Saturday, July 18, 2009

Tears, Laughter, and Rhythm

I wore my new Rwandan Formal Outfit yesterday but when my housekeeper saw me in the morning, she made me take it off.  Once she dressed me, it fit much more comfortably!  I attended the dedication of CUP (Center of Unity and Peace), a conference center that will hold seminars and programs to bring about reconciliation between the committers of the genocide and the victims. 

The crying part of the morning came when a prisoner “testified”.  I had goose bumps and tried not to listen as he told of killing 12 people in his village with a machete, destroying their property, his exile in Tanzania and eventfully the return to Rwanda and prison because he could not handle his guilt.  Jean Paul got on his knees and then prostrated himself before the crowd of over 500 people and asked for forgiveness (he has been through the formal process of reconciliation in his village and is doing his public service building houses for the victims).   The room was dead silent and then one of the bishops attending, shouted Hallelujah and it was then infectious as people stood and shouted Hallelujah and Amen.  I sat there in awe for several minutes. Then Stephanie came up to give her testimony as a victim (she is the owner of one of the houses Jean Paul has built).  She told of the killing of her husband and parents and how she wished she had been killed because she was pregnant and had two other children and felt she could not go on.  She contemplated suicide but could not do it because of her kids. She heard of a program to help her with her anger, rage and need for revenge.  After several years and counseling from many sources, she began to forgive and now works with the women and children whose husbands and fathers are in prison.  To say the least, it was very moving experience I will never forget.

After that a celebration of singing and dancing from other victims began and they expressed such joy and hope.  There were many speeches, entertainment and finally the government minister (guest of honor) who is responsible for the reconciliation programs in the prisons and manages the NGOS like REACH who facilitate these programs.  SHE spoke very eloquently about the strides this tiny country has made to mend the terrible rifts that have plagued their country due to colonialism.  Now countries from around the world come to Rwanda to find out how to use the techniques they have initiated under President Kagame, the churches and NGOs.The event was over 5 hours long and started 90 minutes late (what people call Africa time) so I had to rush home, eat something quickly and change clothes for the evening events of an International Performing Arts Program. 

Now to the Laughter and Rhythm parts of the day…

There was a Rwandan comedian who could be on Comedy Central; his monologue on how to write about Africa was so funny he had everybody howling.  His body movements (very tall and thin) were so well timed that it all come together effortlessly.

Next up was a Rwandan Hip Hop group of five boys ranging in age from 13-18 who performed to a standing ovation.  The boys attended a workshop earlier in the day sponsored by the US Cultural Envoy Program that brought over two US Hip Hop artists; Rha Goddess and Ana Rockafella Garcia to teach and perform throughout Rwanda

Rha and Ana performed for about an hour (included two encores)and the last 15 minutes had the Rwandan boys up on the stage with them.  They brought the house down and everyone was dancing and those who know me, know I do not dance very well.  I was sober, moving to the music and having a great time.

It was a long day but held many memorable moments, just sorry there are no pics of the evening events because some of you will not believe the Rhythm part of the story!

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