Monday, March 31, 2008

The Journey Home

Flying over the St Lawrence seaway on the way back home

March 29 & 30, 2008

A nightmare of lost e-tickets in the Kigali airport (computer networks that span four airlines and three continents - well, not too dependable). So we have to BUY new tickets. Which are then refunded just as we are stepping on the plane.

2.5 hours of sheer stress.

And then the journey home begins. It lasts 31 hours.

Binyavanga, Liesl, Christina and I part ways in New York City.
Binyavanga is off to Schenectady to teach. Christina is taking the Q train to Brooklyn, then will go back up to Providence. Liesl is going to hang in Manhatten. I take a bus to Philly, and will end up back in Toronto sometime in April.

Next step: First drafts. We are underway.

My life, at least, has been changed.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Final Day

Driving in Central Kigali

One of many hand-painted signs

Shopping in the downtown core

Beneath the surface, memories of 14 years ago

Anurita at breakfast

Honoré at the Genocide Memorial

Odile Gakire Katese ("Kiki"), founding director of Festival Arts Azimuts, Butare, Rwanda

Liesl and Kiki talk theatre at Bourbon Café

The Kigali International Airport

March 29, 2008

Woke up tired. This has been an intense trip. I cannot think of any time when I have traveled and learned so much in such a short time.

1) We began today with some shopping. Gifts for the loved ones at home.

2) Then we met Odille Kantesi at Bourbon Café. This was the meeting set up yesterday by Hope Azeda. Odille (whom everyone calls Kiki), made the trip in from Butare to see us. We spoke a lot about the Fesitval she is founding in Butare, and of the prospect of partnering on a tour to Rwanda of something Volcanic. She is of the opinion that Rwanda needs to bring in art from around the world.

I love the idea, myself, and hope i can oblige.

3) After saying goodbye to Odille, i made a quick trip back to the Genocide Memorial to chat with Honoré about liaising with them on a possible tour.

Then back to Chez Lando to blog.

We fly out tonight: Kigali to Nairobi. Nairobi to Brussels. Brussels to New York. Then, for me, a Greyhound from New York to Philadelphia.

This trip has been a privilege. The many people we have met have been generous, sharing, challenging.

And so we begin.


A wreath on one of the mass graves at the Genocide Memorial, Kigali

Albert Nzamukwereka, Program Coordinator for Radio La Benevolencija

At the conference/planning room, Radio La Benevolencija - the reconcilation radio of Rwanda

Johan Deflander, Head of  Mission, La Benevolencija

Albert Nzamukwereka speaks to Honoré Gatera, the Head Guide at the memorial, and sets up a tour for us

One of the mass graves

Some of the murdered

The wall of names

Two men outside the Genocide Memorial asked me to take their photograph

Our home away from home in Kigali - the Bourbon Café

The effervescent Hope Azeda - playwright / director / casting director - joins us for a coffee

Binyavanga and Hope at Bourbon Café

Elissa from NYC shows us the restaurant she is opening in Kigali

"Heaven" - her Kigali restaurant-in-progress

Elissa's husband, Josh Ruxin, head of the Millenium Village development project in Rwanda

Toute le Gang at the Ruxins' WONDERFUL dinner

The Republika Lounge, Kigali

Inside Republika - a most excellent establishment

Pretty much how we all feel...

March 28, 2008

1) Musa Keweya

This means New Dawn in Kinyarwanda. It is also a radio soap opera produced in Kigali. This is an amazing project. Here's how it came to be:

During the ethnic purges in the ex-Yugoslavia, the Jewish community of Sarajevo was - perhaps for the first time in history - NOT targeted. 

Some of this community watched what was happening around them, and began to see a pattern. It was their conviction that genocides follow certain rules which repeat from one genocide to another, simple steps that, if they were identified early, could be thwarted.

Fast forward to an NGO in the Netherlands that took this idea, and began the work of disseminating such anti-hatred information to a mass market. Their particular challenge was to find a way to do this that WASN'T "thou shalt", but was, instead, extremely popular. They wanted people to WANT to engage with this kind of teaching. The answer was soap opera.

In Rwanda, Burundi and Congo, this NGO - called La Benevolencija - develops and airs soap operas on radio, in partnership with journalists, academics and artists from those countries. The programs are among the most popular in these countries, with enormous listening audiences. The actors are national heros. We met with the man who heads all three projects, a Belgian named Johan Deflander, and with the Program Coordinator for Rwanda, Albert Nzamukwereka.

Here's what they do:

- there are three script writers
- 10 to 15 people make up a think tank to develop story ideas. These people are involved in development work, drama, and local affairs on the ground.
- the synopses/ideas are given to the writers, who then write scripts.
- each script is translated into English and French, and disseminated to academics and development types for notes towards implementing the priority messages properly and effectively. it's a propaganda method, but ANTI-hate.
- the notes are incorporated.
- once a month, four to six episodes are recorded.
- the shows are aired in partnership with four different broadcasters across Rwanda (similar partnerships are in place in Burundi and DRC).
- every Wednesday and Friday at 8:45pm, the episodes air

A team from Yale University has been studying the efficacy of this ENE enterprise (Entertainment and Education, or "Edutainment"). They did pre-tests in communities before the program aired, and have done follow-up studies with controls. Albert called their testing "sly", with a smile.

For example, a radio is given to to villages, and they are told "here is a radio, you are free to share it on your own terms.". In the community that didn't listen to the radio show, arguments ensued. In the community that listened to the show, the radio was shared effectively. Conclusion: the radio show had taught mediation skills to the community.

La Benevolencija allows targets elites with a different kind of programing: debate shows. Intellectuals and politicians are invited to discuss topics related to Rwanda's situation. These debates are popular among the educated, political class, and are also aired on the radio.

The whole enterprise employs a strategy of transparency - and they partner with government. This is unusual for an NGO, and is part of their project (there is much resentment in Afirca of the NGO culture - too often a kind of neo-colonialism). Transparency and engagement seem key. As Albert said to us, "If we don't involve someone, it means we don't want them to change." 

And change is the necessity for Rwanda.

The show is so popular that live broadcasts can fill football stadiums.

2) The Kigali Genocide Memorial Museum

After our meeting, Albert drove us to the Genocide Museum, and we were given a tour of the grounds by Honoré Gatera, the Head Guide at the Centre.

Outside, there are simple mass graves, covered in concrete slabs. A wall is slowly having the names of the victims attached to in in simple plates.

Honoré left us to wander through the museum on our own, to read the history, to see the footage of victims, of killings, of victim testimonies, of the gacaca courts, and of the indifference of the West. Particularly upsetting is the collusion of France (French soldiers protecting the génocidaires), and the historical instigation of ethic rivalry by Belgium (before the Belgians taught otherwise, Hutu and Tutsi were plastic, socio-economic groups. The Belgians made it racial, beginning with identity cards, and nazi-like measurements of facial features. Only AFTER Belgian colonisation did violence occur between these groups).

3) A meeting with Hope Azeda

At the very popular Bourbon Café in the centre of Kigali, we met with Hope Azeda, a Rwandan playwright, director, actor and one of the main casting directors for East Africa.

Hope was wonderful, and we began to talk about the notion of bringing a show or two to Rwanda. Hope will also be working in New York with Liesl (one of the Africa Trilogy directors) in an East Africa project there in July, 2008.

Hope set up a meeting for tomorrow - our last day - with Odille Kantesi from Butare, the Director of the new Festival Arts Azimuts, and a professor at the National University of Rwanda.

4) Josh Ruxin and Elissa

We had dinner at the house of a couple of ex-pat friends of Anurita, New Yorkers, Josh and Elissa.

Lovely people!

Elissa has designed and built a restaurant that will open in the centre of Kigali in the next few months. It is gorgeous - a large, lovely patio with a stupendous view. They have poured their life savings into this, and Elissa has a new baby, Maja, who will grow up speaking three languages.

Josh is with Columbia University, and is the head of Access Project and the Millenium VIllages, Rwanda. He has been partnering with the Rwandan government and local villagers in resuscitating some of the areas most destroyed by the genocide.

They are impressive people. And the food was amazing!

5) A Drink at La Republica

A nightcap was enjoyed by all at a very cool bar called La Republica.

It was an enormous day.

Friday, March 28, 2008


At the border between Uganda and Rwanda

On the road to Kigali

We pass what's left of a less-fortunate vehicle

Arrival at Chez Lando, Kigali

A tremendous Rwandan beer!

Josephine, our waitress at Sol e Vino in Kigali

March 27, 2008

Today is a simple day. We do three things:

1) After breakfast at the Lake Bunyonyi Overland Resort, we go for a boat ride on the lake. This is Christina's first time in a boat. She survives.

2) We drive with Ismail to Kigali.

3) We check in to Chez Lando (our hotel) and go to an Italian restaurant for pizza.

The border teaches us how valuable Ismail is. Because he is from central Uganda (a Bugandan), he says he will get hassled at the border. He describes the process - a careful and slow vehicle inspection, with fines for anything like a cracked windshield, etc.

But he looks Tutsi (or what is taken to be the Tutsi stereotype). So - he hires a Rwandese woman to do all the talking for him. This involves paperwork for border clearance for the van, vehicle insurance and and entry permit for Ismail as a driver. All this costs 92,000 Rwanda Francs (about $190 USD). And the process is sped up considerably as a result.

While he does all of this, we have to fill out and hand in exit forms and change money on the Uganda side (using a money changer that Ismail trusts - there are many at the border, and some - apparently - have counterfeit bills).

Then we have to walk across the no-man's-land (about 200 metres) to the Rwanda side. Photography is prohibited. We fill out entry forms and get our passports stamped. The official is very polite, and entry is free (unlike Uganda, which charged each of us $50 USD to get in).

That's it. Then we wait for Ismail to finish the vehicle permit process. Then we drive to Kigali.

The drive is about 2.5 more hours. And it rains the whole way. The road is fairly new - in much better shape than the road from Kampala - but the country is very hilly. We wind down long switch-backs through the greenest, most verdant land I have ever seen. We are now driving on the right side of the road, which makes passing more difficult for Ismail, as the van is a right-hand drive). Occasional mud slides block our lane. We pass occasional boulders that have fallen from somewhere above. People on the road are working large plots of tea, or sugar cane. Boys gesture at us (there is much less traffic on this road, than on the Ugandan roads, where no one seemed interested in us). One does an elaborate end-zone dance. The rain continues.

The people on the road have a different look. The clothing - when Western in style, as it is on the many boys we pass - seems uniformly Khaki in colour, and very well worn. The traditional clothing shows different styles and colours. Or maybe I'm imagining that, because everyone is soaking wet from the heavy rain.

We arrive in Kigali during a downpour. The storefront signs and advertising billboards are a mixture of English and French and Kinyarwanda. We see a street fight between two young men - with cheering coming from a crowd hiding from the rain under storefront canopies. The violence is sudden and a shock. As we drive we see just how different Kigali is from Kampala. Lawns. Paved roads. A great many new buildings. Gardens. There has been much done in recent years.

Kigali is a city built on hills, and is quite beautiful - like a cross betweeen Kamloops and Santa Barbara. It is a stark contrast to the dust and wonderful chaos of Kampala. On this first drive, it looks decidedly wealthy. As Ismail has said, Rwanda is a "serious" place. Seat belt laws and fines. The motorcycle taxi drivers all wear helmets. It is also an expensive place, we discover, at the restaurant. We hear that Kigali is the safest and most expensive city in Africa.

We begin to see that Rwanda and Uganda, are in fact, different countries. This is, of course, contrary to the typical Western imagining that Africa is a monolithic place. 

It ain't.

We return to Chez Lando. Only two more days to go.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Crossing the Equator

Morning at the Equator

Just a few metres south of the middle of the world...

Kabale, Southern Uganda

Our stalwart driver, the wonderful Ismail Kiganda, of African Eco Adventures

Arriving at Bunyonyi Resort - feeling welcomed by the sign-age...

A Bunyonyi Bird

Lake Bunyonyi, Southern Uganda

The Christina We Know And Love - First Time in a Boat IN HER LIFE!

The Binyavanga We Know and Love - Ever Connected...

Self Portrait at Lake Bunyonyi Overland Resort

March 26, 2008 – Road Trip

We are met by Ismail Kiganda, who is to drive us south to the mountains and Rwanda.

- Into the Toyota Hiace at 6am.

- Exhaustion even before we slide the door closed. I’ve slept less than 5 hours for the last two nights.

- $100 USD for a tank of gas.

- Away we go.

Driving in Uganda is a unique enterprise. The roads are sometimes quite good, sometimes filled with massive potholes, and usually an unpredictable combination of both. Drivers weave around the crevices, and vehicles pass one another frequently. Sometime a vehicle will pass another vehicle that is already passing a vehicle. So: three cars or trucks going forward beside each other on a two-lane road, often with oncoming traffic. Add to this children walking; bicycles laden with jerry cans of water, or bananas, or passengers; cattle milling; motorscooters darting; INSANE bus drivers; and you have Ugandan traffic. And it all seems to work.

We stop for breakfast at 8am, just a few metres south of the equator. The sun is brilliant. So is the coffee. I have a muffin that Jonathan Swift could have written. It’s giant. And then we continue on.

Ismail is good. And he gets us to Lake Bunyonyi in Southern Uganda by 3pm. We weave our way over a final stretch of dirt road, up switch backs, past boys making gravel by hand with hammers, scattered over cliff faces, through terraced hillsides lush with vegetation, and finally down to the third deepest lake in the world. It is ravishingly beautiful.

This was Binyavanga’s idea. Christina says it earns him first billing.

Last Day in Kampala

TASO - The AIDS Service Organisation of Uganda

Dr. Lydia Mungherera, one of the directors at TASO, welcomes us

An admitting nurse at TASO

Anne Kadddumukasa explains the workings of TASO to us

The TASO values

Dr. Mercy Mirembe Ntangaare, Head of the Department of Drama, Music and Dance,  sits with us, 
and a group of faculty and staff on the grounds of Makarere University

Playwright and teacher Patrick Mangeni talks to his students. Anurita takes notes.

Drama students at Makarere

Roselyn Nandawula, who works in PR at Reach Out Mbuya

A woman who receives the help offered by Reach Out Mbuya

Two children in the Mbuya district of Kampala

Outside a house in Mbuya

The grandmother in Mbuya who invited us into her home

One of her grandchildren

The National Theatre in Kampala

Actor Michael Wawuyo at the National Theatre

Liesl says so long to her new boyfriend, Hector, at Banda Inns

March 26, 2008. An enormous day.

1) Up at 6am to be at TASO for 8am. TASO is The AIDS Service Organization of Uganda.

We met Lydia – the director – who is an old friend of Anurita’s. Lydia was in a rush preparing for their World TB Day events. She handed us over to Anne Kaddamukasa, who in the perfect and astonishingly articulate English I am coming to associate with Ugandans, gave us an overview of TASO history and current structure.

This is an organization that not only does admirable work (provides ongoing treatment all across Uganda for people with HIV/AIDS), but organizes itself in a way which would be the envy of almost any institution I know: sensible, practical, ethical, competent.

2) Coffee and a bookstore.

Here we learned the amount of coffee that it takes to truly wake Binyavanga up: a triple espresso, followed by a double espresso. That, a couple cigarettes and a slice of cake, and he is ready to face the day…

I bought Doreen Baingana’s book, Tropical Fish (recommended to me by Binyavanga), with the sly hope of getting it signed by Doreen at supper tonight.

3) Makarere University again, to meet the Head of the Drama, Dance and Music Department, Mercy Mirembe Ntangaare.

Makarere has close to 350 students in the department, and offers a large range of undergraduate and graduate degrees in both academic and practical aspects of the performing arts – including training in theatre, dance and music criticism (ahh – trained critics!). 

I had read an essay of Dr. Ntangarre’s before i met her – a look at the female archetypes in Ugandan drama – and the challenges faced by women living in a society where art portrays them too often as saint / whore / nag stereotypes. There are exceptions, of course, but feminists such as Dr. Ntangarre seem to have their work cut out for them.

Patrick Mangeni, whom we met yesterday, had also set up a meeting with twenty or so other faculty and students, and we had a fascinating chat about approaches and curriculum. We were much impressed by the students - a happy, dedicated and inspired group. I began to get the sense that work in the field here tends to be much quicker, improv-based and issue-driven than theatre in Canada. 

4) We next drove across town to Reach Out Mbuya – another HIV/AIDS Initiative based around a catholic church in the Mbuya district of Kampala.

We were given a site tour by Roselyn Nandawula (a vivacious young woman who began there as a volunteer – scared of AIDS – and is now their PR director). 

One of Reach Out’s many successes is that it has found strong markets for garments and crafts made by – again – the primarily female recipients of treatment, women who otherwise have no income, but who have children to support. This is an initiative that has a whole neighbourhood around it. We left the main clinic / gathering site and drove out along narrow dirt roads to a house in a crowded cheek-by-jowl neighbourhood in which a grandmother, two of her children, and five grandchildren live. Their house was about the size of a garden shed back home. Mud brick, tin roof, walls lined with paper.

One of the terrible tolls of AIDS across Africa has been the elimination of parents, and the creation of poor orphans being cared for by poor grandmothers. The woman we met was radiant. Gracious and lovely.

The greeting we receive everywhere in Kampala, as our hands are clasped, is “ You are most welcome”. And we are made to feel exactly that – even in this most humble of places.

5) From Mbuya, we drove back to the city centre to the National Theatre.

If the Africa Trilogy is ever able to find the funding to tour Africa, I would like to bring it to Kampala. I met the Technical guru of the Theatre, Leonard Okwave. Yet another lovely Ugandan. It’s a modest, and old space, 377 seats, but with a terrific vibe. It reminded me of the Neptune Theatre in Halifax. The tech package is old – two manual LX boards, 60 dimmers but only 40 antiquated lamps. But the room is wonderful.

At the café by the theatre (yes, even in this poor, Third World country, they have – unlike most theatres in Canada – figured out that café’s and theatres go together!), we sat and drank ginger beer and sodas with a group of local theatre professionals. Another meeting organized by the miraculous Patrick Mangeni – playwright, teacher, and social convener – whom, I am now seeing, is loved by everyone.

At the meeting:

- Three members of a young and outrageously successful comedy sketch drama group called Theatre Factory. They do a different show every week, collectively created, consisting of 10 skits. We met Philip Luswata, Richard Tuwangye, and Veronica Kiwanuka.

- An actor/creator named Patrick Mujuuka, who works with a group called Afritalent. They also use a collective creation method involving improv, but in their case, a writer presents scenarios and then creates final scripts based on the work. Like many Ugandan theatre artists, Patrick works primarily in radio for income.

- A lovely actor named Michael Wawuyo, who was introduced to me by a Development Theatre facilitator named Baron Oren, as “a national treasure”. Striking, tall and magnetic, perhaps in his fifties – he told us it’s impossible to make a living as a theatre actor in Uganda. Michael works also as a welder. We fall in love with him instantly. An impressive human.

All agreed that serious drama was on the decline in Uganda. The group mused on whether this had something to do with uncertain politics – and that in the time of Amin, comedy also thrived.

6) From the theatre, we went back to our hotel to pack. Then out to dinner with Doreen Baingana and several other folks (Billy – the Kwani editor from Nairobi, Bernard – a journalist from Kampala, and a very fun, smart and dynamic Kenyan from UNAIDS: Jane Kalweo - a friend of Anurita's).

I chatted mostly with Doreen and Liesl. A lovely night of far-ranging conversation.

And Doreen did indeed sign my book.

As we walked towards our minivan, and bid goodbye, I am struck with just how many utterly tremendous women I have met here. 

Home to bed for 5 hours of sleep, on the eve of the 9-hour drive to Southern Uganda in the morning. We bid goodbye, too, to the man who has driven us all over Kampala and Entebbe for the last five days, James Ssebayigga – a godsend: competent, careful, calm and a great energy to be around. We’ll miss him.