October 31, 2009

National Work Day

Today's a national work day in Rwanda. They have it on the last day of every month. For a couple of hours in the morning, everyone does community work, cleaning the streets and so forth. This helps explain why the streets are so clean!

Meanwhile, I, the muzungu (white person), am sitting in the living room drinking excellent Rwandan mountain tea and eating chappatis and typing. Eveywhere I go, children call out, "Muzungu!" and say things like "Hello" or "How are you?" and shake my hand. The other day we walked past a long line of prisoners in orange jumpsuits -- these are men who have admited their role in the genocide and are being rehabilitated -- and a couple called out "muzungu" and I gave them the peace sign and they cheered. Have had experiences similar in the big open-air market and on the streets.

Last night I attended a charismatic church service at my hosts' chuch. I'd seen them often on TV but never in person, and I found that in person they're just like on TV! A portly, sweaty guest preacher bounced from one end of the stage to another proclaiming that nothing had given him satisfaction like God, telling us that in order to reach Canaan land you have to go through pain (the Bible text was a passage from Joshua about how God commanded the children of Israel to be circumcized again before they could enter the Promised Land). Mic'd, it was as loud as a rock concert in the 300-person room. There was singing and dancing afterward to a drum and organ accompaniment, and I was shocked to find that the Africans clapped on one and three instead of two and four! Neither was the dancing marked by any particularly magical looseness of limb, imaginative improvisation, or the like.

Yesterday was spent pleasantly sitting in a bare undecorated restaurant in the town of Muhunga, where I ate cooked cassava root and brochettes of goat meat and goat liver and, not least, some very good french fries. (There's a good beer here, BTW, called Primus, light and tangy with a slight sweetness, made from sorghum. There's also banana-based beer, which I hope to try later.)It rained briefly and hard and we went inside from the cafe terrace to watch, with a couple of new friends with whom we practiced three different languages. One was a geography teacher in secondary school, who teaches in English, a language of which he could trade only a very few phrases with me. I drew him a map of the US -- assuring hiim beforehand in French that I was the world's greatest artist -- and it was all new to him.

The schoolkids have just gotten thrugh a national exam that lasts, I think, two days. They all dress in clean outfits and wait tensely for the results. Acccording to Costa, private schools in Rwanda are good but expensive and the free public schools are overcrowded and not good. Oddly, Protestant schools here have a good reputation but Catholic schools do not.

There's much more ethnology around, much more than can fit here. Just wanted to tell you that everything's going well. Next week should be more serious for us -- doing The Work of Byron Katie with prisoners and other traumatized people. We've done a little of that so far, and it honestly seemed to have led some shut-off genocide survivors to open up. I've seen people smile who, according to my host, have not done so in years, and cry at confronting things that they had hid from for even longer.

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