The sun is shining and Rwandan sex ed is on a roll!

The rainy season is finally over, with unfortunately too many casualties (, and the sun is back and shining. The sun brings out the best in this country I think, except for the fact that we’ve taken bucket showers exclusively for the past month due to lack of water pressure, but I’m struck over and over again on my morning moto ride to work by just how beautiful this city is.

We’ve been staying busy with boxing, aerobics, and hikes with the Hash, as well as lots of quality time with friends and the host fam. I’m painting a lot and Colin is busy with his promotion to Director of Tech Innovation–he’s now working full-time at the women’s college. Our utility bills are still stumping us (surprise)—this was our most recent bill, that was delivered to us by our security guard. We think it’s for trash (“poubelle” in French)….

“Hello!! I am a girls was collect money of dishes (poubelle): It is for May month”–means the trash bill, right?

Recently, I found a bit of home by going to a Rwandan rendition of “Beauty and the Beast” with a friend of mine. Once a season tickets holder of Broadway Across America in Indy, I was thrilled to find a well-known show (in English nonetheless!). It was held at a fancy church in Kigali and organized by an expensive private school, so it offered all of the amazing school production features like adolescent boy singing (eek), long pauses where nothing much happened because someone was slow on their costume change, and loads of giggling when Beauty and Beast had to smooch. In this particular production, the costumes were glorious (look at Mrs. Pots!), a child played the part of Chip’s dog-turned-footstool by lying on the middle of the stage for a scene, and Lumiere had a beautiful fake French accent that was just priceless. The best part might’ve been the fact that their stage curtains didn’t have working pulleys to open and close them, so at the end of every scene, two kids had to dash across the stage, trying not to run into each other as they dragged the curtains shut behind them.

I also happily celebrated my birthday in Kigali by having a big party thrown by my host family. The whole family came, including an uncle who I hadn’t seen for several years, and the evening included a lovely meal cooked by the one and only Maman Jimmy, surprise serenading by my singing/songwriting brother Yves, a delicious cake, and a nearly tearful speech.

We also celebrated Colin’s birthday with the Frisbee team, as well as the host fam and some of his work friends. Our Frisbee friend organized the whole thing at a local bar, including a special cake from the Kigali Ultimate team, a couple’s dance on the stage at the bar where everyone had the hilarious experience of watching Colin and “Mrs. Colin” dance, and some water thrown on Colin (for luck?) per Rwandan tradition.

In terms of work, I’ve been keeping busy at the health NGO, where I now exclusively spend my working hours. I’m not sure I mentioned this in a previous post but the jewelry job fell through and unfortunately has become a shit show of drama and headache that I’m trying to work through and move past. Sadly, bad management means bad implementation and I couldn’t stay with the project. The artisans still keep in touch, though, which is nice.

Currently at work I’ve been grappling with the new task of creating sexual and reproductive health (SRH) communications in a country that isn’t so open about SRH. For example, the other day I was given a project to create a leaflet about a current project we have that promotes human rights conversations and advocacy for the LGBTI community. I was told that I needed to include the objectives of the project, results, etc. but could not include anything about “human rights” or “LGBTI.” Essentially it was like, “Ok Leslie. Can you please create a brochure on human rights for LGBTI folks without mentioning human rights or LGBTI? Ok thanks.” I tried to get excited about the secret undercover nature of it all—let’s be sneaky so the government doesn’t know the details—but I admit that I often get frustrated that we can’t openly advocate for things as simple and inherent as human rights.

I also celebrated IDAHOT at work—International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. Being LGBTI isn’t criminalized in Rwanda, which is a huge win for the community, but long-held stigma means that local authorities don’t necessarily follow the rules. We get reports of LGBTI folks being beaten, unlawfully detained, denied employment and housing, and isolated by friends and family. But IDAHOT was a day of celebration that highlighted the accomplishments of the community and the progress made thus far. It was really special to be in a space where everyone felt comfortable being themselves and folks who are typically hidden and silenced got the chance to speak and share their talents. Can’t “out” anyone so there are no pictures unfortunately.

As much as I enjoy the projects I’ve been working on, the job is not sustainable due to poor management and a super frustrating work culture. I am pleased that I’m having the experience of working with an entirely local organization, though, and I’m trying to get the most out of my time there.

In more exciting news, my MindLeaps project is going really well! We’re in the middle of the pilot class and the youth are asking great questions and engaging with sexual and reproductive health topics. Last week we did a class on gender equity and did a fun relay race that included what are stereotypically considered “women’s tasks” as a catalyst for discussion about gender roles.

The MindLeaps Founder/Director likes the program so much that she wants to launch it at their other youth center in Guinea (West Africa)! I’ve started designing a teacher training and researching SRH in Guinea to start the expansion, and I’m super pumped about the opportunity. Guinea’s a completely different context—with 85% of the country practicing Islam, a law making homosexuality completely illegal, and 96% of the female population undergoing female genital mutilation—so it’s been fascinating learning about SRH in another place. I’ll definitely post updates as I learn more.

Sending love to everyone!

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Holly Hendrickson
Holly Hendrickson
3 years ago

Missed you two at Contra last pm! Thanks for the photos and update 🙂

Sue Wyss
Sue Wyss
3 years ago

MindLeaps sounds great. The future is always with the young. I do not know how you interpreted dishes as trash, but OK. hope you are having a fantastic trip to Italy.