One cannot spend time in Rwanda without witnessing the effects of the grim 1994 genocide. From the road, passing through small towns, I saw signs pointing to memorials to direct Rwandans and other visitors to the sites where the memory of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi is encapsulated. Over 500 official memorials exist throughout the country; some created by the government, others by community associations, and still others by individuals. At some sites, skeletons are left intact in the position the person died, others display the bones of victims neatly arranged in rows, and still others consist of modest crosses at sites of mass burials. Memorialization has been positioned as a central part of the healing process of Rwandan communities and society as a whole.
However, inextricably linked to the memorialization process is the power it implies to choose how history is remembered through the, at times, static narrative of the genocide. Continue reading →
The day had been dedicated to talk of poetry and dreams and higher things like stars. It had been slightly difficult, especially because I spoke neither Pashto nor Dari, nor the Shyaari dialect of the mountainous northern region of Pakistan. But through actions and laughter, we had re-enacted the timeless story of the firefly and the bird, captured in verse by national poet Allama Iqbal. And we had talked of his vision and the way we, as Pakistanis, were all a part of it.
Now, we were moving on to talk of other dreams. This question was a difficult one to ask, especially since I wasn’t too sure how I’d answer it myself. So there had to be a steady stream of words, buying time and letting them think. Continue reading →
On the drizzly Friday morning of February 3, 2011, I sat with a colleague in al-Rawda Café in Damascus, eyeing the Parliament through smudged glass windows and waiting for a protest to begin.
On Facebook, Syrians had called for a “Day of Rage” outside the government headquarters. A few journalists gathered across the street to wait and see what happened. Leather jacket-clad secret police also sat alone throughout the café, with folded, unread copies of the day’s newspaper on the tables in front of them. They silently monitored the situation and puffed on argillah. My colleague and I laughed about their bumbling conspicuousness—the brutality of which they are capable not yet ubiquitous on YouTube.
My first afternoon after arriving in the capital of the internationally unrecognized country of Somaliland, I called the only +252 number I had: a friend of a Fletcher School aluma who had steered me to this forgotten corner of the world. Rooble Mohamed, a lifelong Somalilander working for Handicap International, greeted me like an old friend and invited me to join him and a couple of compatriots at a new café in town, since Thursdays were the night to go out. (The weekend is Friday. Just Friday.) Sure, why not? Well, the law that prohibited foreigners from being out at night without an armed guard seemed like a legitimate reason to say no, but I thought I should be a little adventurous on my first night there. So, not two hours after arriving in Hargeisa, I was in Rooble’s tinted window sedan, rolling through the city streets blasting Tupac and keeping my head down so the cops wouldn’t see me.
The café was owned by two Somali cousins from the Canadian diaspora who recently returned to start the venture. Continue reading →