Tag Archives: contradictions

It Doesn’t Make Sense

I moved to a foreign country with no solid contacts, no job, and no idea of where to live. People called me crazy. I don’t live by other people’s standards of success, but I am not crazy.

Honor and Dustin were best friends as children. D came from a more well off family than H, so he often brought extra food to school to share with H. D and H lived on the same hillside outside of Kigali, so they saw each other all the time. They laughed about giving each other piggyback rides to and from school, and the amount of time it took because of this game.

When H was 14 years old, both his parents and 5 cousins that lived at his home were killed in the Rwandan genocide. He fled into the hills surrounding Kigali and hid for two weeks, until the rebel soldiers gained control of the area and created an environment of safety. His home was torn apart, literally—his neighbors used their own hands to tear pieces of the roof and walls apart. His parents, his cousins (who were for all intents and purposes his siblings) murdered. H harbored hatred. H said that if the killers and thieves died, he would feel no remorse. As H grew up and matured as a human, he recognized the humanity in his neighbors, and realized that they were “not inherently bad people, they were the same people after the crimes as they had been prior.”

In 2006, H attended a community trial. The purpose was to exchange lesser punishment for statements of the truth. Accusations abounded, and when H heard other convicted genocidaires accuse D of killing members of H’s family, he was dumbstruck. This didn’t make sense; H could not fathom his best friend engaging in violence against his own family. D was prison, but so was half the country, so H didn’t think it was actually for murder. He went to the prison in-order to find the facts for himself. H said that he needed to see D in person to confirm that he wasn’t a monster. He needed to see that he was still human.

During the first of April 1994, D heard the sounds of a mob taking apart the neighbor’s homes. He ran to join in the destruction. After tearing a roof completely apart, some members of the mob took off to find the residents of the home and kill them. H and his entire family lived in this home. And D joined the factions that sought out the family. He was part of the group that beat and killed two of the eldest boys, H’s cousins. When the law swarmed back through the land, D was sent to prison with close to a million others, just another participant in chaos.

H naively walked into the prison, wanting only to reconfirm that his childhood best friend was still what his memory told him. When D saw H approaching, he was terrified that H knew what he did and was going to take revenge.

“Because I loved him very much, I wanted to forgive him. I wasn’t scared of him, but that he would be scared of me,” H explained of his purpose there.

H asked straight up, what D did. D openly admitted to participating in the deaths of H’s family. H merely said that D should ask for forgiveness. They did not speak again until D’s release one year later.

This is where H went crazy.

After D’s release from jail, H immediately called him up and said you need to come over and meet with my family and I, so we can work out our relationship from here.  The entire family sat and listened to D’s account of the murders. Then, they agreed to forgive him and invited him back into the family. He is treated as a blood member of the family, closer friends than when they were children.

That is crazy.

This story was part of the project I worked on with Jeremy Cowart through AWFRI. H and D were part of his photo series. This is them.

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I feel as if I will have two entirely different experiences in my eight months. One is the perspective of a resident. I don’t acknowledge every white person on the street (just because we share skin color does not mean I will automatically like them…); I have a favorite food vendor, clothes tailor, and know where to go to “hide”; and I’ve learned how to blend- what not to say and wear that make me look like a starry eyed tourist. I have a routine; a standard rise time, a standard meal plan, a sense of normalcy.

And then I was asked to stay for two weeks to help as a film production assistant for a second documentary. The film crew are the starry-eyed tourists who try their hand at the token Kinyrwanda phrases and get photos of themselves while dancing with rural children.

Its been pretty great to experience both ends. I laugh frequently; at the absurdity of my experiences and at the Rwandans who are laughing at me. Great fun to be had by all.

Today, I was holding some lights for an interview, when the bus driver informed me that the mayor needed to see the film permit. So I run out the gate with the necessary paperwork, and decided to just stay with this cameraman on the street to make sure he didn’t run into any additional trouble. We walk down the street, about five yards, and pass a group of women and children. The women ask me if I would please take their photo. I politely inform them that I cannot (1. it is an expensive video camera I am carrying, not a photo camera and 2. after I take their picture, they will ask me for money that I get from showing said photo in the west. These smart Rwandans know that pics of “suffering Africans” make money.)

Anyway, I hear: Muzungu! Take my photo.

-Sorry mama, we just want the city.

-The city?


She leaves me alone while Kasey captures the skyline. Then he turns the camera upwards for a shot of the sun behind the clouds.

-Muzungu! Why are you taking photos of the sky? My children are beautiful and standing here. (I made that last part up, she yelled it all in Kinyrwanda. I caught phrases and think that was the point, but…)

-Haha, I don’t know mama. You have to ask him.

-Well, muzungu, give me money.

-Sorry, I don’t have money. BUT see that muzungu up the hill? He has money.

-What is his name?

-I don’t know, go ask him.

And I sent the whole group up the road to the sound guy to ask for money. You’re welcome. 🙂

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“Grief can’t be dissolved like rain washing dust off a roof. Sorrow knows no washing away, no easing…no end of time.” Francine Rivers, The Last Sin Eater

According to the always helpful homework cheater helper scribd.com, rain symbolizes both despair and new life.

How can this be possible? says my ever so black and white personality.

Oh yeah, the world isn’t arranged in extremes and separations. (Which is exactly why art is the most vital avenue for understanding the world around us.)

Charan Ahuja describes the symbolic nature of rain as “an exhilarating marvel of nature, rain has magical powers to entwine the twin threads of emptiness and contentment together.”  She goes on, “from a gentle sprinkling to a torrid downpour, rains can be both life giving as well as death dealing.”

So it is fitting then, that the month of April begins Rwanda’s long wet season.

As a month started by official mourning activities, rain lends itself to a period of brooding and sitting indoors.  Nothing is quite as melancholy as rain slowly streaming down the windowpane.

In the Rwandan context, rain really only disrupts life.  It doesn’t last long, so it’s not something that needs to be addressed, but once it starts, no one leaves his/her current shelter.  We all just stay put and wait the 15 minutes needed for the torrential downpour to let up and allow us all to get back to business.

While I LOVE rain, I am totally fine with the whole wait it out concept.  I like being wet, but not arriving at my destination freshly showered.  So I have become really good in my predictions of when the rain will hit and can time my errands accordingly.

So Sunday was an anomaly for me.

This weekend was devoted entirely to buying a blender.  (Ours broke Friday night and we use it at least 5 times a week, so $100 or not, it was totally necessary to replace it.)  Saturday my roommate and I tried first the China store (an exact replica of the cheap rubber motor thing that broke on us Friday night, $100) and then the expat grocery store (an upgraded version that had a plastic motor—so it wouldn’t shred over time—$60).  While gloating over our plastic find, a British kid we keep running into but don’t actually know approached us and asked what we were doing.

“Umm you know, buying a blender.”

“Well I’m selling mine.”


“How much is this one.”
“How much are you selling yours for?”

“This one is probably like 39,000 RWF isn’t it?”

“Actually it’s only 32,000 RWF.”
“Well I’ll sell you mine for 20,000 RWF [$40].”

So Sunday we had to go find him and actually pick up the newest and most beloved addition to our household. We head out ten minutes before said meeting time.  I have just come back from the store, not a cloud in the sky and sweating from the heat of the middle of the day.  But heading back out sixty seconds later, I see the sky filled with grey clouds and hope that I don’t need my umbrella. Two minutes later, not even at the end of our street, it starts to sprinkle.  Another minute later, right as we are approaching the moto taxi station it starts to rain.  Not hard, but actual drops for sure.  So we decide to turn around and head back to wait out the building storm.  I walk in the gate five minutes later caked in mud and looking like I’ve just stepped from the shower, fully clothed.

Yea, I literally just walked back in the house.

This is the kind of rain I really truly love.  It falls from the sky with more force than my shower (really that doesn’t take a whole lot of pressure to beat the slow stream I attempt to wash myself in every morning) and spills so much water on the earth that everything gets washed away.

This is the kind of rain that could possibly wash away grief (if of course, that were possible).  Ironically, it came at the official close of the two-week commemoration period.  So in a sense, it did wash away the mourning time.

God bless the rains down in Africa.

So again, how can rain bring both death and new life?

Remember that time I found myself waiting out the rain with about 20 business men who just wanted to get on their way as well?

Remember how the mourning period was just two weeks of the year where we all hole up and wait for life to resume?

Remember how rain stops life, temporarily, but stops it nonetheless?

Remember how grief paralyzes any future plans?

Remember what the rainy season brought in April of 1994?

It may only be 15 minutes, two weeks, or a whole three-month/100 day stretch but the rains can bring death as well as new life.

I found life in the rain because I actually acknowledge it, stood in it, felt it.


Ahuja, Charan. “Rain Symbolism in Literature”. Willows Talk, Issue 11. 2010. Web Access 17th April 2011

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At The Same Time

“A mix of surprising embarrassment [is] laughing and crying at the same time.”

At the same time.  We laugh and cry at the same time. How? Not really relevant. It happens all the time. Joy and sorrow do coexist. Confusion and understanding live under the same roof. Contradictions govern our world. More often than not, they dictate our actions. In fact, contradictions and oppositions are the very basis of reconciliation.

According to the World English Dictionary, reconciliation has five definitions:

“1. to make (oneself or another) no longer opposed; cause to acquiesce in something unpleasant: she reconciled herself to poverty

2. to become friendly with (someone) after estrangement or to re-establish friendly relations between (two or more people)

3. to settle (a quarrel or difference)

4. to make (two apparently conflicting things) compatible or consistent with each other

5. to reconsecrate (a desecrated church, etc)”

Definition number four has an especially tall order to it.  Reconciliation is more than just bringing two conflicting parties to the same table; it is making them actually like each other. Unfortunately, there is no true standard for reconciliation, in definition or in practice. “As is the case with any new concept, there is no standard definition that all scholars and practitioners rely on,” (Hauss).  Which is problematic in a culture that is paralyzed by dependency and yet reliant on “reconciliation”.

Of the thirty surveys I have reviewed, which asked illiterate villagers if they believed reconciliation was possible, every single one answered yes.  Are they truly this optimistic, or does this reflect the careless way that this powerful word has been thrown around?  If reconciliation is truly about making the incompatible compatible, than defining the process and making it understandable in simple English terms for even illiterate people to understand is incredibly difficult.

If uniting my night-owl tendencies with the life of an early bird that I am required to live here is so difficult, how on earth can an entire country successfully learn to make genocide survivors live next door to the convicted murderers?  If individuals can’t figure out the daily contradiction of opposing emotions existing together, how can entire nations make incompatible cultures compatible with their neighbors’?

Contradictions do not make sense, but they require adherence. I don’t understand it but I have to abide by it. This is where the opposition of reconstruction (via reconciliation) and dependency really come into play.

The most common message of “reconciliation” (vague as that is to me, let alone a rural villager) teaches personal responsibility and moving away from expecting the Muzungu to do everything. But it is immediately followed up with a question directed at me: “How can you teach us to not rely on you for everything?”

Wait, what?! “I can’t, that’s the whole point!”

But this bizarre contradiction requires compliance. The workshop leader explains the necessity of teaching reconciliation based on the foundation of God as stemming from an inherent human need to rely on a superior being for decision-making. (This explains the dependency paralysis.)

Regardless of whether or not I understand the dependency issue, I must accept its prevalence. And perhaps marvel at the ingenious method in accepting the deep-running need for a superior guidance counselor and uniting that with teachings of a spiritual being who can direct the human heart towards a reunion with those who have caused pain.

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