It’s been quite the week in Kigali! One of the best parts about returning to the same city has been meeting up with many of my friends from last year. However, today I managed to meet up with the wrong friend. In order to tell the full story, I must first explain the week…
After spending more than two months here, I should not be surprised by the amount of weird things that happen, but nothing is ever normal here. Things are just expected by society, and I guess all those expectations are spelled out in Kinyarwanda because somehow Martha and I never get the memo quite right. Therefore, when two teachers happened to mention last Friday that there “might not be school on Monday” we should not have been taken aback by the ambiguous holiday. When we asked “When will you know if we will have school?” the response was, “Oh sometime!” So after texting and calling multiple sources to confirm the holiday, we realized that we had a day off! We took advantage of our free day by making it our “Kigali exploration day.” And explore we did.
Our first stop was isoko Kimironko, the Kimironko market, which is close to our school. We didn’t really intend to buy anything, but it’s quite the experience going navigating the crowded stalls of fabric and sewing machines, household items, hardware, food, butcheries, electronic shops, and artisan crafts. The best way to describe it is a ridiculously jam-packed state fair where everyone wants to sell their handiwork. Upon entering, we stopped by a small crowd of men playing checkers with bottle caps. The rules were slightly different than we always knew, so they let us play a game against ourselves, but then I got totally owned by one of them, who told me that he would “give punishment, give no mercy,” meaning he wouldn’t go easy on me. It was hilarious, humbling, and entertaining.
The best part of our day was our lack of agenda other than seeing new things and people. So we meandered down the street towards some neighborhoods. We walked through a beautiful, up-and-coming section of town, which was quiet and full of construction. From there, we spotted a slum through which we could pass to get back to the main part of the city. Before we even reached that section, groups of children fetching water at a nearby source stopped to greet us. We walked with them towards their neighborhood and helped the tiny tots carry the heavy jerry cans up a steep hill on a sled. Both their responsibility and physical strength at such a young age is incredible to me. Since English among the poor is little to none, we just made small conversation in Kinyarwanda and enjoyed some time just being with the kids. We even stopped for a little while to play volleyball with some kids who were using some strings hung between two houses, which was a lot of fun. When we made our way up the hill to the other side (smaller houses are usually located on the lower sections of land) we stopped for a section to reconsider where we would walk next. Suddenly a middle aged umuzungu woman, another American, walked up to us and asked if we were looking for a place to eat lunch. We weren’t, but she was cool so we joined her at a buffet lunch across the street. We found out that she is now married to a Rwandan man, she is the principal of a Lutheran school, and she has lived here for nine years. Her husband, whose name is John, also walked in and joined us. We had such a good conversation about what it means to do ministry among the poor, how grassroots organizations empower villages, and how we have a common love for Jesuits. We exchanged phone numbers, made tentative plans to visit the village where John works, and continued on our long walk.
At this point we needed to find a toilet and our school was right around the corner. So we called up our Burundian priest friend, Bernard, who is here with us from BC, and he let us stop by the Christus Centre where he lives. We shared a nice cold beer, had a casual conversation about life and death, and continued up the road towards the next sector where we visited an art gallery and chatted with the artists. After a long city hike of 8 hours, with our water bottles empty and our shoes full of the ubiquitous red dust, we took a moto home and reflected upon our wonderful day where we just lived life to the fullest.
After Monday, we had three full days of work before a field trip on Friday. Some of our P3-P5 girls traveled to a school just outside the city for children with severe disabilities. We celebrated Mass and then our girls danced and sang beautifully for the other kids. It was a powerful experience to see how the children in wheel chairs could barely speak, but their faces lit up with smiles and their arms flailed with joy to the beat of the drum. My students, underprivileged as they may be, were able to reach out to others through their singing and dancing talents. (And talent is an understatement- these girls can shake their hips like no one else!) Afterwards, everyone got to greet the students by shaking hands. During this time, one of the students spoke some of the most profound words, “Murakaza neza.” (Welcome.) To me, true ministry involves a relationship, one in which the minister and those ministered to are able to share mutually, to empower one another. All I did that day was come along for the ride, and this kid, smiling up from his wheel chair, ministered to me.
One of the best parts of the day for me was also seeing a parallel between this trip and my 7th graders’ field trip to the BC campus school. It was just so cool to see how main stream students and students with special needs, enter into a relationship, cautiously and carefully at first, and slowly build an understanding of friendship and human dignity among children who are ultimately similar to each other.
Before this blog post turns to a book, I’ll get back to the point where I met the wrong friend. Early on Friday morning, John called me to see if we could meet. I was excited to catch up with him to learn more about his grassroots work in his village and to figure out a time when we could visit. We decided to meet that afternoon. When I called him after the field trip, he was in Gikondo, where Martha and I live, far from our location at that time. However, he assured me that he would drive to our location immediately to meet up. I found it slightly strange that a middle-aged man had literally nothing else to do on a Friday afternoon but meet up with some young American women, but that’s also kind of normal here. So Martha and I walked up to the building where we would meet him… and out walked an entirely different John, my friend from the year previously! We were so utterly confused, but luckily I was able to mouth to Martha “This is a different John!” without him seeing. Apparently he had seen me walking that morning, realized I was in Rwanda, called Jean Marie, asked for my phone number, and met up with us. It was so bizarre, so funny, and he has no clue that I never intended to meet up with him. Just another moment to add to our checklist of “Did that really just happen?”