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.

2 comments:

The Jet said...

Fascinating read. You make it sound so peaceful. So sorry there are such anti-yoga types out there preventing access to yoga. Hope you are able to carry on and complete your mission in the face of such adversity.

elise said...

amazing