This post was written by Lisanne Comeau
Before coming into Rwanda I did my research on the month of April and how things around the country would change during that month. Although the genocide happened 21 years ago, it is still a time of remembrance and mourning for those who survived those brutal days. I wanted so badly to ask friends about their experiences so I could develop a more personal understanding of how it could have all been possible. While I have formed great relationships with many Rwandese, I still did not feel comfortable asking such personal questions. I decided to go to the first gathering of the memorial in Rwinkwavu on April 7th. Of course, I didn’t understand a word of what was going on but it was important that I took part in the service for the simple fact that I consider myself part of the community. Although I could feel the sadness around me, I wanted to really put myself in someone else’s shoes and to understand what it meant to be in Rwanda at that time. To help my curiosity, I decided on going to the Genocide Memorial Museum. Reading the statistics of the genocide, and knowing that family members of friends that I have helped make up those numbers are simply mind-boggling. Almost 1,000,000 people were brutally killed in such a short period of time. It is crazy to think that such a dramatic occurrence happened in what is now such a peaceful and safe place. After reading about different stories, I can understand why even after 21 years they leave that time for people to remember, not even playing music in restaurants.
With that being said, Remy and I weren’t sure of what we could do in terms of coaching and events. Everyone had different answers for us, “no games during the entirety of the month”, or, “after the first week things go back to normal”. We decided early on that we would not have any major tournaments during that month and would resume with practices after the first week.
We held a coaching clinic, where a representative from SFH, a local health organization, gave our junior coaches a 2 hour health lesson. Our goal is to have our coaches help with informing about health, and this organization teaches them how to do so. They were taught different activities and ways to relay the information. Soon we plan on forming a partnership with SFH so that this can be an ongoing practice between our coaches and the organization. Along with SFH, PIH (Partners in Health) has brought medical students to the library every other Tuesday to do mini tests on the knowledge of health amongst our kids. After testing, they go over the answers and explain where the kids went wrong.
Moving from the health aspect and looking into basketball, Remy and I dedicated a Saturday to the Nyamirama court. This location has kids as young as 4 years old that want to play, yet are never able to because they are too little. We decided to lower the rims and let them play half court games. It reminded me of North American sports leagues where young kids don’t even know whats going on but just want to be part of the game. Some were standing looking into the sky, some running with the ball in their hands and chucking it wherever they felt, and some aggressive and understanding how to play. The average score might have been 0-0 but they had fun regardless.
While we were able to do some activities, it was the perfect time to travel. I decided to go to Zanzibar, Tanzania, and ended up going to Uganda as well! In Zanzibar I met up with some high school friends and had a blast. It was my first time seeing someone from home and meant more than I thought possible. We tried different foods, visited Stone Town, witnessed a fish auction, tried hot peppers from street vendors, and so on. Of the people that I met up with, one now lives in Dubai and another in New York City. Who would have thought that we would all be able to meet in East Africa!
While my Zanzibar trip was planned, my trip to Uganda was a blessing in disguise. A friend of mine was supposed to come visit me in Rwanda. She plays professional basketball in Europe and thought it would be a great opportunity for the kids to see a female who made it. However, immigration was not helpful at all! They denied her entry from Hungary while Isa, Remy and I ran around Kigali trying to find ways to get her visa processed. Bless the souls who do everything by the books, but come on! They did not budge and she missed her flight. This was a huge disappointment as I’m sure you can imagine. After 2 days of pleading and begging with immigration we decided to take an alternative route. She changed her flight to Uganda, and Isa and I hoped on a 10 hour bus to meet her there. I had always wanted to go to Uganda, thus it was a great opportunity for me to travel. She applied for an East-African tourist visa that allowed her to travel through Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya without applying for any other visa. This was perfect! We stayed in Kampala for a few days and traveled around the hectic city and enjoyed multiple rolex’s. These are simple omelets wrapped with a chapatti, yet taste amazing and are really cheap.
After a few days we made our way towards Rwanda, but stayed at Lake Bunyonyi for a couple days. The lake had 29 islands within in and was absolutely beautiful. We stayed in a tent looking out onto the still water and the peaceful surroundings. While there, we visited other islands, one being Punishment island where they used to take females who were impregnanted before marriage back in the forties. Here, they would drop them off and let them die of starvation. Those who tried to swim to another island either drowned or were shot, hence the word Punishment island. Although quite scary to think about, the other islands consisted of animals, homes, schools, a hospital, and so on. After 2 days, we made our way into Rwanda, where my friend was able to enter the country without any problems. While here, she was able to experience Rwinkwavu and come to practice with me. She was finally able to put a face to the people I talk so much about. She also helped coach and talked to the kids about what it meant to be a professional basketball player. The kids enjoyed it, and one even went one on one with her in a short match.
While pushing through the month of April, I have realized that Remy and I only have 3 months left on our fellowship! It feels like we still have so much more to do! I didn’t believe the other grantees when they said time will fly by, however they were right. I plan on making the most out of these next 3 months 🙂