Thursday, April 4, 2013

Celebrating Easter in Rwanda, featuring Jesus and Justin Bieber

Last week was one of the best weeks yet in my Peace Corps service. I had been looking forward to celebrating Easter in my community since I was in Zanzibar for Christmas.  And it didn’t disappoint.

Paruwasi ya Roho Mutagatifu
Good Friday is a national holiday in Rwanda, so I went to Stations of the Cross instead of work. What is usually a calm procession of people praying and re-enacting Jesus’ path to crucifixion in the U.S. is better described as a Stampede of the Cross here. About 400 people seemed to be in a competition for who could stand the closest to the cross and microphone.

I wasn’t really interested in getting trampled to death, so I hung out near the very back, along with the old ladies and men. It was a humbling experience. Most of them were doubled over their canes, walking at a snail’s pace, and many were barefoot. But it mattered to them to be there. A few hours of plodding around the villages in the hot sun later, we were finished. The nuns and I went back to our house for a nap, and an hour later returned to the church for the five hour Good Friday service. Whew!

On Saturday afternoon I went to my regional city to meet up with some other Peace Corps Volunteers for a few hours, which always puts me in a good mood. The Easter Vigil ceremony on Saturday evening was unlike any other service I’d been to. For starters, they had a bonfire outside the church. Secondly, there was an awesome group of drummers playing for hours before the mass started.

I'm convinced that drums make everything more awesome.
And thirdly, any fire codes that exist in Rwanda were broken multiple times over. When the doors opened, people literally ran into the church. It was the most crowded I’ve ever seen a church. Not only were children sitting on adults’ laps, but adults were sitting on other adults’ laps. There were so many people trying to squeeze onto my bench that we had to stagger our shoulders, with some hunched forward and others with straight backs. The aisles were non-existent. We were all there, in one big sweaty mass.

Ditto for bonfires. 
Afterward the nuns and I went to the priests’ residence to celebrate. They had the same food we eat every day---rice, beans, potatoes--- but they also had peas, wine, and some whiskey. Peas are a rarity around here, and as I sat there eating my dinner, I laughed at how excited I was to be eating peas, of all things. Ah, Peace Corps.

Easter morning mass was also about six hours long. During the ceremony, about 20 couples got married, and a bunch of people were baptized as well. Even though the ceremony was really long, I couldn’t help but be swept up by the joy around me. After it finished, D’Assisi and I tried to dye some Easter eggs using onion peels and spices and stuff, but it turns out that brown eggs don’t dye as well as white ones. And the nuns didn’t really understand why exactly I wanted to put eggs outside on the ground, and why Easter bunnies apparently lay eggs in the U.S., so we ended up just eating them instead, along with a bunch of goodies a friend sent me in a care package (thanks, Julie!!!). 

Then came the strangest, most interesting concert I’ve ever been to. The best description I can come up with would be “Rwandan polka band meets Justin Bieber turned village dance party.” It started out with a band playing some electric guitars; I have absolutely no idea where they got them. And then a kid who introduced himself as “the Justin Bieber of Rwanda” (I kid you not) showed up to perform, and the crowd went nuts.

He mostly just rapped in Kinyarwanda to the polka band, which I didn’t think was possible, and then would interject random English words, like “Uh-Huh!” “Fresh!” or “Cash money!” I can’t really comment on his singing abilities, but he did have some pretty sweet dance moves.

Justin himself
After a few hours, the concert turned into a giant dance party, with villagers from seven to seventy. I just paused in the middle of all the dancing and wondered what my life has become, in the best way possible. I’m here, in a little village in Rwanda, on Easter, dancing to a Justin Bieber polka band.

I don’t know if it’s the fact that I’m now eleven months into my Peace Corps service, or the fact that I’ve celebrated Easter abroad before, but I didn’t have the same intense homesickness that I felt before Christmas. Sure, I missed my family, the crazy Easter egg hunt with a million of my cousins (we have color-coded Easter eggs for each kid. Seriously), and an Easter feast with more than peas to celebrate, but I was able to let go of all that and really be present at Easter here in Rwanda. It was definitely a Pasika Nziza to remember. 

1 comment:

  1. Nice post and images. It's fun way to celebrate Easter in your place. In my country, we celebrate by going to church with family and then bonding thru egg hunt and some feast. Happy Easter!