Sunday, May 27, 2012

Tufts in Rwanda 2012: Day 1

Day 1: Journey   to Rwanda, Kigali Genocide Memorial, and Village Time

We all chose to come to Rwanda for different reasons and had different expectations, but we were all excited to be going. Some wanted to see a new country, while some wanted to see a new continent. Others wanted to experience a new culture. I think all of us wanted to learn about what had happened in 1994, and many also wanted the trip to help guide them to their future career choices.
                  I will never forget the moment we stepped off the plane. I’m (Tayo) from Ghana, and when I go home I’m used to being hit with the hot air and the smell that can only mean that I’m finally in the place I love the most. But here I was, in Rwanda, a place I’d never been to, feeling sensations that were almost the same! I (Laura) was entirely unsure of what to expect as I had never been to Africa before.  However, we both felt that after feeling the hot air and seeing the bright lights of Kigali—the endless hours of travel had all been worth it. We went through immigration and, after dealing with some luggage issues, hopped on the bus to Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village. The bus ride was surreal. Although it was night time and everybody was exhausted, we were all so excited to be in the country that we had read and watched so much about.  (Tayo) The city of Kigali seemed so quiet compared to Accra, and it reminded me of the movies I had seen about the genocide. A car full of military personnel passed by and it frightened me for a minute. It was hard to reconcile the friendly faces of passersby with the menacing looks of similar figures in the movies.
Agahozo-Shalom was as beautiful as expected. However, we were still excited to return to Kigali the next morning and do some snack-shopping, money-changing, and genocide memorial visiting. Before leaving, we were taken on a tour of the village by a staff member. She talked about the mission of the village and more about how everything works in the village. Then we left for Kigali.
Our first stop was money changing, then the memorial. After going through the exhibits, which included rooms full of preserved bones, survivor testimonies, clothes, history lessons, and brief summaries of other genocides; we came out to the mass graves and did a short interfaith ceremony of our own. We read from the Koran and the Bible, as well as from other sources, and we did a quick traditional hand-washing and sprinkling of water.
I (Tayo) really can’t remember how my emotions transitioned while we were at the memorial, but I know that I came out very angry. One thing I vividly remember was reading about the children (in the children’s exhibit) who were victims of the genocide. Exactly how does one smash a child against a wall, or chop him/her with a machete? Someone carried that child for nine months and suffered labour to bring it into the world. It scares me that life can be cut short so suddenly—there must be spiritual repercussions.
I (Laura) was frustrated that such a horrific genocide occurred so recently.  I was disgusted that the United Nations failed so miserably in helping this country. Seeing hundreds of images of people brutally beaten or shot to death in the genocide really brought our group to think about what had happened and what we can do to halt such events in the future. Although the entire memorial was quite moving for all of us, I was especially touched by the children’s room.  It was one of the last rooms in the progression of the exhibits and left me in a somber mood. I remember seeing names and pictures of all these children who had so much promise, but were murdered at such early ages. In particular, I vividly remember seeing the last quote of a 10 year-old boy, which read “somebody will save me.”  Then he died.
This thought brings us to today’s word of the day—Destiny. Each day two students decide on a word that is meant to be kept in the back of our minds throughout the day. This is how I (Tayo) chose to reflect upon the word during our trip to the memorial—can it be one’s destiny to die before one’s time? I cannot think that God meant for a child to die so brutally, but that would mean that these children were robbed of their destiny and purpose through no fault of their own. How is that fair or just? I’ve always thought of destiny as a right—each person should have a fair chance to get to that endpoint that God has planned for him/her.  For Laura, the genocide memorial was also a reminder that so many lives were cut short for such unnecessary reasons.
At village time tonight, someone said that we make our own destiny. Do we? Here is how I (Tayo) thought it through.  I could choose to die for a friend, and in doing so, I would cut my own life short. Would that make me a failure, or would it simply mean that I had made a new destiny for myself? Could it be that the children who died in the genocide may have been meant for something else, but due to the choices of others, were shifted to an alternate destiny—to bring joy to their parents, remembrance to those who had lost them, and haunting thoughts to those who perpetrate evil? Maybe not, but that is how I am going to look at it. Sometimes, no matter how hard we try to be in God’s will, we may end up on a different path. That doesn’t mean that we have lost control over our destiny. I believe that I can make choices that will impact my future and the future of others, that evil does not have free reign but is merely an obstacle, a fork on the many roads to many possible destinies.
Speaking of faith, we had a wonderfully short and informal Shabbat ceremony, led by Natasha and Katie. They shared their traditions, and many other people shared thoughts as well, related or unrelated to Judaism. Three prayers were read, in Hebrew and in English. Finally, Nate led us in an interfaith song that incorporated Buddhist, Moslem, Jewish, and Christian prayers. It sounded amazing and it really manifested what our group is doing—coming from different backgrounds, perspectives, and faith to share this experience together.
The group had a wonderful day, overall. Nick and James played basketball with a student. Nate and I (Tayo) had deep conversations with students who opened up to us, challenged us, and broke down our walls. I personally felt led by my own faith to start thinking about being more humble in my heart. Jessica basked in the warmth and resilience of the village mamas. Camilla, Ariana, Natasha, and Sam (both of them, as we have two of them) experienced the Rwandan hospitality of the students, who interpreted parts of village time and constantly engaged them. Paige made instant friends who wanted to make plans with her for later in the week. Arlen has partners for Mucaka Mucaka tomorrow morning (see the next blog post if you want to know what that is or how it goes). Katie reconnected with the student she had breakfasted with this morning. I (Laura) was welcomed to visit one of the student houses and asked to watch traditional Rwandan dance.  Jenny and David were able to continue processing the experiences they had last year, now that they are student leaders. Each person in the group is growing—in our perspectives, in our personalities, and more. Let’s see how it goes. And so there was evening and morning of the first day J

-Laura and Tayo 25/5/2012

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