In an attempt to share with my closest friends and family– as well as my 1,593 friends on Facebook and my 235 followers on Twitter– about my experiences in Rwanda, I’m planning on writing weekly-ish blog posts on what I’ve learned, experiences I’ve had, all the times I’ve gotten lost, all the times people try to speak Kinyarwanda to me when all I know how to say is “thank you” and anything else in between.
While I’ve almost been here for two full weeks, this post focuses on the time leading up to the 24 hours of travel to Rwanda and the first few days that I was here. I’m in Rwanda thanks to a grant from the University of Chicago, which I honestly couldn’t be more honored and excited to have received. HOWEVER, I only found out about three weeks before I would be leaving that I got the grant, and in between the moment that I got the email while I was in my class The Problem of World Government and the day that I left for Rwanda, I had to complete three finals, move out of my apartment in Chicago, move into my parents house in DC, complete a three hour Skype interview, see all of my friends during Senior Week, and a little thing that involved not tripping while walking across a stage and getting my diploma.
But anyways, I’m here and couldn’t be more happy.
When people are confused about why you are going to Rwanda or ask if it’s safe– smile, say you are excited, and say that you feel safer in Kigali than any city you’ve lived in in the US.
Many people only know about Rwanda based on what they know from Hotel Rwanda, or the rare person that is old enough and was actually paying attention who maybe saw headlines about the 1994 genocide and called to express concern about the mountain gorillas. Thus, many assume that Rwanda is still unsafe and genocide prone. (This is also particularly interesting considering one of the first things people ask about the Darfurian Genocide is “Is that really still going on?” Newsflash– yes, yes it is.)
The fact of the matter is that Rwanda has done an exceptional job in transitional justice and reconciliation. While nobody knows what will happen in the future, right now Rwanda is easy to live in, a beautiful country with lots of hills (it is, after all, nicknamed the Land of a Thousand Hills), and incredibly safe for foreigners.
When you leave home, make sure you know how to get back.
My hotel is down a dirt road that is not on a map. The hotel itself is also not on Google Maps, or google for that matter, and it doesn’t even really matter because nobody understands maps here anyways. The first time I left my hotel after moving in, I made my Rwandan friend, Ines, go exploring with me so she could help me find our way back when we inevitably got lost. The first few days I was at the hotel by myself, I would cautiously leave and carefully track every turn I made so I could be sure I knew how to get home.
Now I am confident walking around my neighborhood, and there’s a really big building that looks like an egg, lights up at night, and is a central location that every moto driver knows, just a block from the hotel. But still…
Preparing for a conference is pretty much the same in every country.
Last week, Aegis hosted the Ubumuntu International Youth Conference, where we launched the International Youth Network to a group of 100 youth from 16 different countries. (Check out this article that I’m quoted in for a short overview!) I’ll write more on this later, but what’s important to know at this moment is that regardless of country, preparing for a conference is pretty much the same. It includes nights with little sleep, small details that are left un-dealt with until the point when we need to have done them, which leads to complete panic, and constant issues with time management during the conference. The best thing that is true across all countries is how inspired and motivated people are leaving the conference.
Always bring flash cards on your adventures abroad. Also always have a writing utensil and a notebook.
I don’t know Kinyarwanda. I can say that I know a little because I know how to say good morning, good afternoon, how are you, I am fine, thank you, and my name is Francesca. But really, I don’t know Kinyarwanda. And it’s time to learn at least a little bit more.
It helps to have a friend that knows what she’s doing and will help you with every small detail for the first few days.
Shoutout to Mac, Staff to my SD, my weekly #WCW, and the other half of “Frankenzie.” Seriously, I don’t know how I would have survived the adjustment without you.