I didn’t know volcanoes glow in the dark, but crossing the bumpy lake Kiwu, on our way home from the prison island Iwawa, the pinkish cloud above the summit navigated us back to Gisenyi town. It rained, but the old passenger boat had a wooden roof. Water splashed from the side in our faces, and I lent a pair of warm socks to the youngest of the acrobats girls – a bit worried by the crossing, but courageous – for them to wipe their faces with, sock on hand.
I bet Nicolas Niyongabo, the 32 year old coordinator of this Rwandan “correction facility” on Iwawa never red Richard Burroughs’s A clockwork orange, as he then wouldn’t be so un-conflicted in his praise of the efforts of the Rwandan state to rehabilitate it’s young former street kids and drug-abusers.
Boys in their late teens and early twenties, sitting in tight rows on a dusty hillside, waiting for the sign to enter the kitchen hall, where they get their plate of beans and maize, parading out on the other side, to another slope and there quickly eating it, before returning to the big opening where we will perform our second show of the day. I see boys pulling down their beige uniform pants below their butts as they bend to sit, not as a fashion statement, but as a result of getting less trouble if their underpants are dusty, rather than the uniform. Focus here is on discipline, and there is a hierarchal system within the 1600 head “student” body, creating some self control. Some boys wear vests, other carry sticks, presumably as signs of their position in the pecking order.
Few text about Rwanda, written by a western pen during the last 16 years, omits the word genocide. In this text those crimes against humanity, committed in Rwanda in the 90’s, come in as part of an explanation of the Rwandan restrictions of freedom of the press and other signs of dictatorship. The genocide seems to excuse or justify the president’s control of the country. It mustn’t happen again. There is need for stability and economic growth. Drug abuse must be fought with great effort. But who draws the line between need for control and the rights of the individual?
According to staff on Iwawa, there are no ways to appeal if you’ve for instance been falsely accused of a crime and sent to the island. This one year old institution is no exception: There is no justice for the poor. But for some of the more ghost-like boys, Iwawa most likely has saved their lives. They are fed, taught basic skills, and perhaps they can form a positive identity as citizens, not outcast. But the horrors of imprisonment and repression are lurking under the surface. What kind of monsters may come out of that? In about six months the first group of inmates are released and reinstalled into society, I was told. Hopefully the Rwandan system will have enough strength to welcome them back.
On the wall of the acrobats’ house in Gisenyi, there is a cooking schedule, beside a comic strip telling the story about Elisée’s forming of the group, the meeting with Swedish artists Camilla Rud and Karin Svensson from Clowns without Borders and the bright future of these former street kids. Here we see great poverty and despair turned into milder poverty and hope, solidarity and safety. The acrobatics training, on a high international level, is the tool for development. The care for the smallest runs through everything this collective does.
To be continued…