By Kari Costanza in Rwanda.
We are back from the field in Rwanda and I am finally able to post a blog. Again we had no Internet where we stayed. It’s really hard to blog without it. The television stations broadcast in French and German so I don’t know what is happening in the world. None of the newscasters use any of the German phrases I learned in high school—they say nothing about blue ink pens or strawberry cake with whipping cream or Wiener schnitzel with red cabbage. There’s also an all-soccer-all-the-time station. People just yell on that one. Soccer has a language all its own. The one thing I do know is that Manchester United won last night and everyone in Rwanda cheered so loudly you could hear them in Burundi.
We’ve had a great trip. We were in a place called Nyaruguru in southern Rwanda—just 200 miles from where we were in Burundi. Many people from this area actually fled to Burundi during the genocide. We’re finding that Rwanda is a much different place than Burundi—much further along in every way. Although we have no Internet, we have telephones in our rooms, the French/German/soccer-showing TV sets, hot water that blasts from a shower, a toilet that flushes—and it’s all brand new.
There is one big difference for me, personally. I’ve traveled some in Africa. I actually haven’t counted the trips until now—but it seems I’ve made 20 country visits. I’ve been to Kenya four times, Zambia three times; Rwanda, Uganda, Ethiopia and Congo, twice; and Angola, Burundi, Malawi, Niger and Senegal—making for a lot of frequent flier miles, a lot of “would you like chicken or beef?”, and a lot of movies starring Adam Sandler.
But—in all those visits, I’ve never had as many children scream “Muzungu” as during this trip to Rwanda.
The first time I was a called Muzungu was about 10 years ago in Uganda. The child who screamed it began crying and ran into his hut, terrified. Muzungu means white. It doesn’t mean American or French or German. Just white. When we were in Burundi, we heard it a couple of times, including in a health center when a nurse walking by commented, “There are Muzungus everywhere!”
But in Rwanda, it’s been different. Wherever we drive, children along the road scream out “Muzungu!” Wherever we walk, people look surprised—amazed, really—and cry “Muzungu!” I’ve never experienced anything like it anywhere I’ve been. Jon says this is what Brad Pitt must feel like every day. And Angelina Jolie, too. Sometimes my lips feel a little like Angelina’s, but the rest of me never has—especially from the lips down. Being here is like being a movie star.
It’s also made our work difficult. We don’t want to be the story. We want to tell the story of this place. We want to blend in. Jon has had to alter his picture taking. He likes to be invisible. With everyone crowding around, things can’t happen naturally. So, he’s had to pose some shots, making animal noises or bird noises, or trying to say “one, two, three” in other languages to make people smile. I laugh, too. The way he pronounces “one, two, three” in German is actually translates as, “one, pig, three.” He says “eins, schwein, drei” instead of “eins, zwei, drei.” My high school German did cover that. I can’t understand the news here, but I do know the difference between the number two and a pig.
Capturing people’s stories has been a challenge. I think they are so amazed that these white people have come to visit. I guess it would be as if a writer and photographer landed from Mars, came to my house, and started asking me about my life, my hopes, and dreams. It would be hard to get over the Martians standing in the living room, especially if one had a big camera and spoke terrible German.
So—we figured out a way to get around the Muzungu issue. And—it’s a much better way to tell the story. I’ll blog about it tomorrow.