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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copy n’ paste

March 1, 2011

We had to write a journal for our academic director so this blog entry is a straight-up copy and paste, so it’s going to be kind of stuffy:

Today was Umuganda, which is the monthly community service day to which a member of each family has to go but a lot of people skip or just pay money. I envisioned it as a busy couple of hours where everyone was working on a specific project, in keeping with the observed Rwandan work ethic. Really it was just a Saturday morning social hour, with a handful of men digging out some weeds in the gutter or cutting the grass; the other 20-30 people mostly wandered slowly behind, threw away a few handfuls of grass (which is what I did), and talked a lot with one another. Some people really came to put in an appearance, like the woman in the nice dress and sparkly sandals who was carrying a shovel but had no intention of actually using it. The group of people progressed up the road, randomly doing some work and it ended with a community meeting. I mostly walked and talked with my brother Steven and two friends of his friends who joined up with us, a boy and a girl. The girl, who was my age, spoke a little bit of English and during the meeting when we were all standing together, put her arm around me. It was nice that a girl my own age was finally not scared or quiet or reserved around me.

This week my mom has had two outbreaks of shouting/chanting at the grand hour of 1:30 in the morning. The day after the second time, my dad told me she was praying and said he hoped that I wasn’t scared. In retrospect knowing it was praying and not sleep-talking or anything made it not scary (but still loud at 1:30 am). My mom was in the room while he was telling me what it was, and she was smiling a little sheepishly. I wonder what makes her wake up at that time and need so badly to pray so vocally. Maybe it’s what makes my host brother go to church at midnight and pray until 6:00 am, which he apparently did last night. He says he prays for God to give him a change to find a job, which he wants so as not to be so dependent on asking his parents for spending money for transportation, clothing, etc. Even though it is acceptable for him to live at home at age 23, he said his parents would still like him to have a job to help pay for school and other expenditures. Their faith in God may just come from their view that being able to control everything is either too much work or impossible (which it generally is). Asking for things to work out and then finding faith that everything will be okay even if it doesn’t work out how they had asked is a flexible worldview in its own way. Even though non-religious people may think that giving up control to a higher power is limiting oneself, religious people may view those people as needlessly upset when things don’t go the way as planned.

My brother also expressed the wish to marry a white girl, because he said black girls are materialistic. I immediately tried to counter this view, as I know many materialistic white girls indeed. He expects his life to go a certain way: graduate school, find a job, and get married. It seems like there is a formula for a life and he simply needs to find characters to fill that formula, which is far different from my view of life being richer when surprising things happen. Maybe the “formula” for a life is comforting since it is a cycle in itself, and the fulfilling of that formula guarantees that a history will be left behind with children and grandchildren to carry on a legacy. In a society such as Rwanda that had its recent history so mangled and destroyed, I can see from where the source for routines and fulfilled cycles comes.

 

Sundaay evening

February 21, 2011

I almost stayed home today to write up my family tree assignment (in which I talked to my family about their relatives, history, etc.) but ended up going out with my host mom and brother, which cheesily enough turned out to be more of a study in family relations that writing about something I interviewed them about.

We visited her cousin who had just had a baby, and the dynamics of visiting Rwandan families (for white people who don’t know the language anyway) is that you sit on the couch while watching TV with other people for a couple hours. We went into the room of the woman and her baby which was all pink and there were a million pink congrats-on-the-baby-girl cards around (all of which featured white babies. Weird). So, stock baby room and I saw/held the baby and did not get all googly, but was in shock at how little she was and proceeded to wonder how we grow so much bigger but keep generally the same face shape and feature shapes – how does our DNA know to keep arranging the cells in the same shape? Anyway.

Proceed to sit on couch for hours and get slightly desperate about finishing my report thing, but whatever. We went into the room again to say goodbye and there are several other folks in there looking at a wedding album, and they stand up and start singing. My host mom then embarks on a 15 minute speech/chant, the couple with the baby is holding hands, and it sounds very baptismal but it turned out to just be a traditional thing of congratulations to the couple with the new baby. Obviously I didn’t participate, but in those situations of completely not knowing anything I think I just turn into a pair of eyes and ears with no real concept of myself or my own context. In that way it wasn’t “awkward” that I was the bystanding white girl, but that everyone in the room was fine that I was there and I was fine that I was there. The loud shouting/chanting of the mother and that everyone else was crying a little or answering back made that little nursery with white baby cards into a passion pit of Rwandan humanity. (Yes, I just used passion pit).

On the way back from that, I learned we’d be picking up Stecy, an 11-year-old sister who was coming home for a bit because she’s sick. I got a good vibe from her right away and now she’s hanging in my room watching me type. The whole feel of the night was family-ish and while I’m still not an outgoing crazy guest daughter, there are increasingly cozy feelings of being here.

So today along with last night was my first time of actually feeling like I was observing/participating in Rwandan culture. One of the employees with SIT, Issa, had a birthday and we all clamored to hang out with him somewhere on the weekend (that’s not a taboo and this story might sound seedy but it’s not). The original plan was karaoke, and I think that’s where we went, but it wasn’t stock boring bad singers karaoke. We found the hotel it was at and were led through a back hallway and outside and down some stairs into this big tent where people were watching like, a small act of people dancing/acting out Kinyarwanda music. Then two women were wearing traditional-ish skirts and shaking their asses like nobody’s business (but not in a slutty way, interestingly) and I got a good snapshot of good Rwandan Saturday night fun.

So that was this weekend. Last week our highlight was the two-day trip to Butare in the south, which is basically a college-y town with a national museum and a university. The highlight in turn of that trip (for me) was our visit to a women’s cooperative association, where women were working with the wives of those that had killed the other women’s husbands. For that visit, picture our group of students asking questions through a translator of these women in a shitty concrete room with school kids peeking in through the window. These women, however, were obviously princesses in that they could work and be just a normal giggly bunch of friends with women who should have been their enemies. People are people, you and I should get along so awfully.

So that’s this week in a long-ish blog entry. Lots of other little things happen that make me think, and there’s a lot of time to think, which is nice most of the time. Time isn’t going fast necessarily, but it is full of things to process. I’m more of a processer than a hands-on, all-out participant, but I’m doing that too just by default.

Also the taxi driver we always have at night totally likes to sing along to Kelly Clarkson, but quietly, and I think one night we may all just have to belt it out.

under a bucket. Hopefully that’s not how I deal with all my problems!!

Fun fact!- An alternative to the name April here is Mata, coming from the Kinyarwanda word amata, meaning milk. Rwandans call the month of April Mata since the cows typically give the most milk during that time of year. Seeing as how I dislike milk as a casual drinking beverage, I sort of wish it was ice cream, but ice cream costs a soul and a leg, so, that’s out. Moooooo.

Speaking of casual drinking beverages, we all tried banana beer today and it was tasty.

And the biggest cultural revelation so far has been this exchange between me and my host brother:

Steven: When I get on the internet, the FIRST thing I do is search Britney Spears.

Me: So yoooou’re the one always making her the number one search on Yahoo. Aaarrrgh.

 

Thursday update

February 11, 2011

Another day of rollercoasting feelings and moods that only being thousands of miles away from what you know can prompt, but that is to be expected and probably a-okay in the end like a lot of things. Days consist of getting school via bus/taxi/tagisi in Kinyarwanda, crowded van things that are basically more interactive and pushy than American buses where everyone sits 100000 feet away from each other (I’m guilty of this also). I guess that just comes down to a concept of space and personal space, and since I’m pretty sure Rwanda has the highest population density in Africa, there’s not much space for anything, much less bubbles.

…Although I do have my own room in my host family’s house, which is a fun mix of a lovely decorated living room and a concrete bathroom where the water didn’t work tonight, so I took my first bucket bath/shower (as a non-infant, probably).

I need to shower becaaause I went to a bikram (hot!) yoga class at a studio our advisor/teacher goes to (in that I didn’t just stumble upon a yoga place). Anyway – awesome, I basically wrung my body dry of any sweat-like fluids and got to zone for an hour. So I got an endorphins boost, and endorphins make you happy – and happy people just don’t shoot their husbands. They just don’t!

I quote.

So, yeah, floundering around various parts of Kigali being white, learning things about Rwanda past and present, having some chuckles with the homestay family. The living situations vary crazily from what I’m used to I think, or I’m just in such a different context it’s standing out more. There are Beverly Hills-ish houses and the concrete cubes with tin roofs, where the insides look like your grandpa’s cluttered garage from the ’50s and about the size. If I feel auspicious being white, I feel ridiculous walking past those in the morning.

My other ten classmates are neat and all come from different places (except the two Macalester ladies, just can’t get away from those folks even halfway across the planet – damn that global citizenship (I jest)) and all are fun to listen/talk to.

I eat a lot of rice, beans, stewed plantains, and variations on cabbage (etude in G major). Breakfast is either a thin omelette or a piece of the whitest, preservative-y-ist bread you can get (sorry Mom).

Just adjusting, somewhere between ecstatic and crazy. The yoga place had a playground with a big trampoline so that was necessary today. On the Richer scale of seismic emotional activity…I don’t know the Richter scale limits. I’m allright!

Actually, it’s 2 pm there so that subject is null and void. Anyway.

Been walking around Kigali with the group of 11 other SIT folks, getting crash courses in Rwandan culture and eating food with the SIT advisors who are all neat. Stefanie, the main one, has a dog who hangs out in the classroom/office/house with us and she does not have rabies. The dog, not Stefanie.

Mostly it’s been a week of learning and hyping up our homestays (which we go into on Saturday night) and our independent study projects, which will be a month full of interviews and writing 30-40 pages on something serious.

So we get stared at for being white and everyone so far has been nice. I think kids get a kick out of us, so a school boy walked with us for a while the other day and we chatted him up in sheepish English and tried to learn a few Kinyarwanda words from him.

Oh, I’ll update more about our families and school and trips and whatnot, things are just getting started. Lovely place and lucky to be here, excited!

Just about ready to…

January 30, 2011

…fling my body at speeds of 500 miles per hour across the Earth!

I need to pack, hehe. Cheers!

I’ve had blogs in the past, but really they’ve been non-committal dalliances; flings in the world of putting thoughts on the internet (which, according to Prince, is dead, so I don’t even know why I’m doing this).

Regardless. I’m going to commit this time baby, I swear, no more lying, no more broken promises, no more nights where you lie cold and alone and blank while I’m doing other things or watching Golden Girls. Well, I’ll do things, but ONLY to generate fodder to write about in the first place. Enriching my life will be second place to writing about it for friends and people who accidentally stumble upon it while looking for some variation of adejarlais.wordpress.com (Did you mean “adelirious”?) And I will watch Golden Girls, because that show was way ahead of its time and fantastic.

…Regardless. Sometimes entries will even have a followable plotline! That is also a promise I will probably break.

The English Beat Pandora station is finally working for me, I’ve been trying Sufjan Stevens and Andrew Bird but it’s been too chill. Guess I just needed a shot of 80’s ska and reggae, which is usually the answer to a lot of problems – I should have known.

Back to the study abroad thing though, I am getting more excited by reading the Rwanda daily The New Times (online at www.newtimes.co.rw), drinking coffee, and listening to the Madness’ “Our House”, which makes it impossible to not be excited. I will be disoriented and weirded out and overwhelmed, but I’m not the first person to have been those things, and mostly everyone has been ok. I swing more to the get-scared side of things rather than get-excited, so I guess I throw myself around a little (or a lot) because if I were to give in to my actual nature it’d be boring (so maybe my actual nature is to throw myself around).

Glad I inaugurated this blog (inblogurated?) with a quick dip into my inner psyche, therefore immediately ruining the enigmatic persona I had hoped to portray. I wish I would have inaugurated it instead with a Maya Angelou poem or Aretha Franklin singing in a neat hat.

Picture her singing this blog entry.