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By kcampbell94

During the month of November, most of us moved out from our host families’ homes and moved into our own house to do our ISP (independent study project). Eight of us moved into a house in Kimironko, very close to a well-known restaurant called, New Hello’s Corner. Four of our other classmates lived down the street, and the remaining three chose to remain living in their homestays. The ISP time is usually used to do research. Usually, one chooses a research questions and then interviews many people who are familiar with that area. Some of the things my classmates researched are as follows:

  • PTSD treatment in Rwanda (or lack thereof)
  • Gender based violence in post-genocide society
  • Art therapy as a coping mechanism for genocide survivors
  • Ethnic identity

Since my arrival, I had known that I wanted to get involved in an NGO here. Originally, I had planned on doing a case study, comparing a few different NGOs in Rwanda. My academic advisor, however, told me that it would be a better idea to pick just one. Somehow, this quickly spiraled into me finding Never Again Rwanda, or NAR. Its focus is exactly that which its name tells you: to reconcile Rwanda and prevent genocide from ever reoccurring. Their goals are sustainable peace and an empowered youth. I ended up securing an internship with NAR for three weeks, eight am to five pm every day. Immersing myself in the work place here was an entirely new experience. It was difficult at times with cultural differences, but I ended up getting very close with my coworkers, which of course, was making my quickly dwindling time here harder and harder to accept. With NAR, I went on many excursions such as high school debates about unemployment, debates about early pregnancy, and a mobile exhibition. In the end, I wrote my ISP as more of an internship report, discussing the incredible success of this organization.

With my leaving on December 7th, I have less than a week left of this experience. It’s unfathomable. It has undoubtedly been the smartest decision of my life. To wrap up this post, I’d like to list some of the highlights, or peaks, if you will.

  • Our Thanksgiving (comprised of going to Kieran’s home stay family’s house to feast and then watch The Lion King 1 and a Half and later having a dinner together completed with Pringles, Nutella, and pasta)
  • My revisiting of my home stay family one Sunday afternoon, where I met my extended “family” and resumed card playing with my host brothers
  • Going to different art exhibits with two of my NAR coworkers to see how we should set up our mobile exhibition
  • A trip back to Butare with Kat to attend the mobile exhibition, full of adventures, split Chinese food, and Rwandan ice cream
  • Halloween, when we had dinner at my homestay and then had a Halloween party at our new house with our Rwandan friends

With these memories, the friends, and the immense knowledge I have gained, I find myself on the daily asking, “How can I leave? How can I possibly leave?”

Things That Come to Mind When I Try to Sit Down and Blog About Our Two Week Excursion to Uganda:

  1. The psychological and physical stages of being on a bus for hours on end, which break down into the following:
  • -initial socializing, then silent contemplation
  • -music listening/ reading
  • -then breaking of silence with socializing and a pee break
  • -then more quiet time
  • -and then utter stir-crazy chaos, during which Clara makes a jingle for a popular  Rwandan water bottle brand (Inyange [en-yawn-gay]) and everyone is standing and singing songs from varied musicals
  • -finally, we reach our destination and Nastia sheds literal tears of relief
  1. Feeling disoriented and irrationally angry for the first few days of the trip, given that everything felt like it was occurring in a non-existing time-space continuum
  1. Visiting a refugee camp for Rwandans who denied the genocide, telling us, “You white people believe everything you hear, but today, we will tell you the truth,” and learning there are many different truths, sides, perspectives, and stories
  1. Peeing in many holes, which then became a sport for the group: giving a critique and review of how the holes compared to other ones (“We have a luxury hole this time guys. Soap, too” or “Rough one today. Prepare to angle yourself in ways you never have before”)
  1. Gulu, the town we stayed in for the majority of the trip, for a week, which could produce a whole other list of things that come to mind, but a few of them are: spirits, Acholi culture, darkness, ghosts, children taken in the night, Joseph Kony, “Northern Ugandan Conflict”, Invisible Children, vivid dreams and nightmares, pasta with meat sauce, drug-store lollipops, vandalized village schools, psychology, a sun that left me blonder and tanner and in constant need of sunglasses, treacherous roads, thievery, and a general vibe of disturbia
  1. Safaris, giraffes, elephants, boat ride on the Nile, warthogs sneezing on Nastia and getting quite aggressive when trying to steal our veggie sandwiches, hippos at a campsite, said hippos almost charging and attacking us
  1. Chapatti, chapatti, chapatti (which is like a tortilla Ugandans serve with everything and on its own, being made at random chapatti stands)

But I think what stands out to me the most when reflecting upon the two weeks we spent there, it has to be Gulu. Because I have never in my life been anywhere like Gulu before, and I doubt I will ever be somewhere like that again, unless I am revisiting Gulu itself. Gulu was where we were for the majority of the time. The focus of going was in comparing the post-conflict resolution style there to that of Rwanda. And the conflict, had been a very famous one. It was that of Joseph Kony. It was the Kony 2012. The Invisible Children. I remember senior year of high school my friend and I had printed out Kony 2012 signs and spread them among the school: slipped under bathroom stalls, pinned on cork boards, and slapped on car windshields, thinking we were some kind of vigilantes. Three years later, I stood in the very town where children were snatched from their homes and forced to join the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

Gulu is a small gridded town with no paved roads and no street lights and generally, no electricity after 8pm. When walking in the dark to go to one of our staple restaurants, (The Ethiopian Restaurant, which served spaghetti I had a strange obsession with, or The Indian Restaurant, that took three hours to get your food ready, or The Coffee Hut, which was the decided white-people hang out), everyone who passed by looked like a Harry Potter death eater. Dark, sauntering figures, only able to detect our own or fellow muzungu figures by identifying who was tripping over all the potholes. It was creepy. But what was creepier, what was sinister, was knowing what had happened there and seeing the aftermath. Children taken in the dark. Children told to commit unfathomable atrocities. We were told that the suicide rate was exceedingly high in Gulu: people tied with weights found in the river, people with obvious mental disorders rambling and flinching in the street. Even after the many cultural traditions of forgiveness and reconciliation after children were returned home, the Acholi people couldn't get the war out of their psyches. The LRA was built from a disturbing religion, one which is still practiced in a church that is located across from the hotel we stayed in. Two people from our group went and told us of the spirits, exorcisms, and other troubling things. The challenging part came in trying to understand Acholi culture without your western-tinted glasses on. We discussed very much how the culture may impede on development, given that Gulu is very poor. And it was hard to ignore the sense of unease, the growing unsettlement of this belief in spirits. Spirits that led to something like the LRA.

Learning about these things and being where they had happened had been like a slow-moving nightmare, terrifying with its undercurrent of sinister unease. I can’t say that I would have been able to stay in Gulu any longer than I had. It truly felt like something out of “American Horror Story”, like I might have gone insane, truly lost it, had I been there much longer. However, I am so grateful we had gone. There were important lessons demanded to be learned, and between some of the more scary stuff, we had a lot of fun and met very kind people. It’s a confusing jumble of the good things, the culture, and past tragedy and spirits and haunted-ness, all composing one surreal nightmare that makes no sense. Even when we were miles away, all going through the stages of being on the bus, even when we found our way to a safari and camera-flashing boat ride, I could think about our time there and feel it again, the kind of unease so similar to a chill: unshakable.

By kcampbell94

Every day here is a challenge,” said Lauren, my friend in my program. We were discussing how we had all been catapulted out of our comfort zones, and what she said couldn’t be more true, because here in Kigali, I really don’t think my comfort zone exists. Every minute is a new obstacle: how will I cross this road without getting hit due to nonexistent traffic laws? How will I find my way home on this riddle of a bus system? When will I stop being called Muzungu (never)? How will I tell my host family without eternally offending them that I don’t want a fourth bowl of oatmeal? Those are the minute-by-minute uncomfortable situations, but there comes a steep drop off in finding the balance between light-hearted issues to an issue that will change who I am to my very core forever: The Genocide.

There’s subtle evidence of it everywhere, but it can be easy to forget that the entire scaffolding of Rwandan society is built upon the ashes of this tragedy. It is easy to forget it when I am building card castles with my host brothers. It is easy to forget when I am seeking a chocolate bar in stores nearby the SIT office with my classmates. But today, there was no forgetting. Today, we went to the Rwandan Memorial, a museum in Kigali, and two churches on the countryside that were also memorials. In the attempt to describe what I felt and what I saw, words are trite, but I will continue the attempt. The museum was somewhat similar to the Holocaust Museum in DC, but there is something about being in the very place the museum remembers. It was chilling to say the least. We listened to videos about survivors who described their families’ deaths, rapes, beatings. We watched videos of people crying, silent videos of victims with scares marring their head, hand, anywhere. We read blurbs about the international community’s inaction. The silence and crackling of a video reels changing laid upon us thickly, and remained for the rest of the day, especially in a room that was decorated wall-to-wall with pictures of missing people. What came to mind, (among many things) was an earlier conversation with Bebe. She had told me she loves horror movies and I had laughed and told her I didn’t watch them because then I would be up ALLLL night, fearing whatever villain in the movie was in my bedroom. I had been thinking, however, that Rwanda had been a horror movie. One of the scariest the world has ever seen, and suddenly the idea of watching something imitating any kind of horror felt unnatural. Wrong. I had remembered when I had taken a dean’s seminar on Holocaust and Genocide Studies, after watching so many films of people barely alive in Auschwitz, the image of the skull seemed gruesome, crude. It suddenly had taken me aback to see it on clothing. Well, last night, Ganza was wearing a pirate hat with a skull and crossbones on it. The skull design was half peeled off the hat and when I asked him about it, he told me his mother didn’t like it and tried to remove it. Though my family hasn’t said anything about the genocide, there it was: subtle evidence. And I understood.

Here, I will get into more detail and as a warning, it is extremely disturbing. In the museum, I was becoming sick to my stomach, feeling nauseous and knew it had nothing to do with adjusting to the food here. We then got lunch and took the bus to the country-side. During some time, that heavy silence, the disturbed reflecting eased a bit, and on the bus we were talking and laughing, telling crazy stories as we do. We were driving through rural Rwanda, what I had originally pictured for my time abroad. After about an hour, we reached the memorial site. It was a church where Tutsis had sought refuge during the genocide. Our tour guide showed us how the interwhame (one of the main militia groups who were exterminating the Tutsis) used grenades and bullets to break in. The interwhame were intent upon not only killing Tutsis, but also humiliating them and torturing them in the worst ways fathomable. When I stepped inside the church, I saw benches and upon them, piles and piles of old, withering clothes that had belonged to the victims. People had been hacked to death, shot, beaten by clubs, and some bashed against the walls. The blood stains were still there. The guide then took us to a mass grave. He led us downstairs and as soon as I was half way down the stairs, my every instinct urged me to go back up. I found myself in a tight basement, either side with shelves containing rows upon rows of skulls and heaps of bones. There was no barrier. There was no glass. I couldn’t remove myself. I was inches away from hundreds of human bones. Bones that were once covered in muscle and skin, belonging to a person, a human being, who had every bit of life in them that I did in that moment. Taken away. Snatched by atrocities too heinous to imagine. It felt wrong and unnatural and like I was intruding on the most personal, the most intimate of situations. Why was I in Rwanda? I had nothing to give. Only knowledge, only tragedy and stories of survival to take. Why was I impeding on this story of restoration after the rest of the world turned away when the machetes were hacking? These were the things that were going through my mind. We walked away heavy. Everything else shrunk away. Miniscule matters. Microscopic worries so insignificant.

We were taken to another church, and from how I described the first, I think you can imagine what we saw there as well. After, we went back to the office to reflect, which was much needed. Trying to wrap our heads around this is like trying to button pants much too small. Every time I feel like I am coming to an answer, some thread of rationality, something in the logic rips, tears at the seams. However, as quickly as possible, gears shift. Suddenly, I am trying to find my way home from school and due to a fire (which actually burned half the store my host parents own), my bus stop is closed, and I was lost in town with Kelsey, panicked and emotionally exhausted. And it began again, another challenge. Constant challenges, never ending, so disproportionate their varying weights.

By kcampbell94

A Few (out of many) Things I’ve Learned During My First Week In Rwanda:


  1. How to chew sugar cane while simultaneously watching Nickelodeon in French
  2. Monkey in the middle is so important. As is an old deck of cards
  3. How to use a toothpick after every meal
  4. French fries are also called “chips”
  5. Fancy airlines give out very comfortable complimentary socks

And lastly, something I thought I had known all too well,

  1. Life is a very funny thing


Among the very many funny things, I’d say the funniest turn of events since I’ve gotten here is this: My homestay is in a beautiful mansion. There I had been, since I first applied to SIT Rwanda, taking note on the art of bucket showering, laughing at my mom in BJ’s when she asked if I’d need laundry detergent, thinking, “Oh mom, don’t you know I’ll be washing my clothing in a river?” I guess it goes to show how ignorant I had been while I was scoffing at everyone else’s ignorance.

When I had arrived last Monday after a very luxurious plane ride with Qatar airlines and after I had experienced the flesh-melting heat of Doha, Qatar if only for five minutes, Kelsey and I were taken to the hostel our group was staying at where we took a very disorienting nap. After, we met the other people on our program and for the week we had orientation. This meant a lot of lectures and learning about what not to do here (eat in the street) and what to do (first hug then shake hands when meeting someone new). We met our enigmatic language teacher, Master P, who has the type of smile that immediately makes you smile even if you didn't want to. Always bursting into a fit of laughter with an almost musical laugh, Master P has no problem with engaging us in learning Kinyarwanda. We also met a doctor who explained to us kindly that “Africa is not a zoo” when he told us a story about someone who asked him if he rode lions in the street.

We took walks around the outskirts of Kigali, observing the rush of people as they called out, “Muzungu!” or white person as we passed. The streets look and feel like a rusty clay and you can see the hills upon hills of houses and buildings and plantations on the horizon. When I tried to run up on of the steep hills near the SIT office one morning, it felt as though my lung was made of lead, and I realized the altitude was something I would need to get used to. During this past week, I also grew very close very quickly to the other students in my group. It was stunning how similar, especially in values, they are to me. It was on Friday that we were to be picked up by our homestay families to spend the weekend with them. We spent hours discussing how we should respect the Rwandan culture and what we should expect. Come 2pm, when we were expecting the families, we all sat outside our hostel, feeling like puppies about to be adopted from the pound. Finally, a young girl came and was looking right at me, and said, “I think it’s you.”

Her name is Clemance, but she goes by Bebe. She is 20 years old as well, and she lives with her sister (my host mother) and her three children. The three children are named Miquel, Ganza, and Mikah. Miquel is 9, Ganza 7, and Mikah 1. When I first got here, I was stunned by how nice the house is, which is nicer than most homes I’ve been to in America. I have my own room and bathroom. No bucket showering whatsoever. The family’s meals are prepared by people working in the kitchen and there is a cleaning crew constantly wiping up this and that after everyone. Today, I went into town with Bebe to get school supplies for her nephew, which was really fun and made me realize how similar people are no matter where they are from. At first I had a hard time getting to connect with the boys because they were very invested in watching movies and TV, but today, I taught them monkey in the middle and crazy eights, and we bonded big time. My host mother referred to me as Ganza’s older sister before dinner, which really made me feel welcomed. I realized during dinner how normal it all felt. I felt very at home and at ease. No, I am not bucket showering and I am not playing hide and seek with my host siblings out back with the chickens. None of this is what I expected, but that makes this experience all the more valuable. Life is a very funny thing, through which I know I have to keep laughing and learning.