World Refugee Day!
Over the past several weeks, I’ve been working with Kigali, the local government, and the refugee committee to organize celebrations for World Refugee Day, June 20 every year.
The refugees planned their own activities, and we were to revise it if necessary. Needless to say, it became necessary, as the refugees included such activities as “Presentation of gifts to the Refugee Committee,” and “Lunch Reception with Refugee Committee and Invited Guests,” which were both impossible because the budget of World Refugee Day activities across the country this year was low (I can’t post the figure, but let’s just say it approximates what I paid in rent for my apartment in DC). I couldn’t blame the refugees for trying as hard as they could to get more money and goods from UNHCR, but it’s still frustrating. They think we’re a bottomless pot of money, and don’t understand or believe us when we tell them we have serious budgetary restrictions.
The morning of the big day, crisis was averted—thirty minutes after our scheduled arrival, there were hardly any chairs and no one was gathering or preparing for the festivities. Our head of office, angry at the seeming reluctance of the refugees to gather since they knew they wouldn’t be receiving any gifts, nearly cancelled the whole day. Ten minutes later, they began to gather and the women started singing and beating on a goatskin drum to encourage people to come. I had been nervous that a month’s worth of efforts would be flushed down the drain, but we did finally get underway.
Dancing and singing ensued, with women in a circle, arms outstretched like the longhorns of a cow, stomping to the driving beat of the drum, rhythmic clapping, and traditional chants. Clouds of dust billowed from the stomping. I jumped into the fray, trying my hand at Rwandese traditional dance, much to my own enjoyment and that of the refugees! Speeches by the Refugee Committee president, the president of the Women’s Committee, UNHCR, the local authorities, and the head of the camp were then interspersed with song, more dancing, anti-AIDS poetry, and an AIDS-awareness themed play by the youth. During one of the songs, the women sang (in Kinyarwanda), “Morgan, I love you, but I have nothing to give you to show you my love!” It was very touching.
I eagerly awaited the end of the festivities, because the boys’ soccer team was to play against the strongest village team. To prepare, they had used money they had saved to buy shoes and socks. They built metal goals and secured them with the cement that I purchased for them. They cleared the terrain of sharp rocks.
What they didn’t know was that I had two surprises for them: red jerseys (a gift from UNICEF…they were too small, but if they weren’t fastened, they worked quite well), and a beautiful, new World Cup commemorative soccer ball (a gift, I explained, from their American friends!).
They were delighted at the presentation—the jerseys were a lifesaver, as the opposing team showed up with blue shirts, and our team was also wearing blue shirts. The red jerseys made it possible to distinguish between the two teams, for which the Nkamira team was grateful. Everyone marveled at the shiny ball. I was only able to stay for the kickoff, as we left to go to a “restaurant” (only brochettes are served, so it’s more like an eatery) as a treat for the invited guests and the head of both the Refugee and the Women’s Committees. We left them as they began to play, and I had to be dragged away kicking and screaming.
I received word later that day of the final score: our team won 3-1! I don’t think I could have been happier if the US won the World Cup.