Thursday, September 6, 2012

Back in business

That's right, I'm back.

Admittedly, I didn't go anywhere -- I of course didn't abandon my ode to wanderlust -- but I have been M.I.A. for about a month. That's not okay with me.

For those who are curious about what I've been up to in the past month, here is a summary:

I started my last year of undergrad at the University of Missouri Journalism School. Oof. People have been asking the classic question, "So what are your plans for after graduation?" I can't quite answer that question, but I've developed a calm, confident persona in approaching this year. So, what are my plans? I'll get back to you.

My classes this year are enlightening, even Communications Law (the language of law is an alien communicator to me). This semester I'm busy with poetry and creative non-fiction assignments in my Creative Writing and Pedagogy class; later in the semester we will run our own workshop with local high schoolers. This is both intimidating and intriguing to me. Today, I had International Journalism with Gareth Harding, a former international reporter formerly based in Brussels. This class is about the cruciality of wanderlusting and understanding cultures before reporting on them. Today our guest speaker Carolina Escudero, a J-School professor from Argentina, showed us a clip from a United Nations meeting with Bolivia's President Evo Morales to illustrate a point about Western media's generalizations and stereotyping of what it does not fully know. In short, Morales was labeled a "dictator" and an "enemy" to the American government because he grows coca and is, therefore, a "drug addict." So U.S. media says. But if these foreign corespondents had actually been in Bolivia and interacted with the culture, they would understand that coca is chewed by people of every social class to help relieve altitude-sickness. The coca plant is also a representation of Bolivians' connection to their land and culture.

Drug addict? According to the "evidence" our media has gathered, we are wrong.

This -- our  media's failure to attempt to understand other cultures and lifestyles -- is my biggest disappointment in media and society. Why must our lifestyle be the only lifestyle? It is not.

More on classes... BIG NEWS!!! That's right folks, in my Women and Media class, taught by the amazing Mary Kay Blakely, a former/current writer for Ms. magazine and Mother Jones, we will be Skyping with Gloria Steinem. Sorry, I think I'll repeat myself. We will be Skyping with Gloria Steinem. When Mary Kay announced this in class last week, I had a reaction comparable to Beiber fever? I don't know much about Beiber fever (hysteria for celebrities freaks me out...except if it's BeyoncĂ©), but I held my breath for a frightening amount of time and later there were screams, lots of screams. Anyway, more on that later.

I'm also taking Magazine Design and now is the time I decide my capstone. Magazine Editing? Producing? Design? Writing? (Obviously I'll choose Writing). But perhaps not so obviously (at least right now) I may change my mind.

The Big Project I'm working on is slowly blooming. Slowly, trickling, some would call it molasses. But my dedication is not molasses. I'm just carefully documenting my Rwanda experience, piece by piece, tapped tree by tapped tree.

The other Big Project I'm working on is also progressing. I went to The Mustard Seed, a fair-trade store in downtown Columbia, last week and discussed details for selling the Avenir art in-store and online. The world of fair-trade business is foreign to me, but I'm finding myself more interested in its concepts, just as I surprisingly found myself interested (and still interested) in micro-finance and micro-loans. When I was a kid, I rejected numbers and math -- too confusing, too many rules -- but I like these numbers.

More on all of this later. In the meantime, I've got Big Projects.

I'm glad to be back.


Monday, July 30, 2012

Wanderlusting USA

Well, kind of. Not really. Actually, I'm just visiting my family. And they live all over.

First, I stopped by Manchester, Iowa to hang out with my mom, step-dad Brian and our motley crew of in-house animals. Can you imagine? Brian lives in a female-dominated household. There's the cat, Marisol, and dogs Frida, Mona and Sunny. You can see how we imagine our pets as family members, or rather, literal people (hint: they all have "people names.") I love relaxing at home, sleeping on my old twin bed, sifting through pictures I've seen a million times, eating from my mom's garden, seeing my best friend Sarah and reminiscing on past shenanigans (those that will not and cannot be named). Home is a pocket for slow laziness. Yum.

Photos: Picture of me, age 5, happily displaying my writing (also proof that a mushroom cut can be cute with a smile like that); Our sassy, fat cat Marisol; Trying to pose with the dogs, me on the left, Mom on the right; I spy a coupla ripe tomatoes; Sarah and me, circa 2007, on a Valentine's Day date.

Now, I am currently in Minneapolis, visiting my dad and hanging out with our fabulous friend Beth. Minneapolis is this quirky, weird, simple, cultured, thoughtful city with food and trees and parks and lakes and ice cream bursting from every corner. I bought a vintage Panasonic road bike the second day I was here (for $80 -- a steal!) and I've been coasting around with Scott for almost a week, buying blueberries at the farmer's market, book shopping (I've never read Elie Wiesel's Night, can you believe it? But I found a copy at a used book store for $3 and I started reading it yesterday at the beach), and munching on Jucy Lucys from Matt's. Bliss. Absolute bliss. I love this town in all its ease.

Oh, I also gave my dad his pajama pants from Rwanda! He loved them. And may I say, this man looks great in turquoise African pants. Thanks to the tailor in the Somali district in Kigali who did not speak English and thought I was rather strange for ordering such big pants. "They're for my dad!" He did a fantastic job.

Photos: Random sites in Minneapolis; Jacek opening his gift; So cool in those pants.

Tonight we are biking to Loring Park for an outdoor concert and then dusk showing of Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound. Then, in a few weeks, I'm off to Texas to see my baby niece, Charlotte, this little nugget.

This summer life of wanderlusting -- I suppose you could say I'm spoiling myself. For awhile I even stopped writing because I wanted *quote* time to relax *end quote.* But the not writing thing, it unnerves me. It's that unsettling feeling like you've forgotten something important. It's that unsettling feeling like you're hungry. It's that unsettling feeling like you've been asked to wait for a few minutes in the hall but no one has come to get you and it's been probably 45 minutes and your legs start to fidget and that's strange because usually you are a very patient person and now you're biting your nails and where the hell is everyone?

Panic. That's what not writing feels like to me. I can handle Hitchcock. But I cannot handle abandoning the words.

Today I'm working on an article for Vessels International. They want me to write about the Avenir women and they will post it on their website. Well, of course. Now how to begin...


Thursday, July 26, 2012


Bear with me.

I'm a romantic by nature.

If I've already got your eyes rolling, fair enough, but let's reevaluate our schema about this supposedly infantile reputation about romantics. Romantics function. Romantics make practical decisions when practical decisions are essential. Romantics can be pessimists. Romantics can think fate is a crapshoot, or, just total crap. Or not. Romantics are your grandmother, your neighbor with the tattoos and pit bull named Thor, your nine-year-old niece with the rock collection, the aspiring accountant, the atheist, the science fiction writer, the dry cleaner's assistant, the activist, the ice cream scooper, the Senator, the farmer.

I think I've made my point.

On Friday, June 1, 2012, I wrote a blog post about flying across the ocean. I had all these romantic notions clambering restlessly in my brain like marbles in a glass jar. I thought it was appropriate, when I was strapped into the plane and nested with my threadbare blanket -- compliments of Brussels Airlines -- and my Ziploc bag of nuts (protein) and my Hemingway (Garden of Eden), that I would watch a certain flick about romance and travels. I was a traveler, after all, and this was the eve of my adventure. I didn't know, on that plane, watching Before Sunrise, how I would be changed, but I knew it would happen.

Despite being a romantic, I will never claim something in my life has "come full circle" (because nothing really comes full circle; there are always lumps and gaps and wrong turns and if there's a circle I suppose it ends up looking more like a scavenger hunt), but perhaps my thoughts on movies lately have come full circle.

Because I came home to the U.S. And I watched the sequel. (As I said, bear with me).

(courtesy of "The No-Name Movie Blog")

In the film, two characters -- Celine and Jesse -- meet again after nine years and spend the day talking. The romance for me, in both movies, is not sexual, it is simply the intimacy of two people meeting and connecting. They bask in their stranger identities and dismiss any opportunity for dishonesty; they are true. I wonder what would happen if we took the chance to be honest with strangers. I think we might find some kind of enlightenment.

I was reminded of Rwanda.

On the first Wednesday in Rwanda, we went to karaoke. Lauren and I called ourselves "Queens of the Night" and fumbled through Beyonce's "Run the World" (we realized we mostly just wanted to dance), we split gin and Fanta Citrone (in Rwanda, when you order a gin and soda, the waiter brings a pint of gin and a bottle of your preferred soda; when this first happened, we all knew we were in trouble) and I ended the night talking, for half an hour, with a stranger whom I never spoke with again.

His name was Allain and he used to translate for Bea the way Emmanuel translates for Bea. Now he is an English teacher at the University. We began our conversation that way most strangers do: "How are you?" "How often do you come to karaoke?" "Oh, that's nice." "Oh, how interesting." But then, I don't know, perhaps it was the Rwandan woman belting Amy Winehouse with a genuine sad fury, the gin and Fanta Citrone, the crowd bumping shoulders like concert-goers, or perhaps, as my mom will surely argue, he was "hitting on" me -- but then, I decided to be honest with him. Because I was tired of having tired conversations.

I told him why I had really come (to find true connection and explore humanity), that my grandfather had just died, that I wanted to be a writer but I didn't know how, that I had been feeling lost because things, recently, had felt so shallow on my end of the planet. He told me he wanted to be a writer, too; I asked him: "What do you want to write about, really?" It went from there.

He asked me, later, as we were standing practically nose-to-nose, glasses clinking accidentally, people pushing through and past us: "Did you ever imagine you would be standing here, connecting with someone else on this continent?" "I'd hoped so," I told him; that was the truth. "It doesn't matter that you are a woman and I am a man, that you are white and I am black, that you are American and I am Rwandan, we understand each other."

We were talking about being foreigners. And I suppose this is when it was proven. You (me, you any person) can go anywhere in the world and find someone just like you (me, you, any person).

"Those who do not step on foreign soil will not know how the corn is grown," Allain said. "That's a Rwandan proverb."

I believe that is the romance of the world.

Anyway, I suppose I had a point here. While watching the innocent banter between Celine and Jesse in Before Sunset, I felt this urgency to sprint, stumble and cartwheel through the streets and encourage conversations. Actual conversations. Real conversations. Uninhibited, courageous conversations. Do it! Do it! Yes! Do it!

Here, an excerpt from the film:

Celine: Well, for example, I was working for this organization that helped villages in Mexico. And their concern was how to get the pencils sent to the kids in these little country schools. It was not about big revolutionary ideas, it was about pencils. I see the people that do the real work and what's really sad, in a way, is that...the people who are the most giving, hard-working and capable of making this world better usually don't have the ego and ambition to be a leader. They don't see any interest in superficial rewards, they don't care if...if their name ever appears in the press. They actually enjoy the process of helping others; they're in the moment.

Jesse: Yeah, but that's so hard! You know, to be in the moment. I just feel like I'm...designed to be slightly dissatisfied with everything. You know? I mean, like...always trying to better my situation. You know, I satisfy one desire, and it just agitates another. Then I think, to hell with it, right? I mean, desire is the fuel of life, I mean, do you think it's true that if we never wanted anything, we'd never be unhappy?

Perhaps this is scripted, yes, but aren't films attempts at mirrors of reality? Well, some films. Well, attempts, at least. And the voice of Celine is a frustrated voice, a little cynical, a human who wishes more people challenged each other. A voice who imagines the world one way, but finds it difficult to inspire others in the real world.

Celine, I think I'm you.


Saturday, July 21, 2012

An ode to missing

I remember having a conversation with the girls during the third or fourth week in Rwanda. We were talking about what we missed.

Gwen: Delivery pizza.

Ellen: Margaritas.

Amanda: Norton (her dog).

I like having these conversations. I like reminiscing. I like nostalgia. But I had some problems participating in this particular spat of missing. Sure, I missed delivery pizza (especially from Pizza Shuttle via Lawrence, Kansas -- pepperoni and cream cheese), but oh, well. I could do without. Sure, I also missed margaritas (but mostly I missed Bloody Marys), but gin and Fanta could (and did) suffice. Sure, I missed my dogs, but I always miss my dogs.

Of course, I don't want to be insensitive. It's not as if I had completely disappeared and forgotten and erased my life that I had only left for a month after all. But it was difficult for me to determine which materials or lifestyle mechanisms I missed. I had found a new home. And suddenly I realized -- well, of course! -- I don't need those things anymore.

People. I missed people. I missed a whole bunch of the inspiring, stimulating, rambunctious crew members I call my best friends, boyfriend, family, pets (see above). I missed (and still miss) two of my lovely, adventurous babes, Alex and Emma, who also hopped on an overseas flight at the beginning of summer to search for self-actualization, for meaning, for sparks -- to feel lost and enlightened because after all, we must always search for more.

Emma started a blog, too, to capture her experience first in Morocco and now in Europe. (I highly, highly suggest checking out her introspective and entertaining blog.) Alex has hopped from Central America to Cuba and now to South America, where she is working on a farm and mastering Colombian hip-sways.

Because they are beautiful and brave, here they are in their international elements. First Emma, then Alex.

Now I'm having the conversation again, but with myself. It's a party favor, I suppose, included with The Existence of Reverse-Culture Shock, where I feel uncomfortable (more uncomfortable than usual) and over-stimulated in Wal-Mart, overwhelmed by paved roads, storefronts (especially frozen yogurt establishments) and crowds (which are dissimilar to why crowds exist and what crowds are in Rwanda). Granted, these sticky feelings are fading, and I'm able to once again interact with customers at work and people I bump into on the street. 

Person: "Hey! How are you? How was Africa?"

Me: "Oh. It was amazing. It was amazing."

Person: "Yeah, I bet!"

Me: "It was, wow. I just had so many experiences. It was...amazing. Yep."
A little bit of silence.

Me: [Apologetic. Why am I so awkward??] "I haven't figured out a way to explain it, yet."

Person: "I bet."

Now, I'm self-diagnosed. I'm in a reflective state of mind. And I miss a lot about Rwanda.

I miss Emmanuel. 

I miss our conversations and the way I would constantly correct his English pronouns because the Kinyarwanda language does not distinguish gender. I miss how he would always refer to Emelienne as "he."

I miss the babies. I miss the way the children in Rwanda never seemed to cry or fuss or whine or complain. They were as much apart of the environment and discourse as their mother, or another woman, or a man, or another child. They were composed. They participated in daily activities and when they did not, they smoothly occupied themselves with their imaginations.

I miss brochette. I miss Fanta Citrone.

I miss 75 degrees, no humidity.

I miss the affection among friends and strangers, something I noted earlier in my blog, here. I miss maneuvering through streets and watching friends strolling with arms entangled, not sure if these two strangers were lovers or pals, then realizing that discernment didn't matter because when someone cares about someone else, that someone should be able to express him or herself through touch without sexuality being questioned.

I miss the lush, lush green.

I miss the clothes. I miss the unisex scuffed sandals, the elaborate skirts, the sports t-shirts, the vibrant head scarves.

I miss the women. I miss their integrity and their humility and their dedication to each other and the entire country. How can I explain it? To them it's like a "no-brainer" (to completely oversimplify). Emelienne, in fact, told me she had survived 1994 because she was meant to help restore the lives of those in pain. This is her belief. It is not necessarily religious. It is not necessarily spiritual. It is her human belief. I miss the women. They are true.

And, of course, this is just some musing, not a comprehensive list. I also miss the mayonnaise (although I brought some home and have about half a jar left) and the smell of the clay streets. I even miss being called muzungu (white person) and the stares. ("That is so rude," Emmanuel would say. "I don't like when people do that.")

So next time I encounter Person on the street, I am better prepared for a colorful and accurate answer to "How's Africa?" (First I will correct them, politely, of course: "I don't know about Africa in its entirety, but I can tell you about Rwanda.")

Well, let me tell you about Emmanuel, I'll say. And Fanta Citrone.


Monday, July 16, 2012

My project(s)

Before I left for Rwanda, I met with a woman named Katie from an organization called Vessels International at the coffee shop, Lakota Coffee, where I work. The grinders drilled into our conversation, the regulars belted discussions about Jesus and Star Trek, and I was nervous. I was nervous because I was leaving for a different continent in three days, I still needed anti-itch cream and protein bars, I still needed to figure out how and when I was going to pay the $$$$$$$ to the University for the 6-credit class I was taking while abroad, I still needed to say goodbye to my very very special friend, Alex, who was leaving the day before I left, and I still needed to understand what, exactly, Vessels International needed me to do for them.

I was nervous. But Katie calmed me. Here was the big idea: You (me) will go to Rwanda (because you are already going to Rwanda) and meet with women's cooperatives and look, with no impositions, for micro-finance opportunities.  Specifically, they wanted me to meet the ABASA women in Butare and look for opportunities to help with agriculture-based projects. They wanted me to make connections and then pass the connections on to them.

This was Internship #2.

At Internship #1 -- Avenir, which was through my relationship with Bea, my professor, and a part of the course on genocide (mandatory internship hours) -- I realized I could combine Internship #2 with what I was doing at Avenir and meet with the ABASA women. BOOM! I was a natural at this. And in fact, I marinated in some kind of invigorating joy that some might equate to some sort of "natural high" while connecting to these women and brainstorming ideas on how to improve and empower their cooperatives.

Bea Gallimore, my professor -- sorry to use a cliche -- planted the seed after I mentioned my concern for Avenir's method of generating income. See, the AGATAKO women create the art weekly while they chat about the neighborhood, their rolly-polly babies and their wounds, their memories, their lost ones.

But the art piles up. It sits unsold.

The only avenue of sales is when (most of the time) tourists visit the cooperative and, after the Avenir women welcome them and present the art, they purchase the "souvenirs" because they carry such a wonderful story. But the women do not seek buyers at local markets because, in fact, traditional African art is not in demand in-country and, in fact, making the art is viewed as uncivilized to the modernizing society. "Well, Vessels could help," Bea said.


Emelienne admitted to me that it is difficult for her to encourage the women to continue making the art when they watch it pile up and gather dust. She said that Avenir has successfully become a safe place, a surrogate home where women come to share and work through emotional problems. "But now," Emelienne wondered, "how can this center promote economic development?"

One idea is to establish a workshop on how to create and sustain long-term financial goals using the art as a "project." In this workshop, the women would learn how to market their product and how to market themselves, i.e., how to market their skills. The president of the cooperative, also named Bea, even suggested using Avenir's location for wedding receptions or special events; perhaps catering and decorating would be involved, etc. Katie even suggested selling some of their art online or at the Mustard Seed, a fair-trade store in downtown Columbia, for temporary financial assistance.

Now my job is to develop these ideas. This is one of my projects. (Stay tuned for updates on my other projects).

More ideas to develop: Let's not forget about ABASA. 

Bea (again, this woman is amazing) gave me another big tip before I hopped on the Volcano bus for Butare during my last week in Rwanda. The ABASA women have bee hives. With the wax from these bees, the women could learn how to make citronella candles and then sell them. I thought -- wow -- these candles not only could be sold to families for domestic use, but also to hotels and restaurants; because of the mild (and lovely) weather in Rwanda, most hotels and restaurants have outside areas and patios for patrons to mingle and relax. These citronella candles would/will be highly marketable. 

So, I went to visit the ABASA women. In Butare, I met Jeanne, a volunteer counselor for ABASA, who enthusiastically agreed that the ABASA women need training on how to run a sustainable income-generating project and how to market themselves. We immediately drove to the Institute of Scientific and Technological Research where we met Emmanuel, a researcher who showed us the citronella plants and told us about extracting its essential oils.

We left ISTR -- me with Emmanuel's contact info snuggled safely in my binder and an anxious excitement and a lot of questions about essential oils -- and drove to the ABASA cooperative. The women greeted us gracefully; we presented our idea. We didn't speak the same language, but instead, we looked at each other, and I waited, and they smiled and I nodded and finally Jeanne said they loved the idea and thank you, thank you, thank you.

"Don't forget us," they said as we left.

Oh, I won't. I'm not. That's why I'm working on these projects.


Friday, July 13, 2012

A reading list for you

For those of you who are unaware, I am a journalism student.

This me, at 17, imagining myself as a future journalist. Sweet, isn't it? I've got my collared shirt and my glasses and my paper and my pen and I thought I was going to change the world one question at a time.

Why did I want to be a journalist? Because I wanted to write. Because I liked stories. My mom is a writer. My grandpa is a writer. My dad, even, was a music journalist in Warsaw, Poland, because he liked music and the influence he could inspire with a few words about melodic wonder and guitar shreds.

At first, when I was young, I liked to make up stories. The first story on record is about the Lima Bean Fish, the fish who are red and purple and green and orange and sparkly and blue and red again, and they are called Lima Bean Fish so that they can be secret, because no one likes lima beans. I told this story to our family friend, Nancy, in the Leech Lake cabin, Leech Lake, Minnesota, while my brother and grandmother skated across the lake in the antique speedboat and fished for real fish, not fish from their sister/granddaughter's imagination. Nancy liked to make spaghetti with fresh vegetables from her Iowa garden. I remember the zucchini triangles zipping and popping in the frying pan as I told her this story. I swear I remember that part of the real-life story.

That was me, young.

Then, I started meeting people outside of my family and realized that I found people interesting. Fascinating, strange, confusing, mundane, funny, bizarre, mysterious, compelling, stimulating, bad, good, great, evil, breathtakingly beautiful, etc. I found people to be all of these things. And I realized that their stories were the most important.

You don't make up people's stories, I taught myself, again young. You just listen to them and then grant them life on paper, with magic like a painter, like Matisse, like Mary Cassatt, like Lady Aiko.

How can I do that?

Now is now. And I have a tattoo on the back of my neck that says "Forever Young." For reasons that I won't distract myself or you with, but one reason is to remind myself of the organic pull to investigate the Lima Bean Fish, the lonely, beautiful fish of my childhood imagination. Don't forget about humanity behind every thought.

So, now, for an analysis. A media analysis. What do you read every day? What "news" do you look for? Are you digesting, or skimming, or analyzing, or gasp! believing everything you read? Do you look for yourself in the "news"? Do you look into the world, or just into your neighborhood? Do you really care?

I have to be honest. Again. I'm writing this self-reflective post because I'm hitting another unexpected tidal wave, and it's making me feel a bit seasick. I'm trying to organize my thoughts. I'm trying to document every memory of my experiences in Rwanda before the memories get jumbled in all the new stuff, the new stimulations, like sticky rubber bands in a spoon drawer. There's a little bit of panic as I do this. Because I don't want to forget. I'm not going to forget. But there's still that panic -- I don't want to forget.

I'm gathering.

In the meantime, I've been reading some interesting articles, articles that challenge me to place myself within the words, concepts and realities of the subject matter.

There's this GOOD article about the importance of art in education, which brought me back to Avenir, and the importance of each woman's connection to her art. Creation, for the Avenir women, is therapeutic, is healing. Creation, on a local level, can also be this.

Then I found this New York Times article about travel, which quotes George Steiner: "Human beings need to learn to be each other's guests on this small planet." Just a lovely read. is my internet homepage, and a couple days ago, I was attracted to this article that introduced the idea of a new generation, my respected generation, that has a new vision for the American Dream and a new idea about fate: "They understand this idea of a shared fate, or a linked fate. That somehow, what happens to somebody in Mumbai may have an effect on me in West Lost Angeles." I can relate.

Now, back to my questions regarding media analysis. How do we, as a national and international community, allow complexities to surface? What is privilege and what is power? These questions about humanity occupy my mind daily. This article on Co.EXIST's website asks the same questions.

Happy reading.


Monday, July 9, 2012

His project

Emmanuel is an orphan.

After the genocide, he was raised by his older sister, Claire, in this house.

Many children and siblings lived in this house with Claire, and she raised them all. Emmanuel brought me to Claire's house one evening after I'd left Avenir. The burnt-orange brick house is located up and around a broken road from Avenir; it took us two minutes to walk. Inside, we drank Fanta and Primus and Mutzig and Claire showed us family photos. Since raising Emmanuel, Claire has married and raised five children of her own; three of them still live at home with her and their father, Noel; the two eldest are away at boarding school. We sat together on the couches and I taught Calvin, the second-to-youngest, how to draw hearts ("This means you love someone," I tell him) and play Tic-Tac-Toe. Every time Claire showed me a picture of one of her children as babies, fresh and young and just-born, Calvin giggled sheepishly. Then we ate a tomato-base casserole with beans and bananas served over rice. We shared stories and once again I found myself interpreting Kinyarwanda conversations.

"What," I would ask gently when the conversation hesitated and Emmanuel would look at me.

One answer was: "She is saying you look like a Tutsi woman. It's your neck and the way you are built."

I am conflicted accepting this compliment, but of course I accept it. I smile and am genuinely touched. She is calling me beautiful. But the history of discrimination based on appearance and, consequently, the roots of this compliment, are still unnerving. 

I'm still learning.

The next morning, I tell Emmanuel: "I hope this isn't disrespectful and absentminded, but I want to tell you something. I want to tell you how lucky you are to have this family, your family." There was a unique element of unity that I felt being in the presence of his family, a raw feeling of ease and tenderness in which each family member would lean against another. It felt wasteful not to tell him.

"Thank you," he said, and I wondered how often he feels the same.  

One of the first lasting impressions I'd experienced with Emmanuel was at the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre after I had exposed myself from within the exhibition, faded pools of mascara collected under my eyes. I had just walked through the Children's Room, a segment of the museum with enlarged photos of children aged 6 months to 12 years and mini bios underneath each picture. So, I had been floating through this tunnel of memories -- each bio listed the child's favorite food, personality, best friend, last words and cause of death (which, in most instances, was "hacked by machete") -- and I kept thinking of Emmanuel, who had been 9 in 1994. I'd cried, and at one point I told Lauren, "I don't think I can go any further" and sat down on a bench. Outside, I found Emmanuel resting against a wall, and I had to ask him. I had to ask him how many times he'd been here, and how he could be here. The answer he gave me was my first experience with true humility. 

"I come here often," he said. "I like to come here and feel close to the families. Here, I can do whatever I want. I can cry, I can listen. This is a part of me, so I like to come here."

Emmanuel has not removed himself from the genocide. It haunts him, as it haunts everyone, but in a different way. There is a force within Emmanuel that convinces him to always do better. He wants to be honest and share his honesty with strangers and Rwandans and politicians and teachers and students, etc. The Rwandan genocide is not something that disappeared and it is not something that is inevitable. What differentiates members of the international community from Rwandans is not genocide, but the way the human condition disintegrated and then emerged. Have you ever seen anything like this before?

Emmanuel wants to share his story and the stories of other orphans. He is working on a documentary called "The Children Who Lived," a story about the struggles and realities of being an orphan in post-genocide Rwanda. Below is a trailer of the documentary, even though Emmanuel and his co-director, Natalia, are still editing and searching for funding.

Here it is, a story for you. Please watch and see what Emmanuel's courage has drawn him to do.