they cut down the banana plants and the avocado tree in the lot beside ours. it was a billowing, growing wall of green. birds used to congregate there, wake us with their chattering and chirping, joining the soft morning breezes. only through gaps could you glimpse the city. now, besides some farther obstructions, we have a wide view of kigali. in the day it is the crawling, clustered monument of man’s planning and ingenuity; at night a terrestrial starscape. once crowded by rustling banana leaf ribbons, our front door stands open to the winds, the view. i stand above the city in the evenings and hear it breathe and sigh, hear its pulse; the cars, the music, the calls. all was blocked before. as we look to a coming two-year mark in rwanda, as i get to understand this city more and more now, i feel this opening, these sounds, are symbolic of a growing insight into the nature of this place, its history and people and life. i miss the green, but now i have something new and beautiful to see. and really it was there all along.
i wrote the above paragraph a couple of months ago for a blog that was scrapped as it began. currently there is a brick wall greeting us out our front door, and we awake to the sounds of talking and radios and hammering. they are building a house.
i am writing a book. i say this with a confidence beyond what i actually feel, but i have made serious progress on the project and thus i have enough confidence that it might actually become a reality someday. i have had this book idea for about two years now. it will be a conglomeration of stories from kiziba; a novelization of refugees’ life stories mixed with the history and growth of the camp, and the ongoing real struggles in modern-day kiziba. it is a way for people to tell their stories, which can be a liberating experience, and a way to educate the world about refugees and refugee-causing conflicts. it will be advocacy and warning, history as well as an examination for the future of refugee affairs. it creates one story of great loss and how people cope and grow in difficult conditions, working towards a better world while in dark places. we have hope that these stories can bring a more human face to the statistics and news flashes of horror.
writing has been an incredible experience, difficult and wonderful. the writing comes with highs of little daily triumphs and also deep emotional wastes. to make these stories real i have to dig into them, describe them, put myself inside every character (read: real-life friend) and imagine the emotions: the fear, the joy, the sadness. it is one thing to hear these stories and think, man, that’s rough, what a sucky thing. i’m realizing it’s a whole other thing to detail all of the sucky things. maybe the events didn’t happen exactly like the way i write them, but they did happen. i’m not writing fiction, i am writing from an interview, and from experience as some of the stories to be included are still unfolding.
one such story is that of the state of education in the camp. as has been mentioned before, we are helping to support a secondary school started by refugees themselves as the last three years of secondary school are not officially offered in the camp. a group of refugees who had been supported through university outside of the camp came back and decided to fill that educational gap. for two years the school has operated, and it has been recently attracting some attention. some in high places who were once ambivalent or even opposed to the school are now supporters and actively want these students to succeed. and this initiative may be a part of why plans are moving forward to bring the last three years of secondary school – officially – to kiziba and the other camps in rwanda. it is entirely possible that, come the commencement of the new school year in january, grade ten will be offered in kiziba, and next year grade 11, then grade 12, and students will be able to take the national exams and graduate. this is really a fantastic development. as one kiziba supporter puts it, this is an ‘example of how small seeds can grow forests.’ and international teams rwanda, having worked in kiziba for the last near-decade, will have a hand in making this happen. so if you want to financially help bring secondary education to thousands of refugees, let me know.
i’m not ashamed to say that i have been listening to christmas music almost daily since mid september, when i started writing the book. i know all the songs so well that they blend together into perfect background writing music and the reflections on hope and peace are carrying me through the hardest parts of the stories. and listening to songs like this and this while i research the conflicts in drc and compile stories from my refugee friends is both beautiful and heart-breaking.
i recently taught a 2-day workshop on the basics of drawing at the library. some attended who knew how to draw and were quite good, some had never doodled in their life. the library was filled with young and old, males and females. we want the library to be a safe place where people have a number of outlets for learning and expression. to that end, we introduced a theme and had people come back the next week with a drawing based on that theme, which was stevie wonder’s song ‘someday at christmas,’ linked to above. we asked the students, what does it look like to see a world without bombs and war, where there is peace and men are equal and we understand what life is really worth? go to the link above and listen and scroll through the below pictures to see some of their visualizations of that possible future.