Tonight’s party, which began at 3 this afternoon, is for Taylor’s students, since he leaves in two days to go back home. His students made shishkabobs on the grill outside (with a homemade baster made of grass; Africans make anything they need from whatever is at hand) after feeding on the pasta salad I and another young housemate made. In consideration of my short night last night, they have just shut off the rap music brought, amplified, sung and danced to by dozen lanky Rwandans, and moved to the lower garden. Taylor asked the party to move away from my window so I could sleep. Without prerecorded music, though, they immediately started an even more engaging and lively musical program, making their own karaoke, each one shouting out a song…
After two hours sleep and reaching the Nairobi airport at 5 am, a Ugandan pharmacist told me as I left that I’d love Rwanda and must see a village three hours from Kigali. So an hour later we touched down at Kigali airport, whose uplifting lines vaguely resemble a bird of paradise and whose gentle grace welcomes. Julius, a 26 yr old entrepreneur who rents a large house and gives rooms and meals to international teachers and workers (just $20/day, listed in yahoo groups) picked me up. He has a gentle focus and curiosity about international service and all things business related. His dream is to buy two jeeps and run tours, start a messenger service and enlarge his guest house to accommodate more than the six he has now. He is a full-time student, has this business and another logistics job for an NGO placing media interns in media businesses to launch them into good communications practice. At his comfortable house we have a garden oasis with several avocados ripening on the lower garden wall, which fell from the tree in the yard. The mango tree is nurturing tiny mangos. Speaking of garden trees, I tasted passion fruits that fell from several trees at a Nairobi homestay recently.
So it’s my first party after New Years’ tonight, and it’s a doozy. For a few weeks my housemate Taylor has been teaching 20 somethings (most are orphans) how to make websites at a school here, since the internet is bigger here and mobile technology a smaller phenomenon than in Kenya. [By amazing coincidence Taylor lives about two miles away from me in Cambridge MA.]
Tonight’s party, which began at 3 this afternoon, is for Taylor’s students, since he leaves in two days to go back home. His students made shishkabobs on the grill outside (with a homemade baster made of grass) after feeding on the pasta salad I and another young housemate made. In consideration of my short night last night, they have just shut off the rap music brought, amplified, sung and danced to by dozen lanky Rwandans, and moved to the lower garden. [Taylor asked the party to move away from my window so I could sleep. Without prerecorded music, though, they immediately started an even more engaging and lively musical program, making their own karaoke, each one shouting out a song, after which all join in singing with uniform gusto, clapping rhythmically, merging voices, punctuated with whistles and shouts. Now a Rwandan song like one sung around a campfire for a generation. Now a round of Frere Jacques. Whistles, clapping and surging waves of unison song, with Rwandan call and response, and I’m more wide awake than ever. They don’t do much without singing, these Rwandans. Their thirst for life is the repeating chorus I hear from this bunch.
After a nap and shower a few hours ago I was drawn by surging song to visit the church two doors away to witness the choir rehearsal–like a South African chorus, with the stomping and clapping that inspires leaping to one’s feet and shouting amen. Several invited me to come in the morning at 10 sharp to see the real thing. While I sat listening, a gorgeous, lithe woman of 26, carefully put together from toenails to soft white sweater, translated the choir’s lyrics for me and touched my shoulder often (her personal space is thinner than mine). I asked her how old she was and I murmured something obtuse about the genocide, asking if she were Tutsi, since she told me her family had been refugees in Uganda. She laughed nervously and told me that everyone speaks of being Rwandan, not of tribes now. As I left two men at the gate asked me to take their picture and stared at my lens, smiling beatifically into my camera for some moments, then pronounced it good.
When I got back to my new home, I reported to Julius (my 26 year old host), whose family were also refugees, on my choir visit. [No less than four people today asked me hopefully, in a bonding way, if I were Christian.] Julius said that people were indeed healing and coming together now in surprising ways. He said that a force much stronger
than the people themselves was at work in the national healing. Austin, my MIT advisor who led me to this homestay, was right about the surprising reality of Rwanda I saw shining from in the several dozen faces I have met today. As the late monologist Spaulding Gray once said about Cambodia many years ago, sometimes a cloud of evil
hovers over a region for a time and wreaks a destruction that seems incomprehensible. And as with Bhutan, a sense of peace can pervade a place for a time, in equally inscrutable ways.