Sunday, January 23, 2011

Friend Meeting, Friend Making, Friend-Raising

The last couple of days in Kigali were an avalanche of appointments, connections, dinners and meetings. Several of the leads we had discovered the first week couldn't meet until the second week.  Also, Carl has so many members of his Rwanda family in Kigali who insisted we meet, eat and share some time together. I am proud to say all of these meetings resulted in great, heart-felt connections.

Our meetings to pursue partnerships throughout the trip were met with intense enthusiasm and wide-eyed desire to further their relationships with The Anne Frank Project and Buffalo State Theater.  Every organization and individual completely understood our commitment to using theater and storytelling as a vehicle for social change and genocide education--this was, of course, thrilling!  One of the reasons for this immediate understanding and connection is that this is exactly what they use theater and storytelling for in Rwanda--this idea does not require a leap of faith for them--they are DOING IT. There is an important dichotomy at work here:  while they are hopeful the rest of the world does not characterize all of Rwanda by the 100 days of genocide in 1994, they are also proudly insistent that this Is part of their heritage.  For anyone who has done any research into Rwanda's history, you will know that the issues that caused the genocide didn't just happen when a plane was shot down in April of 1994--these issues were at work for multiple years prior to 1994 and the roots can be traced back to the original European colonizing in 1895...this is important history to know and to save this blog from an in-depth lecture, I HIGHLY recommend reading some of the many excellent books written on this subject, including those of my dear colleague and friend at Buffalo State College, Aimable Twagilimana.

Storytelling has, is and will always play an important roll for Rwandans.  As I mentioned in earlier blogs, they are enchanted with the story of Anne Frank.  They are equally enchanted by The Anne Frank Project.  I cannot tell you how many times my description of who we are and what we are doing at Buffalo State was met with excitement, joy and desire!  This collected response proved three theories central to my work:  Storytelling is the universal language, genocides around the world share multiple elements and Rwanda, in particular, is deeply connected to the principles of The Anne Frank Project.  Below are just a few of the organizations we had wonderful meetings with:

The Kigali Institute of Education

Mashirika Creative and Performing Arts Group

Rwanda's National Unity and Reconciliation Commission

ishyo Arts Center

The Campus of Kigali Institute of Education
More KIE

New friends from Mashirika--they reminded me of our students at BSC Theater

Artists from ishyo

These visits never felt like "work," but rather sharing with friends with soulful connections.  These visits were always followed by meals with members of Carl's extended family.  Again, another seeming contradiction at work:  while the reason for them knowing each other is horrific, the bond they share is deeply touching, caring and loving...a true pleasure to be a part of.  Being a good host is central to the Rwandan state of being, so its safe to say I was welcomed with open arms and now, honestly, feel like I have family in Rwanda.  

While I could write a book about the sample of friends I met, I will share two in particular.  First, the wise and beautiful Pastor Seraya and his wife "Ma."  We met them on our first stop after arriving to Rwanda and shared a lovely, delicious meal with them during our final days of the trip.  I don't feel it appropriate to share the details of their genocide experience without asking them first, I will tell you that Carl considers the Pastor his confidante, his mentor, his teacher.  This should say enough--the heroe's hero, the teacher's teacher.  As soon as I met him I knew I was in the presence of calm, serene, wisdom.  And then there's "Ma."  She is everyone's "Ma' with a smile that represents her soaring, shinning soul--a true gift.  While she says she doesn't speak English, she and I had some of the most heart-warming, knowing conversations I have ever had with anyone--Ma embodies lifetimes of experiences, joyful and horrible,  in her eyes.  
"Ma" and Pastor Seraya

The other friend Carl was gracious enough to share with me was Damas Gisimba--another mazing, true hero walking amongst us--a man so quiet, so humble.  Damas' story is part of the Kigali Genocide Memorial exhibit--During the genocide he saved the lives of hundreds of orphans and even rescued those who had been thrown into mass graves.  Carl worked with him during and since the genocide...amazing to know them both.  We visited Damas at the orphanage he now owns and operates--to this day, loving and caring for children without parents.
My guide at the orphanage--she immediately grabbed my hand and showed me around

Damas his wife and Carl

Orphanage Playground

Shhhhhhh, babies sleeping.....

Up Close and Personal

Our trek back to Kigali from the Congo was filled with long talks, beautiful scenery, terrible roads, and intense rain storms...Carl could qualify for NASCAR any day.  The following day we chose to sleep in, catch up on email, blogs and life...a much needed breath.  We also used the time to make calls and schedule our final days in Rwanda--days that would be filled with successful friendraising and connecting with many special friends of Carl's--we were blissfully BUSY.

Before we attacked our to-do list in Kigali, we headed to the Akagera National Park, a wild game reserve about 2 hours outside of Kigali.  We hired a driver and a 4X4 and took off early Monday morning--Carl's experience suggested this would enable us to see the most animals possible before they retreated from the hot sun of the afternoon--this would not be the last time Carl did his impressive National Geographic narrator impression--give him the job!  Again, the trip there was filled with what has become my favorite sights:  beautiful landscapes and busy roadsides filled with the people of Rwanda moving through their routines--Cirrque de Solei would be in awe of what Rwandan's can carry on their heads--and with effortless smiles.

When we arrived at Akagera we checked in at the ranger's station, paid our entrance fees and were introduced to our guide who would be riding with us through the reserve.  Her name was Pannini--I told her her name sounded like a delicious Italian pastry--I think she liked that.  We found out later that she was orphaned during the genocide, has a 3 year old daughter (Christine), who lives in a nursery boarding school and they get to see each other 5 days a month, during Pannini's days off.  This sounds harsh by American standards, but this s actually a good story: She has terrific education and great state job--she simply has to live in the park when working.  This is not to say she doesn't miss her girl terribly--it was clear she does, but what a success story!  Christine is fortunate to have such a mom.

After we were given a basic introduction to the park we set off and not 5 minutes into our trip we came upon a wonderful moment:  a mother giraffe crossed our path (not 20 feet in front of us--awesome!) and following her was her pristine 2 week old baby!  Mom had crossed the road and expected her new child to follow--baby giraffe spent the next 10 minutes negotiating the road crossing--she knew mom wanted her to follow her, but she also saw us gawking at her--after multiple attempts, and a PATIENT mom, she actually galloped across the road and met mom--lesson learned.  It was a real privilege to witness this moment.  The next few hours were filled with many gazelle, impala, buffalo, exotic birds , zebra, hippo (just their ears--too hot to get out of the lake), and baboon.  We were honored to have met the King, boss of all bosses baboon--he sat regally on his hill and allowed us to be in his presence--we watched, bowed and left.  Pride Rock lives!

Children on their way to school during ride to Akagera

An awesome view of Akagera--its a huge park

The baby giraffe--"I don't seeee you..."

I thought this looked like the AFP tree gone Africa
Pannini laying out our journey
Da Boss

Akagera took most of the day.  On our way home we stopped at a special hospital, the Rwinkwavu primary care hospital, a project sponsored by Partners in Health and the Clinton Foundation.  They have made an amazing impact on the health of the region, particularly in the arena of health and nutritional education.  In addition to growing from a small unit of 6 beds to 111 beds with multiple specialty buildings and staff for emergency (they have 3 fully equipped ambulances), maternity and pediatrics, they also have wonderful on site education in agriculture and livestock--they are helping the people in small villages to grow more healthy vegetables, introduce new vegetables and fruits as well as healthier meats to eat.  The head nurse was happy to show Carl and I around.  This was an impressive holistic care environment--taking care of the whole person, the whole village, the whole region during and after the hospital stay--there are over 1,300 counselors who have been trained to travel to the remote villages to teach healthier life styles that will deal with proactive healthcare (malaria, HIV, etc.) as well as long term healthcare (nutrition, hygene, etc.)  It was comforting to see so much being done to directly help those in need for the long term.  

Safe disposal areas for medical waste
Mama pig doing her part
Carl getting lost in the hospitals abundant gardens

We returned home to Kigali hungry from our brush with the wild side.  We ate a great dinner that night at the guest house including our staples:  beans, rice, potatoes and fresh fruit...Rwanda can be a vegetarian's paradise.  I have been militantly taking pictures of our food throughout the trip for my wife (for those of you who don't know, she is a chef, caterer and cafe owner)--on about the 8th day of pictures she said "It looks like you're taking a picture of the same food over and over again."  She's right--this is what Carl and I ordered just about every day:)


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Pure Goodness in the Congo

One of the earliest commitments we made on our itinerary was the Panzy Hospital of Bokavu, in DR Congo.  This is a highly specialized hospital that treats the many women in the Congo who are victims of horrific sexual violence.  The hospital caters to the very specific surgery, emotional and psychological therapies necessary to address the intense trauma these women are experiencing.  So, you may be wondering about the title of this blog...that's coming.

The Congolese border is about a 6 hour drive from Kigali, and like all of our journeys within the journey, there are plenty of things to do on the way.  Before we left, Carl was asked to speak to a group from Global Youth Connect, an organization which brings American students to Rwanda to work together to create and discover tools for world peace and humanitarian action.  The focus for this group was to learn about the Rwanda Genocide through guest speakers, workshops and trips inside Rwanda.  The students come from all over the US and Canada--they seemed to have created multiple bonds with their new Rwandan friends and were VERY interested in engaging in discussion on diverse issues--smart group.  They responded in strong ways to Carl--they even allowed me to speak about The Anne Frank Project for a few minutes.  After several mini one-one discussions with students, we hit the road for Bokavu.

Our plan was to stop in Butare on the way to meet a theater director, Kiki--Butare is the second largest city in Rwanda and home to the National University of Rwanda.  The drive to Butare was filled with spectacular landscapes and a never ending flow of people from the multiple villages we passed through.  These are busy communities filling the roadside with their amazing bundles of produce, chickens, materials and water to and from the market.  Two things are clear:  this is a hard life and their open hearts are always present.  No Rwandan is ever too busy to make eye contact, smile and wave (with 2 open hands in Rwanda).  Butare was about a 2 hour drive and we met Kiki at a nice outdoor cafe.  Kiki spoke to us about theater in Rwanda, her students, the university's "outlook" towards theater and the National Performing Arts Festival she creates every year--the only one of its kind in the country.  She has the same joys and frustrations of any theater artist I have ever known.  It is comforting to realize that theater people are theater people, no matter where you are.  Carl probably thought we were speaking another language at times (not the last time that would happen n our trip), but Kiki and I connected immediately and without any need to warm into the conversation--we were speaking the universal language of Theater.  Kiki's English is great and she was very connected to The Anne Frank Project and Buffalo State Theater--our work is right up her alley as she is committed to creating theater and dance to engage social issues.  She is a proud, stubborn, disciplined, gifted artist with much to share--I feel confident our dialogue towards collaborations will continue.
Tea Fields

Children stop for a picture on their way to school

Kiki, my new theater friend

As we made our way to Bukavu the terrain changed--we climbed to a much higher altitude and made our way through the Nyungwe National Forrest, home to multiple primates and other animals, especially the Colobus monkey--what a face.  We stopped a couple times to watch these serious dudes eat and take care of their families, then continued through the lush, movie like forrest--truly awesome.  After several hours of driving on roads in need of some care (for anyone who has made this drive, you know this is a slight understatement--ouch!) we made it to Cyungugu, the last city in Rwanda before you enter the Congo.  The guest house we stayed in that night, The Peace Guest house (appropriate, right?), sits directly on the beautiful Lake Kivu.  This is a huge lake that has played a significant role in Rwanda's history--during the genocide, it was the backdrop for multiple refugee and escape stories.
Lush forrest and mountains

Mr. Colobus

Now the Congo adventure...there are many reports that the Congo is dangerous, terrible, violent, etc.  While there is indeed intense political and social unrest, we were assured by many local experts that it would be safe for us to travel near the border (which Bokavu is) and during the day (which we did).  This is not to say our day in the Congo was without...interest.  Many people told us that getting through the border was difficult, expensive and sometimes impossible.  This is not the organized border you may be visualizing...think Deadwood in Africa--LOTS of people trying to get into one place with LOOSE rules, regulations and procedures.  After several tense minutes in the director's office, strong performances by Carl and I, and lots of pens, cards, books, bracelets...and cash, we were freed to pass through to the Congo, each with a large suitcase in tow filled with children's books, art supplies and shirts for the children of the abused mothers at Panzy.  We took a taxi through the highly charged streets of Bokavu--it truly felt like a movie set:  people EVERYWERE, muddy, filthy streets, extreme poverty and NO sense of exactly where we were...Carl kept a clear dialogue going with our driver and continued to pull wonderful little tricks out of his magic hat...between his Oscar winning performance at the border and his in country strategies, when we arrived at the gates of the hospital, I officially gave Carl his new name:  Indiana Wilkens.

The border bridge to the Congo

Inside the gates of Panzy was a complete change from the Congo movie we just left--spotlessly clean, beautiful gardens, doctors in white coats assisting patients....a place of healing.  This is one of those places in the world where true Goodness prevails in the midst of the most awful darkness.  I could go on and on about the MAGIC work the surgeons and staff are doing there, but it would be best to learn in their own words:

Dr, Mukwege (the Director and chief surgeon--a REAL hero) was kind enough to take a break from his busy day and meet with us for 10 minutes.  He is a remarkable man.  He took us to the school where the children and teachers were waiting for us....we were welcomed with songs, smiles and lots of hand holding.  We danced, sang, played futbol and gave them the gifts we had brought in our suitcases.  Their choruses of "Mer-ceeeeee!" were a testament of how important this visit was--these weren't just crayons, shirts and books--they were proof to them that they are loved.  After they taught me their banana song/dance, I taught them the Hokey-Pokey and cleared up some questions they had about the ABC song...all is well now.  They have so little...their mommies are so badly injured and traumatized...their world's have been turned upside down...but they can only blow kisses, give smiles and hugs...and they thought we brought them presents....

We were then taken to one of the women's homes where about 25 women were recovering with their children.  We were greeted with a 30 minute traditional African song and dance that thanked us for coming.  It was so rewarding to see these women happily dancing as WOMEN, celebrating being WOMEN...this hospital is a special, special place.  Carl and I were brought to tears immediately--an indescribably soaring moment I will never forget--Instant Perspective.  We gave them gifts and I was honored to "teach" them The Foot Book by Dr. Suess.  I'm not sure they understood one word of the book, but they repeated each word I said with such joy...such pure joy.  We visited more, laughed alot, bought every basket they made and said our goodbyes.  Pure Goodness in the Congo.

*Due to hospital regulations, I am not allowed to post pictures of the women we met at Panzy*

The GREAT Dr, Mukwege

The Hokie-Pokie

The newest members of the AFP family.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Memorials and Moving Memories

Muraho!  We have returned from our east Rwanda trip with multiple adventures to share with you.  It was actually helpful to not Blog for a couple of days--this experience has been rich at multiple levels, I needed some processing find a place for these intense experiences and emotional extremes.  Carl and I have been in the car together for many hours the last couple of days, and the conversations have been intense, hilarious and philosophical--so, just so you know, we have solved all of the world's problems and all is done...yeah, right!  Honestly, it is a great joy to be traveling with my new brother...I am blessed to have him all to myself for such an extended time.  My new name for Carl is "Indiana Wilkens"...he earned that during our day in the Congo...more on that in a future blog.

I was embarrassingly brief in my last post about our visit to the Kigali Genocide Memorial Center, so here are more thoughts to share.  Wow, where to start?  Upon arrival I was impressed by the wonderful mountain perch the center lives on--an amazing view of Kigali and a proper symbolic placement for such an important building and monument...I really felt like I was in the driver's seat of Kigali.  Everyone is checked at a security point before entering the grounds, which are immaculate, lush and beautifully manicured.  This abrupt contrast of immense beauty and unfathomable tragedy was a repeated theme throughout the day--yes, you need to reserve an entire day to spend at the memorial center to respectfully absorb the exhibits and to allow for processing time.  As a ravenous researcher of genocide studies, I was not prepared for the multiple, unannounced moments where I was simply STOPPED by the weight of the idea, moment, image, etc.

We had a lovely discussion with the memorial's staff and while none of Carl's usual friends were there that morning, these people were part of Carl and Drew's Rwanda Posse in 10 minutes--they were of course impressed by Carl's story and also intrigued by The Anne Frank Project and our "world-changing" mission at Buffalo State's Theater department. We have found that once we give people an explanation of the project and an orange bracelet (don't be surprised if all of Rwanda is wearing them soon :), then we are no longer strangers, but united in purpose...I attribute that to Anne Frank...she is clearly with us here in Rwanda.

If you haven't visited the center's website yet, please do:

I am holding myself back from posting every picture I took there because the center is organized so beautifully.  It is difficult to edit material when studying and presenting genocide work--what's too much?  What would be disrespectful?  What parts are vital to the story?  What parts are better left alone? Well, the center's format and layout are an amazing illustration of what happens when smart, compassionate, determined people collaborate for the right reasons--the STORY told here is wonderful.  I will be stealing multiple techniques for future work.  As I moved through the chronologically told story of pre-genocide, genocide and post-genocide Rwanda, I felt very focused on the clear, truthful and REAL elements of the Rwanda genocide from RWANDAN voices.  I never felt like I was being asked to do or think anything but my own thoughts based on facts...facts in pictures (graphic, tender, loving, shocking), media accounts (where was the world?), survivor and perpetrator accounts (heroic, haunting), and artistic interpretations (sculpture, music, film).  There was so much to absorb--taking private breaks and just allowing myself to "get what I get" was helpful.  It was an especially nice treasure to have Carl with me for personal anecdotes and reactions.  He is amazing--one of his greatest attributes is reliving each moment he experienced as he retells it--he put me outside my shoes and in his many times.  When the staff asked me if I wanted to rent an audio tour I proudly replied "No thank you--I have Carl."

As I made my way through this portion of the center I found myself in the most gripping and moving portion commemorating the lost future of Rwanda, the most tragic victims, the children.  I find myself extremely emotional right now...(pause to wipe and breathe)...this was an immensely powerful time for a father as a human.  This section is organized with big, smiling, gorgeous pictures of a small sample of children who were murdered in the genocide:  infants, children, teens.  Under their pictures is a plaque with their name, age at time of death, favorite sport, favorite food, best friend, behavior and cause of death.  This, of course, fleshes out these victims and makes them tangible people...people our world will never have the chance to know.  Shameful, absurd, words are strong enough.  This really leveled me and confirmed the importance of the work with The Anne Frank Project, theater as a vehicle for social change and my personal belief systems...what an honor to have stood before their stories.  (take a breath--I am)

The next interior portion of the memorial was an excellent montage of some of the other genocides around the world and their connections and similarities to the Rwandan Genocide.  This section does a solid job of presenting the other atrocities without diminishing or "rating" their importance in the big picture.  Again, this is an impossible task--there will always be those that feel strongly about what should and should not have been included, but as someone who spends a great deal of time in this world, I was impressed.  Their use of unique images, artifacts and personal accounts from both the victims and perpetrators was a smart way of condensing the huge amount of information.  I am happy they did not use the many overused images from each genocide, particularly from the Holocaust of WWII.  I am surprised that so little is known in Rwanda about Anne Frank and her diary.  When Carl and I retell her story (and we have done this MANY times when we give them an AFP bracelet) they are extremely interested and impressed.  In typical Rwandan nature, they feel VERY bad for Anne Frank and what she went through--this from Rwandan survivors; one of the world's largest atrocities ever.  Their first response:  Pure compassion.  Their second:  She is just like me.  You can imagine how confirming and defining this is for me, my students and colleagues...

It was a relief to head outside into the gardens--the deep darkness I had just experienced was showered with bright, beautiful light.  The grounds are spacious, lush, tropical and expertly maintained.  On the lower terrace are mass graves where the bodies of over 250,000 Tutsi murdered are buried,  These are large, simple cement slabs--that's all.  I greatly appreciated the simplicity--it made for a powerful walk amongst the perished souls without attempting to make it anything other than what it is--a seemingly endless illustration of wasted lives--a horrible tragedy--the picture below will show you...

Carl and I reconnected in the front plaza.  We talked more with the staff, I had an opportunity to interview the manager of the center, Serge, who shared his amazing story and feelings and we even witnessed a surprise visit from  a high ranking Rwandan official (the Minister of Sports and Culture, I believe) who was in Kigali to salute the Rwandan National Junior Futbol (soccer) Team for making the Junior World Cup.  This is a huge deal for tiny Rwanda (about the size of Maryland), as this will be the first time Rwanda has been represented ever and all of these boys are 17 years old...the genocide happened in 1994...a perfect symbol for the post genocide success of Rwanda.  We also had a lively discussion about genocide, politics and world myths with two new friends from Tanzania...very enlightening.

We concluded our visit by visiting the busy archival work happening at the center.  The archivist/activist/humanitarian, Shannon (a Canadian grad student), was kind enough to invite us into her high tech lab where she was preserving photographs, newspapers, magazines. letters and videos.  This is a vital piece of the post-genocide recovery puzzle:  to maintain proof of the atrocity for future generations.

These are pictures of victims--family members have provided photos.

Clothing from those killed--note the "Cornell" sweatshirt


The lush grounds of the Kigali Genocide Memorial Center

The entrance

"A tree can only be straightened when it is young""

Carl with a tour guide who recognized him--"Thank you for what you did."
The mass grave
We finished this powerful day by visiting the The Kigali Belgian Soldier Memorial.  This is the actual site where 10 Belgian soldiers were killed in the hopes that Belgium would remove all of its peacekeeping troops--which they did.  These were young soldiers with families, stories, lives.  The power of this memorial site (and there are many throughout Rwanda) is the "reality" that is maintained.  The bullet and grenade holes in the building are not repaired--they have been left to remind us of the stark truth of the event.  Inside this ghostly war post exhibit are plaques, images, posters and information...again, surrounded by original bullet and grenade holes everywhere.  The simplicity of the monument was further illustrated for me by the wonderful night watchman, Joseph, who opened the gates for us even though it was past closing time.  He gently and peacefully accompanied us throughout.  He is a survivor so willing to share his story, his person.  Our visit was completed joyfully by a welcomed laugh as I discovered he was a dedicated Los Angeles Laker fan!!! Good thing my son Nate donated several of his Laker hats to my trip to hand out.  I will be dropping off Joseph's hat this week from Nate.

What a world we live in.

Our new Tanzanian friends
The Belgian Memorial

Joseph--Go Lakers!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A FULL Day, a FULL Heart

Whew!  That Carl Wilkens--when he said he had a "few ideas" as to where to take me in Rwanda, he 's not kidding:)  We have similar motors, so always DOING is natural.  Thankfully, we enjoyed another wonderful, inspiring day today while visiting the Kigali Memorial Centre:

This is an amazing museum, cultural center, genocide memorial, archival lab, etc.  Please visit the website and I will fill you in on our details and pictures on my next post--it is late here and we have an early morning tomorrow.

The next couple of days we will be traveling a bit:  meeting with an Arts professor at the University of Butare and traveling to the Panzi Hospital that does special work for women who were abused in the Congo.  Internet access will be hit/miss so I may not be able to post again until Sunday.

Thanks for all of your wonderful comments--its so cool to be able to share this with you!



Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Smiles, Laughs and Tears

After breakfast (thanks Teresa for the delicious granola!) and a sturdy cup of Rwandan coffee, we began our day by heading to the High Court Building where we met with Carl's friend Judge Pio Mugabo.  This building is where many of the genocide crimes trials occur, and like every place I've been in Kigali thus far, there is no stress, no rush, no anger...just smiles, greetings and open doors.  We had a lovely conversation with Pio where he discussed his personal genocide story, his family, and places we could go and people we could speak to in Rwanda who might be interested in AFP and BSC Theater.  Like every survivor I have spoken with, his story was heart wrenching and shockingly heroic--it is amazing what the human spirit can do in the most extreme circumstances--it is becoming more and more clear to me that it is even more amazing what the human Rwandan spirit is capable of.  After the genocide Pio was appointed the Minister of Social Affairs, and now is a Judge akin to our court of appeals.  We will be having dinner with Pio and his wife tomorrow--he was happy to take a picture with me...
We then went to the office of the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission--this is a state funded office whose mission is to teach unity, peace and positive reconciliation strategies to Rwanda's children and young adults.  So much pain and suffering continues to follow this densely populated country besieged by genocide--credit must be given to the government to realize its responsibility to teach the healing process to its future generations.  They go into the schools, coordinate conferences and "peace camps" utilizing a multitude of methods including...Theater!  We spent the rest of the day with one of the office's directors, Richard who was the inspiration for 13 six grade girls in Seattle to create "Richard's Rwanda" ( where these selfless young girls help to provide education for young women survivors in Rwanda.  The whole story, and its a great one, can be found on the site.  This is a crucial point to make--every survivor, from every genocide has an AMAZING story to share--wether its Anne Frank, Iammculee', Pio, Richard, etc...each personal narrative of survival is jaw dropping--I am so honored to be in their presence---a true gift of perspective.  Back to Richard:  Since he is a good friend of Carl's (of course) he agreed to accompany us to Nyamata where he was choosing a group of girls for an upcoming project at Nyamata Catholic School.  Richard also contacted a co-worker, Emmanuel, another survivor, who is an intern with the unity group--he is 24 years old-to come with us.  He was very helpful bridging the language and cultural divides and a great example of a Rwandan college student ready to change the world.  The native language of Rwanda is Kinyarwanda.  They also speak French and some English.  Richard and Emmanuel speak all three and Carl speaks French along with his English--it is clear the Kinyarwanda is Rwanda's language in more ways than one.  The 40 minute drive took us through lush terrain, small villages, a local market and lots of people walking and riding bikes with their loads of things. 

Nyamata is also home to an incredible and horrifying genocide memorial site. Churches have always been a place of safety, trust and refuge in Rwanda--until the 1994 genocide.  Thousands of Tutsi were murdered inside this church by the Interahamwe (young Hutu killing squads).  This is no American memorial.  The church has been left in its raw, "as it happened" form:  broken bars on the door, grenade and bullet holes throughout the walls, roof and floor and the clothing of the Tutsi who were murdered there on the church benches and floor....completely devastating.  It reminded me of the piles of glasses and shoes from the Holocaust, except those were pictures. Being in the presence of all of these would-be lives and stories, the deep, deep loss and "reality" was staggering.  Our guide, Leon, took us through, tenderly, to the undergound chambers, below the church were hundreds of skulls and bones of those massacared were organized on shelves in plain view---no glass cases, no fancy exhibits---just the remains of people...people with stories, families and friends...a cold, stark, chilling, inescapable example of the awful event...simply awful.  We were all stopped--in complete silence....what is there to say?  I was, am and will always be changed by this...

The church is on the grounds of the school, so in complete emotional juxtaposition, after some time to digest the church, we spent time with the lovely, joyous, talkative children at the school.  we also had the opportunity to visit with some of their teachers--some of them teaching Rwandan children for over 45 years!  It was an awesome opportunity to exchange teacher ideas, hear their needs, explain The Anne Frank Project and absorb their relationships with the children.  Ah, the children:)  They follow you with great interest and wonder--slapping high-fives, teasing, chasing and sharing their few English phrases with great pride.  The universal language of children was present at every moment, but these bright souls tugged especially hard on my heart strings....doing so much with so little.  Our choice for Maria to stay in Buffalo this trip was confirmed...she would still be there wondering how many we can take home, I'm sure:)  As you will see in the pictures below, that would not be an easy decision.

As we drove home I was extremely busy processing the day:  so much pure joy, sadness, invigoration, clarity, despair...overwhelmed....awestruck...

Below are a few pictures of our day in Nyamata.  There are no pictures from inside the church--photography is not allowed there.  

A sign at the school in Nyamata

School Gounds

Me with (from left) a teacher, the head mistress and Emmanuel

The Church/Memorial site--the underground chambers in foreground

Carl in deep discussion with Leon, the church guide.

Me having "class" with the teachers--all Royalty!

The beautiful children from the school

My special friends--the girl on the left followed me everywhere:)

Can you find Drew and Carl?

My new friends Emmanuel and Richard
I feel incredibly fortunate to be here.