It has been almost a month since I last posted. Many apologies! I have been quite busy, and have lots to update on, including many new experiences.
I went to my first Rwandan wedding a couple weeks ago. It was the wedding of a friend's cousin. There is a really complicated way to understand family relationships. To go to the wedding there was a special umuganda so we couldn't leave town until later. It was alright though, and the wedding right before the one we attended was a military wedding for someone that seemed pretty high up, complete with military band and sword arch. The wedding I attended was great! I was worried at first that perhaps the bride and groom were sad to be there, or at least not very happy about it. I was told that being serious requires not smiling. During the wedding ceremony there was really interesting discussions of how to treat each other with respect and how true Christian love would prevent people (husbands and wives and people in general) from treating others badly, with the priest also citing the well known example of Hutus and Tutsis during 1994. The reception was much more relaxed than the ceremony in the church. There were separate seats for the distinguished family members on each side, and many speeches. Particularly interesting was a speech from the bride's father saying that she was muzirankoni - meaning one who cannot be beaten, and stressing that she needed to be treated right and the couple needed to visit both families, his and hers. The father of the groom assured everyone that theirs is a good family that doesn't even like to take beer, they like milk. Also, he said that they have ways of settling conflicts and disputes that do not involve fighting or violence, and emphasized that their family's men always treated women properly. He assured everyone that the bride would be well treated by his son. It was a very interesting conversation: a GBV (gender-based violence) prevention discussion during the reception. Very interesting. After these speeches there was sharing of soda and cake, and gift-giving to the couple. At least two cows and a car was said to be given to the couple, and the bride's university class visited and brought gifts as a group. Rather than just leaving gifts by a table, one is supposed to walk up in front of everyone and give the gift, which meant I too had to walk up with my wedding cart and say congratulations. It was a great time, and allowed me to see the AVEGA (an organization for widows of the genocide - http://www.avega.org.rw/English.html) headquarters in Rwamagana since the reception was held there.
Another thing I have done is learn more of Nyamirambo as I have made a friend that is also without her partner right now. I really enjoy Nyamirambo. I would honestly have to say that if my current living situation weren't so perfect I would go get a place in Nyamirambo. It is a more energetic part of town with lots going on, lots of people, lots of colorful shops, buildings and buses. It's a very fun part of town that I suspect will be Andy's favorite while he is here. Notable places include Green Corner which is famous for fish and inkoko (chicken). And when you get a chicken they give you a chicken. It is quartered but it is all there for you, and very tasty. I was also taken to a juice shop that has a fruit dish from Mombasa, Kenya with pieces of pineapple and citrus fruits all in avocado juice. When it was described to me, despite my love of avocado juice I was quite uncertain about how good it would be. Surprisingly, it was incredibly good!
Other good places I have found to eat include Mr. Chips. Absolutely awesome if one is craving fried chicken! The fried fish and burgers are also supposed to be very good. For a lot of local food though I still enjoy the delicious meals offered in our house and buffets. Another buffet close to the house is quite cheap and includes drink and dessert. So overall I am eating quite well! I have also gone to Come Again and finally tried Akabenzi - a pork dish that I have heard a lot about since the last time I was in Rwanda. It was pretty good. I'm still going to have to say that brochette ihene is still my favorite (goat brochette - kind of like shish kabob without so many vegetables).
I also got a chance to meet Rwandan students that have been granted Fulbright scholarships to study in the United States. That was a really great experience as Rwandan alumni of the program and Americans in the room talked about American culture and things to expect, etc. It was interesting to think about my experiences here in Rwanda and then consider how a Rwandan might experience America once there.
In addition to interviews, meetings, and meals, I have also attended a couple conferences (of which there are many always happening in Kigali). One I attended was the second day of the Kigali International Conference African Security Organs Annual Review Meeting on the Prevention of Violence against Women and Girls. There were representatives from many countries present including Botswana, Burundi, Central African Republic, DRC, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia, as well as Eritrea and South Sudan as observers. There was a lot of representation from RDF (Rwanda Defense Forces) and RNP (Rwanda National Police). They took us all on police vans to visit RDF gender offices that dealt with gender and GBV concerns located at the Ministry of Defense as well as the RNP headquarters GBV office. There are also smaller versions in local police stations, as I have seen in my local police station. At the end of the conference, recommendations were discussed and agreed upon. This involved posting the recommendation Word document on a projector and everybody debating about them. It was really fascinating to see the ways people debated and argued about the recommendations, finally coming to an agreement.
I also to a conference with the invitation of IBUKA (a word meaning remember, this organization is a survivors organization - http://www.ibuka.rw/) on trauma counseling which featured the publication of a report of counseling offered during gacaca (a local form of community justice). This was extremely interesting and allowed me to meet more people involved with gacaca as well as student groups of survivors, and other researchers focused on trauma and gacaca. It also again highlighted the challenges of transitional justice, local justice, care services like trauma counseling, and recovery in general.
As for the holidays, there is no need to worry because there are plenty of people here making sure that I feel at home! There's lots of interesting things going on around Kigali for the holidays. Holiday reggae show, a place for kids to go and do kid stuff, special discount on Ethiopian buffet, some football games, a traditional dance show, and many gatherings. I spent part of Christmas Eve with a friend and we went to one of the nice hotels in Kigali. It had a choir set up by the very elaborate pool and garden area and the entire hotel was decorated beautifully. I will go to a Christmas dinner this afternoon with a few friends.
I do have to say that the reggae wasn’t holiday songs or anything. It just happened during the holidays. I really loved the band – Holy Jah Doves (their songs are available on youtube and samples are at http://www.rafikirecords.com/artists/jah-doves)! It was a shaky start the first song or two, but then once they got going it was really good. They started with some popular Bob Marley songs, but then moved into Kinyarwanda reggae written by the band which was a mix of reggae and traditional Rwandan sounds. Really amazing. And the crowd and bar was great. It is a place that serves pizza, but since we were full from Ethiopian buffet we will try the pizza another time. The Ethiopian buffet was fantastic! In addition to great food (and of course, my favorite: doro wat), the buffet included coffee ceremony and a bonfire in the yard.
I didn’t make it to the football game yesterday, but may go see one on Monday. I was not particularly worried about it since they are friendly practice games rather than games with opposing teams. Instead I went to lunch yesterday and while eating outside on the covered patio, got to see my first hail in Rwanda. It was a crazy little raincloud (there were other places with sun while hail was falling by us. It didn’t last too long but interesting nonetheless.
Other new experiences included planting a bit of eggplant with a really friendly woman I met at the home of an acquaintance, getting to see some new villages, helping judge a youth essay and poster contest hosted by USAID and the American Embassy during the 16 days of activism against GBV (http://www.unwomen.org/infocus/16-days-of-activism-against-gender-violence/), watching a woman’s football game after the 16 days march played between women in government institutions and women in civil society organizations (and during the march, police and military join in with other organizations marching to show their support for the fight against GBV), and being able to introduce myself in Kinyarwanda to a group of rural women just outside Kigali learning to read and write. Kinyarwanda lessons are reaching their end, but I was able to get enough to do introductions, numbers, market bargaining, and the like.
The house will soon become bustling as more people start arriving. The woman I am living with will have a busy house in January. Should make things even more interesting as Andy is here since he'll get to meet many people and experience the business of a full house in full swing.
I have given up more or less on the early morning swimming. Maybe when it is not so rainy and cold at night it will be alright to get up early and swim. Or I just have to commit. I will still go every once in awhile (as regular as a schedule allows) to swim in the afternoon, and still do sauna time since that seems to really help a lot. A lot of the exercise now is walking everywhere. Between the healthy food and walking I'm doing quite well. And of course I have been continuing to meet with many great people and trying to make sure that I continue work on all projects while here.
So as you can see, things have been quite busy! In the future, I will be sure to update this blog at least once a week. Until next time, noheri nziza (Merry Christmas), Happy Chanukah, Happy Kwanza, and in general happy holidays!