Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Silence Part II (a different kind)

I went to two Genocide Memorials this week, the Kigali Genocide Memorial and the Belgian Memorial.  The first floor of the Kigali Memorial was a walk through the history of Rwanda leading up to the 1994 genocide, and a detailed accounting of what happened during and after the three months of incessant killing.  It seems before you can kill a whole race of people, you must get a certain amount of support.  The tactics are ones we've seen repeated over and over again throughout history: demoralizing cartoons, hate radio, lies designed to incite fear.  Then there was a campaign to differentiate between "them" and "us".  In Nazi Germany Jews were forced to wear yellow stars.  Here in Rwanda the label on your identity card could mean life or death.

Upstairs on the second floor of the Memorial were walls dedicated to telling the stories of genocide around the world.  Inscribed on a glass plaque was the question so many are asking: What did the world mean after the Holocaust when it said "never again"? 

The Belgian Memorial was set up in a similar fashion.  This once school house was the site of the murder of 10 Belgian UN soldiers.  The room where they were killed is preserved as a Memorial and features a plaque to honor those who died and a chalkboard covered in words from their family members.  The subsequent rooms are filled with placards that educate about genocide awareness and prevention.  One poster lists the sites of known genocide: North America 1492-, South America 1500-, Australia 1824, South Africa 1902, Armenia 1915-1918, Manchuria 1930, Holocaust in Europe 1933-1945, Pakistan 1971, Uganda 1971-1979, Cambodia 1975, Iraq 1980-1988, Former Yugoslavia 1991-1999, Rwanda 1994

Unfortunately they will have to remake this document to include the latest example of what happens when the world remains silent- Darfur.

Darfur is an area in Western Sudan that has remained largely undeveloped and neglected by the central government.  There are six million people who live there, a little over half of which are black Africans.  The rest are Arab.  In 2003, two loosely allied groups began a rebellion in Darfur calling for the rectification of social and economic grievances.  Fearing other regions would rise up, the government decided to exterminate the black Africans of Darfur.

They enlisted an Arab militia known as Janjaweed to implement this policy of genocide.  On the website for The United Human Rights Council they describe the actions of the Janjaweed.  "They are armed by the government and sent into various African villages where they proceed to kill civilians of all ages, burn down houses, destroy crops and livestock, carry out mass executions, target vital infrastructure, and commit wide-scale rape.  Reports coming out of the region speak regularly of such brutal acts as men being chained together and thrown into burning huts, women being raped in front of their loved ones, and children being kidnapped from their families."  Over 400,000 people have died and 2.5 million have been displaced.

The two major ethnic groups in Rwanda, the Hutu and the Tutsi, intermarried, shared customs and language, and were in many cases impossible to tell apart.  There is actually no proof to confirm ethnic diversity and some believe physical distinctions resulted from the contrasting eating habits of different classes.  The rulers were made up mostly of the Tutsi minority, but Hutu also ruled.  When the German colonialists and missionaries arrived in 1897 they decided the Tutsi were a superior race and made all Hutu inferior.  At the end of World War I Belgium took over Rwanda and solidified the racial divide.  Skull and other measurements were taken and identity cards were issued.  During World War II Rwanda became a UN trust territory with Belgium as the administrative authority.  Property was taken from the Tutsi and redistributed. Hutu began to have more power.

Following independence in 1962, the Hutu seized power.  There was violence against Tutsi and 200,000 fled to neighboring countries.  Discrimination and brutality against Tutsi continued and those who left remained in exile.  Many joined together under Paul Kagame to form the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF).  They put pressure on the Hutu President Habyalimana to sign an agreement that would formalize power sharing and give those in exile the right to return. Hutu extremists were against this accord and began making plans for the extermination of all Tutsi.  On his way back from a peace meeting with Tutsi rebels, Habyalimana's plane was shot down.  The killing of Tutsi civilians began almost immediately.  The efficiency with which large numbers of Hutu convened with arms and lists of Tutsi suggests long term planning.

The head of UN mission in Rwanda, General Romeo Dallaire, argued that with a just small addition of troupes he could get the area under control.  Instead the UN ignored his pleas and pulled all but 250 of his men out.  What followed was 100 days of mass killing.  The RPF eventually took control but over 800,000 were dead by then.
In 1992, the US recognized the independence of Bosnia a mostly Muslim country with a Serb minority.  Claiming protection for this minority, Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic attacked Sarajevo using snipers to shoot down civilians including over 3,500 children.  They proceeded to round up Muslims and orchestrate mass killings.  The Serbs also terrorized Muslim families by using rape as a weapon against women and girls.  They destroyed Mosques and historic architecture.  Despite these actions the world community remained Silent.  President Clinton's NATO ultimatum imposed a cease-fire in Sarajevo, but the worst genocidal activities were yet to come.  In, Srebrencia, a supposed Safe Haven, U.N. peacekeepers stood by helplessly as nearly 8,000 men and boys between the ages of twelve and sixty were slaughtered.  Activities like this were being repeated all around Bosnia evidenced later in mass graves.  On August 30, 1995, finally an effective military intervention was launched.  And in October a peace accord was declared.  By that time, over 200,000 Muslim civilians had been systematically executed, 20,000 were missing and 2,000,000 had become refugees.  They have still not recovered.

In 1962 Pol Pot who had become the leader of the Cambodia Communist Party was forced to retreat to the jungle to escape the wrath of Prince Norodom Sihanouk, leader of Cambodia.  In the jungle, Pol Pot formed an armed resistance movement that became known as the Khmer Rouge (Red Cambodians) and waged a guerrilla war against Sihanouk's government.  In 1970, Prince Sihanouk was ousted due to a U.S. backed right military coup.  Sihanouk then retaliated by joining with Pol Pot to oppose Cambodia's new military government.  That same year, the U.S. invaded Cambodia to expel the North Vietnamese from their border, but instead drove them deeper into Cambodia where they also joined up with Pol Pot.

From 1969-1973 the U.S. bombed North Vietnamese sanctuaries in eastern Cambodia killing innocent civilians.  As a result, peasants fled to the capital, Phnom Penh.  These events led to the economic and military destabilization of Cambodia.  Pol Pot took advantage of this opportunity and seized control of Cambodia.  Once in power, he began a radical experiment to "purify" his society of capitalism, Western culture, religion, and relationship and form a Communist society of extreme peasantry.  The educated, wealthy, and religious were executed immediately along with their families.  Those not killed were forced into slave labor working fields for 18 hours a day and dying from malnutrition and disease.  The Vietnamese, Chinese, and Cham Muslims were specifically targeted along with other smaller ethnic groups.  In the end, 2,000,000 were dead.

In January 1933 Hitler came to power.  During his rise, he blamed the Jews for Germany's defeat in World War I and all the hardships that followed.  He also spoke of Germans with blond hair and blue eyes being the Master Race and rightful rulers of society.  Hitler passed laws removing Jews from schools, jobs, and even from benches where non-Jews sat.  Anti-Semitic slurs began appearing in newspapers, posters, movies, and radio.  By 1938, Hitler had expanded the Nazi Reich into Austria.  After Kristallnacht, a night of burned synagogues, mass arrests of Jews, and 90 Jews killed, Austrian and German Jews attempted to flee.  However, most Western countries maintained strict immigration quotas and showed little interest in receiving large groups of Jews.

The war began in 1939 as Germany invaded Poland and forced the Jews into ghettos where tens of thousands died a slow death from hunger and disease.  Hitler soon ordered the opening of concentration camp Auschwitz.  Meanwhile, he invaded Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, and France.  In 1941, Hitler went into the Soviet Union and killed all those Jews living together in tiny villages.  Auschwitz II was under construction.  It would hold four large gas chambers used for mass extermination.  The Germans were already gassing Jews in the back of trucks in Russia.

The year 1942 marked the beginning of mass murder on a scale unprecedented in all of human history known as The Final Solution.  Over two million Jews already in Poland were sent to be gassed.  Although the Nazis attempted to keep the death camps a secret, reports filtered out. Definitely unconcealed were the mass shootings throughout Russia which the New York Times reported had already killed over 1,000,000 Jews.  The Jews in America finally responded by holding a rally at Madison Square Garden.  Seven months after that the U.S. Congress held hearings concerning the U.S. State Department's inaction.  In 1944, a Jewish inmate who escaped Auschwitz gave a report to the Papal Nuncio in Slovakia which was forwarded to the Vatican.  Thus far, Pope Plus XII had not issued a public condemnation of the Nazis.  He chose to remain silent.  The tide of war had turned against Hitler, but the gassings increased.

On April 30, 1945 Hitler committed suicide.  By now most of Europe's Jews had been killed. Four million were gassed and Two million were shot or died in ghettos.   Six million unnecessary deaths.

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

There is also a time for silence and a time not to be silent.

Saturday, December 27, 2008


What is the longest you have ever remained silent?  Could you do it for 4 days?  It is not as easy as you may think.  
As Christmas approached and those around me were eating more, I decided to scale down and prepare for a 4 day fast.  In the week approaching I ate fruit and nuts, making sure to eat lots of both.  I have done this before and found it extraordinarily difficult and incredibly rewarding.  I noticed a huge change immediately upon starting fruits here.  I felt much clearer and less troubled. I felt released from social demands and completely in myself.  
I did make one exception for Christmas eve when I accompanied my fellow yoga teacher to the only really nice hotel in the area, the Serena.  We walked the dark hilly streets of Kiyovu to get there and when we arrived I turned to Eunice and said, "so this is where they put all the lights". In a city with no street lamps, it was a bit shocking to see so much light in one place.  The Serena had obviously taken Christmas very seriously.  But if so, where were all the people?  
We made our way to the empty bar and enjoyed some long awaited extravagance.  For many reasons, some that I haven't quite figured out yet, Rwanda is a very expensive country.  The drink prices are equal to those in New York and some products can be doubly expensive.  As I sipped my Johnny Walker Red and watched the band set up I couldn't help wonder where everyone was.  Some people, I found out were downstairs at the buffet dinner, but the truth is there just aren't that many foreigners here.  And those that are here tend to remain to themselves.  You can see evidence of this as you walk the streets and come across other Westerners.  They will pretend not to see you unless forced into a 'hello'.  (I try this out daily.)
Fortunately, I met a young woman about to start a one month volunteer mission in Tanzania. Fresh off the plane from San Francisco, she was more than happy to make friends.  I talked with her for awhile and then met up with her the next day when we traded a tour around the city center for a couple hours of movie watching in her air conditioned hotel room.  What can I say but that it really is the little things?!  
The next day as Eunice (the other yoga teacher) left for her one week holiday in London, I began my stint of silence.  With no one here to disturb me it was easy to spend most of the first day in bed.  I wasn't hungry and I am drinking water so thirst was not a problem either.  But it didn't take long for my mind to grow uncomfortable with forced stillness.  What to do with no food, computer, books, music?  Could I just lie still and be?  It is amazing the things the mind will come up with to get me to quit.  It fights very hard against silence.  But without that fight, there would be no lesson.
Each time I fast I learn so much about my inner character.  I discover how little I really need. When I awaken from my solitude I slowly begin to take in again.  A day of juice that would have seemed like punishment before is now a taste bud's holiday.  But there is more than that.  With the layers of clutter peeled away, I am able to view my surroundings with extreme clarity. Seeing things as they are, instead of through the filter of ego and perception that normally dominates, I feel full in my newly born self and able to act with precision and clarity.
This is the gift of silence.  It is a true rest which when done properly leaves one with a deep energy and excitement about life.  After this kind of rejuvenation, zoning out in front of a TV does not seem restful at all.  In fact, the bombardment of meaningless information (though sometimes quite enjoyable) is not restful for the inner mind and body at all.
One should never fast for longer than a day with out being under the supervision of a teacher. And anyone of inappropriate age or with physical or mental issues affected by food should certainly seek another route.  However, anyone can shut off the TV, radio, etc. and sit for a short time in silence.  Just five minutes twice a day is a good way to start.  During this time you can watch as the mind sends all sorts of thoughts into the consciousness.  Don't judge.  Just observe.  This is the beginning of Silence.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Flame

I am late in posting this week because it has taken me a couple extra days to get my thoughts together on the matter that I want to speak about.  On Friday a dream of mine was actualized when an article about my volunteer work here was published in The Jewish Standard, a North Jersey newspaper.  As I expressed to those I urged to read it, this documentation of my experience here in Rwanda was particularly important for me because I knew it would reach my family and their community.  I knowingly put a strain on my family when I made the choice to come here and I feel strongly that articles like this one help to validate what I am doing. This paper in particular is delivered to the Jewish Community Center in Tenafly where my mother works as a Nursery School Supervisor.  As I predicted, her boss read the column and even wrote an email to the rest of the staff encouraging them to do the same.  I think that may have put just a little smile on my mom's face.
It did not, however, make everyone happy.  I debated sharing this, but after our cancelled demonstration at the Milles Collines, I wrote candidly about the orchestrated campaign by the Born Again community here to get the word out that yoga is devil worship.  It would be dishonest of me now if I omitted a related occurrence that happened, I believe, as a result of this article in the Jewish Standard.  On Saturday evening I received a hate email from someone I don't know but who appears to be a religious Jew.  The email, in its two sentences asks why I have decided not to reproduce (I haven't) and if I consider myself to be a crazy Jew or a crazy yogi nut.  To that I answer that not only do I consider myself to be both, but think that each of these aspects have made the other stronger.
I experience this every Friday night when I light my Shabbat candle and am able to be still as I stare at the flame and meditate on prayers of peace.  I thank my yoga practice for helping me to be in the present moment and therefore see G-d in all things.  This has made me a better person and a better Jew.  When I read from my prayer book my mind is focused and clear.  I wonder if my emailer can say the same.  In return, my Jewish upbringing has helped my yoga practice.  I recall clearly how the repeated recitation of the Prayer for Peace helped me through a time when I was struggling with a difficult yoga pose.  And each morning my call of Modei Ani, reminds me to thank the Lord for the gift of a new day, and gives me the strength to make it to my 6 am practice.

The beautiful merging of both my worlds has never been sweeter than last night at my Chanukah celebration.  The only Jew, I cooked latkes for 7 Rwandans, and 1 Australian.  They don't sell apple sauce here so I made some.  Creme Fresh was our sour creme. The children especially were confused about the strange food in front of them, but tried everything.  The big success was the introduction of the traditional Chanukah game, Dreydl, where one spins a four sided top and either wins or loses his anti depending on which side the Dreydl lands.  We played for butterscotch candies but by the intensity of their reactions you would have thought my guests were playing for gold.  
When night came I snuck into my room for my Skype date with my parents.  Most of the guests had left but two remained.  I heard them sitting at the table decoding the complexities of their language with my Australian housemate.  Then the conversation shifted.  She spoke of the Buddhist faith and when it seemed language and cultural barriers would make it impossible to explain her beliefs she slowed down.  Gradually they came to understand.  I looked to the Chanukah candles and as I watched them fade to their last flicker I couldn't help but think of all the obstacles to a night like this ever occurring.  Here we were gathered around a Chanukah table in Rwanda: Christian, Buddhist, and Jew.  The Menorah went black and another light emerged.  

Friday, December 12, 2008

An Average Day in an Unaverage Place

People keep asking about what an average day is like here so I thought I would oblige them and write a little more specifically (and I hope not too boringly) about the day to day.  There are four basic groups that I teach during the week and there are the children that I teach on Sundays.  For this entry I will focus on a typical weekday.  There are the Ichuzuzu women who meet on Monday, the Ineza women who meet Wednesdays and Fridays, the WE-ACTx clinic staff who meet Monday thru Thursday, and our house staff who also meet Monday thru Thursday.  We go to each group except for our house staff who practice out on our back porch.  Each group is different in size, style, and structure.  

Getting Rwandans to try yoga has proven to be a bit of a challenge due to an opposition campaign being led by born again Christians who have very successfully gotten the word out that yoga is Satanism.  Rwandans, who are for the most part a very religious and very obedient people, have taken the warnings against yoga extremely seriously and stayed far away from the practice.  It is because of this unfortunate phenomenon that out of the 400 people invited to our yoga demonstration yesterday only two showed up: an American woman and her son.

It's a true credit to the creators of this yoga program that it has gotten off the ground at all and that we have as many students as we do.  In order to counter the suspicions against yoga we have taken a very physical approach to the practice and refrained from including any parts of the ancient system that could be misinterpreted as religious or as is being claimed anti-Christian.

Yoga has its origins in India and therefore is touched by Indian culture and religion.  These are interesting topics to learn about, but it is not necessary to do so in order to be a yogi.  In fact, what yoga can provide is a way of getting in closer touch with whatever religion or spirituality you already subscribe to.  It does not ask you to be Hindu which doesn't even take converts.  It does ask you to breath with a length and depth that can unlock tiny muscles and release trapped energy. When bodily energy is released, one of the ways it can materialize is as emotion.  In a country that has experienced a recent genocide, you can imagine how many buried emotions lie hidden under the layers of protection our ingenious bodies provide.  When they are released, it can be quite overwhelming and similar to the purging experience offered at so many of the churches here.  So when a pastor describes the yoga experience as a mingling with evil spirits, you can see how it is so often believed to be so.

With that said, let me steer you back toward the day to day: I wake up each morning to my very reliable alarm clock of bird calls and sun.  The sunrise is an event here and all the animals come out to play.  No amount of curtain closing or hiding under my blanket can keep the morning out nor would I want it too.  The morning is the best part of the day.  I give thanks that a new day has been allotted to me and stumble into the kitchen to boil the water and prepare the press for my ritual cup of Rwandan coffee.  It is so good.

After a couple sips and some email checking I am back in my room and on my mat for my daily yoga practice.  This is a very special time for me and imperative if I want to have the energy and balance to teach others.  I take my time.  When I'm finished I have my shower and some fruit and tea.  Sometimes I even splurge on another cup of that oh so satisfying coffee. Then I have time to read, write, and study which I do a lot of.  I also chant daily.

If it is my day to teach the house staff that will happen next.  They are usually just two and probably my most rewarding class of the week.  It is great to be able to teach a small group like that and give them the attention they deserve.  The yoga we teach all our classes is called Ashtanga.  It deals with a set sequence of poses that are repeated in the same order on a daily basis.  As the student progresses and their stamina and flexibility increases they are given more and more of the sequence.  The amount of time it takes to learn the first series of poses can vary greatly from person to person and there is no rush.  The true reward lies in the discipline of daily practice and in the intension behind each breath.  Although the structure repeats itself each moment offers something new that only presence can capture.

The second class of the day are the Ichuzuzu or Ineza women.  Both are groups set up by WE-ACTx.  These are, for the most, part HIV positive women who managed to survive unspeakable violence during the genocide that often included rape.  They live with chronic conditions that are worsened by their limited resources.  Many eat once a day or even as little as every other day.  When they do eat, it is often a hard donut.  Ichuzuzu women are those who use the clinic.  Ineza is a co-op of seamstresses set up by WE-ACTx to give talented, hard working women a chance to earn a living.  They make beautiful bags in bright patterns that are sent to western countries and sold at high prices. Twice a week we carry their sewing tables to the back of the room to make space for two rows of yoga mats and a ton of laughs.  This is definitely our rowdiest group, especially on Fridays when they have "weekend syndrome".   But in between the bouts of laughter, they are making time to push their bodies.  Each week they shatter the limitations they had previously designed for themselves and make new ones we inevitably break again.

Then we haul the heavy bag of yoga mats over to the WE-ACTx clinic where we make yoga available for the staff.  It's usually about 4:30 when we finally get everyone together for our final class of the day.  Unlike the other groups, this class is mostly men.  They are very strong and fun to challenge.  We are able to move at a fast pace and they enjoy burning off the residue of the day's work.

Tired but happy Eunice and I stroll home never able to resist a comment or two about the pleasure of our evening walk.  We arrive to a home cooked meal set out and ready to be devoured.  We eat, feed our guard, do our dishes, and sip our nightly cup of hot garden picked mint water.  Emails are answered.  Books are read.  And hopefully sleep is had.  Cause in just a few hours we will do it all again.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Life and Death

This week started out with a trip to church.  Rwandans are famous for asking visitors about prayer and religion.  I have answered honestly about being Jewish, but no one here knows what that is.  Many missionaries have come here both before and since the genocide so there is a mixture of different Christian denominations and there is also a Muslim community.  I had heard the catching melodic tunes bouncing out of church walls as I walked down the street and was interested in seeing what the Sunday experience was for my students.  So, when the invitation was extended I quickly accepted.
We slipped in late at 10am.  The band was live and electric and the congregants were singing and swaying to familiar tunes.  I smiled.  Their enthusiasm was contagious.  A man squeezed in next to me and explained his role as translator for foreign guests.  He would explain each song, sermon, and speech as they rolled along.  Interestingly, there was a guest minister from Germany at the church who would be giving his sermon in English with a Rwandan translator backing him up for the crowd.
His sermon was about gratefulness which excited me.  I was even more enthused when he mentioned that he would be using the Old Testament which I am somewhat familiar with.  I straightened my spine in alertness and receptivity.  And then he spoke.  My first thought was that I would indeed need an interpreter.  My second was that if I couldn't understand the minister's heavily accented English, his Rwanda translator was bound to have some difficulty as well.  My assumption was accurate, but my reasoning was off.  The trouble with the translating stemmed not from the voice, but from the content.  The parables of barns and seeds of evil that would not grow in gratefulness did not translate but the minister's ignorance of his audience did.  Determined, he plowed on.  
As the sermon climaxed the band took over and the minister began to walk around.  There were cries and exclamations for Jesus coming from a woman in the front.  I struggled to see the face attached to such emotion, but I couldn't pick her out.  Instead my eyes landed on a body being carried out of the church.  I wondered if someone fainted which has happened in the heat of a crammed Yom Kippur service at my hometown synagogue.  But then I noticed that it wasn't the only lifeless body around.  The minister was pressing his fingers into chosen congregants' faces and blowing on their foreheads.  He was staring fiercely at them and some were dropping down to the floor.  My expression must have been one of concern because my translator turned to me and whispered, "Don't worry.  They will be okay.  They simply can not stand in the face of G-d, " and then went back to dancing.
The week ended with a trip to Murambi, home of one of the biggest genocide sights and memorials in Rwanda.  My housemates and I took a two and a half hour bus ride down to Butare and then another bus Murambi.  Beautiful does not describe the rolling African hills that sailed beside us.  At Murambi we employed the drivers of motoscooters that knew our destination all too well.  We were about to be at the site of one of the most horrific killings imaginable, but dirt road was lined with big leafed trees and the wind was running through my hair.  I was smiling as children and adults stopped what they were doing to wave at the muzungo (westerner) riding by.  I was happy to be in Africa.
The moto stopped at large school back dropped by the kind of scenery that makes you curse your imperfect camera.  We were greeted immediately by our guide one of just four survivors from the tragedy that took place here.  I knew that I was going to see dead bodies.  The perpetrators of the genocide had thrown the dead in a mass grave.  Later the grave was dug up so that the victims could be accounted for and buried according to regulation.  However, when they unearthed the skeletons, they found that they had been preserved due to large quantity of limestone in the soil.  It was then decided that the remains be placed on tables in 24 of the school rooms open for viewing.
Without warning a door was opened and there they were.  Dead people.  I gasped.  The stench was nauseating.  I pulled my shawl up to my face.  I wanted to scream.  My mouth opened but my throat was clenched.  Ribs.  Shoulders.  Pieces of hair not yet rotted away.  Could I do this? Could I really stand here in front of this?  I hoped I wouldn't faint.  The guide said her husband and children were in this very room.  A couple tears plopped.  I felt sick.  We moved on to the next room.  The same.  And the one after that also more bodies.  A dismembered head.  A child. It started to feel unreal and for a moment I marveled at my brain's ability to disengage, to make me think I was on the set of a movie.  I had to tell myself once more that what was in front of me was real.  I had to face that one day I too will be bones.  I took one more look and said goodbye.  We had seen about 10 rooms and we didn't want to see anymore.  The guide said it was okay; "They are all the same anyway."
We decided to take the walk back toward the buses, and we were just steps down the beautiful dirt road when the children started running.  A pack of them gorgeous and giggling came toward us like gift from G-d I thought.  The hugs were endless and the smiles wide.  They held our hands and giggled at our whiteness.  There was no time for mourning.  
In front of me was Life.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Museca (Love) and Moracosi (Thanks)


Slowly slowly I feel my heart opening. I witness my guard coming down. I feel more love.
Today I walked through the streets and got to really see what life is like here on a Sunday afternoon. I was not in the center of Kigali, and not in my fancy neighborhood Kiyovu, but in a regular suburban area. I got a real sensation of being in Africa.

Afterwards I went to our Sunday class at the Mosque. I was early so I was able to sit and relax with the children for awhile. I bonded with one little boy who I had met before. He is mute and deaf but we were able to communicate through action. He particularly enjoyed being the guardian of my camera and taking pictures of me and the other children. Then all the children wanted to use the camera and I couldn't dream of saying no.

The other notable event this week was American Thanksgiving. I am the only American volunteer with this program at the moment so I decided to go ahead and celebrate with my international friends. The day started with a trip to the market accompanied by our house cook, Seraphine. She speaks a bit of English but is more comfortable in French so we brought my little dictionary along. We took the hike up our hilly neighborhood streets and over to the center of town where the buses converge stopping to gather lovely yellow flowers that had fallen off some trees. These I would use to decorate the table. The men loading the buses eyed Seraphine and persistently tried to draw her into theirs. She resisted, holding out for a near full vehicle that would surely be leaving the soonest. We grabbed a spot but switched when we found the window wouldn't open. It would be a very hot ride the way they pack in bodies into these mini-van looking buses.

Seraphine pointed out embassies and other buildings of note along the way. I was filled with a warm thankfulness and the deepest desire to rid her of her painful memories. We talked about her children both biological and adopted and her husband who died as she gave birth to her littlest one. And then we arrived. The market was as colorful and packed as I remembered it, only now I had a local guide. I followed Seraphine as she navigated through the aisles giving stern "no's" to inflated prices. Again the thankfulness swelled as I watched her in action. It would have been more than difficult to shop with out her considering the language barrier and my ignorance of the local prices. I imagine I would have ended up spending at least double.

And then, we were homeward bound. We got off the bus at a different spot than we got on and I followed Seraphine as she weaved through secret shortcuts until finally we were home. I must admit I didn't recognize much until we were almost standing in front of my house. We unloaded and prepped for my Thanksgiving feast. Seraphine was kind enough to relinquish control over her kitchen and even eager to see what the strange American was doing. I wished she could have seen more, but most of the cooking had to be done closer to dinner when she was already gone. I made string beans with slivered almonds and red onion, roasted eggplant, zucchini, and cauliflower, candied carrots, and pasta with an eggplant, tomato, basil sauce. I managed to secure some left overs so she could try my creations the next day. The carrots were her favorite.

Dinner was great! My Canadian housemate invited her friends and they contributed mashed potatoes, an incredible salad, and chocolate cake with ice cream. We had also had a local guest Egide who is a student and friend. I was able to skype with my family and the connection was so good it was like they were right here.

I went to bed feeling super satisfied and slept like baby!

Don't forget to check out the pictures!

Saturday, November 22, 2008


This week was different than the first. I finally have some basics down. I can say "good afternoon" and "thank you" and some simple yoga phrases. I have also figured out how to walk into town and back. These feel like huge accomplishments in a culture so foreign to me.

I have begun to lead some of the yoga classes. It is a more difficult task than I would have imagined. I must give the other teachers credit for how well they have succeeded teaching our students. I continue to learn from them as I begin to bring my own skills and style into the class. Rwandan women love to laugh and especially enjoy making light hearted fun of my many mispronunciations. There is an element of sadness and confusion when I am not sure what I have said wrong. It is unnecessary and I am working to laugh at myself right along with them.
I don't feel the same freedom for sadness as I once had. When the emotion approaches I am quickly reminded of the stories around me and the courage the people here have shown. They smile although they have been victims of the worst of human nature. What do I have to feel sad about?

Today I went to the market with the other yoga teacher, Eunice. It was my first big non work related outing. We took the bus which is more like a van. They managed to squeeze 20 of us in there at one point. I think they would have fit more if needed. To signal for a stop passengers knocked on the roof.

The market offered anything you can imagine, from produce to hardware to second hand clothing. My eyes were huge trying to take it all in. Unfortunately, I was not able to get many pictures. A good amount of the population here do not like having their picture taken. Then there are many who encourage it for a price. Please check out the few pictures I got at

More to come!

Friday, November 14, 2008

The First Week

Almost a week has passed since I arrived. What would you like to know? We are teaching a traditional yoga called Ashtanga. It is known for being a high intensity practice. On average, our students eat one meal a day. They sometimes run out of fuel, literally. However, overall they show remarkable strength and courage. We ask them to move their bodies in strange ways. We urge them to continue when they feel they can't go on. They laugh a lot. They laugh at the shapes our bodies make and at the words our lips can't yet pronounce. We are a sight!

They need yoga clothes, some kind of power/energy bars, and complimentary bottled water. If you know of anyone who can provide these items please let me know! If you have any doubt about the link from yoga to recovery, the proof is here. We are witnessing the changes and they are being documented. I am proud to be a part of this extraordinary process.

Please cut and paste this link to see pictures from this week.

You can expect updates each Saturday. Send me your questions so I know what information to provide.

Weekend enziza! (Happy Weekend!)


Monday, November 10, 2008

I Have Arrived

I am sitting on my porch in my new home on this beautiful Rwandan morning.  It rained yesterday and last night, but it is calm and cool now.  The birds are singing and I hear a rooster crowing in the distance.  All around me are bright flowers and big leaves.  I am in Africa.

What it means to be in this place I do not yet know.  It is hilly and beautiful and filled with people in a mix of costumes I'm sure I will come to understand.  Some wear the colored and patterned fabrics that we've come to know and others dress more modern.  The languages spoken are also mixed, but there is definitely a good deal of French and I am wishing I studied more in the days before I left.  I will have to catch up now.

Yesterday I saw the WE-ACTx clinics and participated in my first yoga class with the eager students.  They were the clinic staff and a young boy.  They did not hold back when expressing their gratitude.  They are happy to love and be loved and are immediately warm and affectionate.

For now I have my own room.  There are just five of us here at the house and dinner is cooked for us and eaten all together.  We have a full staff of Rwandans to tend to our garden, laundry, cooking and cleaning.  We have a driver as well, and a guard at the house at night (which is also common in India).  

I am relaxed and glad to once again be close to nature and filled with space.    I wish everyone lives free from fear, pain, and suffering.  

May peace fill the earth as the waters fill the sea.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

What Now?

Arbonne does it Rwanda style.

Totally green company, Arbonne International has agreed to donate ALL October proceeds to WE-ACTx.

There is no better time to buy all your holiday gifts and change over to SAVE, ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY products. We must show our leaders that they should make the right choices for our planet by setting the right example in our homes. There is NO better way to do that than by buying products from socially conscious companies.

At Arbonne you can purchase vegan products that have NEVER been tested on animals and support bringing yoga as healing to the women and children of Rwanda. All you have to do is go to: Click shop online, register as a client, and go shopping!

Monday, October 13, 2008

The BIG Night

I am happy to announce that Rock for Rwanda raised nearly $1,000! That is a great start to my WE-ACTx fundraising campaign. The success of the event was due to our fabulous bands and the overwhelming support of the many friends who came out on Monday night. Some of our friends were lucky enough to win our raffle prizes which included tickets to the Sunshine Movie Theater and a One Month Membership to the Reebok Sports Club. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Mike Rocket joins the show!

Mike Rocket plays rock, pop, and jams both solo and with his band The Stars in venues across New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.  His music is appealing to all audiences and has been heard on THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO and on THE EARLY SHOW on CBS as well as on many NY, NJ, and PA radio stations.  Often called "the hardest working man in rock and roll," Mike is a invaluable addition to the Kenny's Castaway's event.  

Please check out his music at or www.myspace/mikerocket

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Kenny's Castaways

I am so thrilled to announce that we have set a place and date for the WE-ACTx fundraiser. The event will be held on October 6th at 8pm at a truly remarkable venue called Kenny's Castaways. Kenny's is located at 157 Bleecker St, New York, NY. To find out more about this historic venue (Bruce Sprinsteen played his very first New York gig here.) check out their web site or call them at 212-979-9762.

The WE-ACTx fundraiser will be a night of great entertainment. I am so glad to have two of my favorite singer/songwriters lined up to play.

Daniel Zaitchik takes his audience on a ride with songs that tell of both the haunting and hysterical moments of life. He can be sensitive and serious, witty and fantastical all in one line. Playing piano and backed up by his golden goddesses, Daniel has truly created his own genre.

Gonzalo Silva has been catching the attension of commuters around the world for over a decade with his soulful pop tunes and unique style. He turns the bass into the leader of all instruments and woows the masses with his husky sound and memorable lyrics.

To get a preview of these great artists check out: and

We expect to add more great names to the night, so check back soon for updates!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Getting Started

I have just returned from three beautiful months in India and am now planning my next adventure.  Those of you who know me know that I am extremely excited about going to Rwanda where I will be teaching yoga to HIV positive women and children through an organization called WE-ACTx.  My main objective for the next two months is to raise as much money as possible for this very worthy NGO.   If you would like to contribute, you can send your tax deductible donation to:  
Rwanda Yoga Program
584 Castro St. #416
San Francisco, CA 94114

Read more about WE-ACTx by going to