Skip to content

Blog address moved

Please visit my new blog, which includes all this content and much more:


>Frustration and Appreciation- (maybe) a last word about Rwanda


Night club frustration

A couple of nights before leaving Kigali, a friend invited me to go out dancing- a great opportunity to have a taste of the evolving night life in the Rwandan capital.
I don’t think I’m a bad dancer. I don’t think I’ll ever win an award for my moves, but I can hold my own in a dance club. My tactic is to stick close to the white guys who can’t dance to save their lives and they make me look good.
So, the music was ok. Nothing to die for, but danceable. However, there were no white guys around. None. And black people can certainly dance. Call me racist, say it’s a prejudice, but everywhere I’ve ever visited, from Antwerp to Cuba, black people are the ones to bust the moves.
So I was just had to do my best and try not to look like an idiot with a bunch of guys that can just mimic the moves they’ve seen in Shakira’s videos with amazing accuracy. There was nothing I could do to save me from looking like an uncoordinated white boy.

Appreciation (or Do you say thanks every morning?)

Do you have more to eat than maize flour dough, potatoes and beans EVERY DAY? Can you have meat if you wanted? Do you have to wake up at 6 am every day to clean your house or do another chore? Are you the master of your destiny (that’s a difficult one, I know)? Does you family want you around? Did you have a chance to play when you were a kid?
I went to visit Jean Paul’s orphanage again before I left. If I were to ever adopt a child, I know exactly who it would be. I’m trying not to idolize these kids just because of their life circumstances, but a few of them (and that one in particular) are special. As I wrote before, these kids were picked up from the streets of Kigali (not even Chicago or L.A., where food is easy to come by). They don’t like to speak about their past and the workers don’t ask too much. Today, these kids are as happy as any child should be (and probably happier than many of the children we know). They don’t really care if they have the latest iPod or brand name shoes. They are happy that they have shoes cause it means they’re allowed to attend school (in Rwanda, no shoes= no school). They get three meals a day , which is more than they got on the street and probably more than they would get with their family (if they have one). They can play, dance, they watch movies and they run around: they get to be kids and they don’t have to worry about their next meal. They might not like cleaning the big house they live in or serve the other kids dinner (they have a rotation for the daily chores), but they hum or sing when they do it. I was there when one of them was dancing with the mop at 7 am while washing the floor. Would we dance with the mop if we had to clean the house at 7 am? I assume that they feel very fortunate. Maybe (and probably) some of their buddies from their street days are still on the street, struggling. They have a chance and they get to be kids. What a noble concept, to be appreciative for something we take for less than granted.
So how can we ever complain? Right, it’s all a matter of perspective- there are things that worry us because we’re not concerned about going hungry. But maybe try not to forget- it’s all a matter of perspective…

Wanna’ see somn’ cool?

A quick hit in London
That’s it for Rwanda. I’m back home, among family and friends (which, as you know, are the most important thing in life). Got a chance to stop in London to see the BBC Wildlife Nature Photographer of the Year exhibit in the Natural History Museum. I think I’ll have a picture there within the next 5 years. Yes, I will. 
There’s still snow on the ground and I was well underdressed. Don’t know what I was thinking. However, I know exactly what this girl was thinking- while standing in line in the freezing cold, wearing her little shorty shorts, she was checking her makeup. It’s all about priorities, right?

It’s pretty much the same image three times, but I really liked this dino.

Lastly, some subway fun…

Look! It’s me!

>What have we done to them?


We= white men. Them= everybody who’s not white. 

I can see so many resembling lines between Rwanda and South America. No too hard, you might say, as both places are referred to as “developing,” but what I’m referring to is the details. For example, Jesus is white. I went to Xmas mass today (more to follow) in an enormous church close by. There were about a 1,000 people inside (and more that couldn’t fit in and just watched through the open doors). Mass was pretty conventional- smoke, prayer, choir. A woman priest was a pretty cool exception and outside there was a row of drummers, summoning everyone to church. But JC was white. As white as can be. A thousand black people (and one white guy, but I wasn’t really worshipping) (I was actually recording the singing, but don’t tell) were praying to a white Jesus. How does that make any sense? It’s the same in South America, where the converted indigenous people pray to a Jesus that’s as white as can be. 

There are so many contradictions in this culture (dah… there are in any culture, but now I’m here so I’ll be writing about the ones in Rwandan culture). Yesterday I attended a very fancy family event held by a nice guy I met on the plane-ride ride here. His daughter has just finished her masters in England and it was a very big occasion for the family. She has been living abroad since she was 14- high school in Uganda and two degrees in England. She couldn’t speak Kinyarwanda when giving her speech because she speaks better English. Most speeches given were about how wonderfully she maintained her African heritage while being abroad. However, the entire family, all of them speak Kinyarwanda as their first language, spoke English in a heavy african accent to one another. I found it very strange. They spoke English on the phone, they spoke English to their kids who were born and are raised here, they spoke English to their siblings and parents. The point is that it’s all an imitation of the white men- the clothes (there were less than a handful of older women who wore the traditional african clothes), the language, the religion. We came, made it seem like we have it all down and that they should do exactly like we do and they bought into our fairy tales of culture and religion (the one about JC really stuck with them). However, they will never be good enough. Their language isn’t good enough, their clothes aren’t good enough and their skin color isn’t good enough. Hence, a black country worshipping a white Jesus. 
This party was also the first time that I didn’t stick out like a sore thumb- in spite of the fact that I was the only white guy around, nobody seemed to care. Moreover, I was actually discriminated against! There was a videographer who filmed the event (just by the way he filmed I could tell it’s very 80s style). He filmed people on the line for food serving themselves (?) and as I was serving myself he stopped filming. What?! If that wasn’t enough, as they were serving tea, they served everyone around me and just skipped me. Don’t they know I’m very sensitive about food?…
Since Christmas was around the corner, the topic of religion came up in a few conversations. Ever since I got here, I’ve been having this conversation: 
Q: Where are you from?
A: Israel. 
Q: So you’re Christian (with a happy face)?
A: No, I’m Jewish. 
Q: (sad face) Is it true that you don’t believe in Jesus?
A: Yes. 
Q: But WHY?!?!?!
They can’t be more amazed that we don’t believe in JC. He was jewish, so how can we not believe in him?! It completely shakes the foundation of their world, but they still love us in spite of our flaws. We’ll see the light one day. 
That’s it for deep thoughts. Now for a few quick ones (and them pictures): 

p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px Times}

1. Umfa (U pronounced like in Udi)  is the best word in Kinyarwanda. It means “listen.” Authoritative yet smooth, it was meant to be used internationally. Forget about “listen”- umfa!
2. Deodorant is not very popular here. It’s Africa, hot and humid, and you can smell most people around you. However, I don’t mind it too much (especially because it gives me an excuse not to wear it myself). Rwandan sweat smells like earth (not dirt- earth). There’s something very heavy about it, an earthy brown smell. I like it- it makes me feel closer to nature. I bet that when my forefathers were hunting dinosaurs (and you know my forefathers were hunting them)(and I know it’s historically impossible) that’s the way the smelled. 
3. I’ve been here for two weeks and have yet to see a couple kiss. Not even one. It’s so interesting, especially considering the fact that they are so physical with each other- men hold hands in the street, everybody hugs and kisses and shakes hands. However, they don’t show affection beyond that. When a husband and wife meet, they shake hands or hug like it’s any other person. 
4. You think we (Israel or USA) are addicted to cell phones? Ha! Here, cell phones are god. You can be talking to someone and if the phone rings they will pick it up mid sentence, say everything they have to say while you wait (no “I’ll call you in a bit” or “I’m in the middle of something”) and they don’t even have to excuse themselves. During the speeches at the family dinner, during church services, while driving… Cell phones are god. They are always in the front pocket and are constantly checked. In every village I’ve visited there’s reception. Cell phones are god.

Pics: walking down the street, Francois (on the left) started talking to me. He invited me to his house to take pitures of his kids. He smelled of alcohol, so I didn’t have many expectation of this encounter. However, he turned out to be a very intelligent man on a day off. He has five kids of his own and he takes care of three orphan siblings. Not unusual on this side of the planet. His children kept asking him why he invited a Muzungu home and he explained to them that I’m a person like anybody else, that JC loves us equally and therefore we’re friends. The kids were very concentrated in watching “Full Metal Jacket,” which I would argue isn’t suitable for kids 6-14. Then they moved on to “Anaconda” and “Apocalypse Now.” When I was taking their pitures, they all spontaneously struck poses taken out of a bad 90s flick. I didn’t want to say anything cause I felt it was making them feel cool, but then again- look to the title of this post. 

>First time for a white guy


I’ve just spent two days in the countryside with one of the teachers that participated in the workshop last week. This was the first trip I’ve taken in Rwanda with public transportation, and what a trip it was!
First, I got on a bus (a minivan, really) with the most beautiful black woman I’ve seen in my life. Breathtakingly beautiful. However, people in Rwandan buses (or public minivans) are sardined together so I actually didn’t see her until she got off in spite of the fact that she was sitting next to me.
Then, I had to take another one for a longer leg of the ride. This one smelled like… Well, it smelled like shit. Human, if you were interested to know. It’s amazing how fast you get used to smells and it didn’t really bother me for the following hour or so.
Then I met with Fausin. His village is on top of a hill, a 15 minutes ride from the main (main is a bit of a stretch) road and a (steep) climb on the back of a motorcycle. I keep getting a kick out of the amazed looks I get as a white guy in these villages. In this particular one, I was told that I’m the third white person to ever visit (when the second was there just last week). Some of the people look so perplexed that they just stop and stare with dropped jaws. If an alien drove an ice cream truck through their village playing “La Vida Loca,” this would probably be the look he’d get.
Now, all that is fine and there’s nothing new about it. However, as we were climbing up the hill, we drove pass a child that must have been four or five years old. When he saw me, he stopped, stared for a second and then ran away, screaming in fear at the top of his lungs. My driver laughed and I considered getting offended until I realized that it’s very possible that he has never seen a white person before. Pretty cool, isn’t it?
 Final thought: as a white person here, your mere existence is reduced to being a “Mzungu.” It mean “white person” (or white devil in other african countries) and holds a few implication, the main one being that you must be filthy rich. It’s been a while since I had to deal with people who first see me as an ATM and then a person. When you drive by the children will greet you with “Mzungu” cries and faces full of smiles, the adults might say it to one another and the brave ones will turn it into “Mzungu give me money” (those of you who know me well might imagine how annoyed I instantly get). Well, yesterday I heard another variation, which I liked a lot: “Mzungu Camera!” I love it! I’m going to start a business in Rwanda and call it Mzungu Camera. It’s going to make millions (of Rwandan Francs, which aren’t worth much).
And now: pitures (without a “c”). They don’t have much to do with the text, but have a lot to do with family. Maybe because I miss mine. 

Faustin, his wife and daughter.

This one doesn’t have to do with family. This is a genocide prisoner who’s doing community work as a part of Rwanda’s extensive reconciliation program. I won’t elaborate on that cause it will take me far too many words to share all my thoughts about it. I”ll just leave you with this: all the people in the background are genocide killers. They are doing community work (paving roads and such) using the same tools they used to slaughter 1,200,000 Tutsis (pitchforks, machetes, picks, etc.). There live in the community and there is nobody guarding them. And they don’t escape.  

Faustin’s mother-in-law makes moonshine. Not really, she actually makes Sourgum beer and has a little saloon where people can sit and drink. in the mix: children, grandmothers, nursing moms. 

>Unexpected encounters


This is Isaac Rabin (that’s his full name!), a driver and part-time carpenter in Kigali. I still have my doubts as to his understanding of how significant his name is for me and how random our encounter was, but in any case- I met Isaac Rabin in Kigali. 
There’s nothing like walking around in a foreign place and be open to whatever comes. It’s very rare that doing so wouldn’t bring something good your way. 
I left the hotel knowing that I have to change some money and cut my hair (something I should have probably done a couple of months ago). I detoured through the alleys on my way back and stumbled upon these two guys who work in this saloon. I can’t tell you too much about them because our communication was very limited. However, I can tell you that they are too cool for school and that the whole inside of the saloon was full of posters of american hip hop and rap artists. 

Do you know how these guys spent their day? They had to sift one enormous pile of sand and stones and create another enormous pile of sand with no stones. One of them would pile some sand, then they sway the sift, toss the stones and do it again. And again and again. BTW, the guy on the left had no shoes. And the guy on the right is wearing a Lebron James jersey. 

I ran into Emmanuel right before it started pouring rain and he invited me to his house for a while. His parents escaped Rwanda many years before the genocide, but his father picked the worst time to come back to look for work. When they all came back after the genocide, he found his father butchered in his house. He was slain by his neighbor. The killer went to jail for 12 years and was released back to his old house. Emmanuel is now a pastor and has forgiven the killer.

>Orphans and Sounds


After a very intense week and a bit, everyone left. As European airports are a mess because of the weather, all I can wish them is to get home in the next couple of days. 
I’ve got a week left in this interesting place and I hope to finish filming a few things I didn’t have the time to film and definitely go out and get some cool pictures (preferably, while getting muddy and sweaty in the process).  
On Sunday, we went to visit Jean-Paul’s orphanage. A wonderful man and a genocide survivor, he adopts street kids and orphans. Right now, he has 30 of them and he provides them with food, shelter, clothes and education. He literally approaches children on the street and offers them a better life. I’m fortunate enough to have an opportunity to return there and do some more filming. To be very honest, I’m pretty excited about this coming week…
In spite of trying to avoid generalization, it seems that in Rwanda, religion is closely tied to music. There’s a church right next to the hotel and today I finally had the time to walk in and record some of the sounds. You can also hear the beautiful voices of three women we met in a short visit to one of Kigali’s hotel- they were sitting on the side of the pool, doing each other’s hair and singing their church choir’s songs. 

>The Golden Monkeys- Volcanos National Park


Woke up at 4am to go to the northern border of the country- Volcanos National Park. This is where Dian Fossey did her famous Gorilla research and conservation project and where these poor animals have been poached to near extinction for lack of any government protection near the borders (Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda). Today, the army patrols the area regularly to keep poachers away and an influx of tourists keep bringing money to support the park. 
Seeing the Gorillas is expensive business, so we settled for watching the Golden Monkeys. Beautiful and extremely energetic, they were very hard to photograph. Here are a few samples from the road and the park (and one construction site in Kigali that looked cool).