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.....

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