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Three Short Stories
August 5, 2010   Rwanda
Today during a water break in the summer camp, I practiced a song on the guitar that I wanted to play and sing with the women support group in the afternoon. P, the deaf child, who played the paper piano for Danny (see this post), was sitting next to me. I took his hand and put it on the body of the guitar, so P could feel the music I was playing.
I noticed his left hand trying to make the same movements as mine in the air. After a while I decided to give him the guitar so he could actually place his fingers on the strings instead of playing the air guitar. He searched for a moment, and then put his fingers on the right place to play the D chord. He stroke the strings with his right hand and looked extremely happy.

P playing the guitar
Because of his HIV+ condition, we must keep his identity secret, but
believe me, he had a huge smile on his face

I decided to teach him one of the famous camp songs that the other children were singing all the time. When we sing the song, we use different movements, and P knows these movements well. I showed him the chords we play with each movement. We played the song many times; I was singing and showing him the movements, and he played the right chords. The rhythm of the right hand, the way he stroke the chords, where coordinated with my body percussion. I was amazed by how good the song sounded; nobody would ever guess that this kid was deaf. I wrote down the song on a piece of paper and we went through it without the guitar, playing in the air, so he can practice at home. Now P has one week to practice before the final show. I can’t wait to see the face of his parents when they see their son accompanying the other children on the guitar.


I’m in the middle of a workshop for a WE-ACTx women support group. Suddenly it smells as if I’m standing next to the toilets (holes in the ground) of the summer camp. I look to the ground and see one of the women’s baby sitting in the middle of a puddle. The baby is playing with the stick I just gave him, while the women are busy making music with sticks. After five minutes I realize that the smelly puddle is actually pee, the baby’s. Next day, I told some of the youth leaders in the summer camp about the stick that was drenched with pee. Now when I hand out the sticks for a dance or game, we all first sniff the stick, in the hope that we did not receive that special one.


I enter a room for another women support group. It is already the fifth time I work with a women group here in Rwanda, so I’m well-prepared and looking forward to it.
But the first thing I see are some big Rwandan men, in my age. My first thought is that they sent me to the wrong place; the women must be waiting for me in another room. The trauma counselor, who barely speaks some French and English, sits down. So this is the right room. Maybe the men are just hanging out and will leave as soon as the women arrive. Women do arrive, but the men don’t leave. It turns out to be a mixed support group for HIV+ men and women, ages 20-30. I feel quite uncomfortable (but smile as if this was exactly what I was prepared for) and rethink my workshop. I take out the activities that seem inappropriate for men and add some others that I hope will be positively received by the men AND the women.
From the first minute, I know the workshop will be just fine. We do a game with our names and movements, and for some reason the group doesn’t stop laughing. Although I don’t think the movements are that funny, apparently they are for them. They help each other finding movements, explain the game to late comers, and play the game as if it is the best in the world.
Afterwards we dance and the workshop becomes even more energetic. During the improvisation with the sticks, the mood suddenly changes. We are making real music and people are enjoying the rhythms, moving with their whole bodies and their heads. When we play an improvisation in which every person gets to play a solo while the others play a background rhythm, both women and men take the opportunity to go crazy with the music. Eyes are being closed, rhythms go faster and more complicated and some of the participants seem to play all their anger and frustration away. After this intense improvisation, we have some other fun dances and songs so we can all go home in a positive mood. I can’t wait for next week, but to make the gender balance complete I will bring Danny with me.
Topics: Rwanda