My Last Few Days in Rwanda


Today I updated the blog, had yet another rehearsal for tomorrow’s gig at the Goethe Institute, and ran a bunch of errands in preparation for my departure on Sunday. Had to get money from the bank to pay rent, buy another duffle bag, etc.


Soundcheck for Goethe Institute gig today proved to be a lengthy procedure, for the usual reasons. The sound engineers were a little late, and there was some general dilly-dallying. I decided to practice some clarinet while I was waiting around. A young woman in a headscarf was reading from a piece of paper nearby and started to wander in my direction. When she got really close, I stopped playing clarinet, and her reading came to a sudden halt. She looked at me annoyed, and signaled with her hands that I was to continue playing while she read, so I launched into Odessa Bulgar, an old klezmer tune, and she started reading very dramatically in French. I then started playing an old Doina as she continued to read. Though I don’t understand French, I appreciated the way her voice adapted to the peaks and valleys of the music. When we finished, she introduced herself as Natasha. Her theater group was rehearsing in the same building that I was soundchecking. She was preparing for a trip to Beirut, where she’d be reading this piece for a theater festival of french speaking countries. (Rwanda is in fact doing away with French in favor of English, but it is still widely spoken.) Eventually she would be performing it to musical accompaniment, so she thought she’d practice with me. I much appreciated her spontaneity and character. Her English was nearly perfect, but she said she could never write in English, because she’s too much of a perfectionist. We established that she’d be acting in Daddy’s next film, and it was quite a mystery to me that I hadn’t already met her. She then dropped the name, “Kiki” and said, “I think you know her right?” It turns out I had met Kiki in Brooklyn just a short while before I departed for Rwanda. It was at the Blue Marbles fundraiser to open an ice cream shop in Butare ( Kiki is the theater director at the National University. And sure enough she showed up to the gig that night.

The gig drew a couple-few hundred people of all ages, and a good mix of Rwandans and expats. The entrance was free to make it accessible, though the location was hard to reach without a cab, probably hurting the turnout among some of the less well-to-do.

I think the American musicians among my readers will understand when I say I was not so crazy about playing tunes like Blue Bossa and Chameleon (these are songs many of us have played way too much,) but it was a trade-off. I played the old jazz tunes with them, and they played the old Rwandan hits with me. The music was much appreciated, and an event of this kind and scope is extremely rare in Rwanda. I particularly appreciated playing clarinet with Sophie, the Inanga player. I also enjoyed starting off the evening with two lengthy unaccompanied saxophone pieces. Some people told me afterwards that it was their favorite part.

I have to give a lot of credit to the band, Jean-Pierre, and Karin for their hard work.


Today, I recorded some inanga and clarinet duets with Sophie. It was a nice day, and we recorded outside. I’m hoping this can be an interesting sample of some of the music I’ve made in Rwanda, though it’s just one of the many different styles I’ve played here.

I also had several social appointments. With my departure being tomorrow, I have quite a lot of goodbyes to make.

I received a text message from Emmy today, asking if I could give him some money before I left, and I agreed to meet him tomorrow and help him out. I feel that I owe him a little for his role in the film.


Today was departure day. I started packing, then had to go meet Emmy to give him the money I promised. While Emmy more than deserves all the food, beverages, hotel rooms, and money I’ve given him along the way, I was starting to feel that I had allowed the relationship to evolve in the wrong way. He was latching on and getting closer than was necessary. After all, his English isn’t quite good enough for us to communicate effectively about a large variety of topics. Bluntly put, I was starting to feel that because I’d spent a little money on him, that he concluded I might have access to an unending supply. He spoke of how great our friendship was, but I cannot entertain any illusions about that. Sure we are friends, but I was using him for his services in showing me around Gisenyi and in the film Daddy and I are making. Any money I spent on him was compensation for that and not charity or a friendly gift. I now wish I’d made that arrangement more formal, perhaps even using a contract and treating it as employment. I’m sure he also knows that our friendship has limits, linguistic and otherwise.

I brought Emmy along to meet Pacifique who had a small bundle of papers for me to give a mutual friend in New York, Claudine of the Kuki Ndiho Foundation. I was glad to see that Emmy and Pacifique got along well. They discussed the genocide, and Pacifique told about his time as a soldier when he was seventeen. After Pacifique left us to go to a meeting, Emmy offered to show me where he lives, so we took the ten minute walk there. His room was every bit as dismal as I expected, no more and no less. The walls and floor were made of mud bricks. There was no bed, just a mattress on the floor, and he shared the place with a couple other students. There was an outhouse that I believe was used by a few households. As we walked back to the main road, he continued on this topic of how hard his life is and how badly he needs help. I can’t blame him for trying to express the hardships he faces, both economically and emotionally from the genocide. It was difficult for him to express the level of desperation that he truly feels. I could see the shame he felt, when while showing me his home, he said, “Okay, can we go now?” He sounded a little angry, and I could tell he hated his home so much. He hadn’t invited me as a guest, but as a spectator. Emmy was begging for help. It annoyed me a little, but he was doing what he felt he had to do.

I absolutely respect Emmy and think he’s doing a great job and is working very hard to make a better life for himself. His ambitions to eventually go to graduate school are admirable, and I think he has a very good chance of achieving his goals in life. He is very motivated and displays a lot of endurance. I hope that when the film is finished, Emmy’s story and his ambitions will be displayed for a broader audience, and that others might want to help him out with jobs and other opportunities. He also needs supplies for school, and could probably make good use of a laptop.

I went home and finished packing, then Jean-Pierre picked me up to go the airport. When we arrived I left him with the extra saxophone I brought (the one I learned on as a child.) I trust that he will put it to good use. I believe the plan is to use it in a youth program that his wife is active in, and they will also try and get other musical instruments. I will provide more details on that at a later date. It was surprisingly hard to find someone to give the sax to, since there’s no one to teach people how to play it! But I said I’d donate a sax, and I did…

So then Jean-Pierre left me at the airport, and right now I’m waiting in Brussels for my connecting flight to New York.


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