Saturday, August 15, 2009

Painted Cow Dung

Irene and I are back in Kigali, by this time in our travels it is our second home after Nairobi. Our? I've decided by this point I either have homes all over the world, or I am homeless, I think the first option sounds better.

We had a successful seminar with students in Goma. They were greatly impressed by Irene's talk on Peace and Good Governance, and especially that one so young as she knew so much. They had many questions for her. They were also interested in my presentation on HIV/AIDS and I think it was the first time for them to understand the disease beyond the catch phrase of abstinence, fidelity and condoms - signs are all over the place! There was one young mother in the room who was initially quite upset to hear about HIV being passed from mother to child and then appeared greatly relieved to hear of ways to pre-empt that.

I think I mentioned previously that Goma has high rates of TB, it also has incredibly high rates of HIV infection. I hope that my presentation didn't hurt anyone as I'm sure they all know someone affected. It was difficult to convey anything as they all speak French so I had a translator, whose English was good but it is a tough topic to hear and translate all in one go. Irene and I both reworded many phrases and many witty comments were lost :)

The one thing Irene and I can't get over and are both determined to somehow return and empower the youth to fix is the prevalence of rape. The one woman who spoke up during the seminar mentioned the frequency of rape, and even the men all discussed security and peace as being their number one problem. We both wanted more time to hear the stories of the women there. The things we noted as excellent points were that in the WYA core group of 4, there are two women. We also noticed that none of the men had a problem listening to two women speak and asking us questions. I think they all feel overwhelmed by the situation and haven't received leadership training to address it.

We raced across the Goma/Gisenyi border then took motorcycle taxis to catch our bus 1 minute before it departed. The roads are terrible and I was grateful we were going slow as I'd been given a helmet without a visor or strap, I had to keep shaking my head to keep it on as my hands were busy holding my purse and me on. The bus ride back, 45 minutes in the two backseats cleared out and we both slept for a couple hours. I think it is impossible to appreciate how great our spines are at keeping our heads from rattling until your head is rested directly on a seat. So many times I flew a few inches into the air or had to open my mouth to prevent my teeth from clacking. The closer we got to Kigali, the easier it was to sleep.

Today was a delicious day; we slept in and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast before embarking on our day. Irene wanted to see the Genocide Memorial this trip, and we booked our flight for Sunday to give us a day to complete all our errands. Of course, this day happens to be a national holiday. The memorial is closed. I'd hoped to get some shopping done - half the stores are closed. One opened for us, and we then found a market that is also open.

We stopped at one booth where the woman had some great items, she is a phenomenal businesswoman. She is part of a cooperative where youth, elderly and women do beading, basketry, farming, etc and she sells their stuff. Thanks to that, she was a very tough bargainer, continuously reminding us of the women who benefit from the sales.

My favourite part of her shop was artwork made of painted cowdung! She showed them to us, and we smelled it, and she said tons of people buy it... as Irene put it, that is really entrepreneurship: taking what you have and adding value! She agreed to a picture of her with her cowdung artwork, on the condition that I send it to her so she can use it for marketing. Irene then bought a necklace and earring set and was told to pose with it on, holding another necklace with more in the background for her also to use... I am so impressed by her. She also insisted that I find her more markets as she assumes I have more access than she does.

We'll head back to our Kigali home in a few minutes before departing tomorrow. Our flight leaves at 11, and the Memorial opens at 8. Assuming we're both able to rouse ourselves from bed on time we'll make one last effort to visit.

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