Singing, dancing, sketches

You cannot be on the campus very long before you get a sense of this place as very joyful. The girls are often singing, giggling, talking, telling stories. Kinyarwanda was not a written language until the Germans gave it a written form. The rich tradition of its syntax and vocabulary comes from a Bantu origin and there are Arabic influences, as well. Swahili and Kinyarwanda are very close; most people who speak Kinyarwarda also can speak and/or understand Swahili. The vocabulary of this language is rich and strong; therefore the tradition of story telling and acting out stories is deeply embedded in this culture.

The girls welcome guests with song (even the Sisters welcomed us with song led by Sister Mary Martha.) They sing at Morning Assembly (the Rwanda National Anthem on Mondays) at Mass, at work, in the dorms. They entertain guests at the school, like the group of 5 students from the Westover School in Connecticut who visited along with their faculty chaperones, with a program of “entertainment.” This entertainment included song, dancing, and delightful “sketches” that were so clever and humorous depicting various themes of interest to middle school girls (the Immaculate Conception, fickle boyfriends, outsmarting your rivals. ) The sketches were all performed in English and I was so impressed with the dramatic flair, impeccable timing, interesting dialogue of the plays. The girls are skilled observers; they can play the role of a “boyfriend” with a wandering eye perfectly! The audience was delighted.
The dancing is also impressive; the dancers are graceful and poised; the joy they feel through every pulse beat of the accompanying drums and chanting is palpable. Their traditional costumes give them a graceful, rhythmic pose that carries through the dance and the exquisite synchronicity of their following one another through the choreography. These young women are so talented in so many different ways and they share their talents effectively with their community and those guests whom they welcome in.

The Market – Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Pearl and I decided to try our hand at navigating the Nyamata marketplace on Wednesday, Market Day. Paul drove us in the Maranyundo van and steadfast Sr. Jacinta was our guide. The market is an amazing collection of sights and sounds, but what is most memorable, is the smell of the market. It is a blend: the essence of ripe fruits and vegetables of all types mingles with the smell of many people from all walks of life; old farmers' wives, young mothers with their little ones strapped to their backs, their fronts, or clinging to their legs. Men and women from the surrounding agricultural areas are displaying their array of produce on straw mats or woven bags. Buyers from the surrounding district, some in business clothes, others in bright regional dress, stroll carefully through the narrow aisles, searching for the freshest and most affordable food.

As Paul pulled into a parking space at the entrance to the market, young boys about 7 to 10 years old crowded around Sister Jacinta as she got out of the van. They were hoping that she would pick one of them to follow her around the market, collect the items she purchased in a large shopping bag and then bring them out to the van. She chose one young man, and he followed her into the crowd. There are so many school aged children among the crowds in the market, most of them probably hoping that the day in the market stalls will be more profitable for them than a day in the schoolroom of the local primary school. In the primary schools, there are two sessions for each grade, a morning and afternoon session. There are usually 50-60 children in a class, sitting in 3s and 4s along benches at a common desk. Perhaps the opportunity to take in the education that a day at the Nyamata Market may offer is an attractive alternative to the classroom scene. We were amazed by the agility and skill that Sr. Jacinta used as she navigated the many vendors to find the best deals for some of the weekly perishables enjoyed by the girls at the school. On her list were bananas, corn, avocados, tomatoes, green beans and pineapple.

The food for the Maranyundo students is prepared in a kitchen that is simple and well designed for cooking meals for 180 girls. There are three enormous vats heated by wood. One vat cooks beans, one vat cooks rice and one vat is always cooking meat and vegetables. The workers employed as kitchen staff are from the surrounding community.

Sister Josie’s Garden

There is Rwandan flag in front of the administration building. It welcomes you to the school. Sister Josie tends a flower garden around the flag “to honor the flag of our country.” There are daisies (they are called Margarets here) a few marigolds, some reddish flowers that look like gerber daisies. When we arrived, Sister had arranged a bouquet of these flowers for us as a centerpiece for the dinner table.

Chores, Buildings, Flag

With the completion of the Library Media Center building, the campus is complete. The buildings are simple, practical. On Saturday, after finishing their laundry, the girls sweep, wash, and generally tidy up their dormitory living spaces and their classrooms. Watching them, I think about how “real” these spaces must be for them because they take care of them, they are responsible for them. They know the contours and corners where dust may collect. They know the panes of the windows as they wash them, the pattern in the wood-grain of the furniture as they clean the surfaces.

The grounds are also attractively simple; everywhere you look, the eye is pleased by the color or contrast of a plant, a texture, or a color. The first few times Pearl was reviewing the photos she had taken of the campus, she noted that the verdant green grass, the yellow shrubbery, the startling azure sky are the same colors in the Rwandan flag. Perhaps this is how the colors were chosen. They are the colors of this beautiful landscape, this proud country.

Rain – Tuesday March 9, 2010

The rainy season traditionally begins in April, but this year the early weeks of March have been characterized by afternoon rains that foster rainbows and leave the campus fresh and glistening. The rains take awhile to arrive. You can see the cloud forming low on one of the horizons. The cloud mass becomes darker and darker; hovering in the sky as if it is about to burst. It does burst, and when it does the raindrops plummet from above, giving you little time to seek cover if you are watching the girls practice basketball on the court outside the administration building.

Meals and Gardens

The house-girl at the residence is named Terese. She is an enthusiastic cook who enjoys preparing traditional Rwandan food for us. She likes showing Pearl and me the garden that stretches the length of the back of the residence. She proudly explains the Kinyarwandan words for the fruits and vegetables as we walk among the raised beds.

If Pearl expresses an interest in one of the greens, chard or dodo, Terese smiles and it appears in some form on our dinner table.
The students work with the kitchen staff and Sr. Jacinta to take care of the garden. Pearl asked one of the girls who was watering the garden why it was important to have a garden at her school. She responded thoughtfully. “It is important to have a garden at school because we learn many things about the food we eat, how plants grow. We can help our people at home grow a garden. We learn many useful things in the garden.”

Pearl and I watched a group of girls working yesterday afternoon peeling potatoes. There must have been 20 or so; they were seated under the roof of the porch at the back of the kitchen on benches they had pulled out from the dining hall. They had wrapped a colorful swath of fabric around their uniform skirts and shirts; they chatted and sang as they worked.
Arranged this way, they were a colorful image of useful activity and purpose. Occasionally, one of the kitchen workers would come outside and just look to see their progress. But the activity appeared to me to be regulated by the girls themselves. They were careful, productive. Some were clearly more skilled than others, but they worked until they had a bucket full of potatoes to take to the faucet to wash. They repeated their routine over and over again. They were careful with the knives, with each other. They peeled enough potatoes to feed 180 girls for their evening meal.

Visiting Day – Sunday, March 7, 2010

Sunday was Visiting Day on the campus. It was bright and sunny with a few graceful clouds moving through the infinitely blue sky. Families began arriving at 9:30 dressed in colorful, carefully chosen outfits making the campus seem festive. The students walked with their families or sat in small groups. Younger brothers and sisters played on the grass, running, kicking soccer balls, teasing each other happily.

In the afternoon, Pearl was able to interview four of the parents. They spoke with pride of their daughters and the hopes and dreams they had for them. They appreciated the “serenity of the place,” the sense of “discipline” and responsibility the girls were learning as they combined serious study with doing chores at the school and “living together with many different people.” These comments resonate with a special depth when one considers the story of this Bugesera district, its struggles and tragedy. “We appreciate that people who do not know us would give us a school like this. We are grateful.”