Friends, colleagues, family members, acquaintances,
So begins my first post on this blog. What is my intention for this blog? Turi Kumwe is entirely a forum through which I will verbalize my life experiences during my Princeton in Africa Fellowship year (July 2015-2016). That said, it is important to state clearly the things this blog is NOT: it is NOT an analysis (political, economic, social, or otherwise) of the entire nation of Rwanda, or even Kigali, Ndera or Musanze. It is NOT official communication sanctioned by Gardens for Health or Princeton in Africa (as much as I admire both organizations and will reference them frequently in my posts). So, if you would like to keep updated on my life and learn along with me as I begin my first “big girl job” in Rwanda, please continue reading, Turi Kumwe. If my ramblings and 100% candid musings do not interest you, no hard feelings, n’est pas grave, hakuna matata. I hope you join me as I climb the first of one thousand hills.Why “Turi Kumwe?”
- For those of you who read
- chronicling my experience in Bukavu, DRC, last summer, you may have noticed my fascination with language (fitting for a Communications Fellow, I suppose). I’m enchanted by the way it is impossible to disentangle language from culture. I keep a monologue about the injustice of the French language and its gendered use of “il” (masculine) and “elle” (feminine)- a mixed-gender group is automatically masculine- in my back pocket to debate at a moment’s notice. I never tire of a good discussion of the neocolonial implications of English instruction on the African continent- good for growth, development and progress or cultural hegemony? I particularly enjoy words that signify “togetherness” (cue my brother’s snarky comments about his hippie sister who belongs in Berkeley).
- the title of my Bukavu blog and the tatoo on my left foot- means “we are together” or “we are united” in Kiswahili. I lack a southern accent. My New England relatives may disagree, because I don’t
pahk my cah in havahd yahd.
- Regardless, four years as a university student in North Carolina cemented “y’all” as a permanent fixture of my vocabulary. More than a lazy Southern distaste for proper grammar, the word is gender-inclusive (“you guys” now makes me cringe). In fact I am a “y’all evangelist.” While visiting a friend in Paris last week, I dropped a “y’all” in a social setting with a group of internationals-to my dismay, no one noticed.
- is the Kinyarwanda equivalent of “tuko pamoja” or “y’all.”
- – we are together.
- Contrary to the views of certain NC political figures, I believe a liberal arts education does in fact serve a purpose. If nothing else, it taught me to interrogate biases. However, the word “bias” prompts far too many negative associations. Alas, I prefer to conceptualize the term as “past experiences that color present interpretations.” To some extent, it is impossible to separate oneself from one’s experiences. In reading this blog, you are viewing Rwanda through my eyes. The eyes of a twenty-something, college-educated white American female who grew up in a middle-class, nuclear family. These descriptors are not value judgements but facts, and important to establish at the get-go.
Alors, la France
- I write this post from a small vegetable farm in the French Alps, in a tiny town just 10km from Geneva, Switzerland. I chose to spend two weeks between leaving the United States and arriving in Kigali here in France, working on an organic farm, making new friends and “organically” practicing my French (pardon the pun). I will take a few sentences to reflect on my time in France (this is my first time in Europe, it will be my third in the Great Lakes region of Africa) before setting out my hopes and dreams for a year in Rwanda.
- First: EVERYONE with a passport and the luxury to save for a $500 plane ticket should spend time in the French Alps (my housing and food come gratuit in exchange for six hours of daily farm labor). It is the sort of place that makes you gasp when you raise your head from harvesting potatoes (pommes de terre) after momentarily forgetting that your surroundings resemble those of a romance novel. It joins my list of places I would love to make a home but can find no professional justification for long-term living (along with the mountains of Western North Carolina and the entire California Coast). Other musings on France: Les Alpes are in fact hot in summer (ignorant American party of one-think breaking 100 degrees F) and the French do not believe in air-conditioning (the only air-conditioned spot in Paris is Starbucks- maybe AC is not sexy; it’s certainly not French). My mountain-loving soul is at home here, and I am back to sporting my lifeguard tan from high school. Mountainous terrain and daily farm chores have my man-calves in their purest form (what is one to do when one’s favorite leisure time activities involve running, playing soccer, and climbing mountains?). True to self, I also spent long sunny days on the farm sharing my (solicited, I promise!) views on a host of injustices permeating my home country, from healthcare access to the KKK and the Confederate flag to the racist impact of the war on drugs (You want to be a lawyer, don’t you? My Spanish and Austrian friends asked). I am convinced that I must spend more time in France- perhaps Sciences Po will welcome me for an exchange during law school?
On to Rwanda
- After leaving Bukavu, DRC at the end of July 2014, I promised friends I would return to live in Rwanda. I keep my promises. I cannot be more ecstatic about this next chapter of my life. From July 2015 until July 2016, I will reside in Kigali, Rwanda as a Princeton in Africa Fellow with Gardens for Health International (GHI), working in Communications/Development. For more on this, please visit the “about” section of this page.
- Generally, I get one of two questions in conversations regarding my move to Rwanda. One, from those who know very little about the Great Lakes region of Africa: “Is it safe there? Wasn’t there a genocide?” Yes, 21 years ago. Rwanda is now one of the only sub-Saharan African countries ranked as “low-moderate” (as opposed to “high” or “critical”) on the State Department’s crime and violence lists. The streets are impeccably clean, roads flawless, and billboards dot the highways reminding motorists not to drink and drive. The other question, from those who know a great deal about the region (and who know of my own amateur study of Central African affairs): “Are you okay with that, morally? How do reconcile your choice to move to Rwanda with what the government is doing to domestic opposition, and abroad in the DRC?”
- There isn’t an easy answer to the second question. At the risk of deflecting or creating a false analogy, I have ambivalent feelings toward the politics of my home country as well. I don’t agree with every domestic and foreign policy decision made in Kigali. But the same could be said of Washington. I DO know that Rwanda stands at an exciting crossroads in its history, set to shatter records in healthcare access, HIV/AIDs eradication, agricultural development, regional technology development, ecotourism, and women’s representation in politics and the private sector. I DO know it is the place that I want to call home.
- A few fun goals to close this inaugural segment (readers know that I am Type A thus rendering this list compulsory. Some may appear ridiculously ambitious, but please do not anticipate my relentless-to a fault-pursuit of established goals):
- Climb all 1,000 hills in Rwanda (or at least more than anyone else serving as a reference point)
- Learn Kinyarwanda (enough to hold a basic conversation)
- Join the Rwandan women’s national football team (given the nascent popularity of women’s football-soccer-in East Africa and a colleague’s assurances that the team has yet to come into its own, this may not be as ludicrous as it sounds)
- Trek to see the gorillas
- Regional travel: Cape Town, Zanzibar, Mt. Kilimanjaro, the Rwenzori mountains