Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Riot at dance festival opening ceremonies

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© Ryan Hicks

KIGALI -- Getting to the opening ceremonies of FESPAD, a pan-African dance festival, became a dangerous feat on Sunday when hundreds of ticket holders and police clashed at the entrance of one of the festival's main venues.

Police hit ticket holders with rubber clubs and shoved them in an effort to gain control over the crowd, while seats sat empty inside. Many children were also amongst the people attempting to enter the Kigali stadium for one of the biggest dance and cultural festivals in the region.

Thousands of people, tickets in hand, formed a line of about one to two kilometres, culminating in a massive crowd pushed up against two sets white metal gates. The only piece of equipment used to make people form a line was a thin piece of rope attached to thin metal poles. Some people had been waiting up to two hours to enter the festival.

Police were letting people in one at a time while they attempted to sweep people with a metal detector. The crowd was very restless, waving their tickets above their heads. The entrance process got out of hand when police began to open the main gates to let organizers and volunteers to pass through. The crowd then attempted to storm through the slight opening of the gates. Police then screamed, pushed, and hit members of the public in an attempt to restore some semblance of order.

In the end, FESPAD organizers told police to fully open the gate and let the crowd through.

The short videos above gives an idea of the chaos that ensued on at least on two occasions, for almost five minutes each time.

Later, a paramedic who wishes to remain unidentified, said that he treated a 17 year-old-girl who had to be evacuated from the melee after the gates were eventually opened and the crowd poured through. The source says that once revived, the girl was in a state of shock. After treatment, the paramedic said she returned to the festival.

FESPAD runs through August 2 at various venues in Kigali and around Rwanda. For more information, click here.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Lost and found

One of the first aspects of Rwandan culture that I quickly became familiar with (thankfully) is trust and honesty.

The first thing I did when I got here was get a cell phone number. All I had to do was buy a SIM card for 1000 RWF ($2), pop it in my phone and I would be set up with a Rwandan phone number (I’ve been travelling with my cell phone from home).

After Gilbert, our fixer, got everyone set up with their phones, we got in cabs to go back home. Upon our arrival at the house, Kate told the taxi drivers to come back later to pick us up to take us to a restaurant for dinner.

Thank goodness she did that.

When we got into the house, I emptied my pockets and quickly realized that my cell phone that travelled halfway around the world with me was gone. Not even three hours in the country, and of course, I lose my cell phone. I blame jet lag. I knew it I left it in the cab.

But I was hopeful because I remembered that Kate seconded the same taxi drivers to come back in a couple of hours to pick us up. Not to worry, he would have to have it.

The taxi drivers showed up at 7:30 pm to pick us up, but the one whose cab I was in had sent someone else to pick us up. I thought all hope was lost.

However, one of the taxi drivers that brought us had Mohamed’s, my original taxi driver, number. So I called him and he said, yes, he had my phone and that tomorrow we could meet up and he would give it to me. Whew.

When I saw him the next day I was so thankful. But he said that of course I would have gotten it back and that if I hadn’t called him, he would have come back to the house.

When I told my friend Jessie about this, she told me about a similar situation. She had left her Lululemon sweatshirt in the back of a cab and a week later, the taxi driver came back to drop it off.

This kind of honesty and trust doesn’t occur all the time though. Valentin, my colleague at Internews, says that, yes, Rwanda’s are generally honest. “It’s in the culture, most Rwandans are good people, but you can still meet bad people.”

Jean-Louis, a reporter from Izuba Rirashe (Rising Sun), says that honesty amongst Rwandans is multi-layered.

“Rwandans learn honesty from an early age, in school and at home,” he says.

Taxi drivers, in particular, organize themselves in “camps de solidarit√©,” or solidarity groups. This type of competition drives them to offer the best and most dependable service. Jean Louis says this would also explain why Jessie and I were able to recover our belongings.

But was it just because we are muzungu (white)? Jean-Louis says no. “If a taxi driver dropped me off at home, he would have done the same for me too.”

Do you think either of these scenarios would happen in a major city in Canada? Post your response below.