Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Yesterday in Africa

I finally came back to add highlights of my first several days in Kigali. In my first email I highlighted a few wonderful aspects of Rwandan people, told how wonderful the school is, and about the beautiful country! (if you'd like that email just send one to to let me know)

Yesterday was probably my favorite day so far--so I'm just going to write about my first Tuesday in East Africa...
First, other teachers and I made our deposits into the bank accounts we set up Monday and had coffee at the hotel next door to where we are staying. Then we jumped on the bus that has taken us around and went to the Kigali genocide memorial. I learned much more about how the ethnic division began and was able to listen to personal stories and see many pictures. After walking through the hall with pictures, videos, quotes, etc., you entire an area with 3 rooms. One is a room with clothing and artifacts and a screen playing interviews of survivors. The same survivors are shown talking more in the next room: the picture room. The whole room just has walls of pictures that family members have submitted of victims. The last room is the most horrifying- the bone room. There were glass cases- 2 filled with leg bones and 2 filled with skulls. Most of the skulls had obvious damage and broken bone from machetes or clubs. The upstairs of the memorial had information on several other genocides worldwide, most of which I was surprised I had never heard of. The last room had blown up pictures of a few children and plaques saying things like their favorite food, personality characteristic, or best friend. That was incredibly sad. The name of the room said something about the children who should have been the future.

The next culture experience I had was going to the market! I don't know if you knew this...but white people do not go unnoticed in public. Everyone is saying "muzungu, muzungu". The open air market was many fruits, vegetables, flowers, beans, flour, and further down there were household items, clothes, etc. I bought tangerines and mini-bananas!

Now for the 2 best places ever! There was a place where women are brought in from villages to learn to be master weavers so they can work for profit to support their families. The company hires them, trains them, purchases their work, and then sells to Macy's! We walked in and looked around the room at tons of women sitting on the floor weaving. I felt strange just looking in on them, and said "so we can just do this.." thinking that staring at them was a little intrusive. Well, Amanda (previous teacher and our personal tour guide) thought I meant learn to weave--so we did! I sat down with a lady named Arizee and she must have been very good because others took their work to her to measure up. She was so sweet! We could barely communicate, but smiled and laughed a lot. She taught me some tricks, too.
The second of the wonderful places from yesterday is called Cards From Africa. Child heads of households (teenagers who take care of their siblings because their parents have died) make homemade papers of all colors and varieties and then follow a design to make cards. The materials they have are minimal..they use scraps of paper from businesses and in a dark concrete room they use pulp, water, and a screen to make paper, flatten in down, and let it dry. The card designs are all different, and they sit and cut out every little piece of the picture from colored paper. They are so awesome! And it provides and income for these teenagers to provide for their little brothers and sisters to have medical care, food, and schooling.

To top off my night of cultural experiences, we ate at La Fiesta. That's right- Mexican food! african american from DC owns the place, a rwandan woman in a mexican outfit waited on us, and the music playing was french and country! Pretty unique place!

Now, just to keep my blog honest- I will tell you that many things have been difficult thus far. Culture shock is definitely real, and I'm already feelin it! As you would probably guess, there isn't a lot of convenience. The line at the bank is about 100 people long (and I'm being serious, my number was literally over 100 numbers away from who had just been called up!). At the MTN center there were no lines--just people clumping trying to get ahead. Finding a house has been very difficult..we've spent 2 full days and our principal has spent more trying to see houses. We have a contact, who knows a guy, who knows the landlord. So- we drive there. (there are no addresses so we are pointed there) and when we pull up we knock on the gate and wait for someone to open it. Many times it takes several phone calls for this. Then, after we see the house, the price changes by a few hundred a month because they have seen that we are white people....and that would be the easiest of the house-hunting situations. I could go on, but for now I'll spare you the inconveniences and just mention that I'm going to try to upload pictures with this blog! Wish me luck! And email me anytime :)