Looking Back...

In doing some of the final preparations for the course, I came across this interview conducted while I was in Rwanda in April 2014. Of course I'm somewhat biased, but I think it's a nice overview of what one might experience when visiting the Land of A Thousand Hills.


Seven Weeks!

Yes! Hamline University is headed back to Rwanda! On 26 May, fourteen students, a staff colleague, and myself - the faculty leader - will depart, arriving in Kigali on 28 May. Seven weeks from today, 29 May, is our first full day in Rwanda. We will take a tour of the city, including the Presidential Palace, followed by lunch at Bourbon Coffee and - of course - a stop at Nakumatt in the Union Trade Centre. After lunch we'll visit the Belgian Troop Memorial and the Hotel des Milles Collines, known to some as "Hotel Rwanda." That evening we'll share a welcome dinner at Republika, followed by our second night at the Discover Rwanda Youth Hostel.

We've made a few changes to the itinerary this year. As well as a few different NGOs, as part of our recreational activities we've added a visit to Nyungwe National Forest for the canopy walk. What I hope is a real highlight is a day long student-created workshop with students at the Protestant Institute of Art and Social Sciences in Huye. Our students will present on youth involvement in the 1960s civil rights movement in the US. Rwandan students will present on youth involvement in post-genocide Rwanda. They'll also have plenty of time just to visit with one another, including sharing lunch and dinner. If we're lucky we'll also visit Inzozi Nziza for ice cream!

Another highlight of this year's course is this... In 2012 we visited Gashora Girls Academy. See what students had to say here and here. But, this time we'll be bringing Linda, a member of the first Gashora graduating class of 2013! She's now completing her sophomore year at Hamline, likely majoring in Economics and Global Studies. She'll not only be joining us in the course, but will also be serving as a peer leader. And, almost four years to the day, we'll again be visiting Gashora. Even though all of her friends have graduated, I imagine it will be quite a homecoming. Check out the posts from November 2013 to read more.

Internet access permitting, students will post each day we're in Rwanda. And, perhaps we'll post a bit just before we depart in May. Stay tuned!

Addendum: The post below was written on my last morning in Huye, in April 2014. That was the trip during which I met with my colleague at PIASS, Kazu Sasaki, and from which the workshop that will take place this year emerged. I should have posted a follow-up when I returned, but things have been, um, a little busy since then!


Day 7

Well, I was right. I have a cold. This will be my whiny post, so feel free to skip it. I woke up during the night and felt absolutely horrible. The rest of the night was awake/doze/awake. I was 'dreaming' that because I haven't yet confirmed Monday's flight they gave my seat away. Then, at one point, I was awakened by this tremendous - I'm not sure how to describe it - 'growling' sound, but not from an animal. It was an engine of some kind. Eventually that stopped and what was surely the smoke from diesel fuel permeated the room. Next I heard the famous monkeys scrambling around on the roof. I've not seem them yet and wish I had, but I've heard about the racket they make. Then the rains began. I actually like the sound of rain on a metal roof, but not when I'm wishing I could go back to sleep. Eventually I got up and, presumably because my light was on, someone came to see about breakfast. I got my hot water for tea and three pieces of cold toast with the 'medium fat spread.' I then had my third cold 'bird bath' - one really can't call it a shower - of the trip. I haven't had hot water since Thursday morning. My arthritic left hand and my left shoulder are killing me, presumably from my pack which I just can't remember/get used to carrying on my right. I'm dressed and ready to go, but it will be about two and a half hours before Kazu is due to pick me up.

It's about two hours to Kigali. Oh, a note on that. As I was riding down on the bus I was thinking, this is like a roller coaster only it will last two hours - the time they say it takes to get to Huye - and only cost about $3.62. We made the trip in 1:50. I mentioned that to both Celestin and Kazu. Both were shocked, responding that he must have been going really fast. Uh, yup. Really fast, even when the big red signs said "DANGER" and warned of a maximum speed of 40 kmh, or about 25 mph.

So, when I get back to Kigali I'm hoping to get to the market, unless it's pouring. I've not yet picked up anything to bring back, except for some tea from Nakumatt. On to the day!

Day 6

Having no Internet, no companions, not being up for wandering Huye in the dark, and having read for a while, I turned in around 8 last night and awoke some time during the night to absolute silence. Not a cricket, not bird, not a car, not a footstep. Not a rustle of leaves or a drip of water. It was really eerie in that I really didn't hear a thing, not even the buzz of a mosquito. I went back to sleep and when I awakened around 5-something birds were starting to chirp.

There's a bit of a language barrier here at the hotel and though pulling French from the recesses of my brain has been helpful in some instances, not so much in others. From the reading I had done before traveling, I knew that the breakfast consisted of coffee or tea and toast w/ jam, but that you could, allegedly, order eggs and pay separately for them. One of the things I've noticed is a tendency to convey understanding only to find out that there was no understanding at all. So, gluten insensitivity be damned, my breakfast consisted of tea and three slices of toast with what is labeled "medium fat spread," a type of margarine I presume. Honestly, the jam - in what was formerly a mayonnaise jar - looked a tad questionable. When something is unidentifiable, I consider it questionable. So, I stuck with the stuff that while no doubt bad for my arteries, had an identifiable provenance.

1:00 pm
Later this morning I met with, Celestin, a faculty member from PIASS. Also a Presbyterian pastor, he just completed his masters degree in peace and conflict studies. He has moved from what was - I'm unsure if it still is - a Faculty of Theology to the Department of Peace and Conflict Studies. He is originally from (the former) Gitarama. Though we didn't discuss it, I know this to be one of the areas often mentioned in writings on the 1994 genocide and, I believe, an area then controlled by the Hutu and the location of some of the key figures in leadership. We had a nice, albeit somewhat difficult, chat about students, tuition, academic calendars, etc. I say difficult not because of content, but accent. The official language of instruction changed from French to English sometime around 2008 and 2009, so most adults who completed secondary school before that time are fluent in Kinyarwanda and French, but not English. As students who go on to university speak Kinyarwanda, English, and French to varying degrees, their instructors are, in some instances, playing catch up on the English. But, as I like to point out when people apologize for their English, it's light years better than my Kinyarwanda!

When Celestin and I parted ways I went around the corner to the Hotel Ibis to see about lunch. Let me say for the record that I just had the best chicken I've had in four visits to Rwanda. I'm not enough of a cook to even know how to describe how it was cooked - braised, perhaps? But, it was not only amazingly tender - a rarity here, but had the best flavor. And, I had the good sense to order rice. Hard to believe, but even I am tired of French Fries. Even the vegetables, while reminiscent of the mixed vegetables of my elementary school cafeteria, were tasty. Clearly I was hungry! I sat on the patio while the world, or a good part of Huye, passed by. I returned just minutes ago, got out my iPad, sat down and, as I type this it is raining. So far my timing with regard to the rain has been very good.

I paused for a moment to read what I've typed and now the sun is shining. The sky is a mix of blue with puffy, white clouds and stretches of more ominous gray. But, I've no place I have to be, so I'm content to sit here on the patio until my 3:00 meeting.

8:30 pm
It's time to turn in - ack - I'm getting a cold and am not feeling so great, but I had an absolutely wonderful visit with Kazu, chair of the Peace and Conflict Studies program at PIASS. I don't want to share much of it here as it's his research, but know that I learned all kinds of things that in more 'formal' visits I did/would not. Feel free to ask me about it! It made the trip to Huye so very worthwhile. And, as an added bonus he and his wife are going to Kigali tomorrow and he offered me a ride. Fab!

Day 5

After a nice breakfast and coffee that was so smooth I could drink it without milk - a shock to anyone who has seen me drink coffee - Linda came to get me. We went to her dad's office where I was able to take a photo of the Kayonza flame of remembrance and say goodbye - and a huge murakoze cyane/thank you very much to her dad. His generosity was overwhelming! Linda then took me to the bus park and insured that I got on the right back back to Kigali. Another uneventful ride on a beautiful Rwandan morning. I've actually been very lucky with the weather!

I was, I admit, a tad nervous about navigating Nyabugogo on my own. Fidel had pointed out the Volcano Tours desk so once I was on my feet I made a beeline. Uvuga icyongereza? Do you speak English? A nice fellow - amidst chaos and confusion - ensured that I had my ticket and boarded the correct bus. I was very thankful as the young woman had sold me a ticket for the noon bus and it was 11:25. He asked if I minded taking the 11:30 bus. Um, no. Did I look like someone who wanted to stand around in Nyabugogo for 35 minutes? I was soon on the bus and on my way.

After a while the fellow seated next to me asked if I was going to Huye. Jean Claude asked a bit about how long I had been in Rwanda, etc. Then, hearing I was a professor, he showed me, with - I think - a bit of pride, his provisional certificate for award of a Bachelor of Education. He is now teaching English and French at a secondary school somewhere between Huye and the Burundi border, which is only abou 25 km away from Huye.

As we approached Huye he asked if I knew the town, needed a guide, etc. I assured him that I knew where I was headed and we said our goodbyes. Bon voyage, Jean Claude!

I walked the 200 meters or so to the Motel du Mont Huye. Not surprisingly, the young woman couldn't find my reservation. My multiple names often lead to confusion, even when there is no language barrier. Eventually, all was well and I was taken to my room, chambre 1, to get settled.

One of the things about Rwanda that is a particularly good exercise for me is that one always has to expect the unexpected and be prepared for things to not go as well as one hopes. Well, after over three hours on a bus, one likes to find a working toilet. And, if not, it's nice to be able to communicate about the issue with those who can help. I have to say, to my high school French teachers, thank you! More than once on this trip, my very limited French has come in quite handy. My toilet is now functioning.

But, let me back up. As I was walking to my room, a young woman on another patio waved, saying "Hello" in English. She looked settled in, like she'd been here a while. After discovering the toilet issue I went back to ask if there was some trick I needed to know. On that front, no, there wasn't. But, turns out she's with a group of Canadian nursing students that come here for four weeks to volunteer at the hospital. And, they're not just Canadian, they're from Nova Scotia. And, she's from Moncton, a city a couple of hours from Fredericton, where I've been living. We had a nice chat and I met her colleague - and then went off to find toilet assistance.

After getting settled - which doesn't take long when you've only a small backpack - I broke down and used my iPhone to access email. Pathetic, I know. Then I ventured to the restaurant, did some reading, and returned to write.

The clouds, as I typed the above, seem to have dissipated a bit. It's getting dark. We're just below the equator, you know. The mosquitoes may soon be swarming so I think I'll head inside.

Tomorrow I am schedule to meet with two faculty members from PIASS, the Protestant Institute of Arts and Social Sciences. That will likely fill my day. I've decided to return to Kigali on Saturday instead of Sunday as there is more that I'd like to do there than there is here. I may make it to the Kimironko market after all.

As I wrap this up I hear what sounds like live singing, from the cathedral perhaps. I hear the nurses visiting. People have been strolling by, "Hello," "Goodbye," "Bonjour," a wave... A room here goes for 10,000 RWF, or about $15.00 so it's popular with students, NGOs, etc. But, I don't think I'll have trouble sleeping. What I've written doesn't even begin to capture the ups, the downs, the stress, the joys... Sleep, I will!

Day 4

As I write this, it's 5:30 on Thursday, Thought I can see blue sky and sun in the distance, threatening clouds are gathering overhead. This is Rwanda in April. I may be moving inside soon. The winds are picking up as well. Back to Wednesday...

Around 9 am I packed everything into my two bags, packing what would get me though four or five days into my "backpack" so that I could stash my "travel pack" at Heaven. Knowing that I would be taking public buses - think sardines - I couldn't imagine dealing with two bags. Fidel, the same driver who had escorted me to Nyamirambo, arrived to deliver me to the central bus station, Nyabugogo. Now, you know it's serious when even Rwandans comment on how dreadful, busy, noisy... it is. But, Fidel insured that I made it to the correct bus, got my ticket, and boarded. I was soon on my way to meet Kayonza to meet Linda, the student who will be attending Hamline in the fall.

The ride was uneventful. It was a beautiful, sunny morning. I was able to text Linda regarding my progress and knew that she would be waiting at the bus park for me. When we arrived and I disembarked, imagine my surprise to see a large, black Toyota Prado awaiting me. I had recognized Linda's dad standing next to it. Her parents, Linda, and I traveled to the hotel where they had made arrangements for me to stay and then left Linda and I to discuss everything from classes to what to expect in an airplane to how cold it is in Minnesota to what she should bring to what weekends on campus are like to how cold it is... We had lunch and continued to visit. We had a snack and continued to visit. Around 6 pm or so we were picked up and went to her dad's office so that we could use the Internet. We tried to catch Kari Richtsmeier via Skype, but that just wasn't to be. It was right around 9 pm when we went back to the hotel and her dad said, "Let's have supper," or words to that effect. We were still stuffed from our snack. I thought I might get away with nibbling on something when the plates started coming. Large, whole tilapia, quarter chickens, the requisite fries... We ate.

I got in bed some time shortly before 11 and was immediately asleep.

Day 3

Back in Fredericton I had met with a woman who speaks Kinyarwanda to get some help learning a few more phrases than the, oh, three I already knew. Being raised abroad she and her family returned to Rwanda in 1990, only to have to leave in 1994. She's never been back, but she still speaks Kinyarwanda. She also has extended family who still live here. I offered that I would be happy to deliver anything small that she might wish to send to them. So, this morning, armed with the phone numbers of her aunts and with the help of the office staff at Heaven off I went to Nyamirambo, a particular neighborhood in Kigali. I met her aunt, saw the school at which she is headmistress, and delivered the goods. Fortunately I had the presence of mind to ask if I might take a photograph for my friend back in Fredericton! What I hadn't had was the presence of mind to remember that she had also sent a box of chocolates for me to deliver with the other gifts. When I returned to my room and went to get a bottle of water, there they sat, in the refrigerator. I was so disappointed. I couldn't travel back to Nyamirambo. I quickly fired off an email of profuse apology that has since been graciously accepted.

As soon as I walked back into the inn, the skies opened up and torrential rains were beating down on the metal roof making all kinds of noise. I was fairly certain that, as is often the case, they would not continue so I took care of a few things under a dry roof with plans to go out later. When the rain did stop, I went back to the UTC, picked up the paper, and had a couple of samosas at Bourbon Coffee, and then checked with the Volcano bus folks about my upcoming journey to Huye. I was going to be meeting the third of my language study friends soon.

At 2:30, Vincent found me waiting and we settled back down in Bourbon Coffee. I was shocked when he started presenting me with gifts. A while back he had asked that I send a photo. This didn't seem unreasonable as it's nice to have a visual of the person with whom one is communicating. Imagine my surprise when he presented me with a small plaque with my photo and reading, "Welcome to Rwanda Melissa" and a tinier, "From Vincent." He then gave me a small drum with Rwanda etched on the side and a woven plate, also reading "Rwanda." I had brought only us-Rwanda flag pins to give. But, I do think he genuinely liked it. Needless to say, I bought lunch!

From there I raced back to the hotel as I had an interview scheduled with CBC's Shift New Brunswick. I'll spare you the details of our getting connected, except to say that it involved dropped calls, no land line, and me sending an incorrect cell number. Fortunately the Skype-spirits were on our side and we ultimately spoke without interruption. As I type this I've not heard it as I couldn't stay up late enough to listen live and when I left the world of Internet access it the link hadn't yet been posted. I'm writing this without a connection and will post it when I'm back in Kigali.

When I finished, I found Tony sipping a Mutzig on the patio. I finally had my fish tacos and we spent a lovely evening talking about our respective days, less than progressive family members, and when we might each return to Rwanda.