Tuesday, May 16, 2006


I just received a Motorola Walkie Talkie for my security. I even have a code name. I won’t reveal the whole thing because, well, I’m not allowed for security reasons, but it starts with “Sierra Romeo,” and is followed by a number. I am enjoying my new toy, and think it’s really funny but I’m not sure why.

Even though it is rumored that summer has begun, the rains disagree…We had a monsoon the other day which came down so fast and so hard that we had veritable rapids of mud crashing down the side of the hill onto the main road. If we hadn’t been in a Land Cruiser, we would have been carried down the mountain!

Rwandans have a drinking tradition which is also very practical: before pouring their beer into a glass (when they’re at a bar), they will pour a little beer into the glass, swish it around, and then toss it out. It’s a “gift to the ancestors,” they say, but it’s also smart—it’s a way to make sure your glass is clean before drinking from it!

The last Saturday of every month is Umuganda, or “community work.” Every Rwandan citizen is obligated to help clean the town, fix the roads, weed the public spaces, etc. Some people try to avoid it, though. When I asked my friend if he was going to participate, he laughed, “I have to do my own umuganda at home!”

Gisenyi and Ruhengeri have the highest concentration of people in all of Rwanda.

Gisenyi has the highest concentration of Muslims in all of Rwanda.

I tried to find pork in the market the other day, with no success. When I asked my driver why this was so, he told me that it’s because of the Muslim population—there is simply no demand. If I want pork, I have to go to a town outside Gisenyi (but only in the morning, when they have just slaughtered the pig, because otherwise, the flies will have already had a go at the meat) or to Goma, across the border in Congo.

I recently received my CEPGL, a paper which allows me to go to Congo (DRC) and Burundi as many times as I want for only $8 a year. Compare this to a $30 single-entry visa that I would otherwise need every time I want to go across the border into Congo, and I think I’ve snagged a pretty good deal!

Angelique, the woman I have hired to work at my home, has been asking me to teach her how to cook American food. In response, I’ve shown her how to make Thai curry with vermicelli noodles, garlic mashed potatoes, caramelized bananas, and minestrone soup; next up are pancakes, potato-leek soup, and guacamole. (I’ve explained that American food, beyond hot dogs and hamburgers, is every kind of food.) I’ve also been teaching her about spices—my parents sent me things like basil and black pepper, which are pretty easy to explain, but it’s much harder to explain spices like garam masala and chipotle pepper!

Speaking of food, it’s quite funny how many times I’ve had to explain to Rwandans that their “capati” (prounounced “chapatti”) and “sambusa” (also known as “samosas”) are actually Indian foods. Everyone I talk to, even my colleagues, thinks that they’re Rwandan—or, at least, African of origin…

Similarly, due to my proximity to Congo, radio stations are dominated by Congolese news and music. Congolese music is variant, but it’s always fast and lively. Some types place more emphasis on traditional instruments, but the types of songs that are most popular on the big radio stations are called “salsa,” “rumba,” and “cha-cha”; in other words, it’s Latin American-style music, but sung in Lingala or Swahili. After a conversation with some colleagues today, I discovered that they thought that this music was uniquely Congolese!

Starting soon, the refugees in our camp will also receive a large ration of rice every two weeks, which is worth four times as much as corn (which they currently receive) in the neighboring village. Rice is perceived as the food of the wealthy, so the refugees are ecstatic that they will both be able to eat some rice and make more money off of the rations they sell.

Gacaca (pronounced ga-cha-cha) is the village judicial system that has been adapted to try “lesser” (i.e. not the people who are being tried in Arusha at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda) genocidaires. Many of them have been in prison since just after the genocide. Gacaca is held every week, and is mandatory; police drive around in trucks and scold you if they find you in the street and not at gacaca (and it’s quite intimidating to be scolded by someone carrying a semi-automatic rifle). Here in Gisenyi, it’s every Thursday morning, and the whole city is a ghost town. (Since gacaca can be bad for commerce, in Kigali, it takes place on Saturday mornings.) There are several gacaca sites. Right now, the courts are in the information collection phase, during which they gather witness accounts and prisoners’ testimonies. The full trials and judgments will take place in the next stage. If you are a foreigner, you have to have permission from the government before you are allowed to witness a gacaca session; the government wants to ensure that it is a fully Rwandan process. I’m going to see if I can get permission, and if/when I do, I will be sure to post.

*Ibindi means “miscellaneous,” or “other things.”


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Morgan, having known people involved in attending gacaca, what is your opinion of this type of venue for trying the genocidaires? I'm wondering, can a tribunal such as this really meet out justice for such violence? I've read other's opinions of it but I'd like to here yours.

Your blog is on my daily reading schedule. I'm working with a group that will be travelling to Kigali in June, October and possibly again every 4-6 months doing humanitarian work in orphanages there. I love to read your experiences.
Thanks so much for taking the time to write and share!

5/16/2006 7:07 PM  
Blogger Morgan C. said...

Emily, that's a good question, and one that will require at least an entire post!

Off the cuff, I'll say that I admire the fact that, while it does receive international support, the process remains a Rwandan one. Entire villages get together to listen and testify, and genocidaires' admissions are helping families to locate the missing bodies of their loved ones. During my conversations with Rwandans in remote villages, they often say that gacaca has made them feel more comfortable about living with their neighbors, and that the process is helping them to heal.

That said, gacaca isn't without its problems...Firstly, many accused have been in jail since 1994! The justice and reconciliation process has taken much too long to get off the ground. Secondly, there is a tendency to believe that one side was wholly bad and the other side wholly good; atrocities were committed on both sides. According to some accounts, the Tutsi rebel army (RPF) coming from Uganda led a slash-and-burn campaign on its way to Kigali. (I've also heard reports to the contrary...contradictory accounts are normal here.) In the end, it is true that the Tutsis suffered the most, as they fell victim to a well-planned and executed government and militia extermination plan.

They say that war victors write the history books, and in Rwanda, the victors were the former RPF. The gacaca councils that the government has put into place have come under fire for only trying Hutus, and not any Tutsis who committed atrocities.

Can tribunals such as this mete out justice for this violence? I think that, ultimately, it's up to Rwandans to judge. Most simply want to face their attackers, hear an apology, and try to close that chapter in their lives. Some Rwandans want punishment instead. I think it will be interesting to see if/how people will feel when the gacaca process has been completed. At the rate they're going (with the exception of the pilot gacaca, the gacaca councils are still in the information gathering stage).

If you come up to Gisenyi in June, be sure to let me know!

5/17/2006 9:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Morgan, thanks for you response. I realize (again) how naive I really am. Describing that fact that the gacaca has helped people find ways to live with their neighbors brings home to me just how foreign the pain of genocide is from good ole U.S. of A. Thinking about having to live near those who have done things like this is mind boggling. With that twist on it I can see the sense of the gacaca as a justice vehicle.

I will not be with the group that is coming. I'm working behind the scenes. I'm completely dissappointed but I do have very small children and my time will come. I'll be there in spirit, though. I already am...

5/17/2006 8:10 PM  
Blogger Julianne said...


I am so thankful to have come across your blog! It's amazing and so helpful for my upcoming trip to Rwanda. I will be doing research for the International Planned Parenthood Federation and really hope to return to Africa for awhile when I'm finished with Grad School. Your job with UNHCR sounds really amazing and I love reading about your experiences! How did you get the CEPGL paper? I have been searching for it for awhile, as I hope to go to Burundi as well.


3/01/2008 4:57 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home