Last Sunday, my village had the biggest celebration I’ve seen since being in Rwanda. It was the Jubilee year of the parish in my village, or 50 years since the church was built. Additionally, the First Lady of Rwanda, Jeannette Kagame, was scheduled to visit, a fact nearly everyone in my village was thrilled about.
|A sign welcoming the First Lady, or "Madamu wa Perezida" to our parish|
The week leading up to the Jubilee was crazy. Everyone was working around the clock, painting buildings and fences, trimming and watering shrubs, and sweeping the dirt road (yes, you read that correctly). I went to go visit my friend Mama Jean, who described the preparations thus with a completely straight face: “We are sweeping, cleaning, and keeping the crazy people locked up.” The nuns and I joked that the only thing the President needs to do to develop Rwanda is to just go on tour around the country all the time.
Along with all of the preparations came the soldiers. A lot of soldiers. I have gotten used to the rather heavy military presence here in Rwanda. At first, I was shocked to see uniformed soldiers with AK-47s on street corners in Kigali, or walking through my community, or huge trucks filled with groups of UN troops huddled inside, racing down the road through my village towards Congo. Now that’s normal. In preparation for the big day, the Rwandan soldiers guarded our soccer field 24/7 for a couple days leading up to the event, and searched the area thoroughly, including the nuns’ convent. After all of the preparations were made and the soldiers determined the nuns weren’t an imminent threat, Sunday morning finally came. The nuns were up at the crack of dawn; some had been working through the night, arranging flowers and rugs outside on the soccer field in front of our house.
All of us were thoroughly searched and patted down by the soldiers before entering the ceremony. They even checked the nuns’ veils (you never know what they might be hiding up there…). No one was allowed to bring cell phones into the area, which was the same as when I got to see President Kagame speak in January. As if that wasn’t enough, the phone companies shut down the network in our region. I asked the soldiers if I could bring a camera in. After thoroughly checking it and then taking several pictures of me, they allowed me to bring it in.
The Jubilee celebration started at 7 am, but people must have started arriving at 5 am, as a couple hundred people were already on the soccer field at 6:30. There were more priests and nuns in one place than I’d see anywhere except Rome. I also was taken by surprise when some Austrians, wearing full-on lederhosen and dirndls appeared out of nowhere. Kinda random, but totally cool.
The President’s wife showed up just before mass started in a shiny animal print umushyanana (basically a toga), heels, and fancy sunglasses.
We sat through a 4-hour mass, followed by the Rwandan national pastime: speech making. If there were an Olympics for speech making, Rwandans would win the gold medal every. Single. Time. At any possible event in Rwanda, at least half the time must be devoted to speech making. The longer the speeches, the more important the event. Most people are even able to do it off-the-cuff, making a twenty-minute speech extemporaneously. It doesn’t matter if you’re only with five other people, or if everyone says pretty much the same thing. Which actually happened, in this case. Every speaker would start off with fifteen minutes of thanking the Madamu wa Perezida Kagame for being there, thanking the various ministers and governors and civil officials, thanking the military, the priests, the nuns, the choir, and then moving on to how exciting it was our parish is celebrating its jubilee year…After the First Lady spoke, she made a beeline for the sleek black Land Rover that was waiting for her. Can’t say I really blame her ;)
Four and a half hours of speech making later, the outdoor ceremony was finished and the real party began (although unfortunately, the speeches would continue inside). We went to the "multipurpose room" of our village, which was decorated with sheets of fabric and fake flowers. There were priests, nuns, and bishops from every corner of Rwanda, and some from Congo and Burundi as well. There was a Rwandan buffett, which generally means a ton of starchy carbohydrates (boiled potatoes, french fries, cassava, sweet potatoes, and boiled bananas), plus beans, and goat meat. THERE WAS EVEN A CAKE WITH REAL FROSTING! The only real cake I've eaten in Rwanda was one I made myself (well, okay, a chocolate cake mix sent in a care package). Exciting stuff.
|The cake holder in the multipurpose room, decorated with the|
colors of the Rwandan flag. Subtle elegance, right?
The ceremony finally ended around 5, or ten hours after we began. All in all, an awesome weekend!
|D'Assisi in his three piece suit, plus a lollipop from the ceremony|