Our time here has certainly brought with it many cultural lessons. Our Kinyarwanda teacher one day taught us the history of the word “abarubindi”. It technically means “eye glasses” but literally means “those which fell into the pot.” There’s a story, says our teacher, in which a Frenchman wearing eye glasses came across some local Rwandans taking (drinking) beer. Traditionally, beer was served in a single large pot called a “rubindi” and everyone drank their beer from a straw stuck into the same pot.
April 7, 2018 marked the 24th year since the 1994 Rwandan genocide. A short overview for those who are unfamiliar, understanding that history is biased and everyone has opinions on how to narrate this history in particular: Rwanda’s history has been full of ethnic exploitation by colonizers and local leaders both, resulting in ethnic cleansing several times in their history. Hutus were considered inferior during early rule by Rwandan kings and were exploited by colonial powers; years upon years of hardship and inequality led to ethnic killings against the Tutsi in 1959 until the balance of power shifted with independence in 1961. A Hutu government took control and reversed many of the policies that favored Tutsis; inflamed by years of oppression, the extremist government incited ethnic hatred against the Tutsis, culminating in the 1994 genocide where approximately 1 million people were killed in 3 months. The current president of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, assisted in the military overthrow of the extremist government, ending the genocide, and carried out retribution killings against Hutu folks while pushing them out of Rwanda into Congo. Kagame then rebuilt Rwanda over the next 24 years, an amazing feat when glistening, beautiful Kigali is compared with a city like Goma in DRC, which barely has water or electricity and sports only a few paved roads.
Over Easter weekend, I finally made it to DRC, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the place on which I wrote my undergraduate thesis and where I epically failed to go the first time in 2013. To give you an idea, my thesis focused on contextualizing a rebel movement called M23 operating in the eastern Congo. The Kivu region in Congo has experienced incredible violence and unrest for a long time, exploding in 1994 when the folks who organized the genocide, as well as thousands of Hutu refugees fearing retribution, fled to Congo and set up camp just across the border from Rwanda. Congo is roughly one third the size of the US, with the world’s second largest rainforest separating its capital from the eastern regions, meaning that the (corrupt) DRC government cannot meaningfully govern vast portions of the country, including the east. Myriad rebel groups have sprouted up as a means to survive the corrupt landscape and control the region’s resources.
No, we’re not pregnant. But I bet I made you look 😉
On our 6-year anniversary, Colin and I fittingly helped organize the first ever regional ultimate Frisbee club tournament in Kigali! We met playing Frisbee so it was a great way to celebrate 🙂
Wowzer, 6 months already. This 6th month has been quite a whirlwind, rivaling the first month we were here in terms of challenge and difficulty. The challenges are quite different obviously; I’ve started settling into my part-time jobs and we can confidently pay our bills. (Although the other day I was approached by a guy who said he was collecting the security payment for the neighborhood and said we owed three months’ worth of payments. He said we were never home when he came to collect the payment for Dec-Feb so I guess it’s all in the normal scheme of things to pay whenever is convenient, not necessarily when the payment is due? There’s always something new!)
It’s pretty hard to believe that we’ve been living in Rwanda for over 6 months now. It feels like just yesterday that we were saying our goodbyes, selling all our stuff, and buying one-way flights. It has been a rollercoaster of an adventure and I would be lying if I said there weren’t moments when I was ready to give up and fly home because moving to a new country that doesn’t speak your language is really really hard! But with a lot of patience, the endless support of family and friends, and a very cuddly kitten, Rwanda is feeling more and more like home everyday now.
Sorry for the recent blog silence. We’ve had a busy few weeks with our friend Hamid visiting! I’ll do a quick recap with pictures.
Colin and I spent New Year’s Eve in an outdoor concert venue in the steady rain listening to some fantastic African musicians!
We hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas/Solstice/Hanukah/holiday season! Christmas in Kigali definitely looks a lot different but we tried our best to make it special regardless of the changes. I do miss the excitement of the first snow but don’t miss the freezing weather one bit. The rainy season has ended in Rwanda so it’s heating up and getting dusty again. There’s also none of the present-buying rush that’s pervasive in the American holiday season; in fact, presents aren’t a part of Christmas at all (much to my relief, since my host family is like 100 people!). There aren’t tons of decorations either except for the plastic white Santa figurines guarding supermarket entrances and the fake, decorated Christmas trees at the big banks. I was surprised one evening to discover, however, that Kigali does do Christmas lights! On the evenings leading up to Christmas, Kigali decorated its roundabouts with lights and Christmas trees, so Colin and I got a little taste of home, flying by the light displays on our moto ride home.
Lots of big news this week! First of all, I’m happy to announce that I’ve been offered two job contracts! It feels good to finally say that! Both are part time so I’ll be accepting both positions. The first is Operations Manager for a jewelry making collective called the Abari Collective where I’ll be helping the organization register as a business in Rwanda, hire staff, and create the structures for a sustainable business. While not in my field, I’m excited to try my hand at management, figure out finances & budgeting, and start an organization not quite from scratch but pretty close. I’ve also met the core group of women who’ll actually be making the jewelry and they’re great—all in their early twenties and living in a suburb outside of Kigali called Nyamata, they are so driven and ready to put their creative energy into making bracelets to earn income and support themselves.
I’ve been getting a lot of requests to write a blog post about my work and here it finally is!