Wednesday, July 7, 2010

More About Rwanda

We (I) take so much for granted. I started a list of things I take for granted the other day. It is long. Take one. Water. That's it. Water. In most places in Rwanda they have to haul every drop of water they will use to drink, wash and cook with to their homes. They must gather or barter for wood to boil the water to make it safe to consume. This process often takes hours. Often you see little ones with water containers almost as large as they are, walking with the container bumping into their legs, straining to get up a hill (Rwanda is the land of a thousand mountains). Water.

We go to the tap and have safe drinking water. We water our lawns with it, fill our pools with it. We wash our clothes, take long hot baths and showers, wash our cars with it - and don't even think twice.

Drinking Water, Sanitation, Health and Disease

About 2.6 billion people – half the developing world – lack even a simple ‘improved’ latrine and 1.1 billion people has no access to any type of improved drinking source of water. As a direct consequence:

  • 1.6 million people die every year from diarrhoeal diseases (including cholera) attributable to lack of access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation and 90% of these are children under 5, mostly in developing countries;
  • 160 million people are infected with schistosomiasis causing tens of thousands of deaths yearly; 500 million people are at risk of trachoma from which 146 million are threatened by blindness and 6 million are visually impaired;
  • intestinal helminths (ascariasis, trichuriasis and hookworm infection) are plaguing the developing world due to inadequate drinking water, sanitation and hygiene with 133 million suffering from high intensity intestinal helminths infections; there are around 1.5 million cases of clinical hepatitis A every year.
So when I think back on Rwanda and how these folks deal with their very survival - with gratitude - it makes me more grateful for what we assume, what we take for granted each and every day.

Friday 6/28/07

The beautiful faces and sincere smiles

of the Rwandan people will stay with me


What can be written about Rwanda that hasn’t been? Immaculee andBishop John Rucyahanna's books have done so much for me. Immaculee’s personal witness of tragedy and hope – so moving and personal. Bishop John’s socio-political-historical perspective had so much of Immaculee’s depth (Don't pray for him to DIE - Pray for HIM to CHANGE video) but with a wide angle lens. The message from both: faith, love, forgiveness. Both seemed to use forgiveness almost as a weapon, at least a defense. “I wish he was alive and I could see him again. I’d forgive him.”

I cannot understand what these two have gone through. WhatRwanda (Rwanda music video) has gone through. Their loss. Their pain. Imagine their pain and loss times millions – as millions were directly affected by the genocide. I cannot imagine the guilt of those who raised machetes against their neighbors. How must they feel to encounter the survivors? How could their lives ever return to anything close to normal? How can they not think of what they have done?

Why Rwanda?

Immaculee with her friend and manager Tim Van Damm
at The Serena Hotel.

Seeing Immaculee on the PBS broadcast. Reading her compelling story. Feeling like I know her a little… as much as one can know another person by reading their written words. More admiration than I remember feeling toward anyone. Hero worship? Yes, I guess so. Wishing that I could know her, have a conversation with her, get inside her mind, reach some insight into her brilliance, her light. How can someone overcome so much? How can someone learn to forgive so much?

Being profoundly moved by Left to Tell. Life changing, really. Critical time in my spiritual walk. Never thinking that I would ever cross paths with Immaculee. Realizing what a powerful teacher she is. Thinking that I might see her again on TV or wishing that she would write or publish again. Never imagining that we would meet. But in the back of my mind hoping so.

I was more than a little scared when the opportunity arose to go to Rwanda. Cindy Charles asking me at a school function. A little relieved to say no thanks. Heidi saying yes, that we could free up some resources and that it would be the trip of a lifetime. Trusting that it would be OK. Discovering that the copy of my birth certificate wouldn’t do. Tracking that down. Applying for a passport. Hoping that it would come through in time. Immunizations.

Brandon and Cindy Charles, my good
friends and co-adventurers

Rereading Left to Tell. Reading A Long Way Gone and The Bishop of Rwanda. Reminded of how average I am. As a human. As a citizen of the world. Living in a nation where selfishness and self-absorption are normal. Isolated from real news, from so many real people in real places. Real pain, real laughter, real tears, real joy.

1 comment:

Chris Hass said...

I heard a comic recently joke about the fact that many countries in the world don't have clean water to drink yet here in America we build massive parks dedicated to splashing and playing in it.

Your comment about being isolated from real news made me think about all the talk going on right now around Lebron James and his hour-long program on ESPN last night to declare which NBA team he would play for next year. It's awfully amazing to see what people will get worked up about.

Do you remember that scene in Hotel Rwanda where Joaquin Phoenix (Jack)takes his camera out and gets footage of what is happening in the streets during the genocide? It goes...

Paul Rusesabagina: I am glad that you have shot this footage and that the world will see it. It is the only way we have a chance that people might intervene.

Jack: Yeah and if no one intervenes, is it still a good thing to show?

Paul Rusesabagina: How can they not intervene when they witness such atrocities?

Jack: I think if people see this footage they'll say, "oh my God that's horrible," and then go on eating their dinners.

Sad, but it's true.