Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Last Word

I write this final blog entry from the Bourbon Cafe in downtown Kigali. I fly to Nairobi in a few hours, to meet some Kenyan theatre artists, and look into possible venues and partners for the Africa Trilogy - Volcano's next big international project. Soon after that, I will return to Toronto, and jump into the next project. Life will carry on.

After closing night for Goodness here in Kigali, I received an email from Michael Redhill. I had written to him about how the success, the impact of his play here made me feel that we had somehow failed, that I had not understood the value of what we brought, and had given it to too few. Since then, a first few steps have been made on making a reality of Michael's offer to give Goodness to Rwanda for a production in Kinyarwanda, free of rights (an idea that came to us from Kent Lawson, our NY-based supporter). This seems to me a good thing.

But after that closing night, Michael wrote me a wonderful email assuaging my initial doubts on what we had accomplished. I asked him if i could publish it, and he said yes. And it seems fitting that Michael Redhill should have the last word on this most remarkable of trips:

Dear Ross,

Don't be torn and don't wonder "what might have been" if more people had seen this play in Rwanda. If you'd even had one Rwandan tell you what so many have told you, Goodness would still have succeeded there beyond any of our aspirations. But seeing what is possible makes you hungry, understandably, and you'll have to whet that hunger somehow. That's one of the things, among many, that you are brilliant at.

But for now, I'll give you a Jewish prayer that will help. At Passover every year, we say "Dayenu" (pronounced "die-ay-NOO"). It's a narrative prayer that thanks God for fifteen gifts bestowed on the flight from Egypt and into Jerusalem. But in typical Jewish fashion—from this prayer one is convinced the Arameans were Yiddishkeit—it doesn't so much thank as it expresses relief that ANYTHING good happened. "Dayenu" means "it would have been enough for us"—so, at Passover we say "If God had lead us out of Egypt but not slain our oppressors, DAYENU. If God had slain our oppressors, but not destroyed their gods, DAYENU ..." You get the idea. I hope you realize how many dayenus there have been with this play. If it had had one good run and never gone to Edinburgh, DAYENU; if it had gone to Edinburgh and not won the biggest prize in the room, DAYENU—man, any of this would have been enough! But we've made a work of art that has gone well beyond success to something more ephemeral and rare, something not worth even wishing for. And you’ve all done it. This is a work of art that is more than merely good, it's transformative. Some of the only people on the planet who could tell you that have told you. We have changed their lives, and if it's only for one evening, then DAYENU.

Be of good cheer without any reservations, Ross, and tell the others as well. Goodness has not only led us out of Egypt, it also built a temple. Which is to say, in bringing even an atom of healing to people who have suffered as much as many of your audience members have, our work has been raised above the material and been made holy.


The Last Images

A collection of photos from our trip, in no particular order...

The future

Listening to my As it Happens interview online during a break in rehearsal in Kigali (CBC radio, my bit begins at 5 minutes in:

Nuns in Butare (now called Huye)

Our commodious transportation to and from the venue in Butare

The path to and from the campus at the National University of Rwanda

Prize-winner for The Biggest Thing Carried Atop One's Head, Kigali

Gisenyi - condemned building

Rebecca and Guillaume at Chez Robert in Kigali

Goma DRC - the Volcano Danger-of-Eruption sign: Yellow flag means not too dangerous today...

Goma DRC - living atop the lava flow from 2002. That would have been a red flag day...

Nyamata, Rwanda


Gord models his Butare-bought Obama pants

Gisenyi, Northern Rwanda. We did.

Southern Province, Rwanda

Tyler and Gord at lunch in Nyamata

The bicycle. An invention that finds great use in Rwanda.

Amy Rutherford on tour

A view from the third floor of the Hotel des Milles Collines, Kigali

Bananas and sky.
A boy in his school uniform near Nyamata Primary School "B"

Boda boda driver in Kigali

Dancers in a village near Nyamata

Mind the Gap

Amy Rutherford on tour

The market in Gisenyi, Rwanda

Handmade cinder blocks, Nymata, Rwanda

At the Green Hills Academy, Kigali, where we went to look at a possible performance space: The Ghandis are out in front, just ahead of a pair of intrepid Martin Luther Kings, but the Mandelas are coming on strong...

The human form at Nyamata, Rwanda

Laurette Kabanyana at Shokola, Kigali

So much depends on a yellow wheelbarrow / glazed with brown earth / beside the red sorghum

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Last Days - part two

Saying Au Revoir to Laurette Kabanyana - we dine at Shokola in Kigali. 14 Canadians and the Rwandan woman who had to put up with us. Judging from my gut, I have been having a few too many dinners like this one.

Rick Banville enjoys a post-dinner bong

Lunch the next day at Bourbon Cafe with Hope Azeda (left) and Carole Karemera (right) to discuss moving Goodness into Kinyarwanda. Hope and Carole are among the tremendous theatre artists that make the scene happen in Kigali.

Space Research - looking at performance space options in Kigali for the next time. This is the theatre at Ishyo Arts Centre

Florence Kabanyana, our guide for a day-long tour of Nyamata and environs

A section of the church at Nyamata, where the clothing of the vicitims is placed (as indeed it is throughout the church - the site of 11,000 murders). It was in this section of the church that children under five were killed. Some of their blood is still on the walls.

Gord sits alone after visiting the Nyamata site.

Layne sits alone at Nyamata

Skulls in the crypt behind the Nyamata church. This one has the tell tale sign of melted plastic on its forehead. This person was tortured before being murdered.

Belongings. The church is full of the clothing and objects of the dead.

A skull upon which someone had written a name: Patrice.

Charles Mugabe, one of only seven survivors from the slaughter at Nyamata, shows us the crypt with some of the victims' remains.

A blood spattered Mary at the Genocide memorial church at Nyamata

At the Nyamata Primary school "B". We met a roomful of ten year olds. They showed us the beehives they've been making.

A farmer whose farm we visited. He fled the approaching RPF in 1994, and lost everything. He now farms bananas, mangos, oranges, casava, sorghum, beans and owns two cows.

Basket weaving lessons. Lili learns the art of the distinctive Rwandan weaving method.

Dancers dance for us at the Millenium Village near Nyamata. An amazing day.

Among the final sights and sounds:

1) A tour of Kigali, looking at possible theatrical spaces for The Africa Trilogy - Volcano's next large project, and one which I would love to have tour here.

2) A meeting at the Bourbon Cafe with Hope Azeda and Carole Karemera about finding a translator for Goodness into Kinyarwanda, and how to begin the process of creating a production here. Both women run theatre companies, and are keen to team up with Kiki to create a Rwandan production. Essentially, I pass the torch to them, and offer to help, should they want me to.

3) A final dinner for our new and dear friend, Laurette Kabanyana, at Shokola - a local, Morrocan-influenced restaurant. Laurette has become much more than a translator to us. She feels like part of the family.

4) We make a day-long trip to Nyamata and environs, guided by the effervescent and articulate Florence Kabanyana. We visit a church where 11,000 people were murdered, and meet one of the seven survivors, Charles Mugabe. Charles is a remarkable young man. Powerfully built, and gentle. He tells us what he saw in the church that day. It is a vision of hell. Babies and toddlers being dashed against the walls. Grenades. Educated victims having their brains literally smashed out with hammers. Rape. Burning plastic dripped on faces. Dismemberment. Some of our group break into jags of crying. Charles remains calm. Soft spoken. He shows us the mass grave behind the church, where his parents and four of his family are (he is one of the lucky ones to know which bodies were his relatives', if one can call this luck). There are and rows of rows of skulls, piles of bones. He shows us where he lay for days under bodies, covered in other people's blood. His brother had told him to play dead, and put his head in a small space in the wall where some bricks had been dislodged. It worked. Rick asked him if he had ever told his story in its entirety to anyone. No, says Charles. It is long. Every hour has a story over the 30+ days of hiding and running through swamps. It would take many hours to tell it.

I hope some day he can.

Charles Mugabe. Survivor. A gentle and lovely man.

5) We visit a primary school. The students all think Gord looks like Jesus. Gord is embarrassed.

6) We visit a village that is part of the Millenium Village Project - where former perpetrators, survivors and returnees are living together. This is a pilot project whose goal is to create a reconciled, self-sustaining village, where the UN's Millenium Develoment Goals are being met (the project that Josh Ruxin is involved in). It is working. The village performs for us - dancers and singers dance and sing. A former perpetrator speaks to us, formally. Telling of his years in prison, his release, and the slow journey towards living together with trust. A victim then gives her testimony. This is clearly a damaged human being, but she speaks of the importance of living for the future, not the past. We are offered food and drink. We are pulled from our seats to dance. We then offer to sing for the village, and they gather around us. We sing some songs from Goodness - which clearly are welcomed. I don't think many Muzungus sing for this village. Emails are exchanged. Many hands are shaken. Smiles abound. We drive back to Kigali.

7) A gathering of Rwandan and international artists happens at L'Atelier - a small restaurant on a steep hill. Theatre artists from Kigali, London, Brussels, Melbourne and Toronto exchange notes. Theatre in Kigali is in a remarkably similar place to theatre in Toronto in the late sixties, early seventies - i.e. at the beginning. We meet Rwanda's pioneers. They are - like so many people we have met here - articulate and visionary.

The Last Days - part one

On the shores of Lake Kivu, Gisenyi, Northern Rwanda

Josh Ruxin and entourage, Heaven Restaurant, Kigali

The drive to Gisenyi

A child on the streets of Goma, DRC

Living atop the lava flow from 2002, Goma, DRC

A view of the volcano over Gisenyi, Rwanda

After closing Goodness, we have four days left in Rwanda. They are packed.

1) We drive to Gisenyi, on the shores of Lake Kivu in the North. The drive - 3 hours from Kigali - is beyond beautiful. Gisenyi, a resort town, borders the Democractic Republic of Congo. Both towns lie under an active Volcano, which, in 2002, erupted. Gisenyi was spared. Goma - a town that has seen more than its share of extreme hardship - was hit with a lava flow. While in Gisenyi, we lounge on the beach. We visit the local market. We relax.

2) Rebecca, Guillaume and I venture into Congo. It is $35 USD for a visa. Josh Ruxin, the Columbia prof and one of the architects of the Millenium Village Project, had recommended a trip to Goma. For the first time in many years, the town is stable, he says. We would be among the first non-specialist Westerners to enter.

The contrast is shocking between Gisenyi and Goma. The latter is poor and dirty. There are luxury homes behind high walls with razor wire, and there is garbage in the streets, and evident poverty. The people are not smiling as we pass. UN planes fly low overhead every few minutes as they approach a landing strip nearby. UN and Medecins Sans Frontieres Land Cruisers are everywhere. We ask at a hotel where the lava flow is that destroyed a swath of the town in 2002. We walk to it. The flow is mostly built over now - again with luxury homes, not yet finished or occupied. The road almost disappears in one section, though, where the lava is still present. The landscape is apocalyptic. There are small shanties occupied by extremely poor people, living next door to the monster homes-in-the-making. I take surreptitious photos, but make the mistake of visibly lifting my camera for one last shot of an empty building. A woman with a baby strapped to her back tears over to us - livid. She begins a tirade which we cannot understand. A crowd begins to gather around us. Another man happens by who speaks French. Well-dressed, and sympathetic to the westerners-in-trouble. He translate: "You Europeans cannot take pictures away and leave nothing in return". Guillaume hands her a 500 Congolese Franc bill. She is incensed, insulted. She is yelling. The crowd began with children, then women, and now men are gathering. Some people are clearly amused. Others aren't. Our translator begins to get nervous. The woman's anger does not abate. She continues to shout. At one point,our translator tells us to "Leave. Now." It is only at this point that I feel that perhaps a tipping point is about to be reached. We begin to walk away, the woman following us, screaming, and making the gesture of drawing her hand across her throat, and throwing it to the ground. Two boda bodas (motorcycle taxis) materialize. One of the drivers yells for a third. We hop on, and are spirited away to the border.

Back on the Gisenyi side, we feel enormous relief to be back in safe, welcoming Rwanda. Josh Ruxin had told us that 5 million people have died in the DRC. Disease, war, displacement. It is the greatest single disaster since the Second World War. One feels that in Goma.

3) The drive home through darkness. As the sun sets, we begin to see the ever so dim glow of the volcano, reflected in the smoke rising from its cone.