The one and a half mile early morning walk to the Kigali Institute of Education to lead our sessions is starting to feel like a familiar routine: air choked with red dust, men carrying long iron pipes perfectly balanced on one shoulder, buzzing motorbike taxis zig-zagging through the streets, storekeepers sweeping away the dust with short, hand-held twig brooms.
Today we offered a new set of workshops to KIE’s drama students: a forum session and a playbuilding session.
I was part of the playbuilding team. We led a series of games that warmed up the students, introduced them to the challenge of working in silence together, and made them more aware of shapes. These exercises led them into an exciting fabric session which used experimentation with pieces of fabric as a jumping off point to devise short theater pieces. The intimate outdoor amphitheater at KIE, with its terraced audience levels, proved a perfect setting in which the four groups could work in parallel and then join together to share their pieces. The KIE students were spirited, open and imaginative, finding many different ways to use the fabric.
The forum team presented “Sandra’s Story,” a story about a young woman eager to get a college education who is opposed by her traditionally-minded husband. Sandra’s dilemma — caught between her own dreams and her husband’s needs — resonated strongly for the KIE students. At their request, our forum team improvised a new scene in Sandra’s story on the spot, giving participants a new context in which they could intervene and try out additional strategies to help Sandra deal with her husband.
After our sessions we hung out at the Aroma Cafe close to campus, which has become our “home away from home.” The friendly Somalian cafe owner now calls us “my Americans” and brought out a free plate of butter cookies as we waited for our lunch.
Our day ended with afternoon work sessions at the Hotel Civitas, where we evaluated the success of our sessions, planned the changes we need to incorporate tomorrow, and rehearsed as needed. Then, on to a long, leisurely dinner in the secluded Hotel Civitas courtyard as night fell.
This work is immensely exciting. We are learning to adapt, to listen more carefully, to “read” our participants, and to more closely target our sessions. Truly, the KIE students are also teaching us.
Leon and Jean have worked hard to create a “pilot” program at KIE that I hope will blossom in future years to a more extended exchange between our two countries. I thank them, Chris and Helen for this opportunity to share what I have learned at CUNY with Rwanda’s first generation of drama students, who are welcoming and hungry to learn new ways of working.
It is an extraordinary privilege to be given this opportunity to grow as a facilitator by applying what I have learned in a context that crosses cultures and language barriers.