Monday, May 8, 2017

Election Day in Jakarta with CNN Indonesia

Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (left, in plaid) takes questions from journalists on February 15, 2017.
Samuel Howard | For Scripps IIJ
Often when I met someone new in Jakarta, the conversation would steer toward the inevitable: Donald Trump and the state of American politics.

Indonesians seemed genuinely curious. It’s an undeniably tense time in the United States and I tried to answer questions in the most forthcoming and detailed way possible.

It's only fair, because I had a first-hand glimpse into political tension in Jakarta — centering on the re-election bid of the city’s governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, better known by his nickname, Ahok.

When Jakartans went to vote on February 15, I went out with a team from CNN Indonesia to follow Ahok.

The election has more or less thrust the governor's position into international consciousness. In the days leading up to the election, USA Today, CNN and the Guardian all published "what's at stake" articles previewing Ahok's bid for re-election.

A brief primer: Ahok — a Christian Chinese-Indonesian — has been at the center of a criminal controversy since the end of last year surrounding blasphemy allegations, claiming he insulted Islam and the Quran during a stop in the islands near Jakarta last fall.

We kicked off election day at Ahok's polling place in a posh neighborhood of North Jakarta, near the harbor. I joked with some colleagues that at least half of election coverage is waiting around for something to happen.

That's as true in Indonesia as it is in the United States. We arrived around 6 a.m. Voting didn't start for another hour and Ahok didn't show for another three, or so.

The throng of reporters was predictably large and aggressive. Over the course of the day I saw reporters from international outlets including the BBC, Reuters, AFP and TV3 in Malaysia. I’m sure there were more.

Everyone wanted to get their shot and soundbyte. The former was probably no problem; Ahok obliged to about a minute of talk after he cast his ballot alongside his wife and son.

However, I doubt many reporters nabbed a worthwhile exclusive soundbyte. As soon as Ahok turned to head out for election day duties elsewhere, we all chased after him.

The situation illustrated Ahok’s status as a pseudo-celebrity in Jakarta: Guards threw up their arms to keep our distance, but that did very little. Voters at the polling station lingered around to take photos. Everyone was hounding the guy and his family. I waved a CNN mic toward Ahok’s face, but it probably didn't do a whole lot of good.

I squeezed out of the crowd and saw a CNN Indonesia anchor had also left. We shook hands and introduced ourselves, laughing. The absurdity of the situation transcended any language barrier.

Then, the usual: Everyone scrambled to get their live-shot in, file their stories, shoot some B-roll and head out to wherever the next assignment called. Our next job, and I suspect most of everyone else’s, was to get over to Ahok’s campaign headquarters for his appearance once initial polling results were tallied in mid-afternoon.

I noticed pretty quickly that the morning’s crazed, impromptu press gaggle was a warm-up to whatever would happen at the headquarters in the central Jakarta neighborhood of Menteng. I shuffled into a small backyard with the governor’s supporters, and hundreds more joined within an hour and a half.

Many sat in the yard and read booklets titled “A Man Called #Ahok.” Others took selfies with cardboard cutouts of Ahok and his running mate, Djarot Syaiful Hidayat. More stood with their eyes fixated on huge screens showing Metro TV’s election broadcast.

The crowd erupted every time the station played footage of Ahok. They danced. They pumped their fists. They broke into chants of “dua, dua, dua!” to note Ahok-Djarot’s status as the number 2 ticket.

This went on for a couple hours as early results trickled in. It had the feel of a rock concert. Andre Pullwanpo was right in the middle of it, crying out his support for Ahok.

I pulled aside the 64-year-old Jakarta resident and campaign volunteer. Pullwanpo rattled off a few reasons for his support of a governor that so many others find objectionable.

Ahok is an anti-corruption politician, Pullwanpo told me. He’s brave. He’s honest.

Nearby, 53-year-old Hari Melanthon was a bit more pragmatic. Melanthon said he finds it hard to walk the streets of Jakarta. Ahok has remedied that, Melanthon said.

By the time Ahok spoke around 3 p.m., there were few unobstructed views of the stage. Photographers and fans climbed scaffolding and a tree. Supporters grabbed pieces of scrap metal and scaled a barbed-wire wall to catch a glimpse of the governor’s short speech.

It was an intimate venue, but there must’ve been hundreds of people there. Ahok took the day — but with less than 50% of the vote, the election went to an April runoff after I left Jakarta.

Former education minister Anies Baswedan defeated Ahok in that final vote. Political and cultural observers have already begun to speculate about what that will mean for the future of Indonesia.

I don't pretend to know enough to make that call myself.

Given the relentless stock of journalists I encountered that day in February, though, I feel confident saying that the coverage of the governor's office is in good hands. And I hope the international media will continue to be part of that coverage.

Monday, April 10, 2017

YALI Camp 12 in Botswana

By Alena Klimas

Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Connect Camp 12 brought together young leaders from central and eastern Africa for a week of workshops on communication, mentorship, and leadership.The YALI Connect Camps are administered four times a year in four regions of sub-Saharan Africa, funded by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) in the U.S. Department of State and administered by the Institute for International Journalism at Ohio University.  There were participants from Ethiopia, Botswana, Uganda, Rwanda, Madagascar, Seychelles, and Equatorial Guinea.

Dr. Judith Millesen and Dr. Mame Yauto Faye were the facilitators of the camps. Dr. Millesen led sessions on Positive Inquiry, Mentoring Relationships, and Ideation. Dr. Yauto discussed local leadership strategies and values. She also spent time on communication channels. The sessions were engaging and relevant for many initiatives in the participants local communities.

During the week, the participants visited the Botswana Innovation Hub located in Gaborone. The Botswana Innovation Hub is the first of its kind in Botswana. The Botswana Innovation Hub helps individuals get their business and social entrepreneurship projects off the ground. While there, the participants heard a range of the projects being sponsored and incubated by the hub.

The closing event was held on Friday in Mokolodi Nature Reserve, south of Gaborone. The closing event was visited by the US Ambassador in Gaborone. Ambassador Miller awarded the certifications and talked with participants about his experience with YALI. His speech demonstrated his deep connection to the program and his desire to see programs like YALI continue to empower young African leaders. After the certification, the participants sat together for a final dinner.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

YALI Connect Camp 11 in Botswana

YALI Connect Camp 11 in Botswana

by Alena Klimas

In late March, the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Connect Camp 11 brought together innovative leaders from around central and eastern Africa to work on mentoring, networking, and community specific issues. The YALI Connect Camps are administered four times a year in four regions of sub-Saharan Africa, funded by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) in the U.S. Department of State and administered by the Institute for International Journalism at Ohio University. This Connect Camp was made up of participants from Mauritius, Uganda, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, and Botswana. The projects presented at the camps tackle social and capacity building issues such as youth development, public health, legal advising, and financial literacy. 

Dr. Millesen of the Voinovich School of Ohio University was the one of the main facilitator for the first days of the week. Dr. Millesen specializes in leadership NGO and nonprofits. She worked with the students on strategy, on creating a business canvas, and on implementation of their projects. She says “each time a camp starts I’m curious how Camps can get better and every time I am amazed. Each camp has unique personality and feel from participants. And it is always a valuable learning experience for me as well”. The energy from participants made sessions flow well during iteration and ideation.

On the first day, Dr. Millesen mapped the interests and questions of the participants using the sticky note exercise. Participants proposed topics such for ideation pertaining to mentorship and networking. In the course of the week, participants goals and objectives were fulfilled. This activity shaped the Connect Camp so that they could get the most useful seminars for their goals and objectives.

Throughout the week, pairs representing each country presented their projects and their respective country background. This time allowed other participants to learn about each others projects in a more formal way. These sessions demonstrated the diversity of each of the participants and their projects. As hosts, the Batswana participants showcased their traditional food and clothing around to all of the participants.

On day four of the camp, Dr. Mame Yauto Faye presented a session on strategic communication and leadership. Her presentation drawing from her professional experience and area of expertise. This was her third YALI Connect Camp experience. Her session challenged participants to reflect on their communication strategies.

During the final day, two mentors led discussion sessions on mentoring and mentorship programs that they run in their respective countries. Marietta Agathe, a mentor from Mauritius, began her mentorship by partnering with young adults in the country to learn more about the dreams and aspirations of the mentees. Martin Muganzi, a mentor from Uganda, developed his mentorship program from the non-profit Youth Rising. The session demonstrated the aspirations of many of the mentors and mentees in YALI Connect Camp 11 to go back and start mentorship programs of their own.

The closing event was held in Mokolodi Nature Reserve. The participants were given their certificates by Tim Smith, Deputy Ambassador from the US Embassy Gaborone. The Deputy Ambassador underscored the importance of inspiring and empowering young African leaders and reiterated the US government's goals and objectives of working with young African leaders. Following the camp, some the participants are discussing ways to stay connected or start a multinational project.

Monday, January 2, 2017


Produced and edited by: Austin Greene

Tea as far as the eyes can see. Literally

Saying goodbye is difficult. Saying murabeho was harder because I don't know if I'll ever get to say it
again. I'm back in the United States now, and what a journey I had.

I don't have a long list of places that I can recommend people to travel to. My entry and exit visas from Rwanda are the only stamps in my passport, but I can't recommend a trip to Rwanda enough. For anyone wanting to visit Africa, this is the perfect entry point.

I've mentioned before that one of the more pleasant surprises for me was how safe and clean the entire country was. This isn't limited to the capital city, Kigali, either. Even the towns further out were much cleaner than I would have ever imagined. When I went to Rusizi, you could see across the river into the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the difference was telling.

When I told people that I was going to be in Africa for three months, many of them told me that I was going to die. I'm pretty sure I'm still alive, I made it back to America just fine. People had plenty of opportunities to kill me and take all my money, but that's just not the reality of Rwanda. They are great and wonderful people with some of the biggest hearts I've seen.

Malaria wasn't an issue either, at least for me. I didn't take the medications, and wasn't even bitten by mosquitoes all that much. I get more bites in Ohio as a matter of fact. However, two of my friends, both Rwandans, contracted malaria while I was there. They were both back on their feet within two days though, as the medication to treat it is readily available.

The only issue for safety would probably be the buses and the moto taxis. It was normal for me to see up to 25 people crammed into a small bus no larger than a van. I couldn't imagine getting into an accident in one of those. The moto taxis were another story. I saw at least two accidents in Kigali involving the motorcycles, but they didn't look too severe. That never deterred me from taking them whenever I needed to go somewhere. Cheap is cheap and I'm going to die some day anyhow.

Locals gather for a ceremony after umuganda.
One thing that I didn't get to write about was umuganda. On the last Saturday of every month, all Rwandans over the age of 18 are required to participate in community service. The service is decided by each sector, and usually involves cleaning streets, building houses and helping farmers. The amount of work that could be completed with little effort was astounding because of how many people were involved.

The food will always hold a special place in my heart, or should I say on my tongue? Going to the restaurant and getting a plate of food for about 50 cents was a blessing. It was pretty much just rice, beans, fried bananas, cassava and beef every day, but I grew accustomed to it. I'll miss going to the bar and ordering brochettes with my beer. Did I mention that beer was only about 50 cents as well?

That's right, everything there is cheap if you know what you're doing. If not, well... let's just say I hope you have a nice job. The tourist traps are expensive. The cheapest trail to walk in Nyungwe National Forest costs about $40. All national parks in the United States are free to walk in as far as I know, and while I understand that Rwanda has to generate money to help fund biodiversity conservation, it's a major deterrent for younger travelers like myself.

For instance, the trek to see the mountain gorillas will run you $750 per person. At that price, you should go see them in the zoo. I get it, you get to see wild gorillas! However, you should know ahead of time that those gorillas are selected by the government to be habituated to people. They do this so the paying tourists are guaranteed to see a troop of gorillas. That's not exactly gorilla trekking in my opinion. Walking through the national parks without a guide is forbidden. Even with a guide, you're not allowed to stray from the marked trails that you've specifically paid for.

If that's your thing, more power to you. If you're a more intrepid soul then Rwanda might not be ideal, however it does have much more to offer than just the tourist traps. Earlier I wrote about renting motorcycles to travel on my own. I wrote about the genocide memorials. Walking around Kigali and just seeing the way that the Rwandan world operated was an adventure in itself.

I'd like to thank everyone involved with sending me, if they're reading this. I only wish I could have stayed longer, if just to avoid Ohio weather. Murabeho, Rwanda!

A Seed to Feed Your Need

Food is prepared for Growing Helath's beneficiaries
Produced and edited by: Austin Greene

Subsistence farming dominates the Rwandan economy. In fact, more than 85 percent of the population works in the fields. Rows of crops dominate the landscape. Farms are everywhere.

Even inside a hospital.

In early 2015, two American doctors, Medie Jesena and Emily Esmaili, were working in the pediatrics ward of the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire du Butare (CHUB) when they noticed that their patients were not responding to treatment.

According to Laurette Mushimiyamana, the program's coordinator and president, the children's treatments were ineffective because the kids were malnourished.

"Simply because children had no food, that medicine had no effect," she said. "After discovering that, both of them and their colleagues started gathering money to buy food."

When the patients' conditions began to improve, Jesena and Esmaili began putting together a program that would grow food on the hospital grounds. They named it Farming for Child Health (F4CH), and it initially provided food for 30 children. However, the doctors soon realized that the problem was not isolated to the pediatrics ward.

"The patients from surgery were facing the same problem," Mushimiyamana said. "They were having anemia because they had no food. Surgery became our second priority and we added 30 more patients."

Meanwhile, new mothers suffering the effects of hunger were unable to produce breast milk. Tragically, many babies passed away from undernourishment. F4CH stepped in, adding 30 more patients from maternity and internal medicine to bring the total number of patients served to 90.

At this point, the program wasn't solely farming for children's health, but for the health of any person who could not afford food. F4CH was renamed Kuzamura Ubuzima, or Growing Health in English.

Ange Imanishimwe, the training and M&E manager, said that another important goal for the program is to teach the beneficiaries to select better food when they leave the program.

"What we are doing is to integrate food security, nutrition and human health," he said. "Those patients also come in our plots and learn the basic cultivation practices and we can train them. When they are good, they can go home and do the same practices."

Samuel Byiringiro speaking to patients at CHUB
Along with teaching patients about the need for a complete diet, Growing Health also provides opportunities for local medical students to volunteer. One such student, Samuel Byringiro, talks to the beneficiaries before the meals to help them understand why proper nutrition is necessary. Along with other miscellaneous jobs, he also handles most of Growing Health's IT work.

"Growing Health is really helping me grow my career," he said. "Because the skills when I'm teaching them, I will keep mastering it and I will keep doing it everywhere that I practice as a nurse."

With almost two full years under its belt, the program has so far succeeded in its goals of helping Rwandans in need. Both Mushimiyamana and Imanishimwe hope that Growing Health can be a model for similar programs in other parts of the country.

"We have the plans to scale up," Imanishimwe said. "We are also partnering with the government of Rwanda through Huye District so that this program could be implemented in other district hospitals. We are all responsible for this world, so we have to help each other."

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

9th YALI Connect Camp a Success in Dakar

YALI Connect Camp 9 participants pose for a photo after
receiving their certificates at Friday's closing ceremony.

By Kate Hiller 

In early December 2016, sixteen participants from six countries met in Dakar, Senegal to participate in the 9th Connect Camp of the Young African Leaders' Initiative (YALI). Participants were from Chad, The Gambia, Guinea, Liberia, Senegal and Uganda. The YALI Connect Camps are administered four times a year in four regions of sub-Saharan Africa, funded by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) in the U.S. Department of State and administered by the Institute for International Journalism at Ohio University. These participants learned about leadership, mentorship, the Art of Hosting, Human Centered Design, and more. They interacted with resource experts such as Kofi Essien of OLE Ghana, Mamadou Sarr of CorpsAfrica, and Dr. Mame Yauto Faye of the Institute of Management in Dakar.

Participants began the week with ice breakers, and some goal-development exercises. They wrote down their goals of the week, ranging from improving English language skills to creating mentoring tools and engaging with different subgroups within their communities. The sticky notes were utilized to put into broader categories and posted on the wall for shared learning. As different goals were accomplished, participants moved the sticky notes from the "We Want To" wall to "We Did It" wall.


Over the course of the week, participants divided into groups to develop projects with a goal to improve different aspects of their communities, such as equality for disabled people, empowerment for women, sustainable farming practices, and a higher quality of education for youth. While every participant has his or her own ideas that fit under the aforementioned broad categories, the use of human centered design and other new concepts in the project development allowed them to develop their own ideas while also contributing to others' projects and providing immediate feedback. At the beginning of this process, participants were allowed to move around to other groups to share their expertise and experience with others. However, later in the week they had to select a group and stick to it. Participants presented their projects and ideas for implementation at the end of the week.

This was not the only presentation that participants gave. Each mentor-mentee pair was asked to give a 10-minute presentation about their country and what they thought made it special. These presentations were fun, with videos, laughter and even some dancing thrown in!

YALI CC 9 Participants Babacar Birane, Fatoumata Bangaly
Barry, and Menggeh Lowe dance with Dr. Judy Millesen of
Ohio University on Thursday, December 8.
Speaking of dance, this week was not just about all work and no play. Participants had the opportunity to also attend group dinners and get to know each other in social events. One such event was on Thursday night, when a local group of musicians came to play Senegalese music. Participants and staff alike danced the night away as the end of last week's Connect Camp drew near.

On the final day of YALI CC 9, participants completed the final touches on their final projects, gave brief presentations, and were then given a tour of Blackboard, one of several Ohio University resources that they will have as alumni of this YALI program. All of the work they did this week, from inspiration to ideation to implementation, was drawn out in an easy-to-follow graphic by Dr. Judy Millesen of the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs at Ohio University. This tool corresponds to a multitude of resources now available to the participants, and serves as a road map from taking an idea through from its birth to implementation and success.

Dr. Judy Millesen of the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs
at Ohio University presents the "road map" of YALI CC9.
With this, the participants headed off to lunch, for a focus group-style evaluation, and to get ready for the evening, where they met once more for a final celebratory dinner, where they received certificates from Bob Post of the U.S. Embassy in Dakar.

To see more photos from this week, please click here
To follow the Institute for International Journalism on Twitter, click here.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Mr. Coffee

Luzius Whipf at his roaster.
Produced and edited by: Austin Greene

The aroma of fresh coffee lures in tourists, students and business people in just about any corner of the world. That much is certain. But what makes Café Connexion in Butare, Rwanda so special?

Luzius Wipf has it down to a science.

"If you go to a cafe in Europe or even Kigali, coffee can be quite expensive," he said. "Here we offer it at 50 cents per cup."

The coffee's taste likely has a lot to do with it too. The beans come from local farms in the Southern Province, seven of which won the prestigious "Cup of Excellence" award from the Alliance for Coffee Excellence in 2015. Perhaps that's why the cafe is attracts so many Europeans and Americans visiting Rwanda.

Wipf is a globetrotting coffee connoisseur who has been in the business for over 20 years. A native of Switzerland, his last venture before coming to Rwanda was the Asia Coffee Company in southern Vietnam. The cheap, local coffee found similar success there.

"We had several people carrying around trays delivering coffee around the offices in the buildings," he said. "At our peak we were selling thousands of cups per day at 50 cents."

After traveling to Africa, Wipf saw the potential on the coffee business in Rwanda. It was here that he met his current business partner, Jean-Marie Irakabaho, who co-owns the cafe.

"My partner knew the local farms and the Rwandan coffee business better than anyone," Wipf said. "I had the experience of running businesses and it was a great combination."

Wipf explains the different tastes that can be achieved with
various roasting methods using the "Flavor Wheel"
Wipf packed up the massive roaster that now dominates the room at Café Connexion and set up shop in Butare. The country was already producing a large amount of coffee beans, however, there was still a big challenge.

"Coffee is not very popular in Rwanda," Wipf said. "But as time has gone by, we've been seeing more and more Rwandans come in for coffee. That's a good thing too, because one of our goals was to create an environment where people can come in and meet and connect."

Hence the name, Café Connexion. Another "connection" that he created was a network for local farmers. Wipf and Irakabaho use their expertise to help the farmers sustain their crops by teaching better agricultural management processes. And in order to sustain his own businesses, Wipf has one final secret.

"You have to work with good people, people that you can trust," he said. "I have that here. And without the people I work with, this would all be impossible."

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Town Crier of Nyamagabe

The loudspeakers high above Nyamagabe.
Produced and edited by: Austin Greene

Radio is, at least in most parts of the world, broadcast to its audiences over its namesake, radio waves. The preferred mode of delivery for Radio Voice of Parking Station Nyamagabe?

Acoustic waves.

Music plays throughout the town of Nyamagabe, Rwanda from morning until night. Sometimes there are breaks for sports shows, and other times locals call in to the "radio station's" DJ, Emmy Valentine.

"People mostly call in to give shout outs to their friends and family," Valentine said. "Other people just want to request a song."

Three loudspeakers are affixed to a 30 ft. tower to broadcast Valentine to the people of Nyamagabe, whether they want to tune in or not.

The entrance to Radio Voice of Parking Station Nyamagabe.
His studio is no more than a tiny closet inside what appears to be a small sewing shop. There's a portrait of Rwandan president Paul Kagame, along with an assortment of posters showcasing different styles of African women's fashion. Other than that, the shop appears to have been abandoned.

Behind the counter is the inconspicuous entrance to RVPSN.

"I work here from 6 in the morning until about 8 at night," Valentine said. "I began to work here in order to expand my talents as a journalist and as an artist."

Aside from being an on-air personality, he's also an aspiring musician. Some of his songs are even played from the makeshift radio station.

Emmy Valentine at his workstation.
When he needs to take a break from the studio, Valentine plugs his phone into the mixer to broadcast content from other radio stations. From 11 a.m. until 2 p.m., Radio Voice syndicates a sports program from Voice of America. During this time, Valentine gets lunch and then searches for stories or announcements from the town.

"We run a program about hygiene in the city," he said. "Most of it is for the drivers, but it's also about keeping the city clean."

The "Parking Station" in the radio's name refers to the bus station in Nyamagabe. It's also a trade hub for the southern part of the country, sitting on the main road to Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The drivers that pass through make up the show's target audience.

Radio Voice's composition raises a question: is it really even a radio station? Valentine seems to think so.

"We do everything that the other stations do," he said. "And this way, we know that people are always listening."

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A Walk Through The Horror Halls

The exterior of the main building.
Produced and edited by: Austin Greene

"I can't go back there," Ashley Weselak told her friends. "I've been to Auschwitz and Birkenau before but Murambi is so much worse."

It had been two years since her last visit to the Murambi Genocide Memorial just outside of Nyamagabe, Rwanda, and she vowed not to return, never again.

"I had nightmares after I went," she said. "It's just an awful place."

Weselak and her friends from Huye had planned a hiking trip around the rolling hills of the Southern Province. At the last minute, Murambi was added to the itinerary. With that, the group that was seven was now six.

Of the six memorials commemorating the 1994 genocide, Murambi carries the reputation of being perhaps the most shocking. It was planned to be a technical school, but the civil war and subsequent massacre of over 800 thousand Rwandans halted its construction. Here, over 65 thousand of those people sought respite from the bloodshed under the guise of protection by French soldiers.

20 years later, a small group of European students and volunteers walks the same dirt road that the Tutsi refugees once walked. The atmosphere is certainly different; the sounds of a church choir and children laughing and playing can be heard from the hilltop where Murambi sits. The site is well-maintained, with rows of shrubs lining the dirt path that leads to the entrance.

The path leading to Murambi.
The group is greeted by a younger woman, perhaps the same age as the tourists. She appears to have a great amount of pride for her job, though it's obvious that working in such a somber place has left a lasting effect on her.

"More than 50 thousand people are buried here," she tells the group. "The bodies were uncovered from the original mass grave to receive a proper burial. Some of the bodies that were not claimed are kept preserved and are on display as a reminder of the terrible events that took place here."

The first part of the tour takes its visitors through a winding hallway that tells the history of Rwanda and the events that led to the genocide. The walls are adorned with pictures and text in English, French and Kinyarwanda to recount the grisly story of what happened to the tens of thousands of people who sought refuge here.

Soon after the refugees arrived to the still unfinished school building, the French soldiers abandoned their posts. Water and supplies were cut off. Those attempting to flee the grounds were immediately killed by the Interahamwe militia. On April 18, the surrounding Hutu forces began to attack the tired, starving Tutsis inside the building. The initial attack was repelled, but on April 21, a full assault was carried out. Some fell to gunfire, some died from grenade blasts. Most of the victims, however, succumbed to wounds from axes, clubs and machetes. Of the 65 thousand people trying to escape the violence, only 34 survived.

The guide leads a tour group through the memorial.
The tour group reads the stories from these survivors before coming to a room decorated by pictures of the deceased. A startling number are of children and babies. Much blame at the memorial is directed to the Western world for its failure to intervene. Promising "Never Again" after the Holocaust, the rest of the world turned a blind eye to Rwanda.

Behind the main building are smaller structures that were meant to be classrooms. In a way, they still are classrooms, teaching a much more profound lesson.

"In these buildings are the remains of several of the victims," the guide says sadly as she leads the visitors outside. "They were kept preserved in lime in the same positions they were in when they died."

848 bodies are on display at Murambi.
Nothing could prepare the group for the sights inside other than the smell. The scent from the preserved bodies dominates everything else, and it is incomparable to anything other than death itself. The buildings have open windows spaces and no doors. The only thing inside are several tables with corpses as white as snow.

Even in their state, the half skeletons, half bodies still show expressions of terror. One holds his hands over his eyes while another grabs at wounds that are no longer visible. Others wounds are still there, such as many cracked skulls and bullet holes.

The next room is more of the same. The one after is too, as is the next, and the next, and the next. Room after room is the final resting place for unidentified victims of an unspeakable crime. A few exhibits feature cases that showcase more skulls in one, stacks of femurs in another and shelves of clothes from the victims in the last.

The final part of the tour is the mass grave that was dug when the French soldiers returned.
Femurs inside display cases.

"When the French learned what happened, they told the Hutus to clean the blood off the walls so nobody would find out," the guide says. "Then they came in with bulldozers and buried the bodies."

After the bodies were covered, the French built a volleyball court on top of the grave as an extra measure. Today, the bodies have been moved near the front of the grounds. The volleyball court has been removed.

The group that had arrived talking and laughing left the museum in silence. After a short walk back to Nyamagabe, they met back up with Ashley Weselak. She didn't need words to see the effect on her friends.

"Told you so," she said.

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Motorcycle Diaries: Rwanda

It's OK, I stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night.
Produced and edited by: Austin Greene

Mom won't like this one.

"Be safe over there," she told me before I left home.

Naturally, I decided to rent a motorcycle and ride the dirt roads over the Rwandan mountains.

The iconic Guerrillero Heroico adorns the windshields of many cars and motorcycles in Rwanda, so perhaps my inspiration to zigzag the deeps ruts and jagged rocks came from a bit of subliminal messaging. That, and the fact that tourism here mostly caters to those whom Che Guevara would have despised.

Hey, I can see my house from up
here! No, the one in America.
I've had the white person, muzungu, experience in Rwanda. The swanky hotels and rooftop restaurants have welcomed me with open arms. Sometimes the manager of a stylish cafe in Huye brings in guitar so I can play it with him. I've seen the Kigali nightlife and the tourist traps.

One day I was told that I can rent one of the motorcycle taxis for just around six dollars per day. Riding trails on four-wheelers and dirtbikes was always one of my favorite passtimes in the US, and I also wanted to see more of this beautiful country and discover on my own.

My assistant, Irene, called up a driver and off I went.

Wanting to get the feel of the bike and make sure everything worked correctly, I decided to take the safer, paved road from Gasarenda to Huye before trusting myself to attempt the windy and rocky dirt roads that careen through the mountains and lack guard rails.

OK, not really. It was Saturday and I wanted to watch college football.

The instant I set off on my journey, mother came to punish me. By mother, I mean Mother Nature of course. It rained the entire one-hour drive to Huye and quit right when I arrived.

"Why didn't you just turn around?" one of my friends asked me.

Good news: the speedometer works.
Bad news: it's not in Freedom Units.
I told him that part of being American means that you don't miss football on Saturday. It doesn't matter where in the world we're sent, be it Africa or Antarctica, we'll find a way to watch.

Being soaked from head to toe an hour away from home and without a change of clothes, I had to think of a way to dry myself once the game was over.

"Oh that's right!" I said to myself. "I have a motorcycle!"

I paid to have the motorcycle for two days and wanted to get the most out of my money. My plan was to take any dirt road that I saw and just drive until I felt like turning around. Google Maps would save me if I got lost. My plans never go wrong.

On the bright side, road work doesn't last anywhere near as long.
The road north from Gasarenda seems to trickle down the hills like a stream after the rain. It's steep and slippery, but the payoff is worth the danger. The views from the backwoods roads are absolutely incredible, and the little towns along the way are reminiscent of the picturesque settings of fantasy video games I played as a kid.

When a reached a small village called Musebeya, I stopped for a drink before turning around. An ice-cold Coke would have been nice, but the lack of refrigerators in Rwanda don't allow for that. It's even ingrained in their culture; you have to specify that you want your drink to be cold when ordering at a restaurant or bar, as Rwandans prefer their drinks warm, even their beer.

If they had a gas station, they could do away with the tithe.
The term muzungu has come to mean white person, but its literal translation is "someone who roams around." As I was out "muzungu-ing," I remembered that there is a about a 15-mile dirt road to Kibeho near Gasarenda as well. It's sort of a pilgrimage site for many Catholics worldwide because of the Our Lady of Kibeho apparitions of the Virgin Mary. Kibeho is far out, but the church is able to raise money because of the number of people that come out, and it shows. The church grounds are beautiful and the building itself is large and modern-looking. It's a nice break from the bleakness that surrounds it.

Speaking of bleakness and reminiscence, my travels on the bike bring me back to Che Guevara once again. Much like the events chronicled in The Motorcycle Diaries, I experienced a much larger disparity of wealth than I've gotten used to. Children around Gasarenda are poor, but when you venture further away from the main road, there's a difference that almost can't be described in words.

I've seen many houses made from mud and logs. Kids carrying jerrycans filled with water pass by me on a daily basis while their parents work their hands to the bone in the fields. Further out, I could use the same words to describe the situation, but it's somehow worse.
This is a waterfall. I named it Carlos.

That's not to say that Rwanda isn't making strides. There's income inequality now, but Rwanda's upper class has only relatively recently emerged. Rwandans are very optimistic towards their future, and there are many NGOs that work to lift these people up. Also, the Kagame government seems to genuinely care about its less fortunate.

It's safe to say that I won't be replicating Che Guevara's subsequent journey.