Friday, July 25, 2008
tomorrow is departure day. It is amazing how quickly my return to africa has come and gone. In many respects this trip has allowed for me to see a comprehensive vision of a person, outside of the isolated view of theology and religion. I have been able to see how the question of health fits into a larger social context. i have had a chance to see how health decisions that can severely affect a persons life are made based on economic capacity. I have even had a chance to experience that myself, as I considered taking what would be prescription medicine in the US for worms, without doing any sort of stool sample, simply because it costs more at home. watching sicko with the students a few days ago served as an excellent link between our observations and experiences here and those in the US. While perhaps the diseases may be different, we still have people unable to make the choice for better health and a more full life in the US because of social circumstances. Rwanda has even managed to do something which we have not; universal, affordable health insurance. It is illegal in Rwanda to not have health insurance, and in order to insure that this is possible for the bulk population, the government has introduced the mutuelle, a health insurance program that only costs 1000 RF ($2) to join per year. With the mutuelle, the cost of consultation, testing and medication for the most pervasive illnesses only costs 200RF, the same price as a gourd of traditional local banana beer. Rwanda seems to be a country where the government genuinely cares about its population, and is even willing to go to the lengths of kicking out NGO's in order to provide a standard of excellence to its population.
It has bee wonder to me to see how vastly difference my two experiences in africa have been. In one case, my time was spent in churches and amongst theologians. In the other, doctors and clincs. In one, i was soly responsible for myself, and was subject to only my desires. This trip, i have been responsible for 16,and my needs or my wishes sidestep to the needs of my students. outside of any question of mode, i have thoroughly enjoyed transmitting the traveling experience to these students. We have used bucket showers, ate locally almost daily, and squeezed into matatu taxis until bursting point. In presenting our experience to the parents and other putney students, we have decided to do it in the form of the matatu monologues.
Once more time is short, and reflection wanes. until next time!
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
One week to go in Africa. It is hard to believe that my time is almost. I have had my time so consumed by logistics that the time has flown on by. My mornings seem to be my only free time. I have had to manage my free time between reading, catching up on emails, blogs, or the work for the day before or sitting and contemplating. The moment 7:50 hits, students are up eating breakfast, I am herding people to transport, making sure chores get done for the day, etc.
All that being said, I have found the work to be very fruitful. I am working with an amazing group of students. The other day as we were trying to contemplate the "what next" aspect of our trip, the students came up with the idea of writing a book compiling their photos and stories from their experiences. I really think they could pull it off. Money raised from their efforts would go to support the association AVE H UMURERWA, a home for children with physical and mental disabilities.
I wish I had more time to update... but I am putting photos up on our group page at pstgarwa.blogspot.com
Monday, July 14, 2008
It seems that between being a father, teacher, friend, travel agent and police officer for 18 people, I have hardly had a chance to write in my own personal blog. I have also been responsible for updating our trip blog for families, so feel free to check that out to discover some of the activities we have been involved in as a group:
It has been an interesting journey returning to Africa thus far. I feel that coming back here and looking at health issues, i have been able to see the research that I had done in the new light of development. It is interesting, however, because the work i did focused on using african cultures as a departure point. Western medicine is the realm the most resistent to identifying folk medicine as legitimate medicine. It is easy to understand such resistance, because it is dealing with life and death issues. One of the problems, however, is that western medicine will only identify as illnesses, those diseases already catelouged in our own medical dictionaries. Among different africa cultures, however, one finds many psycho-social illnesses that touch deep in the physic of a person. On the fast track to modernistion, i haven't heard of any efforts here in Rwanda to integrate traditional healing and western medicine.
I have also really enjoyed stepping back into the role of facilitator for group reflection. It is very different doing this with a group of highschool students rather than college students, because the seriousness isn't always there, and the background training in the issues isn't as extensive, but my group is able to offer nugets of wisdom based on their own experiences here.
Mel, my co-leader, is amazing to work with. She gets the short of the leader stick at times because as a doctor she is a approached by the majority of the students whenever they are ill.
It is a very different transition going from traveling solo, to being responsible for 16 youth. At times, like when walking down a road, and I am trying to keep everyone from walking anywhere near where traffic goes by, it is just too much. There are great rewards though. Seeing how students are dealing with the discomfort of powerlessness and seeing how they respond to that is great. I feel like there is a lot of learning and reflecting to be done, and many of the students are very faithful to their journals.
Anyways, I am also updating the putney blog on a regular basis, so feel free to check that out: http://pstgarwa.blogspot.com/
Monday, July 07, 2008
I've arrived in Africa! Flying along the sunrise into kenya just moments ago was like looking at my photos from the top of Kilimanjaro. The rising sun, with its golden layers followed by fiery red and even purple haze, appears to be the center of the world.
After 3 days of travel and three overnight flights, I am excited to leave behind the western world. I have spent the last three days in New York, and london. In NY, I took the chance to visit with some old friends. I attended church services at the church where I used to intern. Realizing how that experience was my first contact with HIV/AIDS, it seemed like a particular fitting beginning to this new journey. There I came across, Mary my old intern advisor, and several other old friends. I stayed over at Vince's who, as always, was a perfect host, even going so far as to arrange a little dinner party with Benoit. Joy and I, having met up after church, took a trip midtown to meet Fr. Aldo Tos. My second day in New York, I dropped in on the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship HQ. After updating the staff on the past year, and catching up on their doings.
Arriving in London an hour late, and taking a good hour to get my tickets for my continuing flight, I quit the airport to visit Raymond, a former jesuit and friend who I met in my earlier travels to Uganda. He had spent a year living in Rhino Refugee camp for sudanese refugees and is now working for the British equivalent of CRS, CATHOD.
Three days away from home, and i have managed to meet some very significant people from my own past. It does give me hope that theire is some sort of connection between all these epochs in my life aside from the cotinuous presence of me.
Now, beginning a new journey, connected but very different from any of my previous undertakings, facilitating others as they make the connections between their different experiences is my job. How does one reconcile the conclusions drawn encountereing poverty, and inequity, when it stands so starkly against our home experiences. While they seem like two disparate worlds, the successes of the western world have often been built on the backs of the global south. as such, these resource rich countries.
three days in and it seems like i never left africa. squeezing in and out of minibusses overloaded with people, riding on the backs of motorcycles, and sifting seamlessly from an haut culture expat world and a world where the meet of choice is nyama choma, grilled beef served on the street.
Last night I was able to see hugh maskela for free at a shi shi hotel in town. It was amazing music. That was preceded by a day filled with meetings in two different towns. It certainly left me exhausted! Our work looks fantastic though. It is amazing how different this trip will be the moment the students arrive.
Today is clean up day in Rwanda. When I was last here, I was amazed at how clean everything was. I was just coming from kampala where the only thing that kept the city clean seemed to be the maribou stork and the cows. Here, they take the morning of the last Saturday off from work, and everyone cleans. There is no transport, no businesses open. Just cleaning. Amazing.
entering into church last week, i couldn't help but experience a feeling of gloom. So many betrayals happened within the clergy that cost so many lives. It represents probably the worst of humanity. Those who had promised their lives to the service of the gospels, turned against even there own humanity, destroying that trust, betraying their faith and killing. One priest was responsible for bullldozing over there congregation. other priests were complicit by fear, aiding the interahme by picking out the people on the death lists from those sicking shelter in their churches.
Even worse, though, is to see how the racist ideology evidenced by such things as the Hutu ten commandments were propogated by the belgian catholic heirarchy in Rwanda.
It is easy for one to lose faith in his church. It is easy for one to lose faith in humanity.
there are, however, lights that shine in the darkness. their were heroes, sung and unsung, who risked their lives trying to protect neighbors, sometimes even strangers. Even as people across the country were yelling out Gatanbe son of Gataze, why are you killing me, brave souls opened there doors to even those whose names they did not know.
A light continues to shine today, as survivors make efforts to reconcile.
our students have arrived!
They have maintained an incredible pace. after 48 hrs of travel, they rallied and were able to manage a day of physically and emotionally activities. our first day in the country, due to our contact with the honorable dora, we were able to hold a meeting with the minister of health. while students were struggling to stay awake, they managed to ask some very important questions and have maybe opened the door for us to visit the president.
following a long wait for that meeting, we had a quick lunch at the hotel, and we set off for the genocide memorial. there students encountered the harsh reality of the rwandan context, seeing how just 14 yrs ago, the majority population turned on the minority population, following an extremist racist ideology bent on carrying out the final solution: the extermination of the tutsi people. For its abrasive and stark presentation of the reality of the genocide, the museum leaves one emotionally overwhelmed. the genocide is seemingly incomprehensible, and yet the colonial ideologies and the impassivity of foreign superpowers, including our own nation, are sadly identifiable factors that aided and abetted.
Freddy, the director of the memorial, was able to join us following our visit, in describing the role the memorial plays today both as a mass grave site and as a museum. He also explained its own role in preserving memory as an effort to prevent this from every happening again, while allowing for the truth to be proclaimed, so as to enable reconciliation.
these efforts have not been without response, however, and as we entered we had to go through extensive security. there have been bombing attempts on the memorial in the past.
We returned to the hotel, where we finally had a chance to distribute keys and allow students to take showers for the first time in two days. We made our way to the mille collines, the famous hotel rwanda, for sodas where greg, our fearless guide, joined us. My students amazed me once more with their tenacity as they got up on stage and danced with the live band. This was to the amazement of the rwandans there (certainly representing the upper crust of society), who pulled out their cell phones and filmed the occasion.
We finished the evening with a fantastic buffet from the restaurant chez robert.