Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Being White Attracts a Crowd


Timothee, Segolene, and Nolwenn in the Benedictine forest
I imagine most of you have seen pictures or video of a white person in a rural African village, surrounded by children.  At least I had such a picture in my mind when I came to Rwanda and only recently was it fulfilled in my life.  I have two experiences from the past week to share.

videoOn Sunday the Butare Fidesco volunteers (that’s Rita, the des Horts family, and myself) welcomed the newest addition to Fidesco team serving in Rwanda, Timothee from France.  He will serve at the center for street boys in Kigali and had a whopping eight days in Rwanda under his belt when we all got together.  First we went to morning Mass at the local Benedictine monastery, followed by a tour of some of the grounds and then lunch.  [Sidenote: I am very impressed by the stewardship practiced by the monks and the people they employ.  On their grounds there is a small forest from which they harvest wood.  The wood is used to build fences and to fuel the wood-fired ovens that are used to bake bread.  They have a seedling nursery to replace the trees that are cut.  The residual heat from the ovens heats water, which is then pumped through pipes in the adjoining room to create a heated room in which the dough can rise.  It’s ingenious.]  Okay, back to being white and drawing a crowd.  After lunch we piled into Segoline and Ronan’s car and drove to the medical clinic where the two of them work.  It is in Sovu, which is where the female Benedictine convent is located.  Ronan parked the car and we set off for a 10 km loop walk through the countryside.  We traveled on dirt roads that Segoline and Ronan know well from running or making trips in the car to distribute mosquito nets, but they had never walked the road before. 
Thibaut, Ronan, and Vianney

Soon after we left the convent property and passed by mud-house homesteads, children began to gather
Louisia (back to us), Segolene, and Vianney
around us.  Some were shy and kept their distance or hid when we tried to take their picture, but others hammed it up for the camera and then ran to see what the picture looked like on the digital screen.  The four year old son of the des Horts, Vianney, organized races and all the children, black and white, took off running down the dirt road at the start of each race.  The children stayed with us for at least a mile, maybe longer, and only left us when a local man told them in Kinyarwanda that they needed to return to their homes.  It was like that each time we entered a cluster of homes.  Children walked with us and adults came out of their homes and watched from their yards.
One of the better-looking homes on the walk. 
The walls are made of mud and the roof of clay tiles.
A small boy herding cattle

The second experience was Tuesday when I went to a beautiful mission run by the Servants of Mary of the Heart of Jesus, a religious congregation that has both men and women.  Monday through Friday, 7:30 am – 12:30 pm, the brothers and sisters welcome the 2-6 year old children of local women who work at the produce market or as prostitutes.  The children are fed breakfast and lunch; their teeth get brushed; they are bathed and their clothes are washed if they are really dirty; and they have classes in Kinyarwanda, English, and French.   

Tuesday was my first time volunteering with the program and it was wonderful.  I arrived just before breakfast and as I passed out the bread and bananas, the children would reach out to touch my hand or hold my arm.  They were so curious and desired to be close to the “umuzungu” (white person).  After breakfast I sat on a lip along the wall outside and soon I had children all around me.  They stroked my hair, touched my arm and my cheek, and compared my religious medals on my necklace to theirs.  Once it was school time, I grabbed a small white board that had the English alphabet on it and began to teach in the different classrooms.  I taught them, “A for apple, B for bird, C for cat, etc,” and the English names of the safari animals that are painted on the dining room walls.  I made animal sounds and actions when appropriate (such as “L for lion, M for monkey”) and the kids enjoyed acting like monkeys along with me.  Soon lunch was served (rice, peas, green beans, and meat mixed together) and then we all went outside to play and to wait for their parents or older siblings to arrive.  I sat on a curb in the playground and once again, I had children clamoring to sit on my lap, use my leg as a pillow, have my arm around their shoulders, and play with my hair.  I was happy to offer them the affection they wanted so I rubbed my hand through their hair (or stubble), caressed their faces, tickled their necks and sides, and let them use me as their chair/pillow/backrest/etc.  I intentionally left my camera in my bag on this first day with the children, but the next time Rita and I have a morning off during the workweek, she and I will both go so we can take pictures of the other person surrounded by children.

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