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March 31, 2010

Mutzig, Speeches and now for the very latest in Rwanda's mixology trend...

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I have been so impressed with my students' documentary project ideas. To celebrate the completion of their documentary proposals and treatments, last night I called for an impromptu gathering at Hotel Faucon. I treated the group to Mutzig, tea, and was introduced to the very latest in Rwanda drinking concoctions (or maybe it's been around for years and I was just hanging out with the wrong people).

Every class has a chef de la classe, the class leader responsible for disseminating information, organizing groups and relaying class opinions to the faculty and administration. My 4th year students' chef is Fidele. The waiter came. I placed my order, JB placed his order, JC placed his order. Claudine placed her order. Mutzig, Mutzig, tea, tea. But Fidele requested a Guiness and coca. Okay, I thought. He wants to relax AND he need some caffeine in his system. But when the drinks came, he pour a little beer in his glass then topped it off with coke. GuinessCoca. It's really not bad.

There were speeches, declarations of love and promises of a lifetime of collaborations and partnerships. I couldn't be happier than when I'm with my students.

March 30, 2010

Happy Hour Motorcade

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I don't have another class until next Tuesday, so to settle into my "weekend" I went to the local beer distributor to kick off happy hour. In Butare, you can't go to a supermarket to pick up ONE cold beer. You must go to the distributor who will sell nothing less than a crate. A crate of Grand Primus costs 6100 Rwandan Francs -- about $10 (whereas the petit Primus cost 7100 RwF). To guarantee you bring the bottles and crate back, you must pay an additional 10000 Rwf deposit. I really wanted that beer so I paid the deposit. I paid for the beer. Then, since I don't have a car, I paid for transport. At first I optimistically (i.e. cheaply) considered stacking the gigantic red crate on my lap on top of my bag filled with my students' papers, teaching materials and my laptop. A small crowd gathered around to watch this inexorably doomed balancing act. Seeing this damsel in distress a small fleet of moto drivers pulled up to offer assistance. We chatted about distance. Prices were suggested. Prices were lowered. Finally, I hired a second moto to balance my crate of beer on HIS lap. I hopped on my moto and led the happy hour motorcade back to my house.

The "Scotching" Heat

The electric bill at the house where I've been staying wasn't paid so I've spent a better part of the evening reading by candlelight. After a long week, it was lovely -- and the reading material provided some much-needed comic relief. The article I was reading in Rwanda Dispatch describes Pres. Kagame's visit to a rural village to investigate corruption cases. The article begins, "Thousands brave the scotching [sic] sun that glows and burns with a rage so intense and piercing, to grace this function." I would need a sun scotch if I were investigating these matters. I've started a new collection of malapropisms and inappropriate metaphors. How's this one? It's a story about an orphan whose land grabbed after her parents died. The articles says, "she went to complain to authorities who have been tossing her up and down." Upside down. Boy you turn me, inside out. And round and round. Back and forth, up and down. I get the author's point perfectly

The "Scotching" Heat

The electric bill at the house where I've been staying wasn't paid so I've spent a better part of the evening reading by candlelight. After a long week, it was lovely -- and the reading material provided some much-needed comic relief. The article I was reading in Rwanda Dispatch describes Pres. Kagame's visit to a rural village to investigate corruption cases. The article begins, "Thousands brave the scotching [sic] sun that glows and burns with a rage so intense and piercing, to grace this function." I would need a sun scotch if I were investigating these matters. I've started a new collection of malapropisms and inappropriate metaphors. How's this one? It's a story about an orphan whose land grabbed after her parents died. The articles says, "she went to complain to authorities who have been tossing her up and down." Upside down. Boy you turn me, inside out. And round and round. Back and forth, up and down. I get the author's point perfectly

Monkey Business

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I teach at the National University of Rwanda's School of Journalism and Communication on Tuesdays and Thursday -- from 8 AM until 5 PM, with a two hour break for lunch. Every morning I hail a moto which takes me from my house in the Butare suburb of Taba to campus. It's about a ten minute ride that's a straight shot down Butare's Main Street, which look like it's straight out of a western flick, starring an entirely Rwandan cast. The buildings are low storefronts and there's a dusty, sun-exposed feel. Driving through, I inhale the smell of diesel, not horse manure.

But as I approach campus shady eucalyptus trees protect me from the sun's rays. And with each cool inhale, it's like I'm in my own personal cough drop bubble. Ah, the sweet minty smell of eucalyptus.

The university guard gives me a nod at the main entrance, then lifts the metal bar to let us moto up the final stretch to the main building. This morning as we proceeded up the campus road, past students arm in arm with their backpacks and books I saw something I had never seen before. A group of stubborn monkeys who had swung down from their branches to occupy the road in a seemingly rascally revolt were stopping traffic. They bounded about -- off the pavement into a tree, then back down, leaping and checking to see if the audience still was watching. I took out my camera and tried to take pictures.

March 29, 2010

The Students have a website

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I have mucho catch-up blogging to do. I arrived in Rwanda over two weeks ago. As a result there's a back log of stories that I need to tell in digital form and that, dear reader will come soon. But for now, I wanted to announce the launch of the student's website, My Camera, My Story. The site will showcase students' video stories as well as documenting the process and challenges they confront along the way.

August 06, 2009

The power of radio

The Economist had a short article about the trouble radio is causing in Afghanistan and Pakistan's Swat valley. There are serious echoes of 1994 Rwanda here:

In an era of drones and spy satellites, it may seem odd that crude simple radio transmitters can still make huge mischief. But the scale and sophistication of broadcasting has mutated downwards as well as upwards....In the Swat valley, [Richard Holbrooke] noted in March, “Fazlullah is going round every night broadcasting the names of people they’re going to behead or have beheaded. Any of you who have a recent sense of history will know that that’s exactly what happened with Radio Mille Collines in Rwanda.”

May 21, 2008

Fundraiser to Support Rwanda Reporting

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In March, I have returned to the States after spending an incredible seven weeks documenting the lives and reporting of an impressive group of journalism students. To take the next steps -- to edit the 50-hours of footage down to 90-minutes -- will require some tough choices, a very skilled editor and of course further funding to pay the editor.

If you happen to be in Brunswick, ME tomorrow night you can support our film AND enjoy some delicious spumante and presecco.

Here are the details:

Where: The Gelato Fiasco, 74 Main Street, Brunswick, ME
When: Wednesday, 21st, 8 pm
RSVP: rsvplehayfashionpress@yahoo.com

March 11, 2008

No Sleep 'Til Brooklyn

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my sister welcomes me back to NYC

They confiscated my Rwandan mayonnaise in the Brussels airport. That, and the extreme jostling and bumpiness over Montreal were the only hassles I encountered during my flight home from Rwanda.

There were two legs to my 25-hour return: Kigali to Brussels and Brussels to New York. For the first flight I contorted myself into the most comfortable position possible given that my legs are long and my seat mate's elbow kept drifting over the armrest into my zone. I proceeded to conk out in exhaustion and sadness for the duration of the flight. Occasionally, I awoke to accept the miniature liquor drinks offered to me by the kind stewardess who seemed receptive to my desire to numb the pain.

The sleep did me well because by the the time I had forfeited my precious jar of mayonnaise to the vigilant anti-terror security guards at the Brussels baggage conveyor belt I was actually starting to get excited about my re-entry into the Brooklyn world I had left behind. I spent most of the flight to New York watching the movies on demand that for some reason all seemed to be period romance films. I was glad Atonement was an option but the film stalled 50 minutes in. I attempted to watch Shakespeare in Love, but got too irritated with Gwyneth's accent to continue so instead turned to Elizabeth which was a joy to watch if only for Cate Blanchett.

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Everyone seems glad to have me back which feels nice. Today, I celebrated my return with what I intend to be a marathon of Asian dining. I kicked it off with bibimbap -- the Korean comfort food I've been longing for from a land where it does not exist. Tomorrow I will enjoy izakaya (Japanese pub fare) and Wednesday it's on to either some Vietnamese Banh Mi or maybe I'll just go straight to the raw stuff and pig out on some sushi.

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bibimbap all up close and personal

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But tonight I kick off the birthday party marathon where alcohol, not food is king!

March 08, 2008

The end of my Odyssey

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dance party to celebrate the end of my time in Rwanda

I took my last cold shower this morning. It's my final day in Rwanda -- and not even a full one at that.

Tonight, I board a 8:50 pm plane to Brussels. By tomorrow afternoon I will be home in Brooklyn. According to the party planning committee an impressive series of homecoming events await me. If all goes as planned I'll be dining on some delicious izakaya and catching up on all the flicks that I've missed since I left 6 weeks ago!

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Last night I said my good byes at a farewell party in our yard. What better way to bid Rwanda adieu than with a spitted and roasted goat and cold Mutzig draft. I have been wanting to prepare a whole goat in my backyard for several years now, but in Brooklyn goats are hard to come by. So I jumped at the opportunity to try my hand at this feast. Pablo sent out the invitation proclaiming that my Odyssey had come come to an end and quoted from the Odyssey:

Ulysses now left the haven, and took the rough track up through the wooded country and over the crest of the mountain till he reached the place where Minerva had said that he would find the 'goat'herd, who was the most thrifty servant he had. . . .

As he spoke he bound his girdle round him and went to the sties where the young sucking 'goats' were penned. He picked out two which he brought back with him and sacrificed. He singed them, cut them up, and spitted on them; when the meat was cooked he brought it all in and set it before Ulysses, hot and still on the spit, whereon Ulysses sprinkled it over with white barley meal. The 'goat'herd then mixed wine in a bowl of ivy-wood, and taking a seat opposite Ulysses told him to begin.

"Fall to, stranger," said he, "on a dish of servant's 'goat'. The fat goats have to go to the suitors, who eat them up without shame or scruple; but the blessed gods love not such shameful doings, and
respect those who do what is lawful and right.

Sticking with the Greek theme, we hired a mural painter to paint a Trojan Horse on the wall of our home. Mutzig beer flowed freely from a keg and Matilde and our friends at Papyrus provided a full spread of food. We danced to the music of a dj who lives on our street into the night.

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Keeping with the Odyssey theme, we hired a mural painter to cover our wall with a Trojan Horse

Today, I joined the Hash Harriers -- the Kigali running club to do a run up and around Mount Kigali. The views from the hilltop were magnificent -- on one side of the mountain top the city of Kigali was visible; on the other the rural mountains and rivers were illuminated by the sun. It was a great way to end my stay here, though the run was delayed by an hour making it a tight race to catch my flight to Brussels. We'll see if I make it or if I'm stuck here until the next flight out on Tuesday. As much as I will miss this place, I'm hoping for the former.

Saying goodbyes

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Me with some of the students we've been following

I don't know how many times I took the Volcano bus back and forth between Kigali and Butare over the course of the last six weeks. After I return home to the States I will go through all my receipts to get the total tally. Whatever the number, I could now drive the route blindfolded.

Last Thursday we took our final trip from Kigali to Butare to visit the National University and to say good bye to the journalism students we've been following for the last six weeks.

The relationships we built with the students has been one of the highlights of the trip and I look forward to seeing how their careers progress.

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I stand outside a classroom at the journalism school with a 2nd year radio broadcast student

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two 4th year broadcast journalism students reporting on Lake Kivu in Kibuye

March 04, 2008

In Anticipation of My Departure I Attempt To Predict What I Will Miss

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Preparing to leave Rwanda
1. For the fifty days that I've been in Rwanda there is one person with whom I have spent all but three days: Pablo Jerah the Extraordinary. I know that the withdrawal symptoms I will experience upon leaving him will be severe.
2. Our "family" dinners at the house, prepared with finesse by Matilde.
3. Boubie, the house dog's gimpy greeting.
4. Ever since I first arrived in Kigali I have been waking at an unprecedented hour of 5 AM nearly every day. I can't see this trend lasting when I return to New York and I will miss this heightened level of productivity...not to mention those lovely sunrises.
5. The wind on my face and in my hair during my moto rides around Kigali and those delicious gulps of diesel exhaust.
6. My bizarre taste for wildly over-produced music.
7. Phone calls by cell phone are so prohibitively expensive that the only way to avoid bankruptcy and remain in contact with friends is to text message. I will miss the long-winded text messages clogging my in box -- and the preference for the "written" language versus the phone call.
8. Frites, Mayonnaise & Brochettes
9. Three-kiss hellos
10. When it comes to cooking at our house, there are no measuring utensils and it's typical to be missing at least three ingredients because 1. our pantry supply closet isn't stocked; 2. there very well may have been baking powder at the German grocery store, but since I couldn't properly translate the words on the packaging from German to English, it does not exist. 3. the ingredient simply has not been imported to Rwanda. I actually enjoy this cooking puzzle and will miss my improvisational cooking.
11. The utter beauty you're bound to encounter whenever you open your eyes on any drive anywhere in the country.
12. The eagerness by Rwandans to get my phone number and email address makes me feel wildly popular in a way I rarely experience in the U.S. And the frequent marriage proposals are a huge ego boost. For anyone who is curious about my worth I was told that I could probably get about 15 modern cows in a marriage deal!
13. I will not list all the people I will miss.

The Milk Man

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A few weeks ago I was dining at Papyrus -- a restaurant in my neighborhood where I go to get a healthy dose of American hip hop, to pretend I'm in the Hollywood Hills, and to dine on delicious homemade pastas and pizzas made with cheeses produced at Masaka Farm -- a local farm outside of Kigali. (They also make a really yummy tiramisu made with the farm's ricotta. Keeping in line with the gas, coffee, and at times, electricity shortages -- more often than not, Papyrus has run out of the tiramisu. I've started putting a slice on hold when I first arrive to ensure that dessert is waiting for me when I'm done with my meal.)

A group of diners came to our table, including a guy who introduced himself as "a dairy man." He told me he is the man behind Papyrus's dairy products. (He's also the first Rwandan I've met who has tattoos.)

Ever since I visited the grocery store with the regional cheeses of Rwanda I have been wanting to take a tour of a fromagerie. When he offered to show me his farm and dairy processing plant, I couldn't say no. So, yesterday I went on a tour of Serge's dairy farm to see for myself how he makes the ice cream, ricotta, yogurt, mozzarella, butter and creme fraiche. Serge learned to make these products in Italy, the homeland of his wife.

What follows is a photo tour of my visit.

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Serge the milk man in his Mercedes Benz milk truck


Continue reading "The Milk Man" »

February 29, 2008

Kibuye Sunrise

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Kibuye sunrise

Our four-day marathon of 20-hour shoot days culminated in Kibuye -- one of the most beautiful places that I've been in Rwanda. We stayed at the Bethanie Hotel, right on Lake Kivu. We woke up early on Friday morning to tape the sun's rise up over the mountains that border the shore.

While the sun was still hidden and the sky remained dark, we scouted the property of our hotel looking for the perfect vantage point to capture the "magic hour."

We noticed that the door to a beautiful Italianate building on the hotel property was ajar. We approached the door and cautiously peered inside. The building didn't seem to be occupied so we walked in, following a dark hallway to another door. As the first light of the day glowed at the horizon line we opened another door which led to a balcony. We couldn't have asked for a better seat to watch the sun come up.

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February 24, 2008

Typing Masters & Their Keyboard Cake

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two of my favorite typists

In Kigali, I'm living in the Voices of Rwanda House. During the day our living room is transformed into an office where a team of typists transcribe and translate video testimonies of Rwandans. VOR is an NGO committed to recording oral history as a form of transitional justice and as an effort to preserve the history of individuals and in effect, a country. Eventually, the video database will be used to educate high school students in the U.S. and around the world about genocide.

When the executive director, Taylor Krauss was starting the organization he arrived in Kigali expecting he would have no problem enlisting a team of typists to transcribe the interviews he was taping. He was wrong, but he turned this deficit into an opportunity -- an opportunity for himself and for Rwandans. In collaboration with a technology school in Kigali called E-ICT, he started a 6-week touch typing course to create a body of potential transcribers.

Yesterday, at the house we held a graduation ceremony to celebrate the first class to graduate from the typing certificate program. All the students graduated with distinction and many of the students already have found jobs. Several students are currently employed by VOR.

Inspired both by the students and the Krauss's efforts, I'm producing a documentary short called "TypingMaster 10-Finger Touch Typing," about the typists -- many who are orphans and survivors of the 1994 genocide and each with a big dream about where typing will take them.

My contribution to the graduation ceremony itself was as the executive in charge of decorating and as the chef on the dessert committee. Here is a photo of the cupcakes I made and assembled to resemble a keyboard.

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The night ended with a game that is the Rwandan equivalent of Secret Santa, called cacahouette. Everybody draws a name of a person at the party and in two weeks (the night before I depart) we will all convene and give a gift to the person whose name was drawn. The intention of the game is to create an opportunity so that the relationship which started at the party continues on.

For more photos from the night continue reading...

Continue reading "Typing Masters & Their Keyboard Cake" »

February 21, 2008

Framboise in Super Foam

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We are throwing a party tomorrow night at our house and I have volunteered to bake a cake. Cake ingredients here are easy to find if you know where to shop. I made an excursion to La Galette, a German butcher that has hard-to-find ingredients like pure cocoa powder and confectioners sugar.

As I was leaving with my bundle of groceries a man approached me. He was carrying a bucket that once carried clothing detergent but today was filled with freshly picked framboise. Actually, they looked more like the jelly candied framboise than proper raspberries and they tasted like a cross between a strawberry and a raspberry.

When I brought them back to the house, one of the Rwandese women who works here said she used to pick them as a girl but hasn’t seen them since.

My local saucisson

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I awoke yesterday morning to discover that while our pantry was stocked with the delicious Rwanda coffee beans ready for percolating, the refrigerator was without milk. I took a stroll up the dirt road to my local “bodega” to stock up on a box of the stuff. While I was there a delivery of fresh sausage links arrived. Of course I had to try one.

Yesterday, I had a tapas style lunch of sausage, cheese, bread and olives. It’s been a nice departure from the brochettes et frites which have become a staple in my diet.

Actual Crowds for Bush

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On Tuesday, George Bush arrived to spend 10 hours on Rwandan soil. We were taping students who traveled from the University to Kigali to cover Bush-related stories for their university radio station and print publication.

The students did vox pop interviews, asking people on the street what they thought of the Bush visit. Other students worked on stories about how the president’s visit will influence education and prevention of malaria and HIV/AIDS in Rwanda.

But my favorite story of the day is one my roommate told me. A Rwandan was asked whether or not he likes George Bush and if so, why he does. The man said he likes George Bush very much. The reason: “because of all the money that Rwanda gets from the Clinton Foundation.”

It was a great day for all and I think it gave the students a sense of all the running around that is a required of journalists.

February 18, 2008

Mayonnaise

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Rwandan Mayonnaise

One of my favorite guilty pleasures is eating french fries that have been deep-dipped into a pot of mayonnaise. In Rwanda, french fries come with nearly every meal so this decadent indulgence is fast becoming habitual.

In most countries the frite would be the highlighted ingredient -- made better only with the richness of the greasy condiment. But in Rwanda the mayonnaise is so good that the frite is merely a vehicle by which to transport the spread from bowl to mouth. The mayonnaise here tastes lightly of lemon -- hollandaise sauce's close cousin. The rich buttery yellow comes from the dark orange yolks. The slight crust that builds around the edges is worthy of its own name. I'll even admit that I've been caught scraping off the congealed build up and devouring it as a delicacy as rich as fois gras.

Why is the mayonnaise so delicious in Rwanda? It's a question I have asked all the waiters and chefs I've encountered. No one knows the secret, but I have my theories. As with all things delicious, ingredients is key. After oil, the main element in mayonnaise is the egg.

There are choices when buying eggs in Rwanda. All are small -- two sizes larger than a quail egg, one size smaller than the Grade A Extra Large egg found in America. The choice comes with color. Brown eggs come from chickens that are fed fish feed. The resulting yolk is a pale white color, basically albino cholesterol. The white eggs are an entirely different entity altogether. They contain the yolks used for Rwanda's amazing mayonnaise. Occupying the majority of the space inside the white egg shell is a dark orange yolk sunnier and denser than the flesh of a pumpkin. It is the egg flavor and a hint of the native lemons that punches through the oil and sets this mayonnaise apart.

It's clear that the mayonnaise here hasn't been pasteurized and warm mayonnaise is quite common -- evidence that it has never seen refrigeration of any kind. In this way, perhaps I'm tempting fate. But considering all that I've eaten thus far, it's impressive that my stomach remains content and without incident.

February 17, 2008

Church & a Run

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new Rwanda for Jesus church

This morning we got up early to follow a student working on a story about a new evangelical church outside of Butare.

The service was held in a skeleton of a building with dirt floors and a holy tin roof (pun alert) at the top of a long hill. There were no crosses, no bibles or church programs, but there was a keyboard, amp and an old IBM computer from the mid-90s set up on a table with extension cords running through the banana trees to god knows where. Since the "church" has no doors to lock, the usher's job is to haul the equipment to the building every week.

It was a typical evangelical service -- complete with tongue talkers, praise & worship music, dancing and personal testimonies about being saved. It's a great story to follow since Evangelicalism is such a huge part of the culture here.

This afternoon my cameraman and I did an 1 hour 15 minute run through the countryside just outside of Butare. We ran past marshes where rice grows, through rural villages, up and down hills, racing against the impending darkness. We ran out for 30 minutes, then reached a village, hugged a couple of kids for good luck and then turned back. Children who had seen us run by earlier joined us for a portion of the return trip in what became a brief impromptu running club. At one point we had about 25 kids trailing us, many of them barefoot.

The run home offered a breathtaking view of the distant mountains. And if nothing else we can count the trip as a location scout for beauty shots. We'll definitely return to film the beautiful sunset and distant misty mountains.

Tee Shirts

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Darth Maul sweatshirt

With all the missionaries running around here it is inevitable that tee-shirts donated by well meaning Christians in the States would wind up on the backs of Rwandans. There seems to be an endless number of tee shirts created for church barbecues or the one I saw today that said "Westwood Baptist Church Summer Hummer." I'm not sure what a hummer is in the context of a Baptist Church, but I'd love to find out.

The fun is also in spotting tee shirts designed for a very specific population, but worn by someone outside the intended demographic -- like the teenage girl with the "World's Best Grandfather" tee.

February 16, 2008

Rwandan Valentines

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Rwandan Valentine's Day Card

Valentine's Day isn't that big of a deal here in Rwanda. Despite this, stationary shops in Butare offer a plethora of choices when it comes to Valentine's Day cards. They were so delightfully over-the-top that my cameraman and I each bought two. In about three weeks our sweethearts will receive evidence of our love in a combined effort of the U.S. and Rwandan postal service (and all the post offices in between).

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Butare Rain

I am sitting in my Butare hotel room overlooking the garden courtyard. The rain is pinging loudly against the tin roof above me -- a sound I welcome today as I doze off for a lazy afternoon nap. However, earlier this week I was cursing the ubiquitious tin roofs of Rwanda and the music of the rainy season.

Finding a location to film interviews is a challenge anywhere you go. It requires a large quiet space that can be lit dramatically, has electricity and is more or less accessible to all parties involved.

Last Thursday, we went to a rural village outside of Nyamata to film some interviews. We managed to locate a large room at a conference center that was removed from the noisy road, had a multitude of working electrical outlets (fingers remained crossed that it would stay that way given the frequent power outages) and there was even a cafe nearby and a nice waitress who delivered chilled water on a platter.

When we "took a listen" to the room the sun was shining. But when the interview began, it wasn't long before we became aware of the roof above us. The rain started and was so loud against the corrugated tin that despite the sensitive microphones, we could barely hear the words of the person we were interviewing.

We waited for ten minutes until the rain subsided and had to pause again for the Muslim call to worship broadcast over a loudspeaker down the street. We got a few hours of clear interview sound, but as the sun began to set, the cicadas announced themselves. Any other day I would have welcomed their chirping. I think the location goes on record as being the noisiest I've ever experienced...and I usually shoot interviews in one of the noisiest cities in the world: NYC.

February 15, 2008

Ryeru Song


While I waited for my cameraman to finish up the shooting he was doing in a rural home outside of Nyamata, I was serenaded by these children with a song they had learned in church.

A lovely Valentine's Day treat even though I was apart from my Valentine.


February 12, 2008

A Balancing Act


Throughout Rwanda it's quite common to see people, primarily women, carrying items on their heads. This leaves their hands free for other tasks. Yesterday, on our drive from Kigali to Butare on the Volcano bus there were storm clouds overhead, so it made perfect sense when we drove past a woman carrying her closed umbrella on her head. I've asked around to find out the most unusual or unexpected items that have been spotted on women's heads throughout this country. Here are the results:

Cornucopias of bananas and other fruit are quite common as are bundles of eucalyptus tree branches. Less common, and therefore quite exciting to spot on heads are 20' 2x4s, 20 kilogram jugs of water, a coke salesman carrying a crate of bottles; square of wood with a pile of fish; a pepper grinder; a backpack.

With many bags to carry, I decided that I needed some training so that I could carry extra luggage on my head. I gathered together a team of trained balancing professionals (read mockers) to guide me in my balancing training. They told me as a woman I should be a natural. As you will see in this video, I am not. Unfortunately, I don't think I'm going to be hands or back free for a while. I think I need some more practice before going public.

Butare Birthday Party

We’re back in Butare. Last night we got the rare opportunity to visit the home of one of the students we’ve been spending time with. It was her 20th birthday.

We drove a short distance out of downtown Butare to a suburb called Tumba. The sun had set and except for dimly lit storefronts the space around us was devoid of light. We bumped along an eroded road and pulled up at the birthday party house. We entered at a bamboo gate and walked down a short dirt path to the porch and into a concrete L-shaped room lined with benches and couches where party guests sat as if shy 7th graders at a dance – looking straight ahead and not talking. We were greeted at the door by a beautifully regal woman in a pink and white traditional dress and were ushered to available seats on a couch in a corner.

For a few minutes we sat quietly exchanging a few words in kinyarwanda with the other guests. A little boy came over and showed me that by folding his foldy-cube toy he could display a variety of bible scenes. A young man and woman came around with a wooden crate filled with glass bottles of Fanta and Coke for us.

Apparently, they were waiting for our arrival because shortly after we sat down, the birthday girl's mother stood up and welcomed everyone, taking time to introduce each group and asking them to stand. There were church friends, neighbors, family and members of Rwanda for Jesus. We were introduced as the Americans.

A student translated for me as the introduction led into an expressive recount of the day that her daughter was born 20 years ago. It was really moving and clear what pride and love this mother has for her daughter -- and so wonderful to have the stories told reflect what we were in fact there to celebrate: the story of a person's arrival in the world.

Then big plates heaped with food were brought out -- a real feast of cassava leaves (which tastes a lot like sag paneer), fried irish potatoes, buttery rice and stewy beef. Then cubes of birthday cake were passed around in a basket. It all tasted so good.

Singing, clapping, more stories followed and then guests paraded up to present their gifts. Her brother re-gifted a stuffed animal with a missing eye. A fellow student gave a bag of popcorn and a carton of milk. We gave her a bottle of perfume called Passion -- I think the imitation version of CK's Obsession.

It was a real treat of a night.

February 08, 2008

The Saloons of Rwanda

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Forget Spaghetti Westerns. With all the Hair and Nail Saloons in this country, Rwanda is the perfect place to stage a Western. Hollywood, are you out there? Oh, and this little photo gallery is only the beginning. I snapped these five images within a 1 km radius in the Kigali suburb of Remara. There will be many more photos like this to come.

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Continue reading "The Saloons of Rwanda" »

Regional Cheeses of Rwanda

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Yesterday, I woke up early to go to Nyamata - a town about twenty minutes outside of Kigali to pre-interview some people I may potentially film.

Before leaving Kigali I asked Papa Fred to stop the car at a market so I could buy us a round of water. He pulled over at a shop just down the road from Car Wash (which as its name suggests is a place to get your car washed. But it's also a watering hole where you can lounge and enjoy a nice cold Mutzig beer).

When I went to the counter to pay for my water, I noticed two refrigerators behind the cashier. Both were filled with creamy wheels of cheeses. Each shelf was labeled with a different region of Rwanda. Who knew that Rwanda has regional cheeses? I'll have to have a cheese tasting party. The only problem is even though the cheeses come from different regions of Rwanda, they all look the same.

I'll have to ask our cook, Matilde about her regional cheese preferences. Maybe she'll even tell me which cheese she uses in that delicious cheese and eggplant casserole she makes.

Poulet Froid

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view from Butare hotel balcony

I’m feeling exhilarated after spending two days with the students at the National University. And the Butare visit was fruitful in more ways than one. A teacher gave me some really beautiful music by a Rwandese musician called: Inyarwanda. It sad and beautiful – reminds me of an acoustic African Low – for those familiar with the band Low.

The day was long, but rewarding. By the time we had a chance to check our email at an internet café where the bandwidth was so small that it took a half an hour to load a three line email in my old yahoo account (my gmail wouldn’t even open) there were limited dining options.

We headed to Hotel Ibis, the only place where two people could get a hot meal at that hour of the night. But even Ibis was preparing to close. The grumbling in our stomachs overpowered politeness and we insisted we would eat anything: eggs for tomorrow’s petit dejeuner, bread, cold frites, anything. Our waiter went into the kitchen to see what could be done. Apparently the spaghetti and meatballs hadn’t been particularly popular with diners that night because he came back and offered us poulet (meatballs). Not spaghetti. Not sauce. Just the balls themselves. We ordered twenty warm meatballs to share.

When they arrived we devoured them. They were made with beef and fresh herbs and garlic and tasted so good. So good, in fact that we ordered another round. Because it was so late the waiter warned they would be brought out froid. And that my friends, was our mistake in judgment. Cold meatballs are a dangerous thing. We continued to be reminded of this mistake for several days.

February 04, 2008

More Potholes than Pavement

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We arrived in Butare (Rwanda's college town) after a stunning drive through tea farms and the Nyungwe Forest in southwest Rwanda. It was so wonderful to pass through this beautiful mountain forest during daylight hours. There were more potholes than pavement, but I'm continually astounded by the consistently breathtaking effect the Rwanda countryside has on me. The highlight of the drive was seeing all the little golden monkeys clinging to the mossy cliffs. I'm not sure why they're called golden monkeys since they're black and white.

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We'll be in Butare for the next few days, filming at the Journalism School and the University Radio Station. We'll return to Kigali by mid-week. By then I'm sure we'll welcome our in-house high-speed internet with open arms.

Update from the Epicenter

Day 1

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Yesterday afternoon, as the second round of earthquake tremors rippled through Kigali, we got a call from the Associated Press. They needed footage of the earthquake's aftermath. We loaded up our camera gear, called our wonderful driver Papa Fred and began the long five hour journey to Cyangugu, the southwestern most area of Rwanda.

Here are some pictures from our drive from Kigali to Cyangugu:
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It was dark by the time we passed through the Nyungwe Forest so we didn't get to see the monkeys and chimpanzees in their home. Instead we bumped along the rocky road looking up at the cliffs above us, then down on the road before us to see the rocks and earth that had crumbled off.

We arrived in Cyangugu late and went straight to the Gihundwe Hospital. It's a typical 3rd world clinic -- dimly lit with overworked doctors and crowded rooms filled with metal beds and patients. The director of the hospital said that earlier in the day there were long lines of injured people along the concrete path outside the hospital. In the afternoon ten doctors had arrived from Kigali to help out so by the time we arrived they seemed to have moved the people with minor injuries through. We toured the hospital rooms. Injured people from neighboring villages lay on beds with broken arms, head gashes and broken legs. We were told 34 people had died in Rwanda due to the quake.

Photos at Gihundwe Hospital:

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We got to our accommodations, a Catholic retreat center up the hill from the beautiful Lake Kivu. For the duration of our drive we'd been receiving messages from our friends in Kigali that officials were warning to stay out of buildings between 8 pm and midnight. Apparently the were some warning issued based on a prediction of another earthquake. However, it was well after midnight when we arrived and finally sat down to edit the video footage. A minor tremor around 2 AM made me realize how uneasy I was about being so close to the epicenter. We jumped from the computer and lunged for the door frame, then laughed when the shaking didn't amount to much.

Continue reading "Update from the Epicenter" »

February 03, 2008

My Very First Earthquake

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Cyangugu, in southwest Rwanda -- the epicenter of this morning's earthquake

Until this morning I've never experienced an earthquake.

At 9:43 AM, as I was planning how to spend my Sunday the dining room hutch, floors, and window panes began rattling. I had just woken to the distant chorus of church-goers singing hymns in kinyarwanda. I'm such a sucker for good Christian music -- bluegrass, gospel, and now kinyarwanda hymns. Hearing the soulful music is the only time when I actually entertain the idea of conversion. In a nation as Christian as this one, with a fast-growing shift away from Catholicism to evangelical churches, I was trying to decide which church invitation to accept. I could join a new friend at the Assembly of God church this afternoon, or I could accompany a women who heads one of the Kigali prisons to the Zionist church this evening. I'm looking forward to entering this world of Rwanda that I haven't seen yet. I plan to bring my mini-disc recorder and make a field recording of the music.

My thoughts were interrupted by the slight rocking of the ground beneath my feet. Last night at dinner at Restaurant Hellenique, I had been talking to some NGOs about efforts underway to harness the methane gas from the volcano outside of Goma to provide electricity for the region. So already volcanos and plates were on my mind. But I've never thought of this area as particularly proned to quakes.

The shaking we felt here pales to what people in the epicenter, 300 km away in Cyangugu felt.

The strangest thing to me is that it's now been nearly three hours since the earthquake, yet there are still no news reports -- only a mention on two geological survey sites. Registering at a magnitude of 6.1 on the Richter scale, it's hardly insubstantial. The area where it occurred is densely populated. Surely there's been a fair amount of damage.

**UPDATE

KIGALI (AFP) - At least 23 people died Sunday in western Rwanda after a strong earthquake shook several countries in Africa's Great Lakes region, Radio Rwanda reported.
[from Rwanda Radio]

For more about the cause of earthquakes in this region, read on.

Continue reading "My Very First Earthquake" »

February 01, 2008

My neighborhood from outerspace

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a satellite image of my Kigali neighborhood

I've started jogging. It's a way for me to learn my neighborhood, to kill time while waiting for the paperwork we need to film, and to blow off steam about some of the roadblocks we've hit.

Above is a satellite photo of my neighborhood in Kigali. I've circled the house where I live. The image doesn't accurately convey the steep incline that I must ascend to get to the large circle on the right side of the satellite image near the Rwandan Revenue Building. The loop is a favorite workout spot for the Chinese business people who live in the neighborhood. We pass large groups of them walking the loop every evening. I say hi in mandarin, ni hao ma-- the only word I know. My cameraman, who is much more proficient in the language usually asks them if they've seen our dog, Beaubie, who has inevitably run off since we don't have a leash for him.

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Beaubie, the dog who came with my house

Yesterday, we were jogging the loop and Beaubie was running around in the middle of the road. He's already been hit by a car once, so you'd think that he'd be more cautious around moving vehicles. But no. He ran towards a Jeep that was driving too fast. Luckily, the driver slammed on the breaks and avoided making impact with the poor mutt. But when Beaubie fell over he re-injured his leg. He hobbled home, whimpering in pain. I felt horrible. I was doubtful that we would be able to find a vet. But today we tracked one down. He gave us antibiotics and medication to reduce the swelling and pain. Already, Beaubie seems much happier. I'm going shopping for a leash, though it may be a few days before Beaubie is ready to run again.

Continue on to see another picture of Beaubie before the injury.

Continue reading "My neighborhood from outerspace" »

January 28, 2008

Kimironko Market

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During my first three days in Rwanda I spent almost every waking moment with my intrepid tour guide/cameraman. He has been living here off and on for the past 10 months and has been an incredible resource, helping me to navigate the town and translate my incomprehensible french and even worse kinyarwanda to a language that people living here can understand. But by Sunday it was time to cut the umbilical cord. I decided that if I'm going to learn how to find my way and communicate with people here, I need to risk getting a little lost and risk humiliation by speaking my limited french.

For my first exercise in independence, I set out to find the marche de kimironko -- where all the locals go to buy their produce. I had a craving for some juicy pineapples and bananas. Uncertain that I would actually reach my destination, but willing to take that risk to acquaint myself with Kigali, I threw caution to the humid wind and headed out to find a moto.

With the exception of a few main roads, there are almost no street names in Kigali. To give or get directions, people first state the neighborhood then describe a series of well known landmark buildings to help hone in on the zone that is the ultimate destination. The system would work fine if I actually knew where any of the landmark buildings are. When still in Brooklyn, I sent an email to find out the address where I would be living. I was told, "tell the taxi to take you to the Kimihurura neighborhood, near the house of Rubangura on the same road as Hellenique Restaurant." For someone who likes a lot of detail and lost-proof directions when embarking on a film production, this was the first ominous sign of the challenges ahead.

To hail a moto, I hike up the hill from my house to the main road and mimic the loud tshkch sound that I heard people make when hailing transportation. Somehow the sound I make works. In broken french I explain to my driver that I want to go to the market in Kimironko. My directions must have been okay, because after a short drive I am in the right part of town -- but my pronunciation of market, marche, was poor or maybe my driver couldn't imagine why a white girl like me would go to the market when most westerners hire locals to grocery shop and cook for them. Instead of taking me to the produce market he stops in front of tailor who makes customized dresses out of African prints. I explain that I want vegetables not vetements.

He looks at me as though I'm crazy, but then we turn around and in less than a minute I'm standing outside an open tent filled with produce, butchered goats, fish and fabric. I make the rounds testing pineapples and mangoes and practicing the four kinyarwanda words I know: mwiriwe=good afternoon; murakoze=thank you; amakuru=how are you; ni meza=fine -- except I kept saying mi neza. I'm not sure how that translates.

I buy a small chunk of rock salt. It comes from the floor Lake Kivu -- the lake in the west that runs along the border of Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo. Most people buy the salt to give to their cows, but I bought it because the salt crystals are so beautiful and it's a reminder of the history contained in the soil around me. I think of the stories I read in Alison des Forges book, Leave Not to Tell the Story about bodies being thrown down the embankment into Lake Kivu during the 1994 genocide and how mutilated bodies were seen floating along the shores. I touched my finger to the salt and taste it. I feel queasy even though all I taste is salt.

--

I walk back to the produce area to buy some food and purchase a small pineapple, a cluster of five bananas that look like stubby yellow fingers, and ingredients for guacamole -- a purple avocado, cilantro, tiny fresh limes, hot pepper and tomato. Now I just need to find a market that sells tortilla chips.

Heading home, I negotiate a price with my driver for even less than the ride to the market -- the equivalent of about $0.50. Not bad for a newbie.

January 26, 2008

Every town has one....

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Before departing on our two hour bus ride from Butare back to Kigali we decided to stock up on some food for the road. Since there are no take-away joints and the market was closed, we turned to the simple, cheap and delicious alternative: bread. Rwandans are very very good bread makers. Any opportunity I get to eat some Rwandan bread, I take. You can find the most amazing, freshly-baked loaves of bread along the side of the road, in little store fronts and in this case, next to The Chinese Restaurant. We stocked up on a bread braid that looked like Challah and tasted like the warm oatmeal bread my mother used to bake. Then we raced to catch our bus.

Getting Reaquainted

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With Ibrihim our taxi driver in Butare

It's hard to believe that I've only been here for 48 hours. I guess jetlag continues to disorient me, but I've also managed to pack in a lot. On Saturday morning my cameraman and I got up at 5 am and took the Volcano bus down to Butare -- a college town about two hours south of Kigali. The town is the largest in Rwanda after Kigali. The ride there was utterly breathtaking and the early morning light, incredible. Like most drives in Rwanda, the road south winds up and down through the lush green hills and despite my fatigue I couldn't help but keep my eyes open taking in the beauty.

Evidence that this is the most densely populated country in Africa is not seen in high rises or traffic congestion. Rather, it becomes clear looking out the window and seeing the people themselves; for the entire duration of the trip through the rural countryside not a minute goes by when we weren't passing people walking along the road -- some carrying bananas and pineapples in baskets on their heads, other just socializing with friends. At first glance it's easy to miss all the housing necessary to accommodate Rwanda's large population. Looking out my window into the valleys and up the hills it seems there are merely leafy banana trees and green. But looking harder the camouflaged tile-roofed homes emerge. Once I spot them I realize they're ubiquitous -- dotting the valleys, lining the road, stacked up terraced hillsides.

The main street of Butare is dusty and lined with storefronts -- there are a few restaurants, an internet cafe, gas station. The town is much smaller than bustling Kigali and feels a little like the set of an old western. We arrived by 8:30 am and had time for a leisurely breakfast at Hotel Ibis before meeting with the head of the journalism school. I ate the omelet special -- tomatoes, cheese, meat and rice suspended in egg. I think next time I'll ask for sans riz.

We had a good meeting with the journalism school director and then walked to the house where the Rwanda Initiative teachers live while teaching at the journalism school. We had lunch with them, explaining a bit about our project. Together we headed to Radio Salus -- the university radio station, now ranked 3rd in the entire country, thanks in large part to Aldo Havugimana.

During our last trip to Rwanda in 2004, we had met and interviewed Aldo who was then a journalism student at the University. He hoped to become a radio journalist. Four years later he is the director of Radio Salus and has successfully boosted the station's ratings by creating a range of diverse programming which includes news, short radio documentaries, talk shows, music shows, often featuring question and answers. The station has come a long way since we were last here when it was just starting up.

It started to rain lightly as we made our way to catch the last bus back to Kigali.

January 25, 2008

Chez Moi

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The view from my home in Kigali

Over the past two days I've crossed seven time zones and have slept very little. Maybe that's why it feel like the days between now and when I left New York are running together like a long poorly constructed run-on sentence like the one I'm writing now.

My flight arrived at the Kigali airport at 8 PM, right on time. It was a quick drive from the airport to what will be my new home for the next six weeks. In Rwanda there are few street lamps, so at night, even at the airport, the stars pop out of the sky. It was great to see so many stars, but the lack of man-made lighting made it hard to take in the buildings and distant hills I knew were out there, but only came through to my strained eyes as silhouettes. I will have to wait until morning to really see.

To get to my house we drove a few miles on a paved road to my neighborhood in Kimihurura -- a neighborhood on a hill that has about 8 rows of terraced red dirt streets stacked up the hillside. We're in the middle of the hill and from my front porch I look directly at the lights dotting the next hill over -- where downtown Kigali is situated.

The luggage containing our camera lens is still missing so I make another Skype call to "FlightCare" to find out if my bag was found in Delhi, but there was no news. Time to adjust to GMT +2 and get some sleep.

January 22, 2008

Rwanda-bound

As the markets head south -- I prepare to do the same. Tonight I will begin my 48 hour journey from New York to Kigali, Rwanda via Belgium.

Everyone tells me that Kigali has been developing dramatically since I was last there in 2004 and I'm getting excited to see all the changes firsthand. A friend on the ground said there's a new mall in downtown Kigali, complete with a Starbuck's-esq Rwandan fairtrade coffee shop: Bourbon Coffee. Ben Affleck was recently spotted there sipping coffee. Facebook and blogging are becoming favorite pastimes of students who have access to the internet and there are a lot of exciting new developments at the journalism school in Butare where I will be doing the bulk of my documentary shooting.