Friday, October 9, 2009

On God, Genocide, and Funding...

The National University of Rwanda Campus

Dr. Silas Lwakabamba, Rector of the University

Tuesday, Oct 6

A busy day. Each day in Rwanda is beginning to feel like an entire week.

1) We have a meeting with the Rector of the University (this is the "president"): Silas Lwakabamba. He has summoned the artists at the festival so he can meet with us, and thank us for coming. This is a good sign, as the University's financial support for the Festival was in doubt. Silas lets us know that we are welcome as Canadians, since it was a Canadian who built this University in 1963. None of us knew that, and, given how beautiful the University is, it makes us proud. Speeches are made, including one by me, thanking the University for its involvement. Our documentary camera captures it all.

2) I walk back from the meeting with an American theatre artist who shocks me by saying that the genocide is always spoken of as "bad bad bad", but she sees the good in it. None of this progress would have happened without the genocide, she asserts. We wouldn't be here without it. No one would have heard of Rwanda. She is a Christian, and has invested a great deal of her energy and spirit in Rwanda - making theatre, and adopting children from here. But I ask her - just to make sure i am understanding her -"Do you think that all this progress is worth one million lives?". She says yes, certainly. These people died for the good of their country. When I dispute that there may be more to it than that, that so much murder is perhaps not a good thing, and shouldn't be construed as such, she asks me, "Is there someone in your life you haven't forgiven?". I leave her at that point. A woman with answers, rather than questions ("I understand how someone would want to kill. Sometimes i want to kill my husband"). I am frightened by such an utter lack of doubt, by such a simplistic equation (things are good after the genocide, therefore the genocide is good). It will haunt me for a long time, this certainty. It is the most dangerous thing I have seen on this trip. When I tell my newfound African friends about this, they are shocked. One asks, "Was there a big African Mama there to to give her a beating?" Layne Coleman raises the point - "Yes, and just look how well genocides do for peoples generally, throughout history."

Kiki and niece.

Ross and Kiki's niece (as photographed by Kiki's daughter!)

Kiki's daughter, Aurore

3) Lunch with Kiki. Kiki invited me to her house to have a chat about the festival's financial woes. She has been feeling tremendous guilt about us being here, without a clear picture of whether or not her own funding will come through. The meeting this morning with the Rector is a good sign, though, and Kiki now thinks it may all come together. I meet her daughter, Aurore, and her niece. Kiki's sister is in the States on a scholarship for a year, so Kiki has become the defacto mom. These children are WONDERFUL!

4) At sunset, we visit an evangelical church, to which we have been invited to listen in on a choir rehearsal. The music is gorgeous. The church is very simple, very poor, and entirely beautiful, filled, as we come to it, with music and faith. The power goes out several times during the practice, and the organist switches seamlessly over to a large drum whenever we are plunged into darkness. The singing doesn't stop. The beauty of this experience is a stark contrast to the earlier Christian, mentioned above. I don't think these parishioners look on the genocide as a good thing. But they are entirely welcoming, and the lead singer has the voice of an angel.

5) We see the Monument, by Colleen Wagner, in Kinyarwanda. This is another Canadian play at the festival, directed by Jennifer Capraru, who has formed a theatre company here in Rwanda, called ISOKO ( The audience - mostly university students - is entirely captured by the play. They laugh, they breathe with the two main performers (Jaqueline Umubyeyi and Jean Paul Uwayezu). I learn that the audience here is vocal when there is no language barrier, and i regret that we cannot give them our play with such directness. Colleen has traveled from Canada to see this production, and we meet for the first time, her and i, after hearing about each other for years, in Butare, Rwanda. Moreover, our new pal, the Ugandan poet, playwright and activist Pamela Acaye, is someone that Colleen had been hoping to track down in Kampala, after hearing that Pam was exactly the person to act as a guide for a project that Colleen is doing in Northern Uganda - interviewing women. They will travel there together in a week's time.

Small world.

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