Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Three Weeks In, Fourteen to Go

Hello all,

It's been an exciting three weeks.  I didn't mail out my last two posts, linked here:

I will now describe briefly the items I have worked on the last (third) week:  
 - Budgeting for church facilities improvements
 - 15th St. Meeting / Gisenyi Friends Church inter-continental inter-congregational communications
 - A Congolese Quaker youth group: Invitation to connect / request for suggestions  
 - Visa difficulties in trying to visit and do (volunteer) work in the Congo
 - Languages

Mostly by following the church leaders around the market, I helped price out about $2700 of purchases for the church.  These purchases will prepare the church to host a 30-person, two-week training on "Alternatives to Violence Programs".  The training will include 8 professionals from Rwanda, 8 from Burundi, and 8 from the DR Congo.  There will be five facilitators also from the three countries, plus one token American: myself.  Pastor Etienne, an active young leader in the church named Francis, and Francis' wife Antoinette (Etienne's daughter), did the actual price-asking over a few trips, and I took notes and stayed unfortunately conspicuous as always.

I am very happy to report that videoconferencing is now working!  I spent much of my time the last week and a half dealing with computer viruses and trying to find a good Skype + webcam setup so that we can videoconference kids from the 15th Street Quaker Meeting in NYC with kids here from the Gisenyi Friends Church.  The internet cafes around here all have notoriously slow internet, and consistently experience power outages.  All other internet is accessed by wireless modems that use the cellphone network, that are also slow.  Only one carrier, RWANDATEL, offers acceptable 3G speeds that will allow videoconferences, but that carrier was updating its system and could not register new SIM cards for another week.  I tried various internet cafés, tried the wireless at some hotels, and nothing was working out.

On Sunday Jan 22, we had a trial videoconference on Sunday, but the 3G network of the carrier TIGO proved too elusive.  So, I finally purchased an extra Rwandatel modem for $40 just so I could have the SIM card that goes with it - I expect I will be able to resell it for a similar price.  Then, at Tuesday midday in Rwanda, Tuesday morning in NYC, I introduced AyJy to my host family here over a great videoconference.  You can see the recording of the first five minutes of our conversation here.  Based on how today's trial went, I am very excited about this weekend with the kids.

I also distributed the twenty-eight greeting cards written by 15th street members and attenders to the Gisenyi Friends Church.  Each of the letters was given to a member of the Gisenyi Friends Church, and we will translate them tomorrow (Wednesday) afternoon. I suspect a response is forthcoming, so I will follow up with pictures and the latest news in the next couple of days. 

I have spent a good deal of time talking with Aimé, a Quaker Congolese law student at the University of the Great Lakes Countries in Goma, Congo.  Aimé is in his final semester, and law school is a 5-year baccalaureate.  Aimé has been a facilitator at Quaker AVP trainings in 2007 and 2009, and is very interested in connecting with Quakers abroad. 

He is interested in starting a club connecting young Congolese Quakers in Goma and Kinshasa with Quaker students and humanitarian clubs in the USA.  He hopes such a club can brainstorm ways that empowered students can join efforts from all sides to make incremental improvements in the security nightmare plaguing the Eastern Congo.  

I plan to try to connect him with Swarthmore's War News Radio and the Genocide Intervention Network, as well as with the "Solidarity Voting Initiatives" group that I have been working with over the last year.  More academic and heavy institutional orgs like Montreal's MIGS, the USIP, Ben Affleck's Eastern Congo Initiative, etc. might also be interested.  If you know anyone at these or similar organizations that would be interested in connecting with Aimé and the kind of email/phone correspondence club he envisions, please feel free to drop us a line.  Aimé's email is: aimudaka@yahoo.fr and his phone number is: +243 994429526.

I am raring to go, to help Zawadi NIKUZE out with the planned women's shelter projects in Goma and Masisi.  However, my visa is still on the wait.  Zawadi is currently working on getting me a notarized invitation letter, which is a prerequisite for applying for a visa to Congo from most anywhere.  So, after I get the notarized letter, I will try to get a visa at the Congo's embassy to Rwanda at Kigali, and will then try crossing the border at Bukavu, because everyone says it will be easier for an American there than at Goma/Gisenyi.  If that doesn't work, or if I can't even get the visa, I will try in Burundi.  And if that mockingbird won't sing either, I may DHL my materials back the the USA to apply for a 2-month or 1-month visa at the Congo embassy to the USA.

My Kinyarwanda is steadily improving despite my relative inattention to it, compared to the first week.  I really want to improve so I can understand more conversations during the AVP program which is sure to be linguistically cacophonous.  Although, my French has been getting some good exercise.

Thanks for listening again, and have a wonderful week!

-Steven Bhardwaj
Rwanda phone: 0784114209
USA phone (transfers to Rwanda): (+1) 917-725-5122
USA fax: (+1) 347-416-6273

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