Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Commemoration and Arusha, Tanzania

It has been hard to write about all of the experiences of the past month. After listening to appeal proceedings and appeals judgments at the ICTR in Arusha, I feel a bit more up to the task of writing what I have been seeing. April is the commemoration period for Rwanda. During the first week of commemoration in particular (7-14 April), there are many ceremonies to commemorate people killed during the genocide. Leading up to that week I went with a family as they recovered bodies from a sorghum field buried there after the genocide. They had been buried there by family but were now to be moved to a memorial where they could have a proper burial. After the genocide the family had only been able to bury their dead wrapped in tarp-like material. Upon recovery of the bodies there were still personal effects intact, such as the father of young man whose wallet was intact with ID card and license inside. Another woman had a rosary buried with her. There were debates also regarding whether to bring just the remains, or the remains and the clothing to the memorial. After recovery, there was a moment when bones were being washed that a young woman was washing the skull of her mother that stuck out in my mind. The bodies were transferred into two coffins and during commemoration week I went with the family to the reburial ceremony. A colleague attending the reburial with me thought that since there were 10 coffins the reburial was for 10 individuals, not realizing until later that the total number of all buried that day was 192 as multiple bodies are placed in individual coffins. Later in the month another friend of mine was excited that the remains of family members had finally been located after a perpetrator finally revealed the location of the mass grave. We were at the same restaurant when some of the family representatives and local officials were meeting to decide details related to burial and commemoration. It was a surprisingly jovial group considering they had been recovering some 53 bodies that day but then again, there seemed to be so much relief at having finally located the remains. During commemoration time there are requests to perpetrators to reveal the locations of bodies and this is a case where family had asked each year for many years. Another survivor I talked with took me to a memorial where she showed me her family that had been found but also told the pain of having to consistently ask about other family members to no avail, but hoping each year that someone would finally tell. 

In addition to reburials that take place during the commemoration time and requests for perpetrators to reveal the locations of remains, there are also mass commemorations. To open the commemoration week, a ceremony is held at the national stadium. The stadium was absolutely full by the time the event got fully underway. There were singers, and survivors giving testimony, and even a speech by the President of Rwanda. It was very moving, and during the ceremony it was clear how deep the pain was for people in the audience. When I first entered the stadium and saw lots of people in fluorescent vests I initially thought they were extra security and thought it might be a bit excessive. I quickly learned after loud screams emanating from different parts of the stadium that they were in fact there to respond to trauma and get the traumatized to counselors waiting outside the stadium near ambulances. This was to become a regular site at commemorations I attended elsewhere. Later that evening there was a walk to remember and a night ceremony at the stadium. This pattern seems more common in commemorations to which I have thus far been. Families, supporters and community members participate in a walk to remember and to fight genocide, and then gather in the evening to remember, lighting a symbolic fire at the beginning of the commemoration. This has explained even more why a friend of mine was asking initially if everything was alright at the Ethiopian restaurant when they had a bonfire during their Friday dinner buffet around which you could drink your coffee. The friend explained then that in Rwandan culture, a bonfire is only made when someone dies. Then people come and at night sit around it to keep warm and remember the lost loved one. At the commemorations this is recreated. The fire is lit, even in national stadium, at the beginning of the ceremony and the story of what happened to particular people or at a particular place is told. The hardest commemoration so far was probably Nyanza as it was a site of massacre so particularly traumatic for survivors of the place. I went with a friend who had lost family and it was very hard. I say this as an outsider without such experiences. That so many people are able to go to these commemorations at all is just amazing as I cannot even imagine how hard they must be to attend. I went with someone who can tell their story without wavering usually, but this night we had to leave early as the person found it too hard, saying that with the other trauma around it was hard to resist the person’s own trauma. 

The experience of going to the Nyanza commemoration greatly impacted my experience of attending the Ntabakuze appeals judgment today at the ICTR in Arusha, Tanzania. I arrived in Arusha on Sunday to attend the appeals judgment readings of Ntabakuze, Hategekimana, and Kanyarukuga today and to attend yesterday’s appeal hearing for Gatete. Ntabakuze in particular had been charged in connection to the massacre on Nyanza hill, as well as other massacres. He had been sentenced to life imprisonment, but one of the errors that the appeals found with the trial chamber was the lack of proof of direct command responsibility for the paramilitary troops at Nyanza as it seemed to the appeals chamber that the battalion was not confirmed to be Ntabakuze’s as opposed to the 2nd Battalion. With this and some other findings that lessened Ntabakuze’s culpability, the appeals court lessened the sentence to 35 years in prison. The other sentences for Hategekimana and Kanyarukuga were affirmed. It was notable that in the public audience, most if not all the Rwandans present were connected with the accused.
This morning starts my official visit to the ICTR and actual interviews. It has been good to have the time yesterday afternoon and evening to think about the court cases: one reduction of sentence, two confirmations of sentences; how one looks when one is told life imprisonment stands and the last appeal has been finalized; look of Ntabakuze as his lengthy appeal reasoning was read and as reduction from life to 35 years; consideration of the family of accused there; consideration of friends who had lost family; in general just lots to think about.

I have been strengthened to think on such things after the Andy’s visit. He came between the end of the commemoration week and the time that I came to Arusha. It was definitely a helpful time for him to come. Having him close after all the commemorations and burials really helped. I was able to take him to Mutara to meet my Rwandan family there (and so that he could learn the importance of milk as one is offered a huge glass of milk at every house one visits and it is extraordinarily rude to refuse amata meza in Mutara, the place where people still sing to their cows). The singing to the cows comment is something that shows the care and respect for the cow in certain places. It is very traditional to sing to the cow, and now at the king’s palace in Nyanza (the Nyanza in the south, not the Nyanza in Kigali) there is a herd of cows and a gentleman sings to one in front of visitors. In taking Andy to Nyanza, we continued on and saw the National Museum in Butare, but also shared in some commemorating activities with him as we went to the memorial in Murambi. To complete his experiences, he finally had akabenzi (a pork dish) and got to try sorghum beer. In all, he had his own mix of positive experiences during the trips as well as continuing to witness the potential people have for evil. 

Clearly, there has been a lot happening. In the coming week I will continue to explore the ICTR and Arusha. I expect an update on my experiences in Arusha will come in the following week or so. Until then, take care and kwa heri (“goodbye” in Swahili)!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Football/Soccer, Wedding, and Women's Month

Since I last wrote I went to my first live football/soccer game. In fact, I went to the game immediately after I submitted the last post. The game I attended was for the Africa Cup of Nations and was Rwanda against Nigeria. I think the expectation was that Nigeria would dominate, but the game ended in one of the fantastic things about football (I hope you notethe sarcasm here): a 0-0 tie. It seems that the next match is some time off. And there is talk of the next opponent being Malawi, though I have yet to confirm all of this information. It was fun though. I got there closer to starting time and apparently one of the things that starts on time here is football. The seats left were those behind the grandstand seats. Could still see, but behind everyone. Not at all crowded in the area we were sitting as most were squeezed into the other stands. All in all a pretty fun experience. One thing totally missing though was concessions. There was no selling of anything in the stadium: not food, drinks, or souvenirs. Some enterprising souls sold some snacks outside of the stadium, but that doesn't help much in the stadium. Maybe you are supposed to plan and bring snacks with you. Better yet I think you are supposed to wait to eat anything until later since it is quite rude to eat in public. Many options, but very different from sporting events in the U.S.

In other non-research related news, I also attended a friend's wedding. I went to my first Foursquare church for the wedding, and the reception was in a local hotel. There were two weddings at the same time at the church. My friend and his soon to be spouse chose unexpectedly wonderful colors: pink and teal. I wouldn't think of those together, but especially at the reception with the tropical flowers it actually worked quite nicely. I did have to take a picture of the car with the pink and teal ribbons attached (wedding cars have bows and sometimes even arrangements of flowers placed on them). Like the previous wedding, the reception had traditional dancers and sharing of cake and Fanta (all soda is referred to as Fanta here). It came to the time to give presents, and unlike the wedding I attended before, there was no opportunity for those who didn't want to give a speech to simply take presents up. Everyone who gave a present had to give a speech at this reception, so I gave my first public speech in Kinyarwanda. It was not very good, and read from notes sent by another friend, but I made it through. Unlike American weddings which have a table at the back for presents to be dropped off, Rwandan weddings (all two I have experience with) feature speeches by present givers followed by physically handing the presents to the bride or groom, depending on whose behalf you are attending. I told a gentleman sitting next to me some things that are done at American weddings and some that were done at our wedding. He was quite shocked about leaving the gifts without saying a word. He did get some good laughs though (some of disbelief) regarding traditions like the glass-clinging for a kiss, dancing to a DJ at the reception, and the garter belt removal by teeth.

In the research realm, this month is a great month because there are many events related to gender. With International Women's Day on March 8, and the entire month being dedicated to women and girls, the Rwandan government has also created themes to celebrate during each week of women's month. The overall theme throughout the month is "Turusheko Kubaka Ubushobozi bw'umugore n'umukobwa mu Guteza Imbere Umuryango" (Empower Women and Girls to Sustain Families). The first week focused on fighting malutrition ("Imirire myiza, ubuzima bwiza" - "Eat healthy, live healthy"). As Women's Day also fell during this time, the sector where I went for the Women's Day celebration also included a focus on healthy eating. There was of course traditional dancing, singnig, and speeches. In addition there was a sketch presented about domestic violence and the National Women's Council (CNF). There was also a participatory lecture/discussion on healthy eating, particularly for children and mothers. Andy would have been saddened by the discussion as it discouraged the making and eating of chips. The talk about healthy eating was followed by an example of a healthy meal as children and mothers present were given milk, eggs, bananas, passionfruit, tree tomatoes/Japanese prunes, avacado, and a mash of some sort with vegetables and beans. Additionally, poor families in each umudugudu were selected to receive addition healthy foods to take home with them so they could have a healthy meal that night. The rest of us were given corn and Fanta. I did get to have some interesting conversations. One in particular stands out regarding work and women. This was the first year the day was not a holiday in some time. Though the event I attended was at the sector level, there were not as many attendees as there undoubtedly could have been if work had been cancelled. One woman said that many Rwandan women have to work and so cannot come to celebrate a day for them (this was a great conversation for me as we talked for a good 30-45 minutes in only French and Kinyarwanda as she spoke no English). During the celebration a leader explained that the reason that work was not cancelled was because the government felt it was important for people to continue to work in order to develop the country rather than having too many days off. An interesting debate about how women's day should be celebrated.

Upcoming weekly themes for Rwanda Women and Girls Month are as follows (and of course updates on events will follow in later posts): promoting economic empowerment of women ("Kungahara Munyarwandakazi" - "Progress O women of Rwanda"), promoting girls' education ("Jijuka Munyarwandakazi" - "Educate a woman, educate a nation"), and finallly women and good governance ("Imiyoborere myiza, imibereho myiza" - "Good governance leads to good livelihood").

In other research connected news I have continued to have interesting interviews, and of course continue my writing in between getting sinus/ear infection. As you can see, things are continuing to go well here. Stay tuned to future posts to learn about St. Patrick's day celebrations in Kigali (assuming there are some) and events surrounding the other three themes of Rwanda Women and Girls Month.

Until next time, ugenda amahoro (go in peace)!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Iminsi myinshi!

It has again been a long time (iminsi myinshi – literally “many days”) since I have written. Everything is still great here. I love the opportunities this experience is giving me to learn more about Rwanda, and I especially love running around asking people about their views on gender, justice, and recovery. I know recovery is not the best word since one does not really recover from such things, but it is the closest I have found to imply continuing on with life after mass atrocity and suffering.
I think much like teaching took some time to be able to do well (or at least better than at the beginning stages), interviewing must take time to learn to do well. I feel I am finally getting better at interviewing and talking with new people about their ideas and experiences, though I of course still have much to learn. I have also been having some great interview experiences, including an interview in a parked car (though not in a dark alley so not as Dick Tracy as one might think). It is humbling that so many people are willing to offer their time to talk with me. I have had some amazing conversations! For more details see my forthcoming book. Actually, it will obviously be some time before something like that happens. I need to first write a dissertation, find a job, and more long before any book project starts. Just wanted to practice saying “forthcoming book” should I accomplish all the prerequisite tasks.

Despite getting better at interviewing, or perhaps only thinking I am getting better, I have not gotten better at navigating high level bureaucratic offices. These typically involve making the interview request at buildings with high security, needing to submit very specific letters of request (with revisions occasionally requested), and then waiting for responses. It always takes a lot of time, but it is one of the many reasons I am fortunate to have so much time here in the country. The research would be very difficult to do well without such time. Fortunately, in addition to having the benefit of time here, I also have a fantastic research assistant who is helping me schedule interviews in addition to translating and interpreting.

In addition to interviews, several things have kept me from writing more frequently. One of course is simply failing to write. Others though include the visit of my wonderful partner Andy, internet issues, and ongoing computer anti-virus program problems. The anti-virus problem should be fixed this weekend and the MTN network seems to be stabilizing, both for the phone and internet services. Andy’s visit went quite well and he, too, now really enjoys Rwanda. I showed him a bit of everything, and we also went to Gisenyi for my first trip out there. You can see lots of details of his visit at For those inspired by his blog to check out Rwanda, I HIGHLY recommend contacting Dr. Chantal Kalisa ( at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln regarding the summer study abroad. One does not have to be a current student to go. You can find out more information at (keeping in mind that the most recent information can be attained directly from Dr. Kalisa).

While the research and visits from my beloved have been great, the living situation has also continued to be good. I like getting to meet new people interested in gender from around the world. Since I last wrote, there have been guests from the U.K., U.S.A., Australia, Kenya, and South Africa. Today a returning German guest will arrive. This is a busy house but it is busy in a good way. It has been a bit quite lately as the woman in whose house I stay has started a trip to the UN Commission on the Status of Women and Canada. Also, very sadly, the houseworker decided it was time to focus on her own business after becoming a grandmother. Definitely understandable but she was great to talk to, despite our conversations being a mix of basic French, Kinyarwanda, and charades. The Kinyarwanda in particular is getting better though. Ndagerageza (I am trying).

In other happenings around the city, it seems that the rain is again trying to make sporadic appearances. It particularly does so when I have meetings or places to be. Last Thursday I was caught in an amazing rainstorm that had me completely soaked in a matter of minutes with little warning. It was also raining as I went to the book launch of Justine Mbabazi’s This is Your Time Rwanda ( The trek was most certainly worth it, as there was inanga (a traditional guitar-like instrument that looks like a body board -, traditional dancing (39 dancers in total), and interesting speeches. The inanga was traditionally played only by men but there is now a woman named Sophie plays the instrument. One song she performed talked about the rights of women in Rwanda. She would refer to times when husbands used to be able to beat their wives but said that now if they so much as shake a stick at her the police will be there. At the end of her performance she gave a speech talking about the change that has allowed her as a woman to play this instrument and her rights to participate in politics and elsewhere. After I read the book itself I will write a review of sorts.

As for travels outside the city, I got to take a particularly memorable trip to a village in the northeast called Mutaro. It was a very long ride out there, and I most certainly caused a stir as foreigners don’t often visit there. I visited the aunt of a friend, shared a meal and met the neighbors. I will go back later in March for a wedding. It was a great visit and a beautiful village (in which, as in much of the rest of the country, electricity and street lights were going up despite its seeming remoteness).

News I have heard from back home has been mixed. I sadly missed a milestone birthday for mom, but it sounds like her and my sister had a good time. I also heard from my dad about my aunt in the hospital. My thoughts are with her as she tries to recover. I did want to let everyone back home know I am thinking of you all, even though I have certainly not written enough.

With that brief overview of the last couple months, I will start getting ready to head out. Today is a big day as it is the second round of qualifiers for the World Cup I think. Whatever the specifics are, it is Rwanda playing Nigeria in the regional stadium rather than the national stadium by the house, which is getting renovations. This means I have to make it all the way to Nyamirambo and try to beat the crowds there. I will let you all know how it goes, especially as it will be my first live football/soccer game. I hope they will sell vuvuzelas, but somehow suspect that they will not. Future posts will also feature a lot about the women’s month celebrations here in Rwanda. Each week has a specific theme: malnutrition, women’s health, economic empowerment, and finally women in governance and decision-making. Also for those out there curious about the happenings of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, you can search for UNCSW on Facebook or Twitter, or you can go to These will have links to speeches, events, etc. As always, stay tuned for future, and hopefully more frequent, updates!

Ni aha ubutaha (till next time – nah-hooboo-tahhah)!