On the last Sunday that I was in Kigali, Martha and I went to the misa y’abana, the children’s Mass in Kinyarwanda at the Gikondo Parish where we lived. Though truthfully we only understood a few words here and there, the priest delivered a riveting homily which engaged every child in that church in a way I have never seen before. He used this amazing call and response where the kids shouted all the ends of his words as he explained the story of the five loaves and two fish. By the end of the homily we were having so much fun that I started to understand what he was saying and even started chiming in with the kids and laughing along.
At the end of the Mass, the priest wanted to introduce some of the Polish people at the Mass who were new visitors to the Centre where we were living. Though they had been there for only a few days, Martha and I were commenting on how brave they were to stand up in front of the congregation and introduce themselves in Kinyarwanda, saying, “Nitwa… (My name is…)”. Of course the parish loved the visitors and were impressed that they knew a word of Kinyarwanda. Little did we see it coming, but when the Polish visitors sat down, I heard the priest say “abashyitsi” and “abanyamerika kazi” which meant “guests” and “American girls.” We were next.
Sure enough, the priest beckoned us to come forward. As we walked to the front, waves of emotion flashed over me including confusion, pride, excitement, and fear. We had been here for months, of course we had to step up our game and use our Kinyarwanda. But which words should we carefully choose for our impromptu mini-speech? Martha was the first with the microphone, so she addressed the congregation with “Muraho” (Hello) upon which she received a quiet roar of approval and pleasant laughter. She followed up with “Nitwa Marita, murakoze,” (My name is Martha, thank you). The entire Gikondo parish was surprised and happy. As I nervously awaited the time to speak, I was still trying to think of something to say that would represent the time I had with these people in Gikondo. Though all I saw was a sea of faces, the reality was that I was looking out on my neighbors and friends. These were the people with whom I spent my time for the past month. These were the people who greeted me with encouragement every morning on my runs through the dusty Gikondo roads.
Finally, I gathered the courage to speak, and spoke into the microphone, “Nitwa Brittany, turi kumwe,” (My name is Brittany, we are together). The phrase turi kumwe is a commonly used phrase that has several different meanings. On the surface level, it was an acknowledgement that we were spending time together, because we were literally together in one church building. Additionally, it was a statement of solidarity. I may be white, and I may be a visitor, but I wanted the people to know that I was there just to be with them, to experience life along side them, and to share the Lord’s Supper as a fellow Catholic. We may have different cultures and different languages, but I really appreciated the time we spent together in that section of town. Finally, turi kumwe is a way of saying “See you later.” It states that we may be separating, but I will see them again.
John thinks he is an “American gangsta”
After Mass, Jean Marie exclaimed, “I LOVE THIS SUNDAY!” Well, I would have to agree.
Little did I know that I would never live down those words. Our friends were laughing away at turi kumwe for the rest of the day. One friend (whom I didn’t know was at Mass) even greeted us jokingly with “Nitwa Marita, murakoze, nitwa Brittany, turi kumwe.” It was hilarious, but I still think that those words were the embodiment of my entire trip back to Rwanda. To provide a few examples as to how this is true, I would like to share a few of the most memorable moments from the month:
As July fades into August, the dry season starts to take a toll on the land and resources in Rwanda. The roads turn to dust, and the water starts becoming visibly scarce. One day our school just ran out of water, so the students went home early. Luckily, the next day was the last day of the term, so it wasn’t a huge issue. However, Sr. Anna went on a hunt around town to find enough water to make morning porridge for the nursery school, and the primary school just went without. Here Martha captured a cool pic of the colorful porridge cups stacked in the kitchen.
Since clean water is not always readily available, soft drinks such as Fanta and Coca-Cola become the norm (which I believe is the case in many developing nations.) We always knew that the party started when they brought out cases of Fanta. My public service announcement to the US is that in reality, this nation far surpasses our country in sustainability efforts through reusing all the bottles instead of recycling and remelting. Saves so much energy!
Never gonna forget singing to Taylor Swift and the latest African artists with our amazing P3-P5 students all the way to the school for children with disabilities!
When we caught wind of a beach party on the shores of Lake Kivu, Martha and I hopped on a bus with our friend Juvens to the beachside town, Gisenyi. At the bus station, we met some people heading on our bus who spoke fantastic English. Turns out they were from Kenya and Uganda, which was why they weren’t all speaking Kinyarwanda. When we arrived in Gisenyi, we all hopped off the bus at the same time. As Martha, Juv and I stood on the side of the road discussing where we should try to find lodging, our new friends asked us if we wanted to share a guest house with them and join them at the beach party. So, we found a spectacular place to stay with a bunch of strangers. Safe? Probably not. Cost effective? Yep. Outrageously fun? Absolutely.
In an attempt to teach my P5 students about the circulatory system, I devised a “science game” that involved “pumping blood” from one cup to another using a pipette as a blood vessel, and a line of students as arteries and veins. It ended as a failure when all the teams cheated by pouring their cup of red water directly to their other cup. I learned a lesson in how not to teach science in Rwanda, and they learned a lesson in honesty during games. Though it was fairly disappointing, it’s a class I think we will all remember for a while.
Our final project was to work with the school’s librarian to organize the books and create a card catalogue system in the NEW LIBRARY! It’s located in the administration building which is in the final stages of construction. It was a lot of work, but felt highly successful! I am just incredibly excited for our enthusiastic students to begin to borrow and read books! It should make a huge impact on their education.
Library circulation desk
new administration building alongside the pre-existing primary school
I used to love motos. They were the most efficient form of transport around the city, and I loved feeling the breeze as I flew home from anywhere for approximately $1 USD. However, last week I got in a motorcycle accident, which was scary and helped me realized I am not invincible. One night when my moto took a U-turn in the road to travel a different way, an oncoming moto slammed into the back of ours. The bike flew out from beneath us and landed on my leg. Luckily, I jumped up with nothing except for a few bruises and scrapes! It took me a solid ten minutes before getting on another. My guardian angel was working overtime.
Last but not least, I’ll never forget the incredible last night shared with friends. I already miss nshuti wanjye mu Rwanda.