Saturday, March 31, 2012

Yes, Man!

If you have been following my blog all along, you’ll remember that back in November the center had some very important visitors. It was a group called Catalyst Rwanda and they were here to teach the boys hip-hop and breaking. It was an incredible few weeks that flew by and everyone involved had a blast. Here are my posts from their visit:

New Friends, New Moves
Live 2 Break

It’s the end of March now and with the help of Bret Syfert, a documentary about the experience is finished titled: Yes, Man! It premiered in London this week and the full version is now available online. Check it out here:

Even more exciting is the fact that Bret Syfert and his wife Dorota are coming to Rwanda in a few weeks to take the place of Ally and I as volunteers. I know the boys will be so excited to continue their dance and English education with their help.

Underwear and Glow Sticks

For two weeks, we have been trying to organize a dance for the boys. Last week, we had everything ready to go, only to find that the center had no power. There had been a powerful windstorm a few days earlier that knocked down a tower and the power authority was unsure when they could have it back up and running.

I left a bit disappointed, but not before we distributed a few gifts for the boys. As some of you may remember, I created an Amazon Wish list around Christmas time to give people a chance to donate items to the center. The response was overwhelming and every item was purchased in only a few weeks. Thank you to everyone who bought an item! On this list was underwear, something the boys desperately needed. Although we could not celebrate a dance that night, we did celebrate with new underwear. Every boy received his very own pair. Spiderman was ecstatic when we saw that his pair showed a picture of the real Spiderman!

Getting ready to distribute

Eric receiving his pair!

This week, we were finally able to have our dance. We recruited our friend Willy to DJ and gave out 200 glow sticks donated by the students at Woonsocket High School in Rhode Island. Once the music started, the boys didn’t need any more prompting. They took to the floor and busted a move, and the glow sticks too. Soon the boys and dining hall was covered in glowing liquid and full of 100 dancing boys.

I raced around the perimeter, pulling boys who were standing on the outside into the middle. Some songs they had fully-choreographed dances to show off. Sean Paul’s Temperature played 4 times that night and each time, the dance group took control of the floor. Other times, the boys jumped up and down and cheered. It felt like one of my middle school dances, especially when I spotted a few tears because of stolen glow sticks. But that problem was easy to fix.

The boys and I.
Photo credit: Elizabeth

When it was time to end, we turned the lights on. In protest, the boys turned them back off. It was a night they didn’t want to end.

On our way home, Ally handed out the remaining glow sticks to people we passed and to the passengers on our bus from the center to Remera. The bus conductor and the other passengers thought they were the funniest things ever and laughed the entire ride as they experimented with them. The final consensus was to shove them into their hair.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Rwanda Experience

Check out this incredible media piece created by Lauren Alexander and India Harvey. They were both students who went on the high school trip this year. Great work ladies!

Monday, March 19, 2012

A Big Mess

I did not realize how hard we worked last week until I slept in until 10:00 on both Saturday and Sunday. Usually the hustle and bustle of life outside my window wakes me before 8:00, but I must have been so exhausted I slept through it all.

What have we been doing? EVERYTHING! The new store room is finally ready so we have been moving school supplies in, organizing, and cataloguing them so the new store keeper knows what is in there. This consists of sorting through rooms that have been in total disarray for the past 2 or 3 years.

The old upper storeroom before we attacked it

Today we started to bring all of the clothes from the old store into the new one. The boys swarmed us like vultures, asking for various articles of clothing. It wasn’t easy telling them no, but I am comforted by the fact that I know these clothes will be put to use in the next few months.

One of my main frustrations with the center has been managing donations and other items in the store. I often watched as items, which I knew we had, were bought because no one knew they were in the store. While sorting through various piles of junk, covered in mouse droppings, cobwebs, and dust, Ally and I came across the very same t-shirts our high school donated 3 years ago. This infuriated me to no end, but also validated all of our work. I am certain that once we are through re-organizing and creating our new inventory system, every donation and purchase will be used!

One of the shirts Harwood brought in 2009

TOMS shoes from the Rwanda TOMS drop

A few more TOMS

After day 1 of organizing


Ally has posted her take on our storeroom project and has a few more pictures of our progress. Check it out here:

Sunday, March 11, 2012

An Indian Rwanda

Tucked safely behind an iron gate in the center of Kigali lies a complex of apartment buildings. Standing outside their doors, one can hear the sound of children laughing and smell the spices wafting through the air. Today I found myself inside one of these apartments, learning how to cook a traditional Indian lunch with the help of my friend, Sangita and her family.

I met Sangita at Les Enfants de Dieu where she works as an accountant. She was shy at first and our exchanges were brief during my first few months in Rwanda. But when Ally, Elizabeth, and I decided to move into a house in town owned by a company named Sulfo, Sangita and her family were the first to welcome us.

The family who owns Sulfo also founded Les Enfants de Dieu. The company, started by an Indian man, began producing soap in Rwanda 60 years ago and the company quickly grew to become one of the most successful  in the country. Although Sulfo employs mostly Rwandan workers, they also provide jobs for a group of Indians who are willing to move their families to Rwanda.

The houses I mentioned before are where Indian Sulfo employees live with their families. The Sulfo compound is it’s own sub-culture. Children play cricket and football amongst the many factory buildings, learn to speak their native tongue, watch Indian music videos and game shows on T.V., and grow up tasting traditional Indian food.

It was this food that led to my first day of bonding with Sangita. She invited us for lunch and Ally suggested we come early to help her with the preparations. Upon entering the kitchen, I could smell the combination of spices waiting to be used in the pantry. We busied ourselves peeling carrots, cutting string beans, and dicing onions. Sangita blended garlic and ginger together and added cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, bay leaves, anise, and chili powder. The aroma in the kitchen danced throughout the entire house, making my stomach rumble as I stirred the concoction.

Ally hard at work

Chicken, mushrooms, onions, ginger garlic, chili powder, cinnamon,
and coriander



The final product was vegetable rice with ginger, garlic, mushroom, and onion chicken. When it was time to leave, we decided that during our next cooking lesson with Sangita, we will make an African favorite: samosas. In return, we promised to teach her how to make peanut butter cookies.

There’s nothing like food to bridge the cultural divide! 

A Whirlwind Trip

It has been way too long since my last post! The combination of a bad internet connection and constant traveling is not conducive to my regimented posting schedule. But now that our travels are over and we are back in the house in Kigali, I can finally fill you all in on what has been happening over the past few weeks.

We hitched a ride with the Harwood crew South to Butare, North to Kivu, and East to Akagera before we came back home and bid the group farewell Friday afternoon. I was so sad to see them go. Nothing brings people closer together than an experience such as this one. I was thoroughly impressed with the concepts they discussed during the infamous “Congo sessions” or reflections and with their positive attitude throughout the whole experience. I know that these students will go home and tell the world about Rwanda. Once you have the bug, you can’t shake it.

During our travels we talked with energetic students about the future of Rwanda, witnessed a high school debate, learned about Rwanda’s cultural history through dance, relaxed on the shores of Lake Kivu, dipped our feet in the waters of the hot springs, and drove through the bush searching for wild animals.

Ally sporting some traditional dance gear

Tony (teacher from Woonsocket High School, RI)
doing his thing

Bus stuck at the hot springs. No problem for our driver, Alexis

My feet enjoying the hot water! Note my Chaco tan!




Traditional dancers

Balancing skills

For more about what we have been experiencing over the past few weeks, check out Ally's blog. Also, be sure to check out the Harwood/Woonsocket blog over the next few weeks. The students have been working on some media projects dealing with various topics about the trip and I'm sure they will be finishing them up and posting them there. In the meantime, check out the entries already there! You can also check out Andrea's blog. She is a reporter for the Addison Independent and a part of the Vermont Folklife Center team that joined the group this year.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Java Jive

As I mentioned before, my high school currently has a group of students in Rwanda. We have been hanging out and traveling with them over the past few days. It's great to be around so much energy and we are always so busy! This will be a brief post that I hope to update later, so check back when you can!

On Tuesday we packed onto the bus and headed south to Butare. This region of the country is well-known for it's coffee trees, one of Rwanda's most prized exports. On my trip in 2009, I learned about the process of producing coffee from tree to cup. For the past few days, I've been revisiting the same sites and hearing familiar stories. 

HU and Woonsockett crews on the scene

On the drying rack

Parchment beans and cherries

Maraba Coffee


Children hanging out with us in the coffee fields

Coffee cherries on the tree! Harvest season starts in April.

Although I am not a coffee drinker myself, I can appreciate the amount of care and time the whole process takes. We met farmers who are devoted to producing a completely organic product. They receive a fair wage and are able to support their families.