It’s interesting to experience that the guy who is supposed to watch children from drowning tries to rescue me from drowning in my non Christian beliefs.

At the Serena Hotel I was yesterday, teaching the hotel guest Yoga. It was a nice class and after this I went for a nice and freezing dip in Serena’s luxurious swimming pool. The guard who was watching starts to speak in French to me, and in the beginning I just acted as if I understood everything. Which i didn’t. I understand the outlines of his speech but he kept going and going and after a while I had to admit that my French is not that fluently.
He smiled brightly and without hesitation he kept talking and changed his language into English. At least now I could understand.
He spoke about God and how wonderful life is, all created by the Lord. I smiled and listened. When he asked me “Don’t you think?”, I had to make another confession, one that he, i found later, didn’t understand at all. I told him my view on God and that I believe that All is God, but also nothing is God. We are, Jesus is, Allah might be as well, Buddha was… it’s all the same, different name. And I added that I believe that if nobody would judge eachother on their beliefs or let eachother be free to believe or not, or what to believe in and find peace at, there would be less or even maybe no war in the world.
He seemed to have a hard time to let me finish my sentence and before I knew he showed his bright white teeth again and continued his preach about creation and the creator. He points at a little girl playing in the pool, and asks me if this can exist without a creator? And he tells how not innocent people are when they are born, etcetera….

A few times, here in Rwanda the religion conversation started and just by telling them that many people in The Netherlands do not go to church or do not believe in God, make their eyes roll out of their skull almost. They would shake their heads, from left to right. No, no, no… That’s very very hard to believe…

Then, interesting is, that in the book I was reading (La stratégie des antilopes) I read about religion in Rwanda too. And what the Genocide changed in the way people believe. I read that many do not believe in God anymore, they gave up after they saw their whole family was slaughtered in front of their eyes of had to crawl in the mud for days, weeks to escape the (final) cut of the machetes. Or they do believe in God as a creator, but not believe that He offers help or support. Many do not go to Church anymore, because of tragic what happened IN the Church even. One story was told, that the priest asked the people who were on the run, to get into Church to become safe. They would trust the priest and could look for shelter in Church with their babies, parents, families… until 3 days later, without a word the priest disappears in a big car, fast as lightning without saying goodbye, without wishing them luck or anything… and everyone in Church would become a victim of these machetes. Death. Young and old. Fooled by the priest. Then, who cán you believe? Also nowadays, the murderers who came out of jail, would be front row in Church taking the Holy Communion tree times and tell how happy they are that they are forgiven, while the person who lost all his family under the hands of that same murderer next to him is just watching and see this every Sunday, over and over again. The people in the mud, hiding from being murdred would listen secretly to small radio’s, hoping every day to hear that the Pope in Rome is telling all the murderers to not kill their children. But without any result. They never heard the Pope. And the murdering continued. What also changed, i read, after the Genocide is, that people switch church all the time now. Sometimes 3 times a year! While before, if one was born Catholic, probably he would die Catholic. Which doesn’t seem to be the case anymore.

So, I am wondering. Who is believing what? Why are they believing? I believe they are on a search, a search for God. A search for themselves.
In Yoga class i hear women telling me that they didn’t ‘felt’ their bodies, the didn’t feel their muscles. When they started to learn about yoga, that feeling came back. They feel themselves again. Yoga is teaching people to be aware of themselves. Simply be aware of your breath, your legs and your fingers. In my opinion, that’s the best search you can be on. Once you find yourself (back), or you become aware of who you always were, just be aware, you are aware to choose which God can add something to your own stability instead of completely depend on external factors and drown in that.

The guard at the swimming pool added that he saw me teaching Yoga that morning and imitated me by showing Virabhadrasana A (Warrior pose), exaggerating the inhalation and exhalation and said in another exaggerating way, looking at me with eyes as if they would spit fire soon: “And then you are loooooking for that pleasure far away, take you up, high, you want to find it far away and take it…” and I replied calmly: “No, nothing far away. But as close as can be. In yourself. That’s where we look. Standing on the floor with both feet.”
He smiled big and didn’t seem to believe me. I invited him for class next Saturday. But he just smiled.

Namaste! Anneke


Genocide Memorial in Murambi

21 Juni 2010

today was an interesting day going to the Genocide Memorial in Murambi. An American student who is working for We-act, is doing some research and needed ‘our’ yoga-time for her surveys. It’s a pity, but for me an opportunity to join my two Swiss friends i met here in Kigali for a day trip to Murambi. Maurice, our driver, took us there. Once out of Kigali, this beautiful land became even more visible. It’s truly the land of the thousand hills. There are so many hills. On the hills there are people working in the fields, i saw many banana-trees and Aloe Vera plants bigger than I am. Amazing.. Some day i hope to be able to grow my Aloe Vera this big… The car is driving fast, all the cars do, and it’s a bit scary. Not too scary, but it kept me focused on the road as well. After a little while we say two buses on the street, they were in a car crash. A small local transportation bus and a big bus. We were told that the accident happened the day before and the big bus was the one that drives students from and to Kigali from the Rwandan University. The little local bus was crashed in a way, that you wouldn’t believe that anyone would walk out there alive. Sad.
Then we arrived in Butari. Here we stopped to eat some lunch. When we stopped, immediately my eyes caught this boy came walking towards us from a distant. I looked at him and winked my eyes and looked again. What was i what i saw? What was this kid having on the sides of his head? When we came closer it became visible that he had something growing behind his ears, so huge, his ears were not visible anymore but it looked like a big spiral-donut kind of shape on each side of his head. Poor kid! And i really felt pity for him. Was nobody helping him? Wasn’t there any doctor seeing this kid thinking he should help? And i was realizing that if everybody thought like i did right now, no one is helping him, by thinking someone else should do it. As fast as he was there, he was gone again. He didn’t really beg, he was just there and away. These kinds of thoughts i have often, but it’s impossible to act on everything.
Back on the road, we continued our journey into the hills. I realized how exhausting it must have been for all the people running in these hills. The French writer Jean Hatzfeld described this in a very impressive way when he writes about the Genocide in his book The Strategy of Antelopes. A story written as experienced by the victims and the perpetrators. The ‘hunters’ and their ‘prey’! They were running, running, running and kept running, chased with machetes like animals. If they didn’t run (hard enough) because they were tired, hungry, sick, weak, old, mother with baby or anything that it meant you would die for sure. If you would run, it would increase the chance to live a little. But i cannot imagine running for hours, days, weeks in hills like that, without food, not knowing where your family is or if they were still alive.
Then we were getting close to the Genocide Memorial in Murambi. A big open space on a hill, in a gorgeous area, a very peaceful atmosphere and a quiet dirt road would get us to the Memorial. We parked our car and a friendly woman was awaiting. She introduced herself and explained what was going on here, 15 years back. She told us that this was an old school, a technical school. During the genocide men was told that they and their families should come here, because this place would have been protected. Here you were safe. Many people did. I forgot the exact number of people came to this school area, but thousands.

Right then, they were locked up in the (class) rooms. And for two weeks, they did not get food or water. Many people died already and the ones who didn’t were very weak and easy to kill! They were all slaughtered there. After that they were buried in mass graves. The lady at the memorial was going to show us around. One row of classrooms were now used to make this massacre visible for everyones eye nowadays. Right after the genocide, they were digging up the people from two mass-graves and treated them with special ‘powder’. This was to kept the bodies in tact so the proof would last (longer, not forever. Many bodies need to get buried again now, probably in 10 years all these bodies here are gone). Even visible was the reactions of fear and pain in their bodies. Peoples skin and faces were still a little visible but for sure the way the body was laying on the ground, their toes and fingers pressed together in many cases, still fear was written from these bodies. How can a human do this to another human? It’s totally unbelievable. Also seeing this was unbelievable. Writing it down now still makes my stomach turn around and i can still smell that smell in my nose. Little children, adults, no hand, arms, feet… legs turned around in unnatural angles, skulls broken on many ways.. horrible!! Right there i saw what evil means.
And i imagine: the people here now, walking on the streets are the people who did this and just released out of jail, or people who saw this or people who were almost victims but were just fast enough runners…

99.9% of the people here in Rwanda, that were children 15 years ago, during the genocide (So now between 15 and 35 years old), witnessed violence… some more numbers:
79.6% experienced death in the family (imagine, often not one death but severel or even the whole family!)
69.5% witnessed someone being killed or injured
61.5% was threatened with death
90.6% believed they would die
57.7% witnessed killings or injuries with machete
31.4% witnessed rape or sexual assault
87.5% saw death bodies or parts of bodies
A report produced in 2000 was created after research on mental health problems in Rwanda. National Trauma Survey by UNICEF in ’95 talked about the effect on children affected by the genocide and the numbers above are results from that test. So this is about children, the future!

We were quite. Seeing this is interesting but devastating. After, we walked on this campus and the lady was pointing out a row of rooms. She told us these were the rooms where the French military slept when they came to help, right after the genocide finished. They pulled up a French flag in the middle. A few meters from their beds was a grass-field. The lady told us that on that field is a huge mass grave. Also on that same field the French ‘helpers’ build a volleyball net and played volleyball together. On the graves where people were buried a day before. They didn’t help, they played. I have no idea what that was all about, i mean… They came to help and did nothing! It just adds, were it was already all hard to understand, why like that? Why not help? Why even play instead? On a field of horror a day after it stopped?

After this we went back. Again driving trough these beautiful hills, and now even more to think about and even more to imagine what happened in these hills. On our way back we drive by Rwanda’s National Museum of Arts and History and we decided to check it out while we were already here anyway. It was interesting to see, it would bring our minds also a little back from all these negative and horrible thoughts from the Memorial. Interesting was to see how the people used to dress in leather cloth, they would hunt, woman only wearing a small cloth and crazy jewelery on their legs, arms, bodies. The weapons for hunting were hand made of wood and iron like bow and arrow, spears and knifes. They made huts to live in… All the typical things you can imagine. Traditional dancing, big clay pots for food and milk etc. It was beautiful to see but what was seriously a little mind blowing for me was, that some of these pictures and subjects dated from for example 1953! Hello, that’s the year my mum was born! It must have been such and amazing big differences back then between our civilization and theirs. If i didn’t see these dates i would have guessed these pictures and subject and all were from… i don’t know, 1400-1500?! For sure not 1953!

And then home to Kigali…On the way back we bought some hand made woven pots from the side of the road. What i found very very nice, was that after i choose 2 small ones and paid, the woman was friendly and gave one more in my hands and said it was a gift! It seemed to come straight from her heart, it felt very sweet. These women are very poor and giving something without expectations i found very beautiful.

Then, very tired i was and after dinner i tried to just write or read something, but instead i was knocked out and fell asleep pretty fast.
A day i will not forget easily…


Teaching two classes


eight o’clock in the morning Deirdre and i went out to teach the sewing ladies. They were awesome! It’s one of the oldest classes in the program, they practice yoga since 2007. It took a little while before they were ready to start. They said they just finished a big sewing job and they were tired and hungry. But nevertheless, they practiced.
This class are woman who are genocide survivors, genocide-rape-survivors, HIV+patients and more. In this class there are two women who need extra attention. One was hurt badly in the genocide and has problems in her shoulders because of that and one other lady is a woman who has Polio. Also in this class are 2 woman who have flash backs regularly. So it’s for us important to be aware of that. Especially in Sirsasana. It’s a real challenge to teach Ashtanga to all woman in the world. What to do in case of Polio? What exercise would fit a woman who can only move the hips and up? We are creating ways to work with her, create an Ashtanga practice that fits her, custom made. How to motivate hungry and tired woman?
We do want to practice with and teach Ashtanga to each woman who wants to learn. Even the ones who are struggling physically and or mentally. Also the once who are hungry and tired. They can learn how to gain energy by giving a little first. But the great lesson they are teaching is that no matter what circumstance they are in, they try, they do it and the allow themselves to smile even!

Then we went to the second class this day. Again in the church were we teach every Monday to Thursday. Now the group was a group of adolescents. Young people. They all are also HIV+. They are extremely quite and concentrated. They really are doing their best. They want to learn and practice badly. There were two little children Shadia, who seemed to be around 6 years old and Zuena, who seemed around 3 years old. They were playing outside and decided to take a mat as well. They practiced Ashtanga yoga with the rest, quietly and seriously. The did not get any modification or explanation whatsoever, they just followed the rest and just did it without disturbing anyone at anytime. They didn’t speak a word but copied the others. I was highly impressed by these kids.

note: After class i bought a SIM card called Tigo in downtown Kigali. That one can make international text messages. I didn’t try international calling, but i don’t need to, since i am using Skype every night. I bought the card for 500fr what means around 1 US Dollar and then put 5000fr on it which means plus/minus 10 US Dollar. The SIM card i had to buy in a shop but these recharge cards are sold every where on the streets.