The Visits Begin

Today was my first day of meetings and the first time I felt
like I was making real headway in my work.
I started off the day at Ibuka, a local non profit for survivors of the
genocide, which acts as an umbrella organization for fifteen other
organizations.  I had the opportunity to
meet with the executive director who took an immense amount of time to explain
the work that the organization does, and how things are now since the
genocide.  He also allowed me to record
the interview, so I could just focus on our conversation.  I have yet to transcribe it, but once I do I
will write something about our conversation.

Ibukas offices are located at one of the mass grave sites,
where about 11,000 people are buried.
They are interned in the same grey concrete rectangles that appear at
the main genocide site.  They are sterile
and do not emit much of a reaction usually.
Today, however, a local school was holding an event at the burial
grounds.  When I walked out of the Ibuka
offices I saw almost a hundred students filing out of the space.  Some of them were composed, whereas others
were huddled to the ground overcome with emotion.  I noticed there were certain individuals in
yellow vests, that were there to comfort and aid students who were emotional.

 On my way out I stopped a man, who appeared to be a teacher,
named James, and asked about the event.
He said that starting April 7th, the school holds nearly two
months worth of different remembrance activities and events.  He then asked what I was doing in Kigali,
which led to an onslaught of further questioning.  It turns out he had gone to primary school
with the director that I had been meeting with.
It turns out he is the accountant for the school, and when he is not
working there he is a taxi driver.  He
offered to give me a ride back to town.
I accepted.  I figured it would be
more efficient, since I was late for my next meeting, and he gained legitimacy
through his position in the school and his friendship with the director.  We walked back to his car, where it became
clear the emotional students were waiting.

 Here in Rwanda, they have a word for these moments of trauma
or grief.  They call them traumatisme,
and it refers to when a survivor is so overcome with pain, emotion, and
suffering that they lose control of themselves.
I had read about this in my research, but to see people so physically
and emotionally ripped by grief was shocking.
I did the math and James drove a
5 seat car, and there were four young women experiencing traumatisme, who were
already filling the seats.  Joseph then
went to move one of the women from the front, into the backseat.  He offered me the passenger seat, I tried to
refuse, saying the women were upset and I did not want to intrude, but he
insisted.  I was treading the line
between offending him and massively infringing on these women’s privacy.  I got in the car and immediately regretted
it.  I felt like a white western voyeur
to these women’s pain.  We reached the school.  I asked Joseph if he could apologize for me,
he laughed and said that they were fine.

 At this point I was ten minutes late for my next
meeting.  I called the secretary and
asked her to pass along the message that I was stuck due to unforeseen
circumstances.  Then Joseph said there
was another woman back at the burial site with traumatisme and we would need to
go fetch her.  We went back again, I was
now thirty minutes late and sincerely wishing I had taken a cab.  

 We finally reached the school the second time and James
dropped off the other women.  He then
spoke very briskly some of them and turned to me with smile asking about our
destination.  One thing I have noticed
when traveling, is that even with a language barrier, the intention of words is
not lost.  This man exhibited a kind of
situational kindness that I had seen before and always unnerves me.  He was overly nice to me a foreigner, in
English, but when he spoke to Rwandans and switched to his mother tongue the
attitude changed.  Either way he was my
ride to my next meeting.  

We talked in a mix of English and French and during the
conversation he admitted that I was the first white person he had ever spoken
to.  He was excited to practice his
English and he kept thanking me for taking the time to listen to me.  He asked to exchange numbers so that he could
be my regular taxi man whenever I needed a ride.  I exchanged numbers, but was hesitant to
enter a business deal.  During the rest
of the conversation, he invited me to his home for a meal, and then asked if I
was single because he had two sons.  We
arrived at the final destination of the “free ride” and then I asked if he
needed money for gas, which is the expectation here.  He then asked for money equivalent to two
taxi rides.  I agreed and headed to my
next meeting, an hour late.  I don’t
think I plan on following up with him

 I walked into the genocide archives at the main museum and
began looking for the man I was supposed to meet.  I was told that he was in the cafeteria.  I walked up and introduced myself, to which
he replied he had been waiting a long while.
My message did not reach him.  I apologized
got some lunch of my own and waited for him to finish his meal.  When he was done he came to join me and I
apologized again.  He is busy with work,
and it was totally reasonable for him to be frustrated. After a few minutes of
conversation, thankfully, it seemed as though he forgave me and warmed up to
our conversation.  

He is the manager of the archives at the genocide center,
and he had offered to help me track down some files, such as perpetrator
testimonies and confessions.  He was very
knowledgeable and willing to talk about his experience.  At one point we were discussing the
difference between the older and younger generations of survivors.  He said “if my parents were alive” they would
probably have more resentment and anger than he does.  It struck me, the informality in which people
approach loss here.  In the US, becoming
an orphan is an event and something that does not enter into conversation
lightly, but here, like other places that have experiences mass extermination,
it is a part of an odd normalcy.  

Later in the conversation he told me that soon they will be
launching a new website that offers a virtual tour of the center.  Once this is available I will share it with
you all.  I also asked him if I had any
hope of tracking down the 1991 census, which was the last one taken before the
genocide.  He said no.  He said that archivists in Rwanda do not even
have access to that document and that the government classified it.  He then went on to explain that the census in
1991, was less about understanding the population and more about mapping the
location of the Tutsis in the country in preparation for the genocide.  It was a simple tactic that had never
occurred to me, that a census could be used as mapping mass murder.

Checking my Privilege

I woke up early this morning to prepare for my first
meeting.  I had realized yesterday that I
did not have the address for the office and it was not available online, so I
emailed the gentleman I was meeting with for the details.  Then this morning, I showered dressed, and
headed to the coffee shop for my daily 30 minutes of wifi (which costs about
$0.80).  I had no email from him, so I
called the number I had listed, and he said something had come up and he needed
to postpone our meeting until the afternoon.  Now with no plans for the day I ordered a
coffee and caught up on emails.  This
coffee shop has a distinct ex-pat vibe, and to my right there was a table of
about seven young Americans, and one woman in her 40s, who were discussing some
sort of volunteer program.  I swallowed
my pride and went over to interrupt their conversation.  I learned they are with a non-profit in the
area that is pioneering a new style of youth entrepreneurship.  It sounded like an interesting model, so I
asked if I could stop by their offices sometime next week,

Then I received a mysterious text in Kinyarwandan, which the
waitress translated.  It read “Sorry for
the delay, I will call you at 10.” I didn’t recognize the number, and was
puzzled by the language barrier, but I figured I would wait to see the product
of the message.  I walked back up to the
house, and retired to my room and my book.
I sat for an hour waiting for a phone call from the unidentified number
or contact from the non-profit I was meant to meet with.  Nothing happened.  My dad warned that this might happen, when
you go to a country with no contacts, relying on cold calls, you are destined
to be rescheduled, and stuck by a phone waiting for a call.  

 I thumbed through my activities for the week and decided to
go parliament, the Belgian Peacekeepers Memorial, and Hotel des Milles Collines
(the hotel from Hotel Rwanda).  I called
a taxi and in the now familiar mix of French and English I explained where I
was trying to go and we agreed upon a price.
Then I was privy to an abnormality that I cannot yet explain.  So in Kigali, you tell the taxi driver your
destination, then you haggle a price (which is always higher for foreigners),
and then you are taken to your destination.
Fifty percent of the time, in my experience so far, it becomes apparent
part way through the ride that the driver has no idea where he is going.  He will assertively drive to one destination,
realize it is incorrect, then drive in a haphazard route, stopping other taxis
and showing them the slip of paper on which I have written my destination.  It is a peculiar practice, since I am, so
far, headed to major tourist destinations, and the drivers make no additional
money from this exercise.  There are of
course the few who have tried to double the fare at the final destination,
which then results in a second more heated round of haggling.

I digress, this mornings cab driver took me not to the
Belgian peacekeepers Monument, but the Belgian embassy.  I then asked him to go to Milles Collines
instead, which was a recognizable monument.
I got out of the cab and was greeted by the hotels strict security.  I explained that I was trying to go to
Monument, but had taken an inadvertent detour, and the guard explained that it
would be a thirty minute walk, so he offered to hail a cab and give very
specific instructions to go to the Monument and then Parliament directly after,
for one total price.  I asked the guard
if I could wander around the property while he found a cab, he agreed.   (I have noticed that as a white American, I
am afforded the privilege of immediate trust by most security.)  The hotel, which is still in operation,
looked like most any other high-end hotel in a developing country.  The only discernable difference was a small
monument (in a corner of the parking lot) to the hotel staff who died in
defense of the hotel during the genocide.
It was the first place I visited where the history of the genocide was
not wildly displayed.  

I got in the new cab and headed to the Belgian Peacekeepers
Monument, which was of course closed.
There was some sort of government meeting next door, so the entire area
was shut down.  A police officer told me
it would probably e five minutes longer, but could easily be thirty.  I thanked him and decided with a cab waiting,
and haggling ahead of me, I would come back later.  Next it was off to parliament.

Now I read online that parliament is closed to the public,
but I wasn’t sure if that meant the entire property or just the buildings
themselves.  The buildings are famous,
since they are scarred and pocked with bullet holes, which were left to serve
as a reminder of the past to the government.
I decided to operate on the assumption that I could enter the complex,
and approached the security desk with a level of confidence, that in many cases
is only afforded to Americans.  Turns out
none of the guards spoke English or French beyond a few simple phrases, and
they kept asking who I was meeting with.
I filled out a form with my name and number, handed over my ID, and
after some hand gestures and smiles I was granted entrance.  I walked around the property and took
pictures of the buildings, as well to a large monument on the center of the
property to the RPF Soldiers (tutsti militia).
I left, collected my ID, thanked the guards, still unclear on whether or
not my visit was actually legal.

 With a new found sense of assertiveness I hopped in a cab
and headed back to the neighborhood where I am living, where there is a long
avenue with the offices for all of the major non-profits.  There is one organization which I emailed
with when I was in the US, but since arriving in Kigali my emails to them have
bounced back and their phone lines were unavailable.  So I grabbed lunch at a near by restaurant
and then walked up to the large gated building and rang the doorbell.  The guard opened the door and waved me in
with a slight bow from the waist.  I
walked into the main office, and was able to sort out the communication error
with the receptionist.

 I exited the office and headed home for the day.  Walking back, I thought about the doors that
have opened for me without issue here in Rwanda.  I think it is incredible to recognize the
privileges given to me, because of my skin color and nationality.  My research and work is of course
challenging, but simplified by basic characteristics of my existence.  When studying genocide and social prejudice,
I resent how people make decisions to hate or love groups of people based on
intractable aspects of their identity.
So it is important to recognize this same method of social grouping is
what allows me to ring the doorbell at a major non profit, enter the premises
of a private hotel, or wander around parliament.  

The Memorial Center: Additional Exhibits

The rest of the museum was broken into two portions.  The first discussed other genocides through
history  When I walked in there was a
large plaque with the UN definition of genocide, and then a disclosure saying
not all of the events described in the exhibit were recognized by the UN as
genocides.  Next to that was a very
familiar face, Raphael Lemkin, a Holocaust survivor who invented the word
genocide.  I have known his work for
years now, and read his books.  I smiled
when I saw his picture, an odd thing to do in a genocide museum, and felt some
sort of deep reassurance, that in all this madness and suffering I was still
able to recognize some of the good guys.

First it discussed and detailed the Armenian genocide,
specifically focusing on Turkish denial.
Then it moved on to the unrecognized genocide in Nigeria in 1904, during
which the German colonialists executed the Herero and Nama populations.  Admittedly this is something I know very
little about.  I learned that the German
killed 80% of the Herero population and 50% of the Nama population.  The German government has yet to recognize
the events as genocide or provide any forms of reparations.  Interestingly enough, Herman Goerring’s
parents were involved in the events in Nigeria.

The next two rooms talked about the Holocaust.  It was very interesting to see a history I
know so well described in a foreign country.
One room in particular was dedicated Treblinka and the death camps.  There was something almost surreal to see a
map of Treblinka, and an overview of the death camp process in Rwanda.

The next room detailed Cambodia and the final room discussed
Bosnia.  More and more, the pictures I
see in museums are places I have actually stood.  It is interesting to see how different
countries recount the histories of other.

The final exhibit, focused on the child victims of the
genocide.  It was simple with large
photographs of children, with their name above, and below a plaque, which
described their likes, dislikes, and how they died.  The surviving family members decided what
went on the plaque.  They were totally
disorientating.  The ages ranged from 9
months to seventeen years old.  The short
descriptions really highlights their innocence with the brutal manner in which
they were killed.  For example David
Mugiraneza’s plaque read:

·     
Age: 10

·     
Favorite Sport: Football

·     
Enjoyed: Making people laugh

·     
Dream: Becoming a doctor

·     
Last Word: “UNAMIR will come for us!”

·     
Cause of Death: tortured to death

There were dozens like that in the exhibit and thousands
more which go undocumented.  The final
room talked about children who survived, how they were coping, and their hope
for the future.  It tried to end on an
uplifting note for the future of the country, but my mind was occupied by the
children in the room behind me.  

The Memorial Center: The Genocide

As I walked in the main museum at the Genocide Memorial
Center, I focused on breathing.  I wasn’t
sure what I was going to encounter and I wanted to take in as much as
possible.  There are three exhibits in
the museum: one about the genocide, about other genocides in history, and about
the child victims.  I walked down a set
of stairs into the first exhibit, which catalogues the genocide.  The first portion explained the history of
the country and the colonization by the Germans and Belgium.  Prior to their arrival there were over twelve
different tribes in Rwanda, who cohabitated peacefully.  The colonialists simplified this into three
major ethnic groups the Hutu, Tutsi and the Twa (pygmy minority).  They then assigned strict physical
characteristics to these groups and assigned social power to the Tutsis.  

Next the exhibit discussed Rwandan independence and the
escalation of violence since that period.
This led to a civil war in 1990, between the Hutu militias and the
Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF).  During
this time thousands were killed and ethnic tensions escalated.  The Hutu leadership began laying the
groundwork for an ethnic cleansing.  Then
in 1994, Hutu President Harabiyama’s plane was shot down on its way back from
Burundi.  The Hutu extremists blamed the
Tutsis for the incident, and used it as a catalyst for the genocide.  The mass and systematic executions over the next
one hundred days highlight that this genocide has long been planned and was not
a sporadic event. During this time over 1,000,000 people were killed.  

The exhibit discussed various responses to the
violence.  It highlighted the
international communities silence and inaction, and how France at one point had
funded arms for the Hutu militia.  It
discussed the work of Romeo Dellaire, the UN lt. General who cabled New York,
demanding additional troops and aid, but was rejected.  It also discussed the heroic acts of both
Hutus and Tutsis who protected people during the war, such as one Hutu women
who was known for her witchcraft, so she hid Tutsis on her property and when
the Interhwahme came she told them not to come on her property or they would be
cursed. 

Then right next to portion about the helpers, there was a
glass panel that read “He who saves a single life, saves the world.” It’s a
passage from the Talmud, which I heard many times growing up, but that I was
surprised to see here in Kigali.  In the next
room was a stain glass window, which represented the struggle during the
genocide, and the option the international community had to do something, but
ignored.  The son of a Holocaust survivor
created it.  

The next portion of the exhibit discussed the reconciliation
process, the gacaca courts, the orphans, and the trauma that the population
experienced.  One image state that “A
National Trauma Survey by UNICEF estimated that 80% of Rwandan children
experienced a death in the family in 1994, 70% witnessed someone being killed
or injured, and 90% believed they would die.”
I didn’t know what to do with that piece of information.  I cannot imagine a reality where 70% of
children have witnessed some extreme forms of violence, and the long term
mental issues this would create.  In the
end the exhibit discussed the hope for the future and the things that still
need to happen in the country.   

The exhibit opened into a large circular room with large
wooden sculptures of figures in movement, three smaller rooms surrounded the
main piece.  I pressed the last button on
the audio guide, for this portion, and the British voice forewarned that I was
about to see photos, hear testimonies, see human remains, and artifacts. I keep
thinking Ill get used to this part of my work, but my heart started to beat
faster, as I turned into the first room which had six triangular apses.  Each apse had rows of string with photographs
clipped to them. The photos were dedicated by surviving family members.  I felt their eyes looking at me, some had
names attached and some didn’t.  I sat
down on a bench and watched the screen in the room, which had rolling footage
of survivors talking about their families.
Most of them had lost all of their relatives, one woman said she had
sixty relatives before the genocide, and five survived.  

Then there was this man talking about his mother, he said
his mother was his greatest love and that during the war he started to run out
of food.  At this point he started to
cry, he said his mother had snuck to his home, and apologized that she could
only find so little, then she handed him vegetables and passion fruit (which
are a common here).  His mother told him
to eat the fruit so he could be strong, then she said she loved him, and
left.  That was the last time he saw his
mother, and he said today he still cant eat passion fruit, because it reminds
him of his mother.  This broke me a
little.   It reminded me that genocides are not made up
of monsters and victims, but people just like me, just like you. The reality of
a mothers love, is no different in Rwanda, than anywhere else in the
world.  These are very human, painful,
intimate stories of suffering.

I walked into the next room, where the remains were kept,
and was suddenly thankful that I had the museum to myself.  There were seven glass cases, with
immaculately cleaned, and neatly organized remains.  Three contained bones from legs, and each of
the other four held twenty-four human skulls, arranged in orderly rows of eight.  This time I got emotional in a pure and
involuntary sort of way.  Tears started
to stream down my face, my heart beat fast, and I choked over my breath.  It didn’t make sense, looking at these pieces
of humans, the skulls gorged and broken by machetes, and the legs marked with distinct
scratches.  It felt physically painful to
look at, and at the same time I felt really obligated to stare at them and
commit the image to memory.  These were
people who had torturous painful deaths, done to them by people from their own
communities.  

I messily wiped the tears away with the back of my hand and
walked into the next room.  This
contained artifacts which were found with the bodies in the mass graves.  I was managing to get myself together, when I
saw a little blue vest, which could not have belonged to a boy older than
three, then hanging behind the vest was a superman bed sheet.  I imagined the little boy, clutching his
sheet, being taken to his death.  The tears
returned.  I sat down on the bench in the
room, placed my head in my hands and let the little drops of water hit the
ground.  After a few minutes I got up,
took my photographs, and as I walked out of the main exhibit I saw one more
quote on the wall by a survivor which read “When they said ‘never again’ after
the Holocaust, was it meant for some people and not others?” The words clawed
at my conscious and I thought to myself, this is why I am here, this is why I
came, this is why I need to stay.

The Memorial Center: Grounds & Gardens

When I was planning out my first few days here in Rwanda, I
thought I would go to the Genocide Memorial Center on my first day here.  My mother disagreed.  She recommended I take a day to understand my
surroundings, get my footing, and process my arrival in the country.  I didn’t listen.  It was a shocking way to start my time here,
and a good introduction to what I expect to experience in the next two weeks.  Here, and in the future I will try to
describe what I saw with as little melodrama as possible, since these events
need no exaggeration.

After catching up on emails and notifying friends and family
of my safe arrival, I made my way to the Center.  I walked into the main reception desk and was
greeted by a very friendly man.  He
explained the museum itself was free, audio guides cost 6,000 rwf and donations
were welcome.  I purchased an audio
guide, he handed me a map, and pointed me towards my first stop, which was an
overview of the museum.  After the
introduction ended, the British voice in my ear instructed me to head towards
the mass graves.  I took a deep breath
and headed down the steps.  There were
long rows of cement rectangles, under which a total of 250,000 unidentified
remains were interred.  It was hard to
have a reaction looking at the cement, since it looked so mundane and
unornamented.  I walked further and saw
the wall of names.  There  were only a few hundred names on the list,
since as the audio guide explained, it was impossible to identify all of the
bodies.  Next to the wall of names was an
eternal flame, which like in many other places, burns as a relentless reminder
of the genocide.  From the wall of names
I followed the length of the graves until the path split.

Down a short set of stairs was a small forest.  The audio guide explained the trees had been
planted by surviving relatives as memorials.
This image reminded me, that during the genocide the interhamwe (Hutu
militia) came over the radio and announced that they must “cut down all the
tall trees,” referring to the tutsi men, who were stereotypically tall.  Now stood hundreds of tall trees, growing as
a reminder of the men who were killed.  

I continued down the path, past more graves, and I was
confronted with a sign that said open burial ahead.  I stood still and tried to prepare
myself.  As I walked forward, I could see
one of the graves was covered with a glass panel, instead of cement.  My hands started to shake, and I was unsure
of what I would see.  I walked up and saw
that it was a large flag with a cross on it, a cloth that is traditional used
to cover coffins during burial ceremonies.
I could not see any remains.  I
felt a little light headed and realized I hadn’t been breathing.  I sat down for a moment in front of the open
grave and just breathed.  Once again,
like in Bosnia, I found myself muttering “I’m so sorry.”

 Next the audio guide took me through the gardens of the
Museum.  There are about seven different
gardens, all thoughtfully curated to represent a different aspect of
remembrance.  The first is the garden of
life, which has a large tree in the center and is dedicated to the women of
Rwanda.  Then there is garden, which has
flora from each of Rwanda’s main provinces.
There is a garden of cacti that represent the strength and resilience of
the Rwandan people, even when the international community was absent.  A garden of roses, which represents all of
those killed during the genocide.  There
are hundreds of different varieties of rose to represent the unique
individuality of all those who were killed.
Then there is a garden with a fountain, that represents the strong and
powerful history of the nation, this fountain trickles down into a second pool,
which is very fragmented.  This is called
the garden of division and it represents the hatred and separation which lead
to the genocide.  The garden is
surrounded by many different sculptures and statutes, the most prominent of
which is the statues of elephants, since they are known for their memories,
they are a reminder that Rwanda will never forget its past.  Finally there was the garden of unity, which
was also connected to the original fountain, this time there was once circular
pool, which was built with a pile of rocks, showing how individuals have helped
to rebuild Rwanda.  

The garden set the stage for the museum and after sitting by
the garden of division for a moment, I headed inside.   

Thoughts on Photographs

As someone who studies genocide and is very interested in
visiting the places where it has occurred I have mixed feelings on
photographs.  I was first confronted with
this issue when I was fifteen and visited the concentration camps.  We were in the oldest standing graveyard in
Poland, a place that my step dad has told me about before my trip, and I took
out my camera since I wanted to show him a picture.  I figured it would be a long time before he
made the trip.  I heard two of my peers
behind me, who were seventeen at the time, whisper how disrespectful it was to
take pictures and that they couldn’t understand why I would do that.  I said nothing, embarrassed, and returned the
camera to my bag. 

Looking back, that was extremely rude on their part.  In some ways I understand where they are
coming from, taking pictures at mass graves, or sites of major atrocities can
seem offensive and distasteful.  It is
especially bad if you are only looking through the lens of your camera and not
embracing the experience.  Sometimes
people walk through something very quickly, and snap a few pictures just move
on.  When this frustrates people I
totally understand.  

I do however want to make an argument in favor of taking
pictures at genocide sites (especially before I post my own).  When facing the history of genocide, I
believe the best thing I can do is to bear witness and to tell people about
what I have experienced.  I am very lucky
to have the opportunity to travel, in that time I have visited three sites of
genocide from the 20th century.
Places I know that many people will never have the opportunity to
visit.  When I take a picture, I do it
after I have read, examined, and internalized everything before me.  A picture is the last step, a final thought
in a deep process.  A picture may seem
voyeuristic or wrong to some, but since visiting that graveyard in Poland, I
have also come to appreciate the importance of documentation.  So I will continue to take pictures of these
places that I visit and post them, so that people might better share in these
experiences.

The Next Adventure

I have a month of adventures in Copenhagen to catch up on,
but I just arrived in Rwanda, so lets start there. In the past I have been
complimented on my, shall we say, ballsy-ness when it comes to international
travel.  Spending two weeks in Rwanda
solo is definitely abnormal activity for a twenty year old.  I am usually able to operate with high levels
of confidence and independence, but every once in while I get unsettled.  

After twenty plus hours of travel, I arrived in the Kigali
airport last night.  For the last hour of
my flight I spoke with my seat mate, who was Ugandan and works for the Rwandan
Secret Service.  He is also finishing his
law degree.  Our conversation about his
life, the events in 1994, and the current state of things in Rwanda assuaged my
nerves.  He gave me his card and told me
to call him if I had any problems while I was in the country. Fantastic, I
thought, I may not have many contacts here, but I now have the secret service
at my disposal.  We disembarked and went
through passport control, where I obtained a thirty day visa.  Like many countries in the area, Americans
have the privilege of purchasing a visa upon their arrival to the country.  

I collected my bags and walked out of the airport.  Now my only similar experience to compare
this to, is my arrival in Entebbe (Uganda) airport two years ago.  When I exited customs in Entebbe I was
swarmed by a mass o young men speaking English, Luol, and Lugandan offering
different taxis at different prices.  It
was immense sensory overload and I was thankful to see my friend waiting for
me.  The arrival in Kigali was the polar
opposite.  When I exited customs, no one
approached me.  I went next door to the
Bank of Kigali kiosk and exchanged currency.
Then I walked down to the taxi stand, where there was a queue of
licensed and uniformed taxi drives, just like you would see outside JFK or
Logan.  I told him the address of where I
was going and we agreed upon a price.  

It was totally dark, but he drove me to what looked like a
very nice neighborhood.  I felt perfectly
calm.  He got lost.  I gave him the number of my host, who he called
and they sorted out directions.  We
pulled into a gated community, the streets lined with manicured trees, and up
to the tall gate of a very nice home.  

It has become a joke in my family that I am staying with the
“most well reviewed man in Kigali,” which is actually the best reviewed air bnb
in Kigali.  Michael’s home boasts eight
five star reviews, some of which were from other single female travelers.  Michael greeted me at the gate of the
property, he is easily 6’7” if not taller, with a very kind demeanor and a soft
voice.  He carried my bags in and I paid
the cab.  He then showed me to my room,
which is referred to in this part of the world as a self-contained room.  This means it is a structure separate from
the main house.  I have a large bedroom
and a bathroom to myself.  Then in the
main house Michael lives with his two cousins.
He went to bed.  I took a shower
and a melatonin and passed out.

I woke up this morning around 7:45 to the sounds of cooking
outside my window.  I got dressed and went
to the main house where breakfast is served.
Michael and his cousin, were on their way out the door headed to their
respective jobs.  I sat down for a
breakfast of toast and bananas.  Then I
asked Michael’s cousin, Fidel, who manages the house, to grab me a SIM card for
my phone.  I went back to my room and
waited.  Sitting in my room the feeling
of panicked nausea started to take hold.

Here I was, siting in a bedroom in Kigali freaking Rwanda,
with no phone, no internet, and no plan for my day.  I wanted to throw up.  I could here the voice in the back of my mind
saying “stupid stupid stupid.” I lamented coming here and having this strange
inexplicable desire to see and understand these parts of history.  I lay on the bed and shut my eyes trying to relax.  Basically I threw a pity party for
myself.  Then Fidel knocked on the door
with the SIM card and the minutes.  I
loaded my phone and packed up my bag.  I
did not come to this country to hide in my room.  

I walked out of the property and could see down into
Kigali.  There is a reasons it is called
the land of a thousands hills, and the place where I am staying is on the top
of one of those hills.  I can see for
miles into the city and the suburbs beyond.
I knew there was a internet café about ten minutes walking, so I started
down the hill.  

Prior to coming, I has been told by many people that Kigali
is one of the safest places to travel as a single female, but with my
experiences cat-calling and heckling in Uganda hanging in the back of my mind I
felt uneasy as I started out my walk.  I
turned onto the main road and walked by a group of men in their thirties.  They nodded at me and said good morning.  I greeted them and kept walking.  That was it.
The rest of the walk was equally uneventful, expect for a couple motos
(motorcycle taxis) asking me if I needed a ride.  I arrived at the internet café, where I am
currently seated and in a mixture of French, English, and hand gestures ordered
a coffee and an hour of internet time.
This afternoon I will head to the Genocide Memorial Center.  The feelings of nervousness, have mostly
subsided and I am ready to see what these two weeks will hold.    

Family Time

We all, whether we realize it or not, live with multiple
versions of ourselves.  There is the
person we are when we are alone, when we are with friends, when we are with
family, and when we are with people from different points from our past.  This is not the say we are all riddled with
identity issues, but that we change in minor and important ways depending on
our audience.  This is why is can be so
interesting to transplant a person from one part of your life to another and
see how the components react.  

A little over two weeks ago my mom and my step dad came to
visit me for four days and I got to show them my Denmark.  There was a lot of self prescribed pressure,
since they had just visited my brother in Seattle and I wanted them to have an
amazing time. The question arose, after living here for three months, what do I
choose to condense into a short period.
Also seeing Denmark through their eyes made me reflect on the way I see
the country and the version of myself I have become since living here.  

My father taught me that every arrival should be an
occasion, so when I picked them up from the airport I had Dunkin Donuts coffee
with little Danish flags stabbed in them, and a doughnut with the Danish flag
frosted on it.  We hopped in a cab and
headed to my neighborhood where they were staying in a cute boutique
hotel.  I showed them my apartment, then
they needed a nap and I needed to finish a paper.  Already my carefully detailed itinerary was
being derailed.   

Post nap and academia we explored Vesterbrogade and
Vesterbro.  Walking through the
meatpacking district we noticed a new restaurant called Warpigs, which is the
brain child of some good old fashioned American southerners and the boys at
Mikkeller.  We stopped in for a beer and
an amuse bouche of barbeque.  We got
brisket, ribs, and cold smoked shrimp.
The rub and smoke were top notch, so much so that they didn’t need
sauce.  By my Carolina standard, not only
was it adequate, it was exceptional barbeque.
My one complaint lay in the sauces, they had Carolina, Memphis, and a
couple other staples. I tried them all and none of the sauces were quite
right.  They’ve got time to work that
out.  As always Mikkeller beer was delicious.  

 We walked some more, snaking our way down Sønder Bouldvard,
affectionately referred to as Hipster mile, and then made our way to Lele for
dinner.  I have been hearing about Lele
ever since I got here and it was making its way to the top of my culinary
bucket list.  We got a duck confit salad
and a mixed platter to share, since we were still pretty satiated from the
pork.  On the platter the friend things
such as wontons and spring rolls were standard, but everything else was
amazing.  I think when going to a
restaurant like this, where the smells of the deep fryer are wafting out of the
kitchen its easy to go towards things drenched in oil, but I highly recommend
deviating from that tendency at lele.  

The next day was the Queens birthday, so my mom and step dad watched the parade, and then we met after my classes to explore.  We went to Nyhavn and Christianborg Palace, then it was time for Tivoli!

This was my first time at the amusement park, which is the second oldest in the world.  I had decided I would save some newness for us to enjoy together.  The park is beautiful.  We wandered around, got our bearings, and then bought tickets for the rides.  My step dad and I did the spinny fast ones, while my mother watched.  Then we did a rousing and aggressive round of family bumper cars. (I won).  We also got my mom on her first roller coaster. 

Following Tivoli we got dressed up for our big night out, i.e. dinner at Geranium, which is detailed in my next post.  

The next day we had a whirlwind view of Copenhagen and did Street Food, Christania, Amalienborg palace, the Black Diamond, and a quick water taxi.  By the end of the day we were pooped and decided to cancel out dinner reservation.  We went to the grocery store, got some goodies, and went back to my apartment to cook dinner together.  It was lovely to spend our last dinner together in a laid back environment.  We also popped over to Lidkoeb, a whiskey bar in an old apothecary, for a drink.

The final morning, before my mom and step dad went on to Italy and I went to Barcelona, we went to Rosenberg park for a picnic.  We met my visiting family and had a beautiful meal in the sunshine.  I got to see my two worlds collide, my family from home, and the family I spend my time with in Denmark collide.  It was fantastic.  They all got along well and there were stories, jokes, and laughter.  We went through rounds of cultural questions about the differences between Denmark and the US.

As cliched as it is, on our way to the airport there was an enormous rainbow hanging in the sky.   I realized how much I love having different bits of my world and my life interact.  Having my parents in Denmark was wonderful and gave me the chance to reflect on how much I really love living here.

My Name’s in Print

So since starting this blog I have vaguely referred to my health issues as my “condition.”  The anonymity helped me maintain a little privacy and distance from my issues.  At the same time I have been doing a lot of writing about my health and the genetic condition I have called Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS).  I submitted these pieces to a number of online magazines and moved on.  I didn’t really expect to hear anything back and fire I could continue with my ambiguous discussion of health.  Then this week I got an email from Thought Catalog saying my article was live and it attached a link.  I freaked out a little.  Here was an intensely personal and raw piece of writing and poof like that it was on the internet for the whole wide world to see.  Not on my blog, but on a website that millions of people frequent.  I nearly peed myself.

The next hurtle was Facebook.  I was torn about whether or not I wanted to fully “come out” and announce to everyone who knows me personally on social media that I have a genetic condition.  Then I rationalized that I wrote this article to start a dialogue about living with chronic pain, so if I don’t share it then I am defeating the purpose.  As I have said many a time before, this is not a pain blog, but this is a piece of writing about pain.

It is really wonderful and validating to see someone else “print” my writing.  Here is the link if your interested.  

http://thoughtcatalog.com/corie-walsh/2015/04/this-is-where-it-hurts/

Finding a Little Optimism

My time in Bosnia ended in a whirlwind of political and NGO meetings that left me feeling very confused in the wake of our visit to Srebrenica. On Wednesday we had a round of visits to the OHR, the OSCE, and Bosnian Parliament.  The representative from the OHR (an American ambassador) was, as my professors pointed out, a conflict guy – which in my mind was not such a bad thing.  They explained that, in their opinions at least, his take on Bosnia was just another state in crisis and not necessarily looking at it from a culturally immersive or understanding perspective.  The OSCE representative (an American ambassador) seemed as though he was putting on a well rehearsed speech of optimism.  He on the other hand had spent most of his career working and living in the former Yugoslavia and was deeply immersed in the culture, spoke the language, and was committed to the are and traditions.

The two men painted very different pictures about the present and potential futures of Bosnia.  One of the highly pessimistic and disenfranchised end (which was the majority of what we had been hearing) and the other was shockingly upbeat. I, meanwhile, was struggling to find some sort of middle ground.

Our visit to Bosnian parliament did not help me gain any sense of clarity. We met with the speaker of the house, which was an amazing opportunity.  He spoke through a female translator, which provided some interesting interactions when it came to the subject of equal gender representation in Bosnian government.  Overall he was careful to explain where fault for the current situation lied, not with his party, but with other members of the governments, apathetic youth, and a grudged population.  He agreed that Bosnia needs to find a singular version of the truth so they can move forward.  But like many other officials we met with he was willing to place blame and responsibility on every group, except the one he was part of.  By the end day we had heard three dramatically different takes on the post conflict politics of the country, the potential for joining the EU, and the general ethnic stability.  I didnt know who to believe.

The next morning we broke into small groups and went for a series of meetings with different non profits around Sarajevo.  I, along with three fellow students, met with an individual who works at the Human Rights Center at the University of Sarajevo.  We were supposed to stay on task and pursue the mission of the organization, as well as the actions they were taking to execute it.  Our group got horribly and interestingly off task.  The gentleman who we were talking to was passionate, well informed, philosophical, and empathetic about the issues going on in the country.  He had grown up in Sarajevo, but as a human rights activist he managed to come across as reasonably unbiased and honest.  He was refreshingly to the point and we were rapt by everything that he had to say.  I felt like we were finally talking to someone who gave us an unadulterated take on the state of things.  The way he saw it and what really needed to be done. 

What he had to say was not good.  In some ways it was the combination of everything we had heard before, but coming from a more level and reputable source.  He saw the youth as both angry and apathetic.  He saw the government as both involved and corrupt.  He saw the American presence as both humanitarian and pursuing our own rational security interests.  But mostly importantly he saw growing ethnic tensions and human rights abuses.  He saw the country in a dangerous and stagnated place and after decades of chopping away at these issues with his voice he was growing tired and he didnt know what else to try.

Our final item before leaving Bosnia was a multi hour hike through the Olympic Mountains.  On our tiny bus there, I was the only person seated alone, so our guide Lawrence came to sit with me. He was a calm man and a buddhist, who was born and raised in Bosnia.  He said he feels most connected when he is out in nature, instead of surrounded by the issues of the population.  He gave me his take on the conflict also saying he didn’t know how to fix it.  He explained that the war is still going on, not with bullets or bombs, but with words and politics.  

Flying out of Bosnia the next day I felt incredibly heavy.  I was worn down by everything we had heard and seen, but I had the luxury to get on a plane and walk away from it all.  Theoretically, it was not my war, not my conflict, and I could disconnect, but our week in Bosnia followed me like a shadow.  For selfish reasons I was upset that the ethnic issues were still so fractured, as someone who wants to work in conflict resolution, I couldn’t help but think if all these experts, politicians, academics, and youth can’t go forward, then who am I to try and change things.  I felt small staring at all the badness in the world.  

Since coming back to Copenhagen I have tried to focus the human experiences I had in Bosnia.  The survivors, youth activists, mountain guides, NGO workers, students, and normal people.  They were all beautiful, kind hearted, and compassionate.  I can’t necessarily I have blossoming hope about the political/legal future of the country at the moment.  I do, however, have hope in the most important thing in a country – the people.  I have vast and relentless hope in the people of Bosnia.  I have confidence in the goodness of people, in the state and worldwide to hold Bosnia accountable for a better future.  The worlds international communities interest in Bosnia may be slipping, but I am still watching and I have high expectations.