Monday, June 9 Kigali, capital of Rwanda.
I awake early and hear my hostess Shirley Randell swimming in her pool. The goat outside my window bleats. A bit later Shirley, dressed in the sari that’s her daily costume, rushes off to work.
When I arrived yesterday, she was on the patio with two friends. A tureen of soup, hunks of hearty bread and bottles of Rwandan beer on the table. I managed a modicum of cheer despite my exhaustion. Shirley will be my hostess and landlady the next three weeks, and she’s the organizer of my volunteer project.
I’m here to conduct a series of interviews with members of RAUW (Rwanda Assn. of University Women), the professional organization that Shirley started. These are educators, businesswomen and politicians who generate educational opportunities for Rwandan girls and raise awareness on domestic violence and AIDS prevention. Women are a force in Rwanda: this is the only country on earth, in fact, in which they hold a majority in the Parliament.
I’ll write profiles from each of the interviews, and Shirley will post them on the RAUW Web site. My friend Simin Marefat, a San Francisco nurse who spent time in Rwanda in 2007, made the introduction. Shirley, Australian and energetic at 68, has worked all over the world for humanitarian organizations: Raised her four children in rural New Guinea; spent years in Bangladesh and the South Pacific island of Vanuatu. She’s been in Rwanda three years, working for SNV, a Dutch development organization. Always in motion, juggling several balls at once. Knows absolutely everyone in Kigali’s expat community.
Shirley’s house is in Kiyovu, an upscale section of Kigali where Rwanda’s president, Paul Kagame, also lives. Good restaurants nearby. Also the Hotel Milles
Collines, which we saw in the movie “Hotel Rwanda.” That’s the place where the temporary manager Paul Rusesabagina, played in the movie by Don Cheadle, sheltered 1,268 Tutsis and moderate Hutus and saved them from slaughter by Hutu militia.