CCSRE invites critical reflections on race and ethnicity through virtual “postcards,” brief studies by members of the broad CCSRE community.
Click here for Emma Hodge's Postcard from Rwanda
Emma Hodge’s Postcard from Rwanda
“Amakuru” (what is your news?). I have no news, “ni meza,” I responded. This was the beginning of each conversation I shared with Reverend Frederic. Every time he came to visit my home in the Karuruma quarter of Kigali, he would bring along a Christian sing-a-long DVD, recorded in the United States in the 1980s. My home-stay family and I would greet the reverend and serve him tea. Then he would play the DVD and sing along, every so often slipping glances in my direction.
“What are you studying? What do you want to do when you finish your studies? What is life like in the US?” Reverend Frederic was curious about me. That being said, most Rwandans were curious about the muzungo (white person) that had moved into their neighborhood in Kigali for two weeks. Each morning as I walked to the bus park, all adult eyes on the road would be in my direction while kids would come up and form a parade in my wake, try to touch me, and above all would scream “muzungo, muzungo” with fiery passion. But the Reverend transcended the curiosity I met on the streets of Kigali, and regularly came over to chat with me.
The Reverend worked as a physiotherapist in Kigali. He had studied in both Rwanda and South Africa, and was currently running a physiotherapy practice in Kigali. His profession as a doctor made him particularly aware of the health needs of Rwandans. In one of our conversations, he began to talk about the horrors of homelessness in Rwanda’s capital city. “You are so lucky as to not have such problems in the United States,” he remarked. I was confused by this, and asked him to clarify. “I mean that you are so lucky that Obama does not allow for homelessness in your country,” he repeated. Our conversation evolved into a debate in which he refused to believe that homelessness or poverty existed in the Unites States of America. “If there were homelessness or poverty in your country, then Obama would not be sending money here,” was the Reverend’s final argument.
In Kigali USAid posters are as common as any other advertisement. For the majority of the population, the only encounters with muzungos happen by way of foreign aid exchanges or interactions with NGOs who are often donating money of some shape. Outside of these interactions, Rwandans learn about muzungos through media that is often outdated, such as the gospel sing along DVD, or unrepresentative of muzungos and their culture. Reverend Frederic helped me to understand not only what a muzungo represented to him and to many other Rwandans, but also how he had arrived at this understanding. As a muzungo in East Africa for six weeks this past summer, I had lots to learn about what my race represented in a completely new context. My conversations with the Reverend over some African Chai (Tea) were instrumental in the foundation of my own discovery of what my identity represented in a different part of the world.