Saturday, July 31, 2010

About Mosquitoes and Music

A Report by Danny

Bzzz. The Rwandan mosquitoes are nasty sophisticated little aviators. The walls of our hotel room are smeared with mosquito residue. But don't let it fool you: those are the remains of the great-great-great-grandmothers of the nowadays Rwandan mosquitoes, which are faster, smarter, and one-hundred-percent immune to any insect repellent lotion, spray, or ointment they are trying to sell you in the West. The modern day mosquitoes can feel your pulsating bloodstream from many many a meter away, and they coordinate their assault in such a worldly-wise manner that a cigar-smoking chimpanzee on a unicycle reciting Psalms might seem rather dumb. But the worst thing about them is that they reportedly carry the eukaryotic protist of the genus plasmodium parasite, commonly known as malaria. Mind you, only female mosquitoes actually bite and transmit the disease. So much for gender balance in Rwanda.
The wall of our room at the guest house
(heavily photoshop-ed to look much worse than it is)

We have spent a good deal of money on malaria-prevention pills, insect repellent role-ons and a queen-size mosquito net. However, a particularly shrewd she-mosquito managed to penetrate my cocoon at night and hummed loudly around my right ear. While I was trying to figure out in which pitch she was humming, she had already stung me on my forehead.

Our anti-mosquito anti-malaria anti-wallet supplies

So I decided to do some research about music and mosquitoes, and stumbled upon an enlightening post on the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra blog, which basically informs us that Mr. Mosquito and Mrs. Mosquito might not do the mommy-daddy thing unless they hum in a harmonically perfect musical interval:

Some more information about mosquitoes and frequencies:

Question: does a mosquito's hum alternate between D and F?

So tonight, before going to sleep, I'm going to detune my guitar, or more precisely, tune it wrongly, play and hum Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm by Crash Test Dummies, open the windows wide, and hope for the best.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Music for the WE-ACTx Women Support Group

In this post, I would like to share with you a very special experience from today. After a morning of music workshops in the children's summer camp, I spent the afternoon with WE-ACTx' women support group in a small town next to Kigali. The ten women in the group are all HIV-positive, are victims of domestic violence, and come from a low socio-economic class. One of the participants, who was born in a refugee camp in Tanzania, told me that she has problems to read and write because three years ago she had been in a coma for ten days after someone tried to murder her. She showed me scars and told me that she was thankful that she had survived the attack, but that she would never be the same again.

During the workshop, we danced together, sang and drummed with sticks. The women got a chance to invent their own rhythms and movements. Although some were a bit shy in the beginning to be creative, in the end everyone came up with her own individual movements and rhythms.

I taught the women a melody which we sang using their words: the women shared their wishes with everyone, and together we wrote and sang their wishes in Kinyarwanda:

Ndifuza Amahoro
Ndifuza Ubuzima bwiza
Ndifuza umugisha uturuka ku mana
Ndifuza gukira no kubaho neza

I wish for peace
I wish for health
I wish for a blessing from God
I wish to be rich and cured

After the workshop, a clinical psychologist, who runs the support group, led a guided evaluation of the workshop in which every woman had the chance to share her thoughts and talk about her feelings and emotions. Here are some of their words: 
I was so tired when I came to the group today, but now I have new energy again and I'm not tired anymore.”
Now I'm in a good mood, I feel I can breathe again and my blood is streaming through my whole body.”
It reminds me of my childhood, when I was in a traditional dance group. The workshop brought me back to that period and that makes me feel happy.”

The clinical psychologist added: “It feels very special. I feel support from all the women; we all supported each other today without talking but through the music and the movements. Usually we share our sad stories and we cry, we cry a lot, all together. But today we were smiling and laughing together. This brings new energies to the group and it gives me the motivation to continue my work with this group.”

Love to you all,

Monday, July 26, 2010

Summer Camp in Kigali with a visit by Lauryn Hill

On Friday we said goodbye to the wonderful people in Cyangugu (including the fishermen) and did our way back to Kigali, Rwanda's capital. Until August 12, we will be working here with HIV-infected youth who are treated by the WE-ACTx clinic. These youth lead the summer camp activities for 45 HIV-infected children. We train them to do music workshops with the children, but more importantly to integrate their own traditional music and dances with the methods and materials of Musicians without Borders.
This week a group of 8 American high school students join the camp and the training. The summer camp is made possible thanks to these beautiful young people who did most of the fund raising themselves back in Chicago.
During the genocide in 1994, many women were raped with the purpose also to infect them with HIV. This led to a whole new generation of newborns who carry the virus. Treatment is expensive, and cannot reach everyone, but WE-ACTx are doing an incredible work, and we strongly advise you to have a look at their website:
Mardge Cohen, WE-ACTx' medical director, wrote on WE-ACTx blog: “...each week Anne Marie Bamukunde, the psychiatric nurse, appeals for funds for patients to buy underpants or some food prior to prescribing anti depressants for those referred to her.. She told me this week that in all her previous work in Rwanda she had never seen families with so many needs and vulnerabilities until she came to work at WE-ACTx. This is the refrain that we continue to hear, echoing Dr. Jonathan Mann’s words on human rights and social determinants of health from two decades ago 'No matter how and in whom it starts, HIV always finds the most vulnerable in any country.'

On Saturday we gave the first training to the Rwandan youth and the American group. On Sunday we gave a music workshop to 150 children ages 5-14 during the Sunday WE-ACTx children program, in which the youth leaders had a chance to observe us at work.
Music Workshop during
the Sunday WE-ACTx Children Program
And today (Monday) was the first day of the summer camp, in which the youth leaders led the activities we taught them, and we learned their songs and games. Soon you might hear a child participating in a Musicians without Borders program somewhere else in the world singing a song in Kinyarwanda!
The youth leaders are truly inspiring. They have unending energies and the kids are crazy about them. Because of the sensitivity and the stigmas associated with being HIV-positive, we cannot post any photos of the youth or the children, so you will have to use your imagination this time.

We do post a special photo of Lauryn Hill who was photographed by Danny the paparazzi during the sound check for her show last night in Kigali in the Pan African Dance Festival. We didn't really know that miss Hill was going to perform; we were invited to join the WE-ACTx youth leaders group and expected African traditional dance and got one of the Fugees instead...hey, can't complain.
Hey Lauryn, why don't you join Musicians without Borders?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Last Day in Cyangugu

After the end of the 2nd day of training, we took a ride to the Congolese border. We were told about the situation right now in the Congo, probably the richest country in Africa, but also one of the most chaotic and dangerous. In Kamembe, on the Rwandan side, there are branches of all the different banks operating in Rwanda. The reason turned to be this: gold traders pass the border from Congo with sacks of money, sometimes spending the whole day counting it in the banks for depositing.

A man carrying many somethings on his bicycle in Kamembe, Cyangugu
The 3rd and last day in Cyangugu was incredible. We set the fishermen singing alarm clock to 7 am, and this time Danny managed to make a short video, which he insists on uploading soon. Together with Ephraim, we headed to the St. Matthew's Nursery and Primary School where hundreds of children were waiting for us on their last day of school before the summer vacation.

Fabienne van Eck as Angelina Jolie in
a new African romance film, coming soon...
The first few minutes of the workshop, around 30 children gathered around...
All parents were there as well to receive their children's diplomas. We started outside with 30 children, and soon enough we were singing and dancing with almost 300!

More children joined, and more children joined, and more children joined...

and more children joined, and more children joined, and more children joined...
Before we did the water drop dance, Danny pointed to the sky and said, “I feel a drop of rain!”
One of the children called back, “Liar!”, which was true.

Dancing the water drop dance
However, after dancing the dance, the first drop actually fell (which is very uncommon in the dry season) and we had to split into smaller groups and work in dark classrooms until the end of the morning.

Continuing in the dark classrooms...
Later in the day we were invited to meet the choir at the local cathedral, where an old electrical organ pipped loudly at us when we switched it on. We listened to the choir's fascinating singing in Kinyarwanda, and we taught them a song in Hebrew and Arabic.

We asked the choir what is needed in their villages and communities. They said that they would like to locate musicians so they can work together and make music for the communities, and that they need music instruments and training.

That evening we had a long conversation with Rev. Emmanuel. He is involved in a beautiful program where several times during the year, they bring big groups of women together (up to 150). Some of these women are genocide survivors, widows of men who were murdered during the genocide, others are married to men who murdered other people in the genocide and now sit in prisons, and some are HIV-positive as a result of mass rape during the genocide. These sessions are facilitated by professionals, such as psychologists, social workers and therapists. The purpose is to give the opportunity to one side to repent and apologize for the action of their husbands, and the other one to forgive; then there is a common prayer. It ends with a lot of tears, hugging, laughter and relief.

Four Things We Can Learn From Rwandans

The only smoke you might see is of cooking, the mist in the mornings, or a car stuck on its way up a hill. Rwandans do not smoke in public whatsoever. After five days we saw the first and only Rwandan smoking in the shadow of his car, and we were told that he was probably a soldier, or a retired one...

People do not shout here. Not to each other, not at the children, and not into their mobile phones.

Plastic Bags
If you're caught carrying a plastic bag you are committing a crime according to the Rwandan law. This law creates an atmosphere of environmental awareness and overall cleanness in the streets.

Gender Balance
From laying pipes in trenches to parliament membership, women are well-represented. 56% of parliament members in Rwanda are...women!
A signboard on the main street of Kamembe, Cyangugu:
"Give a
red card to gender based violence and child abuse"

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Second Day of Training In Cyangugu

Today again we woke up to the singing of fishermen. Danny is almost convincd to try fish, and meanwhile insists on posting another fishermen photo, this time in action:

Morning Call: Fishermen at Work

After a short breakfast and a glance into Big Brother Africa house, we continued another 4 hours and finished the two-day training for youth ages 17-22 in Cyangugu, a district on the border with Congo. In one of the activities we asked the youth to write words in their own language Kinyarwanda to a song we taught them. They also changed the melody a bit.
Fabienne leads an activity during the training workshop in Cyangugu
Here is what one of the groups came up with:

Nkunda kuririmba iyo ndi mubandi
ngashishikazwo no gukina nabo
bimara imibabaro yanjye yose

Which means in English:
I love to sing when I'm with others
I'm encouraged to play with them
it helps to take away all my sorrows

We also have a video of them singing, and we promise to upload it when we get better Internet connection.

Danny teaching the trainees a dance during the training workshops in Cyangugu
In the end of the workshop we had a short feedback session. We asked them about the needs of the people and local communities so we can better understand if and how Musicians without Borders can assist in the future. They all expressed the urgent need for a project where youth can be trained to work with other youth and children because of the high percentage of orphans and genocide survivors. They said that they can use music as a tool to forget and to deal with the terrible things they had gone through, and to be away from the sadness and sorrow, and to feel free...

The trainees in Cyangugu during the training workshop

And The Journey Begins...

After a trip that took more than 24 hours, with three take-offs and three landings, we arrived on Sunday night in Kigali, Rwanda. As a bonus, our backpack arrived as well, and also Danny's guitar, which caught a slight cold.

Because of the 8-hour delay in our connection flight, Ethiopian Airlines arranged for us a hotel to rest in Addis Ababa which is enjoying a very wet season right now. We slept like kings on a queen-size bed in a 4-star hotel for 3 hours. 

Showers in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
The airplane changed its course and brought us first to Bujumbura, Burundi. Ethiopia --> Burundi --> Rwanda view from the airplane was spectacular, an unending snake-like river flowing in between huge lumps of green mountains. Finally, we arrived in Kigali where three angels from WE-ACTx were waiting for us (WE-ACTx is the organization where we will work next week).

As promised, the next day we took a bus to Cyangugu in the west. We sat down next to the bus speaker which for 6.5 hours played American hip-hop music from the 90s. Fortunately enough, the scenery outside was so mesmerizing that we forgot all about Will Smith's wish to be taller. They should change the name of Rwanda from the land of a thousand hills to the land of two-hundred thousand hills. On the road you go up and down more often than right or left. When the bus entered the enchanting Nyungwe Forest next to Cyangugu, several monkeys on the side of the road welcomed us with a grin.

The view from the bus on the way from Kigali to Cyangugu
So on the first day we did what Fabienne had promised her mother not to do. We took a bus that drove into the night, and when we reached Cyangugu, we had to cover another 5 kilometers, each of us sitting behind a 14-year-old kid who drove a shaky scooter weighing less than our backpack. We slept in a bungalow engulfed in the song of crickets and frogs.

In the morning we woke up to the African singing of fishermen on Lake Kivu, with sprawling hills of green, enormous banana trees, and Congo in the backdrop. There is a leader in the group, and the rest answer his melodic call; they sing mostly about fishery. This marked the beginning of an amazing musical day.

A fisherman returning from the morning fishing
We met with rev. Emmanuel for breakfast, where he told us that in less than an hour we were going to start training 80 teenagers in a secondary school for 6 hours (!!!). Since we did not know really what to expect, this was the greatest challenge we could have imagined.

When we entered the classroom, there were 30 girls and 1 boy, ages 17-22, including the headmaster of the school, rev. Emmanuel, and Ephraim, a youth worker who translated and helped us throughout the workshop. They welcomed us with African songs which touched our hearts and covered us with goosebumps. (We promise to upload videos when we can.)

Rwandan youth during a music training workshop, Cyangugu, Rwanda
We were deeply impressed and moved by their amazing voices. Everyone sings so beautifully! They naturally harmonize the songs that we teach them in 2 or 3 voices. We practiced different activities with the whole group, and in the afternoon continued with a smaller group who stayed with us for 2 days for more intense training.

During the training in Cyangugu
Cyangugu is home to 20,000 Rwandans. There are many orphans, survivors of the genocide. In the school there are 600 pupils, mostly girls, of which 220 are orphans. We ended the day by walking to the main city in Cyangugu district, Kamembe, escorted and guided by Ephraim, who proved to be a wonderful companion.

The town of Kamembe, Cyangugu district, Rwanda
Last gem: the restaurant in the Peace Guest House where we're staying has a single TV which is 24-7 set to the Big Brother Africa – All Stars channel. The only positive thing about it is that in the program they rarely ever fight, only sing and sing and sing and dance...

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Friday, July 16, 2010

Final Preparations

While Fabienne is commuting Jerusalem<-->Bethlehem at least twenty times a day, busy with arranging music workshops in summer camps for hundreds of children with trainees of Musicians without Borders, I am left at home with all the last minute preparations...


Mosquito net.

Guitar strings.

A place to sleep on the first night...

Tomorrow night, at 1 AM, Ethiopian Airlines airplane will take off and fly downwards to Ethiopia, stop there, continue to Uganda, stop there, and then continue to Rwanda, where we will spend 4 weeks, after which we will travel by land back to Uganda for another 3 weeks, in total of 7 weeks!

Next to training youth to do music workshops with children in Kigali, Rwanda during a summer camp, we will mostly be doing music workshops with children in different centers, villages and schools. Some children are refugees, some are orphans, some are HIV-positive, and some like to play football, eat ice-cream and smack their little sisters on the head.

The day after we arrive we will already take a bus and start a 4-hour drive west to Cyangugu:

View Larger Map

Here we will spend 4 days working with children from a local school, and giving a short training workshop to choir members.

We don't take much with us. A simple camera. A notebook with a hard cover. A guitar and a portable amp. This leads me to a quote by the late American actor William Claude Fields who once said: "Reminds me of my safari in Africa. Somebody forgot the corkscrew and for several days we had to live on nothing but food and water."

Until next time,

Welcome! Some notes about our trip...

Hi everyone,
Thanks for visiting the new blog: Music Bus Goes Africa!

Here we will update you on our trip to Rwanda and Uganda this summer, where we will visit various centers, villages and individuals, hopefully as a precursor to a larger and longer-term Musicians without Borders project in the Great Lakes Area in Central-East Africa.

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Danny & Fabienne