Sunday, March 27, 2011

March Madness

While most of America is consumed with "March Madness" i.e. the NCAA tournament of basketball games, I've had a little madness of my own in Rwanda. The last two weeks have been hectic at work as I've worked on several articles, conducted interviews for future articles and started designing new templates for the newsletters and fact sheets for Access. I did manage to squeeze in some fun events though, so here are some highlights from the last two weeks:

The Award Goes To:
My co-worker Malick invited me to the Health Journalism Awards  held at the Kigali Serena Hotel  on the 18th of March. The Ceremony was organized by the Ministry of Health in conjunction with UNICEF and other NGOs, to recognize journalists for their excellence in health reporting. It is also aimed at motivating aspiring journalists to increase the quality of health coverage in Rwanda. In an environment where disease can spread quickly among the poor, it is important to have media coverage on health issues that will educate the public and lead to behavioral change.

So there I was, at the Serena with a packed ball room of journalists, government officials and entertainers. In all over seven awards were given out to honor the best in print, broadcast and radio. The winners were given flat screen TVs, modems and radios in addition to their certificates of honor. The entertainment for the evening was a local band that played traditional Rwandan music as well as reggae and pop songs. There was also a play that told the story of AIDS on a group of friends. The play was entirely in Kinyarwanda, and while I couldn't understand any of the words, I did feel the emotional impact of the story as the actors dealt with the death of a loved one with anguish and despair.  It was also suggested by the host that the awards ceremony should encompass visual storytelling in the future because in the rural communities, where people don't have access to TVs, the population is educated about health issues through plays.

After the awards ceremony, the food was served and it was delicious! If you are ever in Rwanda, fyi, the Serena hotel is a five star hotel with amazing food and amenities. Since it is only two blocks from my apt, I walked home that night and couldn't stop smiling. I left the awards ceremony very proud to be a part of a community that is making a difference by reporting on health issues.

A World in Crisis:  

 There are two very significant days at the end of March,  World Water Day (March 22nd) and World TB Day (March 24th) that were instituted to raise awareness about these global epidemics. To be perfectly honest, before I moved to Rwanda, I didn't know that these days existed. Not that things are perfect in NY, but we don't live in a state of panic that we die from unsafe water or tuberculosis. Yet much of the developing world lives in fear, in fact over one billion people on the planet do not have access to safe water and countless lives are lost each year from tuberculosis. I had the opportunity to work on an article for Access for World Water Day, in support of their water projects past, present and future. Read it here: Increasing Access to Safe Water in Rwanda

A Gusaba or Negotiation: 

Rwanda is rich with many traditions and rites of passage, none so rich as the rite of marriage. I had the opportunity yesterday to not only witness the gusaba or proposal ceremony of two people in love, but I was a part of the grooms entourage! My co-worker Raissa invited me to be a gift bearer in the gusaba ceremony between her friend and his girlfriend. In order for two people to get married, they must participate in gusaba ceremony between their respective families and the community. The ceremony is conducted at the prospective bride's house and is hosted by her uncles who must determine through a series of questions and tests, if the prospective groom is worthy of her hand in marriage.

The day started with the civil ceremony, where the man and woman are officially married by a judge. The judge repeatedly warned the couple about the seriousness of marriage and that nothing should separate the two. While she spoke in Kinyarwanda, Raissa translated for me, things like "If you have a lot of kids, don't just remember the oldest son's names but try to remember the names of the others" and "Men are helpless and can't do anything on their own, try to help each other as much as possible".

After the civil ceremony, the couple and the wedding party (including me) changed into traditional ceremonial clothing. The men wore leopard print garments and carried canes made out of cowhide, the women wore bright brown and gold saris and carried handwoven baskets with presents for the respective families. There were two huge tents set up in the backyard of the bride's house, one tent held the bride's family and entourage and the other tent was for the groom's family and entourage. As a part of the groom's entourage, I sat on his side of the tent, while his uncle began negotiations on his behalf. The bride's uncle began by welcoming everyone to the house, servers brought out drinks for everyone and then the negotiations commenced.

With microphones in hand, speaking to the over 200 people gathered in the bride's backyard, the bride's uncle and the groom's uncle gave reasons why the groom was or wasn't worthy of the bride. There were stories told of a time when the bride wanted to get into a school and the groom's family prohibited it through their connections with the headmaster. Another scenario included a close uncle of the bride who was delayed in Kenya and needed to be present before a decision could be made. The groom's uncle then asked one of the pastor's in attendance to pray that the uncle's plane would land in Rwanda that very minute and allow negotiations to continue. Scenario after scenario was presented and finally, an agreement was reached, the bride's family consented to the marriage! The cows were then delivered as a part of the dowry for the bride's hand in marriage. There were no real cows presented but a herder did a cattle call as fictional cows mooed through the loudspeaker. The bride who was in the house while all of this was going on, then came outside to meet her groom. She came out in a beautiful gold sari with diamonds and was led to the tent first to meet the groom's family and then to greet her own. At this point, the other gift bearers and I stood up and carried the gifts to the bride's family as a reward for their daughter's hand. 

I walked behind the bride and groom and presented the bride's mother with a gift. After that,  I took my place with the bridal party in a special tent. I watched as the groom slipped the engagement ring on the bride's finger and spoke to the guests. After that we walked inside the house, where we were given urns filled with milk as a reward for our service. As the night wrapped up, we went to another location with the groom's family where we ate and the family began to make wedding preparations. In Rwanda, it is customary for the groom's family to plan the wedding. The official wedding ceremony will take place in May. The entire ceremony was over four hours and it was truly a beautiful day!

Now if anyone is confused by anything I've just said, let me clarify, the couple were indeed married in a civil ceremony and then the groom proposed to the bride after her family approved. The "real"wedding will take place in May. Since I was in the ceremony, I didn't get to take a lot of pictures, here are a couple of pics that I managed to sneak in....

Me in my sari

The tents 
The groomsmen meeting the parents

The bride and groom

The gift bearers


  1. Look at you, immersing yourself into the Rwandan life!

  2. This is awesome YoYo. You look gorgeous and you are glowing. I am happy that Rwanda has been a great experience for you. Love you.

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