26th November 2013 – writing this from Nowra, Australia, as I all of the sudden remember it’s been a while I have written something here. And then I remembered that I never ended up posting my post on my trip to Rwanda in July 2013. So I thought now was a good opportunity. Nice to reread my thoughts from 5 months ago also….
Here it goes:
7th July 2013
What do we really know about Rwanda?
Genocides, corrupt governments, poverty, extreme acts of inhumanity, issues with safety,… Those are some of the things most people associate with this country, and given the focus of the media on all that is negative, it’s hard not to. With this letter I want to draw a very different picture, from my first hand experiences in the last 10 days I spent in this country.
It is clear that each person beyond the age of 19 has suffered immensely in this country, but what I found most inspiring about the Rwandan people is their drive to make a change. When arriving from Kigali airport the first thing you notice is how clean the streets are. A very different image than what I was expecting. And another thing I noticed were the billboards in the roads, each one with slogans in improving the country on different levels (i.e. promotion of free HIV tests, say no to corruption,…), The Rwandan people some of the friendliest people I have met, with a genuine smile on pretty much everyone’s face when you greet them or smile at them. I felt really welcome here from the start and it made it even harder to leave.
On Saturday 29th June I had the honour to attend the launch of a new association: The Be Healthy Family. An association the students of the Catholic University of Rwanda in Save had founded themselves. They invited 10 of the poorest families in the district and offered them free products that would help them with hygiene and nutrition and explained how to use them. It was inspiring to see how much the Rwandan people give back to the community at any opportunity.
I asked many people about their Rwandan government and everyone spoke very highly of the government, that really is trying to make changes to improve the lives of all people. For example: cows are considered a wealthy asset to have as a family as it provides milk to feed the families. The government has given 1 cow per family to the people living in the rural areas, providing that they use it to feed their community with the milk of each cows. They also promote family planning, nutrition and hygiene to create optimal living conditions for their people.
On Saturday and Sunday 29th and 30th June, my dad and his wife Claudine showed me some of the work they did with the Impore Project. Having organised 3 fundraisers so far to raise money to support their projects, I was keen to see the work that had been done. My dad took me to the maternity they built in Sovu, next to one of the 12 healthcare centres in the Huye district in Rwanda, and explained what each fundraiser went to in full detail. It was so amazing to see the materialisation of their ideas and to see in what way we (all dancers that performed at the fundraisers) contributed to this wonderful project. Next up is Chez Marraine, Claudine showed me their current project in progress, explained what each room was going to serve for and what she was going to do with the funds of our last fundraiser at Tribal Café just days before my trip to Rwanda. We raised £252 which will be used for the labour to build and install all windows in the children’s crèche. The crèche is meant as a temporary solution for babies that lost both parents and have no nearby family. The total number of children will be a maximum of 8, with one nanny/nurse for every 2 children, so that the children receive enough care and attention on all their basic needs. In the meantime Claudine will look for a suitable family in the area that can adopt the children. On the 4th July, 7 young students from Belgium arrived in Kigali, offering their school holidays to work on the project ‘Chez Marraine’ and help build the crèche which Claudine says to be in business by the beginning of 2014.
On my first day in Rwanda I met the director of a dance, music and theatre company called Mashiriki. We chatted for a little bit and soon found our ideas about arts were very similar, that in order to move forwards in arts new creations need to be made. She talked about creatively fusing traditional Rwandan music and dance with outside influences such as contemporary and hip hop so needless to say we got on well. I explained about my background in mathematics, Silvestre Technique and Choreology and she was interested to know more. On the Sunday after our meeting she invited me to teach a workshop to some of her company members. I covered a combination of some Silvestre Technique as well as some Choreology exercises to get the students to see how I see dance and movement. From my experience on this trip, there is not a lot of access to this kind of training. I have rarely experienced an audience so eager to learn more. They are so keen to explore new ways of moving and are looking for the tools to do that. Given the universality of Choreology, I truly think this is the way forward to look at dance differently, and I tried to give them some tools to start exploring with different dynamics and to think about their movement from a new perspective.
On Wednesday, roles changed and I went to one of their rehearsals for a show that they were preparing for on Saturday. It was great to experience how their group dynamics worked. With a group that involved many different dancers from Rwanda and Uganda, as well as actors and singers, they were creating a show in just a few days using each group to their full potential. Hope, the director of the company did an amazing job in unlocking that potential, and it was inspiring to see how she managed in a few days to create a coherent showcase where music, dance and acting is integrated. I got to learn some of their dance routines, which involved a mix of hip hop, contemporary, Ugandan and Rwandan dance, and I got to say: they really kicked my butt that first class. The high paced energetic African movements in that heat was something I haven’t experienced in quite a while so I had to catch my breath on quite a few occasions that day. By Thursday afternoon, the show was pretty much set, so left all day Friday to refine the 30 minute performance. Hope asked me to lead the warm up with the whole group of 25 dancers, actors and singers, so I incorporated some Silvestre technique with some of my own warm up routines, and used the live musicians that were there. It felt very spontaneous and was pleased with the class, as it created a feeling of togetherness between the different artists, ready for another full day of rehearsals. I am gutted I have to miss the performance today as I write this on my flight back home.
Speaking to one of the actors on my last day, yesterday, he told me how he’s been in the acting industry for over 40 years. I told him about my experience and how I feel inspired by how these young dancers and musicians are working together, each valuing each other’s input, and he said: ‘Given our past, we want to move forwards and live in the present and think of the future. We have to work together as a united people to do that. We want to make things better, and will give it our all together as a group. The youth plays a strong role in this change, they want to dance, they want to learn, they want to grow. Those that survived the 1994 genocide see it as a great treasure and they want to use this time well.’ Something in his story triggered something so strong. I knew exactly what he meant. And I felt strongly that from a Western point of view, it will be these same artists that will change the image we have on Rwanda and show all the beauty this country has to offer.
This has been one of the hardest returns back home and I am trying to process why. I have a strong feeling of unfinished business I think. I want to work more intensively with the dancers here and exploring with them new ways of moving as I feel their work ethic and ideas on dance are very similar to mine. Maybe it’s because I feel Rwandan dance is on the verge of something new and I would love to be part of this change in some way, as it’s exciting and fresh. Maybe it’s because I just like to be with my family and I miss them more than I admit sometimes. Or maybe it’s the genuine warmth and hospitality of the Rwandan people, acting with extreme acts of kindness towards someone they barely know. Maybe there’s something in the soil of the Rwandan land, an energy that feels vibrant and alive. All I can say is that I can’t wait to come back here and continue what feels like a beginning of something new for me artistically.