Adventures begin…

 Posted by Miriam Apter at 3:49 am  Rwanda
Jun 032012

6/3/12 5:00PM


Highlights since last post: I got my luggage, which was definitely a good thing. I have to say, it was my first time really experiencing the thought of if my luggage was lost, I was actually going to have an issue. Considering the fact that it  is recommended to only eat fruit with peels and I don’t have a kitchen accessible at all times to cook vegetables, and that the only food it seems that I can buy here is Pringles, Kashrut was looking a little daunting. The anxiety was minimal though because I figured either bananas would work for a month, and worst case scenario I always feel like there are some people in my life who would find a way to get a steak (or some cholent) 6000 miles away if I needed. But, luggage arrived, protein bars, tuna packets and all. Side note: Here’s a fun fact (h/t Tsufit, whose information has proven to be continuously accurate and valuable): Pringles that are Kosher are available in more remote and developing countries, they seem to be the thing that you can always count on.

Anyway… Friday was orientation where we were told the rules of the guesthouse, some common words in Kinyurwandan, we went out to pick up our phones, change money and most importantly (to me) see the genocide memorial inKigali-which is the main national memorial. Rules of the house include a curfew because there is someone who locks up at night. We were warned to not try to come back later and climb over the fence. “Because the police might see you climbing over, and think you are robbing, and then they might shoot you. By mistake. They don’t know you are meant to be here if you are climbing.” Note to self: no scaling fences. Good to know we have security. All joking aside on that, I know I have been saying this to my loved ones for months butRwandais known to be the safest country inEast Africa. One of my fellow volunteers was actually advised to come here instead ofSouth Africabecause it is safer here than there too.

While driving we also passed some Muzungoos (Kinyarwandan for foreigners- what we are referred to as). They were walking on the grass on the side of the street, an area called the compound of a main intersection. Claire, our main guide and one of the people running FVA, the organization I am working with, called out to them that “you cannot walk on the compound. They will arrest you.”

Note to self #2: Don’t walk on the grass.

Going to the memorial was something that I was eager to do, and hope to do again before I leave. It was fascinating to go through the museum both with the perspective of my own research on the genocide, the comparison to the Holocaust museums I have been to, and the Politics of Memory course that I took this past semester. The museum was created with a design that was in many ways similar to Yad Vashem, though possibly more aligned with the USHMM, in regard to the educational content. It began with a portrayal of life inRwandaas it used to be, the culture, the music and the joy. As you walk through the museum you see the history of the genocide and the background of it, starting with the Belgian colonization and through the planning and initial stages of the genocide. It also goes through world responses, and there was a focus on the UN’s lack of assistance, and the small amount of support that could have stopped the genocide. Another interesting piece that differed from Yad Vashem, was that they used the effect of lighting throughout the museum. The rooms were extremely bright when the exhibits discussed the culture ofRwanda, and were progressively darker with an eerier, redish tinge in the rooms about the atrocities, with a brightness (but different from the first room) when the exhibits depicted the recovery.

The most harrowing was a room that had pictures of children, and next to each child it would say facts about them, such as their age, favorite food, favorite color, favorite pastime, and then would say their last words, and how they were killed. There was also a room with walls and walls of pictures that were provided by family members. There were many Rwandans in the museum of all different ages, and many of them were sobbing as they walked through. I also saw them looking at the pictures, looking through them, in a way that was clear that they were looking for faces they knew.

I was told another piece that I found interesting. The movie “Hotel Rwanda” is apparently not looked at fondly by all Rwandans, as some say that the hero depicted took money for the people he saved- the film it seems has stirred a controversial discussion that I am quite familiar with in the context of Schindler and the way he was depicted in “Schindler’s List”.

We got back barely in time for Shabbat, I lit candles and had my Shabbat meal while the other volunteers had dinner. Special for Shabbat was some dried meat in wraps. It was very exciting. Shabbat day I went for a walk to explore the area with the other volunteers, that passed the time, and Shabbat went very smoothly.

Today was also pretty relaxed, as we are just waiting to get settled and started. Tomorrow we head to Gisyeni, a three hour drive away, which is where the other volunteer center is. That is where I’ll be based, and starting work hopefully on Monday or Tuesday.

I think that covers the last few days. More to follow!



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