Thank you to all who are following my stories about my trip to Rwanda in December. In my December 13th post, I shared my sensations from witnessing enormous faith in the people who traveled great distances (mostly by foot) to Kibeho for the anniversary celebrations of the Marian Apparitions in the early 1980s. Here, I want to tell a story of joy and hunger. These two physiological domains are not only unrelated but we deem them unable to co-exist. And yet, these two seemingly dichotomous human experiences are in fact what I witnessed. In the next post on my trip to Rwanda, I will share what I learned about the Rwanda genocide 1994. I will cap off my blog series on my trip to Rwanda by talking about the future prospects for not only Rwanda, but also Africa as a whole.
At the conclusion of the celebrations for the anniversary of the Marian Apparitions, we remained in Kibeho for one more day. In so doing, we had the amazing opportunity to interact with the pilgrims who also were staying there a little longer. We were also now able to interact with the residents of Kibeho. To say that Kibeho is among the poorest villages in one of the world’s poorest countries is not too far off the mark. One might be inclined to think that violence and mayhem would be the norm in such a place. What I witnessed was purely peace and order. The title of this blog is Joy and Hunger.
On the notion of hunger, my preconceptions proved to be inadequate. Not far from where we were lodging while in Kibeho, there was a bakery that made rolls and the wafers used as Eucharistic communion in Roman Catholic services. Some among our traveling companions purchased a couple hundred rolls to feed to the few dozen young people who were just beyond the perimeter of the bakery property and watching us with great curiosity. (We were charged about $20 USD for 250 rolls – about eight cents each.) As we approached the group they gathered closely around us and once we began handing out the rolls it was like tossing a french fry on a beach with a heavy seagull population[i]. The people simply swarmed us. It almost felt like we were being attacked but there was no hostility or violence. They simply wanted a roll. They would eventually stop waiting for us to hand them the rolls and instead they would just grab it since so many hands were in competition. One roll dropped on the ground – in the mud – and two children both grabbed it, tearing in half and each one ate what they got from their small tug of war. This was simply the authentic response to address a human need at the most fundamental levels – nourishment – something they too often lacked.
On the notion of joy, my preconceptions proved to be flat out wrong. Since returning from my trip, my one sentence summation of the experience of interacting with the Rwandan people has been this. I have never seen a people who possess so little in material belongings all the while hold such a complete joy for life.
While I remain committed to never being pontifical in my blog hosts, I will use a biblical analogy that I feel well describes the resonance that befell me. In the first book of the bible, we are told of the story of Adam and Eve and their exercising of free will in opting to indulge in the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge. The story tells us that this indulgence was driven by man’s desire to become knowledgeable of the difference between good and evil. Prior to this we were, if I may, blissfully ignorant to any such difference. We were able, as many spiritual gurus guide us towards, to just ‘be’.
So, here we have a people who, save outside visitors like us, have no exposure to any degree of modernity. They are without the capacity to recognize any difference between having and not having. In my analogy, they have not taken a bite from the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Is that bad or is that good? In my view, an assessment here adds no value to the discussion. My assertion is simply that this exists and may explain how ‘not having’ – including basic nourishment – can in fact exist with joy. Simply put, the people of Rwanda “get it” when it comes to being grateful for what they have. This is something that those of us in the land of wealth used to get as well but we have completely lost it over the past 25 years as a sense of entitlement has taken over. And this has pushed us into a divided nation where even our cultural identity is tearing.
It is in mass struggles and collective suffering that a people will band together and rise up. But what happens when the people of a nation become tranquilized by the obviousness of their success? Our individual pursuits diverge and become fragmented. We are no longer united. We become divided and fall down. Living in a land of opportunity is a tremendous gift. Taking it for granted is both shameful and a usually a foreteller of ruin.
What I have shared here is my mental and emotional response to witnessing people living with an ongoing need for nourishment and yet are wholly bound together and truly grateful for their opportunity to experience the joy and grace of living the human experience in its purest form.
I welcome thoughts, comments and feedback.
Thank you for reading. Have a Great Day!
[i] The use of seagulls as an analogy is no way intended to dehumanize anyone with whom we interacted, but rather to convey an appreciation for being witness to human behavior under the influence of extreme hunger.