Thursday, July 28, 2011

"If you knew me and you knew yourself, you would not have killed me."

This quote is an excerpt from a poem by Felicien Ntangengwa. It was written in memorial of the 1994 Rwanda Genocide. As a warning, this post is meant to be a witness of the atrocities I learned about the genocide. Just know that it is darker than other things I've written and not very easy material to stomach.

Last week, my family, the Allreds and the students traveled to Rwanda and visited several memorial sites for the genocide. The first site we went to was Ntarama church, just outside of the capital, Kigali. It's hard to put into words the stomach-turning shock of walking into that church and seeing an entire wall lined with four shelves, completely full of human bones. It stopped my brain in its busy tracks. I couldn't fathom what I was seeing. Numb, I turned to face the rest of the church. The rafters, the walls and more shelves were full of dirty, stiff clothing. Dresses, shirts, pants, I looked closer and saw the bright colors through the dirt. Bright colors like the ones I'd seen on the people living outside the site. Spotting baby clothes and miniature shirts was a lower blow, knocking the wind out of me. I walked very slowly down the aisle between the pews, trying hard to breathe and digest the scene.

Our guide informed us that the victims in this church were all women, children and the elderly. At the time the men and boys were out in the bush fighting the Interhamwe, the Hutu militia. The women and children came to the church because they believed it would be a safe haven; because in the minor genocides of 1992, churches remained untouched and sacred. But not this time.

We went into a house on the church grounds and our guide showed us hundreds of books left by children. He read to us from a spelling notebook of an eight-year-old girl. 8 out of 8, 7 out of 9, 9 out of 10, this was a bright little girl. My heart ached to think that she would never get to go to school again and learn that sometimes i doesn't come before e or that there's only one t in "gate." In the Sunday School building our guide told us that this was where they massacred the babies by smashing their heads against the wall. I had to walk away so as not to vomit. I was very glad that Abi had excused herself to the garden before he told us that.

After lunch we went to the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre, where an astonishing fact our guide at Ntarama told us was reinforced. The 1994 genocide was not as spontaneous an act of violence as we sometimes think. It wasn't just in the works for years beforehand, there is evidence that genocide was actively being planned for at least a decade. The amount of detail the government put into the genocide was just sickening. The fact that a contained genocide was executed in 1992 to test whether or not it would be successful country-wide is so in-cold-blood.

And really that's another monstrous thing about this genocide. While the Nazis industrialized death, the Interhamwe distributed it with machetes, through community members. Neighbors were murdering neighbors and doing it in messy, personal ways. It's nauseating to think about. And because the killing spree involved members of every community, the death tolls reached over one million in only 100 days. That's 10,000 people murdered per day. Rwanda is a small country, and one million people in 1994 was one-sixth of the population.

This means everyone was affected. My mom asked the manager at our hotel, who drove around with us during the day, if it was hard for him to talk about the genocide. He said yes, but we have to. Then she asked if he would be willing to tell her how the genocide impacted him. After a second Peter responded, "My whole family was killed." Kigali is a much different place than it was in 1994. Kagame, the president, has greatly improved the infrastructure and no one in Rwanda is required to state their ethnic group. But still, the genocide only happened 17 years ago. It was unnerving and mind-blowing that the people you saw on the street, the market vendors and farmers were all alive then and affected by the genocide. Some of them had loved ones killed, and some were the ones that did the killing. And it made me cry, standing there in that memorial center and staring at the hundreds of pictures of those who were murdered thinking, you should be standing on the street trying to sell me fake Ray-Bans or smiling at your children as they yell "Muzungu!" and wave at my bus. You should not be dead and gone.

To finish this emotional day off we had dinner at the Hotel Des Mille Collines, which for those of you familiar with the movie Hotel Rwanda, was the hotel where Paul Rusesabagina saved 1,268 people from being killed in the genocide. It was ridiculously expensive and terrible service, but it was an appropriate finish to a day of remembering.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Rafting the Nile

Ok, probably one of the funnest things I've ever done. A whole day of floating down the Nile, surrounded by gorgeous green jungle complete with monkeys and ecstatic, sometimes half-naked Ugandan children that call out to you "Muzungu!" and wave frantically as you paddle by. Most of the river is calm; Rachel and I cannonball into the water every chance we get. It is so peaceful to just let your life vest do its job as you face your closed eyes to the warm sun. We laugh ourselves breathless trying to run in circles in the water, ending up looking like a dolphin getting tasered.

But, every couple kilometers, a huge rapid joyfully roars around the corner. Your stomach anticipates its pitches and rolls, you quiver a little as you listen for commands from the guide. Then the monster pulls you in quicker than you expected and you plunge into the first hole. The beast bucks at you madly and you laugh in the thrill of not knowing if it will succeed in throwing you.

Then it's over too fast and you're left soaked in freshwater and glory and wondering how the tame water that stretches in front of you could ever be so rough. But don't worry, there's 8 rapids on this river, all of them Class 3, 4 or 5. It's long and fabulous and so much fun!
Our boat with our boss guide, David. We called him DVD because initially that's what we thought he said.

Rachel getting torched. Every single time we went through a rapid, she screamed, even if it was a baby one.

I definitely have no idea what those green poles are for.

Taking the plunge

Friday, July 15, 2011

Muzungo! Muzungo!

"Ey, muzungo! We go, we go?!" Every boda rider, taxi driver and street peddler yells at you as you weave your way along the red clay footpaths on the side of the road. They laugh at you and clap when you finally sprint across the street after waiting for 20 minutes for a gap, only to almost get hit by a speeding boda. (Actually, that was pretty funny to see all 12 of us and the Allreds crossing at the same time.)

Being a white person in Uganda is a different sort of experience. I like it for the most part. The people here are really beautiful and mostly friendly. It's a little weird though because everyone tries to get money from you. My dad calls it being "shaken down." It makes you wonder if someone's only your friend so they can get the benefits.

Obviously, you also stand out a lot, which means you get a lot of stares. People staring at me is not my favorite thing, in fact it sort of stresses me out. I don't particularly enjoy not fitting in, but I do like being in a different place and experiencing a different culture. They have interesting cultural norms. As well as shaking you down, it's also a social no-no to eat on the street. Like you just don't walk while you eat. And they really like Obama. In fact the place where we buy our chipatis, or tortillas, is called Obama Chipati. It's got two big posters of Obama eating a chipati on the front. Not the most attractive picture of him, but very, very entertaining.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


I'm sorry for the absurd length of this post, there's just so much I could say about Istanbul, it was hard to decide what to include. But for those of you who know me well also know I can't promise any posts much shorter than this. But if you'd like to read shorter and more humorous commentary and see some sweet pictures, check out Nate Allred's blog.

My first impression hit me as soon as we walked through the airport doors: the stench of smoke and sweat. That smell pretty much stuck with us for the next two days; it stuck to your clothes, your hair, the inside of your nose. The city itself was clean for the most part, but the people, not so much. They were very interesting though. Of course, most of the time the ones we interacted with were street vendors and hagglers. But the children who got so much joy out of greeting us in English and the people at church were very kind. The most exotic Turks were probably the shirtless old men who lounge on the rocks by the water, tanning and smoking and cooking. Robbie called them walruses. We even got a more European flavor with one in a rainbow speedo.

We stayed in a very pink hostel called the Piya Hostel. The owner and his wife were probably the cutest people in the world, and so hospitable. Every morning when we ate breakfast like an hour later than everyone else they were happy to oblige and even when my mom blew the power in our rooms with her power strip, they weren't mad at all.

Our hostel was only a five minute walk from the Sultanahmet, which is the square that separates two of Istanbul's most famous landmarks, the Aya Sofia and the Blue Mosque. The Aya Sofia, which we didn't go inside, is a Christian church that was built in the 14th century. The Blue Mosque was built less than a hundred years later when the Muslims took over to rival the Aya Sofia. We did go inside that one, and it was absolutely stunning!

The Aya Sofia

Inside the Blue Mosque. The tile was spectacular, as were the stained glass and the gold calligraphy.

In order to go into the Blue Mosque the women had to have sleeves to your wrists and skirts to your ankles. Luckily they had some makeshift clothes to help us out.

Like I mentioned, we got to go to church on Sunday, which was quite an adventure. The tram didn't go as far as we had to, so we ended up walking a couple miles to Taksim Square and then wandering for a while trying to find it. After getting abstract directions from many a Turkish man in broken English, we did eventually make it to the church, which is located on the 7th story and entitled "LDS Charities." Definitely not a proselyting country.

We got there just in time for the middle of Sunday School, or should I say Sunday Schools because there were three: in Turkish, English and Tagalog. Apparently the Filipino maids of the humanitarian missionaries keep converting. It was a good meeting. It's always nice to be reminded that the church is true everywhere.

The tram on the way back from church was also an adventure. I guess it was rush hour or something, because at every stop we thought we'd already packed the car to its limit and then more people would get in. It really wasn't pleasant. Right before our stop Kristyn leaned over to me and said, "Get a good whiff, this is a cultural experience." The Grand Bazaar we went to on Monday morning was also a smelly cultural experience. My favorite vendors was the one who told me he loved me and the one who kept reading my Speedy Spaniard shirt and telling me I would be "Living the Dream with us!"

Friday, July 8, 2011

"So...what exactly are you doing in Uganda?"

On a point of clarification, I am actually, as I type this, still in the US. See my Uncle Andrew and Aunt Jill live in Washington D.C. and since we were supposed to have a layover in D.C. anyways, my mom decided to schedule in a day to see them. Unfortunately, however, she didn't talk to them about it beforehand and they are vacationing in Myrtle Beach for the week. So instead we're just staying at their house all day before our flight leaves for Turkey tonight at midnight. Once we get to Istanbul, we'll have a two day layover before flying to Uganda.

On another point of clarification, and in reference to this post's title, a lot of people have asked me why I'm going to Uganda. For those of you who have already had this question answered, bear with me. I'm going to live there for a month because my dad is a professor of international development at BYU and he is doing research in Uganda. So in addition to my whole family, there are also 15 students who are the manpower behind the research and another family (the Allreds, our friends from Virginia). My dad has two projects going on down there. The first is a study utilizing "crowdsourcing," or contacting the masses to get information. Basically my dad wants to know if the foreign aid that rich countries and organizations, specifically the World Bank, are shelling out to the Ugandan government is actually doing what it's supposed to for the people. He's monitoring this by having the Ugandan boy scouts (who are actually men and women ages 18-25) and their friends and family text to him whether or not they see the government workers are coming into to work, if the money's actually going to certain projects, that kind of thing.

The second project is in partnership with UNICEF. They are also concerned about where foreign aid is going, but on the non-governmental side. So my dad and his students are going around to the different nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and checking them out. They'll look at their records, visit their projects and put together a report card assessing their effectiveness and transparency (the opposite of corruptness). I will be living with the girl students and this is most likely the project I'll be working on.

As for the rest of my family, the Allred mama, Kristyn, has been in contact with some Ugandan orphanages and they will most likely be helping out there as much as they can. They are also hoping to help the Church with anything they need. I hope I'll be able to join in on this more hands-on humanitarian work, I guess we'll just have to wait and see. And (hopefully) next time I post, I'll be on foreign soil!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

On the problem of misspelling

So I realized today that I spelled the title of my blog wrong. Apparently, as any student of English ought to know, bonny is spelled with a "y" not an "ie." I am, however, over this mistake, and have decided that since my name Catie is spelled with an "ie," it is acceptable and I did it to hold true to my name even though I used Cate in my blog's name. Besides, the Scottish probably spell it with an "ie" anyways. They're always spelling things strangely in other foreign English places.