(I've changed the name from "Rants" given that I can't really rant about many things that frustrate me here, at least not without getting into some sort of trouble. As such, you'll have to wait for the book.)

Monday, October 31, 2011

An Uncomfortable Thought

It's a rainy morning in Bujumbura. 'Tis the season. I always say that it's my favorite time of year and I'm often challenged by expat friends who tell me that it's easy for me to say since I don't have to walk everywhere and fear that my house won't slide off the hillside. Fair enough I guess. Nonetheless I thought I'd poll a few Burundians/Rwandans to get their opinions. In my non-scientific survey I've been pleasantly surprised to find out that people are quite mixed on the topic and it seems irrespective of level in society. So I will say freely, the rainy season is my favorite time of year.

I was in Rwanda last week for my regular visit, meetings, etc. It was a good week overall and I like the team there, the new office, etc. There is a lot of work to be done but I think we're on the right track.

artful interior of the museum
One thing I remembered was that I never blogged about my visit to the genocide memorial/museum. Usually when I go to Kigali, I just lower my head and work 16-17 hours a day. I normally don't go out unless it's for work and I have never spent time just driving around and exploring. The last visit encompassed a weekend and, though I was tempted again to take advantage of the extra time and catch up on emails, I did venture out for a few hours – just a vehicle and me with no driver (except of course me).

victim photos
Most of the time was spent at the memorial. It's an intense experience, particularly if you go alone and take your time to think about what you are seeing. Even though I'm generally well aware of what happened, having seen documentaries, read books, talked to many Rwandans about it, I have to say that it's still beyond what the brain can handle.

In addition to a lot of new contextual information, it was powerful to walk around and see the events develop. There are photos, short films/testimonials, etc. that take you through the relevant history well before the genocide all the way up to today. I often felt sick to my stomach as I tried to imagine what people were going through. It's hard to get your mind around the fact that so many people gave themselves over to so much brutality.

haunting displays of victim clothing
I read an interesting book a while back about a black South African woman who was working with the notorious Apartheid killer Eugene de Kock (dubbed "Prime Evil") during the well-known peace and reconciliation efforts. The intriguing thing about her book was to watch the evolution of this woman who, over the course of many interviews, went from hating this man to the uncomfortable feeling that he was not the detestable creature that she wanted him to be. His demeanor was nothing like what she had expected and it eroded some of the feelings that would continue to justify her hatred towards him. Taking nothing away from the horrible things he was responsible for, it became more about the sick feeling she developed that quite possibly the potential for such behavior to germinate was in all of us. Though not an amazing piece of literature, a fascinating book nonetheless.

this is not Halloween
And so I thought about that book while I visited the memorial. It's clearly one of the most vivid case studies (similar to WWII) of how evil can penetrate a large population. It's beyond tragic. And when you look at where Rwanda is today given where they've come from, it's even harder to believe. While the progress is astounding and it appears that the past is well behind them, you can't help but wonder if the potential for the train to derail is still there. 

I was reminded that today is Halloween in the US. Probably a sign that things are going well in a society that can find fun in scary things. 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Of Mice and Men

Cleaning lady just came in to clean out the cupboards in my office. The multiple shelves have been serving as spacious high-rise apartments for the little annoying mice. While traces of their nibbling and feces have been apparent for months, the last week or so has seen a significant increase in activity, just short of seeing empty wine glasses and crumpled party hats. Anyway, as we used to say, it's all fun and games until someone gets hurt. Time for a mousetrap.


We have now moved into our new house. I'm more excited about it than Priya who had grown attached to our neighbors. We're still only a short walk from our former house but it's much more complicated to access our former neighbors than it was – particularly in the evening. Moreover, the new house comes with some issues. One of which is the electricity. We had a massive and sustained power surge (almost double the voltage) and knocked out some of our electrical appliances. This happened in Dar to us a few times as well but not quite on this scale. Our big, expensive surge protector blew up as a result but at least it gave its life to protect our new TV and some other things. The wireless router however was toast along with my computer cable even though they were on the protector. In the kitchen it was the fridge that bit the dust. My desk is now strewn with blackened circuit boards. But we have a nice view.


So the British actress that was interested in coming to visit our projects here in Burundi has confirmed that the trip is on. And wouldn't you know that it is exactly the time that I need to be in NY for meetings. I'm trying to get her team to overlap with me by a day so that I can at least meet her. We don't get that many famous people interested in our work and it'd be nice to be around. More later on who this actress is.


Towards the end of last year we did a survey with Johns Hopkins University for our gender-based violence program across the border in the Congo. The survey interviewed women in rebel-held (FDLR) areas around Bukavu. The results are pretty shocking:

  • 90.7% of interviewed women have been raped at least once in their life
  • 79% of raped women were gang-raped
  • 22.2% have a child from the rape
  • 30% have never told anyone (family, husband, friends) they have been raped
  • 48.9% have been rejected by their families following the incident
  • 51% were abandoned by their husband following the rape


It's a pretty sobering list of statistics. While it makes me glad we're here working on these issues, it just sometimes seems so incredibly daunting what women are going through every day. Our contributions seem very pale in comparison to the magnitude of the problem.