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NUR School of Journalism
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Scott Hannant

 

Scott Hannant's Notes From the Field

July 20, 2007 — Nyabagogo Market

"Seven, six, no five" said the motorcycle taxi driver as the traffic of Kigali whizzed by dangerously close behind him. I'm getting good at this. With only a tilt of my head and the cynical raising of an eyebrow, I've managed to negotiate the almost reasonable fare of five-hundred Rwandese Francs for a trip a few minutes down the road to the Nyabagogo Market.

The market is hidden from the main road by a brown mud wall covered by a corrugated roof.  The western entrance to Nyagabobo is not much bigger than a regular doorway. And as you enter, you need to adjust your eyes to dim light… and your mind to the crowded chaos of a market selling the cast offs of the western world.

When the clothes you donate to your favorite charity don't quite make the cut to be sold in the charity stores of a Canadian city, Nyabagogo Market, or markets like it across Africa, just might be where they end up. The clothes and sheets are compressed in to huge bails. Once they get to Africa, they are broken down in to smaller bails and sold to enterprising merchants and creative tailors. 

I watched fascinated as a tailor with a pair of cloth sheers cut stains and holes and hems from old dresses and shirts and laid the remaining material out on a table. The trunk from one piece of material, the red stripes from another, and sleeves from yet another bit of piece of clothing pulled from a small bail. The whir of a foot pedal sewing machine and all of these bits end up as a 'new' and fashionable T-shirt for sale Nyabagogo market. I buy a flowery skirt for my daughter for 3 dollars and wonder what it might have been before the tailors of the market worked their creativity on it.

Sheets, blankets and duvets occupy the level where I entered. The sellers sit in tiny stalls surrounded by their wares. They're raised up about 4 or 5 feet above the ground. If they sense a sale, they climb down to ground level to haggle. The narrow passageways between the stalls clog with hopeful merchants as I approach; everyone hoping to make a buck off the mazungoo. It's difficult to see. There is no electricity here. The only light comes from an occasional break in the roof or a piece of translucent plastic that allows a little sunlight to shine in to the darkness.

From the linen department, I head down and out in to the daylight at the edge of the gently used shoe area. There is a cottage industry here of cleaning, polishing and bringing footwear back to life.  It is amazing. I glance sideways at a pair of Puma running shoes sitting among row upon row of gleaming Nikes and Air Jordans, Reebooks and Adidas. Within seconds someone has produced a bathmat for me to stand my now unshod foot.

They bring pair after pair of size 42 shoes from Boss to Bally appear for me to try.

I walk out, still wearing my trusty Timberland slip-ons, and head back up a level. The one thing that is sold new here is the wonderfully colorful African cloth that Rwandese women wrap in to dresses and matching head gear.  I spot a pattern that would make a nice tablecloth. The saleswoman descends to ground level and the inevitable crowd gathers to watch the transaction with the muzungoo. There's a problem. I only want only one panel of material. She sells the cloth in lots of two because that's what it takes to make a Rwandese dress. I only need one panel, I tell her. I only have one wife. That's when the market comedienne arrives. A large African woman says can fix that. I should marry her and take her back to America. When I thank her for the generous offer, but decline, she takes my piece of cloth and hides it behind her back. One panel for her, she says, and one for my wife at home. The crowd is now in stitches. Someone is trying to translate the Kenyarwandese banter in to English for me. It ends with laughter and the eventual return of my 1 panel of fabric.

If Ethiopian Airlines doesn't find my suitcase soon, I'll be returning to Nyabagogo to check out their line new/old line of luggage to carry home all my treasures.

^Top

July 18, 2007 — Training at last

A thirty hour journey in to the heart of Africa, and a week of waiting… and finally, TV Rwanda (TVR) has decided to let me begin training some of its staff. My hope was to do hands on training in the newsroom. I also wanted to spend a little time in the field to get a better idea of the challenges crews here face as they try to gather the news.

Instead, TVR has decided its news staff would learn better in a classroom in another building. I wasn't really prepared for classroom training. I have brought no tapes or material from home. But I am making the best of it. I have asked for a deck of some kind to play back the tapes of their reports and newscasts. No luck on that front so far.

Today was my second day of teaching. I arrived at 8, walked past the machine gun toting guard at the gate headed for my classroom, only to find a locked door and no trainees. The door was eventually opened and the students eventually arrived. Today's batch was mainly francophone producers and reporters; six of them plus the acting deputy editor of the TV Rwanda newsroom. Speaking slowly, armed only with a notepad and an overactive imagination I set out to teach them how to shoot and edit field interviews. News on TV Rwanda is on three times a night in three different languages. At 7:30 or thereabouts, a newscast of about 25 minutes comes on in Rwanda's native language, Kenyarwandan. This is followed by other programming until 8:30 when a similar newscast is shown in French. And finally, the English version of the newscast is shown at 9:30.

I have been watching the Kenyrwandan newscast and the English version pretty religiously since I arrived lo those 11 long days ago. I quickly came to realize that I wouldn't be blazing any trails on the journalism front. But I can be pretty valuable here teaching craft. Shooting and editing technique seems like a good place to start. There is usually just one sound up clip in a story on TVR and the person talking is usually an official. The problem has been that TV journalists here don't have the technique to be able to edit out what isn't relevant to the story.

Today, my small part of the world became a stage. Because English is a 3rd or even 4th language for people I worked with today, I thought role-playing would be the best teaching tool. One person played the interviewee, another the reporter holding my CTV pen as though it was a mic, even making sure to click it 'on' before beginning the interrogation. The third was the cameraperson hands held to her shoulder as though aiming a camera at the interview subject. The rest of the gang got to follow me around doing Fellini impressions, thumb and forefingers spread in to Ls to show them framing… headshot, over the shoulder, establishing shot. And the shot they really need to learn and to use… the all-important cutaway; the shot used to cover the edits that pulls together the two or three most relevant parts of an answer… while disposing of all the rest. This may be the most powerful tool I leave in Rwanda; the ability to edit the superfluous from their stories.

I shouldn't really complain about my barebones teaching facility.

Last Wednesday, I got what may turn out to be my only glimpse of the TVR facilities. The newsroom drove home the conditions under which broadcast journalists must work in Rwanda. It consists of a boardroom table with a few chairs. No computers here. Not even typewriters. Reporters write their stories longhand on sheets of paper. Scant resources are one challenge. The editorial implications of being the broadcast wing of government media is a subject for another day.

^Top

Ntarama, Rwanda, July 14, 2007

The children who wave to us happily from behind the other side of the fence of the Ntarama Memorial weren't yet born the night several trucks full of Interahamwe thugs pulled up to the church next to their mud hut. Members of the Tutsi minority had packed the tiny brick church for three days. They had come for miles around to seek sanctuary in this house of god. They brought suitcases, filled with clothes and schoolbooks. They brought buckets and mattresses.

The Interahamwe brought guns and grenades. They brought machetes and spears.

The church could provide no sanctuary against the hatred and bloodlust of 1994 Rwanda.

Now, some 13 years later, the Catholic Church on a hill looking down on the little village of Ntarama stands as an eerie monument to that awful night. On Sunday mornings, the faithful used to enter through two arched doorways. As we walk toward those doorways, a macabre sight stops me in my tracks. I am looking at hundreds of skulls arranged neatly on industrial shelving. Below them are femurs and hips. And then another shelf of skulls. A spear tip is still lodged in the top of one.

I start taking pictures as if the lens of my camera could some how filter out the horror of what I'm seeing. The brick walls are strewn with the clothing of the people who died here. I get closer and see the stains of blood turned black with age on the skirts, and shirts and short pants of the families who perished. Toward the front of the Church, are their personal belongings. Pens, combs, school books, a family Polaroid. There are several coffins stacked in the front draped with the colours of mourning in Rwanda. Purple and mauve. And stacked above the coffins, mattresses that probably provided no comfort for sleep in the terrifying days and nights leading up to the slaughter.

As I look around, the darkest corners of my imagination are trying to explain what happened in this village, in this church, 5 rutted kilometers off the main road to Kigali.

What really happened is far worse that anything I could imagine. Our arrival at the memorial brings a guide; a young woman dressed smartly in a black skirt and jacket; her hair straight and neatly combed. For the evil racial profilers of the 1994 genocide, that hair would have branded her a Tutsi and meant she had to die.

She is 22 years old now. Dativ was nine years old in 1994. She and her parents and two brothers and four sisters were here. They had been in the church for three days when the killers of the Interahamwe arrived. They didn't come in at first. They lobbed in grenades killing many but not all of the people crowded inside. Dativ says chance allowed her to escape. The sounds of a massacre chased her in to the wilds of the African bush.

Above us, light shines through tiny slits where shrapnel pierced the tin roof. When the grenades had done their deadly work, the Interahamwe went in brandishing the brutal tools of the Rwandan genocide. Dativ points out the machetes and clubs and spears stacked against the wall.

Outside, Dativ tells us a little more of her story. A language barrier precludes us from getting many of the details. She made it through the bush to a swamp area where she lived in hiding with others who had escaped the Hutu forces. Somehow her parents survived the massacre that night. 5000 did not. Among them her brothers and sisters.

Dativ's story is the story of so many other survivors here. When I ask her whether she fears it might happen again, she seems surprised by the question. She shakes her head in vigorous 'No'.

Never again is the cry of a nation wounded so deeply, so often before.

^Top

Kigali, July 13, 2007 — Sights and Sounds

A rooster is not like an alarm clock. He doesn't crow once to mark the break of dawn. He just keeps cock-a-doodle-doing until the sun is well in to the morning sky. That is how the day begins for me in Kigali. It ends with the barking of guard dogs behind the high walls topped with razor wire and broken glass. You never actually see the dogs. I suspect most were killed for being the street vultures of 1994. The high walls protect houses of wealthy Rwandans in our area as well as the Kigali headquarters of a bunch of NGOs. Worldvision and Medcin San Frontier are around the corner.

As Kigali traffic awakes, horns blare from the paved road at the bottom of the hill far below our house. Red, deeply rutted roads and pathways lead down to the main route in to town. Every trip off the blacktop is a mini African rally. The talcum dust that cars and bikes kick up is almost pink.

There are a myriad ways to get around here. Taxis can be hailed on the streets. Haggle before you hop in and expect to pay Muzungoo (foreigner) prices. A ten-minute ride is 3 or 4 dollars. Then there are the mini busses that most locals take. A trip to mumoojee (town) in sardine can conditions is a dime.

And then are the motos. 125cc motorcycles distinguished as motorbike taxis by the green smocks their drivers wear. Green helmets are also mandatory for driver and passenger. Many helmets have Perspex visors that make sight seeing, in fact most seeing, a blur of scratches and Kigali grit. Fare to mumoojee, again negotiable, is usually under a dollar for the 10-minute adventure.

The air up here at the top of one of Kigali's many hills is blown fresh by a pleasant breeze. Town is choked with exhaust fumes of the many aging cars that now burn more oil than gas. There are a number of gleaming new buildings for banks, a western style shopping centre and government ministries. The market area is old school Africa. Above their shaded entrances, the outside facades of shops are bill boarded on hand painted dusty stucco. A man and a woman in boldly coloured new outfits advertise the clothes emporium below. A smiling and freshly coifed man lets you know there is a barbershop below. The doctor's office is a little more hi-tech. Hanging precariously from the second floor of the clinic there's an internally illuminated sign with a veritable medical text book of possible conditions painted neatly in rows with red paint. Apparently the doctor is capable of treating them all.

In spite of the high walls, guards at the gates, and loudly barking dogs, Rwanda is relatively safe from day to day. People walk down dimly lit streets at night fearing a twisted ankle or an uncovered drain more than a robbery. The market district is the one exception. The crowded streets make this ideal hunting ground for Kigali's pickpockets.

Yesterday, I was walked through the area trying to secretly take pictures of people who generally don't like being photographed. One guy came alongside me on my right and pointed to my right shoe, while the other tried clumsily to steal the money out of my shirt pocket. Before I realized what had happened I had pushed him up against a car. I checked my pocket.The money was still there.I let him go. Feeling a little shaky I found a place to sit down and think that might have been one of the stupidest things I'd ever done.

It's Friday. I'll have been here a week tomorrow. In spite of a clear memorandum of understanding with TV Rwanda, I still haven't been allowed to start. It is frustrating. Without blazing any journalistic trails that might lead to high places, I think I could really help here. Their use of sound and pictures alone could be improved so much, so easily.

Life is good. I'm feeling better after a touch of tummy trouble. And 3 laughing urchins held my hands all the way to paved road on my way to the internet cafe.

^Top

July 9, 2007 — Never again

In late afternoon of a July day in Kigali, a single red rose lies drying on a large concrete slab. A white cotten ribbon is tied to its stem. In North America, this concrete slab could be the patio of a cafe. It is partly shaded by a vine strewn pergola and surrounded by terraced gardens of flowers and fountains. This slab lies in the shadow of the Kigali Memorial centre. And the rose is a thought and a prayer for those who lie in the mass grave beneath. Next to this slab is another, and another, and another. A quarter of a million people, they say, are entombed in coffins here. Instead of a concrete slab, the last in this row of graves has a metal cover pulled back a few feets to reveal coffin piled on coffin all shrouded in purple and white cotton sheets decorated with simple crosses. Some of these coffins contain up to ten bodies. 

The Kigali Memorial Centre is not a place to hide Rwanda's recent ugly past.  It is a place to cast some healing light on the machete wounds that once cleaved this country and are still so painful to so many here. As many as a million people or more died at a rate that outpaced the Nazi holocaust in its speed an efficiency. No gas chambers here. Few bullets. People died at close and bloody quarters. And the media were complicit. Radio broadcasts incited the violence, cheered it on and told Hutu mobs where to find the Tutsi people they called cockroaches.  

So that's why we are here. The Rwanda Initiative is a Carleton University Initiative to build media capacity in a country that is recovering and trying to move forward; away from its hateful past.

That light in dark corners cliche rings true in a place so far away from Paris Hilton journalism. We are here to teach the essence of journalism. A questioning, fair and revealing craft that has the potential to change for the better. And to make sure that media never again takes a leading role in this kind of atrocity.  

Pretty idealistic stuff in a country where the leading national daily is owned by the government and openly tows its line.

^Top

July 8, 2007

Hi all,

From the start, I knew this was going to be a very different trip than I had taken before. The chaos that is so much a part of Africa began in a quiet corner of Dulles airport in Washington D.C.

The Ethiopian Airlines flight that would take us to Addis Ababa was not at the gate marked efficiently on the flat screen departure monitor. And it would not take off until well after the scheduled departure time listed next to the incorrect gate number. It didn't really bother me. Patience, I knew, would be key to any success I might have on this adventure.

My first keen eyed journalistic observation was that the majority of the people waiting for this flight to Ethiopia were white. And Ethiopia is a country better known for famine than tourist frivolity. After a little innocent eavesdropping in the airport lounge I discovered that I was sharing the flight with several flocks of bright eyed missionaries and evangelists. I preyed that some of them were doctors or agricultural specialists. During the flight, one of the faithful waiting with me to go to the washroom mentioned that she and her friends were on a crusade. I let her elbow her way in to the toilette even though I knew airport security must have made her store her sword and armour safely in the hold.

The prison ministry contingent was far more interesting. Like me, they were flying to Kigali. They had been asked, although I never determined by whom, to minister to some of the people convicted in the 1994 genocide. The man I spoke with on the plane is the catholic priest at Singsing prison north of New York City. I didn't think such a place even existed anymore. It does. And apparently it has enough hard-core catholic sinners to warrant it's own priest. He had seen it all. Babies whose fetal crack addiction had left them without a chance of success and so much more. I wondered if even maximum security could prepare him for the stories he would hear in the genocide jails of Rwanda.

Addis was complicated by the fact that Air Canada in Ottawa had not put my bags through to Kigali. Instead they had been taken off and were now roaming around somewhere underneath the departure lounge. At the last minute they found one of them. The other is still a nomad. And to add insult to injury... when I got on my connecting flight, I realized it was the same plane that I'd traveled in from Washington... the same broken light above 17J. They took my bags off the plane. Lost one of them, and put the other back on.

So from airport in to airport out, the journey took about 30 long hours. And the last one was the best. I had a window seat on with a view most Rwandans would never see... flying over the land of ten thousand hills. The deep green of banana trees and other crops intersected haphazardly with paths and jutted roadways in the red-orange dirt of Africa.

^Top

Postings

July 20, 2007 — Nyabagogo Market

July 18, 2007 — Training at last

July 14, 2007

July 13, 2007 — Sights and Sounds

July 9, 2007 — Never again

July 8, 2007

 

 

 

 
    © 2006 Carleton University School of Journalism and Communication DESIGN: SMDESIGN