukecuru [old lady], and the mothers of my kids are simply, Mama. But Lucy, I don’t have the heart to call her Umusazi, crazy person. She’s just Lucy. She’s always in dirty clothes, she doesn’t own any shoes. She has no family, no obvious friends and most people shun her as a respectable counterpart, or equal. She can’t hold a real conversation because of her handicap, nor can she have a real job or education. Her only job is to carry jericans up and down the mountain every day as a mule, a job that only men or boys typically do. She spends all day every day being dehumanized by a term that makes her nothing more than crazy. And sometimes you really need someone to bring a little humanism to the table.

If she earns nothing else in her life, she should at least have her name. And yes, this is the perspective of someone regularly called by the characteristics of her skin rather than by the name given to her. But if we’ve done nothing else for each other in the last year, at least we now have our names. I think it’s why we’re friends. The mama’s call me their daughter, the old ladies call me a beautiful girl, but Lucy calls me Jenni. And I can call her Lucy.

Enough about Lucy. Let’s talk about work [Yaaaaay!]

So as I may have mentioned previously, I have no work or prospects in my village [other than the informal art club and English classes I hold in my yard and in neighbor’s yards]. As per the structure of PC Rwanda, I am meant to walk out of the village every day and work in the capital with an organization. I was protesting this for a while, but realized that because of my village’s location, local work wasn’t even that feasible. Since everyone else in the village walked into the capital to work every day too. I think it’s a fairly unique setup and poses an interesting question of what this means for me, as a PCV, when the role of a PCV was traditionally very different. None the less, I started a project in cooperation with a different organization in Rwanda.

The project is called Grassroots Comics. I explained it in an earlier post, but just as a refresher, it’s a behaviour change/ community development tool that encourages people to discuss and express the issues of the local community in comic form. The comics are then hung up at the community level, be it at a school, or the district office or a health center. The comics are written in the local language, although primarily image-based [to encourage comprehension even with the high illiteracy levels in the village] and discuss issues that are affecting that community. It’s a safe forum for discussion, a means of getting good information out there, and encourages creativity and expression with the youth. Depending on the context, it can be a regularly meeting club at schools or a one-time-workshop at an existing event [such as World AIDS Day or Women’s Day].

So as for the update: I’ve been working on a training guide for PCVs and development workers in the Rwandan context since last October. The manual is meant to provide an easy means of facilitating the Grassroots Comics Meetings, drawing exercises, ideas and themes, supplies, collecting feedback, and sharing the results with other facilitators through a GRC newsletter.

The guide has now been tested by a group of PCVs, who gave their feedback and helped make the guide more user-friendly for people who are not native English speakers, and for presentation to people who are also not native English speakers. I’ve been working with another volunteer and with the organization that is funding and encouraging the development of this tool, and in a few weeks I anticipate the project will be reaching its final form! This past week at an HIV/AIDS Conference I presented the project and there are lots of interested parties, both PCVs and organization workers. So the next few months will mostly be filled with finalizing the guide, getting funding for supplies, distributing them to the people interested and conducting trainings to help people get started on it. When I get a chance, I’ll upload some examples of comics that were created! I really think this would be a great tool for PCVs all over the world, and I hope to get the word out to other PCV countries when the project is in full swing.

On a fun note, the Kigali Peace Marathon is coming up at the end of May! Myself and a few other volunteers are training for it so please think happy thoughts of running in the African sun during the dry season!

Another fun note, I am 2 months parasite-free! That really is quite a success. On the other hand, I did fall in a 4 foot ditch the other day... And take a chunk out of my foot in a mudslide... And set the record for most-things-wrong-with-a-PCVs-eyes...

More fun stuff: So there are these buses in kigali that are spray-painted and designated to a certain rapper or football team. There's a Manchester United truck, a Drogba bus, Jay-Z bus and every rapper that ever existed including a lot I've never heard off. They're decked out in the team/rapper's colors, their name or logo printed all over, and a photo imprinted onto the back or side. The buses sometimes even have blacklights inside!
ANYWAY, the other day, I saw a Justin Bieber bus. And to my knowledge he is the first NON rap artist to have his own Rwandan dedicated bus! And so young and early in his career.. I'm torn between being impressed and being disturbed.
A side project I'm going to be doing for mostly my own amusement is tracking down the rest of the funky buses that travel through Kigali and making an album dedicated to them. Or a calender. Really, other people just need to see them.

I haven't written a post in a while, so if I think of anything new and absurd that I want to note and didn't, I'll revise this blog. If not, enjoy Lucy and Grassroots Comics!

[PS: New photos of MSC, safari game drive, and everything else in this second year of service!]
The album is The Early Months: Year Two


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