8/27/09-9/2/09, Including a trip to Gisenyi and a performance with Rwa Makondera


This morning I recorded a little more music for the film, then I called Manuel, the leader of Salus Populi, to tell him I didn’t think I’d be making it to Butare tomorrow to perform with Salus Populi. My reasons are that I have to play at the Muhima Primary School in the afternoon, then was invited to play at a nightclub in the evening, plus I have a performance the next afternoon. It just didn’t seem possible to got to Butare. I am very sorry for this, and I hope to perform with Salus Populi sometime when I return to Rwanda. I like their music and their spirit.

I met Richard Niwenshunti for lunch. He’s someone I’d been meaning to meet for a few weeks now. In addition to running his own business, Richard is the Kigali representative for BPeace ( http://www.bpeace.org ) which is an American organization that promotes female entrepreneurship in post-conflict zones, particularly Rwanda and Afghanistan. It’s a worthwhile initiative, because it empowers people with employment, so it is more sustainable than many aid programs. Plus, it decreases women’s dependency on potentially abusive spouses, by making them economically independent. I first heard of BPeace from Delilah Rothenberg, a friend who’s now on the Parade of One board. Bpeace members like Delilah and and Sabra Richardson have provided much encouragement and support for my project.

Richard, having traveled to New York, could relate to some of my impressions of Rwanda: the politeness of the people here, the shyness etc. He also shared some contacts at the American Embassy and the Kigali Institute of Education to see if I could arrange a couple more performances. Hopefully, it’ll work out, but my time here is running short, with just a week and two days left!

After meeting Richard, I went to Novotel to use the internet and update my blog, which is a remarkably time consuming activity. It’s hard for me to roam with both my laptop and my saxophone. So when I need to update my blog and upload photos etc. I have to go all the way back home, drop off my sax, and pick up my laptop etc.

Later I had a rehearsal with Rwa Makondera. Some of them were in school uniforms today, and the rehearsal had a little bit of that wound-up after school energy. We are supposed to have a performance on Saturday in the food court of a shopping mall here, but there are still some logistical issues to be sorted out. You can’t really count on anything happening until after it has happened around here, but I am really hoping this works out!

In the evening, I received a text message that my appointment tomorrow at the Muhima Primary School has been cancelled, because the headmaster has a meeting with the vice education minister. Perhaps, we will reschedule, but I’m now wondering if I should have gone to Butare!


Today, I worked on some of the logistics for tomorrow’s performance with Rwa Makondera. I have no idea what little Rwandan kids think a nice treat is, but the manager at Nakumatt (a local supermarket) suggested that a croissant and a soda for each kid should do. So I set that up for tomorrow.

In the afternoon, I performed on the street in Nyamerembo, a lively neighborhood with a large Muslim presence. As usual, I was well received. There was also a surprisingly common occurence: someone tried to give me money, which I turned away to the spectator’s applause. At some point, I decided to start walking while playing, parade style. Some people followed me at first for a block or two, but street kids followed me the longest. (Street kids are easily recognizable from their oversized clothing and general filth.) As I walked, many people clapped and laughed from the little shops or from buses. Again, someone tried to give me a coin from a bus, and the passengers laughed and applauded when I turned it down.

I continued to parade all the way to the center of town. One image that sticks in my mind is a young boy who kept running ahead of me, stopping to watch until I passed, then he would run ahead of me again. This probably went on for ten minutes. The walk downtown was about thirty or forty-five minutes from Nyamerembo, and full of curious looks, cheers, and laughs from people passing by. When I arrived in the town center, I stopped again for a stationary performance, and one more time someone tried to give me a 100 Fr coin. The crowd watched for my reaction, as if this was an experiment they were conducting on me. When I turned down the money, once again there was applause. I’m not sure why this was happening so much today!

In the evening, I played with a rock band at the Planet Night Club in the Kigali Business Center.


Today was the gig at the Union Trade Center with Rwa Makondera, and it was quite a struggle to make it happen. To make a long story short, there were lapses in communication and confusion about the distribution of tasks. Everyone thought that transporting the children from the Ivuka Arts Center to the venue was someone else’s problem, and the instructor, Chance, wasn’t sure of the time and date of this performance. Without assigning blame for this chaos, I will simply say that we got a bus, and the kids sang and drummed the whole way to UTC. We were forty-five minutes late, but it’s a miracle that we showed up at all.

The performance went very well, the crowd was a mix of European and American expats and middle class Rwandans. Both categories seemed to enjoy the performance equally. The kids had a really great interaction with the audience, sometimes dancing up to people who were holding out money for them. I got lots of good feedback afterwards. People were surprised at how well the saxophone fit into the mix, and they wanted to know how to donate to Rwa Makondera.

After the gig, I picked up the snacks at Nakumatt, and we took the bus back to Ivuka, again the children singing and drumming the whole ride. Finally while watching the sites of Kigali pass by and listening to the kids’ songs, I was able to rest from today’s earlier chaos, and I found myself feeling a new level comfort here in Rwanda. The sun was setting, and I was now noticing the subtle differences in color between different stretches of dirt road. It was almost starting to feel like home. Aspects of the place had become beautiful by virtue of familiarity. Rwanda was no longer a series of historical events and statistics, but a place with subtle differences in the color of its dirt. Even the genocide didn’t seem to matter so much at this moment. And I was no longer so irritated by the Rwandan unreliable way of doing business. I’d somehow come to terms with it and felt I could work in my own way alongside it, hopefully never becoming fully a part of it though. I was starting to enjoy myself here!

Back at Ivuka, the kids thoroughly enjoyed the croissants and sodas, which relieved me. I was afraid that they would either want more or something different, but this worked out fine. I imagine American kids would have been more loaded with allergies, other special needs, and preferences. The kids started talking to me a lot more than they had before. It seemed like the ice was finally broken, now that I probably wouldn’t see them again before I left. One told me her name was Clarissa, and another said his name is English, which provoked an outburst of laughter among him and the other kids. They wanted to know if I could ever bring them to New York, and I said maybe. They also suggested that I marry Chance, their dance instructor. After eating, they asked me to play some more saxophone, and they started dancing like maniacs, clapping their hands and stomping almost like it was an Appalachian hoe-down, though I don’t think they’ve ever heard the word “hoe-down,” and I’m not even exactly sure what one is, myself.

Next I met Daddy and his girlfriend Emily for dinner, and Crystal, a Canadian public health worker, also joined us. Daddy told us a little about his life right after the genocide. He lived with his uncle, and there was no water, electricity, and certainly no public order. If you found something it was yours. Just about any currency was accepted for anything: Ugandan, Tanzanian, it didn’t matter. Landmines exploding were still a regular sound, and now and then you simply wouldn’t see someone again. We also talked about the different ways Americans and Rwandans casually address sex in conversation, and this led only to less mentionable topics. I will spare you for now.

After dinner we went to a party at a British girl’s house and we stayed late until it turned into a wild little dance party of about 6 people.


Today Daddy, Emmy, and I piled into a bus to visit Gisenyi, a city in northwestern Rwanda on Lake Kivu, near the Congolese border. Emmy is from Gisenyi, and he offered to show me the good places to perform on the street here. When we arrived, the first the first thing on the agenda was lunch. We had a buffet that was tasty, though infested with flies. Then, we went to the local market where Emmy had us running around, with me performing in several places, while Daddy filmed. Daddy later translated for me some of the comments he overheard, and hopefully captured on the camera. People were apparently amazed that a white person could “also go crazy.” Some of them even said they felt sorry for me. Hopefully when Emmy translated my reasons for playing on the street, these concerns were clarified. Others said things like, “Score! A free concert!”

After the market, we got in a cab to go to the beach at Lake Kivu. In the car, I started complaining that my street performances were starting to feel so commonplace and monotonous to me. It was always playing sax and watching people gather round and stare. The magic from when I never really knew how people would react was wearing off. I was doing the same show over and over, as if in a circus sideshow. I think I was just complaining, because I was tired.

The view at Lake Kivu was stunning, and there were lots of kids swimming and playing on the beach. I performed on a pier, and my have reached a small musical climax. It is hard to reach musical peaks here or to even know if or when I am reaching them, because I’m just as focused on watching my audience as I am on making music. I can only hope that some of the music has been pretty good. One of my reasons for coming here and doing this has been to work on my unaccompanied saxophone performance, and I do think I’ve made some strides in that direction. I am eager to take some of the ideas and motifs I’ve been using to the practice room when I get back home to NYC.

After performing on the beach, we strolled to the Congolese border, and caught a quick glimpse of Congo. We stopped for a drink there, and Emmy started sharing some of the details of how his mother came to be paralyzed. There was a grenade attack on their house, and their were still shrapnel fragments in her head.


Today Emmy, Daddy, and I had breakfast at the hotel, walked around Gisenyi a little, then piled right back onto the bus to go to Kigali. It had been a quick trip! The bus driver agreed that I could play for about ten minutes during the bus ride. The passengers seemed unsurprised, though curious and pleased with my performance. Generally, I think when Daddy was with me filming and Emmy was taking photos and translating, Rwandans were less baffled by me. It probably made at least a little more sense if I wasn’t alone, plus I’m sure they overheard Emmy asking the bus driver is I could play.

Two people vomited on the bus, which is common here, because the roads can be very windy and full of potholes. Those who are prone to motion sickness, might just suffer an attack in Rwanda. In recent times, plastic bags have been banned here, so it’s harder for the ill individual to find somewhere to deposit their problem. Both people today vomited all over the seat and floor. The first person’s illness smelled so bad that the bus driver pulled over and let people get out for some air. Daddy insisted that the sick individuals were at fault for this. He could see in their guilty faces that they knew they had problems with motion sickness and did nothing to prevent it. They should’ve refrained from eating right before riding the bus, and should have been prepared with some kind of bag or bucket.

As soon as I returned to Kigali, I had to go straight to a rehearsal for the Goethe-Institut gig. I think the performance should go well.


Today, I met Emmy to record him speaking for some voice overs in the film we are making. He talked about his life during and after the genocide, the hardships of going to school with no money, etc. He spoke about how difficult it is to be in Gisenyi, where most of his family was killed and many of the killers roam around town freely. After all, they can’t put fifty percent of the population in prison. But when he is in Kigali, he feels better, because he doesn’t know so many people or their particular roles in the genocide. Back home, his mother, as I’ve mentioned, has been paralyzed in bed for fifteen years. His sister is a subsistence farmer, and balances her time between attaining food and taking care of their mother, who can’t do anything on her own. It can be very hard for Emmy to be at school when he knows his help is needed back home, but getting an education is the only hope for his future and the only way he can raise a family that will live normally. He is constantly anticipating his mother’s death, in which case he will have to quit his studies in order to go deal with it back in Gisenyi. He fears that after all the work he’s already done, something will still prevent him from graduating.

Next, I had yet another rehearsal for the Goethe Institute performance. Today, Sophie the inanga player was there. This is something I had been anticipating for some time, as I have long loved the inanga even before coming to Rwanda. Her playing and singing was fantastic, and we found the clarinet particularly nice alongside it.

In the evening, I performed at the Gisimba Orphanage, which was a fantastic experience. The kids ranged in age from near toddlers to teenagers. The older ones were very style-conscious, sometimes in fairly eccentric ways. I remember one girl wearing sunglasses, though it was dusk. They came up with some interesting dance moves to my music, sometimes even coordinating with one another. Then, they sang some songs for me. Some of them I didn’t know, and some I did, like Santa Clause Is Coming Down, and If You’re Happy and You Know It. A couple of the kids were mentally challenged and several were mute. The director of the orphanage was very pleased with the whole thing. He was sure the kids had never seen anything like this. No one had ever come there playing saxophone before.


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