Learning about cows and umudugudu culture

It’s a lazy Sunday afternoon here in Kigali. At my homestay family, the cousins are over for a visit, so last night my bed was full of young kids having a sleepover with me. This morning, I taught them how to throw a frisbee, and we played “monkey in the middle” until my host brother fell down. Now, I am writing from a cafe in Kimironko that is great for people-watching the main road.

Yesterday, we attended the traditional wedding of my friend’s cousin. The girls all wore mushananas, which are colorful wedding clothes. You wore two parts, one cloth that wraps around as a skirt, and one that drapes over one shoulder. It was fun to get all dressed up and see what a traditional Rwandan wedding was like. We sat on the groom’s side, which was facing the bride’s side. There was a lot of talking, especially ceremonial debating about the age of the bride and about the dowry (which was eight cows). The two families talked back and forth about which girl it was that they wanted, and for which payment. The groom’s side let out shouts of joy when the bride’s family finally agreed to give the bride. There were some beautiful music and dancers who wore bells on their ankles. They held their arms out to the sides as they danced to represent the horns of a cow, which was a very important theme in the ceremony. A nice man offered to sit in the middle of our group and translate for us.

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Tomorrow, I am looking forward to a meeting with two people who have admitted to participating in genocide and have since been working with an organization that encourages people to tell the truth about what happened and promotes forgiveness. It should be a very interesting conversation. We are also visiting a women’s support group for survivors tomorrow.

One of my assignments is to follow the local newspapers and talk to my host family about their opinions on current events and issues. It’s been interesting to observe what isn’t being covered, as well as what is. There are no shortage of pro-government and pro-development articles; I have yet to read or speak to anyone who is critical about current events in Kigali. However, I know there must be a group whose voices are not being heard. For example, yesterday was Umuganda day, which is a day of public service and community meetings in umudugudus (villages) on the last Saturday of the month. I went with my host father to help clear brush on one of the village hills to encourage reforestation. During the work, many young men were singing songs of Rwandan unity and about building the nation. At the meeting afterwards, the village chief talked about initiatives like road repairs and contributing money so that everyone could receive healthcare if needed. On the way home from the meeting hill, we passed the settlement of people who couldn’t afford to live in houses according to the city development master plan, and didn’t have anywhere else to go either. So at the edge of the umudugudu, which is mostly very nice, new houses, there is a collection of small shacks in disrepair. Where are the voices of these in-between people, who the city development seems to exclude?

For school, I am reading about Millenium Development Goals and development initiatives and issues in Rwanda. It’s interesting and important to consider how these development initiatives do or do not take into consideration the cultural context. There is an important distinction to be made between development and westernization. In thinking about this project, I am thinking about ways we can ensure that our project works with and unites local initiatives to target improvements in child soldier rehabilitation within the context of the local environment. Our team has talked about how one issue with some of the NGOs we have read about is that it can create animosity when former child soldiers are given westernized aid and the rest of the village is living in poverty too. Max told me that he has heard some villagers say they wish they had been soldiers so they had access to the resources offered to the children. I think the goal of our project should be focused so as to avoid the attempt to “fix the problems” of an entire village affected by war, in which case our efforts may be spread so thin that nothing gets done effectively, but instead to address specific child soldier reintegration issues within the community’s cultural context. In empowering these children through education, vocational training, counseling, and medical attention, they may contribute to the overall recovery and health of their community by becoming active members of it. We want to avoid unintentionally removing them further from the local community, and instead, encourage full reintegration.

That’s all for today. It’s time to head back home for more bubbles, go fish, and learning Kinyarwanda. I am well, and loving it here in Kigali!

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