Don't Miss The Bus To Rwanda!

Sure, I can't even help but have terrible flashes to the movie "Hotel Rwanda" when I walk by a farmer with a machete in hand. But Rwanda is a different place than it was in 1994 both in aesthetics, but also mentality. Although I can't transport you there, here's a quick video to give a little sense of the place SHE is piloting its first franchise.

It All Comes Down to Politics

11:23 am December 7, 2008
Kigali, Rwanda

After two years of political saturation from Barack, John, and Hillary, I thought Rwanda would provide a peaceful respite. I thought wrong. Since I have been here, politics are seemingly omnipresent. Here are two major stories:

THE BARACK EFFECT: If it wasn’t clear to you before, it certainly should be now. Rwanda, and probably all of Africa, is a vote that Barack Obama would surely get. Our R&D collaborator Professor Akeng’a (who is Kenyan) is a fan and so is everyone with whom I have talked. Though the excitement is high, the sobering reality that he has a lot of challenges ahead is also known.

LET KABUYE GO: With demonstrations called for almost every week, the people of Rwanda are demanding Kabuye to be released.
Who is she? Good question. Before last week I had not heard of her, but thousands of Rwandans heading to the streets remind me. In short, Kabuye is one of nine senior officials wanted over the shooting down of former President Juvenal Habyarimana's plane. His murder is widely seen as the spark that led to the deaths of some 800,000 people in Rwanda. Check out the view from the BBC and the local Rwandan newspaper.

People are Watching

2:50pm December 6, 2008
KIST Campus, Building 2, Kigali, Rwanda

“Women are the agents of change.”

-Ambassador Joy at the annual conference for the Rwandan Association of University Women (RAUW)

As a dangerously over-educated person (as Karen Leahey calls me), I couldn’t be happier sitting among the RAUW members today. There was Dinah from AGASEKE, Sarah Ingabire from FAWE, Angelina from the Rwanda Public Service Commission, and Shirley Randall of, well, the world! While each of the women pursue different paths, each is equally impressive and equally value education.

Today, RAUW held its annual conference where we discussed, among other things, the need to deliver, that is improve the lives of women given the opportunities available. Ambassador Joy brought this message home, as did Hon Juliana Kanengwa who is a member of the Pan African Parliament, and Senator Beatrice. What opportunities exist? Well, Rwanda has the largest percentage of women in Parliament (governing body) in the world at 56%. While this might not reflect the gender dynamic in rural areas, the presence of women in leadership presents an opportunity to shape the policies at the government level which will eventually affect the individual dynamics in rural and urban environments in Rwanda. And let’s not stop there, it presents the opportunity to affect the world. As Ambassador Joy aptly said today, “people are watching.” And frankly, they should.

The Times Are A Changin’?

2:56 pm December 4, 2008
Café Toseros
Kigali, Rwanda

So here I am, back in Kigali again. This time I am solo, without my SHE crew of Bernice, Hannah B, and Hannah P. It’s going to be tough pulling off what we did this summer—surveying 500+ girls/women, identifying potential partners, and R&D collaborators—but what’s more, it’s going to be tough having as much fun without them!

Four months later, I find some things have changed in Rwanda….like the new swank shopping center…or 12,000 Rfw ($23) cell phone. Rwanda is forging ahead into capitalism with, literally, lines out the door. Unfortunately, some things haven’t changed…like the 800-900 Rfw (~$1.50) packs of sanitary pads (10 per pack).

My time here is relatively short, but my task list is mighty long and fierce. I’ll be whipping around Rwanda to (among other things) kick-off R&D collaboration with the fabulous Professor Akeng’a at KIST (the Rwandan Technical Univerisity), or shall we say the MIT of Africa. Or is MIT, the KIST of the United States? Also, I’ll be scoping out potential pilot partners, sourcing some natural fibers, and attending the Rwandan University Women’s Association annual conference. What would I rather be doing? Why, nothing else.

The Mule

4:00 pm December 1, 2008
New York, NY

There are 1.8 million government employees in the United States and it feels like I talked to about 75% of them today! In preparation for my upcoming trip to Rwanda, I needed to find out if I could bring plant-derived materials back into the country for our experiments in the US. You know the signs, the warnings at JFK, LAX, and Tijuana alike. They are the leaflets and signage that prohibit you from taking a bite of that juicy and delicious variety of Chinese apple or Ecuadorian orange. “No plants, soils, animals can enter US territory.” Rather than do the ole sneaky thing, I am trying to figure out the channels to import the materials—the fibers, the pulp, etc. Overall, everyone at the Soil & Conservation Department, the JFK Port Department, the Bronx gynecologist’s office (wrong number), APHIS, CBP, and the USDA (especially Denise) has been very kind. Let’s see if I get any phone calls or emails with the correct verdict soon!

How long is that Plum Book President-elect Obama?