My Second Week in Rwanda, and a visit to the Murambi Technical School Genocide Memorial

8/14/09

Today we were supposed to make a film of me playing at Kimironko Market, but we’re having a little delay in getting a film permit from the Ministry of Culture. But it’s right around the corner.

This evening I performed at a place called Republika in the Kiyovu section of Kigali. Imagine an African themed bar/restaurant in America, and that’s roughly what the decor was like except for that it was full of Rwandans, with only a few foreigners. The view of Kigali’s hills from the back deck reminded me of Los Angeles. The owner’s name is Solange, and I have to admit to feeling a little intimidated by her. Solange is deadly serious, well-mannered, and business-like. I see it as a good thing in a country that could use a boost in the area of entrepreneurship.

There has been constant pressure to do legitimate gigs at real venues, which is taking away time from the important part of playing on the streets.

8/15/09

Today, I met Rwa Makondera for the first time, a meeting that I have been anticipating for months. Rwa Makondera is a children’s dance troupe, composed of street kids, orphans, and neighborhood kids from the Kaciryu section of Kigali. They meet at the Ivuka Arts Center where they learn traditional Rwandan drumming, dancing, and singing. Sometimes, they make a little money from their new skills, and they even won themselves a little trip to Holland last spring. Children don’t have a lot to do in Rwanda. There aren’t a lot of community centers or places to play sports, so the children of Rwa Makondera love the opportunity to hang out together in an organized activity, with instruction etc.

First, they showed me a little of what they do, then I demonstrated the sax for them. Their faces faces when I played were hilarious to the point of being a mild distraction to me. I know that my throat expands when I play, but this was a very funny thing to them. And probably half of them started feeling their own throats and looking at one another, with wide smiles, probably trying not to laugh out loud at me. I explained the way we use the saxophone in America for jazz music, which is a mix of European and African music.

Then, we started jamming together which went very well. I think we were all pleased with it. They said they wanted to play on the street sometime with me, and we’ll probably also do a legitimate gig at Novotel.

In the evening, I had a gig at Cactus Cafe where I did some solo sets, and performed alongside Dasha, a singer/guitarist from Russia. I know I’ve said a lot about how my main priority in Rwanda is to play on the street, so that the music is for everyone. But after getting to know this place better, I realize it is also important to do these legitimate gigs, because the people here who want to dress up and go out and see music as a planned activity with friends and family, have very little opportunity to do so. The resources here are very limited in many aspects, and entertainment is definitely one of them. I did some improvised music, some standards, and some klezmer clarinet, all unaccompanied, and the audience was very appreciative.

8/16/09

Had my first “easy” day since arriving here in Rwanda. Woke up and enjoyed some pancakes with my housemates, then went into town and bought a bus ticket to Butare and did some emailing at Bourbon Cafe.

In the evening, Daddy and I met with Karin, the head of the Goethe Institut here in Kigali. We discussed funding and other ways that she and the Goethe Institut might help out, and it was a very productive meeting. Karin was very open and engaging, and she served some wine and a great dinner in her beautiful house here. She has a big dog named Simba.

8/17/09

Today, I rode the bus to Butare. The ride is a little longer than two hours. First on my agenda, was a meeting with Leonadis, a member of the local Rotary Club. Somehow, I’ve taken on this side project of creating a relationship between the Rotary Clubs of Butare and Delaware where my mom lives. Leonadis gave me a tour of Butare. Despite being the second largest city in Rwanda, it seems quite small. I would almost describe it as a village, not to belittle its significance though. Butare is most famous for the National University, the oldest and most prestigious institution of higher learning in Rwanda. The great amount of cathedrals here have enticed some to call it the “Vatican of Rwanda.”

One highlight of the tour was the Butare expo, where there was a stage and various merchants displaying food, beverages, services, and products. The booth where free blood pressure tests were given was probably the most popular. When we were there, the mayor was at the microphone, and no one, as in not a single person, had gathered near the stage to listen. Leonadis and I both found this funny. According to Leonadis’ translation the mayor was talking about why he decided to organize an expo and what a success it was.

The rotary in Butare is hoping to promote English language literacy among local students, so they are hoping to start a pen-pal program between children in Butare and their counterparts in English speaking countries like the USA. They are also helping out with Claire Umubyeyi’s book-drive initiative, which is already well underway in New York: http://www.enwa-rwanda.org/jml/

In the evening, I met with Salus Populi, the school band of the National University of Rwanda. They specialize in African pop hits, etc. We jammed well into the night, in a small room in the basement below the auditorium. There was a little bathroom stall in the corner, and the drum-set was missing a snare, but they really had a lot of enthusiasm so the music sounded great. I particularly liked their group vocals. Many of them were also great dancers. They invited me to be a special guest at their upcoming performance in the main auditorium, so I will return on Friday night for that. I am told that the hope is that Salus Populi might evolve into a full music program here where students can major in music. I am feeling pretty overloaded, but still look forward to coming back on Friday to perform with them.

8/18/09

Today despite feeling half-mad, I went to play some sax outside the expo in Butare. There’s something about this city that unsettles me a little. There is not a whole lot to do, just one street to walk down, and it doesn’t really seem like there’s anywhere to go. Outside of the university, I don’t see many people having much fun here. Though I’m sure as a foreigner, I haven’t properly navigated the city in such a short time for this judgement to be entirely accurate.

I set up my sax outside the entrance of the expo, and as usual people started gathering around while I was still putting it together. I started playing, and there was a crazy woman, with twin toddlers, in my audience who started carrying on and saying things to me and swirling around. I couldn’t understand a word, but she seemed like the happy kind of crazy person with a wide, perhaps glue-sniffing, smile. I’ve had trouble getting pictures of scenes like this, because I’m usually alone, but I finally just decided to take a picture of my audience. For some reason, they didn’t seem to think it was very strange that I did that. I followed the usual strategy of finding a volunteer in the audience who speaks a little English to translate for me, explaining that I was playing music in Rwanda to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the genocide. Today, my translator happened to be one of the supervisors of the expo, and a few minutes later I was on the main stage of the expo playing sax, and having my message translated for the audience there. I’m pleased to report that I attracted a slightly larger crowd than the mayor did yesterday. After my brief performance, I was interviewed by a journalist for the New Times, Rwanda’s first and, so far, only English language daily. I’m hoping it is published and accurate.

In the evening, I played a little on campus at the National University. I met a couple of young gentlemen who, pleased with my performance and motivations, showed me the university’s genocide memorial. One of them named Marc, was seven years old at the time of the genocide, and he lost his father. He described bodies, sometimes in mass graves, and sometimes just anywhere, like a toilet. The memorial at the National University was on the site of a mass grave where the students and faculty were buried. On display, were names of those who were identified and photos, where possible.

After this, I had another rehearsal with Salus Populi, in preparation for our performance Friday evening. I found myself a little upset that here at the National University I was seeing the first drum-set I’d seen in Rwanda, and it was missing a snare.

8/19/09

Today Daddy Ruhorahoza, the filmmaker, met me in Butare and we took a bus to the Murambi Technical School, about 45 minutes outside of town. The Murambi Technical School was meant to open in 1994, but during the genocide, the almost finished buildings were packed with refugees, hiding from the militias. Thousands of them were killed at Murambi, men, women, and children, all noncombatants. Murambi never opened as a technical school. It went straight from being a construction site to a mass grave, and now a genocide memorial.

Our tour guide was a survivor of the attack on the technical school. She was hiding there with her husband and three children, in a building that she pointed out to us. She was Hutu, but her husband was Tutsi. As the militias were throwing rocks and grenades at them, she shouted that she was a Hutu, and showed her ID card. They let her out, and she carried one of her children, strapped to her back. Her husband and her other two kids were killed. I asked her how she felt about working at the site where her family was killed, and talking about it so much all the time. She said it was an important but uncomfortable thing to do, and, in the end, it was job, protecting her from economic vulnerability. Today, she was wearing a bracelet that said “There is no such thing as a lesser person.”

We started with the classrooms full of mummified bodies, which were dug up from the mass graves and put on display as proof of what had happened there. Daddy didn’t want to film the bodies, and neither did I. Too uncomfortable… So I went into the rooms and reported what I saw to the camera. This was not easy to do, because what I saw was very disturbing, plus I’m not used to discussing such serious subject matter on film. The bodies were crushed into various shapes and positions, some with holes or dents in the skull. Many looked very young, even younger than 3 or 4 years old. Some of them still had just a little hair on their heads. I believe at one point I reported to the camera that they smelled like garbage, and now I just hope that this sounded right on film.

We moved on and took a look at the clothes room. This was easy to stomach compared to the bodies. The clothes, and some other sites at Murambi, look disturbingly similar to images we know from the European Holocaust. Personally, I am reminded of things like shoe piles. Plus, the long buildings arranged in straight lines, could easily remind one of cellblocks in a concentration camp. I got this idea of playing some klezmer clarinet in front of the clothes and the “cellblocks,” while Daddy filmed. The idea was to decontextualize and recontextualize images of atrocity. What this should accomplish, if anything, I’m not sure. But I hope it will reinforce the ubiquitousness and repetition of human rights disasters. It’s sad and fascinating to me that these images and sounds can be combined almost seamlessly. Sometimes, we can hardly discern whether we are looking at images from Rwanda in 1994 or Europe in 1944.

Daddy and I purchased some bananas to eat on the bus ride back to Butare, and we both agreed that they were terrible. (It’s rare to have a bad banana in Rwanda.) They were so bad, that we had to throw them out the window of the bus, and I was the one sitting next to the window. Somehow, I managed, completely accidentally, to nail someone on the side of the road with a half-eaten banana, and then I started laughing uncontrollably, while the other passengers gave me the “you asshole” look. I actually felt bad, but was laughing anyway.

When we got to Butare, I immediately got on a bus back to Kigali. While I was waiting for the bus to leave, a mute child with a gigantic smile on his face approached me and knocked on the window. He started gesturing like he was playing the saxophone, swaying back and forth, and pointing in the direction of the expo. I gave him a thumbs up. He came back to the window doing this several times, while I was waiting for the bus to leave.

8/20/09

Last night, was one of the rare good nights of sleep I’ve had in a while. Then today I met with Daddy, and we discussed some ideas for the film, then we both caught up on emails and paperwork, typing madly across the table from one another.

I then met with a gentleman, by the name of Emanuel, who is the director of a Catholic youth movement for orphans, and we discussed how I might do a saxophone demonstration, for the children. Emanuel, spoke very broken English, but told me of his hopes to write a book about the hundreds of thousands of children who were orphaned in the genocide.

My last meeting of the day was with Christian, a local actor/filmmaker/businessman. He showed me a three minute preview of a film he’d worked on about the genocide, and wanted some advice. Unfortunately, as a musician working on my first film, I could give him very limited input.

Christian told me that when he was 15, the militias came to his house the day after the genocide started and accused his older brother, then serving  in the Rwandan Patriotic Front, of having killed President Habyarimana, the leader of the Hutu Power movement, and he still sees those militiamen on the streets around Kigali. I asked him how it was that Rwanda had changed so much in 15 years, from being so violent and hate-filled to being completely safe and with bigotry remaining mostly below the surface (possibly the best we can ask for anywhere?) He said that Rwandans looked to their past, to the way that their ancestors lived. There had been more peaceful and less hate-filled times in Rwanda’s history, and today they are trying to emulate that history. It also helps that the current government is vigorously promoting reconciliation.

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