I’m bad at comprehensive titles

March 6, 2011

Preface to this entry: My host family is watching a James Bond movie dubbed in French, and it makes me wonder, is it every guy’s dream to be snatched up by a talent scout on the street to be the next James Bond actor? “My God, sir, you reek of good looks, a cool demeanor, grace with ladies, martial arts skills, and the ability to keep any human emotions under lock and key at all times.” If I were a guy I would probably dream of such things.

–          Just killed a mosquito with my bare hands!! It’s DeJarlais. April DeJarlais.


Right: Today a few of us took the hour-long bus ride south-westish to Gitarama for a launch of this English language learning scholarship school program deal, where 40 high-school age students received the scholarships to get crash courses in English on Saturdays since English replaced French as the other official language of Rwanda besides Kinyarwanda. The change means that university courses will be in English, so students hoping to go on past secondary school will need to hop on that (most can already speak it allright, but maybe not to the point where they can pull it out of their brains at 4 am and make it sound nice on paper). Our group of SIT students will be able to go to the school on Saturdays and basically talk about American culture/help the students with English. We visited the school’s language lab place, which had nice computers and a library with textbooks and donated fiction from Americans. I could sense with my honed instincts the presence of a Sweet Valley High book there, and naturally there was, and naturally I really really wanted to take it and read it. If those books are going to be allowed outside the US, they need to come with an attached manual on How To Take SVH Ironically. Apologies to anyone who wasn’t a Sweet Valley reader.

As students here, at any lecture with any Rwandan speaker, we tend to be asked to be “ambassadors” to the rest of the world as to how Rwanda is. On one level it’s annoying and makes me feel a little used, but also I wouldn’t want people thinking my country was a big screw-up. And many of the students we’ve talked to here define culture by national lines (which I don’t coming from America), so essentially they don’t want people in the world thinking their culture is a big screw-up. So, Rwanda isn’t a screw-up. I don’t know enough about macroeconomics to know which track it’s on, but any nation that can repair itself significantly in 17 years from being destroyed in every way isn’t messing up.

Something else to emphasize: the Hutu and Tutsi “ethnic” groups of the genocide (during which Tutsi were mostly targeted) aren’t a thing in Rwanda today. You mostly can’t tell who is which, or who would be classified as which (maybe that’s because I haven’t lived here, but I can’t anyway). They were groups in the precolonial era based on class, and Tutsi were cattle herders and Hutu were farmers mostly, which led to Tutsi being richer leaders since cattle are valuable. But the groups intermarried, lived together, etc. etc., not a big deal until Belgium thought the Tutsi looked pretty Ethiopian, or like black Europeans, so they must be better, and then gave everyone ethnic identity cards. So the Tutsi were favored until they weren’t, and violence against them started officially in 1959 when “Hutu Power” gained popularity. To understate, the artificially constructed divides were insane. Our group was talking the other day about how it is the most dangerous when people identify most with two or three groups because there’s the most potential for violence – one guy made a good analogy of a country being a box, and trying to fit a couple large pieces doesn’t work, because you need to cut some off. But if you shatter the pieces into lots of little ones, they all fit in the box. I liked it.

To leave off on: A few of us will also asking ourselves today if, even if we study particular genocides forever, will we really understand it? It’s frustrating I suppose to go somewhere and know you’re not going to understand something because you just haven’t experienced it. In my three years (whoa) of college I’ve managed to cram in a lot of classes on violence and genocide in particular, but can I only do that because I haven’t felt raw fear of someone invading my house at night? Should I even focus on this at all, when I could be doing something happier just to add something happy to the world? I think a lot about people who I know that I consider artists of any type. Some don’t think that they’re doing anything “real”, but it seems to me they are if they’re contributing more awesome things and ideas to human culture. I suppose what I’m focusing on now is learning how to facilitate an environment in which people can make art (a broad term for creation I guess) happen, as opposed to further destruction.


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