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TiTi Talks in Rwanda

Updated: Jan 13, 2022

About 3.5 yrs ago I was supposed to be flying from Entebbe, Uganda to Lagos, Nigeria. I missed my connect through Nairobi (long ass story) and the next flight with seats available was 3 days later! I wasn’t having that so the airline worked with me and found out that the next day a flight was available for me to fly from Kigali, Rwanda to Lagos direct so I hopped on the next flight from Entebbe to Kigali. I was in Kigali maybe 30 or so hours at the most, but I realized a few things 1) The folks were pleasant and very helpful, looking out for me at the airport and guiding me to close by eateries 2) I witnessed one of the most beautiful sunrises through the airport windows. (I now understand why that golden sun is a part of their flag) 3) This was a place that initially had not been on my radar, but I quickly had a strong desire to return.

(Sleep deprived in Kigali Airport 3.5 yrs ago)

I didn’t know much about Rwanda. Like most people, all I really heard about the country was always in reference to the genocide in 1994. I was only 12 yrs old when that happened and hadn’t heard much else since. Being a self proclaimed Pan-African, history buff, now almost 37 yrs old and very leery of how African countries are portrayed by the west, I knew I had to take it upon myself to investigate this country in a deeper, more meaningful way. Just as African-American history did not begin with slavery, the history of Rwanda did not begin (or end) with the genocide in 1994. In fact, I see it more as interrupted Rwandan history. There are some superficial things that I love about Rwanda. The landscape is breath taking (check out this Beautiful Day in Kigali), the weather is delicious, and Kigali is indeed the cleanest city I’ve ever been to in Africa. But there is so much more……..

Prior to coming, a friend of mine (Hey Krysten), reached out to me and let me know that she had a friend (Hey Autumn) who was living in Kigali and encouraged us to link up. I did link up with Autumn for dinner at a cozy hilltop restaurant called The Hut. The food and drinks were delicious and Autumn and I played the best game of 6 degrees of separation, LOL! We had so many mutual friends and acquaintances that its a wonder how we never met until then. Even though we only met up once, she kept in contact with me giving me restaurant recommendations, sending event fliers, and even guiding me through a last minute fabric run (cuz a sista needs her fabric). I truly appreciated all of that! We will have to link again soon!

(Autumn and I before hopping into our respective taxis after dinner)

I’m a physical therapist (PT) by trade. I treat all ages and ailments, but I have a special affinity for treating babies and children. In PT school (s/o to Florida A&M University School of Allied Health Sciences, Division of Physical Therapy) I was grad assistant to a therapist and professor who specialized inen, and children who did not meet their rubber quotas. It’s no coincidence that the Congo and Rwanda were both Belgian colonies. Suffering colonization and imperialism makes you crazy! The seed for the 1994 genocide was planted 100 years prior on the day the Germans set foot in the region in 1894. That seed was fertilized by the Belgians and cultivated by colonized Africans out of their God-damned minds. As someone who usually has much to say, I left the exhibits speechless. I was saddened, horrified, furious, confused, but also clear. I went outside, poured libation and prayed into the rose given to me when I entered. I prayed a prayer for the continued elevation and progress of Rwanda. I prayed for peace to the bodies still left unclaimed and unhonored. And I prayed another prayer that I would never post in a public forum. I laid the rose down and left that energy there.

The museum had a library, archive, and study area. I spent a great deal of time there reading and pediatrics. I took a liking to it and she helped to inspire to me to take it more seriously. Once I became a licensed clinician she would call me on occasion to do some guest lectures for her classes so when she called me last year I thought it was for the same. The call this time was about going to do some physical therapy volunteer work in Rwanda. I was excited and honored to be asked to do this.

(Me working hard in the clinic with the chirrun in Kigali)

I kept the information in my pocket for a while, but when I started to tell people, the phrase “mission trip” kept coming up. It made me cringe. I have an extremely visceral response to the word/concept of mission/missionaries. I’m not necessary talking about on an individual level (although there are some major issues with that as well), but more an institutional level. Missionaries are used as tools of the oppressors to soften up the people so that the powers that be can exploit the natural resources of the land. Also, my plan was never to go to Rwanda to “save” anyone. My aim was for an exchange and a chance to interact with clinicians from another part of the world. There is an AWESOME tweet thread by @nowhitesaviors that explains why that word and concept makes my neck itch. Put some castor oil on your edges for this here read…….

Before I fully committed to this trip I questioned myself in each point made in that tweet thread to make sure I wasn’t being a “missionary Molly”:

1) I was definitely qualified and I had useful training, experience, and specialization 2) It wasn’t a poor use of money, imo, especially since I support organizations in my country and I was also able to financially support and spread the word about an organization in Rwanda ( more on that later) 3) I was very intentional about making it not about me. So much so that I asked that the first few days in the field I observe so that I could see if I even had anything to offer. I then convened with the staff and asked them what they needed from me 4) I didn’t go into Rwanda thinking that people were just walking around “poor”. The way Skid Row and areas in the delta region are looking in the states I have absolutely no room to talk about anybody being “po” 5) I was definitely there for what Rwanda had and not what it lacked. One of the reasons I wanted to go back after my brief stint 3.5 yrs ago. 6) A future TiTi Talks episode will center a young Rwandan activist and entrepreneur. 7) I took a ton of pics and videos. I shared almost none of them 8) These “mission” trips are absolutely outdated. One of the reasons why I wanted to engage in a different way.