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>What have we done to them?

December 25, 2010


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): 

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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. 


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One Comment
  1. >written in a very attractive style.The stories are so touching and arouse so many questions about us as colonial white people.beautiful lively photos!

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