Our week in Butare was very exciting, we spent most of the week focusing on finishing up our course in History, Culture and Arts. For the most part, Butare consists of pretty much one road that is maybe a couple miles long. It is home to the National University of Rwanda and the National Museum of Rwanda. Our classes took place at the Center for Conflict Management (CCM) and the University Center for Arts and Drama (UCAD), both of which are facilities of the university.
On the way there we stopped in Nyanza to visit the King’s Palace. It is an historical site that has a compound of traditional huts that would have served as the king’s palace back in the day as well as a more modern palace. The visit was very neat. First we went inside the traditional huts and saw where the king would have slept and learned how he would have greeted people and received guests into his home. There were two smaller huts – one for a milk girl and one for a beer boy. We saw the containers that would have held both the milk and the beer. Around the back of the huts was a stable for cows. The cows housed in the pasture and stable are considered royal cows because of the size and shape of their horns. They were similar to longhorns ☺ It was interesting because both the stalls and the gate to the pasture pretty much didn’t exist yet it seems like the cattle stayed where they were expected to unless someone was herding them. The calves did have closed gates on their stalls though, not to mention that they were adorable!
After this we went into the modern palace. I expected it to be fancy but it was actually rather plain. It was built in 1932 so I understand why it was so basic. The courtyard and all of the landscaping was very beautiful though. They utilize the palace as sort of museum of ancient Rwandan history. The rooms were unfurnished for the most part other than to exhibit items of historical value. The kind that would have lived there did so under the Belgian colonial rule so many of the photos and interior decorations had clear evidence of this influence. I liked that at the modern palace we still had to take our shoes off on the front steps, just like in the traditional huts we visited. I am pretty sure people can use the modern palace as a venue – there were wedding tents set up on the lawn near it.
After this little trip we continued on our way to Murambi and then Butare. We stayed in a Nun’s guesthouse and the breakfast everyday was absolutely delicious. Lots of eggs, sweet bread, oatmeal, fruit and coffee!!! While in Butare we had classes every day.
We also visited the National Museum of Rwanda – a historical museum that contained way too much information. It has seven different parts about geography, clothing, tools, housing and anything else you could possibly want to know about Rwanda’s history. It was very interesting but with so much information it proved difficult to remain attentive and interested in everything. I tried to read as much as I could but there was a point where I just ended up looking at all of the items and photographs. Afterwards a couple of us went on a little adventure and walked down a trail we found near the museum. It went through a small forest for a couple of minutes and was absolutely gorgeous!
While in Butare we visited the National University of Rwanda. The campus was pretty – rather small though. I think about 10,000 or 12,000 students attend the university. The most exciting part was the monkeys!!! Instead of having little squirrels that scamper around campus and squabble with one another, they have adorable monkeys that do this. We were told that they have been there forever. You can get pretty close to them but if you try to touch them they run off. It seemed as if they had grown very accustomed to being around people though. I am not sure if the university cares for them at all but they looked happy and healthy there!
In Butare we also got to view traditional and contemporary dance performances – all of which were beautiful and very exciting to watch. Then on Friday we actually participated in a workshop where we learned some basic components of them (more on that later through). We also found a cheap ice cream shop in Butare!! This was very exciting since it is hard to find and expensive in Kigali. It was especially nice because after finding it we learned that the shop had been started by and benefitted women from a drum group that we were going to meet later in the week.
One of the days in Butare we got to meet with a couple of students from a Peace and Reconciliation Club on campus. I am not sure how I felt about this meeting. I was excited for it but it ended up being a bit of a let down. I really do not know if it was because of the language barrier or that we were not asking the right questions or maybe they were not that excited to meet us because it was exam week for them but I really did not get much out of meeting them. It was very difficult to get them to tell us anything about their club (and we even went to lunch with them after our meeting) and they seemed reluctant to speak to us at all. I honestly am not quite sure what their organization does other than host football (soccer) tournaments to recruit new members and visit secondary schools to hold workshops and talk to them.
One of my favorite parts of the trip was on a walk through the artificial forest. I have no idea how big the forest is or how many trees are planted there or even how many species. The man in charge of the Center for Conflict Management took us through the forest and to a fish farm, both of which belong to the university’s agricultural department. The forest was so amazing!!! It began as an agricultural project in the 30s and 40s and has been maintained and expanded since then. We probably walked a mile and a half or two miles through the middle of it. At the beginning there were quite a few students studying amongst the trees but further into it the trees thickened and I do not think it would have been too pleasant to study in. Along the sides of the main trail, as well as beyond that I am sure, there were plots of single, different species of trees. Each plot seemed to be about a city block or two in size and had a marker in the front with the species name and the year that the trees were built. The markers were numbered and along the main path I there were close to 50 different species. It was absolutely breathtaking. After we reached the edge of the forest we began our walk back with a stop at the fish farm. We walked alongside a sizeable rice plantation that was very interesting to see. It was a little difficult to get the guard at the fish farm to let us come in and look around. All of the staff from the university had already left for the day and our host ended up having to call the Dean of the school to get us in! At the fish farm there were I do not know how many in ground tanks. When I say tanks I mean that they were really just small rectangular ponds – they were not lined at all. There were not any fish there now, I am not sure when they start breeding for the season but they harvest them in June and July and sell them in order to produce revenue for the Ag department. The department also conducts research on the farm. As well as having fish the farm had rabbits, pigs and cows. It was very interesting to visit.
Friday in Butare was an exciting day. We had a couple classes at the UCAD. Gloria, our host from the UCAD was hilarious in our lessons over the history of theatre in Africa and Rwanda. Then we met with Eric Karengera, the man who created the Afrogroov movement. A musical trend that incorporates traditional beats, rhythms and sounds into modern music. He is a world famous DJ and was a joy to meet and talk to. After classes we participated in our traditional dance and drum workshop. Dancers and drummers performed for us for about an hour at the beginning of the workshop. They were all so impressive!! I am so pleased that I was able to witness this and that all of the performers took the time to share their culture with us. I absolutely loved learning how to drum (and I was pretty good at it too)! The women’s drum group taught us Rwandan, Senegalese and Burundian drum patterns. It was so empowering and fun!! Watching these women perform was amazing as well. You can just tell how much they love doing it. It is particularly impressive that they are doing what they do because traditionally it is considered taboo for women to play drums. After we drummed for a while we had dance classes. These were a bit more frustrating though. The women tried learning two different dances. It was mostly hard because we were not accustomed to the rhythm/beat and had no idea what the music sounded like so once we learned the moves things kept changing. It was still very fun though.
Friday night we went to a club in Butare where students from the university performed some rock and rap for us. They were all really good despite not being able to understand what they were saying unless they were covering songs in English (in particular the Michael Jackson songs were very good). We did not do much else in Butare though and headed back home to Kigali on Saturday!